Why Buying Second Hand Items Is the Easiest Way to Help the Environment

When you consider environmental issues, we all know that there is a lot we should be doing to make sure we waste as little as possible, recycle wherever we can, and conserve energy both in our homes and businesses. We also know we should look to buy items with recycled, recyclable packaging and which have wasted as little fuel as possible, and created the least amount of carbon emissions in getting to us. All of these things are good, but can be fairly easy to neglect in our every day lives as convenience sometimes gets in the way of what we know we ought to be doing to look after the planet.

One thing that is very easy to do and to remember to do, and which gives benefits to us as well as the environment, however, is buying things second hand where we can. Here, we take a look at why second hand shopping is environmentally friendly, and also good for you and your household.

Second Hand Shopping Reduces Both Waste and Over-production

When you buy items second hand, you are making good use of something that may otherwise have been thrown away forever. This will usually be something perfectly good which the original owner simply didn’t want anymore (as there is no market for completely used up items), or something which can be refurbished into a great item fairly easily (like an old piece of furniture in need of new upholstery). These items could easily have ended up in landfill or being disposed of in other environmentally damaging ways, but when bought second hand, can live out the full extent of their useful lives. Of course, for every appliance, device or other item bought second hand, there is one less brand new product needed too, so in general terms, as long as people willing to accept second hand items (or happy to for cost savings) will do so, less wasteful manufacturing will go on.

Second Hand Shopping Saves You Money and Is Easier Than Ever

It is obvious that a second hand item will cost less than a brand new one that is equivalent, however in the past buying second hand often meant compromising on the thing you wanted. You may have had to take a slightly different style of furniture, you may not have been able to find second hand clothes you liked in your size, or they simply may not have had the thing you wanted in your local thrift store or second hand market. However, now, online, there are lots of marketplaces where people all over the world list items they want to sell like ebay and gumtree, and this means that you can just about always find exactly what you want at a good price. Even having second hand items sent to you from abroad can be cheaper than buying new, and even with shipping by air it can still be better for the environment (given many new products are imported as well).

If you want to do your best for the planet and get great value into the bargain, buying second hand goods really is a great place to start.

Is My Modded Ride Insurable?

Jeff’s Note: Personally, I think anything beyond gas & insurance is a waste of money for your car. Never throw money into a depreciating asset. 

The world of car enthusiasts is filled with true individuals who pride themselves on expressing their personalities through their distinctive and eye-catching vehicles. Some modify their cars for performance, others for aesthetics, but many drivers who make extensive modifications to their vehicles may wonder if their auto insurance policy even covers the monster their humble set of stock wheels has become.

Definitions

For insurance purposes, a “modified vehicle” is one that has undergone significant improvements in its manufacturer specified performance potential or structural alterations to the body of the vehicle that may impact the way it behaves on the road. Replica vehicles also fall under this standard, as they are not officially manufactured or endorsed by the automaker.

A premium custom paint job may also qualify as a significant modification is the value of the service totaled $10,000 or more, as the entire vehicle usually requires professional repainting if just one flaw develops.

Reporting

Most motorheads are totally unaware of their responsibility to report any substantial modifications to their insurance provider immediately. You can contact the HBF car insurance department directly on this link.

Failure to report modifications to your vehicle in a timely fashion could result in the voiding of the policy as a whole, as the insurer can justifiably claim that the vehicle involved in an incident is not the same as that insured by the policy. The vast majority of vehicles an insurance companies are standard factory products with reliable values and attributes, making it easy for them to determine your suitability for coverage.

In the case of modified vehicles, the practical effects of their uniqueness is far more difficult to quantify, and if there’s anything an insurance company cannot stand, it’s unpredictability. The fact is that most insurance companies are ill-equipped to address the needs of custom car enthusiasts, and typically do not respond well to being asked to do so unexpectedly.

For this reason, all modifications to your vehicle should be listed and submitted for the review of your insurer before the alterations take place if at all possible. This will allow you to determine whether a modification poses a risk to the validity of your current coverage, and if so, find an insurer more amenable to your automotive passions.

A custom car can be an unmistakable statement of personal style, but their total uniqueness can make finding effective insurance for these pieces of art a challenge. Check with your insurer to verify your current automotive coverage supports any planned modifications made to your vehicle and if your ride already features heavy modifications, be sure your insurance policy is made to be as one-of-a-kind as it is.

6 Important Accounting Tips for Small Businesses

Jeff’s Note: Even though I enjoy running this micro business, there are a lot of things that need to get done behind the scenes that I dont really like doing, and one of them is accounting. I’ve been better about in the last 2 quarters of 2014 than I ever have (and I hope my taxes reflect that) but it’s still a huge chore for me. I thought I’d share some tips on how to get it done with a bit less pain.

Among the long list of essential items that occur naturally from managing your small business lies the fundamental issue of accounting. While having an advanced degree is definitely not a prerequisite for running a small business successfully, some fundamental accounting skills could save you considerable frustration and money.

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Even if you have the resources to employ an accountant, a lack of knowledge in accounting could permit fraud from an unscrupulous accountant. Many small businesses fail due to the lack of appropriate bookkeeping. One of the most essential elements shared by every successful business of whatever size is maintaining accurate records; this is also legally required.

An advanced course in Accounting 102 could equip you with the necessary skills. However, you would have to initially graduate from the accounting basics. Although this accounting task may prove monotonous or tedious, it is crucial to the success of your business. If you are seeking a way to improve your business management, these accounting tips will prove invaluable.

  1. Engage Professional Services

For a considerable period, accountants have been revered and respected allies to proprietors of small businesses. Their vast professional knowledge and familiarity with tax and finance laws will save you considerable money.

Although hiring an accountant is costly, it will give you a peace of mind. These professionals are likely to process fiscal data rapidly, keep abreast of tax law amendments, and answer your queries. While it is tempting to save money by performing this task on your own, it is almost never cost-effective.

A professional will usually discover more deductions while helping you avoid penalties. The suitable accountant could also become a trusted advisor to your business. You will have an opportunity to collaborate and consult on forecasting and budgeting, cash flow management, and business performance. Finding the appropriate accountant is vital for small businesses, which have fewer resources and complex needs.

Manage and Track Expenses

Tracking expenses is crucial to your business’s success and maintenance of accounts. You can accomplish this by recording payments and gathering receipts. The infrequent meal expenditures or traveling costs also require documentation and appropriate handling.

A failure to maintain accounts could prevent you from building a dependable financial statement or prepare reliable reports on tax returns. Furthermore, it becomes hard to monitor your business’s growth or expenses.

Keeping track of your expenses is crucial for tax purposes and enables adjustments during economic or market changes. Although most small business proprietors do not look forward to managing their expenses, staying on top of your accounting tasks is an excellent means of decreasing your stress when preparing your taxes.

Separate Personal and Business Finances

Numerous business owners mix their professional and personal finances. Open separate accounts and debit/credit cards that you will use exclusively for managing business expenses. For instance, it is easier to track business receipts if you do not use the same card to pay for office supplies and groceries.

If you need to locate a forgotten expense, you simply need to go through a single account instead of several. Maintaining separate credit card and bank accounts will save you hours of work and help track deductible expenses.

You should also maintain separate business records when using financial or accounting management software. You should consider using a program designed specifically for small businesses for instance QuickBooks or Mint.com.

Document Business Transactions

It is important you document every business transaction. If you record an amount for expenditures and fail to maintain receipts, you may not recall what the figure was about after a few months. Ensure you file receipts and documentation in an accessible manner.

Documentation is necessary for your business to operate effectively. Information is also necessary for accounting purposes to determine whether you are making losses or profits. Backup documentation is also important if you need to conduct research, have questions, or for audit purposes.

Reliable Accounting System

You should use a reliable system that you have previously tried. Accounting software, especially online software can revolutionize the functioning of your business. Numerous affordable options aim to simplify accounting tasks and maximize financial performance.

Accounting systems offer numerous benefits including accessibility and user friendly features. You can also examine real-time economic data at whatever time and location since the system stores information online. Online software can incorporate with numerous business applications. This implies that you can manage all your business’s aspects without performing manual data transfer.

Establish Payroll

Small business owners perform various roles. Completing payroll is one of the most essential tasks in operating a small business. Payroll affects all aspects of a business from your employees’ morale to your business’s financial stability.

Whether you have independent contractors or employees, they have to receive payment for their services. A payroll system will help streamline your capacity to stay on top of your regulatory and legal duties as an employer. Moreover, this system can also protect you against costly penalties.

Conclusion

Small businesses usually face accounting challenges since proprietors normally assume the role of bookkeepers. Nevertheless, these friendly Shopify tips will help you observe tax laws and place you in a better position to monitor your cash flow and finances.

Climate Change, and How it Affects You

You’re probably all tired of hearing about climate change and are wishing I’d just shut up about it… but I can’t and I won’t. If we stop talking about it, the problem isn’t just going to go away; it’s going to get worse and worse until we’ll have to swim to the local shops. Let me give you a telescopic view of the planet’s climate situation. Don’t believe the people who claim climate change is all hype and exaggeration; it’s not, and we can help slow it down.

Planet Earth

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Right, it’s statistic time. If these don’t inspire you to make a change, I don’t know what will.

Carbon Dioxide Levels

At this very moment our planet’s carbon dioxide level is at 398.5 parts per million. What does that mean? Well, we can tell from air trapped in Antarctic ice cores three quarters of a million years ago that this is the highest it has been for 650,000 years.

Global Temperature

Global temperature is up by 1.53 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880. Now, that may not seem like a lot, however when you consider that 9 out of 10 of the hottest years on record have occurred in the past 14 years, it gets a little bit scary.

Arctic Ice Levels

The arctic ice levels (situated right beneath that gaping hole in the ozone layer) have fallen by nearly 14% per decade. If they continue at this rate, soon they won’t be here and a lot of coastal areas will be under water. Sea levels have already risen 7 inches in the past century. If we continue on this path, low-lying island nations could be completely wiped out.

Europe

Let’s narrow our focus. I’ve picked out Europe as it has a very varied continental climate and geography, from the hot, subtropical Mediterranean to the icy cold of Scandinavia, via many islands and bodies of water. Residents of Europe are already noticing their weather becoming erratic and it’s going to get worse: we’re talking frequent, prolonged heat waves; dangerous river droughts; rising sea levels causing flooding in coastal areas during storms; the extinction of local flora and fauna; a failing in agriculture due to a lack of water.

Britain

Britain, as an island nation, is more at risk from rising sea levels, and, like Europe as a whole, has a colder, icier north and hotter more temperate south. The immediate effect of global warming on Britain is a change to its winters and summers. The winters will be wetter, but milder and the summers will hotter and drier. This leads to better summer holidays; however species that hibernate – like hedgehogs – are being wiped out because of the confusion to their routine.

Your House

This all sounds pretty grim, but we can all help to prevent further damage to the climate, just by making small changes in our own homes. There are obvious steps, like turning lights off when you leave a room or setting a schedule for your central heating, but there are other things you can do, like installing more efficient light bulbs or using appliances, like your dishwasher, more effectively. Here are some more really helpful tips for cutting down your carbon footprint and making a change for future generations of humans and animals on our planet.

CAN I REMOVE AND REINSTALL CAVITY INSULATION?

Did you know that most homes built after World War II have been built with cavity walls?

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If you only have a vague idea of what a cavity wall is, it’s two layers of brick or concrete block (forming the exterior and interior walls of a house) that has a hollow space between them. The two walls are tied together but separated by the hollow space to prevent moisture from seeping into the house. It also protects the home from natural elements such as rain, snow, ice and wind and helps to regulate the temperature of the internal environment.

Starting in the 1970s, laws and regulations were implemented requiring homes to become more energy efficient. Since then these regulations have been continuously updated to keep up with the changing times.

The most common and cost-effective way of achieving this is through cavity wall insulation.

Proper insulation in a home is very important for the health, comfort and well being of the inhabitants of the house or building. Insulation helps to regulate heat keeping it warm in the winter and cool in the summer. If your home is properly insulated you will save a bundle on your yearly energy consumption and bills.

The type of insulation and the method of installing it will vary greatly on the location and type of home you have. Although it doesn’t happen often, sometimes things do go wrong and you wonder whether it’s possible to remove the original cavity insulation and reinstall it with the least amount of fuss.

The answer is yes.

Jeff’s Note: We got new insulation in our house last summer, and it has saved us a ton of money and heartache the last 12 months. Previously, our house used to get higher than 85 degrees on most summer days, and this summer it hasn’t gotten above 82 inside yet. We were able to get most of this paid for after having an energy audit done by our utility. This is a part of our strategy to plug energy leaks and save money.

Some reasons why you may need to remove the insulation are:

• If for whatever reason the material you used for the insulation is defective, this can lead to the release of toxic gasses. This is especially true for foam insulation from years ago. If you live in an old house with very old or defective insulation, it is highly recommended that you extract it.
• If your house is damaged through flooding or a fire, your cavity insulation will be affected. Damaged insulation usually translates to ineffective insulation and can also lead to the growth of mould and mildew.
• Insulation that has been improperly installed should be removed and reinstalled otherwise it can also lead to condensation and problems with dampness.

You’re always better off fixing something right away rather than waiting for the problem to get worse, especially when it comes to something that will have an impact on your health.

The extraction process is quite simple and depending on the size of your house will take anywhere from 2 to 5 days.

How to extract insulation?
• An industrial high pressure vacuum machine will be needed to remove insulation;
• Position the nozzle using the original drilling pattern;
• The insulation is sucked out from the cavity, bagged and taken away.

How to reinstall insulation?
• Pick the right type of insulation for your home and your needs;
• The insulating material is injected into the gap between the two walls through drilled holes;
• This is done from outside the home and shouldn’t take more than a few hours to complete;
• Fix any bricks etc. that have been disrupted because of the work.

It is recommended that you have insulation installed by a certified contractor.

As you can see removing and reinstalling cavity wall insulation is quite a simple process and will be beneficial to you in the short and long term. You will able to see the positive effects of a properly insulated home almost immediately.

If you know that your insulation should be replaced, then don’t delay and get it done right away. The best part is that many funding options through the government is available to cover the cost of installing insulation. So take advantage of these offers and live in a healthier and more energy efficient home.

Any efficiency upgrade you can make will pay off in spades by permanently lowering your monthly expenses, and as a bonus, you’ll use less resources.

Stock Market Sell Stops: Tools for limiting loss in a stock market crash

If you ever have the chance to visit the exciting and dramatic floor of the New York Stock Exchange for the opening bell you’ll see that it’s a thrilling, adrenaline-fueled event. When the bell sounds the action starts with a frenzy.

There is an old saying, however, that no alarm bells go off to signal the end of a bull market. Just when it looks like the party is reaching the high point, the bottom can fall out, turning your stock market gains into miserable losses. The abruptness and violent volatility can be like the plot twist in an Alfred Hitchcock movie. One moment everything is calm and ordinary and then horror jumps off the screen and puts your heart in your throat.

Experienced investors know that at times like these, when the bulls are extending their long and lucrative run, it is wise to start calculating your Plan B. You need to locate the exits, prepare a contingency strategy, and not get caught in the middle of a selling stampede if and when the markets get spooked and panic. Fortunately, there are some practical ways for even the novice investor to protect their gains and help avoid a potentially devastating loss. One of the most basic tools you can deploy is the Sell Stop Order and a variation of it known as the Sell Stop Limit Order. Let’s get to know these important stock market terms.

Stop Orders

Just like “buy” and “sell” orders where you ask your stock market representative to purchase or sell a stock at a particular price, stop orders accomplish a similar outcome.

A “Stop-Loss Order” is an order to sell stock once the stock price drops below a certain level or cut-off point. If you want to sell your stock if the price per share starts falling below $40, for example, you can establish a stop-loss at $39. As soon as the stock trades at that price, the stop-loss goes into effect and issues an order to immediately sell at the going market price – whatever that may be.

Let’s take a look at one example:

  • Let’s say that the stock in our example hits $39. The stop-loss order kicks-in and the trader at the stock exchange immediately sells at the market price.
  • You may get $39 a share as long as there are buyers ready to pay that much. Otherwise the price will be filled at the next best price that is available. You don’t know exactly what that price will be until the transaction is completed because the share price is subject to market fluctuations and buyer demand.
  • In a calm and stable market, as long as your stock is a popular one, the chances are good that you will get close to the price that triggered the stop-loss order.
  • In a rapidly crashing market, however you might get much less than $39 because it may be hard to find anyone willing to match your asking price. Since you ordered the stock trader to sell at the market price then you are subject to whatever price that is at that particular time.

Stop Limit Orders

Those who are worried that they won’t get a high enough price because of a rapidly falling market can be more specific. In this case you will use what is known as a “Stop Limit” sell order.

The “Stop-Limit Order” works the same way, triggering a sell order at a certain price point, except that it only authorizes the trader to sell at a specific price that you ask. Say that you do not want to accept a sale any lower than $35, but you want to trigger a sale if the stock gets as low as $40. You then establish a Stop Limit order at $40 with the limit being $35. The trader executes your order at $40 and tries to sell your stock at the highest possible price, but will not offer your stock for sale at any price lower than $35.

The risk to using this kind of order is that there is no guarantee anyone will buy at or above your limit price. If the market is descending and the highest price anyone wants to pay is $34, for example, your stock won’t be sold because you only gave permission to sell for a minimum of $35. The danger there is that the stock could theoretically keep plunging in price – as the value of the investment you keep holding on evaporates as it did for many blue chips during the last crash.

Other Considerations

Investors also use these kinds of orders to limit losses without having to keep a constant eye on the market. In our examples, for sake of simplicity, we used whole numbers. You may issue fractional price orders, though, such as $39.50 or $34.75 price points.

As you can see, there is no foolproof way to safeguard your investments, but there are tools that can definitely help you have more control over what happens. Using stop-loss orders and stop-limit orders is kind of like carrying a spare tire. Most people will find that it saves them a lot of trouble if they get a flat tire, although it does not guarantee you will not get a flat tire and doesn’t guarantee that your spare won’t also go flat. Having said that, however, most experienced drivers would agree that it is a smart idea to carry a spare. Similarly, wise investors often take advantage of tools like stop-loss orders to limit losses and improve their chances of success.

Talk to your broker to learn more, and if you decide to place a stop-loss order be sure that you don’t just forget about it. Later your financial goals or reasons for owning the stock may change, and you may need to update your orders or revoke them in order to stay current with your financial planning.

Bond Investing 101: How bonds work and why they belong in a balanced wealth-building portfolio

The stock market keeps hitting all-time highs and setting records that are rewarding investors. Students of history know, however, that stratospheric climbs often portend a looming market correction, or the end of the bull run and the start of the next bear market cycle.

One way experienced investors safeguard their portfolios is by diversifying into bonds because when stocks fall, the value of bonds often rise, making quality bond holdings a good buffer against stock market losses. Bonds are also an appropriate investment to help manage interest rate volatility because when prevailing interest rates fall, bond prices rise, and when rates go back up again bond prices become cheaper.

A prudent way to invest in bonds is to hold them for the long haul, until they reach maturity. Once the maturity date is reached you are entitled to the original face value of the bond plus any interest you have earned along the way.

What Are Bonds?

Bonds are a sophisticated form of I.O.U. and they are issued by both government entities and corporations. You can buy bonds issued by the United States Treasury, for instance, and they are regarded as the safest bonds in the world because they are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government.

Treasury bond interest is exempt from state and local taxes, too, but not from federal tax. Bonds are also sold or issued by cities that use them to raise money for municipal projects. To save on taxes you can buy tax-exempt municipal or “muni” bonds. One way to determine whether that would save you money is to look at the interest rate you hope to earn on the bond, and then compare that to your tax rate. People in a higher tax bracket, for example, may have their bond earnings undermined by having to pay taxes on those earnings. In that case, a tax-free “muni” bond may make more sense.

You can also buy bonds from companies of various sizes that operate in all different kinds of industries. To incentivize investors to buy their bonds, those who issue them promise to make annual interest payments to bondholders.

Bonds also have a face value. When the bond reaches its maturity date the issuer pays you the bond’s face value – which is equal to the original principle you “loaned” them. As far as terminology goes, the price when issued, or face value, is also referred to as the bond’s “par value.” The interest payment is called a bond “coupon.”

How a Bond Pays Interest

Not all bonds are the same, which cause bond interest to differ as well. Say, for instance, that abond promises to pay 2% per year and has a par value of $1,000. That means it would have a $20 coupon. Interest would likely be paid in two separate payments of $10 each – paid six months apart.

Some bond interest is on a different timeline such as quarterly or even monthly. Here are a few examples of how bond interest differs:

  • Structure payments by buying mutual funds that invests in bonds. You can choose funds that pay at different times in order to ensure a steady stream of payments throughout the years. Bonds are popular with retirees, for instance, because of this ability to schedule payments that help provide a regular stream of income.
  • Some bonds have floating or variable rates, which means that their interest rates adjust with market conditions.
  • If you hold the bond to maturity you can also cash it in for the $1,000 face value. In the meantime, though, another investor may offer you a higher price in exchange for your bond.
  • Bonds can also be bought and sold on the open market, the way stocks are traded. So you may decide to sell your $1,000 bond before it reaches maturity in order to profit from a higher price. In that case you gain the extra money being offered to you plus any interest you have already banked.

It is important to study the terms and conditions of bonds before making an investment to be sure the bond meets your particular goals and needs. You should also review your investment portfolio annually to make sure it remains diversified.

Additional Aspects of Bonds

  • The bond issuer may “call the bond” back if they want to, which means that they will buy it back from you before the actual maturity date. When that happens the issuer usually pays you a premium, and if the interest that was promised on the bond is especially high, the premium may also be quite high.
  • You can also invest in convertible bonds. These offer you the option to convert your bonds into shares of stock, according to the terms of the convertible bond purchase. While convertible bonds usually pay lower interest, the upside is that they give you a flexible investment option in case you want to shift out of bonds and own stocks instead.
  • Rating services such as Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s will assign quality ratings to bonds, and those measurements can be a useful guide when shopping for bonds. An “AAA” rating usually indicates very high quality, for example, while an “AA” rating is slightly lower. A “D” rating would reflect high risk, and might fall into the category of so-called “junk” bonds.
  • If you are not afraid of risk, higher risk bonds usually pay considerably higher interest. Conservative investors can use high interest as an indication that a bond may be too risky, too, since sometimes if the interest is too attractive it could mean that the company is not financially sound – and could go bankrupt before paying interest.

When calculating value, it is important to not just look at the interest paid, but also the potential appreciation (or loss) of value compared to the price you pay for your bond. Also be aware that if you purchase bonds through a broker they may charge a commission fee which will also cut into your gains. If you buy U.S. bonds directly from the United States Treasury, though, you won’t be charged any sales fees.

Image Credit: Flick’r User Simon Cunningham