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Frugal Living Tip – Affordable Nights On the Town

Merry Christmas!

On this holiday, perhaps it’s worth reflecting on the difference between being frugal and being a Scrooge.

A frugal person avoids frivolous and wasteful spending. A frugal person loves value.

A Scrooge lacks generosity. A Scrooge despises lighthearted fun.

But a frugal person knows that it is possible to have fun and be kind to others even without spending an arm and a leg.

There’s nothing written in stone that says every night out on the town has to involve champagne and caviar. In fact, it’s often easier to relax and have fun by using a little imagination and creativity to plan a less costly date or meetup with friends.

For inspiration, just check out Rose Jensen’s list of “10 Tips On Enjoying a Night Out for Less” over at the Free From Broke blog. Rose’s cost-saving suggestions include sharing entrées at restaurants, exploring the great outdoors, asking friends or family to babysit, and even seeking out online coupons at sites like Restaurant.com.

Get more inspiration from Financial Learn‘s post “15 Fun Cheap Date Ideas” including coffee dates, trips to the beach, rollerblading or kayaking, even baking a cake!

That’s not to say that you should never pick up a special treat for your sweetheart at the bakery, but there’s something special about sharing the experience of making a cake, baking it and enjoying it together. Truly a case of having your cake and then eating it too. :)

Need even more ideas for affordable activities? Laura Trahan has several suggestions, but I particularly liked her idea to volunteer together. Whether you help build a house, clean up a park, participate in a fundraiser or deliver meals to homebound seniors, volunteering can be a fun and rewarding activity. Maybe you could take turns with your loved one picking the volunteer activity. You’ll learn about some of the causes that matter most to your spouse or partner while having a chance to share some of your own enthusiasms.

Finally, Primer Magazine offers a fun article on 5 Affordable Date Night Ideas That Won’t Make You Look Cheap, including attending an opening at an art gallery or buying tickets to show your support for an up-and-coming local band.

If you do decide to stay in, Primer Magazine suggests you can still make the evening social by inviting over some friends and hosting an off-the-wall tasting event. Instead of a snooty wine-tasting, for instance, Primer gives the example of a sodas-of-the-world tasting, but you can adapt the concept to fit your own tastes. How about an ice cream tasting evening? Now that sounds sweet.

What are some of your favorite ways to have fun with friends, spouse, partner or family without spending a mint? Share your suggestions in the Comments section below!

December 25, 2009   No Comments

Ray Silverstein, The Best Secrets of Great Small Businesses.

Dollar Days Blog is pleased to present the business expertise of Ray Silverstein, author of The Best Secrets of Great Small Businesses. Silverstein has also written a new book called The Small Business Survival Guide: How to Survive (and Thrive) During Tough Times

Ray Silverstein, author, founder of PRO (President's Resource Organization)

Ray Silverstein, author, founder of PRO (President's Resource Organization)

Silverstein also founded PRO: President’s Resource Organization, a network of peer advisory boards for entrepreneurs. As the founder of PRO, Silverstein has facilitated more than 1,200 “board meetings” over the last 16 years.

Dollar Days Blog (DDB) – Please provide a short bio and description of PRO.

Ray Silverstein – I created PRO in 1993 based on my success participating in peer advisory boards for larger companies. I wanted to help companies in the critical transition stage of doing to managing.

PRO provides the venue for small business executives to obtain the experience, insight, imagination and critique of experienced small business leaders.  A monthly meeting with an experienced business facilitator and business leaders concentrates on issues of concern to the attendees in running a business on a daily basis.  Emphasis is placed on working on the business and not only in the business.  The discussion is candid and a camaraderie is created between the participants to help each other.  Survival and success are critical items of interest to peer advisory board members.

DDB – What are some of the key messages in your new book “The Small Business Survival Guide?”

Silverstein - Cash is King.  If a company is in a survival mode the outlook is very short term.  No survival, no long term.  Survival requires the business owner to take action they ordinarily do not want to take, but must if they want to stay in business.  This may mean cut back of personnel, and only the best should be kept.

Management should have a complete understanding of break-even and the expenses that are necessary at break-even.  This means an understanding of the different type of expenses involved in operating the business.

Remember that tough economic times are also opportunities.  If a company is not in a survival mode this is a great time to improve personnel, market position and take advantage of situations.

DDB – How can profit and loss statements mislead you about the financial health of your organization and how can you protect yourself by projecting cash flow needs?

Silverstein – Again, the important point to remember is that cash is king. A company can make a profit and have cash go south due to increases in inventory, fixed assets, and accounts receivable.  Not being able to pay vendors, financial institutions, or employees due to lack of money will put you out of business.

Financial institutions like positive cash flow and collateral.  If you are in a service business, there is usually a lack of salable fixed assets.  Therefore, no collateral to support loans.  Therefore, only the cash flow of the business will support its ongoing activity.

DDB – You’ve suggested companies can write a ‘love poem’ to their customers to get to the front of the receivables line on collections. Are you being serious?

Silverstein – The goal is to create a relationship and differentiate yourself from others, with the accounts payable people.  Everyone gets tired of being badgered for payment and may look with favor to someone who takes a different tack.  This method has worked and was suggested by a PRO member. But of course a company can always take the “hard” line.

DDB – What is the best way to tell your banker if your business is in trouble – while still preserving a good business relationship?

Silverstein – A banking relationship is built on trust.  You are better off being upfront and preserving the relationship.  Bankers are more apt to work with those they trust.

But just saying you are having trouble is not enough.  You must also propose an action plan that will resolve the situation.  The plan must not be vague, but as objective objective and quantitative as possible.  You should also try to have measurable goals you will achieve, even if it is still a loss.  The bank will want to know when you expect to have positive cash flow.

DDB – What are some of the most exciting opportunities that the recession and general economic turmoil offers for small business owners?

Silverstein – The biggest asset a business has are its people.  There are a lot of great people who are looking for work.  Now is a time to upgrade your people.  Companies that have the cash and fortitude are in a great position to enhance market share.  In tough times, most companies cut back on marketing, but studies show that the companies that market now will grow faster after the economy turns around.

Times like these make businesses examine what they are doing and eliminate bad habits.  This is a great opportunity to look at what your business is and more importantly, what your business should be. Then create the strategies to get where you need to be.

Does any of Silverstein’s advice ring true based on your own business experiences? Share your thoughts and contribute to the discussion in the Comments section below!

December 21, 2009   1 Comment

Frugal Living Tip – Dinner for Just Five Dollars?

At many restaurants, just ordering a beer or a fountain soda can set you back $5 (especially once you figure tax and tip into the equation).

So it sounds downright ludicrous to suggest that you could whip up a nutritious and delicious family dinner for less than a Lincoln.

Still, that’s exactly what Erin Chase, a.k.a. The $5 Dinner Mom, does over at her blog 5dollardinners.com. Pretty much every day – sometimes several times per day – Erin posts recipes, shopping trip reports, coupon alerts and other valuable information to help her readers put together tasty meals without breaking the bank.

For example, check out this recipe for Caesar Chicken Pasta Salad that combines protein, pasta and veggies for the whole family, with leftovers for the next day’s lunch, all for $4.55.

(Erin breaks out the cost of almost each ingredient – counting 3 cents for 1 tablespoon of olive oil. The only ingredient costs she doesn’t tabulate are for spices like salt and pepper, plus items she grows herself, like the tomatoes from her garden.)

Some of the other $5 dinner recipes that struck us as being particularly inspiring?

Admittedly, Erin is only able to bring some recipes (such as the shrimp scampi) in under budget by relying on sales, but there’s something to be said for being a savvy sale shopper at the grocery store.

Erin also seems to be a big fan of farmers markets and offers tips on the advantages of buying in bulk. For instance, she recounts getting a 5 lb. jar of honey from her local market for just $20. In another instance, she buys 2 zucchinis from the farm stand for a grand total of 18 cents!

And if you’re feeling nervous about trying out a new recipe, have no fear! Erin enhances her blog with numerous photos that show the beauty and fun of food preparation. Just check out these gorgeous photos that show the creative process behind a Grilled Eggplant Panini from start to finish.

And in case you think these meals are only fit for a sparrow, think again. On her FAQ page, Erin notes that she uses these recipes to feed her family of four, including two boys ages 4 and 2. It’s true that Erin admits she lives in the Midwest where prices tend to be lower than on the coasts, but even if you’re in a big pricey metropolis, you should still be able to put together similar recipes for just a few dollars more – certainly much less than you’d pay at a restaurant or take-out counter.

If you can’t get enough of Erin’s recipes online, keep an eye out for her first recipe book, due to appear in January 2010 from St. Martin’s Press.

Would you get a thrill out of cooking $5 dinners for your family – or would such a low threshold seem too restrictive? What are some of your favorite inexpensive recipes to cook? Share your thoughts in our Comments section below!

December 18, 2009   No Comments

CLEARANCE SALE!!!

Year End Sale
Christmas shipping is over and DollarDays has to clear its shelves to get ready for the next year.

If you haven’t been to the DollarDays homepage yet, you better get their soon. From now until the 31 of December, DollarDays is running a Giant Year End Sale. Over 11,000 wholesale products (whose prices are already as low as they can go) are being marked down even more. Some items are even 50% off!

If you really want to dig in and put together a big order, right now might be the perfect time to stock up for Valentines day, buy your DollarDays Platinum membership, or browse through our selection of dropship-able products.

December 16, 2009   No Comments

Win Prizes by Following DollarDays on Facebook and Twitter!

So the DD blog has some awesome prizes to give away. We’re going to be running some contests during the next few weeks to get things rolling. That’s right ladies and gentlemen, we aren’t just part of a website with incredible deals on wholesale products, we also love giving free products away.

So right now, we have two big contests going. We want 1) 2,000 DollarDays Twitter followers, and 2) 1,000 DollarDays Facebook fans. The end date for this contest is indefinite. Prizes will be drawn at random from among all the followers (old and new) the day that each target is hit.

So what are we giving away?

The winner of the Facebook drawing will win one of DollarDays’ best selling GPS devices.

The winner of the Twitter drawing will win a 4GB Coby mp3 player.

So if you want to DD’s great deals at your fingertips, and the chance to win some great prizes, fan us on facebook and follow us on Twitter. You won’t be disappointed.

Good luck, and I hope you’re the winner.

December 14, 2009   No Comments

Small Business Advice – Tackling Tricky Hiring Issues

One of the best parts of building a company is hiring great people so that your business can benefit from their skills, their ideas and their enthusiasm.

But as Merrin Muxlow has pointed out over at the Resource Nation blog, recruiting new employees involves a host of tricky legal and ethical issues including background checks and employment law compliance.

Maxlow makes useful recommendations about getting an applicant’s consent before running a background check, being careful about accessing an applicant’s social media profiles, knowing all the applicable anti-discrimination laws (FederalState and local) that apply to hiring procedures, and taking the time to verify necessary licenses, credentials and employment eligibility. Maxlow suggests that E-Verify can prove useful for this last task.

Need more advice before bringing a new hire on board? Guidestar published an article earlier this year that contains lots of good advice on Avoiding Common Hiring Pitfalls. For instance, Guidestar notes that it’s vital to properly define the position you’re trying to fill before seeking candidates. If you’re too ambitious in defining the scope of the position, you may have trouble finding applicants who contain all the skills and competencies you’re requiring. Guidestar advises being realistic in defining the position and making sure that you budget a salary sufficient to attract the caliber of employee you’re seeking.

Like the article in Resource Nation, Guidestar emphasizes the importance of checking references and not rushing the hiring decision. That doesn’t mean that you should dawdle either. Instead, create a timetable and then stick to it. Proceed at a deliberate pace while acting with consideration toward the candidates and trying to envision the process from their perspective.

If all these seems awfully challenging, you might enjoy Will Helmlinger’s look at hiring “Pitfalls and Pratfalls” on Inc.com’s website. Helmlinger has some great advice in this story, including a suggestion that the hiring manager should let candidates do most of the talking during the interview process and to avoid misinterpreting what candidates say.

For instance, Helmlinger offers the hypothetical scenario in which a hiring manager asks if an applicant is willing to work overtime. If the applicant says “Yes,” the hiring manager may assume the applicant is willing to regularly burn the midnight oil. But Helmlinger notes that the hiring manager has no grounds to jump to that conclusion without first asking how often and how long the applicant might expect or be available to work beyond regular hours.

Phew! That’s a lot for an employer to remember. But investing some time and effort up front in finding and vetting the right person for the job will prove invaluable to building a stable, loyal and enthusiastic team of employees all pulling together to help build your business.

How do you handle tricky hiring tasks? Do you perform background checks yourself or outsource the procedures? How do you ensure your company doesn’t run afoul of anti-discrimination hiring rules? Share your thoughts, experiences and suggestions in the Comments below.

December 14, 2009   No Comments

Frugal Living Tip – Would You Rather Pay the Bank or Pay Yourself?

There’s nothing wrong with having nice things like a comfortable late-model car — as long as you can afford them.

Of course, if you can’t afford to purchase expensive products outright, a bank or lender will often lend you the money up front and let you pay it back on an installment plan.

Sounds generous — until you realize just how much extra this arrangement can cost you in interest fees. To find out the dirty details, try punching some numbers into the calculator at Cars.com.

Just for example, let’s say you wanted to buy a $30,000 luxury sedan, but only had $10,000 on hand. According to the Cars.com calculator, financing $20,000 of the purchase at 7.45% interest over 4 years will end up costing you $541 per month.

That sounds manageable, but if you crunch the numbers and multiply the monthly payment by the length of the loan (48 months), you’ll discover that the lender recoups a shade under $26,000.

That’s right – you pay almost $6,000 for the privilege of spreading out the purchase over four years.

Paying all cash up front lets you save loads of dough in the long run. If you don’t have enough cash on hand for such a large purchase, consider buying a more affordable model so that you won’t have to finance as much of the purchase price.

Once you’ve got the car paid off, put off the temptation to trade it in for a newer model. As long as the car is mechanically sound and doesn’t require expensive repairs, you should be able to drive it for many years. As the author of the No Credit Needed blog points out, every month that you don’t make a car payment to the bank, you can pay yourself and make a deposit into a savings account.

Instead of accumulating debt, you’ll be earning interest on those savings, stashing away money for a rainy day so that if you do encounter a major expense, you can handle it without resorting to loans or credit cards. And if you invest the money wisely, you could even supplement your income and create more wealth.

Avoiding loans so that you can pay yourself instead of paying the bank helps you save money in the short run and in the long term.

How do you handle car purchases – cash, loan or lease? Do you have a savings strategy for ‘paying yourself’ every month? How do you resist the temptation to splurge and stick to purchases that you can afford? Share your stories in the Comments section below!

December 11, 2009   No Comments

Winter Hits Arizona: Save Yourself Before it’s too Late!

wholesale fleece blankets
Winter is going to be harsh this year— that’s what the experts are saying—and you don’t have to look too far to see that the experts might just be right. Just last night, Arizona was slammed by an impressive amount of snow.

If you want to sustain during the coming winter months (and maybe even reduce your heating bills), stock up on DollarDays’ Marc Gold wholesale fleece blankets.

And if you use the coupon code MGFREE at checkout, you will get 12 free blankets if you buy 12 at $3.99. What a deal!

Other Winter Gear

December 8, 2009   No Comments

Small Business Expert Interview — Joel Dubinski, Head of SMB Sales at InterCall

Dollar Days Blog is pleased to present the small business expertise of Joel Dubinski, Head of SMB Sales at InterCall, a company that offers conference call solutions for businesses including audio conferencing, web conferencing, and video conferencing.

Joel Dubinski, Head of SMB Sales at InterCall

Joel Dubinski, Head of SMB Sales at InterCall

Dollar Days Blog (DDB) – Please provide a brief bio and description of your company.

Joel Dubinski - I drive InterCall’s growing Small-Medium Size Business presence while maintaining its emphasis on customer’s needs and quality of service. I oversee a team of Inbound sales representatives responsible for InterCall’s online sales,  while also managing multiple teams that are solving the collaboration gaps of InterCall’s small-medium size business.  During my time at InterCall, I helped form a strategic partnership with Huddle creating the world’s first unified collaboration, communication and social networking platform.

InterCall is the trusted advisor to the small-to-medium sized business owner. Our company specializes in providing a variety of toll-free  audio, web and video conferencing solutions, facilitating thousands of meetings each day.  Our investment in the latest technology and bridging systems enable our clients to enjoy the highest level of quality and service from each and every conference call and web conference.

DDB - What is web conferencing and how can small businesses benefit from using it to run more effective, efficient meetings?

Dubinski – Web conferencing is an essential tool for small businesses.  It allows them to reach a larger customer base without increasing their overhead costs.  Web conferencing can demonstrate to their audience that they are in tune with advancements in technology and are willing to use something new and innovative to increase their productivity.  With the use of web conferencing a small business can shorten their business cycle which will lead to an overall stronger output in sales, growth and reach.

DDB – How can web conferencing help SMBs project the image of successful, stable companies?

Dubinski - Many SMBs are start ups in every sense of the word.  SMB owners may be working on a shoestring budget or even working from home,  all the while trying to do the best they can to generate a perception of an established business so they can compete with larger companies.  A professional looking and sounding web conferencing service conveys the perception of professionalism and an established business.  Instead of using a sometimes unreliable home phone, landline or mobile phone to conference multiple parties in and possibly incur static or lost connections, a web conferencing service ensures clear, effective and efficient conference calls every time.  Calls can be recorded, many parties can dial in and video conferencing can easily be added to enhance meetings.

DDB – What are some of the lessons that InterCall has learned from providing conferencing services to small businesses over the past 15 years?

Dubinski - Personally, I have learned that some business needs do not change. Regardless of how big or small a business is, people will constantly be looking for better ways to communicate and collaborate.   InterCall is unique because our mission is to help provide conferencing and collaboration services to all businesses to help them communicate more efficiently and effectively regardless of size.  It is also true that although a business may start as what is labeled SMB, it has the potential to grow into a larger enterprise company. InterCall wants to be there every step of the way and help them achieve their success.

DDB - Are there any new/exciting developments coming down the pipeline that SMBs should know about in the web conferencing market?

Dubinski – As web conferencing becomes more and more evolved, the ways to communicate change.  The addition of VOIP and audio broadcasting to web conferencing solutions are becoming more popular as are virtual webinars.  As web conferencing is becoming more and more commoditized these enhancements will help different providers differentiate themselves.

DDB – How can SMBs choose a web conferencing provider? What should they look for and what questions should they ask?

Dubinski - As SMBs start to choose a web conferencing provider there are a few things they should be looking for.

First, does the  company have multiple options for web conferencing solutions?  You do not want to be pigeon-holed into one platform if your needs change and evolve.

Secondly, SMBs should be looking to make sure that their web provider has a strong integration with audio conferencing as these services complement each other.

Finally, one should make sure the company is putting money back into its own products/services for enhancements and R&D, like InterCall does.

In regards to functionality  SMBs should be asking the following:

  1. Is it easy to use?
  2. Is there a low barrier to entry?
  3. Is it a scalable product?
  4. Is this for small collaboration groups, large webinars, or both?
  5. Does it have the “core features” that almost all platforms have (Audio integration, App/desktop sharing, presentation uploads, chat capability, email integration)?

Those are some of the basic inquires I would be asking if I were purchasing a web conferencing solution.

Does your company use a web conferencing or teleconferencing product to communicate with customers, colleagues or vendors? Share your experiences and comments below!

December 7, 2009   No Comments

Small Business Expert Interview – Mark Stevens, CEO of MSCO

MSCO CEO Mark Stevens

MSCO CEO Mark Stevens

Dollar Days Blog is pleased to share the small business expertise of Mark Stevens, CEO of MSCO, sales columnist for Entrepreneur.com and bestselling author of Your Marketing Sucks.

Dollar Days Blog (DDB) – Please summarize your business expertise in a nutshell.

Mark Stevens – My expertise is to identify and address what it takes for a business to grow and to move from one level of profitable revenues to the next.

DDB - Your bio indicates hat you did not attend business school, but that you got your business education on the streets of Queens. What did you learn there that helped you to succeed in business?

Stevens – The streets provide a far more enriching education than Harvard Business School. They teach you to learn from people who may not look “polished” enough to help you. To expect the unexpected. To act when your back is against the wall. To be prepared for random acts of opportunity and challenge.

DDB – Please explain your idea (written in a recent blog post) that less is more when it comes to advertising.

Stevens – Find a single key point about your business or product. For example, Walmart has chosen ‘low price leader’ as its single key point. Then push the accelerator on that. Avoid the temptation to tell everything about your business. The key messages will be lost in fog!

DDB - You’ve achieved considerable success with your book, “Your Marketing Sucks”. What are some of the key takeaways from the book?

Stevens – Throw out the traditional marketing playbook. It was written by professors who have never marketed/sold anything. Most important, measure everything you do in terms of revenue generation and stop all initiatives that don’t produce measurable results. ROI is king!

DDB – Lots of people might think that the title of your new book (God is a Salesman) is pretty cheeky. How could an omnipotent being, Creator of the Universe be a salesman?

Stevens – He is not really, and I address that right up front. But he teaches us the power of belief and faith, which are both critical for every businessperson.

DDB - What is the single most important thing that every small businessperson should do and why?

Stevens – Make the decision to be a big business person. Small business people work for themselves. Big businesspeople build a team to work for them….and to build their wealth.

What do you think of Mark Stevens’ advice? Is less really more when it comes to marketing? Join the discussion and leave your comments below!

November 30, 2009   2 Comments