This blog contains some simple tips and advice from two regular guys. We're not accountants, financial advisors, or brokers, so follow, ignore, or discuss our ideas as you see fit.

Friday, February 29, 2008

More storage and more money!

Posted By Paul

I recently discovered a cool and frugal event that I thought was cool enough that it justified a posting.

I have several hobbies and my hobbies have a tendency to cause an accumulation of hobby related stuff (a fact that several of my friends can relate to).

Well I recently discovered an event that helped me to get rid of some of my unwanted hobby related stuff, and also helped me to save money. This event was specific to a particular hobby, but I thought that I should try to keep my eyes open for events like it.

Enough beating around the bush. The hobby I'm talking about is board games. I really enjoy playing them with friends and family. So of course the result of this is that you end up with a pretty decent closet full of board games that for whatever reason you don't want anymore.

Well a local game store hosted a game auction where you can bring in your old board games and they will sell them at an auction for you. I brought in 10 games that I didn't want. The way this auction worked was that you brought them in on Wednesday (where you were given a 'seller' number and you filled out the minimum bids for all of your items), and then the actual auction was on Sunday.

I went to the event on Sunday. My plan was to not only sell my unwanted games (the cash paid for the games goes to the store and you get that amount in store credit), but pick up a few games at a bargain price.

Well I didn't end up buying any games (my wife was shocked, but the other games I was interested in were all bid up too high for me), but I sold all of my games except 1. The store handled the whole process and all I had to do was pick up my one unsold game and my gift card loaded with my $130 in store credit!

The game store (if you live in the Portland, OR area I recommend checking it out, the people there are really nice) does these auctions twice a year and it was a great way to clean out some of my old stuff and turn it into new stuff.

I do a similar thing with books (I found a bookstore that takes used books and gives you store credit) and it not only helps you save money on your hobbies, it also keeps you from accumulating too much stuff that you just end up storing and never using.

Have people out there had similar experiences with other types of hobbies?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Home power monitoring

Posted by Matt

I read a great article the other day that made me glad that I chose an LCD when my wife bought me a new TV for my birthday last year. From the article:

The LCD is clearly the winner in energy efficiency. The CRT uses 60 percent more energy than the LCD, and the plasma uses 319 percent more than an LCD!

That got me thinking about energy usage (again; see here and here) throughout my house. I've already read a lot about other people (especially personal finance bloggers) using a device called the "Kill-A-Watt" to track and thereby reduce their energy usage, and have been considering purchasing one.

You plug individual devices into this gadget, then plug it into the wall and read the energy usage from the display. It's an easy way to find out where you are spending the most for electricity. But not everyone is willing to run around the whole house pulling plugs. (Sounds like a fun project to me, actually).

However, I'm glad I waited. I just received a newsletter from my electric company alerting me to a promotion for WHOLE HOUSE monitors. From their article:

Studies show that households that use real-time feedback monitors use less energy and save money. That’s why Energy Trust of Oregon is conducting a 2008 study of how home energy monitors affect residential energy consumption. Qualified households can purchase a Blue Line PowerCost Monitorfor just $29.99, an 80% discount from the $149.99 retail price.

A discount on something that will help me save money? Of course I signed up right away. The Blueline power monitor is in the mail, so stay tuned for upcoming posts about how I'm going to drive my wife crazy by becoming the energy police around our house. The portion pictured above goes on a wall inside the house (like a thermostat), so it should be fairly easy to turn lights and appliances on and off to do some testing and we can also just watch how our usage varies throughout the day.

I also forwarded the information to another local blogger (J.D. from GetRichSlowly; also an Oregonian and hopefully eligible for the promotion) in the hopes of getting perspective from another household.

Monday, February 25, 2008

New CD Ladder and New Experiment

Posted By Paul

For those of you following the CD ladder postings that I have been writing recently, specifically:

Are CD Ladders Worth The Climb?
Recession coming? Time to lock in rates?


CD Ladder one year in

I thought you might find it interesting to know that I did a couple of things with my emergency fund in the hope that it would be educational to myself and other Frugalize readers.

I have one CD ladder and in the posting:

CD Ladder one year in

I estimate the amount of money that I would have made if I had I left the money in my savings account versus putting it in a CD ladder.

Well today I did three things with my savings account.

1) I created a new account and put the exact amount in it that I estimated above.
2) I started a second CD ladder.
3) I created ANOTHER new account and put the exact same amount that I put into my second ladder into this account.

So now I have two CD ladders and two savings account where each account holds the same amount that I put into the CD ladder. My plan is to periodically check in on the value of the CD ladders (where the value would include any penalties from early cash out) relative to their matching savings accounts.

The first ladder was started when the APY on my savings account was higher and the savings account rate has since fallen for the savings account. It will be interesting to see if that ends up being the case with my second ladder.

So keep reading for periodic postings on the CD Ladder vs. the savings account race.

A path to instant gratification

Posted by Matt

Some of our more dedicated frugalizers are probably sticklers for buying on sale. But it's painful, isn't it? You do the research and then watch the ads every week. Wait......wait......waaaaaait.......

Frustrating, huh? Well, thanks to a website called Price Protectr, you may no longer need to torture yourself.

If you buy something and then it goes on sale, some stores will refund the difference for up to 30 days. You can register purchases with Price Protectr and the site will monitor price drops (free of charge) for items from Target, Costco, Amazon, and other selected stores. You'll receive emails each time the price goes down.

I should point out that you don't necessarily have to use this site to find sales AFTER the fact. The simple interface only asks for the product URL and your email address, so I punched in the URL for a book on my Amazon wish list. PriceProtectr correctly found today's price and sent me a confirmation email to let me know that they would let me know if the price went down anytime in the next 30 days.

As soon as I can think of something I want to buy, I'll try it out.

The CD Ladder, one year in.

Posted By Paul

One of my first posts to Frugalize was when I was considering setting up a CD ladder.

Here is the link to the original article:

Are CD Ladders Worth The Climb

So if you've been reading some of my other posts you've noticed that I have been considering putting more money into CD's. I realized that a natural thing to do would be to take a look at the CD ladder that I already set up and see how it's actually doing (vs. what I would have made if I had left it in my savings account).

So first a little background in my CD ladder. It is through my Internet Savings Account and my initial deposit was $5000 back in November of 2006. Here was the initial set of CD's:

A: $1000 in a 1 yr CD at 5.1% APY.
B: $1000 in a 2 yr CD at 5.0% APY.
C: $1000 in a 3 yr CD at 5.0% APY.
D: $1000 in a 4 yr CD at 5.0% APY.
E: $1000 in a 5 yr CD at 5.0% APY.

Now currently I'm 14 months into it so my ladder looks like this:

A: Matured after one year and is now a 5 yr CD at 4.9%
B: 1 yr to go until maturity at 5.0% APY.
C: 2 yr to go until maturity at 5.0% APY.
D: 3 yr to go until maturity at 5.0% APY.
E: 4 yr to go until maturity at 5.0% APY.

So compared to my current savings rate (which is 3.4% APY) these interest rates look pretty sweet, but let's take the fees into account if I were to take my money out today.

Each CD has a penalty of 6 months of interest for early redemption. So if I were to cash the CD's in today I would get:

A: $1,038.54
B: $1036.96
C: $1036.96
D: $1036.96
E: $1036.96

For a total of $5186.38.

So now since the CD ladder has been around for 14 months (1.16 years) then to calculate the APY:

The APY is X in the equation:

5000 + (5000*(1.16*x)) = $5186.38

Which gives an APY of 3.2%

So how does that stack up? Well currently the APY on my savings account is 3.4% (and it has been falling over the last year, I think that back in November of 2006 is was around 4.4%).

So it's not possible to calculate exactly what the $5000 would have grown to over the last 14 months since I don't have the historical data of my shifting interest rate, so I'll just ball park it:

If it had in a savings account at 3.4% APY for 14 months I would have:

If it had been in a savings account at 4.4% APY for 14 months I would have:

So from the savings account I would have ended up with some amount between $5197.20 and $5255.20. I'm going to just average them to get a basic comparison. Let's say that in the savings account that after a year the $5000 would be worth:


So now let's compare:

CD Ladder Return = $186.38
Estimated savings account return = $226.20

So based on this estimate after a year my CD ladder is trailing the savings account estimate by about $40.

So what does this mean? Well it means that the early cash in penalty definitely plays a factor, but it's also interesting to note that after the relatively short period of 14 months into the ladder (where the penalty is 6 months of interest) that the ladder is quickly approaching the savings account. As time goes on the penalty of 6 months will become less and less significant of a factor in the equation and it becomes more a race of relative rates.

So overall I think the CD ladder has been a great experiment and a good decision. I'm VERY excited to see what the two year update is.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Don't waste money on WASTE

Posted by Matt

I'm ALWAYS looking for places to save money. When we moved, I had the idea that we could scale back our garbage service to the smallest container our service provider offered and save a few bucks each month.

Then the container arrived.

It held literally a single garbage bag with no room to spare. We decided to try it anyway, as our new house came with a compost bin and we also recycle a lot.

Then Christmas hit.

Sure, I recycled all the paper and cardboard I could, but was still left with lots of shipping foam and other garbage created by the busy holiday season. We elected to up our garbage cart to the next larger size. I still think about cutting back almost every time I take the garbage out, but the small can is just really small.

This week, as I was rolling the can to the curb, I noticed that it was nearly empty. Instead of pining for the smaller cart like I usually do, I dashed around the house and garage to gather and empty ALL of our wastebaskets, and also threw in a few oversized foam pieces I'd been saving. This should keep us from having to pay a surcharge for putting out extra.

Again, recycling also really helps cut down on how much gets contributed to the local landfill, and you can be creative with some items that the recycling truck won't take. For example, my wife used to have a small business that received a lot of shipments. We would save the boxes, foam and packing peanuts for a few months and then post it on Craigslist or Freecycle. It would usually find a home within a day or two. I'm hoping to do the same with all the glass bottles we pulled out of the crawlspace.

It's bad enough to spend money to procure stuff, but even worse to spend to throw things out.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

An unexpected dental cost

Posted by Matt
I've had to change dentists several times over the past five years or so, mostly because I like to go to one close to home and we've moved so much recently. I was lucky enough to find an office located about a block from our new house, and just went in for my first visit (a regular cleaning.) One thing I've noticed is that dentists always seem to want their own x-rays. The new office suggested a new full-mouth set (aka panorex, see image) and I agreed, putting my faith in the professionals to tell me what is needed. I don't usually give much thought to dental costs because routine items like cleanings, exams and x-rays are covered by my insurance. Imagine my surprise, then, when I was charged $47 at the end of my visit!

I checked my dental coverage as soon as I got to work and discovered that full mouth x-rays ARE covered, but only once every three years! I don't know if x-rays are a profitable service for dentists or if the ones from their own machine are easier to file or what, but I had a full set of x-rays done just last year and they were mailed from my last dentist's office prior to my appointment, so I think the dentist just wasted my $47.

I'm not trying to bad-mouth dentists; I just wanted to share yet another experience that shows it pays to be an informed consumer. Keep it in mind the next time you switch dentists!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Laid Off: Summary Of My Job Hunt.

Posted By Paul

Hi Everyone,

I was just going through my job hunt notes and I thought people might enjoy the 'stats' from my job hunt that I was able to compile:

Days unemployed: 28

Weeks of unemployment claimed: 2 (I was laid off on a Tuesday so that partial week's pay made me ineligible for unemployment that week, then there was a 'waiting week' before I could claim benefits).

Total recruiters I talked to or emailed: 12

Recruiters I met in person: 6

Total jobs applied for: 32 (10 through recruiters, 22 on my own)

Number of companies I never heard back from at all: 24

Companies that phone interviewed me and passed: 6

Companies that met with me in person: 2

Companies that made me an offer: 1

Wow, even I'm surprised that it essentially took 32 tries before I found one job where I liked the company and they liked me. Just goes to show that persistence is a big part of job hunting.

Recession coming? Time to lock in rates?

Posted By Paul

So there has been a lot of talk of a recession coming, which got me thinking.

I have an emergency fund that I use for rainy days (see my various other posts on my experience with a recent layoff), and I'm trying to figure out what to do with it.

I currently keep it in an internet savings account but all this talk of recession had me wondering.

Over the past months the interest rate for my savings account has been gradually dropping little by little.

It seems like there have been numerous interest rate cuts related to the possibility of a recession coming. Perhaps I should assume that interest rates will continue to fall, and lock in a rate now with a CD?

Also if you've read my article:

Financial Choices, Good vs Better

You know that I generally don't worry too much about squeezing a little more return out of an investment, but this idea struck me as essentially harmless and something that might make sense.

What do people think? Good idea? Bad idea?

Laid Off: Day 28 - The Job Hunt Ends

Posted By Paul

Hi Everyone,

Well I can't believe it, but the job hunt is over. One of the companies I talked to made me an offer and I am taking it. I actually report for work tomorrow (it's still sort of sinking in).

So this time tomorrow I'll be knee-deep in new people, new things to learn, and new challenges. It really is the greatest irony that I had all of this time off and couldn't really enjoy it.

I thought I would add a few little bits of advice for the "offer" stage of the job hunt while it's still fresh in my mind.

-Remember that when a company makes you an offer, there is no harm in taking a little time to think about it. In fact I make it a point to take every offer and spend a day thinking over it just to make sure that I don't make any rash decision. Often companies will be eager to have you accept the offer, but they will also understand if you say: "The offer sounds great, but I just want to take a day to think about it."

-I'm not an expert on this at all, but you can negotiate the offer if you want. Perhaps you would like more money, you can ask for it. Maybe you'd like more vacation time, you can ask for that too. Keep in mind that once a company has made you an offer, they WANT you to take the job so that means you are sort of in a position of power. I say 'sort of' because in my case I was of course unemployed, and was looking forward to having a paycheck again. Still I decided to ask for a little more vacation time (which I got). Generally the worst thing they will say is "No the offer stands as is." So you can negotiate IF YOU WANT. One of my friends was a hiring manager at a company where in order to get approval to make someone an offer you had to approve the budget for the offering salary PLUS 10%. In essence at this company whatever salary they offer you, they are already approved to offer you 10% more, you just need to ask for it. I doubt most companies work that way, but just remember that you can negotiate an offer if you want.

-Feel free to ask questions. Got questions about their health insurance or vacation policy? By all means feel free to ask. I've never found a company that wasn't willing to help you get your questions answered, as it is a VERY reasonable thing to do when considering an offer. In fact most of the times when I deal with a company they seem to appreciate it when I ask questions as it shows that I'm taking their offer seriously.

Well, I guess that's about it. Thanks to all the folks that wished me well, and maybe there will be future posts relating to starting a new job.

Fixed my freezer!

Posted By Paul

I wanted to follow up on my earlier article:

Fix it yourself or call a repairman.

And share another small victory in my never ending war of home-repair.

Recently I noticed a small puddle of water in front of the freezer side of my fridge (we have one of those side-by-side fridge/freezers). At first I thought it was just an old spill so I wiped it up and didn't think much of it, and then I saw it again a couple days later.

A little more investigation and I saw that on the bottom of the freezer section was a nice sheet of ice that had accumulated. My thought was that this sheet of ice was growing, gradually creeping up to the door seam, melting and that this was what was causing the puddle. I removed the sheet of ice, and started watching it closely. Sure enough the ice sheet slowly returned, growing gradually until the puddle of water had returned within about 5 days.

So then it became a question of where was the ice sheet coming from? My first thought was that maybe there was a water leak in the ice maker and this was dripping water that eventually accumulated at the bottom of the freezer and froze. I checked over the ice maker but it all looked fine. Then I thought that maybe during the defrost cycle of the freezer that the ice in the ice maker was melting and providing the water. To test this I emptied out the ice drawer and shut off the ice maker (ice isn't really in demand much in Portland in February anyway). The ice sheet continued to grow so I knew that wasn't it.

I talked to my father-in-law and he said that he was pretty sure what it was. In the freezer there is a drain that is designed to catch the water that drips off during a defrost cycle. The water drains to a pan where it evaporates. He said that if that drain gets clogged then the water can't drain and it will start to accumulate at the lowest point in the freezer.

So I emptied the freezer and removed the access panel, and sure enough there was a drain that was covered with ice. I quick zap with my wife's hair dryer got rid of the ice, but the drain still wasn't draining properly. I tried threading a small piece of wire down there in case there was a clog, but didn't have much luck. I then got a pitcher, filled it with hot water from my tap, and started slowly pouring it into the drain. Since the drain was clogged most of the water overflowed onto the bottom surface of the freezer and onto the floor (luckily I had many towels ready), but by slowly pouring little by little the drain started to drain more quickly. Eventually it drained at a pace that seemed normal. Maybe there was just a little gunk or some residue ice that needed to be washed away.

After flushing out the drain I put the access panel back in place and I have been watching the freezer closely. So far no return of the ice sheet or the freezer puddle.

Another call to the repairman avoided!

Monday, February 18, 2008

How much are you spending on compost?

Posted by Matt

Back when I was a bachelor, I very rarely purchased vegetables. I tried for awhile, but found that I was throwing far too much of it out. I guess I was not alone: My wife recently found an article online that indicates that the average American household annually throws away about $300 worth of produce that spoiled before it was eaten.

To reduce this waste, the article has several tips for getting the most life out of your fruits and vegetables; for example, not storing bananas in the refrigerator. I used to refrigerate bananas because I found that, even though the banana peel turned brown faster in the fridge, the insides lasted much longer. They never tasted as good, though, and maybe that supports the article's contention that the cold interferes with ripening. These days, my wife keeps the bananas on the counter and we just try to remember to eat them quickly. There's no getting around the fact that you have to eat produce fairly soon after purchasing it, but you can extend your window of opportunity by buying according to the suggestions (and excellent photo examples) in the article.
I think it would be humorous if someone followed all the tips, threw out hardly any produce, and then went out and spent the money they saved on compost for their yard.

Laid Off: Day 27 - The Job Hunt Gains Momentum

Posted By Paul

It's amazing how with job hunting it seems to be nothing for weeks, and then all of a sudden everyone starts calling you back. I literally had companies that I submitted my resume to weeks ago call me back the same day as a company I submitted my resume to the day before. What does it all mean? Well I think the best conclusion to draw from all this is that job hunting has a certain amount of randomness involved. Some companies move very quickly, others move very slowly, and sometimes it all means that you have weeks with nobody calling you and then suddenly everyone wants to talk to you.

I have spoken with several companies since my last posting (phone interviews, and some in person interviews). Here are some of my impressions from the recent hunt:

1) You shouldn't consider it a personal failure if a phone screen doesn't go well. I've had interviews where about 10 minutes into the interview it was obvious that I wasn't what they wanted. It can be an depressing experience to go into a job interview with all of this optimism only to discover that they wanted a completely different skill set, but you have to not take it personally. If you are out there sending resumes and interviewing with various companies you'll have to expect that some of the companies you talk to won't be a good fit. Doesn't mean the good fit isn't out there, it just means this wasn't it.

2) Be prepared for a variety of interview styles. Throughout my career I've had a pretty wide range of interviews. I've had interviews where we spend the time discussing my background, skills, career goals, and how well they match the position. I've also had interviews where they introduce themselves and then immediately start quizzing me about skills listed on my resume. I've also had interviews where I've been asked questions like: "Estimate the amount of gasoline consumed in LA in a day." and "Someone wants you to design a parking garage, what factors would you take into account." (note that gasoline consumption and parking garages had NOTHING to do with the job, they just wanted to see me work through the problem). My only advice for folks going through the process are:

-Try to prepare. You can search the internet for common interview questions (either general ones or ones specific to your skill set). It's worth taking the time to look over a set of questions and study them in preparation for an interview. I keep a document that has a set of common interview questions that I've run into. Before every phone screen or in person interview I go over the list as a quick refresher.

-Try to relax. Interviewing is stressful, that's simply how it is. Try to relax as much as you can. Try to get into the mindset that you are trying to see if you like them just as much as they are trying to see if they like you. It really is true (though I admit it doesn't seem like it when you're on unemployment).

-If you blow an interview, don't be too hard on yourself. I had a phone interview where the interview was me being asked technical question after technical question for half an hour (I felt like I was on a quiz show or something). I did pretty well, I gave pretty good answers to all of their questions but some of the terms they asked me to define stumped me. They decided to not bring me in for an interview. I was disappointed, but I have to realize that this company probably wanted someone who could rattle off the answers to their questions from memory, and that wasn't me. Not to say that I'm bad at what I do, it just means that I wasn't what they wanted.

3) Try not to schedule too densely. If you are so lucky as to find yourself in a situation where companies are clamoring to talk to you, then my suggestions is to not schedule these interviews too closely. You never know which interview might start late or run long (I had a phone interview that was supposed to go from 2PM to 2:30, but they ran late so we didn't even get started until 2:20 and didn't finish until 3:00PM). Also, take into consideration the fact that interviewing can be really tiring. Getting dressed up, meeting new people, putting yourself on the line in the hope of being offered a position...it's stressful, so try to schedule some recharge time in there or else you might run yourself ragged.

So I guess that's all of the advice I can give for this part of the process. Best wishes to my fellow job hunters out there. Remember there are lots of jobs out there, and you only need one!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Laid Off: Day 21 - Working with recruiters

Posted By Paul

Hello from day 21 off my layoff experience. I wanted to keep everyone updated on my journey back to gainful employment, and hopefully share some useful information along the way.

I won't repeat anything that I have already mentioned in my previous post

Currently I am what I would call right in the middle of the job hunt process. I am sending out resumes, doing phone screens and (in some cases) interviews, working with recruiters, and generally doing whatever I can to get a job. I had forgotten how tiring it can be to job hunt all day.

Now one thing I wanted to mention is that I am focusing on getting a job that might actually be a good long term fit for me. I'm not trying to find "any port in a storm". After looking at my finances, my emergency fund, severance, unemployment, and so on I feel that I can try to find a good job as opposed to just any job.

So one thing I've been experiencing a lot recently are recruiters. I wanted to share my impressions and experiences since they are becoming more and more common within various fields. My experiences are with recruiters that work in the high tech industry but I believe that the information in this post will apply to recruiters for numerous industries. Also I'm referring to third-party recruiters, which in my experience are the most common.

Here is an article describing the different types of recruiters in greater detail.

So let's start off with the basic question. What is a recruiter? Well a recruiter is someone who serves as your agent and tries to find you a job. If you have read my recent post:

Know Their Agenda

Then you're first thought might be: "What's in it for them?" That is a very good question.

Let's say you are a company and you are looking to hire someone for a particular position. Finding qualified candidates for a position can take a lot of work. If you just post a listing on a web page you may have to sift through literally hundreds of resumes to find one candidate that is actually qualified for the position. So you may decide to involve a recruiter.

What you do is give the recruiter the job description and you promise to pay them a commission if they find you the candidate that you ultimately hire. It can be a pretty good deal for you, as now you have this other party finding resumes, filtering them based on what you're looking for, and forwarding the best candidates to you.

Some may say, why wouldn't the recruiting company just barrage you with every resume they can lay their hands on in the hope that they'll get lucky? Well the reason is simple...if you were working with a recruiting company to help you find candidates, and instead they just barrage you with resumes would you work with them again?

So the idea is that the company gives the recruiter the job description and the recruiter does all of the leg work to find a small set of candidates that the company can interview. Now of course the company is not required to limit their search to JUST candidates that come from the recruiter and if they find a candidate through a different channel (like one of their employees refers them) then they don't have to pay the recruiter anything.

So what's it like working with recruiters? Well I think that sometimes recruiters get a bad reputation. I think recruiters are like many services, where a good one can be a great asset and a bad one can be a nightmare.

I really believe that if you are going to work with one or more recruiters that you should really work to manage the recruiter to make sure you are always on the same page.

Here is an example that happened to me. This was about 4 years ago when I was working for a company but was interested in other opportunities. A recruiter contacted me with a job that sounded really good. It was in a field that I had a lot of experience in, and I even knew a person who worked there. I talked to the recruiter about my ideal job. We discussed things like work environment, salary, and so on. They forwarded my resume to the company, and the company brought me in for an interview.

The short story is that I have never felt so much like I had aced the interview. I knew all of the software they were talking about, had experience with all of the tools they used, it seemed like a perfect fit. I came out of that interview excited about the new job.

My recruiter got back to me and sure enough they offered me a job...at 50% of my current pay! In our first discussion I had told my recruiter how much I made and said I wanted to stay in the same ballpark. The recruiter responded that the company wanted to hire someone much more junior so they only budgeted for a much less experienced person, but they liked me a lot (of course I would have liked me a lot at the salary they offered as well, it would have been a bargain). Suffice it to say that I didn't take the offer and never worked with THAT recruiter again. This is a great example of a BAD recruiting experience.

Now keep in mind, working with recruiters doesn't have to be like this, but you have to make sure that you and your recruiter are always on the same page. Here are some tips I suggest for working with a recruiter:

1) Be REALLY clearly with what your salary expectations are. The more ambiguous you are, the more likely it is that something will go wrong. If you don't even want to look at a job under a certain salary then tell them that. If you have some flexibility then tell them that too. I've heard some people say you should NEVER tell someone a specific number when talking salary, but I think that in the case of a recruiter you really should if for no other reason than to make sure you don't have the terrible scenario I described above.

2) If there is anything that would keep you from taking a job, let them know up front. If you refuse to commute more than 20 minutes, or you don't want a job where you have to wear a tie every day then let the recruiter know. It's in their best interest to make sure that they find you jobs that meet your criteria, so let them know what that is.

3) Be honest about any lead they present you with. If a recruiter sends you a lead, then look it over and give an honest opinion of how much the job appeals to you and also how good a fit you think you are for it. If there is something about the job that doesn't appeal to you, then the process can stop there, or you can go forward and hear more. It's really up to you. The recruiter doesn't want to send you on interviews when you have no chance of getting a job (or of taking the job), that just wastes their time and burns their credit with the company.

4) Make sure that a recruiter will only send your resume to places with your permission. This is pretty standard, but I have heard of recruiters that will just send your resume out to various places without even telling you about the lead. This is just asking for trouble. If you catch a recruiter doing this, I say stop working with them and go with someone else.

5) Be honest about the job hunting you are doing on your own. Let's say a recruiter comes to you with a job lead for a company, but you already sent your resume over to them that morning (or maybe some other recruiter has already sent your resume over). Tell them that. The worst faux pas in the recruiting world is to have your resume submitted by two different parties, because if that happens and you end up getting the job, who gets the commission?

6) Be aware of how the recruiter is motivated and get that to work for you. Recruiters want to get you A JOB, not necessarily the best job for you long term. If they can get you hired into a company that is a two hour commute for half the money and if for whatever reason you are willing to take the job then they're happy to do that. Keep that in mind and give them the information that lets them find you a great job.

7) Job hunt on your own, and don't feel obligated to work with only one recruiter. If the recruiter had their way, they would like you to only work with them and to do no job hunting on your own; however recruiters don't realistically expect you to do that. I think you should job hunt on your own. No one knows your skills and job preferences better than you do (and besides what else do you have to do all day?).

8) Track EVERY job lead. Whether or not you work with recruiters this is a good idea, but if you work with a recruiter (or more than one) and job hunt on your own it is imperative that you do this. That way you know who your resume has been submitted to, and by who. You don't want to be in a position where a recruiter calls you with a job lead for a company but you think (but aren't sure) that you've already applied there.

9) Keep your recruiter in the loop. I think that's just courtesy. I'm not saying that you have to call your recruiter every time you send a resume to someone, but if it looks like you might be landing a job (either one you found on your own or through a different recruiter) a recruiter will appreciate knowing that you might be off the market soon, and if you DO get a new job, they'll really appreciate knowing that you're off the market.

If you work with recruiters here are a few things I see when dealing with them:

-Sometimes you get a recruiter who implies they have a lot of job leads, when in fact they have one, and if you don't want that job, or have already applied for it you never hear from them again. It happens, you can always find another recruiter.

-Sometimes you get a recruiter who isn't familiar with your particular field and so they send you job leads that don't really match your skill set. The good recruiters will learn what you are specifically looking for quickly.

-Sometimes you get a recruiter who tries to push you into applying for a job that you don't really want, or maybe accepting an offer for a job that you are on the fence about. Remember they are motivated to get you placed, so don't let yourself be bullied into getting a job that you don't really want. The ultimate choice is up to you.

Another thing I've heard stories about (but never experienced myself) is where recruiters try to convince a candidate that the job market is much worse than it is, or that they're not as qualified as they think they are so the candidate gets desperate and scared, and is more willing to grab at the first thing that comes along. Of course if you do your own job hunt then you'll never fall for this.

I hope I haven't made recruiters sound like villains in this posting. In fact there are some great things recruiters can do for you. Here are some examples from my own experiences throughout my career:

-I had an interview with a company that a recruiter set me up with. After the interview the company told the recruiter that they liked me but they were worried that I didn't have a particular skill that was key to the job. The recruiter called my references and summarized what they had to say (which included 'quick learner' as part of their endorsement) and sent that summary to the company. That was something I could have never done on my own.

-A recruiter sent me a posting and under the list of 'must have' skills there was one thing that I didn't have. I told the recruiter this. They called the company and mentioned that I lacked this key skill, and the company said that considering my other experience they were willing to relax this restriction. If I had come across the posting myself then I might have sent my resume anyway, but it helped to have that feedback to know that my lack of a particular skill wasn't a deal-breaker.

-In a job hunt several years ago I had a job offer in hand, but there was another company (that I found through a recruiter) that I interviewed with that was my first choice. I told the recruiter that I had an offer but I REALLY would like to give this other company a chance to make me an offer before I accepted the first offer. The recruiter (seeing the possibility of losing a commission) was more than happy to call the company I was waiting on and let them know the situation so that they knew that I was about to go off the market but that I really wanted to hear back from them.

Wow, this ended up being a pretty long post, but I hope someone out the finds it useful. To summarize, recruiters can be incredibly useful agents in the job hunt, but you have to manage your relationship with them properly (which can be a lot of work unto itself).

My view is that I never assume a recruiter will find me a job, but I'm happy to work with anyone who wants to take my resume and find job leads for me. After all, you never know which lead will be the one that pans out.

Know Their Agenda: Some great advice I got.

Posted By Paul

This is just a little word of wisdom that I man I used to work with gave me that I thought was very useful.

In today's world you have to be careful about what you do with your money, but you don't want to spend all of your life being paranoid about being swindled.

Here is what my colleague told me:

"In every business transaction where money changes hands. Remember that SOME of that money is going into that person's pocket, if you can't see how that money is going into their pocket, then be very concerned because you're probably missing something."

That probably seems like an obvious statement, but I have actually found it to be a pretty useful. It's amazing to realize how often people try to do something where you give them your money and they try to hide the fact that some of that money is going to them. Just taking a moment to think about how THAT person is getting paid (thus understanding their motivation) can keep you cautious about a deal without being overly paranoid.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Energy vampires....biting your wallet?

Posted by Matt

Has everyone heard of the principle of diminishing returns? I'm discovering that personal finance improvements are yet another area where it applies. When people are first starting out financially, they can do a lot of smart things (set a budget, start retirement accounts) that will have a BIG impact on their financial well-being. Over time, however, the returns they get for the time they invest tend to diminish.

Accordingly, today's post is about one of the little things you can do. Because every little bit helps, right? Check out this quick-reference page I found about "energy vampires": http://awesome.goodmagazine.com/transparency/008/trans008vampireenergy.html

It shows you how much money various household electronics devices will cost you for one year in their "standby" modes. The worst item on the list is the plasma TV at $159.76/year (!!) in active standby, which made me glad that I bought an LCD screen ($2.51/year in passive standby). When I used to use my Playstation 2, it always bothered me that the off switch on the front of the box didn't really turn the device off; it only put it in standby mode. The REAL off switch is on the back, but I guess it's worth the $25/year to reach back there. One of our DVD players has a similarly annoying habit. The off switch on the remote only puts the device in standby.

One good suggestion I've read is to plug everything in the entertainment system into a surge protectorthat has its own off switch. That way, you can just hit that one switch to shut everything down at once. I've always wanted to do this, but haven't because the power supply (and huge pile of wires plugged into it) is hidden under our TV stand. Maybe the next time we have an electrician out, I'll ask them to wire the outlet to a wall switch. I could do the same in our home office, if I wasn't so worried about inadvertently losing data.

Does anyone out there use Windows power management features like hibernate or standby? I gave up on them because it was usually faster to reboot than to "wake the machine up". I don't shut my laptop down, either, because I have to pull it out of its stand to get past the BIOS security my company uses. So, I usually go to bed feeling guilty about the energy I'm wasting.

Like I said, some of this stuff is hard. I know that some people struggle with just shutting off the lights they're not using, and here I am asking them to think about the various standby modes of every electronic device they own.

But hey, being a frugalizer just takes a little extra effort sometimes.

UPDATE: Had a great suggestion in one of our reader comments about saving money and energy with "smart strips". Check them out!