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The logo of LinkedIn Corporation in Mountain View, Calif . Hamm recommends the professional networking site as a good starting point for doing a background check on a potential employee. (Robert Galbraith/Reuters/File)

How to run a background check

By Guest blogger / 10.08.13

Welcome to the fourth entry in my “Ultimate Guide” series here on The Simple Dollar. If you want to hop back to the first three, here are some quick links:
Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Term Life Insurance Policy
Ultimate Guide to Choosing an Internet Service Provider
Ultimate Guide to Amazon Discounts

This fourth entry is about background checks, a topic that I’ve touched on quite a few times on The Simple Dollar but never really dug into.

Why background checks? Background checks are an absolutely vital part of the process of finding a roommate or a boarder or hiring someone. If you’re looking for someone to rent out a room in your home or you’re thinking about hiring someone to do some work on your property, you need to have a sense of who this person is and what their background is. It’s a simple matter of protecting your own safety.

The level of background check you do is really up to you. Many of the steps you can take are things you can do on your own for free, but a professional service can often do a deeper job. Let’s dig into what you can do on your own first.

Before You Start…
Before you start checking on someone’s background, you need to obtain some information from the person you’re searching. For some situations, like choosing a roommate, there are reasonable limits on what you can ask or what you can expect them to provide – info like a current address and current employment is reasonable, but a Social Security number is not.

I would suggest that having at least a person’s full name, their place of employment, and their current address should be the minimum information I would want before engaging in an arrangement with them.

Shared Information
The first thing to do is to browse through information that people have shared about themselves online, which is often a surprising amount. There are several tools you can use very easily to find this shared information. ( Continue… )

A piggy bank branded with the logo of the English Premier League soccer club Arsenal is seen in a souvenir shop in London. The way in which parents discuss money with their children affects their future finance decisions, Trent Hamm explains. (Chris Helgren/Reuters/File)

Are parents terrible personal finance role models?

By Guest blogger / 10.07.13

Recently, I came across this article from Time Business arguing – quite convincingly – that parents are poor financial role models for their kids. From the article:

Most parents (77%) say they are not always honest with their kids about money; 15% lie weekly. Half are willing to discuss saving and spending issues but almost no one talks about tougher concepts like inflation (19%), investing (16%), diversification (11%), and asset allocation (8%). A third avoid talking about the family’s finances altogether.

Let’s break that down, piece by piece.  ( Continue… )

A bird used by a Chinese man, unseen, to perform, holds a yuan collected from a tourist as it prepares to drop it into a piggy bank, in Houhai district, in Beijing, China. Hamm outlines several small steps you can take to save money throughout the week. (Muhammed Muheisen/AP/File)

Top 14 ways to save money this week

By Guest blogger / 10.07.13

If you’re like me, you thrive on to-do lists and a carefully planned schedule.

I find that having a few things each day on my to-do list at the start of the week helps me to keep moving forward on the things I want to achieve.

In that spirit, here’s a list of fourteen things worth taking care of this week that will save you money. I’ve split them up into a pair of tasks per day so each day isn’t overwhelmed with tasks, but by the end of the week you can be really proud of what you’ve accomplished.

Monday – Start of the Work Week
The start of a fresh work week is full of opportunity – but also full of getting back in the routine after a weekend off.

Check up on your benefits. Take a quick peek at your company’s HR website or your employee’s handbook and make sure there aren’t any benefits you might want to sign up for. Most employers have programs of some kind for their employees, but it’s usually up to the active employees to find out about them.

Do some household maintenance. Clean out the dust behind the fridge. Make sure you have a fresh filter in your home heating and cooling system. Clean out the trap on your dishwasher. Every little thing like this that you handle means that your major home appliances will live a little longer.

Tuesday – In the Groove
The week is bumping along and so are you. I find that Tuesdays are often my most productive day.

Examine your retirement savings. Are you in a 401(k) plan or a Roth IRA? If not, now’s the time to sign up. If you are, make sure you’re saving enough by using a retirement calculator and make sure your investments are sensibly balanced.

Go on a long walk. It’s free. It’s a good way to get more familiar with your neighborhood and your neighbors. It’s exercise that will help improve your health. If you turn off your lights before you go, you’ll probably save some money, too. ( Continue… )

A consumer exits a store with a sale sign posted in the windows in Philadelphia. (Matt Rourke/AP/File)

Why sales don't save you money

By Guest blogger / 10.06.13

Every week, I get several flyers in the mail advertising sales at local department stores, specialty stores, and other businesses.

I leaf through them on occasion and sometimes I do see something that’s got a pretty impressive price on it, something I know is about half of what it would normally cost.

Extreme couponers like to call items like that “loss leaders.” I just see a big discount.

Does this cause me to hop in the vehicle and head to the store? Not really.

Does this cause me to make an immediate addition to my shopping list? Nope, guess again.

Unless it just so happens to be something I’m already shopping for or something I’m dead certain I can immediately re-sell at a profit, all it does is cause me to turn the page.

The reality of the matter is that big sales really don’t save you money if you’re buying things that you don’t need and wouldn’t buy anyway. You’re just spending your hard-earned cash on stuff that you wouldn’t buy if it wasn’t a big “bargain.”

If it’s an item you wouldn’t consider having in your home with a $100 price tag on it, why does that perspective suddenly change if that price tag is reduced to $80. It’s still the same item that you don’t really want and you definitely don’t need. ( Continue… )

Jan Foster stands next to the victory garden at Smithfield Farm in Falmouth, Mass. which is set up to welcome soldiers back from their service, in July. Hamm recommends creating a personal 'victory garden' to foster preservation and personal growth. (Ron Schloerb/Cape Cod Times/AP/File)

Creating a financial victory garden

By Guest blogger / 10.04.13

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of victory gardens. As Wikipedia explains it:

Victory gardens, also called war gardens or food gardens for defense, were vegetable, fruit and herb gardens planted at private residences and public parks in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Germany during World War I and World War II to reduce the pressure on the public food supply brought on by the war effort. In addition to indirectly aiding the war effort these gardens were also considered a civil “morale booster” — in that gardeners could feel empowered by their contribution of labor and rewarded by the produce grown. This made victory gardens become a part of daily life on the home front.

It’s easy to see how something as simple as a garden played a role in winning a major conflict. With people producing more of the food they needed to survive themselves, they bought less food from the food supply system

Today, people need a different kind of victory. A majority of Americans are at a financial point where missing a single paycheck would cause financial problems. This is a war of a new kind – a war against personal debt and the freedoms that it steals from us.

Just as with that previous war, a “victory garden” can provide both a morale boost and can provide tangible assistance to solving the problem.

Why am I mentioning this in September? Right now is a good time to actually start thinking about a garden for next year. For one, lots of gardening supplies are on sale, as they’re viewed as seasonal items by many stores. For another, thinking about it now gives you plenty of time to start figuring out where you’ll plant and what you’ll plant. ( Continue… )

US one-hundred dollar bills are seen in this photo illustration at a bank in Seoul. Hamm writes that listening your inner child can sometimes lead to impulsive financial decisions, and has to be considered with every choice. (Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters/File)

How to talk about money

By Guest blogger / 10.01.13

Talking about money is a very difficult thing.

For starters, the individual choices we make about how to spend our money are rather personal. In some ways, they’re an expression of who we are. If I choose to spend $30 on a board game, it’s because I’m personally passionate about playing games at the table with my family and friends. If Sarah chooses to spend $30 on our pet rabbits, it’s because she deeply cares about our family’s pet rabbits, Oreo and Bandit.

We also each have our own visions about the future. I’ve described the ways I look at the future many times here on The Simple Dollar. While my vision overlaps Sarah’s to a large degree, they’re not perfect matches. They differ in quite a few of the details.

We draw upon different life experiences and ideas when making decisions. I grew up differently than Sarah did. I’ve been exposed to a different set of ideas than she has. When I make a decision, I’m drawing on different things than she would be when facing a similar decision.

Those are a lot of obstacles to overcome, and if it was not paired with a sincere desire from both of us for our relationship to work, money conversations would be very difficult.  ( Continue… )

A cashier hands a customer his change and receipt during a transaction at a Sears store, in Henderson, Nev. Hamm explains the living in the reality of frugality, rather than fearing it, can make life more enjoyable. (Julie Jacobson/AP Photo/File )

A mother's financial lesson: How to master frugality

By Guest blogger / 09.30.13

Today, I’m going to celebrate the biggest financial lesson that each of my parents taught me in a pair of posts. This morning, I’ll discuss my father; this afternoon, my mother.

When I think back to my childhood memories of my mother, they usually involve her taking care of someone.

She was – and still is – a naturally caring person. She’s the type of person who will just take care of little things to make sure everyone’s life functions easier.

My parents had a marriage where they truly divided the labor based on the skills they could each bring to the table. My father was good at certain things – small-scale commercial fishing, maintaining a garden – and my mother was good at other things.  ( Continue… )

A security officer stands guard outside the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York's Times Square. Hamm explains that smart investing includes a variety of types of investments within a variety of companies. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters/File)

Five simple steps for comparing investments

By Guest blogger / 09.30.13

One of the most challenging parts of signing up for a 401(k) plan or opening a Roth IRA is deciding which investment to put your money into. There can be dozens of options within your 401(k) plan and many, many more within a Roth IRA.

Of course, there are lots of possible questions to ask about an investment, and countless investment guides will give you lots of things to look at and think about. The problem is that they often give you too much to think about, leading to analysis paralysis.

How do you weed through all of these choices and figure out which investments you should be using? Here are five simple questions I use to figure out what investments I should be putting my money into. I try to answer each of these questions before I examine an investment.  ( Continue… )

A cashier counts U.S. dollars next to five new Apple iPhone 5S phones at an Apple Retail Store. Trent Hamm explains that maintaining multiple sources of incomes is important to financial security. (Adrees Latif/Reuters)

A father's financial lesson: Multiple streams of income

By Guest blogger / 09.27.13

Today, I’m going to celebrate the biggest financial lesson that each of my parents taught me in a pair of posts. This morning, I’ll discuss my father; this afternoon, my mother.

When I think back to my childhood memories of my father, they always involve him working on something. He was not a man to sit still for very long.

Most of the time, he worked at a factory job that provided hourly wages. There were some periods of layoffs (I remember money being really tight then), but the work was steady most of the time.

When he would come home from work – or before he left for work, depending on his shift – he was usually engaged in some sort of side project, usually to earn money.  ( Continue… )

Pedestrians with shopping bags cross a street in Philadelphia. (Matt Rourke/AP/File)

Investing in things that last

By Guest blogger / 09.26.13

As I’ve mentioned before on The Simple Dollar, Sarah and I have a “buy it for life” approach (the post is really worth reading if you’re interested in the details) when we replace items around the house. We vastly prefer items that will simply do their job over and over and over and over without needing to be replaced or fixed with any sort of regularity.

The drawback of this approach is that it requires an investment up front. Products that last are not cheap.

You can buy cheap pots and pans at the store and they warp in a year or two. If you invest in cast iron, particularly enameled cast iron, and spend the time to season non-enameled cast iron, it will last practically forever.

You can buy cheap umbrellas that break after a few dozen uses. On the other hand, if you buy an umbrella with a lasting guarantee and good mechanisms, like a Davek, it will be around for many years, even if it costs as much as five times your normal umbrella.  ( Continue… )

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