coffee beans
I had the opportunity this week to chat with a small business owner from my local farmers market. Three years ago, she launched a coffee roasting company which sources its beans from Columbia — her country of origin, and the place her family has grown coffee for generations. Her story is inspirational for many reasons, but it also offers practical wisdom about what it really takes to be a small business owner. I’d like to share a few lessons I gleaned from our conversation. My hope is that those of you who are just starting (or dreaming of starting) a small business will walk away with practical advice and encouragement from someone who is already ‘in the trenches.’

Tip #1: Start Where Your Knowledge, Education and Experience Meet

My friend Maria’s business concept is a combination of her knowledge, career path (she studied agricultural engineering) and family heritage. In other words, she started with what she knows and loves. You could also add personal positioning to this combination — location, business contacts, social connections, etc. The crossroads where your natural ability, experience, training and opportunities meet should be the source of your small business idea and the place to start your groundwork. Where is that ‘sweet spot,’ for you?
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debt
If you’re in debt up to your eyeballs with no relief in sight, what do you do? According to advice from NOLO.com, you have several options.

But whatever you do, don’t ignore your debt.

First, you need to be honest with yourself about your current situation. Read all the unopened mail, return the collection calls to find out what you owe to whom, and make a detailed list. If you know what you owe, you can make an informed decision about what your best option is at this point.

Option 1: Wait it Out

If you’re unemployed, and the prospects of getting a job in the near future are grim, you may elect to do nothing with your current debt if you don’t own any significant property. This is the old “you can’t get blood out of a turnip” approach – if you don’t have any assets to seize and no income to garnish you don’t have to do anything with your current debt. You won’t go to jail (even if you owe the IRS), and you won’t be denied basic necessities like clothing, food, unemployment benefits, disability benefits, or food stamps and DJFS assistance. New laws state that you may be evicted for nonpayment in certain instances, but a visit to DJFS (Department of Job and Family Services) can help you get emergency housing. If you have few possessions, it’s not likely that your creditors will sue for debts owed since they aren’t likely to get enough to cover their legal expenses, let alone the amount of money owed.
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clutter
Last week, I wrote on the four financial benefits that one could gain from decluttering their homes. It is amazing the power that clutter can have over our finances and mental health. Why not just throw it all away or donate it?

That’s where things get tricky.

Many times our clutter is not easy to deal with because they come with baggage. The clutter in our lives is like a bad relationship we just can’t shake off. Here are four types of clutter and some suggestions with how to prevent it from draining your life.
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credit card wallet
I love the idea of using credit cards for everything. In fact, I do use credit cards for most of my purchases. Credit cards allow me to automate my finances to some degree, maintain a good credit file, and rack up rewards points that can be redeemed for free travel, cash, or other perks.

But how many credit cards should you have, and how many of those cards should be in your wallet? Which card should you use the most? With each card offering different percentages on your purchases as reward, spending a bit of time to think this through will make a measurable difference to your long-term well being.
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percent
How would you like to spend whatever amount of money you desire?

Therein lies the beauty of the percentage based budget. With this type of budget, no amount of spending is too much. No longer do you have to restrict yourself to a certain neighborhood because it’s cheap. No longer do you have to deal with a junk car. Everything you want – you can have.

I’m not blowing smoke.

Most budgets have limitations. For instance, let’s say you have $400 in a monthly clothing allowance. It’s $400 each month no matter what. Regardless of what you earn.

The percentage based budget functions much differently. Instead of limiting yourself to hard numbers, you simply spend a percentage of your income.

Let’s say after researching, you find out it’s wise to spend 5% of your monthly budget on entertainment. If you earn $5,000 per month, that’s $250 per month spent on entertainment. Do you think that’s not enough? Here is your solution… finds ways to earn more money. This way, your entertainment expenses don’t get out of hand but you still have the ability to spend a lot. For instance, you know that your number is 5% so you need to earn however many more dollars each month in order to meet your goal.
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anxiety
Northwestern Mutual conducted a survey earlier this year that shows most Americans still feel a great deal of financial anxiety. Among the adults they interviewed, 85% said they regularly experience financial anxiety, and 28% at least worry about their finances on a daily basis. What were the things people listed as their top fears?

The most common issues that contributed to these fears were predictable: the rising cost of housing and healthcare, mounting credit card debt and burdensome loans, and shrinking pensions/uncertainty about Social Security benefits. Some of these things we can control, but some we cannot.

All of us have had financial problems at some point in our lives. For me, it seems to come in seasons. We’ll be on top of our savings goals, have wiggle room in the budget, receive a few surprise sources of extra income, and then — suddenly — everything goes wrong. We get hit with hefty out-of-pocket medical expenses, spend a little more than we’d anticipated on a weekend adventure, have to take the car into the shop… you get the idea.

Although I know everything works out in the end, even if it takes a few tight months to get things balanced out, it’s hard not to feel anxious and let financial problems affect my mood. For some people, it even affects their long-term physical health and sense of happiness.
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