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Don’t Pay to Manage Your Money

Don’t Pay to Manage Your Money

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    Bank fees, software, tax preparation: if you aren’t careful, your money can wind up costing you a pretty penny. I’m of the opinion that in most cases, you really shouldn’t have to pay to manage your own money. As long as you’re an individual (as opposed to a business), I can’t see the point of paying for a whole list of things that are available for free with just a little hunting. I’m not talking about options that require extra work on your part, either — while some of the open source budgeting software can be pretty cool, I’ll be the first to admit that it isn’t the best option for the average person.

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    1. Banking Fees

    In addition to an intense dislike for fees I can avoid, I really don’t see the point of paying my bank for the privilege of letting them use my money — which is what banking fees amount to. Most banks have at least one free bank account available, although it may not offer every bell and whistle. Credit unions can be good options for finding a free account, as well, as long as you qualify to join the credit union.

    There are also several banks that have built their reputations on offering only free banking, like ING Direct and FNBO Direct. Personally, I use ING Direct and have found it to be ideal — if you’ve used another bank with a great free account, please let me know in the comments.

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    2. Budgeting software

    With sites like Mint.com and Quicken Online offering free money management and budgeting software, I have a really hard time thinking of a reason to pay for budgeting software. In fact, the only concern that I’ve seen with online money management applications is the question of privacy. Sites like Mint have gone to some pretty significant lengths to protect users, but if you’re still worried, you might consider downloading an application. There aren’t as many solid software packages that you can download for free, I’m afraid, but I know there are a few options out there. If you’ve got a lead on a good one, please share it in the comments.

    3. Tax Preparation

    While there are a fair number of people who do need some help with tax preparation, it’s amazing just how many people can actually avoid paying to have their return prepared and e-filed. If you earned less than $56,000 in 2008, you’re automatically eligible for the IRS’ Free File program. Even if you earned more than that, you can get your taxes prepared for free with online options like TaxAct or TurboTax, as long as you have a relatively simple tax return.

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    You may need to explore other options if your tax return doesn’t look like it will be so simple: if you have a business, unusual deductions or income from a wide variety of sources, a free filing option may not be able to correctly complete your return.

    4. Credit Counseling

    There are so many companies promising that they can get you out of debt or avoid foreclosure, for a reasonable fee. The fact of the matter, though, is that such companies are shady at best. You are able to access free credit counseling, as well as consumer debt and bankruptcy help through the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. The NFCC offers referrals to local credit counseling agencies.

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    It’s worth noting that while you can avoid credit counseling fees, there are often fees associated with specific services offered by an agency. While these organizations are typically not-for-profit, they are still self-supporting.

    5. Personal Finance Books

    One of the librarians at my local branch told me that while our local library district has a huge collection of personal finance books — including many best sellers and new releases — they still don’t get checked out as often as you might think. If you’re working on straightening out your finances, and want to read a particular personal finance book, check your local library. If you’ve already got a library card, you can usually check a book’s availability online. You can have books brought to your local branch, add your name to the waiting list (if there is one) or even request that the library consider purchasing a particular book online in most library districts these days.

    6. Your Credit Report

    There’s actually legislation in place stating that each credit agency must provide you with a copy of your credit report each year. The three main agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, provide copies through AnnualCreditReport.com. You can also arrange for free copies of other reports, such as your ChexSystems’ report. ChexSystems is a reporting agency used by banks to report problem customers. You’re entitled to one free report each year from each agency.

    More Than A Little Savings

    You can save a surprising amount of money just by taking the time to find a free money management option. Whether we’re talking about banking or credit reports, there are plenty of free opportunities out there — and there’s not as big of a trade off for making the switch as you might think. In other areas, choosing a free option over a costly alternative usually means that you’re giving up an element of service or a few features. But with the monetary options I’ve listed above, there isn’t that much of a difference: you may even find yourself in a better position by avoiding services meant only to take your money.

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    Last Updated on September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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