How to keep Small Items from Killing Your Budget

As 2016 kicks off, it’s time to start planning our budget for the year. We all know that it’s important to pay attention to the top 3 expenses. For most of us, it’s housing, transportation, and food. If you want to see how your spending stacks up to others, here is an article that shows American spending by household income.

Once you’ve analyzed your top 3 expenses, it’s time to start looking at the small items that tend to kill your budget. Here are items you may consider reviewing:

DINING OUT BUDGET

Budget Eating Out

Some people include dining out in the food category, but many included it in an entertainment category. Many people eat out 3-4 times a week and most average $40. By cutting out just one of these dining out experiences, you can save $2,080 for the year.

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AUTO INSURANCE BUDGET

Budget Automobile Insurance

Each year, auto insurance tends to increase. When your insurance comes due, why not search around for a more affordable policy? Look at increasing your deductible from $500 to $1,000. If your car is older and is worth less than $5,000, consider ditching your full coverage policy in favor of a collision policy, it can save a few bucks.

TV BUDGET

Budget TV Budget

Look at your cable bill and decide if you need all of the premium channels. If you’re paying for HBO, Showtime, and other premium stations, consider replacing that with Netflix or Hulu. Many TV providers like Dish and Direct TV offer a better rate for the first year if you switch. You normally have to commit to 2 years, but if you analyze your entire spend over 2 years, it may be a better option to switch. Bundling your TV and Internet may also save you a few bucks.

PHONE DATA

Budget Phone

Many of us buy more phone data that we need. Most carriers have an online portal where you can log in and see your usage. If you are paying for 5GB per month of data and use less than 1GB, you are leaving savings on the table.  Try to reduce your data usage and save a few dollars.

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CONCLUSION

After you’ve looked at your 3 major expenses, drill into the smaller expenses. If you’ve found expenses to trim that I may have overlooked, please share it below in the comment section.

ABOUT THIS BLOG

Steve and his wife built a software company, sold it and retired early. Steve enjoys blogging about lifestyle freedom, financial independence and technology. If you like this blog, subscribe here to get an email each time he posts.

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How Artificial Intelligence can build Twitter Peeps

As a software entrepreneur, I always appreciate well-designed software. Look and feel is important but ease-of-use and highly useful features are even more paramount.  About a year ago, I introduced you to software called Crowdfire that helps you build Twitter followers.  Using the software, I personally grew my Twitter followers by about 20,000 in a year.

Just recently, Crowdfire converted their software to an artificial intelligence engine using data analytics as its core. The new software is called Crowdfire 2.0 and the artificial intelligence is referred to as Firebot. Here’s how it works.

Firebot asks you a few questions about the keywords you are targeting with your blog, your competitors, and the types of posts you enjoy sharing. By answering a few questions, it builds an internal analytics map that is used to recommend things for you to do each day to build your Twitter followers.

These recommendations are called Prescriptions and once you install Crowdfire, Firebot provides a convenient notification each day to guide you through increasing your followers. Going through the prescriptions each day takes less than 3 minutes and it provides an area that tells you why it is suggesting a specific action.

The best way to demonstrate this is to show you how I use it. Check out this movie:

Artificial Intelligence by Crowdfire

http://screencast.com/t/BirOknhFy

In the movie, notice how it crunches your analytics — looking at your existing followers, the types of things you normally share, your targeted keywords and smoothly guides you through recommendations on what to do next.  I always tap the WHY button for each recommendation and it clearly explains why it is recommending the action.

How do you take advantage of this Artificial Intelligence?

You can download Crowdfire from their website at https://www.crowdfireapp.com. If you want to be part of the beta for Crowdfire 2.0, go to http://invite.crowdfireapp.com/beta.

ABOUT THIS BLOG

Steve and his wife built a software company, sold it and retired early. Steve enjoys blogging about lifestyle freedom, financial independence and technology. If you like this blog, subscribe here to get an email each time he posts.

If you like this post, you might also like these prior posts:

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5 Ways to Impact Someone through Kindness

It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life and to overlook the need for help that’s all around us. When we open our eyes and focus our minds on love and empathy, we see opportunities to make an impact in someone else’s life.

Love can change the world. Here are 5 ways to make an impact in your community and improve the lives of others.

Practice Daily Kindness

Practice Daily Kindness

Daily kindness begins with a smile. As you encounter others, put on a smile and say hello. We never know the struggles that a specific person is going through and something as small as a smile and a warm greeting can change someone’s outlook. You’ll find that smiling is contagious. When you smile at someone, they automatically smile back and you are immediately rewarded for your efforts.

Provide a Warm Meal

Warm Meal for Kindness

There are times when our friends and neighbors need help but don’t feel comfortable asking. They may be sick, stressed out, or having financial difficulties. When you sense this, give them a call asking if you can bring over a hot meal. Give them a day’s notice so that they can enjoy the day knowing that they don’t have to rush home to cook.

Anonymous Acts of Kindness

Kindness with Note

Brightening someone else’s day without them knowing who did it can make a big difference in their lives. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. Leave a note of encouragement on a random car in a parking lot.
  2. Pay for the person behind you in a drive through.
  3. When getting gas, leave an envelope with $10 inside and a note saying “Please accept this gift, I hope it brightens your day.”
  4. When eating at a diner, tip your waitress the same amount as the bill.
  5. Put money in parking meters for someone whose time has expired.
  6. Mow  your neighbor’s yard when they’re out-of-town.
  7. Leave unused coupons next to items on the shelf.

Volunteer in your Community

Volunteering

There are many organizations that are impacting people’s lives in a positive way. By volunteering, these organizations can continue providing assistance and you gain a sense of satisfaction by helping. A side benefit is that you also pick up new skills that are valuable in other areas of your life. Can’t think of places to volunteer? Here are a few ideas:

  • Local churches – Look for local churches or synagogues that need help.
  • Habitat for Humanity – Help build houses for families in need and learn valuable construction skills.
  • Food Pantries – Local food pantries organize food drives and feed hungry residents in your neighborhood. FoodPantries.org lets you search for one near you.
  • YMCA – Here you can volunteer to help both children and adults, strengthen your leadership skills, or pick up some valuable teaching experience by tutoring literacy courses.

Change Someone’s Life by Gifting Your Talents

Kindness with your Talents

Each of us has unique talents. It may be woodworking, crafting, cooking, or working on the computer. You may not have thought of impacting someone’s life by gifting your talents. For example, let’s say you enjoy woodworking. Seek out a family that you know is struggling financially. Pour your love into a making a piece of furniture that you can sell and contribute the proceeds of the sale to the family. If you want to stay anonymous, leave a note in their mailbox with the proceeds inside. With a little creativity, you’ll find lots of ways to change people’s lives with love.

About this Blog

Steve and his wife built a software company, sold it and retired early. Steve enjoys blogging about lifestyle freedom, financial independence, and technology. If you like this blog, subscribe here to get an email each time he posts.

If you like this post, you might also like these prior posts:

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Financial Infidelity: Here’s how to solve it with transparency

You’ve probably heard of couples that share a checking account yet hide credit cards and accounts from one another. Many times this leads to increased debt that the other spouse has no idea about. Here’s how Investopedia defines financial infidelity:

Financial infidelity occurs when couples with combined finances lie to each other about money.

Problems caused by Financial Infidelity

Financial infidelity can cause trust issues, erode respect, and is just dishonest.  In some cases, it can even lead to divorce.

Solution to Financial Infidelity

Financial Infidelity

Great couples keep the lines of communication open. They have common goals, especially when it comes to finances. Couples often strive to travel, retire and enjoy a long life together. Financial Infidelity prevents couples from fully knowing their financial picture and hampers the ability for them to reach that common goal.

The solution is easy: transparency.

By being transparent, a couple knows exactly how much money they have, what their credit scores are, their net worth and how they are trending towards meeting their financial goals.

How to Be Financially Transparent

Here are some tips to becoming financially transparent:

  • Full Disclosure – Meet with your spouse and come clean on any accounts that the other is not aware of.
  • Create Financial Goals – Talk openly about what you would like to accomplish. Your net worth, savings, and retirement goals are all great conversations to have.
  • Create a Budget – Create a monthly budget where you agree on spending for each budget category. We use Quicken for this, but there are many financial tools for this. Personal Capital is a free one.
  • Track Spending Weekly – Each week, evaluate your spending compared to your budget. Quicken and Personal Capital make this easy, as they automatically download transactions that you can categorize and produce a budget report that shows what you spent on each budgeted item.
  • Share your Budget Report – Each week, share your budget report with your spouse. For ease, I email ours to my spouse and then we discuss it. This has a side benefit as it allows us to reduce spending if we are beginning to get out of control on a specific category of spending.

So what does a budget report look like? Here is one I created a while back:

Budget Report

I created this with Microsoft Excel. The values come from Quicken. I could just use the Quicken report but I like the way Microsoft Excel can easily provide a green / red graph if a specific budget item is over or under budget.

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Conclusion

By creating a budget and sharing it with your partner weekly, all your finances become transparent. If you would like a copy of the Excel file I used to create the budget report above, post a comment below and I will send you a copy.

About this Blog

Steve and his wife built a software company, sold it and retired early. Steve enjoys blogging about lifestyle freedom, financial independence, and technology. If you like this blog, subscribe here to get an email each time he posts.

If you like this post, you might also like these prior posts:

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How to live a zen-like life of Reduced Stress

It’s easy to get stressed and lose focus in our lives. By following a few daily routines, you can quickly regain focus and obtain reduced stress. So how do you become more centered, focused and calm? Start by following these simple steps each day.

Start the Day with Exercise

Reduced Stress by Cycling

Start your day with some type of exercise but choose an exercise you enjoy. For me, it is working out with weights, cycling or walking. It doesn’t have to take long, just 20 minutes of exercise 5 days a week is a great start.

Post-Exercise Meditation

Reduced Stress by Medidation

Once you’ve completed 20 minutes of exercise, wind down from it by closing your eyes and relaxing for 10 minutes. When doing this, try to clear your mind of thoughts. Thoughts will creep in and that’s OK, just try to suppress them when they do. Some people enjoy listening to light music in the background and burning a candle. Once you’re done, you’re going to start the day on the right foot: energized and focused.

Make Your Bed

Reduced Stress by Making Bed

Before leaving for work, make your bed and quickly pick up any clothes that are laying around. By doing this, it eliminates clutter and allows your mind to start the day in a more organized and deliberate way.

Organize Your Day for Reduced Stress

Reduced Stress by getting Organized

Once you’re at work, spend the first 30 minutes making a list of things you would like to accomplish today. Don’t be overly aggressive with your list and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t accomplish them. Having a targeted list of action items will keep you focused and will reduce stress.

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Take Breaks

Reduced Stress by Taking a Break

Throughout the day, take 10-minute breaks to get away from your desk. Simply walk around the office or step outdoors. By walking, it clears your mind and allows you to attack problems in a different way and better solutions become clearer. Try to take at least one 10-minute break in the morning, walk for 10 minutes at lunch and then take another 10-minute break in the afternoon.

Resist Work at Night

Reduced Stress with no Work

If you’ve worked during the day, resist the temptation to continue your work when you get home. To be your best, you must decompress and de-stress at the end of the day. Do something you enjoy. Listen to music, cook, spend a quiet evening with your partner, watch TV or read a book.

End of Day Routine

Reduced Stress by being Grateful

At the end of the day, just before bed, spend 10 minutes in grateful meditation.  Instead of trying to clear your mind, close your eyes and think of things you are grateful for. I am sure you are grateful for living on a beautiful earth, your family, your friends, your co-workers, your job, and your abundance. Let those thankful ideas come to the forefront of your mind. Then end your meditation with a few moments of silent thought. You will feel the stress melt away and will be ready for a great night of sleep with reduced stress.

Conclusion

By just following a few practices, you will find that less than an hour a day can be a huge impact on how you view the world and for reduced stress. The order of the practices is not important. For example, you may be a night owl and cannot wake up in time to exercise first. That’s totally fine, just rearrange the practices to fit your life. You’ll be surprised how much of an impact this can make.

Do you have any practices you’ve put into place that has reduced stress in your life?

About this Blog

Steve and his wife built a software company, sold it and retired early. Steve enjoys blogging about lifestyle freedom, financial independence, and technology. If you like this blog, subscribe here to get an email each time he posts.

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App Review: Skype is more than just free calls

Today’s app review is for the Skype app, the best way to make free phone calls through your smartphone or web browser. You may be surprised to find that Skype can do much more than just make phone calls, read on to learn more.

What Skype Is

Skype is an app that allows you to make free video calls, message others, and share your PC screen with others.

You can begin chatting with other people by adding them to your contacts. Once they have accepted your invitation, you can chat with them just as you can with any other messaging tool.

Skype

A little-known feature of Skype is the ability to share your screen with others. Let’s imagine that you need to show a friend how to use a website, you can share your screen with them and let them visually see everything you are doing.

Skype

You can call someone for free using Skype if both of you are using Skype. However, there are times when you want to call someone who has a land line and does not have Skype. You can do that and pay by the minute.

Skype

Who Made Skype

Microsoft is the maker of Skype. Hundreds of millions of people are already using Skype to do all sorts of things together.

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Why Skype is Awesome

Skype is awesome because you can make free phone calls and share your PC screen with others.

Download for iPhone  |  Android

About this Blog

Steve and his wife built a software company, sold it and retired early. Steve enjoys blogging about lifestyle freedom, financial independence, and technology. If you like this blog, subscribe here to get an email each time he posts.

If you like this post, you might also like these prior posts:

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Benefits of Volunteering (5 Surprising Benefits)

This year, what if we did away with our old notions of New Year’s resolutions. You know the ones: losing weight, reading more, exercising more. What if this year we decided to do something impactful to other people’s lives? Volunteering may be the answer.

Benefits of Volunteering

There are many benefits of volunteering but here is my list of the top ones:

Volunteering is Good for Organizations

There are many organizations set up to help others. Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, and YMCA are just a few. These organizations make huge contributions and are impactful to other people’s lives. Many times these organizations are understaffed. By volunteering with one or more of these organizations, you can help them to keep their legacy of giving strong.

Volunteering

Aids People in Need

People in need are the reason these organizations exist. From natural disasters to homelessness, volunteering provides direct relief to people in need. When you help someone directly, you gain a feeling of deep satisfaction.

Volunteering can be fun

Meet New People

As you volunteer, you naturally meet new people with similar goals and aspirations as your own. These encounters can lead to lasting friendships.

Volunteering Teaches You New Skills

When you volunteer, you learn new skills. Clerical skills like bookkeeping and event management can help you in your own personal life. Leadership skills can be honed by organizing events and delegating tasks. Volunteer organizations like Habitat for Humanity teach woodworking and home building skills that can be invaluable in your daily life.

Volunteering can be impactful

Volunteering Feels Good

By volunteering, you get a major endorphin rush as you see how your help directly impacts others. It helps build self-confidence and gives you a better sense of being.

Conclusion

Volunteering can be a great New Year’s resolution. Do you have a favorite organization to volunteer with? If so, leave us a comment below.

About this Blog

Steve and his wife built a software company, sold it and retired early. Steve enjoys blogging about lifestyle freedom, financial independence, and technology. If you like this blog, subscribe here to get an email each time he posts.

If you like this post, you might also like these prior posts:

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8 Powerful Apps for Planning Your Retirement

Today’s blog post is from a special guest, Davis Miller. Davis is a regular contributor at many sites and mainly focuses on business related topics. He works for a site http://www.synaptic.co.uk/ offering financial research tools for financial service advisers. So without further adieu, here is his article for planning your retirement:

The days of one job for life are generally disappearing. Easier mobility, job prospects and the ability to communicate across the world in seconds has changed the way many people live and work. This will often mean that as you approach retirement you will have a selection of different funds.

This can make it extremely difficult to track your money and know what you have available to live on whilst you are retired. However, it is possible, with the aid of a few apps to know exactly where your funds are and what they are doing; at any time of the day or night. The following apps were ideally created for retirees who want to ease their job at living their lives as they get closer to retirement:

Planning your Retirement with RetirePlan

This app will cost you $4.99 and is designed for the iPad. Once it has been downloaded it will provide you with accurate information regarding the state of your retirement funds and for planning your retirement. You will need to enter a few details into the app and then you can adjust the scenarios easily using slider bars.

Retire Plan - App for Retirement

iFinance

iFinance is a useful app designed for the iPad, iPhone and even the iPod Touch. It costs $0.99. You can enter a huge amount of detail regarding your current finances and it will calculate an accurate picture of your retirement situation. It even calculates compound interest on your savings and investments to aid in planning your retirement.

iFinance - Retirement Planning

Early-Retirement Forum

This app is completely free and works on any cell phone. It is a gateway to an online forum where you can meet thousands of other people who are either retired or working towards their retirement. Early-Retirement Forum is an excellent opportunity to swap stories, tips and inspire each other and can be a helpful aid in planning your retirement.

Early Retirement Forum - Retirement Planning

Retirement Planner

This app is designed to run on an Android phone and is free. It will allow you to drill into any pension scheme and assess your current saving levels; how they will affect your retirement and how your employer’s contributions are building. Retirement Planner can even help you to decide which type of IRA is right for you.

Retirement Planning

Retire Logix

This free app is designed for your iPhone and will provide you with pictures, in graph form, of your retirement plan. This can make it very easy to follow and to understand the impact of any changes to your savings plan and can aid in planning your retirement.

Retire Logix - Planning for Retirement

Military Retirement

As its name suggests Military Retirement is designed to assist all service personnel; whether current enlisted or retired. It costs $3.99 but it will enable you to see all your military benefits and how they will affect your retirement status. It can calculate your retirement pay accurately based on your length of service, rank and your expected date of retirement.

Military Retirement - Planning your Retirement

MyNestEgg

This app will allow you to see your savings progress and the amount of income you need to dedicate to saving to ensure your retirement goals are reached. MyNestEgg includes any savings or investment pots you already have in place.

MyNestEgg - Planning your Retirement

YouNeedaBudget (YNAB)

This app is designed to assist you with creating the right budget to make your retirement dreams possible. YouNeedaBudget will allow you to calculate your current spending habits and where you can make adjustments to improve your disposal income and reach your retirement goals.

You Need a Budget - Planning your Retirement

Conclusion

There are lots of apps out there meant to help you keep your life and finances organized. If you’re close to retirement and you want to be safe that your money will be enough to live comfortable, then the above mentioned apps will surely help you out. In case you’re not an internet guru, ask a financial advisor more about risk management software, apps and tips on what you can do to not have to worry about money in your 70s.

By Davis Miller and Synaptic.co.uk!

About this Blog

Steve Miller and his wife built a software company, sold it and retired early. Steve enjoys blogging about lifestyle freedom, financial independence, and technology. If you like this blog, subscribe here to get an email each time he posts.

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Meet Michael Hall: A 38 Year Old Millionaire with Bigger Ambitions

I first met Michael Hall in 2015 and was impressed with his story. He’s a 38-year-old entrepreneur that co-started and sold a software company that vaulted him into the millionaire club. But Michael is much more than that. He’s an avid learner, believes in random acts of kindness, and is a family man.

I asked Michael to share his story with our readers. Although he has accomplished an incredible amount already, he has bigger ambitions as you will learn in this interview.

If you like the interview, please share it on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

1. Michael Hall: tell our viewers a little about your story.

My name is Michael Hall and I am a 38-year-old entrepreneur currently in hibernation.  I previously started and ran an I.T. management and consulting company for a little over a decade.  After selling the company in 2012, I decided to take a few years off to hang out with my kids (3.5 and 1.5 years old).

Michael Hall

After a lot of soul-searching, I came to realize that my next business will revolve around the success of others.  Thus, I recently launched my own financial/personal development coaching service.  My mission is to help as many people as I can achieve financial freedom (quickly!) while ensuring they are living life with a purpose.  Helping people to step into their full potential is what really excites me these days!

As a related resource, I started a blog several months ago – FinanciallyAlert.com.  At this site, I talk about personal finance, early retirement, and tracks my financials with full transparency.

2. Please trace your professional journey until now.

I grew up in the Los Angeles suburbs and went to University in San Diego (UCSD).  After graduating with an Economics degree, I realized I didn’t know what to do!  So, I decided to flip things around a bit and pursued a career in technology.

After working at an I.T. company for a little over a year, the “Dot.com boom” fell apart.  My company began to implode quickly, so a couple of my friends and I decided to make the jump out on our own.

We grew the business steadily for over a decade, during which time I had the opportunity to wear many different hats, including – Systems and Network Administrator, L3 Support Tech, IT Manager, Technical Project Manager, CFO, and President.

3. Tell us more about your work right now and what made you choose this path.

At the moment, I am a stay-at-home dad which is incredibly fulfilling.  However, I know I’ve been called to do more and had multiple epiphanies during a couple of Tony Robbin’s seminars I attended recently.

So, I recently decided that I’d like to pursue life coaching with an emphasis on personal finance.  I would be so fulfilled to help others grow past their own limiting beliefs.

4. Tell us about the challenges you faced while carving out this path.

I’ve always had a strong faith that things happen for a reason.  But, sometimes it’s harder to see the bigger picture.  When I was selling my company, it was tough because I needed to stick around for the transition to ensure my team was okay, but my heart was elsewhere.  What I came to realize was that I needed to put forth my best effort regardless and extract the juice out of every experience.

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5. How has your journey affected you on a personal level?

The journey has certainly been fun and I can’t really complain, but there were certainly challenging times.  Taking a leap of faith and having the courage to pull the trigger even when the outcome is uncertain is critical to moving yourself to the next level.  Behind this leap of faith are where some of life’s greatest treasures lay hidden.

There is a shortcut however: it’s simply following your heart to pursue your passion and purpose.  Once you figure that out, find other people in the field that have accomplished a lot, and then model their success.

6. What are your goals and aspirations for the future?

I have a big goal of hitting $10M of net worth by the time I’m 50.  I’m 38 now, so I’ve got a little over a decade to get this figured out.  However, being that my next business will be coaching and helping other people, I feel like reaching this goal is much more important than just reaching it for myself.

If I’m truly helping and making a genuine impact on others, it will be reflected in my net worth over time.  In fact, it’s quite exciting!

7. What do you like to do with your free time?

I love to fish in my spare time.  Luckily my whole family enjoys it too, so we’ll enjoy family trips to the mountains to do some stream fishing in the summer.  I’ll also got out on my own to absorb nature alone sometimes.

There numerous lakes in San Diego with a healthy population of largemouth bass.  I also enjoy the challenge of fly fishing in the Sierra Nevada’s.

8. What are some website or blogs that inspire you?

Well, other than this awesome one (weretiredearly.com), I typically frequent sites like:

(My entire list can be found here)

9. What’s your favorite piece of technology you use?

This might sound a bit strange, but it’s my scanner!  Yup, my Fujitsu document scanner has changed my life for the better by eliminating the majority of paper in my life and taking me paperless.  In fact, I wrote a post about it here – How to Eliminate Financial Clutter For Good!

10. Where has been your favorite place to travel and why?

Oh this is a tough one.  I’ve been blessed to travel a lot.  But, if I had to choose one, it would probably be San Sebastian, Spain.  This is located in the Northern coastal part of Basque country.  It has a stunning coastline, great weather, beautiful architecture, and the food here is divine.

It is the second city with the most Michelin stars per capita in the world (only behind Kyoto, Japan).  Life here is good and meant to be enjoyed.  I also love that you can walk everywhere, or take public transportation when needed.  Restaurants and tapas bars are open super late and there’s always something new to feast on (can you tell I love food?!).

11. How can our viewers learn more about your story?

The best place to learn more about my story is on my blog’s about me page.

About this Blog

We hope you enjoyed this inspiring interview with Michael Hall. Steve and his wife built a software company, sold it and retired early. Steve enjoys blogging about lifestyle freedom, financial independence, and technology. If you like this blog, subscribe here to get an email each time he posts.

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Love Can Change the World: 6 Ways to Make an Impact in your Community

Today the Life Hacker site published a guest blog post I wrote entitled “Love can change the World: 6 Ways to Make an Impact in your Community“.  Here are the highlights of the article:

Love Can Change the World

Love can change the world

  • Understanding the needs of others
  • How to use your talents and positions of influence
  • How to conduct anonymous acts of kindness
  • How to volunteer in your community
  • How to practice daily kindness

Here is the full article, please share it with others: http://bit.ly/20slbsL 

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About this Blog

Steve and his wife built a software company, sold it and retired early. Steve enjoys blogging about lifestyle freedom, financial independence, and technology. If you like this blog, subscribe here to get an email each time he posts.

If you like this post, you might also like these prior posts:

Follow me: Twitter  |  Facebook  |  LinkedIn  |  Subscribe to this Blog

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