Be Efficient with Capital – Review of Gift Card Resellers

By now I hope some of you have acquired some type of rewards credit card and have shaved off some years of your required working life. So today I’m going to give you a tip to help boost your savings rate or (1-expenses rate) even further.

Every year millions of dollars in gift cards go unused by people who don’t really want or need them. Some enterprising online companies realized this and setup a marketplace to help people sell their gift cards for cash. Where people previously used to leave their gift cards lying around gathering dust they can now liquidate them and put the cash to good use. This marketplace is a win for everyone because the seller is able to get cash out of their gift cards the marketplace owners are getting a cut of the revenues and the buyers are able to purchase gift cards they will use at a discount from the face value of the gift cards.

If you are selling a gift card expect to lose between 10 to 50 percent of the face value of the gift card. If you are buying gift cards, you can expect to buy gift cards at 1 to 40 percent off the face value of the gift card.

Raise

Out of all the options I like Raise the best. I regularly use their mobile app to buy gift cards and they arrive in my email inbox within a few minutes each time. I find this especially handy when I am in stores and know exactly the gift card amount I need to buy to make my in-store purchase. I can just go to the app and find a gift card for close to that amount, purchase it with my rewards credit card, and then use the gift card(s) a minute later when I checkout. I never have to carry gift card inventory because I always spend the entire gift card I just bought.

Some other users have complained about receiving gift cards with no balance on them. I have never had this issue, but Raise is very clear they will refund any money spent on bad gift cards. (The link to raise up top is a referral link. When you buy a gift card through raise using that link I will get 5 dollars.)

CardCash

I’ve only used CardCash to buy 5 Home Depot gift cards, but I was highly unsatisfied with how the transaction worked out. I was building a deck and when I needed supplies Raise happened to be out of gift cards, so I thought I would give CardCash a try. Unbeknownst to me CardCash processed my transactions like cash advances, which incurred rather hefty credit card fees that I was not expecting. Nowhere on their site do they disclose this fact. Cash advances also begin accruing interest expenses immediately, so I was on the hook for all the interest charges I racketed up before I reviewed my credit card statement and found out what had transpired. CardCash stated that this issue only occurs with cobranded American Express cards, but be sure to check with CardCash before you make a purchase or check your credit card statement immediately after any purchase.

eBay

eBay is always another option. It has its pro and cons though and is very different from the previous two websites/companies. When using eBay you will not get your gift card quickly through your email like you will with Raise and CardCash. Instead you will have to wait for it to come in the mail from the seller. eBay offers strong buyer protections; however, if you are going to buy a gift card from eBay I recommend you spend it immediately. The seller could potentially have all of the gift card information and spend the gift card when the seller protection period expires. if you are going to sell gift cards I would not recommend going through eBay. The buyer could claim there was no money on the gift card you sold and I do not think eBay has worked out a system to fairly protect the seller.

I don’t have any experience selling gift cards on any sites. I generally try to use my gift cards when I receive them, but I do have a gift card to the Star that I’ve been carrying around for several years. I think I’m going to use it this coming Thursday to celebrate with my wife when my MBA program is officially complete. What do you say Staci? Leave a comment if you are interested.

Title Image Credit: Raise.com

Be Efficient with your Time – Learn to Make Your Own Shortcut Keys

The other day I talked about learning how to use shortcut/hot keys to make yourself more efficient while using the computer. So at this point I’m going to assume you’ve completely mastered Windows, Word, and Excel hot keys and your boss bought you a new computer because you were making the old one look so slow.  It feels good doesn’t it. There is only one problem. You want more. You get that first taste of flying through a program as fast as it can go and you realize there should be a hot key for the next action you want to take, but there isn’t.

This is where a program called AutoHotkey steps in to solve your problem. AutoHotkey is a program that can record macros, run scripts, and expand text. These words might sound intimidating to some of you, but I assure you AutoHotkey is amazingly easy to use. With these functions combined it makes for an incredibly powerful automation tool.

One of the features that makes AutoHotkey so easy to use is that it has great documentation about how to use the tool. The help manual that comes with the program is extremely well written.  Whenever I have had a problem in AutoHotkey and consulted the help manual I have been able solve my problem within a matter of a few minutes. If you get past the beginner problems and start to face more difficult problems AutoHotkey has a huge community of users who help one and another out with their problems using the tool. You would have to try very hard to stump some of the people on the AutoHotkey forums.

AutoHotkey is free to download.

I’ll share my most commonly used AutoHotkey hot key. My AutoHotkey is super handy when using Excel and wanting to paste special values because it is done in one fluid step rather than three steps.  Usually you would have to press Ctrl, Alt, v, to bring up the paste special menu then v to select the values, then hit enter.  Instead I used AutoHotkey to do this task by pressing Shift(+), Alt(^), Ctrl(!), and v all at the same time and it sends a message to the computer to send Alt(^), Ctrl(!), and v followed by v again and then hitting enter.

+^!v::
Send ^!vv{Enter}
Return

Do you use any programs similar to AutoHotkey? Do you have any similar tips the world shouldn’t go on without hearing about? Let me know in the comments.

I did not receive any form of compensation for this review. It is just my honest opinion. If you have another similar software that you think I’m missing out on let me know I’d love to check it out.

Be Efficient with your Time – Learn to Use Shortcut Keys

If you work in any type of professional setting or really any setting in the world except under a rock, using a computer is a requirement or will be one shortly. It is time to admit it and start becoming better at using one.

The skill level that got you to the point where you are now is not going to be good enough. Becoming more efficient is a necessity if you want to remain competitive.

One method available to make your life on the computer easier is to learn the commonly available shortcut keys or hot keys to every program you commonly use.

I recommend you read through the list I’ve provided down below and find the hot keys you could use. Print out a list of the all the hot keys and post it somewhere you can see. Next time you are performing an action that could use a hot key, stop and look at which keys you need to push to do the same action. The first couple times you do this it will be cumbersome and slower and feel like a step backwards, but remember your current skills are not good enough for tomorrow. Embrace change and soon you will be shaving seconds off every action you perform on the computer. I know it seems small, but as I’ve shown before little details can add up over time to become life changing amounts.

Windows Keyboard Hot Keys Via Wikipedia

Microsoft Excel Hot Keys Via Exceljet.net

Microsoft Word Hot Key Via Shortcutworld.com

Microsoft Outlook Hot Keys Via Shortcutworld.com

Understand Your Next Best Alternative when Negotiating

When talking about negotiating I want to stress that keeping the big picture in mind is very important. It is easy to get caught up in a highly emotional situation and lose sight of what is really important.

One way to avoid losing sight of the big picture is to understand what your Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement (BANTA) is. If the negotiation you are currently engaged in does not work out what will you be left with? The answer to this question will generally inform how large of a range the two parties will negotiate over.

UNDERSTAND THE OTHER PARTY’S BATNA

It is important to understand what your counterpart has for a best alternative to a negotiated agreement. If one party has a very strong BATNA they will be unlikely to compromise during the negotiation, whereas if a party has a terrible BATNA they will be strongly incentivized to compromise and work out a deal.

LOOK TO IMPROVE YOUR OWN BATNA

In any situation there is always room for improvement. The same goes for negotiating. You should always be on the lookout for ways you can improve your own position.

For example, if you are trying to sell someone your used car for $3,000 dollars you would start with a BATNA not selling and holding onto your car. This is a pretty bad BATNA when you want or need to sell your car. Through the process of trying to sell your car, you find out a friend of your relative would like to buy the car, but they are hoping for the reduced price of $2,500. This doesn’t sound as bad as the previous BATNA, but you were trying to do better. This this case your BATNA has improved from 0 to $2,500. A week later you get a phone call from someone who would like to come look at the car. When they come to look at the car you already know you won’t take anything less than $2,500 because you have an alternative.

From the perspective of the person coming over to look at the car they would also want to improve their BATNA by finding other cars that will satisfy their needs. Now if they come over and tell you they absolutely must have a car by tonight to drive to their job in the morning or else they are going to get fired and this is the only car they’ve looked at. Well then you can be pretty sure that they are going to pay the full $3,000 price tag. It isn’t always in your best interest to reveal your BATNA.

Title Image Credit: Pat Mouhan via http://unisci24.com/

Measure Efficiency with Time – A Review of Manic Time

Do you waste time on your computer? My guess is you do. If you are like 66% of Americans, you waste time on your computer and wish you didn’t waste as much. I’m pretty sure you other 34% don’t have a computer or maybe waste time on a tablet or mobile device. When it comes to being efficient, losing track of time is a serious problem.

It is important to measure how efficient you are currently being with your time. When it comes to the time on the computer, Manic Time can help you with your time efficiency measurement needs. Manic Time automatically tracks which program on your computer is currently the active window, and every 5 seconds logs the current active window. The log should give you a fairly accurate idea of which windows and tabs you use. The program automatically stops recording data when the computer is not active.

The free version of Manic Time has all the features that an average person would use to track their computer usage time. The paid version mostly adds features that businesses would use for billing purposes.

Manic Time allows you to tag individual programs, tabs, or files under certain categories such as “productive,”  “fun,” or whatever you come up with.  Word documents might be classified as “productive” and Excel files classified as “fun” (I can’t help it… the engineer in me loves Excel).  Reddit or Facebook might be classified as “unproductive.” You can classify any program as productive or unproductive as it fits you.

Manic Time also has an array of options to help you visually understand and analyze where your time is going.  Here are a few screenshots of the data Manic Time can generate.

Manic Time Screen Shot

Manic Time Screen Shot2

 

Finally I want to say there is nothing wrong with decompressing and wasting time on the computer, but this tool can help you be aware of that time.

I did not receive any form of compensation for this review. It is just my honest opinion. If you have another time tracking software that you think I’m missing out on let me know I’d love to check it out.