Wednesday, October 19, 2016

What Is Your Financial Knowledge?

As I wrote about during Side Hustle Week, I’ve started doing a lot more work on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. One of the surveys I took was regarding financial knowledge. I was presented with a couple different stock portfolios with an initial value of $10,000 and asked what I thought the value would be after one year. After that, they asked some questions to gauge my financial knowledge.

I thought it would be interesting to see how readers of this blog do on the same questions.  I re-created the quiz on SurveyMonkey, but they limit free accounts to ten questions, so I split the quiz into two parts.  There are a total of 13 questions and it should take about 5 to 10 minutes to complete. Your responses are anonymous and you don’t need to provide your email or anything to answer.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Be sure to check back here! In a few weeks, I’ll post the results, along with my results from when I took the quiz for the first time and the correct answers. I would love it if you would take a minute or two and take the quizzes.

Thanks for helping me out!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Your Money Is About to Get Faster

I've always been bothered by the fact that it takes days to move money between banks electronically and that money doesn't move on weekends or holidays. It's all computerized! Why shouldn't transfers get processed on weekends? It makes no sense and I find it very frustrating.

Two years ago, I wrote about this after hearing a Planet Money podcast on this very issue. The problem is that the Automated Clearing House (ACH) system that banks use was designed 40 years ago. See my previous post for my full rant on this.

Today, I have good news! Finally, the ACH system is getting an upgrade! It is going to take 2 years to fully roll out, but soon, transfers made using the ACH will be completed the same day they were made. Banks which use the ACH will be required to update ACH transactions three times a day, up from the once a day that was previously required. (That updating was usually done during overnight processing, so essentially, the ACH was a "next-day" system.)

Effective now, banks are required to credit an account for money received via the ACH system the same day. A year from now, they will be required to debit money from an account the day the transfer is requested. And finally, in March 2018, all ACH transferred money must be available for withdrawal by the end of the business day. (Currently, there is a limit of $25,000 per day.)

It's still not perfect. It's same day, but not real time. That Planet Money podcast I talked about previously featured a man in London sending money to his daughter overseas. They initiated the transfer on the phone while speaking to the reporter and the daughter verified she got her money within seconds. The new ACH rules don't go so far as to require instantaneous transfers, so we're still lagging the rest of the world, but at least it's a step in the right direction.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Goal Update: End of September 2016

At the end of each month, I post an update of my goals, including a brief discussion of any notable events that might have occurred during the month. The latest month's figures can always be found under the Featured menu in the menu bar at the top of the blog.

Last updated: End of September, 2016
Current value: $25,527
Change from last month: +$526
Percent of Goal:  23.47%

Note that the funds in this account are invested in stock, so there will be fluctuations in value that are outside my control. I never withdraw money from this account, so any dips are purely due to stock price changes.

Events Of Note Last Month:

I saw a pretty nice increase of $526 in September. Net income this month from my online courses was $152.65. My hard money loan generated $133.33 in income. I received $4 from a class action lawsuit settlement.

As I mentioned during Side Hustle Week, I've started doing work at Amazon's Mechanical Turk. September was my first month really working this hustle and I'm happy to report that I earned $248.03 for the month! This surpasses my goal of $200 per month. It's even more impressive when you realize I didn't even start until around the second week of the month.

Unfortunately, I'm still going through the process of linking bank accounts and transferring those funds out of mTurk, so this figure did not make it into my savings account in time to be included in my gains this month. October's number should be nice though!

LifeHacker's September Money Challenge

LifeHacker's Two Cents blog posted their money challenge for September: Find a Cheaper Cell Phone Plan. I took the challenge. Well, I took the challenge in a half-assed sort of way. The challenge was to find a cheaper cell phone plan that offered the same level of service. I found a cheaper one that offered a lower lever of service, but that is still suitable for our needs. Yeah, I kinda cheated. Don't tell the teacher.

My family has three cell phones and we have a Verizon plan that gives us shared minutes and data. I suspected that I was paying for way more data than I needed. Our current plan gives us 10 GB of data each month. I keep one year's worth of bills, so I checked my statements for the past twelve months to see what our actual data usage was. For two of the last 12 months, we used 4.4 GB and 4.0 GB. All the other months were under 4 GB of usage. The Verizon plan type we have offers data tiers with 4 GB, 6 GB, 8 GB, or 10 GB of data. I opted to drop down to the 6 GB tier, saving us $8.30 per month, or almost $100 a year. (Surprisingly, the 8 GB tier was actually more than our current price for 10 GB.)

I could probably drop to the 4 GB plan, which would save us more than twice that - $240 a year - but we've got a trip to Germany coming up in a couple of months. I'm going to have to look at my international options for that, so I'll revisit this as that gets closer. I'm leery about using public WiFi spots in general, even more so in Europe. We'll be staying at two different Air BnB places which offer WiFi, but again, I'm not sure I want to use the provided WiFi. No telling what kind of packet sniffing software they might have on their networks. Yeah, I'm a bit paranoid - that comes from working in IT. I may use a VPN client to protect our data communications over WiFi, but I haven't looked into that yet. But the bottom line is, while we are in Germany, we'll likely be using more cellular data than normal.

Net Worth Update

Our net worth continues to grow, increasing by $13,371 from last month to a new total of $716,695.

August 2016September 2016
Note: categorizes our HELOC as a credit card debt, not a loan, hence the apparently high credit card balance.

Almost $12,000 of this month's increase was due to my adding a pension account to my asset list (which Mint allocates into the Property category). In the personal finance world, including pensions in a net worth calculation is something that there seems to be a fair amount of controversy about.

A pension plan provides for an income stream in the future, while your net worth is a snapshot of what you are worth at this moment. Therefore, as you might imagine, an argument could be made either for or against including it in a net worth calculation.

However, I am now fully vested in my pension plan and, if I leave the company before retiring, I am eligible for a lump sum payout, the value of which is calculated at the beginning of each year. In accordance with these guidelines given at, that lump sum amount is the figure I am including in my net worth calculation. Specifically, my lump sum payout, as of Jan 2016, is $11,980.

If you have any questions or suggestions for topics, please drop me a line!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Side Hustle Week Day 5: Udemy


Welcome to Side Hustle Week here at Road To A Tesla! Most personal finance bloggers love to talk about side hustles - ways you can make some extra money on the side to help you achieve your financial goals more quickly. These are usually jobs you can do as a hobby or while you are still employed full time somewhere and, with luck, you may be able to parlay them into big-time income producing projects.

I tried out my hand at some side hustles and each day this week, I will be posting my results and thoughts on some of the more popular ones.

Day 1 - Studypool
Day 2 - Wrapify
Day 3 - Loanables / Craigslist
Day 4 - Amazon Mechanical Turk
Day 5 - Udemy


I’ve saved my most profitable side hustle for last - Udemy! Udemy is a marketplace for online learning. There, any subject matter expert can create their own course and offer it for sale to the public. This is where you can really put your experience in a particular field to work. Create an online course, set the price, and get paid as students sign up! Over 12 million student use their site. That’s a lot of potential buyers!

The Process

Once you sign up, spend some time getting familiar with Udemy’s Course Quality Checklist. Your course is reviewed before it is published to make sure it meets Udemy’s requirements for technical quality, so you want to make sure you build it to their specifications from the get-go. Udemy places a big emphasis on video content, so the majority of your course should be video (and be sure to use a widescreen aspect ratio). They also like to see a variety of presentation methods. For example: video of you talking, PowerPoint presentations, video demonstrations or screen captures of what you are explaining, etc. They also like for courses to have downloadable content that students can download and review on their own systems. Their system provides the ability for you to create tests for students, so that’s another option you can incorporate into your course.

Your course should be broken up into “lectures” that a student can easily digest. I try to keep my lectures to 5 to 20 minutes each. (This also makes creating them easier.) Once you have created your course files, Udemy has a step by step process that guides you through uploading your files and creating your course in their system. You then submit the course for quality review. If there are any issues, Udemy will tell you what they would like fixed and provide suggestions on how to fix it. This is where is pays to really understand their quality checklist. If you can meet most or all of their requirements the first time you submit for publication, the approval process goes much quicker.

Note – not all of their suggestions for improvements have to be followed. For example, I named my first course Microsoft SQL Server 101 and they wanted me to change the name. They said they wanted to avoid the overly-formal 101-type college course naming convention. I replied that I really preferred that name and they let me keep it. I also did not want to appear in any of my videos, so my courses are 100% PowerPoint slides or program demonstrations. Their guidelines suggest you appear in your videos, but they still will approve a course without any person appearing in it. (Although I did include a still image of myself in an “about the instructor” slide.)

They provide a free one hour lesson on how to create your own course.

Udemy provides assistance in creating the images for your course listings for free. I have zero graphical design experience, so I let Udemy design the images for my courses.

When it comes to pricing, Udemy does impose some limits. There is a minimum and maximum price for courses, currently $20 and $200. The minimum price for a course after a discount is applied $10. You also have the ability to create free courses, although you will receive no payment for students that join those.

Udemy offers several marketing programs you can opt in to. If you do not join their marketing programs, you get to keep 50% of all income your course generates. The downside is that you alone are responsible for promoting your course and getting students to purchase it. (You do have the ability to create coupon codes and discounts to help with promotion.)

If you do join their marketing program, there are three options to choose from and you can join one, two, or all three. All programs will promote your course using a fixed amount discount or a percentage discount, but there is a minimum price they will charge (usually $10). The first program is just Udemy itself promoting your course. The second program is Udemy affiliates promoting your course. The third is Udemy For Business selling your courses as part of a bundle of courses offered to their corporate customers. How much money you make depends on which promotion program you are in. The first program gives you up to 50% of the sales price. The second pays you up to 25% of the sales price. The third divvies up 50% of the sales price and divides it equally among all the courses in the bundle, based on the minutes in each course. All programs may discount your course by up to 75% (for the percentage discount option) or offer it for a sales price as low as $10 (for the fixed amount discount option).

I highly recommend joining all the marketing programs. Even though they greatly discount your courses, the number of students they get to join your courses probably beats anything you could achieve on your own. Joining one of their marketing programs does not prevent you from recruiting students on your own however, and you still get the higher payment amount for students you bring in on your own (via a coupon code).

Students have a 30 day money back guarantee on all course purchases, so Udemy pays you about 5 weeks in arrears. For example, you will be paid the first week of August for sales made during the month of June. Payment is made via Paypal.

Each course has its own discussion area where students can ask questions and instructors can answer. Instructors also can send messages to all their students or students of just a particular course. (They request that you limit marketing messages to once a month.)

How It Turned Out

This is how it’s turned out for me so far:

I posted my first course in August 2013. That works out to around $225 a month for three years. And the best part is this is truly passive income. Let me explain.

The Best Side Hustle Is One That Requires No Ongoing Hustle

Truly passive income is income that keeps coming in whether you work or not. I spent some initial time creating the courses, but once I published them, they’ve been generating income day in and day out, even while on vacation. I made my first course 3 years ago and haven’t touched it since, but I’m still getting money from it today!

My total monetary investment was $149 for this Yeti microphone (and the price has dropped since I first bought it years ago). I used CamStudio, a free screen recording program to record my videos. I used the free program Convert AVI To MP4 to convert the output from CamStudio to a format Udemy supports. I used PowerPoint to make my slides, but my employer paid for that software. My courses are about Microsoft SQL Server, and again, my employer paid for that.

My biggest investment was time. I spent several hours developing each of my courses. I started by creating an outline of what I wanted to teach, then wrote a script for the recordings. I also decided what I wanted to demonstrate and developed examples. Once all that was completed, I had to record everything.

After the course was published, I created my own YouTube channel and posted two of the lessons from each course as demos.  I also added coupon codes for the courses there.

The first course took me the longest to create. (It was also the longest of my courses, at over 4 hours long.) It took me a while to get used to the recording equipment, running the slideshow while reading my script, and running the demonstrations. I had to re-record my lessons several times because I made vocal blunders or I messed up the demonstration. But by the time I made my fourth course, I had the process down and I could usually finish a lesson in the first take. I have a total of 10 hours of course material and I estimate I spent about 80 hours creating all of that. At my current income figure of $8,288, that works out to $103.60 an hour. And as more sales happen over time, that number will only go up.

Udemy provides statistics so you can see how far into the course each student gets and I’ve discovered most students who buy a course never finish it! In fact, I would estimate that more than half of the people who buy my courses never view ANY portion of them! Here’s a list of some of my very first students who joined my class three years ago. Look at the Progress column:

Only one viewed more than 35% of the course and most viewed none of it. But they all paid me for it! Over the three years I’ve been offering courses, I think I only had 3 or 4 people request refunds. Udemy handles the refunds, so there is no work on my part.

For those interested, my courses are here. Use coupon code 15OFFBLOG on any of the courses for a 15% discount.

Teach What You Love

You may not think you have anything to teach, but visit Udemy and take a look at some of the courses people have created. You may see something and think “I can do that!”

This concludes Side Hustle Week. I hope you enjoyed it and learned a thing or two. I love hearing about what other people have done as side hustles, so please leave comments about any experiences you have!