Tuesday, November 19, 2013

5 Life Hacks You Should Be Using Today

I have always enjoyed learning tricks and tools to make everyday tasks easier or more efficient.  It can be as simple as saving a couple of keystrokes to finding an App that shaves off hours.

Here are a couple of tools that I use today that serve this purpose.

1.  Mint.com (Cost: Free)

                                                                              Image from Google

I have been an avid user of Quicken and Microsoft Money since before I was a teenager.  Every penny I have ever earned, invested or spent is tracked, categorized and reported.  This takes a time commitment of 1-2 hours per month.  

Mint is great on a PC or smartphone and connects to every bank, credit, mortgage and investment account I have (US and Canadian) and pulls it all together in real time.  You can add assets such as cars and personal items which drives an up-to-date net worth in real-time.

You can easily look at your complete financial world, have it report on bills due and large transactions. 

Individual account balances fluctuate but the net worth number is the one number to focus on month to month.

2.  Credit Karma (Cost: Free)

                                                                           Image from Google

I used to check my credit score every 6 months via one of the "FreeCreditScore.com" type of sites. Problem is that they are not free and you have to give up your credit card number.  If you don't cancel (via a long painful phone call to customer service) you are charged.

Credit Karma finally changes that.  In addition to the score, it gives you detailed information and breaks down the impact of each item.  You can even run simulators on what taking out new credit will do.

Having only moved to the US in 2009 - my biggest challenge was length of credit history.  While I can't change this item, I didn't realize that by having only 8 credit accounts that it was hurting my score.

Anyway, combined with Mint.com, I can stare at 2 numbers and have access to a wealth of information about my personal finances.

3.  23andMe.com (Cost: $199)

                                                                           Image from Google

Switching gears from financial to health.  As a futurist, I used to speak with such awe and inspiration as they mapped the human genome.  I originally had my DNA mapped when it was $400 and I thought it was a steal.

23andMe was started by Anne Wojcicki, the (separated) wife of Google founder Sergey Brin, and looks to cure disease by solving the age-old nature vs. nurture conundrum. I joke with people that 23andMe gives me a stack-ranked list of the 600 ways I am going to die.  

Knowing what diseases that are built into my lineage does 2 things for me:  

- drives me to better understand the disease, follow the latest medical science surrounding it and take precautions against it
- live everyday to the fullest

By the way, both of my grandfathers died at the age of 64 and 2 out of my top 5 propensity areas that 23andMe highlighted are the diseases that caused their deaths.  This is powerful stuff.

The software also has 3 other neat areas:  

a) A list of interesting personal things ranging from what type of ear wax to the muscle twitch determining speed.  My DNA predicted that was in the top percentile for fast muscle twitch and that I likely won the 100 meter in grade school - which is correct.

b) Genealogy on steroids.  Your DNA is tracked back thousands of years and you can see if you are related to royalty back in the day.  The most interesting thing is seeing where your mother and fathers lineage was 500 years ago (before mass travel).  Mine was 100% correct - Inverness, Scotland and Nottinghamshire, England.  Yes, I am the direct descendant of Robin Hood and the Loch Ness monster.

c) Social network of your family based on DNA.  I have openly accepted all "friend" requests of those people who are related to me.  This covers all regions of the world and I literally have hundreds of 10th, 11th and 12th cousins who are sitting on the same genetics that I am.  Fascinating.

4.  Amazon.com (Cost: $99 for Prime)

Many people know this one but it is worth repeating.  

I will not buy ANYTHING anymore without checking Amazon first and then eBay second.

With Prime you get free 2 day shipping on virtually everything and the savings are usually in the 30-40% range from normal retail.  With the mobile app I also buy things in real-time.  

In the garage and need a tool?  Buy and ship from phone.
In a store?  Use the built-in barcode reader and do a price check.
Need a small item for the kitchen?  Instead of trying to remember or adding to shopping list, just buy on the spot.

5.  YouTube.com (Cost: Free)

YouTube serves 2 purposes for me:

a) The new "mix" tape.  Find music you love and add to playlists.  You can play from your phone or a computer hooked up to your TV.

b) Mr. Fix-it.  This is the main reason for YouTube for me.  I was able to follow step by step with an amateur video and tear down my dryer and replace a faulty part for $40.  This saved about $300 in labor and I saved over a hundred on the part (eBay).  I have replaced several things on my Mercedes ML430 SUV (second worst vehicle all-time for reliability behind the Ford Focus) by following videos and buying parts on Amazon or eBay.  I even trust myself to change the oil in my Porsche 911 by buying the right parts from Amazon and following along.

All of the service repair industries will be in serious peril as younger generations start to turn to DIY - even for tasks that were once thought untouchable. 


I will write another blog on business hacks - things like Wordpress, Act-on, Manageflitter, Google Analytics and Google Apps that make life so much easier.