By Erin Flesch on March 6th, 2009

I'm gonna keep this short and sweet (because I'm usually long-winded and mean). My time at brass has come to an end, and I couldn't be happier. Not because I'm glad to be leaving, but because I've had the most incredible, rewarding experience working here and I couldn't have asked for anything better.

Dare I say, this was the best internship ever? Yes, I think I shall.

Working at brass, I had the opportunity to learn and accomplish so much. The world of finance, which was so murky and confusing to me upon arrival, has come more in to focus. A lot went down during my six-month tenure here--recessions, investment bank failures, a new president, stock market crashes--it seemed like the whole world changed. I'm happy I had brass here to keep me informed, and that I got to be a part of passing all that financial knowledge on to you.

hat.jpgI'm leaving here older, wiser, and armed with the skills I need to plan a successful financial future. Jens, Cody and Jennie remain to answer all the questions you haven't asked yet. I'll look forward to more blog posts here and great articles in the magazine. I hope you do too!

By Cody Wetmore on March 4th, 2009

When I arrived this morning, I found an email from our accounting department warning that my paycheck would be slightly larger. Reading further, I found that this was not due to me receiving a "Handsomeness Bonus" like I had originally assumed, but because of a new tax credit available to most workers called the "Making Work Pay" credit. As part of the recently passed stimulus bill, aka the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, eligible workers will receive a tax credit equaling 6.2% of their earned income. The maximum amount credited for the year will total no more than $400 for a single earner, or $800 for a married couple with a joint return. Instead of sending out separate checks like last year, the money will be spread across monthly paychecks from spring until the end of the year. This $400 or $800 tax credit will also be added to 2010 paychecks. 

For more information on the "Making Work Pay" credit, go to irs.gov.

--Cody

Picture taken from this photostream and used with permission of a Creative Commons license.

By Jens Odegaard on March 2nd, 2009

If Kevin Garnett and The Quest For G ads didn't tip you off to the fact that Gatorade is now known as G, perhaps Dwyane Wade and the rest of the athletes/cultural icons in the Lil Wayne narrated commercials for the G Manifesto enlightened you.

The re-branding of Gatorade is just a microcosm of a bigger image makeover for parent company PepsiCo, which also repackaged its Pepsi and Tropicana brands. The G image makeover has definitely created a lot of buzz. But as PepsiCo learned, brand redesign doesn't always work out. The packaging changes for Tropicana are being rescinded due to consumer dissatisfaction

Regardless, companies are constantly jockeying to keep their image foremost in consumers' minds--whether through repackaging, re-branding or highlighting specific aspects of their product.

Throughout my younger years, Chevy commercials trumpeted the fact that their trucks were Like a Rock in toughness. Recently, their commercials have taken to highlighting the fact that they get better gas mileage than their counterparts. Ford is doing the same thing

The new ads are obviously a direct response to the consumer perception that American car companies don't make fuel-efficient vehicles.

Repackaging and highlighting specific aspects of a product are ways to keep a brand image fresh. Keep this in mind when you go to work for a company or start your own. Just remember to listen to the customer and be willing to adapt--check out my blog Face To Facebook, for an example of responding to consumer input.

Picture taken from this photostream and used with permission of a Creative Commons license.

By Cody Wetmore on February 27th, 2009

Gardening may seem a daunting task only understood by hippies and retirees, but it's a lot easier than you'd think. Last year, with zero experience, I grew my first herb garden. Although I didn't get the best yields, I managed not to kill many of my plants. So, for those that aren't agriculturally inclined, here are a few tips on simple gardening.

Start now. It may seem early--this morning my car was covered in frost--but now is the perfect time to start your spring garden. While it may be cold outside, you can start germinating seeds inside.

Germination. Your first reaction to this word may have been similar to mine: "Growing germs on my seeds seems counterproductive." Try to think of it this way: Given the proper conditions (warm, moist soil), your germs (seeds) will grow quickly, strengthening themselves for the inevitable attack on your mouth. Put potting soil in a small pot or reused plastic container (yogurt and the like) with holes poked in the bottom to allow drainage. Add seeds and cover with a thin layer of soil. Then...

Follow directions. Seed packets have instructions printed on the back for a reason. They'll let you know when to transplant and when to harvest. If you'd like more detailed instructions, head to the library or sites like finegardening.com and gardenguides.com. When these sources tell you to regularly water your plants, they mean it. I deprived myself of half the delicious cilantro I was entitled to last year because of my extreme negligence.

Act smug. Bring up your new garden in conversation whenever possible. Wait by the herb section of your supermarket until someone buys a package of thyme for $3.50, then laugh in their face. You've earned it.

Learn from mistakes. Your first garden won't be perfect. Your 50th garden won't be perfect, but with experience each one should be better than the last. Keep a journal of your experiences so you can put them to use next year.

--Cody

This picture is taken from this photostream and used with the permission of a Creative Commons license.

By Cody Wetmore on February 25th, 2009

Blame it on the recession, blame it on the convenience of DVRs or blame it on the fact that dancing with D-list celebrities and police forensics are boring in real life, but television viewing has gone up over the last year. According to a Nielson study, Americans watch 151 hours of TV per month, or over 5 hours each day. That's up from the all time high of 143 hours last year, and is part of a long term trend toward our total couchpotatofication.

Another explaination for the record is the increase in viewership on the Internet and mobile phones. That's right, our slacking off at school, work and on the bus has allowed us to break records yet again. Now all I need is for someone to get me a shower TV, and I'll never have to interact with a real-life person ever again.

--Cody

This picture is taken from this photostream and used with the permission of a Creative Commons license.

If you're unemployed, at least you can console yourself with the knowledge that you're not alone. Jobless claims are at an all-time high, and the body count grows by the day. The downside to the whole "misery loves company" thing is that it means heavy competition for the jobs that are available.

With such a tough job market, you need to step your game up a notch. One way to do this is to specialize. Instead of spending all your time filtering results at huge job sites like monster.com or careerbuilder.com, look for sites catering to specific industries where you have experience or a burning desire to break in to. Not everyone posts on the larger job sites, and companies looking for employees with specific skills may use a more specific job site to find the right people.

Here are some job sites to visit if you are interested in starting a career in…

Media:
mediabistro.com

Journalism:
journalismjobs.com

Healthcare:
advancedpracticejobs.com
empoweringhealthjobs.com

"Green" technology:
coolclimatejobs.com

Education:
academickeys.com

These are just a few examples--there are tons of industry-specific job sites online. Just start at Google and search for "jobs" and the field you're looking in. Finding a job isn't always easy and can be a very time-consuming process. Hopefully, these sites will lead you to some new opportunities. Happy hunting!

 

This picture is taken from this photostream and used with the permission of a Creative Commons license.

 

By Cody Wetmore on February 20th, 2009

Here at brass, we're committed to not only talking the talk, but walking the walk. In the past, we celebrated 10 AM every day with a trip to the neighborhood coffee shop. I don't even drink coffee, I'm just a natural follower. But now, in the spirit of savings, we decided to finally invest in our very own coffee maker (actually, in the spirit of honesty, one was given to us.) This kick in the 3295359937_0cca156d99.jpgpants led to me getting a two pound sack of beans (sack made of 100% organic burlap) from the local discount grocery store for $5, and a $15 coffee grinder.

I know, that puts me over my budget for the week, but if I've learned anything from brass, it's that sometimes you have to spend money to save money.

At $1.50 a cup, a month's worth of coffee for three adds up to $90 down the street. Compare that to our initial $20 startup cost, and that's a $70 savings.

I kick myself for paying that much for coffee. Now my time and energy are better spent playing the intern's head like a drum.

Who can put a price on memories? I can: $70. And even if I accomplish nothing this weekend, which is a safe bet, I can sleep soundly knowing I've made a difference in at least three peoples' lives. So, with a little creativity, natural rhythm, and some initiative, you too can save money and have fun with your friends.

 --Cody

 

...And I thought I was cool using Facebook. It actually turns out that "anyone can join"--and they are. The fastest growing demographic in Facebook's ever-growing 175-million-user population is 30-years-old and up. This explains why all my friends' parents and my parents' friends have been friend requesting the heck out of me lately. I oblige, because who wants to tick off their mom's best friend from high school? 

Facebook has gone so mainstream that time.com recently published an article titled, "Why Facebook Is For Old Fogies." While this has certainly cooled off Facebook's coolness factor, it's actually been a stroke of business genius for Facebook. By expanding beyond just college students, Facebook has been able to grow into the social networking market leader.

It's a classic case of an entrepreneurial business adapting to market factors. By recognizing that people outside the original college-restricted market would want and use their services, Facebook was willing to diversify in 2006 despite initial protest by their college student users. By reaching a broader market, the gamble has paid off. Here are some stats:  

Outstanding growth, however, doesn't mean that Facebook can afford to ignore its users. In early February, Facebook changed its Terms of Use, which prompted concerns over user privacy and rights. Due to the intense protest against these changes, Facebook switched its Terms of Use back to the old version.

Facebook's interaction with its users shows that calculated risk can pay off in huge profits, but that businesses also need to respect the input of their users/customers. There is a fine line between pushing boundaries and falling off the edge of the cliff.

A helpful lesson for businesses and entrepreneurs everywhere.

Picture taken from this photostream and used with permission of a Creative Commons license.

This is a continuation of the series Modern Money Managers. See the first post by Cody here.

For me, a new year means a renewal of my promise to keep better track of my money. When January 1st rolled around I decided to start with a familiar friend. My last computer came with Money 2000 (yes, it was that long ago), and when I needed to draft my first budget, it was the obvious place to start. So when looking for something to help me in 2009, I chose my old friend Microsoft Money.

Unlike Buxfer, Geezeo, and many others, Microsoft Money isn't free. It is, however, available as a free trial--I'm not going to pay for software until I know it works and, more importantly, that I'll use it.

After comparing the features of different levels of the new Money software, I went with the Plus over the bare-bones Essentials edition. I liked the extra features like receiving alerts to remind me when bills are due, attaching files to transactions (like statements or images) to keep everything in one place, and help maintaining my savings goals.

After everything was set up, it automatically downloaded all my transactions, and it was up to me to categorize everything as I saw fit. The wizards make putting everything together very simple. There's a wizard for budgeting, debt-reduction, and savings goals. They walk you through adding all the information Money needs in order to help you keep tabs on your money and your goals. It even tracks investment accounts, so I can see how my IRA is doing without logging on to my financial institution's website. I have most of my bills deducted automatically, so having a program that keeps an eye on everything is very nice.

There are a few quirks in Money that kind of bug me. For example, you have to be connected to the Internet to start the program. If I've paid for a program rather than using something online, I'd like to be able to work on my budget if my Internet is down--particularly if it's because my Internet bill hasn't been paid. Also, one feature I really liked in the old version was splitting a transaction, like a trip to the grocery store, into different categories in your budget. I have a habit of getting cash at the grocery store, so I'd like to be able to put that in my cash category, rather than padding my grocery category. And lastly, there are a lot of menu options--and I mean a lot. The learning curve on those functions, from help with your taxes to planning your retirement, are a bit steep.  I think that if I had more to manage, all the gizmos would be worth trying out. As it is, I think I'm going to downshift to Essentials or another simpler manager.

I'm going to play with a few other managers over the next few weeks. I'll let you know how it goes.

 

By Cody Wetmore on February 13th, 2009

All in all, Valentine's Day is a fairly boring holiday. Don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those types  that claim "it was totally created by the greeting card companies, man." I just think that when I'm with someone special (even if it's just myself), every day is an excuse to eat an expensive meal and publically display my affection.

So, imagine my delight when I heard about the Valentine's Day Zombie Walk two towns over. Assorted slackers slap on a little cream makeup, a lot of blood, and shuffle around town confusing people out on dates.

This event is great for singles, as they find they will not actually end up dying alone (past hordes have grown to over 80 people), and for couples, because a night with the living dead will provide memories that will last longer than roses or waxy chocolate.

Zombie walks aren't limited to Valentines Day (visit zombiewalk.com to search for an event in your area, or create one of your own), but it's a fun way to put a twist on a holiday that's most often symbolized by a naked child wielding a bow and arrow, or a non-zombie-related massacre.

--Cody