Business Travelers – Skip In-Flight Wi-Fi To Increase Productivity And Save Money

Originally in ForbesI travel a decent amount. I don’t mind flying, but I’ve always struggled with the loss of productivity. Hours waiting at the airport. Even more hours in flight. But with the advent of in-flight Wi-Fi, I thought my productivity problems were solved. I was wrong.

I’ve instead concluded that by nixing slow and unpredictable in-flight Wi-Fi altogether, we can save money and use flight time to more productive ends (like reading, writing and resting) better suited for that environment.

My initial plan was to use in-flight Wi-Fi to slay the email dragon. That way, I could land knowing that nothing had slipped through the cracks and that there were no surprises waiting. I might even allow non-urgent emails to pile up for a couple days if I knew I had an upcoming flight. Unfortunately, the strategy was a miserable failure.

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Why It Doesn’t Work

For starters, I can’t use my most efficient email slaying tool—my laptop—for a meaningful portion of the flying experience. Although we can finally use phones and tablets on airplane mode throughout the flight, the “use of laptops and larger electronic devices” is still prohibited from the time we leave the gate until we hit 10,000 feet—and then again on descent.

That’s a significant amount of lost, potentially productive time. Even if you have something else to do during those seemingly interminable intervals, you’re likely fidgeting, shuffling other media around and listening for announcement to free you from the prison of non-productivity. Yes, you may speed up the process by using a tablet, but good luck convincing me that you can send, categorize and stash emails as fast as you can on a laptop (with the same level of response quality).

Next, it’s going to take another several minutes to connect to the service. You’ll probably have to pull out your credit card and then labor through entering your payment information.

More time lost.

Most importantly, in-flight Wi-Fi is notoriously slow and predictably unpredictable. Yes, some airlines and some planes are better than others, but you never really know what you’re getting until you boot-up your device and connect.

Invariably, I’d sit there stewing, watching my emails battle to leave my outbox. Sadly, some never did, left to languish in electronic purgatory indefinitely. All that waiting can double or even triple the time it takes to clear an inbox, depending on how slow the connection is.

Some planes don’t even offer in-flight Wi-Fi, so now you’re scrambling for another way to utilize your time and stressing over the pile of emails you expected to crank through.

Again, time is lost. Stress is increased.

I mention the cost of in-flight Wi-Fi last, but not because of its insignificance. At an average of $10 per day to boot-up a connected computer, it’s not a trivial expense. Indeed, in the 50 days I’ll likely fly in the coming year, what I would spend checking my email mid-air could buy me a whole round-trip flight. I mention it last, however, because, in relative terms, the cost of in-flight Wi-Fi is not as great as the lack of productivity.

So you’re paying premium prices for substandard service. More importantly, you’re expending time on a task that we can surely agree would be more productively accomplished if you were sitting at your desk with a solid internet connection.

What Works Better

How better, then, could we spend our time and money? Just to name a few…

  • Reading – Whether it’s the newspaper, a professional journal, an annual report or a book you’re excited to crack, from the moment you sit down on a plane and tighten your seatbelt, you’re in an environment no less productive for the task of reading than anywhere else. In fact, an airplane is likely an even more productive environment because no one is interrupting you—no emails, phone calls or co-worker queries. Reading makes you better at what you do, regardless of what you do.
  • Writing – You may not be cranking out novels like John Grisham, but few of us are employed in a professional pursuit that requires absolutely no written communication. Again, because of the lack of disruptions, airtime offers enhanced productivity for writing, especially in the longer form. If you’re a blogger, blog. If you’re a manager, write employee reviews. If you’re in sales, take along a stack of cards to write hand-written notes to send customers when you touch down.
  • Resting – You may not be able to sleep on an airplane, but you can rest. Resting has been proven to reduce stress, which, in turn, makes all of us more productive. Nap, listen to music, read mindless fiction, pray, meditate (in your seat, please) or simply close your eyes and process the last 24 hours or the day ahead.

On Oct. 29, I made an unexpected pledge on Twitter. I promised I would not use in-flight Wi-Fi for the remainder of the year, instead, using the time to read and write.

My colleague, Carolyn McClanahan—a former doctor, current financial planner and fellow Forbes contributor—reiterated my commitment. And then we took it to the next level. We extended our pledge through the first quarter of 2015 and promised to send one another a $20 Starbucks card if we failed.

Since that day, I’ve spent 28 airborne hours entirely Wi-Fi-free. It hasn’t been without temptation—especially since hitting enough miles to earn free Wi-Fi—but it’s been blissful. Flights feel like rewards, and I actually look forward to them. I’ve read more than 500 pages, written thousands of words and enjoyed a few stints of doing absolutely, positively nothing. And interestingly, knowing that I don’t have Wi-Fi as an option has made me more disciplined at processing email before and after flights.

If you’d like to join Carolyn and me—or raise the stakes—let us know on Twitter, @CarolynMcC and @TimMaurer.

I’m a speaker, author and director of personal finance for the BAM Alliance. If you enjoyed this post, let me know on Twitter or Google+, and click here to receive my weekly post via email.

Don’t Balance Money And Life, Integrate Them

Originally in ForbesWe got the subtitle of my last book wrong. It reads, “Balancing Money and Life.” And while the book is still substantively solid and its aging content remains mostly relevant, the subtitle, I now believe, is a misnomer. It may actually contradict the book’s fundamental message.

Whether we’re talking about money and life, work and life—whatever and life—the temptation is to see the “whatever” as a force standing in opposition to life. An alternative to life.

And, unfortunately, this isn’t merely a rhetorical conundrum. As it often does, life follows language. Indeed, the phrase “work-life balance” has become so common that most of us now consider it an either-or proposition. We picture a scale, balancing work on one side and life on the other, as though it’s a zero-sum game. Work or life.

And so it has become with money. We can choose to expend life in pursuit of money or deplete our financial resources in pursuit of life.

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Perhaps there’s a third option—the integration of money and life. Consider these seven ways we might view life and money differently if our approach to them was less mutually exclusive:

3 Ways To Gain From Market Losses

Originally in ForbesEven if you get your daily news from one of those celebrity tabloid shows, you have probably still heard that the market has been more than a little crazy in recent weeks.

Indeed, the typically overstated “surge” and “plunge” headlines have been less hyperbolic of late, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average burps out daily gains and losses in the hundreds of points. But over the past several trading days, the results have been all red, and since Sept. 18, the market has taken back more than 6% of what it’s given so far this year.

Is this volatility the precursor to another market gutting? Or perhaps it’s just a momentary ebb in advance of a continued upward flow?

The answer is yes.

The market is in the business of rising and falling, and of making fools of those who attempt to predict which it will do next. But be sure that we will feel both the pain of another big drop—perhaps sooner rather than later—and the euphoria of another unprecedented gain.

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Whether this very recent pullback happens to be the beginning or the end of something, most investors have already lost enough to benefit from it.

Benefit? Yes, you did read that correctly. Here are three ways to gain from market losses:

3 Reasons to Avoid ETFs: Advisor

Originally published CNBCExchange-traded funds—commonly referred to as ETFs—are all the rage. While there are several excellent reasons to use an ETF over the seemingly archaic traditional mutual fund, they are not a universally preferable solution.

First, to be fair, let’s review a few reasons why ETFs can be a better solution than mutual funds.

ETFs generally have lower associated costs than comparable mutual funds. This isn’t news, I know, but since costs are one of the few variables over which we have control as investors, I don’t mind flogging this deceased ungulate.

ETFs

The expense ratio is the most obvious cost reduction. For example, the legendarily inexpensive Vanguard 500 Index Fund has an expense ratio of 0.17 percent, while Vanguard’s S&P 500 ETF has a barely noticeable expense ratio of 0.05 percent. This makes ETFs an ideal choice for investors making a sizable, broadly-based, one-and-done purchase.

What Is Your Fool’s Gold?

Originally in ForbesMy son gave me a present. To be fair, I don’t think it was until after he realized the gift was monetarily worthless, but I appreciated it nonetheless. It’s a big hunk of the mineral pyrite, also known as fool’s gold. My son’s gift has value to me far beyond its function as an excellent paperweight. And, ironically, its worth to me is continually rising. It’s become a constant reminder to orient my life away from that which only appears valuable and towards that which truly is.

We all have our own versions of fool’s gold. It’s generally the stuff that, while largely worthless, receives an undue amount of our time, attention and investment. What’s yours?

Fools Gold

Here are three ways to spot it:

1)   Fool’s gold consumes time you’ve dedicated to other things. Not more than one paragraph into writing this post (on this topic, no less!) I found myself entering this Google search—“what is the best banjo ukulele”—and then navigating to this page, then this one.

The Real Danger In Overstating Returns (Like PIMCO)

Originally in ForbesAs if PIMCO needed any more bad press, The Wall Street Journal reported this week that the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating whether the bond giant “artificially boosted the returns of a popular fund aimed at small investors.” While we should all be attentive to the results of this probe—because I’d bet my lunch money that its implications will be felt beyond just PIMCO—there is an even deeper issue to consider. And this issue has a more direct impact on our individual portfolios and money management choices. The real danger in overstating returns, and indeed the root of most financial missteps, is self-deception.

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“How’s your portfolio?”

Who among us wants to feel like a failure? We’ll generally avoid experiencing this sensation at all costs. So, absent conspicuous success, we permit ourselves to believe that we’ve at least not failed, frequently through self-deception.

Lessons In ‘The Happiness Of Pursuit’ From Chris Guillebeau

Originally in Forbes“People have always been captivated by quests,” writes author Chris Guillebeau in his brand new book, The Happiness of Pursuit. Chris, for one, is most certainly one of those people. His book celebrates the completion of a personal quest to visit all 193 countries in the world before his 35th birthday.

PursuitAre the rest of us captivated by quests as well? Absolutely. But is the whole concept of questing, journeying and generally living life as an adventure something anybody can pursue? Or are we merely relegated to living vicariously through Chis and his band of fellow travelers? After all, the rest of us have obligations, right? Nine-to-five drudgery is a responsibility. To some, it’s even an honor. We’ve got spouses, kids, mortgages, car payments and PTA meetings. We can’t be gallivanting all over creation in search of enlightenment.

Or can we?

Chris has some pretty strong feelings on that—so strong that the stated lesson of the first chapter in his book is: “Adventure is for everyone.”

Perhaps it depends on how we define a quest? Here are Chris’ criteria:

  • “A quest has a clear goals and a specific end point.”
  • “A quest presents a clear challenge.”
  • “A quest requires sacrifice of some kind.”
  • “A quest is often driven by a calling or sense of mission.”
  • “A quest requires a series of small steps and incremental progress toward the goal.”

By these measures, running a marathon would assuredly be considered a quest for most. How much more, then, is John Wallace’s feat of running 250 of them—in a single year?

Wallace is one of many questers featured in The Happiness of Pursuit, but most of the others’ exploits are far less headline worthy. Chris endeavors to bring the notion of questing closer to home by featuring a largely “ordinary” cast of characters, and in so doing, he succeeds.

Boomer Esiason’s Advice For Millennials: Plan For Tomorrow, Live For Today

Originally in ForbesBoomer Esiason is busy—I mean, really busy. “Starting next Tuesday, all the way until after the Super Bowl in 2015, I think I’ve got about four days off,” he told me.

Why, then, was he anxious to talk about financial planning and life insurance?

It’s because he has a message for today’s youth: “Protect your future and make sure that whenever adversity strikes, you are prepared for it.” Prepared, among other things, with the appropriate level of life insurance. 

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But how did one of the National Football League’s great quarterbacks and commentators become an advocate for life insurance and the spokesperson for Life Happens, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing awareness of the importance of planning with life insurance? 

Back to School — Back to Financial Fundamentals for 3 Generations

Originally in ForbesAs kids head back to school, adults spanning several generations set their sites on getting their financial house back in order.  What are the most important financial planning considerations in three major demographics—Millennials, Generation X and Empty Nesters?

Millennials:  First things first – Before making any big financial commitments, like buying a house, figure out what you want life to look like.

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  • Are you in a relationship and looking to “settle down,” or do you highly value freedom and flexibility?  If the latter, you shouldn’t be buying a house or committing to a job that is geographically tethered.
  • If you’re in your twenties, the primary factor that will influence your financial success is how well you establish yourself in a career.  Invest in yourself, and that will likely help you invest more money in the future.
  • Save as much as you can in tax-qualified retirement accounts at this phase of life, because once you get settled down and have kids, your expenses will rise dramatically.
  • Don’t default to 100% equity portfolios just because you’re young.  After getting burned by the market crash of 2008, many Millennials got scared away and didn’t benefit from the subsequent market rise.  Your portfolio should likely be predominantly stocks at this age, but consider some fixed income exposure to keep from losing your shirt (and abandoning your strategy) in a downturn.

Dealing With the ‘Personal’ in Personal Finance

Originally in MoneyTo really help people, financial planners have to delve into the the feelings and emotions that drive their clients’ financial decisions. One planner explains why that’s so hard.

While most of us financial advisers want to do the best for our clients, we often struggle at the task.

The main problem, as I recently wrote: We don’t know our clients well enough. We may say that a client’s values and goals are important, but most of us don’t adequately explore these more personal (a.k.a. “touchy-feely”) parts of a client’s life.

Why is this? 

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One reason we avoid deeper discovery with clients: No matter how we’re paid—whether by commissions or fees—most of us don’t get compensated until the financial planning process has neared its end.