Saturday, June 26, 2010

Cool Websites and Tools [June 25th]

Cool Websites and Tools [June 25th]: "
Check out some of the latest MakeUseOf discoveries. All listed websites are FREE (or come with a decent free account option). No trials or buy-to-use craplets. For more cool websites and web app reviews subscribe to MakeUseOf Directory.

Idle Keyboard – is a free website that helps employees to take breaks in their work cubicles. Before you start your non-work activity just turn up your speakers’ volume, visit Idle Keyboard, and press the button located at the homepage. Immediately your speakers will generate the keystrokes sounds as if you were actually typing something. Read more: IdleKeyboard: Fake Keyboard Typing Sounds While You Surf The Web.

CC Everybody – This web service will give you a email address you can CC any email to. When you do CC an email to this service it will be put onto the World Wide Web for everyone to see. The service also allows people to contact you online, giving you the opportunity to have a conversation in the public eye. Read more: CCEverybody: Easily Publish Emails For Evereone To See.

CreateMyChocolate – Chocolate is delicious, but the candy bars you can buy at your grocery store hardly inspires creativity. does. This brilliant viral marketing gimmick allows you to custom-create your own chocolate bar. Start by selecting the kind of chocolate you want to use, varying from milk chocolate to 64 percent cocoa. Read more: Custom Candy Design Service.

KeepCalm-O-Matic – To keep British Citizens calm during the second world war, King George issued a propaganda poster with the statement “Keep Calm and Carry On”. The poster was red in color with white font and King’s crown as the only graphic. KeepCalm-o-Matic is a tool that lets you create posters in the same style. Read more: KeepCalm-O-Matic: Create a WWII Style Propaganda Poster Online.

Spycar – Are you 100% sure that your anti-spyware tool completely protects your computer from spyware? If you are not sure, then you should test your anti spyware with Spycar. This website can help you determine whether the anti-spyware software you have installed in your computer can actually recognize and block the latest spyware. Read more: Spycar: Test Your Anti Spyware Tool.

These are just half of the websites that we discovered in the last couple of days. If you want us to send you daily round-ups of all cool websites we come across, leave your email here. Or follow us via RSS feed.

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Use BudgetSketch To Make A Household Budget That Works

budgetingAnyone who knows me very well knows that I can be a little bit obsessed when it comes to finances. It isn’t good enough to earn enough income to pay the bills – I want to be able to plan out our family’s financial future. I want to make a household budget that works in terms of our goals – such as buying a new car in a year or taking a major family vacation in three years.
Here on MakeUseOf, I’ve explored several tools you can use to track your finances such as the SimpleD Budget Tracker or Quicken Online. I’ve even offered some of my personal secrets on how to pay down your debt a lot faster by creating a few simple Excel worksheets. While these tools are excellent for tracking your spending habits and trying to figure out where all of your money is going, it isn’t a simple matter to try to plan out and organize future spending – and planning out your spending is what having a good budget is all about.
So, today I’m going to share another powerful, collaborative budgeting tool called BudgetSketch that you can use with your spouse or significant other to make a household budget and plan where your money is going to go in the future.

Make a Household Budget With the Future in Mind

Planning. That’s what every good household budget is about. However, when you’re married or living with someone, it’s also about co-operation and teamwork. You can keep your own private Excel spreadsheet with your facts and figures all you like, but unless everyone in the household is on board with the overall financial plan – you can expect failure.
What I’m going to cover in this article is an impressive collaborative budgeting tool that lets you plan out your spending moving forward, not dwell on the mountains of cash you’ve wasted in the past. The motto of this free software app is to “Get Intentional With Your Money.”  The theory is that instead of reacting to your overspending with guilt, disgust or depression, you instead stand up and make it clear how you intend to spend your money from today moving forward. This software will help you base those intentions on reality.
The first thing you’ll notice when you first sign up for your free account is that you’re offered a very cool, free household budget worksheet in PDF format.
make household budget
Before you even get started, the makers of this online household budgeting software suggest that you pull together all of your documentation from credit cards and bank statements and fill out this entire spreadsheet with your bills and debt. If you’re clueless at this point, then you might consider using one of the tracking tools I’ve covered earlier.
However, if you know what you spend but you’re not sure how to organize your spending and your savings, then fill out this sheet as best you can and then open up your account.
make household budget
The first thing you’ll notice is how insanely simple the software is. You just add an expense or income, and use the simple form shown above to describe the amount and when it’s typically due. If there’s no fixed due date, then just estimate. If it’s a credit card bill or car loan, select the debt checkbox.
make future household budget
Once you’ve filled out enough of your income and expenses, you’ll quickly see how this particular household budgeting system works. The bills are laid out for the month in a visual 4-week layout that shows you your weekly income and expenses from week to week.
sample household budget forms
When you scroll down to the bottom of the screen you’ll find the magic that makes this system work for so many people.  One of the things that the majority of folks fail with a budget is that they create the budget on a monthly basis. However, it’s human nature after receiving a large paycheck to assume that there’s plenty of money for dining out, movies and more.
But, as you can see from the weekly layout above, the software shows you the positive cashflow from week to week. This is an amount that you must have left in the bank at the end of the week or your budget won’t work the following week . As you can see above, week two requires so many expenses (and no income) that the cash flow for that week is far less. Spend too much in week one and you’re in big trouble come week two.
household budget planning
The part of this online application that I like the most is goal planning. When you’re done laying out your household bills and expenses, then you can start adding goals. This could be either paying off debts or saving up for a car or a vacation (or any other dreams you may have).
how to make a budget
Each month that you see a positive cash flow, you can click on the “Apply Surplus to Goals” tab, and the system will ask you which goal you’d like to apply your surplus to and what amount. The theory of this particular budgeting system is called a zero balance budget. This means that you outline exactly where every penny is going to go. This can make it difficult to deal with surprises – but then again a financially savvy person should have a goal to save up an “emergency” fund so that surprises like hospital bills or car repairs don’t destroy your budget.
how to make a budget
Of course, my favorite part of this online application is that it’s collaborative in nature. Husbands and wives or even college roomates can all throw their heads together and use this software to plan out a solid monthly budget that works for everyone. This online software is the perfect way to make a household budget that everyone can agree on, because the expenses are clear, and so are the goals and dreams that your money is going toward.
Do you know of any other online tools or tricks to collaborate on making a household budget? What methods do you use to plan out your paycheck? Share your experiences and insight in the comment section below.

3 Great Sites To Help You Achieve A Lower Cost Of Living

The key to cost of living is being frugal. It doesn’t mean cheap, or stingy or being a tightwad. What it does mean is getting the most bang for your buck! Ever heard the saying, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”? Well, that’s only half of the story. For every penny I spend, up to 15% goes to sales taxes. Then, I have to make 1.5 cents to replace that penny after income taxes gets a hold of it.
So now, I have to earn 1.65 cents for every penny spent just to break even. Whew! That’s a lot of work. Before you check my math and compare it to tax laws in your jurisdiction, just take it as a fact that a penny saved is MORE than a penny earned. Math comments will be ignored – just ask my grade 12 math teacher.
It seems that convenience has become a way of life for many. What frugality we do practice usually amounts to the odd coupon here and there, maybe recycling one or two things, if it’s fashionable, or buying a few more cans of spaghetti sauce if it happens to be on sale. There is oh-so-much more we can do! I think after you’ve spent a few hours or days on these sites, you might catch the frugal bug and enjoy a much lower cost of living by watching your savings grow while your lifestyle remains relatively unchanged.

Creative Frugality

You won’t find any fancy web design or whizbang gizmos here. What you will find are time-tested ways of living a frugal lifestyle that is still fun and exciting. Nancy Twigg started this site quite some time ago. I recall visiting it around 2001 or so. The ideas and tips are timeless, easy to put in to use, and guarantee that you will save money! Creative Frugality also has a sister site called Counting the Cost. Here, you’ll find a newsletter that you can sign up for to receive regular frugal tips and inspiration.
Nancy Twigg and her husband are inspired by their Christian faith. It may not be the same faith that you share, however it has resulted in this treasure trove that anyone can benefit from. Really, you should go.

Festival of Frugality

Honestly, lowering your cost of living is FAR more colourful than these last two logos would suggest. Would it hurt to add a little pizazz? Wordpress templates are usually free, folks!
Design issues aside, the Festival of Frugality is another great resources for money-saving tips. What they do here is act somewhat as an aggregator of articles from other sites as well as adding their own content. I particularly liked the article, If You Must, Do It Smart. Simple, you and your sweetie order a value meal at your local burger in a bag joint. Just buy an extra burger and share the fries and cola! You’re still eating out, but spending less money and consuming less empty calories. It’s a win-win folks!
The publisher of this site also hosts a few other sites along the same lines, such as Carnival of Personal Finance, Carnival of Debt Reduction, Carnival of Money Hacks, and my personal favourite for use of a big word, Carnival of Pecuniary Delights.

Wise Bread

Alright! Finally some colour other than shades of grey!
Even more excellent is that this site was founded by three high-school students in 2006. What did you do in high-school? I can’t remember and I won’t incriminate myself.
The site is part-blog, part-community, part-economic movement, all fun business. The tips here aren’t all one-size-fits all. They talk about more than just saving on groceries and back-to-school supplies. You’ll find people sharing tips on less expensive ways to get designer clothes, inexpensive passport photo’s, and contrarian tips like buying your halloween costume now for next year.
This site is fast becoming a favourite of mine, because of its extensive frugality tips, and because it has other large sections on Career and Income, Personal Finance, Life Hacks and Deals and Coupons.
There they are, three of the top sites that can help you lower your cost of living. It isn’t too late to do so and it will help you weather out this economic storm. If you have some favourite money saving tips or websites, please share them in the comments. It helps us all!

5 More Ways To Get Discounts, Save Cash & Make Money Online

piggy bankIf there’s one thing that gets to me it’s wasting money. I know we all like to splash the cash a little and have fun – hell I’m known to buy the latest gadget, game or gizmo if my bank balance permits me. But it’s spending money when one doesn’t have to that gets to me.

Say for instance you’re buying a new iPod for almost 200 Euros. I’m always amazed by the amount of people (almost all) who’ll just pay it even through they could have put in 20 minutes work and saved themselves 30 Euros. That’s an extra thirty Euros you could have in your pocket for basically doing nothing.

As a younger person (although I know most people are affected by the recession) I’m kind of expected to be somewhat up to date with ‘fashion’ and of course technology. And that means expensive purchases. Many young people just bite the bullet not realising that they could easily save (and make) money by following even a couple of the steps I’ll outline below. I’ve compiled the following list of 5 ways to save money that you might not have considered before.

Go Open Source

Until a few days ago when I did a post about this subject on my blog I had no idea how much Microsoft Office cost. Not a clue. To be honest, I was a little shocked that Microsoft were charging a whopping $399 for the full version and $149 for students.

list of ways to save money

It’s completely unnecessary expenditure. As somebody who writes and blogs for a living, I check e-mails, type up articles, use spreadsheets and run the business aspect of things without expensive software. All those shiny features in Office won’t be used by over 90% of us. I think we just buy Office because that’s all there is on the shelf at the PC store.

Programs such as Open Office, Thunderbird, Gimp and Windows Live Writer easily manages all of my documents, e-mail, Photoshop and blogging needs so why not yours? I estimate that by switching to Open Source the average power-user could save themselves in excess of $500. Check out our directory for all the apps and open source programs you could ever need.

Buy Small Items In Bulk Online

There is a certain myth about online shopping and that is “Shopping online is always much cheaper”. And it is – if you use it right. For example, a big burden on many students are textbooks and other such school supplies. So we head online in search of these in the hope of saving a few dollars. But are we really? Postage on massive textbooks is expensive so it’s important you make sure you’re actually saving money.

For small items such as books, second-hand book stores often trump the internet. Some items that are cheap online when you buy in bulk (from the same seller to save on postage on sites such as Amazon and the products own site) include DVDs, CDs, stationary, magazine subscriptions and the likes.

More expensive items such as iPhones and laptops will always be cheaper and cost little for postage so it’s best to shop for these online too. Online will always be cheaper if you buy the right products in the right quantities.

Coupons & Promotions

If there was ever a place to find bargains it is the Internet. Everyday thousands of promotions are listed but few actually use them. Sites such as and Ask Deals list thousands of new promotions everyday. Each time before you buy something (either online or in store) do a quick promotion search on these sites.

list of ways to save money

I can’t remember the last time I bought a domain on GoDaddy without searching for a promotional code – each time I’ve saved a few dollars which adds up, let me tell you. If, at every checkout on sites such as Amazon and, when you see a promotional code entry box you ran a quick search you could save yourself hundreds of dollars per year just for Googling something like ‘Amazon Free Shipping Promo Code’.

Easy, right?

Also make sure to check out Top 10 Grocery Coupon Websites for Cheapskates.

VoIP Services

When I first started getting serious about writing I worked for a gaming network based in the Netherlands. Me being in Ireland meant international call charges. I just kind of accepted it for a couple of months and must have wasted at least fifty Euros on calls to and from my bosses/co-workers.

Some people may call me stupid for not using VoIP services earlier like Skype and Google Talk before but I just never thought of it at the time. A few e-mails later and I had switched my normal method of calling my bosses to Skype – and I saved money (lots by my calculations). I think that international calling will be extinct over the next few years as VoIP services gain more recognition as a good way to conduct long distance calls and conference meetings.

Also check out some Skype replacements which we have covered in the past such as Gizmo5 and ooVoo.  Charnita also covered 6 other VoIP possibilities.

Make Money on the Internet

There are numerous ways to do this but only a few ways to make it work properly to the extent that you can call it a job. eBay businesses (when done right) can become quite profitable but I suggest you do your homework. To make online selling work you have to have a product that’s in demand. For instance, if you know a guy who refurbishes 16GB iPod Touches and will sell them to you for 100 bucks, you can then sell those for $150 and make money. Its all about the product.

Another way to make money online is by blogging (check out my authors page to see my posts about blogging). It’s tough work and the chances of success without actual interest in your niche are nil.  Jimmy Rogers did two MakeUseOf posts on how to find blogging work (here and here) and MakeUseOf is always hiring if your interests lie in the internet / technology area.

list of ways to save moneyHowever, as students you may want a quick way to make an extra $50 per week. Well I have one that will work – and it’s not a scam or short-term solution. You simply write copy for a large company called Bright Hub. There are others out there but this one pays the best. It’s easy to get accepted to a channel there and they pay $10 per article (minimum of just 300 words). You can write as many articles as you want too.

In my experience, most articles take around an hour or so to write up. But they can be pretty draining considering some of the ‘less interesting’ subjects you may be asked to write about. However, spending a couple hours every day doing this and you’ve got hundreds of dollars at the end of the month. You also get 85% of the ad revenue from your articles. I don’t write for them anymore but I still get a monthly payment in excess of $50 just for the revenue my articles bring in every month.

In the past, we have covered numerous other ways of making money on the internet. Here’s some of them :

Hopefully you’ll be able to save money using the above tips. Do you have any money saving (or making) tips for tech? If so let us know in the comments.

How To Earn Money by Selling Software Instructional Videos

According to InternetWorldStats, the number of Internet users in December of 2000 was just under 361 million people. By the end of 2009, that number had increased to 1.7 billion users. That s a growth rate of about 380 percent. Even more impressively, InternetWorldStats points out that this is a global penetration of about 25 percent. That means that three-quarters of the world population isn t online yet, but soon will be.

So how does someone take advantage of this rapid growth? Visions of the dot-com boom and bust scares many people away from trying to earn money online. Also, a social stigma associated with working online keeps many away as well after all, the Internet is just a place to go when you want to play games and waste time, right?

The reality is that the Internet is fast becoming the backbone of our global society. Social networks are to blame for an even faster growth rate as many people who would have never used the Internet are now turning to Facebook and Twitter to see what their kids and grandkids are up to every day. This growing online population does more online than it ever did before including playing, research, homework, collaboration, business networking and shopping. Any place there is a large population of people, you have yourself a booming marketplace.

By choosing an online business that aligns with your talents and abilities, there is absolutely no reason why you cannot be financially successful by working exclusively online. In this article, I m going to show you how you can build your own Software Instructional Video Business with no up front capital required and virtually no overhead.

Collaborate With Bubblecast To Sell Instructional Videos

It s important to exploit the talents that you have if you want to earn a decent living on the Internet. Now, I love to write, so I ve turned to blogging, SEO and website promotion as a source of income. Maybe you enjoy writing instructional books, in which case you might be very successful writing and selling eBooks. Maybe you re a graphic designer or artist, in which case you might consider earning money with your creative designs. However, this particular article is for those of you who are excellent teachers, charismatic and enjoy instructing people on how to do things.  If you have those skills then you can make money by creating instructional videos.

In a recent article on website video tools, I mentioned Bubblecast as a useful video widget for your blog or website. If you glance to the right side of the menu on the main page, you ll notice an interesting button that says Turn video into money with Bubblesoft.

Clicking on that link takes you to the money-making opportunity that I d like to cover here. The opportunity is to generate income by creating instructional videos for the software listed in BubbleCast s directory of software for sale. You don t even have to buy the software, just download the trial version and create your instructional video. If people watch your video and then buy the product, you get a commission. Bubblesoft is very fair splitting the sale 50% with the video creator.

The first thing you ll need to do is download CamStudio, the free video capture software recommended by Bubblecast to capture your computer screen.

With CamStudio, you can capture a Flash or Avi video of your activity on the computer screen. You can also add annotations to the video if you d rather not use your voice for narration.  Setup only takes under a minute and you re ready to start recording. When you re ready, browse through the BubbleCast directory to find a software application that you d like to create an instructional video for. There are over 32,000 products for sale, so if you think there isn t something you ll be interested in think again!

Just browse through the categories that interest you and find an application you d like to review. To make this kind of fun, I decided to cover an application from the gaming section Sky Aces: World War II to be exact.

When you re ready to create your instructional video of a particular application, just click the download button to install the trial version of the software.  Before you get started, make sure that CamStudio is configured to record the correct region of the screen. Just select Region from the menu. Most of the time either Region or Full Screen will suit your needs.

Here s a zoomed in snapshot of CamStudio at work, recording every movement of my mouse in Avi movie format. The quality of the video depends on how you set quality in the video options configuration. When you re playing a full screen game, it s probably a good idea to cut back a little on quality in order to conserve space.

Once you re done recording your how-to video, just save the file to your PC and then go back to the BubbleCast page for that product. At the bottom of the page, you ll find the following buttons.

When you click Upload Video, you ll find yourself whisked away to a Wordpress editor. Don t panic&this is normal. You simply type up a short description of your video and then upload the video using the blue Bubblecast button. Keep an eye on the commission rate at the right side of the screen. This is how much you ll earn per sale. If the commission isn t high enough for you, simply move on to another application.

Creating and submitting Bubblecast instructional videos for pay is a lot of fun, and as people start buying the application through your videos, you will start seeing some fantastic profits rolling in. The key is to find software that s really in demand, perform important tasks for that product that a lot of people want to know about, and then marketing your Bubblecast how-to video across the web for maximum exposure.

Would you ever consider creating software how-to videos for income? Do you feel that Bubblecast offers a fair business model for you to do so? Share your opinions and any other similar opportunities you know about in the comments section below.

Increase Your Website’s Profit By Linking To Free Giveaways

If you’re like many other new bloggers, you’ve yet to establish enough of a subscriber base so that advertisers are coming to you with money for advertising. This is why so many new bloggers opt to use affiliate marketing or Google Adsense to generate revenue from their website. Since your website profit depends primarily upon your traffic levels, it would make sense to offer the sort of content that draws large crowds – like free blog  or website giveaways.
I don’t know about you, but I love free stuff. I know that whenever I see an ad that looks like a legitimate free promotion or contest, I usually will check it out just to see if submitting my name for the promotion is really free. In fact, most marketers will tell you that the word “free” is one of the most effective advertising keywords in the world. For that reason, it’s no surprise that people type the word “free” into search engines over 10,000 times a day. So, you can imagine how powerful it could be for your website traffic if you offer a promotion to your readers that’s absolutely free.

Don’t Have Any Money? Don’t Worry!

You may appreciate the value of giving free blog giveaways to your readers, but you don’t really have the cash to invest in buying a cool product that you can offer as a promotion. Don’t worry – you can offer promotions and giveaways to your readers through cool website widgets that you can embed right on your blog. Using these widgets, you can present the opportunity for your readers to win amazing prizes or get free products directly from the convenience of your website. Let’s take a look at 5 very cool blog giveaway promotions that you can integrate directly into your website.

The first widget that I have to mention is ContestMachine, simply because it’s so cool and very convenient. ContestMachine is a little different than the other options that I’m going to cover because it isn’t a 3rd party running a contest that you can tap into. Instead it allows you to dream up your own contest idea, and ContestMachine handles accepting entries, choosing a winner and distributing the prize.
This allows you the flexibility of offering a tailored contest and prize that matches the content and theme of your blog, but it also means you need to buy the prize that you’re going to give away to your readers. ContextMachine offers 4 levels of pricing depending on the number of contests a month you’ll run, but there is a free account where you can run 2 contests a month limited to 100 entries per contest.
Giveaway of the Day is a very cool website that offers visitors a free giveaway every day. As a blogger, you can embed the Giveaway of the Day widget onto your blog so that your visitors can see what the free item of the day is and how much time is remaining on the offer.
If your readers like the item that’s available that day, they can click on the widget and submit their information. This is one of the fastest and easiest ways to offer your readers free stuff without having to come up with it yourself!
Have you heard of the annual HGTV Dream Home Sweepstakes? Every year, HGTV offers an impressive multi-million dollar home to a lucky winner. Some families have made it a yearly tradition to submit their information to the contest with the dream of one day living in such a home. Well, now HGTV offers the dream home sweepstakes widget.
Embed this dream home giveaway into your blog and let your readers dream big. Who knows, one of them might actually win! This widget would be perfect for any blog focused on money, frugal living and discounts, or free promotions.
The “free stuff” widget that I’m most excited about, and plan to use on a few of my own blogs, is the Free eBooks Widget. Not too long ago, I wrote an article about how you can make money selling eBooks. Well, you can also make money by giving away free eBooks on your blog. Even better, with this widget you can give away free eBooks that you didn’t even have to write yourself!
All you have to do is select the category of free eBooks you want the widget to display (meaning you can customize it for almost any blog), then select the color scheme and the size and embed the resulting code into your blog. Now your visitors can immediately download from a long list of free eBooks dedicated to the same topic that you discuss on your blog.
The last cool widget for offering free giveaways to your readers is the one offered by EcoBunga! – a niche giveaway site that offers free stuff and deals for green (as in ecologically friendly) products. The widget that automatically updates with EcoBunga’s best offers is the one that you want.
While this widget is very convenient and offers a nice logo for Ecobunga at the top, you can actually create a widget like this of your own for any website out there that offers free deals or giveaways and includes an RSS feed. As long as the giveaway site provides an RSS feed, you can display those giveaway updates on your site by using tools like Scrollbox or FeedSource.
One day you may be bringing in so much revenue that you can afford to purchase some cool, large prizes and offer amazing contests for your readers, but until then these widgets let you incorporate free stuff and cool contests into your blog without any investment required.
Do you offer contests or free stuff on your blog? Have you ever won anything from these kind of online sweepstakes? Share your experiences in the comments section below.