Measuring Privilege

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privilege privilege

Meet the Frugalwoods

This weekend, I read Meet the Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence through Simple Living. I was hesitant to write a review of this book because I was afraid I would not find the words to explain my feelings from the book, or how it was presented.

The book is a first-person memoir-style accounting of the life of “Liz Frugalwoods”, as she is affectionately known online. Liz tells her tale which starts with the end of university, and entering into the real world as a young adult. Without telling any part of her story, she weaves you into this dreamlike state where you follow her as she becomes a married woman still seeking her own definition. You will want to cheer for her, you will want to nudge her in the right (or different) directions, and you will simply not be able to put the book down.

It’s been three days since I read the book, and I want more. I want to know what happened next, what new things they discovered as a family, etc. That’s the impression it made on me.

There are many reasons it moved me.

Liz is so resourceful and frugal! Listen to the lessons in the book. There were tons of choices that they made as a couple that the majority of us would likely have chosen different, like the apartment they stayed in. She made a comment in the book about how their friends had already inflated their lifestyles by renting or purchasing larger homes, and she and her husband were still in the basement apartment. They resist joining the race to have what the Jones’ have, they choose to use what they have, and they recognize that what they do have is enough.

Related: More about the Jones’

It’s enough.

I don’t know where you hail from. Maybe you are a low-income earner, fighting poverty. You could be someone who is newly single and looking to change your life. Or, you could be part of a family and want something different than your folks had. I don’t know your story, and it doesn’t matter because this story is for everyone.

Liz opens the book with a conversation about privilege. It’s important to understand privilege, and it’s been a very sore subject for me for some time, and I think I found out why. I was angry that I felt like I had to apologize for being privileged, like it was my choice or my fault I was born white, or heterosexual, or identifying with a female gender, or coming from two parents that are still together, or being raised with a roof over my head, and food on my table. However, by learning more and more about privilege, the reason why I was so angry was because I wasn’t.

privilege

I wasn’t as privileged as I thought.

I thought I was. Yes, all those things I mentioned are all factors that contributed to my life. It’s much more than what some others have had, and I recognize that.

However, and my parents will deny much of this, we were raised in scarcity. There was never a guarantee of anything. We were always told how fortunate we were to have a bed, a room, a home, etc. I recognize now that those statements created guilt, not gratitude, for me. We knew that we would be fed, but there was unstable employment throughout my childhood (a side-effect of living in an auto city that lost much of its auto work), which made my parents angry and likely felt hopeless, or at least desperate and embarrassed. They would tell us that we have cable – for now. We have food, but where’s the next meal coming from? It was truly confusing for a child, or at least for me. We had food stored in the basement that we put away when it was on sale, and yet we never felt as though we could just help ourselves without permission in case it was a meal for later. It always felt like we were two steps away from not having anything, and the small bit that I thought I had as a child – my room, my belongings, my space – was never mine. It was always the parents’ space, and there was not respect for space. Yes, my parents would argue that I didn’t clean my room enough, or that I forgot lunches in my school bag, or that they found inappropriate notes between friends… and I would come home and my space, my sanctuary, had been thoroughly gone through, things were re-organized, furniture relocated around the room, and the nest was gone. It was not mine to be safe in, it was always theirs.

Post-secondary education was a necessary luxury. 

I did not have education paid for, and it was never discussed that it was my responsibility to find out that there were exorbitant fees associated with the prescribed post-secondary education that one is expected to obtain. There was no instruction about money, other than the lecture that I should put some of it away because my father said so, or how funds were always limited, and cherish every dollar you had. I remember going to the mall when I was a teenager, and my friend wanted to purchase a snack. I was looking for the cheapest alternative at that place, and bought a brownie. It was one of the cheaper options on the menu, yet I remember having enough money for a brownie, and probably more, but I was buying something non-essential, and without permission. I always felt guilty about spending money. 

When freedom cost nothing but dreams.

When I was 18, there was a situation that led me to move out on my own. I recall having $2,000.00 in the bank, and thinking it was so much. I had college starting in a few months, and I found work in a local call centre. They paid enough, and I recall sitting in my cubicle, calling people to talk about going to a free seminar, or signing up for this or that event, and having people get really angry with me just doing my job. (Side note: whoever thought blowing a whistle in the phone would stop the telemarketers, please stop. We are just doing our job, and now we are doing it with hearing damage.) 

My Crown Heights, Brooklyn

My first place was the second floor of a house in a “bad neighbourhood”. The upper street was lined with half-way houses for parolees, addicts and anything inbetween, and the hospital was down the block. I had a bedroom and a second room that was converted into a kitchen, and I shared the bathroom with the thirty-something-year-old man who lived across the hall in his mirror bedroom/kitchen suite. I had orange shag carpeting, and a cinderblock basement that flooded on one half when it rained. On the dry end, there was one washer and one dryer. Thankfully, the laundry machines were included, but we were told when we could use them and use was monitored, as was our comings, going and visitors.  

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It was my then-boyfriend who helped me get settled, and the rules of the house were no opposite-sex sleepovers. The older couple who lived below were used to having exchange students upstairs, so I was an anomaly for sure. During the first month or so, I didn’t speak to my parents, and six weeks into living on my own, the relationship with that boyfriend ended. He was my support system, and a friend for many years, and the loss of that relationship devastated me. Never had I felt so alone. 

The change in relationship status did not change my living arrangements. There was no happy homecoming, and the efforts required to obtain parental consent for student loans (which is how things were in the late nineties) were phenomenal. My parents had to remit forms that shared their income, and ability to assist me, and they were so secretive with the information that they mailed the application themselves. My student loans were half of what they could have been, but there was no financial support, and little emotional support, due to our broken-down relationship. 

As time passed slowly, the relationship between my folks and I started to improve. We kept our distance, as there were a lot of hurt feelings and misunderstandings. Other relatives weighed in with their opinion of a half-concocted tale they felt was the truth.

The summer before college

I worked hard that summer, and learned what it was like to be independent. My mode of transportation was either bus, walk or bike. I had a bicycle that I would ride to work, and around town. Like many, I learned how to fetch groceries with a backpack and a bike ride, or taking the bus. It meant choosing what I purchased, not in the best price per unit, but how many bags could I actually carry. I adopted my first kitten, and found out how heavy kitty litter really was when carrying it from the store to the bus to the house. I walked other places, and started to learn the neighbourhood I was in, and pushed the limits as I was a naïve, bull-headed 18-year-old on a mission, going to college alone and not knowing enough about life to warn me about the years to come.

I was a naïve, bull-headed 18-year-old on a mission, going to college alone and not knowing enough about life to warn me about the years to come. Click To Tweet

That’s the digest version of the first 18 years of my life. No family vacations, no educational symphonies or operas throughout my childhood. No summer camps, no big school trips, no escape to Paris for a week. I’ve never been a girl guide, and never been skiing. The big family outing was driving an hour away to shop in a different mall once or twice a year.

It was enough. I was enough. 

I was privileged enough to have a bed to sleep in, friends who cared, family who fed me and loved me in the ways they knew how, and to be in a good school district. I acknowledge this. I also acknowledge that life could have gone very, very differently. My parents were high school graduates, and my father returned to school for a post-secondary education after a number of lay-offs. I worked hard because I knew there was no one else to count on if I didn’t.

Perhaps that’s my privilege.

Besides talking about goals, frugality, family, and alternate ways to make things happen, the book makes the reader think. It’s possible that anyone could strive for the same kinds of goals, and I know that it created a discussion or three with my partner. He was raised in a similar income bracket, but he had more measurable privilege than I did. The home was more stable, employment was stable, and above all, his mother taught them about having enough.

We have so much, and we forget to acknowledge that it’s enough. When we have the basics, we can look forward, and create goals and have dreams. The book encouraged me to ask my partner where he saw us living in the future. While I do not have a dream of owning a homestead or living in the woods, I dream of a small home on water, where the winters are held off and tropical trees have a chance to flourish. This magical place is likely in British Columbia. I am nervous to go there in case I do not come home.

We have enough.

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We have enough. We have each other, a roof, food in our cupboards, and jobs that pay us enough. It will never be a “banker’s” salary, and we will likely not see a high income, but together, we have as much as anyone could ask for, and that’s enough privilege for me. Thanks to the book, we have a goal that we will work towards together, for one day we will wake up and have coffee on our deck, overlooking the water and the mountains, and know that anything is possible, privileged or not.

Thank you, Elizabeth Willard Thames.

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31 Ways to Max Out Your TFSA (or IRA)

TFSA savingsWhy $5,500? 

$5,500.00. This is the amount that you can contribute to a TFSA or IRA this year. Let’s talk about how you can max it out, or if you don’t have a TFSA or IRA in your country, how you can max out your savings and investing power as well.

If you aren’t sure what a TFSA is, start here. If you do not have TFSAs in your country, scroll down just a little more.
(IRA information can be found here. Remember, I’m a Canadian gal, so IRAs are not my forte.)

TFSA 31 ways to save

TAX FREE SAVINGS ACCOUNTS

A Tax-Free Savings Account is an account that is designed to help you save money. The funds that are deposited into a TFSA account can be invested, and the earnings from the account are tax free. Since you do not get a tax deduction for contributions to a TFSA, the benefit is from the tax-free earnings, and the ability to withdraw from the TFSA at any time without penalty.

There are guidelines and rules as to how much you can contribute into a TFSA, and how much you can withdraw and re-contribute.

Here’s the example from the CRA:

“Since opening her TFSA in 2009, Jenny has contributed the maximum TFSA dollar limit in each year. By the end of 2016, she has accumulated a total of $46,500 in her TFSA account. In 2017 Jenny makes a $5,500 contribution, the TFSA dollar limit for 2017. Later that year, she withdraws $3,000 for a trip. Unfortunately, her plans change and she cannot go. Since Jenny already contributed the maximum to her TFSA earlier in the year, she has no TFSA contribution room left.

If Jenny wishes to re-contribute part or all of the $3,000 she withdrew, she will have to wait until the beginning of 2018 to do so. The $3,000 will be added to her TFSA contribution room at the beginning of 2018.

If she re-contributes any of the withdrawn amount before 2018, she will have an excess amount in her TFSA and will be charged a tax equal to 1% of the highest excess TFSA amount for each month that the excess remains in her account.”

TFSAs are not only for retirement savings, but are also great vehicles for saving for a house purchase, a trip, a new car, or anything else you are working towards. 

TFSA 31 ways to save

How to find $5,500 over the year:

Now that we are clear on how to use a TFSA, let’s focus on how to max it out. In 2018, the maximum contribution amount is $5,500.  This the goal to contribute.

The Simple Way:

There are 52 weeks in a year. $5,500 divided by 52 = $105.77/week. You could set up an automatic transfer for $105.77 weekly.
Are you paid bi-weekly? Your automatic withdrawals should be set at $211.54 to save $5,500.00 a year.

How to fill that account without using your weekly income:  

Bonus Pay

Let’s say you receive a bonus each year of $1,000.00 as part of your performance package. If you directly contribute that to your TFSA, your weekly savings would decrease to $86.54. That’s a lot more manageable, but you need to know yourself and make sure that bonus goes directly to your savings account: do not pass go, do not spend $200!

Raises

If you receive a raise at work (congratulations!), immediately calculate the difference between the previous pay amount and the new pay amount. Set up an automatic transfer to deduct that amount from your account and move it to the TFSA before you see it in your chequing account. Resist the urge to inflate your lifestyle – those few dollars will serve you better if saved for a future time.

Overtime

Did you stay to finish a project, or to complete paperwork? Maybe you signed up for a few hours here and there. Move that money immediately to your TFSA. More money for savings, and no change to your weekly pay. Win Win!

Expenses

Do you get reimbursed for gas for running errands at work? Bank it. Do you get tips? Bank it. Anything extra, bank it.

Tax Refunds

Tax refunds is the government’s way of returning the excess money it collected from you throughout the year. At the same time, it’s a great feeling if you have a few bucks (or many bucks!) coming your way. Since a tax refund is not part of your weekly budget, bank it. You will not miss it, and it will go a long way to filling up your TFSA.

Declutter for Profit

My method for decluttering includes four boxes. I have a KEEP box, a TOSS box/bag, a SELL box and a RELOCATE box.
Without going into a lot of detail:
Keep: things that I want to keep
Toss: things that are garbage, and things that have no value to someone else
Sell: things that are still in good condition and are unwanted. I start with a sell box, and anything not saleable is donated.
Relocate: things that belong in another room or part of another project that need to be dealt with at another time.
When your sell box is full, it’s time to decide the best way to sell these items. You could have a yard/garage sale, vendor sale, sell online with Craigslist, Kijiji or Ebay, or any other method of posting your wares. (There are tons of resources for how to price your used goods, but the easiest way I find the going rates is to look at what others are selling it for.)

Any profits that you receive, you know what to do. Bank it!

No Spending Challenge

Challenge the family or your partner or yourself to not spend money in a category for a period of time. That’s the equation. What you save, bank it.

Example:
For two weeks, your budget usually includes eating out 2-4 times. Instead of eating out, challenge yourself to make from the pantry. Take the money from eating out, and bank it!

For a month, challenge yourself to find no-cost entertainment. Take that amount saved, and bank it.

TFSA 31 ways to save

Hustle a little

Have you looked into any side gigs? Most common side gigs for cash:

  • Listings for one-time assistance, like handyman items or snow shovelling/grass cutting
  • Errands for seniors or housebound individuals
  • Haul loads to the dump
  • Caring for children, pets or houses
  • Clean houses or offices
  • Be a (paid) companion or assistant to someone with a disability or to a senior 

These are just a few examples of what you could spend a couple of hours on, and make some extra dough.

Hustle a bit more

These ideas tend to be more permanent or may require more preparation time to set up:

  • Start a landscaping/grass cutting business in the neighbourhood
  • Sell products from home (see more about that here)
  • Drive for Uber or Lyft
  • Seek out a part time job
  • Build an online business
  • Resell goods online or in consignment stores
  • Tutor or teach a skill

Cut the fat

By making changes to what takes the money OUT of your wallet, you can start directing more to your savings. Think of what is automatically withdrawn from your accounts as these are likely to be missed when considering where to tighten a budget. Here are some ideas where you could save (up to) enough to fill that TFSA:

    • Switch to no-fee banking
    • Move emergency funds or other savings to a high interest savings account
    • Cancel credit cards with annual fees in favour of one without
    • Music subscriptions: do you use this? Can you get it for free? Can you do without for a while? Is there a family plan instead of paying individual rates?
    • Television: consider downgrading or cancelling cable and subscription programs in the summer. A lot of people are outside most of the time, and wouldn’t miss the programming.
    • Cell phone: are you paying for any extras? Have you called and asked for a lower rate? As cell phone services are changing all the time, look around for a cheaper option. If you can’t find one, then negotiate to keep a rate the same in exchange for your contract. (If you are signing a two-year contract, you could ask to keep your rate plan from before and avoid the new customer increase.)

TFSA 31 ways to save

BIG ways to save:

  • Do you need a three-bedroom house? Could you live in a two-bedroom apartment? Consider the cost of utilities, rent, taxes, etc. Can you downsize and live as well?
  • Depending on the needs in your house, do you need multiple cars? Are you living somewhere that you could downsize and save? Could you use occasional services and save as opposed to paying for maintenance, gas, insurance and/or car payments?
  • Do you have a collection that you are no longer interested in? Are there other collectors that would pay for your collection? (Hard questions: do you have anyone to pass it on to, and would they appreciate it? If not, then you might be kinder to your children by liquidating it now for what it’s worth, instead of forcing them to feel guilty and not knowing the true value.) Do you have a room full of Beanie Babies, vinyl’s, model cars, Barbie Dolls, etc?
  • Do you have a second home, like a cottage or trailer, that you do not use as often as you once did? Can you rent it or sell it?

Do you have collections? Do you have anyone to pass it on to who would truly appreciate it? If not, then be kinder by liquidating it now for what it’s worth, instead of creating survivor's guilt about selling it for less than its… Click To Tweet

DID YOU KNOW?

If you save $5,500 in your TFSA account annually, and invest with a modest 6% return, here’s your savings over twenty years: (source)

 
Year:  Contribution 6% Return
Year 1 $5,500 $5,830
Year 2 $11,000 $11,680
Year 3 $16,500 $17,881
Year 4 $22,000 $24,453
Year 5 $27,500 $31,421
Year 6 $33,000 $38,806
Year 7 $38,500 $46,634
Year 8 $44,000 $54,932
Year 9 $49,500 $63,728
Year 10 $55,000 $73,052
Year 11 $60,500 $82,935
Year 12 $66,000 $93,411
Year 13 $71,500 $104,516
Year 14 $77,000 $116,287
Year 15 $82,500 $128,764
Year 16 $88,000 $141,990
Year 17 $93,500 $156,009
Year 18 $99,000 $170,870
Year 19 $104,500 $186,622
Year 20 $110,000 $203,319

WOW

In twenty years, your money has nearly doubled – and that’s with a modest 6% return. If you invested with a 10% return, you would have $318,376! 

There are more than thirty ways to save and make money in this article. Between that and a weekly automated savings, and the motivation from you to do the work, there is a 100% chance of success.

AND… if you fill your TFSA to the brim, then move on up to door #2: Your RRSP!  Follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more how-to money advice. You can also sign up for email updates here (it’s free!).

TFSA 31 ways to save

Direct Sales: How and Why It Could Be Your Best Money Maker

Money MakerI Believe In Opportunity 

Recently, I have witnessed a lot of distrust and dislike for certain side hustles or side gigs, namely with respect to direct sales and MLM companies. I share a different perspective, and I am going to tell you why. I believe direct sales and MLM companies can present one of the best side hustle or side gig for anyone who is interested in building their own business. But, before I do, I want to share a few things that you need to know. 

Background Info You May Not Know

MLM stands for Multi-Level Marketing. Direct Sales and MLM companies have been around for over a hundred years, and started with door to door sales of knives, encyclopedias, and perfumes. This is how Avon started. It was a sales person who performed poorly at selling books, but every house he went to, he received praise for his fragrances and cosmetics that he made at home as a hobby. One of the original side gigs, if you will. He expanded on this side gig as he saw more promise in selling women’s products than the books that he peddled. Today, that company is still in existence, and is still a profitable way to earn money.  

Tupperware, Amway, Thirty-One Gifts, Scentsy, Norwex – these are just a few of the opportunities in direct sales or multi-level marketing.

The Details of the Business (Nitty-Gritties)

Opening shop with a direct sales company is much like opening a micro business of your own. Each company has a “buy-in”: usually it’s a kit of common items that a representative would sell in the normal day-to-day business. Sometimes the company requires a big buy-in, where you get a large kit of goods, and other times you can sign up for free, or a very small cost. Either way, the company doesn’t focus on this buy-in to make money. The range is usually between $10 – $300.00 to sign up. 

 

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I like to compare this concept to franchises. If you wish to operate a franchise, you have to purchase the rights to have that storefront. You pay money for the opportunity to hang out a well-known name, and to represent their goods. Think Subway, McDonalds, Starbucks, etc. All of these places charge for start up, and there is a head company who controls all of the franchises. (Which is why the BigMac is supposed to be the same around the world.)

No Big Bills

The direct sales companies handle promotional advertising and marketing.

This is ideal for a few reasons:

  1. The independent sales rep pays for this from a portion of sales made, and doesn’t have to put out thousands in advertising.
  1. The company can control the quality and quantity of the advertising.
  1. The company has a marketing team of experts who know what works and what doesn’t.
  1. The independent sales rep is not required to test the market, pay for advertising, pay for experts, etc.

Direct Sales Responsibilities 

The biggest responsibility that falls to the rep is to keep herself (or himself) organized; and build a customer base. Keeping customers happy on a service level is within the control of the rep, and the company takes responsibility for the rest. 

How to Make Money in Direct Sales

In most situations, the representative has options on how to make money:

Sales

A representative makes a base commission (or a set value) on the sales. This is no different than a car salesman! As the representative builds her sales levels, she makes a higher commission.

Commissions can be based on the size of the order, the amount of sales over a period of time, or on the items ordered. Each company sets out their own earning structure.

The representative is responsible to obtain sales materials, like catalogues, and any other branded items that she wants to use. While this comes from the representative’s proceeds, it is still a business expense that can be written off at the end of the year. 

Branded items, like pens or car wraps, are not necessary, but are a great way to get the conversation started. I have experienced sales firsthand just by having a magnet on my car stating what company I was representing.

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Teams (like Affiliate Training!)

Some companies offer additional commissions or rewards if you provide support to other representatives.

Much like affiliate marketing and training, you find a product that you support, and the company will pay you to promote the product. If others purchase that product based on your recommendation (or link), you are paid for your services. The company wins with your promotion of their product and you win by being paid.

Building a team with direct sales is the same concept. It’s natural to talk about your business, and to find like-minded individuals who want to sell the same products. By supporting these individuals throughout their growth as a representative, they are more likely to succeed, which makes the company money. In turn, the representative is rewarded by receiving a commission of the team member’s sales. 

The Pyramid Scheme Plan

It’s the model of the “pyramid” that makes people believe there is a hidden and  nefarious intention, but in reality, it’s a smart marketing move. As a head of any company, if I can motivate representatives to take on a team, support them and encourage success, why wouldn’t I pay an extra 2-10% of the sales? That’s worth it! 

Be Passionate

Choosing the right direct sales company is always key. My personal rule of thumb is to choose a company when you are passionate about their products.

Ideally, choose a company that you already use products from. I chose certain companies because I knew I would be buying the products anyways, and saving some money with a seller’s discount just makes good “cents”.  

The success of direct sales is often tied into selling items that people already buy. In the general population, who doesn’t buy soap, gift wrap, clothes, food containers, candles, books… we all buy these items at one time or another.

 

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Misnomers, Myths and Lies

Some misnomers about direct sales companies: 

– The companies encourage representatives to spam products on those around them.  WRONG.

This is very false. Most companies frown on spamming. When you see a representative “spamming” groups online, feeds, fliers, etc., you are seeing someone who is very excited about their products and their business. It’s more of an etiquette issue than anything else, but it’s no different than that vegan over there that tells you she’s a vegan every day. Oh, did you know she’s a vegan? (No disrespect to vegans!)

– You have to sign up your mom, grandma, sister and neighbour, otherwise you will not make any money. WRONG.

Good companies do not force representatives to sign up others. It’s a big responsibility to run a team, and to encourage them to continue. Having your family as representatives for the same company does not fair well: it means everyone is buying at a discount, and everyone is getting the same thing for Christmas, (ha) but really, companies do not force you to do that. Again, it’s the individual representative’s enthusiasm that is usually behind the push. 

– Very little pay for a lot of work. WRONG.

Like any business, side hustle or investment, it’s like pushing a rock up a hill. It’s a lot of work in the beginning, but eventually you will get up the hill. Keep at it. Then, when the rock crests over the hill, you know you’ve made it. It’s still going to be a lot of work to keep up with the rock, but you are finally seeing progress. 

You see, direct sales companies are modeled after bigger companies, and have many of the same traits. There’s payment for a job well done, and freedom to run your business how you see fit. Many people find their direct sales business fits into their life, as opposed to having their life fit around a business. 

Isn’t that the goal? 

When we naturally purchase these items as part of our daily life, it’s not unreasonable to seek out the best value. Prices are competitive everywhere, and depending on the product, they can be as readily available as if you had gone shopping at the store. The difference is customer service. You will never find a Wal-Mart employee who does house calls, or gives you fragrance samples with your purchase. Target doesn’t offer raffles, thank you gifts or camaraderie with the sales person, and you cannot rely that the same sales person will be there next week.  With direct sales, you have one person you are dealing with, and that’s what makes it special.

If you feel inundated with ads on social media, requests to host parties, or the office “pass the book around”, do not feel guilty by saying, “No, thank you.”

However, by buying from direct sales representatives, you might be:
– fundraising for a good cause
– helping a struggling mom fit her side business into her off-hours because she can’t get a second job with her schedule
– assisting a student pay for school
– enjoying a quality product!

Any side gig or hustle requires dedication and hard work, and some of these people work the hardest. I know some that have made a fulltime income from their home business. It’s very possible.

My intention today is to show you that direct sales are not what they used to be. They are simple, flexible, home-based businesses worked by people like us. They are not scams, and no more a risk of being a fly-by-night company than any other opportunity out there.

Watch the video below. Two people from Hamilton, Ontario launched a company selling tea mixes, and they pitched the Dragon’s Den. The investors jumped at the opportunity, and the expansion grew beyond anyone’s expectation. This is an example of a direct sales company. This could be yours.

I look forward to hearing what you think of direct sales companies, and if any of this was new to you, or changed your mind.  You can also follow me on Twitter, Instagram, or join the community page on Facebook.

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