I've made some really good stock calls in my day, through comprehensive stock analyses on picks I've considered for my portfolio, like the stock that topped my list back in '08 in my final year of business school, Allergan (AGN). It was a thoughtful investment idea that made a fortune on paper. Unfortunately, it amounted to no real gains because I never followed through. Instead, I took a professor's advice, and put ten grand into ProShares UltraShort 20+ Year Treasury (TBT), an ETF that double shorts the U.S. Treasury Bond Index. “Interest rates have to rise," my professor said. “They can't stay at these lows for an extended period of time." I didn't know then that this specific professor was a Lehman Brother's layoff, and high interest rates were the finance world, as he knew it to be back in his short-lived career on Wall Street.

Allergan allergan-web-cdn-static-prod.azureedge.net

Allergan

Allergan (AGN) was trading at $30 at the time, and its current 52-week high is well over $300. As we now know well, interest rates fell lower, and stayed at all-time lows for the next 8 years. TBT continued to drop, before reverse splitting 1 for 4 in 2012. I was left with $1k to show for my shares purchased for $10k, which had invested in Allergan at the time would have matured to $100,000. Of course, we can all go over ideas we failed to execute—scenarios that made us miss out on some serious cash. Yet even with all the worthy calls I've made since then, I'm still hesitant in my trading until I consult with someone I believe knows more. Knowing who to trust is important, and taking just anyone's stock advice was a mistake I'd never make again.

Recently, I mentioned one of my stock ideas to a close friend who made his millions at his hedge fund. He understood my reluctance to trade, as it's a common theme among all investors. He shared with me one of the resources he used to gain a competitive edge both as an individual investor, and in his professional endeavors to benefit his fund and its clients, Real Money, a membership-based website headlined by Jim Cramer.

Jim Cramer fm.cnbc.com

Cramer's Real Money

One of Cramer's biggest philosophies is that you have to pull the trigger, and Real Money would soon become my biggest ally as it provides me with the assurance I need to take the right course of action on great ideas. It's a place where you can consult with professionals on your ideas and theirs.

Real Money members are privy to specific actionable investment ideas and the insights of more than 30 site contributors, who are not just journalists; they're chartists, financial advisors, day traders, economists, and money managers who have clients of their own, and winning track records on Wall Street. All of the contributors are handpicked by Jim Cramer through his experience with them in the industry, and most of them are still professionally investing in the ideas they share with you in real-time.

The site features exclusive stock market information that individual investors would not be privy to otherwise. Take sell side technicians and chartists, for example, who have disappeared from investment banks because of the downward pressure on costs and commissions that drove Wall Street away from transactional business. They still power their hedge funds and mutual funds, but of course there's absolutely no visibility there. Real Money's in-house chartist, Bruce Kamich has a 40-year career with a number of bulge bracket firms. He's spotted some huge trends he shared with us and executed on, like the gold stocks, where he recommended NovaGold and Yamana Gold, both for some very big gains. His charts also showed aggressive accumulation in Joy Global ahead of a very large takeover bid. His writing is breezy, and palatable with visuals that make sense.

Make the most of your money s.thestreet.com

You can follow along in the Real Money Ideas section to see which contributors' ideas pan out, and decide who to follow. Members often weigh in with their opinions, or ask questions on the site, and the contributors reply to us inline. You can even contact any site contributor via email, including Jim Cramer. I haven't emailed Jim yet, but Roger Arnold always responds. (In case you haven't heard of Roger Arnold, he's an accomplished economist currently serving as chief economist for ALM Advisors, a money management firm specializing in income-generating portfolios.)

Now, I only take investment advice from professionals who know what they're doing, and exercise transparency in the returns they have to show for it. Not Lehman Brothers' layoffs or the ones responsible for the financial crisis of '08, but rather the money managers that prevailed even during times of hardship, who give us an inside look at what they're trading day in and day out with real money on the line.


Update: The folks at TheStreet are extending a special offer to our readers! Follow this link to get Real Money FREE for 14 days with no obligations! (It's also discounted to just $3/week if you choose to continue with membership.)

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Home garden and porch

As anyone who has ever sold a house will tell you, you must prioritize curb appeal. Before a potential buyer even considers looking inside your house, they notice the outside first. Does it attract the right kind of attention? Does it take away from the feel you're going for? If you plan to sell sometime soon, you must think about these things. Here are some landscaping options to increase your home's curb appeal, so you can get the best price on your home.

Extensive Plants and Greenery

A barren front yard won't get you the price you want on your home. So, invest in at least a little bit of greenery to keep the surrounding area from looking too dead. Shrubs and bushes tie the house to the lawn that precedes it, and flower beds bring a pop of color to an otherwise drab structure. You can also strategically plant some trees to improve the overall feel of your home's exterior.

Lawn Care

As we mentioned, your lawn is one of the most prominent features of your home's exterior. A patchy, dried-up lawn will quickly drive your home's price way down. Some of the best landscaping options for your home's curb appeal involve improving your lawn for the next inhabitant. Overall fertilization, ground aeration, underbrush removal, proper mowing—all of these lawn care tasks contribute to a greener and more lively area that invites people to see your house, rather than stay away from it.

Paved Pathways

There's nothing like a broken and disheveled pathway to make someone think twice about buying a property. Just as you want the entryway in your house to be welcoming, so too should the pathway leading up to the house be inviting. The pathway from the street to your front door provides plenty of real estate to get creative with. You don't have to settle for a boring concrete pathway. Consider something more eye catching, like a cobblestone path or intermittent brick patterns, as a way to better welcome potential buyers.

Usable Outdoor Furniture

Landscaping doesn't just involve the ground you walk on; also included are the items you use as extras to the overall look. Outdoor furniture is one such extra that you don't necessarily need but can look quite attractive if done correctly. Staging is important with outdoor furniture. Old, broken-down pieces will only look like more work to the potential buyer. A few comfortable chairs, a bench, or a table with an umbrella really go a long way to improving your outdoor aesthetics.

A good tip for deciding on curb appeal items is to decide what you personally would want to see as a part of a welcoming home's exterior. You don't need to go overboard, but a little bit of forethought could net you quite a lot of extra cash in the sale.

Unfortunately, giving back can sometimes go haywire. If you're ready to make a donation, first consider common mistakes made when giving back.

Many people strive to support their community by donating their time or their money. When you find a meaningful cause, you might be quick to cut a donation check. Though it's admirable to be quick to act charitably, you should be wary of several common mistakes made when giving to charity. Being mindful of these mistakes and learning tips for making informed charitable choices can help you make the most out of your generous check.

Acting Quickly Out of Emotion

Mission statements are meant to be compelling. If you're an emotionally driven individual, it's natural to pull out your wallet at the sight of a sad puppy on TV or when informed about food insecurity over the phone. Unfortunately, not all charities are as effective or official as they may seem.

Take your passion for helping others one step further by making sure your chosen charity is legit. Speaking with a representative, reviewing their website and social media accounts, and looking at testaments online can give you a better idea of whether the organization is worth your donation.

Forgetting to Keep Record of the Donation

Don't forget that you can reap some financial perks from giving back! With the proper documentation of your donation, you can acquire a better tax deductible.

If you donate more than $12,400 as a single filer or $24,800 as one of two joint filers, you're eligible to deduct that amount from your taxes. So, when a charity asks if you'd like a receipt of donation, always answer yes.

Donating Unusable Materials

Most charities can utilize a monetary donation—it's the physical donations that usually cause some issues. Providing a local nonprofit with irrelevant materials or gifting them with unusable products are surprisingly common mistakes made when giving to charity.

Always check your intended charity's website for a list of things they do and do not accept. The majority of places will provide a guideline to donating or offer contact information to clarify any questions.

Strictly Giving at Year's End

As more and more people get into the holiday spirit at the end of the year, nonprofit organizations see an influx of donations. While it's great to spread holiday cheer via a monetary donation, it's important to keep that spirit going year-round.

With regular donations, charities can more effectively allocate their annual budget. Setting up an automatic monthly donation with the charity of your choosing can maximize your impact. You can account for a monthly donation by foregoing a costly coffee every once in a while.

Knowing how much you should spend on home maintenance each year is hard to figure out and may be preventing you from buying your first home. The types of costs you'll incur depend on the house you buy and its location. The one certainty is that you should start saving now. Read on to figure out how much to start setting aside based on the home you own.

The Age of Your House

Consider several factors when budgeting for home repairs. If you've purchased a new home, your house likely won't require as much maintenance for a few years. Homes built 20 or more years ago are likely to require more maintenance, including replacing and keeping your windows clean. Further, depending on your home's location, weather can cause additional strain over time, so you may need to budget for more repairs.

The One-Percent Rule

An easy way to budget for home repairs is to follow the one-percent rule. Set aside one percent of your home's purchase price each year to cover maintenance costs. For instance, if you paid $200,000 for your home, you would set aside $2,000 each year. This plan is not foolproof. If you bought your home for a good deal during a buyer's market, your home could require more repairs than you've budgeted for.

The Square-Foot Rule

Easy to calculate, you can also budget for home maintenance by saving one dollar for every square foot of your home. This pricing method is more consistent than pricing it by how much you paid because the rate relies on the objective size of your home. Unfortunately, it does not consider inflation for the area where you live, so make sure you also budget for increased taxes and labor costs if you live in or near a city.

The Mix and Match Method

Since there is no infallible rule for how much you should spend on home maintenance, you can combine both methods to get an idea for a budget. Average your results from the square-foot rule and the one-percent rule to arrive at a budget that works for you. You should also increase your savings by 10 percent for each risk factor that affects your home, such as weather and age.

Holding on to savings is easier in theory than practice. Once you know how much you should spend on home maintenance, you'll know what to aim for and be more prepared for an emergency. If you are having trouble securing funds for home repairs, consider taking out a home equity loan, borrowing money from friends or family, or applying for funds through a home repair program through your local government for low-income individuals.