All posts by Emily Binder

Emily Binder is a marketer who likes good copy, technology, and progress. Hobbies include chess, cooking, and rollerblading. University of Michigan alumna.

The Budget Keeper: Three Money Saving Tips for Your Twenties

This advice is geared toward your early twenties but is applicable to any stage of life. Whether you’re a recent college grad or a bit older, these tips will save you and make you the most money, based on my experience and calculations as a woman in my latest of twenties.
TL;DR:
  1. Used car
  2. Low rent
  3. Imbibing on a budget
They don’t teach these tips in school, but they should.
Set yourself up to be in a better place financially in ten years like so:

1) Buy a used car

Don’t buy a new car and don’t buy a flashy car to seem rich. You want to invest in your appearance for your career? Invest in your clothing. Dress at least one pay grade above where you are now. A sleek wardrobe that fits is a smarter investment than an automobile that spends 95% of its life parked.

cars parked in a full lot
A car spends 95% of its life parked. Good investment?

Keep your car payment as low as possible (or non-existent). $400-$500 a month will go further invested in stocks you believe in, in industries that you understand, than getting flushed down a motor finance drain. Buy a perfect black suit and a versatile cocktail dress that will pay for themselves, not a luxury car in which to sit alone in traffic. It’s for the birds – who cares about your car? (So millennial, I know.)

2) Keep your rent low

You’re young, you’re renting. Renting is okay. Renting is smarter than owning in many ways. A home is a liability, not an asset. Don’t feel pressured to own. Rent til you know. Enjoy your freedom. You can pick up and move to a new city anytime. You don’t need to mow a lawn or pay property taxes or acquiesce to an HOA.
house keys and Tile and Michigan keychain
The Tile is for when you lose your keys after a night with the Budget Keeper.

(Bonus tip: buy a Tile so you can save time and money finding your lost keys or anything else you frequently lose. It’s a GPS tracker connected to an app. I’ve sworn by Tile for years. They make great office gifts, too. It’s $24.99 for 1 or $62.93 for 4 on Amazon.)

While renting, bargain with your landlord.

2a) How to lower your rent

A) Offer to post reviews in exchange for reduced rent or at least two years of controlled rent.
B) Offer to pay three or six months rent in advance for a discounted rate or 1-2 months free.
C) If you’re in marketing, offer to do some social media promotion for your residence in exchange for reduced rent. Don’t use your personal brand for this – spell out a contract defining the promotion.

2b) Another renting tip: document

Whenever an issue arises, politely document the hell out of it via email, and make sure they know that you have kept track. Don’t be a nuisance or threaten anyone, and be lavish in your praise for what these apartment managers do right. But whenever you do email about a recurring issue, simply point out that you have documentation of the same thing having happened before, listing the dates and/or attaching the details as a PDF or email attachments. Maybe you have no issues with your landlord, property manager, or neighbors – consider yourself lucky. Keep renting until buying truly makes sense for you, your career, and your goals.

3) The Budget Keeper

This one is a little controversial 🙂

Don’t do this on a first date.

Do be discreet.

When you go out, pack a hip flask. Some people will judge you and think you’re cheap. You’re not, and who cares what they think? You’re young, trying to save money, and you just cut your bar tab in half. Bars mark up liquor an average of 300-400%. Restaurant owners are the only employers who don’t pay their staff living wages and expect customers to foot the bill. There’s nothing wrong with bringing a little sauce to top off your drink, considering how expensive going out can be. Especially if you have a high tolerance.

Sugar Kane

Think of this as a backup plan / accessory. This tip allows you to control your spending without ending the night early. You’re busy being fabulous, maybe networking a bit, you go-getter! You may even make some new friends or impress old men who retired from the railroad.

Notes:
Do buy something.
Don’t stiff the bartender.
Don’t get drunk.

Credit for the Budget Keeper goes to RickM. It’s not only a money-saver; it’s a throwback to a better time.
Let me know if you find these tips helpful. I’ll post more soon, hopefully in video format.

Why I’m a Rude Shopper

I can’t remember the last time a Kroger cashier thanked me first. They’ve reduced the number of staffed checkout lines and replaced them with mostly self check-out, which is a topic for another post about stealing. So there is at least 60% less human interaction than there was fifteen years ago, and today’s interactions tend to be robotic and thankless.

Many Kroger stores have a great organic section and the prices are very competitive, so I tolerate it. Publix has an abysmal organic section with a few overpriced, bruised Fujis and some wilted lettuce for $6, but better customer service. I’d rather go to Kroger and pay less for better produce with a subpar checkout experience than get gouged at Publix for a mealy apple with a smile.

woman with basket facing produce aisle

This may seem contradictory to the point of this post, but stay with me. In the end, I want value, and I’ve become accustomed to poor service because I live in this world. But I do one thing, which may make me seem rude, because I’m holding out for something better.

One woman who works the mailroom at my building doesn’t even say hello when a resident walks in. She just waits for you to ask for your package, then silently skulks off to fetch it. She hates her job. (She is the only bad egg there – the rest of the staff is pretty pleasant, and the manager is a real gem.) But interacting with her leaves a film of bad juju on you for at least an hour.

boxes and packages stacked on shelf
Hey Chewy!

This is the opposite of customer delight. Remember my post about the clunky way that customers have to sign up for a Target RedCard? Similarly, in order to cancel your LA Fitness membership, you need to log in to LAFitness.com then print and either mail or bring in a cancellation form Monday-Friday, 9AM-5PM, when most people are at work. Here’s Step 1 after clicking on the form. It contains nothing more than your name and ID. You don’t even sign it. I enjoyed the irony of the third “choice”: you have to mail a hard copy but they cannot confirm receipt of said form unless you have an email address. Then why can’t it all be done via email? Of course it could. Nice retention model: inconvenience. The customer-last nature of that policy alone would compel me to cancel if I didn’t already have a bunch of reasons. (I haven’t been a member for years, I just return to this example because it’s so often salient when I talk about customer service.)

Make Eye Contact and Say Hello

It’s all too common that during a store checkout or badge swiping at a gym, the cashier or greeter senses your presence without looking up. Items are scanned or a key fob is swiped. There’s no eye contact or greeting. And there’s no “thank-you” afterward, unless it comes from the customer. Of course some businesses have excellent customer service, and Stan Phelps has collected some fantastic purple goldfish examples, but it seems to be increasingly rare.

out of focus business people waiting in lineOver time, the effect of being shuffled through impersonal assembly line transactions has a negative impact on all of us. And when a cashier at Whole Foods actually says hello, smiles, and thanks you, you don’t mind paying for the experience. Note: Whole Foods is only Whole Paycheck if you shop the aisles and buy pre-prepared foods.

The difference made by a cashier or server who makes eye contact, offers a greeting, and thanks me first upon payment is a contrast to most transactions. We’ve come to expect the exchange of money for goods to be mechanical. Where the customer is seen as polite by offering thanks first. (If the salesperson did something to help you, like finding your blouse size, of course thanking them first makes sense, because it’s for a specific action. But for the transaction itself, no.) The person taking the money should thank the customer first. And the customer should say, “you’re welcome, and thank you.” The order matters. Maybe this is why we love to shop online: although the thank-you page is automated, at least it happens in the right sequence.

Thank you for shopping with us today, [smile], we appreciate your business.

You’re welcome, and I look forward to returning.

I would like to close this with a strong statement like, “This is how you stay in business.” But that would be a lie, because tons of retailers and stores don’t train their employees to interact with gratitude and politeness, and these businesses are well in the black. Maybe our widespread addiction to phone checking, which really equals checking out of the present moment, has created a status quo in which rudeness is acceptable. Maybe I’m reading too much into it. Either way, I’m holding out – I don’t thank first when I hand over money.

Ergodriven Topo Mat Review – Inspired by Nature

Topo by Ergodriven is the standing desk mat inspired by nature. After 5+ years of standing at work and testing several types of flat cushioned floor mats, Topo is the most comfortable and ergonomic anti-fatigue mat I’ve tried.
emily-binder-standing-ergodriven-topo-mat-review
Standing barefoot on my Topo

Addressing the hidden problem with standing desks:

Standing is only healthier than sitting if it’s done right.
-Ergodriven
Emily standing on Topo floor mat
At my standing desk, on my mat, long hair don’t care.

I’ve always recommended a high-quality anti-fatigue mat at least 3/4″ thick. You can certainly buy a cheap mat for $15 or $20 and kid yourself that you’re not wreaking havoc on your feet and legs, but prolonged standing with little movement isn’t healthy. Topo is a fun new take on foot relief, and it’s rooted in science.

Standing Science

I got rid of my chair because sitting can kill you. But standing on a flat mat, even a nice one like my $75 Rhino Mat, wasn’t cutting it. My legs still felt tired and heavy – stagnant.
Emily Binder standing on ergonomic mat at standing desk
To test it out, I stood on Topo at least six hours a day for two months. Sometimes in cushioned wedge sandals like this. Usually barefoot. Still using it.
Ergodriven is led by mechanical engineers who care about science. Topo’s calculated terrain keeps you moving while standing so blood doesn’t pool in your calves, which can cause poor circulation and increased risk of deep vein thrombosis. You subconsciously shift into different standing positions, engaging the anti-gravity skeletal muscle pump. Increased blood flow mitigates the risk of varicose veins. Great news for me, because although my CEP Women’s Progressive+ 2.0 Calf Sleeves are a big help for circulation while sitting or standing for long stretches, adding more movement is the best medicine.

Inspired by Nature

A Data Driven Playground for Your Feet

Topo’s design was inspired by hiking, swimming, and cliff-jumping.

Ergodriven Topo mat in grey
Office cliffs and peaks – Topo in grey

Our office environments are hardly natural for our bodies, so any way that we can introduce more of what we were really meant to do – run around the forest all day – the better our health. Topo increases range of motion and circulation vs. standing still.

The Amazon links in this post are referral links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

Startups and Crowdfunding

Ergodriven eschewed Kickstarter. They took the time to calculate costs and benefits instead of just following the herd. They put in the grunt work required to market a new product; driving traffic and building relationships takes elbow grease. Here’s their homegrown product launch campaign. It worked nicely, and best of all, had a 0% fee.

In fact, we have everything Kickstarter would have provided us set up on our own domain now, and it only took us about 150 hours. Compared to the estimated 8,000 hours we’ve put into developing and launching Topo so far – well that only represents about 1% of our time. So why would we give up 5% of our users’ hard-earned money?

Because that’s truly what it means. Avoiding Kickstarter’s 5% fee means we can charge 5% less.

People focus on funding too much.
Product is sexy; customers are sexy; revenue is sexy.

Product Details

  • Material: Environmentally-conscious, 100% polyurethane foam, with no PVC or plasticizers (like phthalates), or added flame retardants
  • Durable, breathable pebbled skin which feels nice barefoot
  • 7-year warranty against manufacturing defects
  • Hands-free sliding is easy with one foot (no reaching down)
  • Size: 26.25″x29″
  • Thickness: 2.7″ at highest point
  • Weight: 8 lbs
  • Colors: Black, grey, blue, purple, or green
  • Amazon Prime cost: $99 (as of 12/6/2017)
  • 30-day money-back satisfaction guarantee (free return shipping)
I asked Ergodriven CEO Kit Perkins why he’s proud of Topo:
Kit Perkins CEO Ergodriven
I’m most proud of how many people love Topo and how much they love it. Topo’s return rate is incredibly low, and the reviews we get online and sent directly to our customer service via email are absolutely glowing and incredibly heartwarming to read. I’m so proud that Topo has improved so many lives, and continues to make a big difference in happiness and health for our users every day.

One Drawback

I still find myself striking my signature desk yoga pose with one foot on the ground and the other leg resting horizontally on my desk, bent at the knee, which may or may not be healthy. The flat areas of the mat are a bit thinner than I would like, so standing on those areas for a long time gets tiring. A larger footprint for more stretching and angled standing would be nice, but the current size is nicely manageable in a cube. Overall, it’s a great product from a company I respect, and it’s worth the $99.

Buy Now with free shipping on Amazon Prime

Disclaimer: Ergodriven provided me with a Topo in order to write this review. My recommendation is not for sale: this is my honest opinion after two months of testing. The above links to purchase this product are Amazon Associate links – read more here.

Review: Ergo Desktop Hybrid Kangaroo Standing Desk

An ideal standing desk supports ergonomic posture and lets you easily change from sitting to standing. The Ergo Desktop Hybrid Kangaroo delivers on these characteristics and more. There is no question that prolonged sitting is bad for your health. But it’s important to choose the right standing desk. This is my second Ergo Desktop desk. Keywords: Quality, stability, and adjustability. It’s made in the USA and customized to your settings. At $599, the Hybrid Kangaroo is not the cheapest nor most expensive on the market, but it’s one of my favorites.
Emily working at her standing desk
Standing at my Hybrid Kangaroo in my old cube (2016): monitor left, laptop right

What is the Hybrid Kangaroo?

This is a freestanding, height adjustable desk add-on made for a monitor and laptop. The unit sits on a broad, sturdy footplate which can be slid around your desktop. A rear mounted vertical riser is fixed to the footplate. A work surface for your keyboard and mouse is attached to the riser. Easily adjust it up or down by turning the knob on the riser.
Kangaroo standing desk in office
My office (2017): badass Ergo Desktop standing desk,  Ergodriven topographic floor mat, incandescent light, two VoIP phones, and a door.

Will it Fit? Cubicle and Desk Size

My first standing desk was a Dual Hybrid Kangaroo, also by Ergo Desktop, and similar to the Hybrid Kangaroo, but it had two shelves instead of one. Then I had a private office with a large desk surface. While at a startup, I had a standard size cube (first photo above). My Hybrid Kangaroo has a shelf plus a VESA mount (where my monitor is mounted). The Hybrid Kangaroo fit fine in my cube. Now I’m back in an office and damn, it looks good (second photo above). The two models have the same footprint:
  • the main work surface is adjustable 16.5″ above your desk and measures 28″ wide x 24″ deep.
Some people complain about reduced workspace with add-on desks, but I have no problem here and frankly don’t often need a physical writing surface (or a printer for that matter) anyway.
Ergo Desktop Hybrid Kangaroo at Emily's office
My Hybrid Kangaroo setup in the old cube – ergonomic AF

Vote with Your Dollar

Ergo Desktop’s customer service is excellent. As a marketer, I’m sensitive to every aspect of the customer experience, from advertising to website to product description to transactional emails. Brad at Ergo Desktop was responsive, professional, and most important, highly knowledgeable about his products. You get the sense that this company cares. Ohio people, right? 🙂 They also have a 100% quality guarantee.

Continue reading Review: Ergo Desktop Hybrid Kangaroo Standing Desk

5 Resources to Help You Learn UX

Here are five helpful resources about UX (user experience) design and copywriting. These are a great place for a beginner to start. If you’re already in marketing, you’re probably less of a beginner than you may think, if you’ve been paying attention. Pay attention all the time, especially when you’re the user. You know what feels good. Start to ask why that site is easy to use, and look for patterns. Screenshot landing pages and exit overlays that work or shopping carts that usher you along the purchase path. Research the design process of products that make everyday life easier.

Chemex coffeemaker
Chemex coffeemaker – flawless blending of design and function. Photo credit: Karl Fredrickson

The classic paperback rhetoric for writers, some copywriting tips, and these podcasts about design should prove informative for designers and marketers of various levels:

  1. Simple and Direct by Jacques Barzun. In high school, my dad gave me this book to help me write more concisely, and I’ve kept the same copy at my desk ever since. It’s very University of Chicago, and it’s worth reviewing every couple years, especially if you write copy that users or customers are forced to read. Simplify.
    “Principle 1. Have a point and make it by means of the best word.”
  2. Design for the Human Brain
    UX and UI design tips based on how our brains process information. Cognitive psychology is paramount to user centered design. Reduce cognitive load.
  3. 10 UX Copywriting Tips for Designers
    John Williams gets copywriting and design. “Be ruthless with your copy.” Cut cut cut.
  4. 3 Fundamental User Onboarding Lessons from Classic Nintendo Games
    How to create good onboarding flow and inspire users to progress. Place emphasis on the naive user and value of external testing. Tetris “presents a world of perpetual uncompleted tasks” which stick in your memory, bugging your brain to finish. It’s the best example of the Zeigarnik Effect, or the “need to complete.”
  5. 14 Design Podcasts to Put in Your Ears
    99% Invisible, Design Matters, and more. Tip: I like to listen to podcasts with the free Stitcher app. It gets smarter with use.