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How this blog made $400 in its first month with AdSense . . .

. . . and over $850 the second.


I really enjoy blogging. In fact, I remember saying to my wife one night before chriswondra.com was even a twinkle in my eye:

“I think I was born for this.”

Early on there were a number of things that made blogging attractive:

  • Control: you have total control over content, presentation, and deadlines (as opposed to, say, freelance writing).
  • Feedback: A blog (via comments) allows readers and writers to interact like no other media. This can lead to all kinds of possibilities, including forging relationships, collaboration and heck who knows.
  • Fans: If you’re a good writer with something interesting to say, you’ll quickly build an audience.
  • On-line credentials: Who knows where that can lead, right?
  • Money: And (if your lucky, or smart, or both) you even have the chance to make a few bucks.

This post is about that last bullet: blogging for money.

But be warned:

  • I’m no expert (hell, I’m not even following the experts on this one). I’m still pretty green, in fact, but these past three months I’ve learned a few things about how to turn a blog into a buck or two . . .or thousand. So I thought I’d share–because nobody seems to be doing it quite the same way I am.
  • Despite the fact that I’m no expert–this post is long. Very long. About 4,000 words long. This article runs deep, not wide. It has a lot of specific information about how I am using AdSense to make money with this blog.

If you read other how-to’s by the real pro’s, you’ll soon come to the conclusion that I really shouldn’t be making this kind of money. Most don’t. At least not so soon. And if I’m going to be totally honest with you, I have to admit that I kind of lucked out.

But the way I figure it, if I explain what’s happening here at chriswondra.com, maybe you can luck out too.

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Parents: Are you raising Christians or Critical Thinkers?

How’d that headline grab ya?

I bet (though you may not be aware) it got “grabbier” after that one little word—the smallest one–“or”.

As if you can’t to both. Like you have to choose.

It’s like this: When it comes to matters of faith or spirituality (or whatever you want to call it), I think there are a lot of “non-Christians” that see it this way–that Christians aren’t rational. They’re not logical. When it comes to a Christian’s faith in Jesus Christ, there is no room for debate. In short, Christians are driving with blinders on.

BELIEVE:

  • It is easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get to heaven,
  • Jesus is the way the truth and the light,
  • No one can get to heaven but through Jesus,
  • You need to pray,
  • Go to church,
  • Do good works,
  • Spread the Word

or . . . well . . . sorry but you’re probably going to Hell–don’t say I didn’t tell you so.

Consider:

Regardless of whether you believe Jesus was born of a virgin, is the son of God, or conquered death–I gotta believe he would have totally dug Seinfeld.

Good comedy cuts to the truth, exposing chinks in the armor. It says what we’re thinking–especially when we don’t know we’re thinking it. Great humor drags seriously entrenched attitudes, paradigms, and frames of reference to the public square for a good flogging.

And we laugh.

C’mon, despite the slight exaggeration, don’t you know someone with faith like Puddy’s?

How about this exchange about Elaine’s preference in men:

Jerry: So you prefer dumb and lazy to religious?

Elaine: “Dumb and lazy” I understand.

And, really, I think that about sums it up for most non-Christians I know. They just don’t “get” it.

‘Course neither do many Christians (ie Puddy). Sorry, but many sign up, then call it good. You know, they go to church, listen to the sermon, sing the hymns, stand, sit, kneel, memorize all the stuff. They learn the stories and do their best to be good people, but never really consider the metaphor.

Because when you start to play around with the metaphor, you have to take the red pill–and then the rabbit hole gets pretty deep.

But that’s not so much what I wanted to talk about today.

I just thought I’d mention it . . .

What I wanted to share today was how I’m trying to teach Jesus’ lessons to my kids–without strapping on the blinders.

Because I’ve been on both sides of the fence. I was born a Lutheran. My parents made me go to Sunday school, confirmation and all that. We prayed before supper (if we didn’t have company). And we prayed the Lord’s prayer before bed. But we never really discussed it. We just did it–I think because that’s how my parents grew up.
So, naturally I didn’t take much stock in any of it. I might even go as far as to say that I rejected it all thinking religion to be okay for the weak or hypocritical–but not for me.

Recently, however, I’ve found a current of peace and strength so deep, so calm . . .

To quote the song, “Dive,” by Steven Curtis Chapman:

There is a supernatural power
In this mighty river’s flow
It can bring the dead to life
And it can fill an empty soul
And give a heart the only thing
Worth living and worth dying for . . .

. . .The river’s deep,

the river’s wide,

the river’s water is alive . . .”

So there you have it. A little transparency so you know where I stand–sort of.

And here is just one example of what I’m doing with my girls. Together, we say the Lord’s prayer before bed. Just like I did when I was a kid. And they like it. If I neglect it, they request it. I think they like the sameness of it. The ritual. It’s sort of like a way to anchor the day. Wrap it up. Call it good.

But then I like to mess with ’em.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

“What do you think that means,” I ask.

“What, Dad?” a little exasperation in her voice.

“who art in heaven. What does art mean? And what about hallowed be thy name? What’s all that gibberish?”

And so, over time we’ve gone through it. Bit by bit. Verse by verse, we’ve picked it apart, we’ve clarified, and we’ve asked if it makes sense to say “Our Father and forgive us our trespasses” and whatnot if we are saying the prayer alone. So now not only do they know it by rote memory, but the eight year old can paraphrase it.

Which, I think, is a good first step.

Tonight it went this way,

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,

Give us this day our daily bread and forgive . . .

“Hey wait a second,” I interrupted (again).

“Now what Dad?” Emma’s on the top bunk so I couldn’t see her, but I could hear her eyes rolling in her head.

“We should be saying this prayer in the morning, not at night.”

“Why?”

“Because it says, “Give us this day our daily bread. This Day. But this day–you know today–is done now. Why are we asking for what we need for today when today is done?”

Silence

“Dad . . .”

“Yeah?” I said.

Silence. It was a long pause.

“Are you picking your nose again?” I finally said.

“No!” she giggled. “Dad?”

“Yeah?”

“Can we just say the rest tonight, and . . . you know.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I know.”

Sometimes it’s nice not to think so much.

How we keep the IRS away from my paycheck (and save thousands every year)

If you’ve read my About page, you know one of the major challenges we’ve had as a family has been money. I’ll never regret the decision we made to focus on our family. But I’m not going to lie to you. Transitioning from no kids with a dual income, to two kids living off little more than a beginning teacher salary has been . . . well—a real bitch.

I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s not for everybody.

To make it work, we’ve had to do a lot more than simply cut back. Indeed, we’ve learned to become very creative – and very knowledgeable. From do-it-yourself projects to repairing and sewing our own clothes; from juggling credit cards to refinancing mortgages; from garage sales and Goodwills to coupons and rebates; from budget utility programs to the unique intricacies of harvesting and selling our kidneys on the black market–we’ve learned a lot along the way.

One of (if not the most) valuable things we’ve learned however, was how to take full advantage of the tax benefits available for home based business. I’m thrilled at the amount money we’ve already saved. But I can only imagine how much we will continue to save as we use this knowledge every year for the rest of our lives.

Sure, we’ll always have to pay taxes. There’s no escaping that. And for the record, we’re not trying to. Make no mistake about it. We pay taxes — just not as much as the average bear. And just like saving for retirement or college—a little today goes a long way tomorrow.

But I gotta tell ya. As far as taxes go—we’re saving a lot.

And when do we see this money? After we file for our returns? Not on your life. We need this money now. So we see it every payday.

You see. I don’t withhold much. In fact, I withhold very little. Sure that means a smaller refund in the spring. But Uncle Sam doesn’t pay interest.

Uncle Sam doesn’t pay interest.

We withhold as little as possible so we get to keep more of each paycheck.

We didn’t learn to do this to cheat the government or brag. We did it so we could pay our mortgage on time.  I viewed withholding taxes as giving the government a 0% interest loan. It simply didn’t make any sense.

We borrowed money all the time. We borrowed from banks; we borrowed from credit card companies; we borrowed from utilities (whenever we couldn’t pay something on time).  And whenever we do it, we expect to pay interest, or a penalty, or something. Yet I’m supposed to accept giving my hard earned cash to the government interest free?

Absurd.

I’d much rather owe taxes at the end of the year and pay it as late as possible. If anything, I want the interest free loan. Make sense?

I’d much rather owe taxes at the end of the year and pay it as late as possible. If anything, I want the interest free loan.

For most, however, what’s out of sight is out of mind. Many view withholding like a savings account, or worse, found money. You know—like when you take out that winter coat you haven’t worn in a year and find five dollars.

How we keep thousands of dollars from the IRS every year

The first thing we did is established, in our home, a couple of businesses in which we make a serious attempt to turn a profit. That might sound funny but as far as the IRS is concerned—it’s not. In order to legally qualify for the tax deductions I’m going to list shortly, a homeowner must clearly be running a business with the intent of making a profit.

The first thing you want to do is establish a business that you intend to be profitable. The next, is to never actually make any money.

So that’s the first thing.

The next is to never actually make a profit.

Careful. I didn’t say you don’t want cash flow. What I said was, at the end of the year, when you add up all your revenue and then subtract all your expenses, you want an answer as close to zero as possible.

In fact, if you want to be really good at not paying taxes, it’s important to learn how to actually lose money running a business while intending to turn a profit. And how, you might ask, is that even possible? It all starts with the greatest invention ever: The Home Office Deduction.

In fact, to save the most, you need to learn to lose money running a business with which you are intending to turn a profit.

Taking Full Advantage of The Home Office Deduction

So what exactly is the Home Office Deduction? Well, I’ll tell you what it’s not. It’s not one single deduction. It’s many. In reality, it’s actually a series of smaller deductions totaled up and reported on IRS Form 8829, “Expenses for Business Use of Your Home.”

This is where the fun begins because now you can start itemizing expenses such as utilities, household repairs or improvements, mortgage interest, and depreciation of certain kinds of equipment.

But that’s not all. Once you’ve established your home as your principal place of business, you can begin expensing the cost of traveling from home to any business destination. This can add up quickly. In 2007, for example, the government will allow you to claim 48.5 cents per mile.

Once you’ve established your home as your principal place of business . . .the government will pay you 48.5 cents per mile.

And it gets even better. Often times, with the proper attention to documentation, you can also deduct money you pay your own children to help you work the business, business gifts, certain meals and entertainment, and even expenses related to cell phones and computers.

But Aren’t you afraid you’ll get audited?

A lot of people will read this article, get serious heeby-jeebies, and immediately start sweating about IRS audits, fines and even (gulp) prison. I think that’s exactly what the IRS would want. How else can they convince people not to take deductions that they are legally entitled to?

A lot of people will read this article, get serious heeby-jeebies, and immediately start sweating about IRS audits, fines and even (gulp) prison.

Would I welcome an audit? Of course not. They sound like a real hassle. But would I FEAR one? No. Because every cent we’ve deducted is both completely legal, and has been meticulously documented.

I’m not afraid because we can, without a doubt, prove two things: 1) that an expense was in fact paid, and 2) what it was for. Everything we’ve deducted includes a receipt, invoice, canceled check, or credit card charge slip as well as a short description explaining its link to the business. We keep a log in our car to document mileage for business related trips. Emma has a time card she uses to track the time we pay her for as well as the duties she’s performed for us.

It takes a certain level of discipline, cooperation and organization but any inconvenience we’ve suffered through this learning process has paid for itself in cold hard cash. Just look at the list of things we routinely deduct:

  • repairs and maintenance,
  • utilities,
  • property taxes,
  • mortgage interest,
  • insurance,
  • mileage,
  • phones and communication,
  • internet services,
  • meals and entertainment,
  • gifts,
  • computer hardware and software,
  • office supplies,
  • educational expenses, l
  • labor expenses (we are able to deduct the money we pay Emma to help us with business related tasks such as organizing newsletters or cleaning the office),
  • some clothing expenses,
  • products we buy for inventory,
  • some products we use,
  • postage,
  • some education expenses,
  • some subscriptions,
  • and tax preparation.

That’s right, tax preparation. Did you think we figured this all out on our own? Do you think I have the time or energy to research the ever-changing landscape of tax codes? Not on your life. We pay experts to do this for us. I see it as an investment.

And as it turns out, one of the best investments we’ve ever made.

Welcome to The Belly of the Whale: Playground for the rich and successful

I’m one of those types always on the lookout for life’s most lucrative secrets.

You know what I mean:

  • Why does he always seem so confident and at ease?
  • Why does that person seem to keep making the same mistakes?
  • Why can’t I ever figure this out?
  • How can I transform myself from a lowly English teacher into a powerful media tycoon?

You know.

This quest for awareness compels me to seek patterns and use models to explain things. The models or maps I use to define my reality change as I gain understanding, but one of the most powerful (and accurate) I’ve found so far is the idea of “personal mythology.”

That’s right. I’m a big fan of Joseph Campbell and The Hero’s Journey.

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Short Shorts

Our girls have a routine and checklist that they work through every night before bed. One of the things on the list is to get out the clothes that they are going to wear in the morning. It’s a good routine. The girls ask what the weather is going to be like and they plan accordingly. Sometimes they’re not sure about a particular match or color or something, but we’ve been at this long enough now that they pretty much take care of this themselves.

This morning there was a bit of a hitch. The third grader’s shorts were a bit, well, short. Nothing skimpy by any means–fine for bumming around the house or with friends, just not really appropriate for school. Lisa pointed this out to Emma on her way down the steps. Emma, however, was confused.

“Dad?”

They both looked to me for validation. Luckily, this time I had an answer.

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