Week 4 of Budget 101

PART 4: SAVE ON THE NECESSARY THINGS

If you’ve made it this far, you’ve probably come to the conclusion that getting your financial life in order is hard work!  I wish I could say it will be a cakewalk from now on, but alas, there is still much to be done.  Don’t let that discourage you or make you give up.  If you are feeling overwhelmed (a perfectly normal reaction), then just stop, take a deep breath, and give yourself a break.  Wait a week or two to pick up where you started.  This series will be here for you when you’re ready.  I promise you CAN do this, and it’s okay if it takes you longer than 8 weeks to get there.
(NOTE: If you are new to “Through The Eyes Of I” or missed out last week, you might want to start at Week 1 of Budget 101 before starting this week’s assignment!)
Last week we focused lowering our major expenses–housing, transportation, & insurance.   Hopefully you were able to find a few ways to save, and if so, YAHOO!    If not, take heart, there are plenty of other areas left to save.
This week we are going to focus on lowering your expenses for the necessities in your budget.  Do you remember the exercise from week 1, where we focused on separating our wants from our needs?  Well, this is where that comes into play. There are certain things we simply can’t live without– groceries, utilities, gas –but we most likely CAN pay less for them.

For those of you who don’t want to bother with coupons, there are still many ways to reduce your grocery bills simply by changing the way you shop. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. ANY savings is better than none!

Unless you have already been trying to cut your expenses in this area, your utility bills should be one place you can find lots of opportunities for savings!  Small tweaks can make a BIG difference in your final bill, and if you are anything like me, you probably have a whole pile of utility bills to deals with each month–everything from water to electricity, cable to phones,  the list goes on and on, and seems to get longer all the time.

Gas is a hard expense to cut significantly. We obviously have no control over gas prices, and we usually need to travel where we need to go. But there are a few things we can do to make sure we are making the most of our gas mileage, and again, small tweaks can make a big difference over time.

This week’s assignment will be pretty straightforward.  We’re going to methodically go through those things we MUST spend money on, whether we want to or not, and then look for ways to cut those expenses.  A little here, and a little there really does add up.

This week’s assignment:

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1. Develop a strategy for saving on your groceries

If you are already saving money with coupons, great!  Look for ways to stretch those savings even more, perhaps by committing to a few meatless meals a week or by getting more proficient at “shopping” and cooking from your own stockpile. If you are not using coupons and don’t want to, there are still a lot of ways to reduce that grocery bill by planning your meals & shopping list around what’s on sale, and stocking up when you find things at a great price.

2.  Reduce Your Utilities

Make a list of all the utilities you pay each month, and make an active commitment to reduce each one. For instance, you could commit to reducing your electric bill by setting your A/C a few degrees lower and by turning off the lights during the day (and keeping them off.)  You could decide to eliminate your landline in favor of cell phones, downgrade your cable plan, or switch internet providers.  Remember, every little bit helps, but whatever you decide to do, WRITE IT DOWN!  Then do it!

3.  Commit to Saving Money on Gas

Once again, be specific.  Write down at least 5 things you can start doing right away to help lower that expense every month, whether it be planning your errands better to make them more efficient, carpooling, walking when possible, or even checking to make sure your tires are properly inflated. That’s all there is for this week.  That wasn’t so bad was it?  Compared to all the big stuff, it was a walk in the park, and maybe it was even a little fun!  It is amazing how much money we literally throw away each month, just because we don’t pay attention to the details in all these different areas.  It really does add up.

 
Stay tuned for another riveting installment next Sunday and don’t forget to let me know how you’re doing!
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What Every Mom Needs to Know About Insurance

As parents, it’s our responsibility to make sure our kids are cared for. We go out of our way to keep our kids safe, from buying bicycle helmets to Band-Aids to winter coats, right down to holding their hand when they cross the street.

Most of us worry endlessly about our kids’ well-being. I know I do! But as much as we worry about the little things, it’s sometimes easy to let the big things, those risks and dangers that are a little more intangible—slip by ignored or unattended to.

A big part of protecting our kids, as well as securing financial peace, is making sure our families are covered for the big things including natural disasters, an injury or illness, job loss, or worse. Even so, it can sometimes be hard to determine exactly what coverage you need, especially when it seems like most insurance salesmen only want to play on your emotions.

When money is tight, you certainly don’t want to overspend on coverage that you don’t need, but you need be protected from major catastrophe. The best approach is to do your research ahead of time and be aware of the state of your family’s finances before you get a sales pitch.

It is important to remember that it’s not the insurance agency’s role to make sure you’re getting the best deal on insurance. It is up to you to be your own advocate and to get the best rate. Insurance isn’t something you can put on the back burner and just pay each month.

To get the best rates, you must continuously (at least once a year) revisit your insurance policies and do some comparison shopping. Plans and offers are constantly changing to meet the needs of the market. Rates can fluctuate as your family’s needs and situation change as well. Adding another driver, building on an addition to your home, changing your security system, or bringing a new member of your family into the world can all raise insurance questions and call for a little guidance.

There are seven types of insurance that you NEED: Homeowners/Renters, Auto, Health, Disability, Long-Term Care, Identity Theft, and Life.

Other insurances you should consider is also boat, farm and travel.

resizedimage600583-Home-Insurance-Icons

Home

If you’re paying a mortgage, the lender requires homeowner’s coverage, but even if you’re lucky enough to own your home outright, you want to be sure that you’re protected.

For renters, insurance protects your possessions in case of fire, theft and, in some cases, flood. Renters insurance is often thought of as optional, but as a parent, you must cover yourself in case of tragedy. Renters insurance is often really quite inexpensive (less than $20/month!) and it’s very important if you have big-ticket items that might be difficult to replace, such as audio equipment, collectables, exercise gear, televisions and appliances. Take inventory of your household and make a list of those larger items that could be damaged or stolen, and would result in major financial hardship if you’d have to replace them.

There are several ways to save on homeowner and renter’s insurance. You can raise your deductible, combine policies and do some home improvements and emergency preparations to raise the protection level on your home. Improvements to home security can also help you save, as can new windows, doors, and extreme weather protection.

Auto

 When we think insurance, auto insurance is often the first thing that comes to mind. Driving is possibly the highest risk activity that any of us do almost every day, and we all know the importance of having liability coverage. In many states, it’s now illegal to operate a vehicle without liability insurance or proof of financial responsibility.

In our litigious society, unfortunately, coverage is mandatory to protect yourself from financial ruin in case of an accident or driving mistake. One moment can change your life and the life of another driver forever. Trust me, your mind will be at ease when you know you’re protected.

When it comes to auto insurance, the value of your vehicle is important when you’re determining the amount of coverage and type of insurance you need. If your car is in its twilight years, you may feel comfortable with less coverage or just liability. If you have a newer car (or if you’re paying off a car loan), you need to have full coverage to keep your investment safe.

There are several other ways to save on car insurance. Shop around, compare rates, and don’t become too loyal to just one agency or provider. There are good driver discounts, multiple car discounts, and even good grade programs for driving teens and students. Installing safety upgrades or attending defensive driving courses can also help lower your monthly payments and save you when it comes to paying for coverage.

family health insurance coverage

Health

Health insurance is so important. As parents, we know we must take children to the doctor for regular checkups. We also know that serious health issues can come out of nowhere, and without coverage they can leave households financially devastated. For the many of us just surviving in todays middleclass, we make enough to pay all our bills, not enough for the extras, and too much for any assistance such as government plan health insurance such as Medicaid, family health plus and their attached HMO plans.

Many employers offer health insurance at a cost which also requires deductibles and co-pays, but if yours does not, or if you’re independently employed, private insurance providers are available. Under the Affordable Care Act, you may qualify for low-cost coverage based on your income. Keep in mind though, low-cost means anywhere from $200-$400 per person a month with deductibles and co-pays which is low cost for health insurance.

Consider a Health Savings Account and/or a high deductible plan to save the most. An HSA can save families thousands of tax-free dollars every year, which you can use toward your deductible, so your monthly premium will be lower. You can use your HSA for prescriptions, and depending on the plan, eye exams and preventative care.

Disability

Disability insurance should cover 65% of your income, and most employers offer disability coverage. It’s often something that’s overlooked, but one in seven workers will face a disability before retirement.

You should be sure your disability insurance is long-term. My personal opinion is that you should have 3–6 months of expenses saved up, which would cover your needs in the case of a short-term or minor disability. It’s the long-term scenarios that you should plan for. Most disabilities (90%) are not covered by worker’s comp or social security.

The effects of a disability can financially ruin a family if you’re not properly prepared. Many workers facing disabilities can be out of work for three years or more. Consider what would happen to your family should they face an unforeseen accident or tragedy that leaves you unable to work.

Long-Term Care

As a parent, long-term care is not necessarily something that’s on any of our minds, but it’s a necessity for anyone over age 60. If your parents cannot afford long-term care insurance, this may be something you want to consider.

Consider the scenario of a parent who is facing a condition like dementia, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, and requires long-term care. This situation can quickly eat up your parents’ retirement savings and even dip into your own savings and accounts. Those who qualify for Medicaid will receive some assistance, but it often leaves patients with limited options and plans for complete care.

As you near your 60s, long-term care should be on your horizon and part of your post-retirement financial plan. It’s a way to make sure you don’t financially burden your children or spouse and ensures you won’t leave them unable to make ends meet.

Identity Theft

If you’ve never faced the horror in dealing with having your identity stolen, then consider yourself very lucky. With data breaches on the rise among major retailers, it seems like everyone is at risk. Identity theft can cost you big-time in terms of time, money, effort, and just general headaches. In a worst-case scenario, identity theft can damage your credit and make recovery very difficult—even if you’re an innocent victim.

Part of your insurance portfolio should include identity theft protection. You should be sure it includes an identity restoration service that can fix the damage and get your identity restored and safe once again. Teaching your family good identity-safety habits such as limiting your exposure online and protecting your passwords can help protect you as well, but should the worst happen, insurance will be a lifesaver.

Long Island Insurance Company

Life

Life insurance can be a little confusing. The general rule of thumb is you need term, not whole life. Cash value insurance can sound like a great way to invest and save money, but truth be told, it doesn’t offer high returns at all and generally is a poor performing product.

Term life insurance, on the other hand, is a way to cover yourself until you’re debt free and in a position to invest. It offers a way to help your spouse or children settle your estate and survive in relative comfort should something happen to you.

Term life insurance can help you cover burial costs and the costs of paying off your debt, plus further support of your family, particularly if you’re the sole breadwinner.

Facing uncertain scenarios in life is always unsettling, but having the proper insurance coverage can ease your mind and allow you to sleep a little easier at night. Look into the faces of your children and think of all the ways you would love to keep them safe. Insurance is one of the most simple, practical, and logical ways to protect your loved ones. 

Choosing A Tie

 

If you take a step back, the whole idea of neckties seems pretty silly. It’s a piece of cloth that men tie around their necks.  It doesn’t seem to have any rhyme or reason, and men sometimes use this pretense to avoid wearing one.

Men in ancient times, from Rome to China to Egypt, couldn’t resist tying a piece of cloth around their necks. And it was the cravats worn by the Croatian mercenaries of the 30 Years War that really transformed the tie into a popular and widespread accessory. So while we may never be able to know the reason why, it’s indisputable that men have always felt a little manlier with something slung around their throat. There’s just something about neckties that make a man look powerful, assertive, and put together.

There is definitely an art to creating and picking out a proper necktie. A necktie can say a lot about you and convey your personality to others. When picking out a tie, consider the following factors to ensure you make a good purchase.

This guide is based upon personal preference, but may be used as your personal reference. For the larger man, I understand that finding a tie may be a difficult task, but if in need of one, visit the Long Tie Shop.

  •  A Tie Is the First Thing People Notice
    “Nice tie!” That’s always what people say. Their eyes can’t help but go there. So while you do want a tie that looks great all on its own, remember, it shouldn’t be a novelty piece. It’s meant to speak to the rest of your outfit, not stand apart from or clash with it.
  • Length Matters
    Whether you’re six feet four or five feet six, the tip of the tie should hit right at your beltline— not three inches below it, not two inches above it. That is, unless you’re doing the whole short-suit thing. And then, yes, let the tie hang tight above the navel.
  • And So Does Width

As many woman do, I prefer a skinny tie over a wide one. I buy my husband ties that are about two and a quarter to two and three-quarter inches at its widest point. Much wider than that and you start to look like a congressman. This thinner width works both at the office and on the town, syncing up with any modern-cut suit.

  • Keep It Solid
    I love a vibrantly striped repp tie or a boldly patterned club tie. But you’re not going to see much in the way of dizzying paisleys or loud wallpaper prints. I’m not into ties as conversation pieces. A tie should anchor an outfit, reaching for solid or subtly patterned ties. They ground a busy shirt like a plaid or a gingham, and they stand strong against a crisp white or pale pink. They’re fail-safe

  • The Essential Can’t-Go-Wrong Tie Wardrobe
    I’m not saying you shouldn’t own more than five ties, but if you owned only these, you’d be set for every outfit and every occasion.

See photo above: From left to right:

Wool
In the middle of winter, you’ll want a tie to pair with your heavier-weight suits.

Solid Black
For formalwear occasions, for a gray suit with a white shirt, or for a leather or jean jacket. Exceptionally versatile.

Pin-Dot
Like a polka-dot, but much smarter and more subtle.

Club
Any tie with a repeating logo. Once just for the Ivy League set, now for anyone with serious style.

Repp
Still a Capitol Hill staple, but now cut skinny for the cool kids, too.

  • Get All Accu-Weathery and Match Your Tie to the Seasons
    You should think of your tie as a way to fit in with the seasons, like wearing white jeans in the summer. So if you’re sporting a khaki or seersucker suit, pair it with a cotton tie. And come fall, if you’re wearing tweed or flannel, reach for a woolly tie. Tiemakers these days are offering a ton of options on both sides of the seasonal spectrum. These ties provide instant personality without feeling gimmicky.
  • The Cheat Sheet:
    Slim down. If you want a modern look, go for a tie that’s about two and a half inches wide.
  • The tip of your tie should reach exactly to your beltline.

• The four-in-hand is the only tie knot you need to know. It goes with every shirt and suit.

• If patterns and colors confuse you, don’t sweat it. A solid dark tie with a white or light-color shirt is a can’t-miss combo.

• Buy a slim black silk knit tie and wear it with everything you own.

• Match your ties to your suiting fabrics— cotton ties with cotton suits in summer, wool ties with wool suits in winter.

• It’s official: Bow ties are back, whether you want to wear one with your tux or with your cardigan. Buy one and learn to tie it.

How To Pick Out A Tie

Samantha Jonas-Rongo

Clinton V. Romney?

Clinton V. Romney?

Samantha Jonas-Rongo

republican-democrat-battle

In 2015’s polling world, Hillary wins the race with 49 percent support out of the candidates running, compared to 34 percent for Bush and 35 percent for Romney.

Clinton advisers have said they would actually prefer a Clinton-Romney race, viewing him as the “weaker” Republican candidate in the set.

Clinton vs Romney

A recent poll suggests that former presidential contender Mitt Romney would win the Republican nomination for the 2016 presidential election, amid rumors he is considering a third run. However, the poll also suggests that Hillary Clinton, regardless of which Republican candidate runs against her — Romney, former Gov. Jeb Bush, or Sen. Paul Rand — would sweep the final election.

Commentators and pollsters waiver on the ultimate victor though, given that Election Day is still almost two years away. Though, Romney’s and Clinton’s weaknesses and gaffes have been very publicly vetted throughout past years, the emergence of new hiccups and the resurgence of old ones is inevitable during election season. Politics can be cruel!

When it comes to key demographics, Clinton might again have the edge. Younger, minority and women voters have typically voted Democrat, making the difference for Obama in both prior elections. However, this demographic largely stayed home during the recent midterm elections, making it difficult to gauge their specific impact on the 2016 race. Still, polls indicate that both minority and the youth vote are far more likely to show up for the more prominent, salient White House race, motivated by big social issues and policies.

Clinton has also snagged key 2008-2012 Obama campaign team members, which some pundits and commentators say could help her team successfully replicate the 2012 win. For some political analysts, this choice might be a hindrance to the Clinton coalition, depending on how she wants to portray her relationship with the Obama administration to both voters and the media.

Formal portrait of Hillary Rodham Clinton with flag, 2009Most significantly, Clinton’s chance to become the first female president has the potential to bring voters to a historic election that they otherwise wouldn’t participate in.

Regardless of individual biases, historical trends can be an obstacle. Clinton’s political party is the same one that currently rules the White House. There have only been a few times (most recently, George H. W. Bush’s 1988 win following Ronald Reagan’s presidency) when a candidate sharing the same party as the outgoing two-termed president was able to get elected. Most commonly this trend prevails because voters are disappointed with the turnout of how the incumbents second term has gone. Although, Obama’s approval ratings have increased over the past couple of months, his disapproval rating is still high at 48 percent. How Obama ends his presidency, could either help or hinder Clinton’s 2016 aspirations.

Regardless of the impression voters have of Romney, his public image has improved since 2012. His advisers have attempted to “humanize” him, with members of his family opening their lives up to the media. The Netflix documentary “Mitt” was a substantial part of this re-imaging campaign, making him more relatable to the public. These intimate portraits have given Americans access to Romney as a person, not just a businessman, governor and Olympic savior.

Former Massachusetts Governor and 2012 Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney speaking at CPAC, March 15, 2013.

On the policy front, some of Romney’s more criticized points have proven prescient. His 2012 foresight of the rise of Russia as a geopolitical threat and the difficult implementation of Obama Care have been borne out with time.

Regardless of Romney’s image revitalization or intuition on certain issues, there still loom substantial stereotypes and obstacles in his potential path to 2016.

For example, during Romney’s 2012 presidential run, Democratic commentators consistently portrayed him as out of touch with the American electorate. From his off-base estimate of average middle class incomes (he said $200,000-$250,000), to his infamous dismissal of the “47 percent of Americans who are dependent upon government … who believe that they are victims,” are reminders of his perceived elitism that are just a click away.

Samantha Jonas-Rongo

Why A Case and Screen Protector Are Not Enough

Why A Case and Screen Protector Are Not Enough

Samantha Jonas-Rongo

Protecting the data icon Royalty Free Stock PhotoNo matter if it’s a new Microsoft Surface Pro, Windows laptop, traditional desktop computer or the latest IPhone, your device needs to have protection. More than often, we are more focused on protecting the outside of our device by plastering screen protectors and spending more than enough money for a single case. We tend to ignore what really matters which is it’s processing and the protection of our personal data.

We live in a time of age where there’s almost an APP for everything, but what you’re really installing can be something vicious. In 2014 alone, there have been millions of hacks and viruses floating through the air waves. There are a few steps in which you need to do in order to have protection of not just the operation of your device, but your personal information.

It is important to update your antimalware program for one. The last thing you want to do is infect your computer with malware. Don’t know what malware is?

“Malware” is a broad term that covers a host of malicious software. It is, but not limited to viruses, spyware, worms, adware, cookies and Trojans. At its simplest, malware is software that’s been designed to harm networks and range from an act of simple annoyance, network crashes, to identity theft. People often use the term “virus” to mean “malware”, because viruses were really the first kind of malware. Once downloaded, certain malware allows cyber criminals to attempt, and gain access of your personal information by scanning, and monitoring your device’s activities, and log your key strokes to access passwords, etc.

Any device can even be controlled to visit random websites or perform other actions such as running the camera of your device and even record without the owner’s knowledge. Scary!

Another suggestion to save your device from further destruction is to not only have antimalware, but also an antivirus and keep the program updated. An antimalware which consist of protection for specific malware, may not locate all of the viruses that are in motion since viruses are only one section under the large malware umbrella.

Due to there being over 74,000 new viruses every year, good antivirus companies continuously update their software throughout the year, but need permission from the user to do so on their device. It is very important not to ignore or decline the software to update, because it gives you the up-to-date protection as the threats are being created. Adobe Flash, Java, Microsoft Windows and your internet browser are often updated and will send notification when there is an update available.

However, it is best to set them to update automatically. In case you receive a pop up requesting for you to update something you are unfamiliar of, contact your IT and ask what is being updated and its purpose, because it could cause potential harm if in case it is malware.

Sometimes the “free” antiviruses are actually a source of viruses and/or other malware. They can be concealing themselves as a professional free service so there is a higher possibility for them to be downloaded. It is best to purchase known antivirus software from their legitimate retail sources. Normally when you register, you have protection for a year and have to renew your subscription, but it is well worth it to have up-to-date protection at all times. Due to the annual cost, majority of companies will offer their members discounts when renewing subscriptions.

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Another precaution is not opening email attachments or downloaded files without first scanning them with your antivirus/malware programs. Email is the majority way that viruses are delivered to devices. The emails are normally called spam which is why it is important to have your spam protection on.

firewall protection for your networkIf you use a computer or any other device at home on your home network, the most effective and important first step you can take to help protect your computer is to enable a firewall. When in an office or home setting, the firewall, which is the first line of defense, scans all traffic before it allows the traffic through the network. If you have more than one computer or device connected at home, or if you have a small-office network, it is important to protect every computer and device.

You should have a hardware firewall (such as a router) to protect your network, but you should also use a software firewall on each computer and device to help prevent the spread of a virus in your network if one of the devices becomes infected.

Your Router's Role

When in a “shared network”, remember that the keyword is “share”, so therefore your information is vulnerable to those on the same network such as an open Wi-Fi or public hotspot. It’s upsetting to know that someone sitting nearby in a public area drinking coffee, eating a fast food burger, or studying at the campus library, who is connected to its open network, could be stealing valuable information right in front of you.

Not only do you have to protect your devices while using other networks, but also protecting your network from others it. It is nice to share, but share your network with only those you trust. When you have internet and Wi-Fi at home or, as a hotspot, lock it and only give the key to those you trust to use it. With an open network, anyone within the area can use up your available data usage through your internet provider, and/or infect your devices with malware to later infect and maybe gain access of your personal information.

If in fact your device’s hard drive crashes, it can be a big loss to lose important data, photos, etc. There are easy solutions to back up your system and while some may cost, it is well worth it. Depending on the network’s provider, you may be offered a certain amount of free storage, but depending on how much data you need to store, will differentiate the cost.

So the next time you purchase that new stylish case, accessorize for convenience or to express fashion,  think about how you can protect your device’s productivity and personal information.

Samantha Jonas-Rongo

Xiaomi Growth

A New Beginning

Samantha Jonas-Rongo

They are targeting these markets with large populations, weak telecom carriers and a developed e-commerce infrastructure. Those countries all have large populations that have not yet bought their first smartphone…..Samantha Jonas-Rongo

There are already a lot of speculations regarding the upcoming iPhone 7. However, Apple is still hoping to sell a few millions of iPhone 6 units until they will release their next iPhone. However, the analysts are already gathering information about the upcoming iPhone that will be released in 2015. While we continue battling the war of Samsung V. Apple, that battle is old news in China.

Beyond our iPhone and Samsung frenzies, a new company may be making its way towards us in the United States soon. Not only is Xiaomi a new techno trend, it is making its way as the next global phenomena in the smart phone world. They are focused on not only having a successful business venture, they are working towards making their mark and cementing their place as one of the most powerful phone makers in the world.

Founded in 2010, founders Lei Jun, and former Google executive, Lin Bin began their success story as a start-up to sell smart phones at cheaper prices online. They were essentially late in the game with their first hand set being released around the same time the iPhone 4S was brought to stores.

After an intelligent social media strategy and successful launch, Xiaomi became well popular amongst the young and trendy Chinese population. In 2015, an estimated 500 million smartphones will be sold in China. According to the Research Firm IDC, that total is more than three times as many as those sold in the United States. Even though they aren’t as well-known as its largest western rivals, Xiaomi still successfully reached sales of 12.5 billion in the first 6 months of 2014.

Xiaomi’s international sales have already begun, but next year will reflect whether Xiaomi can continue to rise beyond China. Being that they do not have much of a patent portfolio, they are vulnerable to lawsuits from their competitors.

To recreate their Chinese success, Mr. Lei and Mr. Lin are looking to use e-commerce networks to sell cheap, high-quality phones to markets like the United States and Europe, and developing countries such as Brazil and India. They are targeting these markets with large populations, weak telecom carriers and a developed e-commerce infrastructure. Those countries all have large populations that have not yet bought their first smartphone. Based upon Xiaomi being these countries first telephone providers, they have an extreme chance at global success in the smart phone race.

Mr. Lin made a point that the developed countries with strict controlled carrier networks are not in his top five selected locations to do business. He has placed China as his potential number one clientage, India two, Indonesia 3, then hopefully follow with both Brazil and Russia.

Besides the money made on phone sales, Xiaomi plans to increase its profitability by selling services like entertainment and apps. Business has also increased for Xiaomi after it introduced products such as a smart television, fitness band and tablet.

Samantha Jonas-Rongo