Make fall foolproof — Save money by tackling winter house maintenance now

winter home maintenance

As we bask in the lazy days of August, there are subtle reminders that the change of seasons is around the corner – from the school supplies clogging the shelves of big box stores to that one tree whose leaves are reddening prematurely.

Before the first pumpkin spice latte hits the neighborhood coffee shop, take a weekend afternoon to knock out these cold weather household chores while it’s still nice out. You’ll save time – and money – when fall rolls around.

Clean your gutters

Yes, they will likely soon fill up with fall leaves, but now’s the time to remove any debris that may have built up over the past season. Clogged gutters can cause long-lasting, expensive issues around your property – water spilling over can damage your foundation, and heavy gutters can sag and break.

Inspect your roof

Even if you don’t want to climb up on your roof (and if you do, be very careful, as falls are a leading cause of disability), now is the time to do a visual check before the roof becomes hidden by leaves or snow. Use binoculars to get a closer look and note any missing, damage or slipped shingles that should be further investigated by a roofing professional before the rain and wind arrive.

Check your trees

Loose limbs can become hazardous in storms; they can knock out windows – or people passing underneath them, in the worst-case scenario. Cut back branches that are listing or that are too close to power lines or the roof.

Tidy up your landscaping

You might still be enjoying your summer flowers and by all means, continue to. But while you’re in your garden, pull weeds and rake up needles and leaves before the chore gets bigger in the fall.

Organize your garage

Late summer is the perfect time to try out those bikes and see if they are still the right size, or determine that no one is ever going to play ladder ball. It’s much easier to make a decision on what to get rid of when you know for a fact that no one has touched it all season. And there’s still time to hold a garage sale and make a little back-to-school cash.

Have your heating system checked

Need to service your furnace or heat pump? Now’s the time…before everyone else realizes they need to, too. Ditto your fireplace and chimney. You’re guaranteed to get faster – and probably cheaper – service from a repair person who’s not being pulled in a dozen different directions as other homeowners realize their heating element isn’t working up to par.

Get your back-to-school system in place

The night before school starts is not the time to remember that you never cleaned out last year’s backpack. Before the stress of September rolls around, take the time to fill out the paperwork that came in the mail earlier in the summer, sign up for music lessons, create a paper filing system – all those organizational chores that will make your fall less harried.

Coordinate your emergency supplies

What better time to establish your emergency kit than as you’re stowing your camping gear from summer getaways? Rather than relegating it to the attic or a hidden shelf, make an organized plan to have it ready should you need it if the power goes out or there is another weather emergency. Change the batteries in your flashlights and lanterns; wash and store the sleeping bags; replenish the waterproof matches and first aid supplies. While you’re at it, add a stash of non-perishable foods and an extra deck of cards – just in case.

Hang your holiday lights

Seriously…your future self will thank you – the one that’s not standing on a ladder as the wind gusts and the rain pelts. Of course you don’t have to turn them on – in fact, please don’t – but it’s nice to know they are ready and waiting for when the holiday spirit strikes.

And now that your house is ready for fall, enjoy that warm summer evening in your newly prepped yard. You deserve it!

 




Yes, you can make remote workers feel like part of the office – Here’s how

Remote work has exploded over the past decade: The “State of the Remote Job Marketplace” report from FlexJobs finds that roughly 43 percent of U.S. workers performed their roles away from the office at least occasionally in 2017, up from fewer than 10 percent in 2007.

The reasons employees prefer remote work are many, from avoiding a brutal commute to working more comfortably if you have a disability. And even though remote workers are typically highly effective, it can still take a toll on both parties in terms of collaboration.

That’s why companies that commit to making offsite workers feel engaged will reap the benefits in both production and retention. Here are four ways to accomplish it.

  1. Create your own version of “face time.”

Sure “FaceTime” can never really replace real face time, but managers should focus on creating ways employees can seek feedback, whether they are looking for instruction on a project or coaching.

Setting up a weekly or monthly phone or video call is one way to generate regular communication, but it’s wise to offer additional options, such as “office hours” a couple of times a week when managers make it clear they are available for questions. Managers may let their virtual team know that they’ll be available from, say, noon to 1 p.m. three days a week, alerting them that’s a good time to call, text or send a Slack message for immediate feedback.

  1. Make conference calls more inclusive.

If you’ve ever been the sole caller amid a conference room full of team members, you know how isolating that can feel. That’s why managers need to be careful to prevent the offsite worker from feeling like a side note.

First, make sure your tech is up to par so that the sound is clear, and there’s as little lag time as possible. Then set up ground rules where people in the conference room introduce themselves before speaking – unless it’s a small team where there’s no room for confusion. Be fanatical about curtailing side conversations that can happen when colleagues gather together so that the person on the phone doesn’t feel left out.

One genius way to avoid all the meeting miscommunication is to have everyone call in on their own separate line. Often the rhetoric is clearer when you’re not gathered around a squawky speakerphone, and the remote workers won’t feel as though they’re missing out by not being there at the table.

Finally, if you’re working in different time zones, try to find a mutually agreeable time, or at least rotate the calls so that the remote worker isn’t constantly forced to call in during the wee hours of the morning or dinner time.

  1. Build team camaraderie.

Yes, there are times that the team is all going to go to happy hour to celebrate a promotion or have a birthday lunch. But there are ways you can include your offsite employees, too, with a little creativity. For example, you could have the account win celebration in a conference room equipped with video chat. For extra points, surprise a remote employee by sending them their own birthday cake on their special day or have lunch delivered to their home so you can all “eat together.”

Make sure their role in team success is always acknowledged, whether through a company-wide email or newsletter or an announcement at a town hall that’s broadcast to them, too.

In addition, consider whether there are times that you could include them in person. For example, if they live reasonably close, consult their calendar first and schedule the celebratory lunch with ample lead time so they can plan to attend. If they are farther way, consider the value to be had by bringing them in a couple of times a year for team meetings or other events so they can enjoy the in-person dynamic that contributes to success.

  1. Keep the lines of communication open.

Above all, make it clear that remote employees can have your ear just as readily as the onsite team members can. While you don’t have to be constantly “on call,” it’s a good idea to respond to emails or texts as soon as is feasible so your employee doesn’t feel as though they are being ignored because they are not down the hall.

For many teams, a chat app like Slack can take the place of casual in-person conversations. Everyone will feel more cohesive if they are able to trade banter, along with project logistics, via an informal channel.




7 Ways To Save on Commuting Costs – One Will Work For You

The thought of having to pay just to go to work can be annoying, but most of us do. In fact one 2015 survey found that the average American spends $2,600 on their commute.

Certainly all those gas costs, parking fees and tolls can take their toll. If you’re looking to reduce your outlay, check out these seven ways to help reduce your commuting costs.

  1. Figure out the optimum time to commute.

Sometimes we can’t just waltz into work whenever we want, or we might have a daycare schedule to work around, but if you do have a modicum of flexibility, you might be surprised at the difference in your commute that even 30 minutes or so can make. And less time on the road translates into burning less fuel – not to mention patience.

Given the amount of flexibility your personal schedule allows, test the waters by going in at different times or use an app like Waze to scope out various commute times to see what’s best. You might see a significant difference by leaving your house earlier – and many downtown garages even offer you a better rate if you park before a certain time. Use the extra time to get work done in a quiet office or even just grab a relaxing breakfast and catch up on some reading. You also might find that evening commutes dissipate around 6:30 or so; you could use that time to hit your office’s fitness center or run some errands.

  1. Optimize your route.

And speaking of traffic apps, never leave home without one working for you. Even if you are convinced that a certain route is fastest, anything can happen to cause an unexpected traffic jam on a given day. Best to know what streets to avoid before you’re stuck in the crawl.

  1. Take public transportation.

Seems obvious, right? But you might not have realized that in many cities, public options have improved from just the slow city bus. Many areas have spent big bucks on light rail or other choices that can get you where you’re going even faster and more comfortably. And if you’re in one of the many urban areas that offer scooters for public rent, you can cover that “last mile” even quicker.

  1. Check into any benefits for commuting reimbursement.

Many times your onboarding process might have been so hectic that you didn’t take the time to fully understand all the benefits available to you. According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2018 Employee Benefits study, about 13 percent of companies offer a transit subsidy and 12 percent offer a parking subsidy so make sure you’re not inadvertently forgoing it.

  1. Get the best price on gas.

With gas prices on the rise, you want to get the best value you can. Some stations seems to adjust depending on the day of the week, so watch your pump to see if there’s any pattern and fill up when it’s cheapest. Also consider using an app like GasBuddy that crowdsources gas prices so you can make sure you’re getting the best deal around you.




Tackling the summer slide: Promote employee productivity with a twist

The lazy days of late summer are great…unless it’s your employees who are feeling a little bit too much summer fever. Because even though it’s the time of year when we want to hit the pool, the beach or the park, the work still has to get done.

However, employees have become more emphatic about “work/life” balance, and offering appealing policies can help fuel retention, an issue on the minds of almost every HR professional these days. That’s why it’s important to do what you can to promote employee-friendly offerings, while not turning the place into a free-for-all.

Here are six ways that companies can help their employees feel like they’re getting a little taste of summer while still getting the work done.

  1. Take meetings outside.

Remember when you were in school, and your teacher let the class take their reading circle to the playground on a sunny day? Heaven! Outside is the only place employees want to be, enjoying a little breath of fresh air. And it might even help them work better: According to the L.L.Bean 2018 Work and the Outdoors Survey, 86 percent of indoor workers would like to spend more time outside during the workday, with nearly three-quarters saying it would improve their mood and lower their stress levels. So see if you can indulge the team by heading out for a meeting in a nearby park or even in a green corner of the parking lot.

  1. Relax the dress code.

There’s something about capris and sandals that make you feel like you’re on vacation even if you’re working. If it’s appropriate for your workplace, consider loosening your dress code, even if it’s only on Fridays.

Make sure to put sensible limitations on the rules, such as no tank tops or athletic wear, or other specifics that are important for your particular office. If needed, remind employees that the relaxed dress code only applies to them when they are not meeting with clients or any other role restrictions you deem necessary – and recommend they keep a back-up outfit in the office in case they need to slip into something more professional for an unexpected meeting.

  1. Offer flexibility when it makes sense.

This can be tricky because not every workplace or department can accommodate flex hours equally. After all, phones still have to be answered, and client needs still must be met. But if there is an opportunity for team members to come in earlier a couple days a week – and thus leave earlier– make that an option.

“Summer Fridays,” where the office closes at noon, have become more common and probably won’t surprise clients. Or, if the phone or floor absolutely must be manned, see if you can at least rotate among the departments so there is still coverage. Of course, you have to emphasize that flexible hours don’t mean the work doesn’t get done – it just means staff has some choice of whenit gets done.

  1. Plan something fun.

Of course everyone has a different definition of “fun,” so take your culture and employees’ personalities into account before you plan an outing or event. Here are some great ideas for activities that are liable to please everyone, no matter their age, interests or abilities.

  1. Surprise them with a treat.

Same as the teacher taking the class outside, nothing says summer and “playing hooky” like the ice cream truck. So some Wednesday afternoon when it’s business as usual, surprise the office with a box of popsicles or ice cream sandwiches – or iced lattes if that’s more your team’s vibe. An unexpected treat can go a surprisingly long way in engendering employee’s goodwill and loyalty.

  1. Ask your team what they want.

And finally, if you’re out of ideas for helping employees enjoy these last few weeks of summer, find out what would make them happy. They might appreciate leaving an hour early to head out on a bike ride with their kids or coming in an hour late so they can enjoy a morning kayak session or an extra-long lunch break to soak up some rays at the park.

The bonus is that by surveying your employees, you’ll have some great intel to use when planning summer 2019.




Summer-proofing Your Exercise Routine: Six Tips for Fun and Safety

The heat is on – and that can make exercise challenging. However, there’s no reason to put your exercise habit on hold just because of the heat. It is important, however, to take some precautions to keep it pleasurable – and safe. Check out our suggestions to feel the burn, but not get burned.

 

Realize that exercising in the heat can be dangerous.

First, never downplay the risks of exercising in the heat – potential side effects include heat exhaustion and heat stroke if you aren’t careful.

 

Stay hydrated.

This is the No. 1 way to stave off the dangers mentioned in the first point. Hydration is important for sweat, which we sometimes consider a bad thing, but it’s actually the body’s natural mechanism for cooling off. That’s why you should drink plenty of water before and during your workout and then drink up throughout the day. You also can up your water intake with foods like watermelon and cucumber that have a high water content – and are refreshing, to boot.

One way to determine if you are drinking enough when exercising in the summer is to weigh yourself before and after a workout. Experts recommenddrinking 150% of the water weight you lost during the workout over the next few hours to replenish.

 

Check the forecast.

Before you head out, check the temperature to make sure it’s not too hot, but also look into the air quality. Sometimes when it’s hot, the air quality can deteriorate, which can lead to headaches or lung and breathing problems. Your town might have its own updated site, or check out AirNow, a service of the Environmental Protection Agency.

And don’t forget your sunscreenif you’re exercising outdoors.

 

Time your workouts carefully.

If you’ve never been a morning person, there’s nothing like a hot summer day to turn you into one. Many exercisers find that mornings are ideal to exercise, for the cooler temps of course, but also the pleasant byproduct of a gorgeous sunrise. And of course, if you take care of exercise first thing in the morning, you won’t be tempted to slough it off as your day gets busy.

On the flip side, some people prefer an evening workout. Just make sure you are exercising with a buddy someplace well-lighted and safe, if your session keeps you out in the dark.

And whether you’re enjoying the cool mornings or evenings, make sure you are wearing reflective clothing for safety if you are anywhere near cars.

 

Take it to the water.

Summer is the ideal time to take the plunge into learning a new water sport. Whether you want to try your hand at stand-up paddle boardingfor a core workout, kayaking for an upper body session or water skiing for an all-over burner, a new sport can keep your workout fresh – and is liable to work muscles you didn’t even know you had.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a good old pool workout if you have access. Swimming laps is a relaxing, low-impact cardio workout, and you can up the burn by doing any exercises you would do on land in the water for extra resistance, from running to arm circles.

 

Take it inside.

If you belong to a gym, summer is the perfect time to take that bike ride to a stationary peddler or your run to a treadmill. You might even learn something about your effort and stride when you pay attention to the machine’s feedback. Working with a machine also allows you to control the intensity of your workout, so throw in some hills or intervals that you might not normally encounter.

It’s also a great time to try a new class. Check out your gym’s offerings and give Zumba or spin a whirl, if you’ve never tried it. Shaking up your routine is not only more interesting, but can yield a huge fitness boost.

If you don’t belong to a gym, try the same tactic with an exercise program or DVD. Try a new workout you find online or on your cable package, or download a fitness regime that you can do on your own. Many boot camp style workouts require nothing more than your own body weight, and maybe a mat and some light weights so you can bust out those moves anytime, anywhere.

 

No matter what strategies you want to try, the important thing to remember is that it’s important to maintain your fitness program even during the lazy days of summer. Your body will thank you for it, through increased physical and mental fitness.




Seven Ways to Keep Your Vacation Glow Strong

Have you recently returned from vacation, basking in the radiance that comes from relaxing in a tropical destination or enjoying new adventures with family and friends? Of course we know that vacations are fun, but they’re also good for us: In fact, a study from Expedia finds a host of benefits, with an overwhelming 96 percent of respondents saying they returned happier, 94 percent less stressed and 93 percent feeling better rested. Sixty percent even said they had a better attitude at work.

 

Unfortunately another study from the American Psychological Association found that those benefits might linger about as long as your tan…with 40 percent lamenting that vacation benefits only lasted a few days.

But you cansavor the positive effects of vacation. Here are seven ways to help prolong the vacation glow.

 

  1. Keep the evidence handy.

 

Often all it takes is a photo or memory to take us right back to the good times. So change the wallpaper on your computer to a montage of photo memories or re-create your password to be something that reminds you of your destination.

 

  1. Bring back a special souvenir.

 

Going someplace new can unlock a creative side of us or get us out of our comfort zone – new mindsets that can offer lasting benefits. The trick is to remember those wonderful feelings when you get back to the “grind,” so try to think of something you can bring home as a reminder. A special souvenir or nature-related memento such as seashells or rocks from a hiking path can be a talisman to refresh you to that carefree feeling of jumping in the waves or pride in conquering a difficult mountain hike.

 

  1. Transport the culture home.

 

And sometimes what makes a trip special isn’t an item itself but the overall vibe of the location. If you enjoyed a trip to Mexico, play some salsa music that reminds you of a fiesta you attended. Or if native cuisines held an important role in your trip, do an online search to find a recipe for the amazing Greek moussaka you had or a cocktail that you enjoyed al fresco every evening.

 

  1. Tie up loose ends before you go.

 

Coming home to a messy house or a bunch of work fires is a surefire way to completely forget all those wonderful, stress-free moments you just had. While you can’t control everything that happens while you’re gone, you can try to keep disruption to a minimum. That means taking out the kitchen trash so you don’t come back to a stinky house; adding an out-of-office message that hopefully refers callers to someone else so your email and voicemail don’t fill up; and maybe even pre-ordering groceries so your fridge is stocked with healthy fare as soon as you return.

 

  1. Ease back into it.

 

If you can, try to come home on a Friday night so you have the weekend to get your laundry done and your email cleaned out. Or at least try to put a “buffer” day on your out-of-office message to buy yourself a little time to get back in work mode. It’s brutal to have to attend an important meeting the minute you’re back in the office.

 

  1. Pay it forward.

 

Besides a bunch of hassles related to home or work responsibilities, nothing can kill a vacation afterglow faster than a startlingly high credit card bill. You will enjoy your trip much more if you pay for the majority of it before you leave, especially big expenses like the airfare and lodging, and then bring cash to cover the rest of the expenses. (Or set aside a special budget specifically for vacation expenses so the bill can be easily paid.) After all, the only thing you want lingering from your vacation is special memories, not bills.

 

  1. Plan your next outing.

 

Often the best part of vacation is the anticipation, and it can be a letdown to come home and realize you don’t have anything notable on the horizon. Of course, you should fix that with special outings every week or so, even if it’s to a park or outdoor concert, but there’s nothing like thinking of your next vacation destination to get that feeling back. So go ahead, start researching an upcoming adventure. Having something on the calendar will make it easier to jump back into work – after all, you’ve now got a new goal to save for.




Why You Should Start Your Holiday Shopping Now

Most of us groan when stores start displaying holiday decorations before the kids have gone back to school, but they may be on to something. In fact, the smartest way to shop is to forget about “Black Friday” and start your shopping in the summer. Here are eight reasons it will have you ho-ho-hoing come the traditional holiday season.

 

  1. You will have more time to buy just the right thing.

Impulse buys can kill your budget, but there’s something about holiday stress that can make you grab the first thing you see just to cross something off the list (or when the thing you were most hoping to buy is unavailable by the time you get your shop on). When you are able to start your buying early you have plenty of time to wait for a sale that puts the item you have your eye on within reach. Just make sure to save your receipts.

 

  1. You have more time to take advantage of price adjustments.

Speaking of saving your receipt, you’ll want to watch the item you’ve purchased to make sure that you get reimbursed should a sale roll around. To make it super easy, use an app like Paribus, which will track your receipt and “watch” your item for you to let you know if a price has fallen.

 

  1. You can shop the back-to-school sales.

Don’t want to give school supplies to your loved ones? Of course you don’t. But stores roll out the red carpet during the back-to-school season with a huge number of sales on everything from clothing to electronics. Even if the item you want isn’t on sale today, starting early gives you a much more likely “head start” that it will be eventually.

 

  1. And maybe realize tax savings.

We’re talking about “Tax Free Shopping Days”which many states hold in the summer to coincide with back-to-school shopping. Any discount counts so no reason not to head out and see what you can find on that magic day.

 

  1. You can get a more realistic idea of what things cost – and budget accordingly.

Were you misled that the jeans your daughter has her eye on could be had for a good price? You might be surprised at the price tag of coveted items and starting early gives you the chance to find out how they might fit into your budget – or if they do. If you do decide to get a particularly pricey item, you can then adjust the rest of your budget to accommodate it – maybe brown bag an extra day or two a week and put the savings aside — rather than getting stuck at the last minute having to shell out for the “dream gift” that comes with a nightmare price tag.

 

  1. You can spread out the bills.

No holiday hangover when you spend a little every month instead of a lot all at once in December. Considering that the average American adds an average of just over $1,000 in holiday debt, it can make it much easier to pay those bills when you spread it out over several paychecks.

 

  1. You won’t pay any rush fees.

We’ve all been there. You think you’ve done your shopping and all of a sudden you realize that you forgot something special for Aunt Mary. And just like that, you’ve incurred an extra $15 in shipping fees. Ordering ahead means that you have all the time in the world for the package to get lost or misdelivered – and you’ll STILL have it on time.

 

  1. You have more time to rack up (and redeem) rewards.

If you are in the market for a credit card anyway (we said “if” – don’t get a card just for this reason), you can spend the next few months putting expenses on it that you would pay anyway– from filling your gas tank to paying your electric bill, provided you intend to pay them off right away and not incur any fees. You can then use the points you’ve amassed to pay for gift cards or other purchases closer to the time.

 

And when you escape the holiday season with no extra debt, you can truly say “It’s been holiday miracle.”




Five Best Practices for Onboarding New Employees

For most HR managers today, attracting and retaining employees is at the top of their list of challenges, given the current job market. So once you’ve gone through the hard work of interviewing and hiring, you want to make sure that the employee is as pleased to be working for your company as you are to have them.

And that’s where “onboarding” can come in. While most employees are eager to make a good first impression, it’s a two-way street; in other words, the first few days on the job can set the tone for those to follow and make sure that your coveted employees doesn’t defect.

The possibility is real: One survey found that a whopping one-third of employees quit within the first six months of starting a job. Here are five tips for helping your new employees start off on the right foot, increasing the chance they will stay.

  1. Begin communication even before the first day.

The interim period from when you offered the job to when they start is a key time to continue to communicate your interest. A few emails once you’ve made the offer will assure them you are delighted to have them join you – and ideally prevent them from accepting another offer since you can never be sure who else they have been talking to. You might consider introducing them to various team members or start CCing them on internal documents. Reinforce that you don’t expect them to do anything until they show up; you just want them to know that they are part of the team.

And then allay their first day jitters and the awkwardness they may feel not knowing where or when to show up. The night before they start, send them a message that gives them all the details they need for a smooth first day – from dress code norms to what time to come in to where they should park to who will be waiting to meet them and show them around.

  1. Have them complete their paperwork at home.

Most new employees start the first day sitting in a room by themselves filling out paperwork and reading about benefits. While this is crucial information, it’s smart to send these documents to them before they start. Then they can copy down their Social Security, driver’s license and other numbers in the comfort of their own home. Having their benefits information in advance also gives them ample time to carefully consider their choices. Make sure to include information on health, dental, disability, 401 (k) and any other programs you offer so they can read it at their leisure.

  1. Introduce them to a work buddy.

Being the new kid on the block means you’re often not sure where the copy machine is, how to replace the toner in the printer or how early people typically arrive for a staff meeting. New employees can be hesitant to bug colleagues with what might seem to be “silly” questions, but the sooner they understand the norms of the office, the more at ease they will feel as part of the team. Find a friendly veteran who is willing to answer these questions to help them settle in faster.

  1. Schedule an appointment with the HR team.

Once they’ve had the chance to read over all the benefits information, schedule a short meeting where they can come in and get all their questions answered. New employees might be reticent to reach out and ask details on the disability benefits or the procedure for asking for vacation days or how to get their commuting costs reimbursed. By setting aside time for them to chat with a knowledgeable representative, they will feel more comfortable availing themselves of the benefits you offer.

  1. Look at a robust onboarding program as an investment in better performance.

While training might seem to take time away from your team’s day-to-day output, remember that investing adequate time upfront to thoroughly explain your company’s procedures and answer questions is ultimately going to yield better results.

 

When you successfully onboard an employee, you’ll be sure they understand your policies and procedures and feel confident they are contributing from the start. And a confident employee is one who is going to work harder – and stick around.

 




Six Back-To-School Expenses to Start Budgeting for Now

While December is typically considered the traditional “budget-busting month,” September, with the back-to-school season, is close behind. In fact, the back-to-school shopping season is the second largest shopping event of the year, with 29 million households expected to shell out $27.6 billion in 2018, according to Deloitte. But any parent with school-aged children will tell you that the actual “back-to-school” shopping is just one part of the host of expenditures you’ll face as September rolls around.

The good news is that you still have time to budget for these expenses so you can cover them without dipping into your emergency fundor succumbing to consumer debt.

Here are six expenses to start thinking about now and tips for making them cost a bit less:

 

Back to school supplies

At some schools, school supply lists seem to grow ever longer. But, you’re in luck because most big box and office supply stores are having amazing deals on almost every type of supply.

Shopping around will yield different sales at various stores, so give your child the circulars and have them plot your supply shopping strategy. Download the stores’ apps for even more savings.

This is also the time to stock up on supplies for the rest of the year, so you’re not paying full price when your child loses the scissors or the homework folder falls apart.

 

Afterschool sports

Trying something new is a great way to build confidence, but often a new sport comes with a cost curve of both lessons and new equipment.

If your child wants a few private lessons to brush up, consider hitting up a sporty teen to do some work with them, rather than finding a pricey specialized coach.

And see about borrowing equipment or buying it at a resale store – at least until you find out their level of devotion to the sport.

 

Tutoring

Is your kid falling behind in math or having trouble with their reading? Academic issues should never be ignored, and sometimes classrooms just don’t have the capacity to offer the individualized instruction that would benefit some children.

But after-school tutoring centers can be costly. Ask around to see if there’s a retired teacher or even a smart and patient teen who could help your child brush up on some basics for less.

 

School pictures

Of course you want to see your darling grow up right before your eyes, but the packages that many schools offer can be pricey – and often the pictures end up being disappointing. Many families always buy a portrait to line their walls, which is a great idea, but don’t get lured into purchasing a large package. If you want to maintain the annual portrait tradition, order the smallest package you can.

But don’t feel obligated to buy official school photos if you don’t want them. With today’s great smartphone cameras, we can all be photographers, and the shot you take of your smiling child in your front yard might be far better than a forced studio photo.

 

Transportation

Get ready to pull out your “taxi driver” hat if you’re like most parents, constantly shuttling kids to and from afterschool activities. Sometimes your wallet can take a hit if you’re driving long distances for specific practices. Your best bet for saving time and money is to team up with parents and start a carpool.

If dropping off and picking up at multiple homes becomes onerous, have every kid meet at a specific spot so that you can pick them up all at once.

And, a pro tip for the “chauffeur:” Rather than taking one way and having someone else pick up, try to go both ways on the same day. You’ll save time and gas by not driving one way with an empty car. Instead, use the time to run an errand, do some laps around the track or catch up on your reading.

 

School fees

These can vary widely depending on your school district and its funding models. In some schools, almost everything is covered via property taxes, and in others, parents pay for everything from field trips to teacher supplies.

When the fundraising pleas come home, please give as generously as you can, even though it coincides with these other expenses. And consider joining the parent-teacher group, which typically funds events, assemblies and other important activities at school. Your child will thank you (and so will his or her hard-working teacher!)

 




The Benefits That Matter to Working Caregivers

Mother with baby and her father.Gen Xers now occupy the most leadership roles globallyBut this generation also brings a unique set of challenges to the workplace. Employees born between the early 1960s and 1980 increasingly need to look after their children as well as their aging parents. They’re known as the “sandwich generation” and according to the Pew Center for Research, account for almost half of adults in their 40s and 50s.

Caregiving is becoming a big workplace trend. The Caregiving and the Workplace: Employer Benchmarking Survey conducted by Northeast Business Group on Health (NEBGH) and AARP in 2017 indicates that 30 percent of Americans currently care for a family member—and they’re spending an average of 20 hours each week caregiving.

This combined with ever-lowering unemployment levels in the US, means that companies need to update their benefits packages to address the needs of caregivers. According to the NEBGH report, 84 percent of companies believe that during the next five years caregiving will become an increasingly important issue for their company.

Here are some benefits that are particularly valued to those caring for families: 

Paid time off

Clearly, if your company can offer paid family leave—this is a significant help, particularly during family emergencies. Deloitte recently implemented a new paid family leave program in response to these changing demographic shifts.

For the people who really need to take advantage of family leave, it can make an astounding difference in their lives,” said David Pollock whose paid leave policy at Deloitte allowed him to stay in the hospital with his wife and be by her side for her final days of stage four lung cancer. Adobe has also added this benefit, offering employees up to four weeks of paid leave to care for a sick family member.

Health and disability insurance

As you build out your benefits program, make sure you include disability insurance alongside health insurance. Also known as “paycheck insurance,” it protects an employee’s ability to earn part of their salary if they need to miss work due to illness, injury, or pregnancy.

For a caregiver who is responsible for the lives of others, it’s critical that they can continue to earn an income if they unexpectedly need to miss work for qualifying health reasons. It also means that HR teams don’t need to have that heart-breaking conversation once the employee’s paid leave or sick days run out.

Flexibility

Not all companies can afford to offer a generous benefits policy. But flexibility is a true gift for employees who may need to balance numerous conflicting schedules—whether it’s the ability to leave a little earlier to get to the hospital or to work from home remotely for a period of time. Offering flexibility with work schedules and locations is a boon for all workers. In Gallup’s most recent State of the American Workplace, 51 percent of employees said they would change jobs for one that offers them flexible work time.

On-site assistance

Some companies are opting to bring the care itself to the workplace. Patagonia offers a childcare facility on-site at its headquarters in Ventura, CA, as well as a distribution center in Reno, NV. The company fronts 25 percent of the costs with employees paying the rest unless they qualify for stipends.

Rick Ridgeway, the company’s vice president of public engagement explained at the Society for Human Resource Management’s annual conference in New Orleans, that the costs were quickly covered by the rise in employee retention and engagement. It also has made the company a magnet for new hires. “Another benefit is the higher rates of employee recruitment,” he said. “We have a lot more people applying because of these policies.”

Employee support

Don’t underestimate the power of being a caring company, and offering employee support. The NEBGH survey revealed that “caregivers generally abandon their own physical and emotional needs while caring for others”.

Offer counseling services or train up your HR teams to guide caregivers to local resources, such as geriatric assessments and elder care options. AARP outlines several excellent strategies that workplaces can fairly easily put into action, such as organizing affinity groups for caregivers, creating quiet spaces where people can take calls during the day, or simply making sure that the words “working caregivers” appear alongside words like “working parents” in company documents.

As the writer of the AARP article sums it up, “People caring for older loved ones step up every day. In order for caregivers to thrive in their jobs, they need their employers to step up, too.”