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!

 




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.




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!)

 




Six Top Home Buyer Mistakes That Can Bust Your Budget – Solved

Ready to buy a home? The time could be right. In fact, in 2017, first-time buyers made up 35 percent of all home purchases, finds the 2017 National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends study.

 

Buying a home will probably be the most expensive purchase you ever make, so it’s wise to make sure you’re making financially savvy moves.

 

Here are six common budget-busting mistakes first-time home buyers make and how to fix them.

 

Home Buyer Budget-Busting Mistake 1: Buying a house that needs a lot of work.

 

If the home inspection shows that you’ll soon need a big-ticket item like new windows or roof, foundation repair or an upgrade to the electrical system, you might want to reconsider – or at least ensure that the price you pay takes these costly upgrades into account. That’s because any of them can easily run you $10,000 and up, depending on the size of the job.

 

But an equally common home buyer mistake is avoiding homes that need cosmetic upgrades; say, one with unsightly wallpaper or outdated appliances. Most other home buyers might be snubbing the property, too, so it’s possible you can get a real bargain at purchase time, and then redo it to your satisfaction with some minor improvements when you move in.

 

Home Buyer Budget-Busting Mistake 2: Not thinking about the school district.

 

Don’t have kids or plan to move before they head to kindergarten? You might not even take the school district’s reputation into account, but that can be an expensive mistake when it eventually comes time to sell your home.

 

That’s because even if it doesn’t matter to you, it’s bound to matter to your future buyers. In fact, another study from NAR found that a quarter of home buyers named “school quality” as one of the most important factors in their buying decision. (This is a great site to visit for reviewing school district quality.)

 

Home Buyer Budget-Busting Mistake 3: Buying as much home as you can afford.

 

The mortgage amount that you are approved for and the amount you want to spend each month might not be the same. In fact, many new home buyers suddenly find themselves “house poor” when they stretch themselves to a house payment that’s at the limit of what they can comfortably afford.

 

Before committing to a loan amount, scrutinize your budget and see what areas you might have to cut back on – and if you’re willing to do so – from a weekly date night to a summer vacation. Also, don’t forget that a home purchase comes with a host of expenses that you might not be used to, from buying a lawn mower and new furniture, to paying for maintenance and repairs.

 

Home Buyer Budget-Busting Mistake 4: Not shopping around for a mortgage.

Finding out your options can save you a ton over the life of your loan. That’s because there are a crazy number of loan programs available — from conventional 30-year loans to Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs), FHA loans and others. Each one has pros and cons so make sure you work with a mortgage specialist who can help you understand the true cost of the loan, both in monthly payments and over the life of the loan. Sometimes a shorter term can save you big bucks in significantly lower interest payments over the time you own your home.

And, shopping around might save you angst, too. J.D. Power’s Mortgage Origination Satisfaction Study found that customers who received two or more quotes were more satisfied than those who settled on the first one they received.

 

Home Buyer Budget-Busting Mistake 5: Not using a real estate agent.

 

Think that it’s too expensive to use the services of a professional real estate agent? Think again! That’s because some first time home buyers don’t realize that it’s the seller who pays the real estate commissions. And as a buyer, you need to remember that the seller’s agent is “working” for them. That’s why it’s smart to have your own counsel to help negotiate the home price in your favor. After all, it’s free, so why not use a trained professional who can help you make the most of your home-buying budget?

 

Home Buyer Budget-Busting Mistake 6: Not considering location logistics.

 

“Location, location, location” is an old adage in real estate, which means that where you buy is at least as important as what you buy. And that can certainly be true throughout the process. Hot neighborhoods (and yes, those school districts again!) can spark increased resale value, but it’s also important to think through your lifestyle and what you and your partner or family needs.

For example, if you buy a home that’s not near mass transit, you might end up racking up whopping bills on commuting costs, from gas to parking. Or, if all your child’s favored activities are a long ways away, you might end up becoming the definition of a Mom Taxi – and the car wear and tear that accompanies it. Finally, if you’re used to doing errands on foot, you’ll want to make sure your new location is pedestrian friendly. (You can check the “Walk Score” of your area here.)

With a little advance planning, you can make sure that the biggest purchase of your life is also the wisest.




8 Creative Ways to Enjoy Summer That Don’t Cost a Fortune

Ferris wheelIs everyone playing while you’re working? We get it: It can feel painful to sit at your desk when the weather warms. But there’s no reason to forfeit fun in the sun.

Here are eight ways to enjoy summer, without going into debt on a pricey vacation.

At work

1. Eat lunch al fresco: There’s nothing like an hour in the sun to recharge your batteries. But don’t waste money on an overpriced salad at the local café. Brown bag it to a park or even just a nearby bench, then take a stroll after you’ve eaten. At least one study has connected a lunchtime walk with increased enthusiasm and less fatigue and stress when workers returned to the office.

2. Ask about flexible hours: Something about a sunny summer morning makes you want to get out of bed with the birds (or the birds might just be waking you!). Some people prefer to get their day started and head straight into the office, then leave earlier to enjoy an extended late afternoon. See if your HR department will allow you to flex your hours at least part of the week and then take advantage of an early departure to enjoy an afternoon hike or a spin on the Ferris wheel at the local carnival when it’s less crowded. You can even finish your work at home later that evening if you need to.

3. Take the meeting outside: Everyone is feeling the same summer fever so be the hero and move from your boring conference room to an outdoor location. Even claiming a far corner of the parking lot can feel like a respite when you feel the sun on your face.

4. Take days off strategically: If you’re not able to plan an extended getaway, see if you can create your own mini trips. The trick is to take Fridays off so that you have three uninterrupted days to play. Plan short getaways to nearby towns, go camping or just be a tourist in your own town on a staycation. (Trust us: There’s nothing like taking in a matinee to really feel indulgent!) Try taking every other Friday off in July and August and see how much summer fun you can cram in without dealing with crowds and overpriced lodging and travel costs.

After work/ on the weekends

5. Find a festival: Art. Music. Food. Doesn’t matter. Nothing says summer like a festival. Beware of some that can be budget busters, especially if rides are involved, but many even allow you to browse for free or a nominal fee. Find samples to graze on or bring your own snacks. But do enjoy that elephant ear if you’ve been craving one!

6. Grow your own produce: A summer vegetable garden will get you outside and also help you eat healthier — while saving a bundle on weekly produce. If you’re not one for a green thumb or don’t have ample space, a farmer’s market is a great alternative to once again — be outside.

7. Streamline your errands: It can be brutal to spend a lovely afternoon running errands, but we all need to grocery shop and get the dry cleaning. Or, do we? Sometimes ordering online can actually save you money, even despite the nominal service or shipping fee, since you won’t be tempted to impulse buy, a habit that costs Americans a whopping $5,400 annually If you must do some errands in person, plan them efficiently, which not only saves time, but gas, as you avoid backtracking.

8. Use “nature’s gym:” Summer mornings are glorious times to go for a walk or bike ride, and even if you work full time, there’s still plenty of light to do the same in the afternoon — maybe even hit a nearby hiking trail or play an active game of tag with the kids. Bonus: You can probably put your health club membership on hold to save some cash. Many gyms allow a “freeze,” until it’s, well, freezing.




9 Ways to Save Money on Fruits & Vegetables

Bowl of vegetables on a wooden table.Are you one of those people who buys fruits and vegetables only to let them spoil? Your intentions may be good but your actions waste nutritious food and your hard-earned money.

Here are nine sure-fire ways to save money on fruits and vegetables.

1. Plan a weekly menu

If you go to the grocery store without a plan for how you’ll use your purchases, chances are you’ll buy things you may not need and miss ingredients that could have completed a meal idea. Save time and money by putting together a menu plan, with at least your daily dinners for the week thought through. Plan to use ingredients that ripen quickly early in the week and longer-lived produce later and you’ll avoid a lot of potential waste.

2. Know how to properly store your produce

Tomatoes in the refrigerator? No way. Herbs on the counter? Definitely not. Knowing the proper way to store your fruits and vegetables can make a huge difference in how long they last.

3. Don’t always buy organic

Studies have shown that pesticides used on non-organic produce can build up in the human body. But not all fruits and vegetables have the same amounts of residual pesticides. This list from the Environmental Working Group shows you some of the conventionally farmed fruits and vegetables that are perfectly fine to buy.

4. Buy what’s in season

Seasonal fruits and vegetables are frequently less expensive than those that are out of season and must be shipped from warmer climates. They also typically taste better. Don’t know what’s in season? Ask your grocer or check the Department of Agriculture Seasonal Produce Guide.

5. Buy what’s on sale

Planning your weekly menu around the fruits and vegetables your local market has on sale can result in significant savings over time. Plus, you’re more likely to use those products since you have a plan for them.

6. Stock up on frozen foods …

Of course, the items you need on a regular basis aren’t necessarily going to be on sale when you want them. That’s why it’s good to stock up on the frozen version of these items when they’re on sale. Frozen corn, green beans and other staples last for months in the freezer, and those without any sauces or seasoning are particularly versatile.

7. … & canned goods

The same goes for canned items like crushed tomatoes, pineapple and beans. Buying several cans when they’re on sale means you’ll always have them when you need them.

8. Grow your own

Even if it’s just some herbs in a window box, growing your own produce can save serious money, especially if you cook a lot. You’ll spend pennies on the dollar compared to buying at your local grocer or farmers market.

9. Join a CSA

If you want the freshest vegetables and fruits delivered throughout the growing season, Community Supported Agriculture can be a great and frugal option. CSA groups are all over the country, especially metropolitan areas where access to farms may be limited. A word of caution, though: You may end up with large quantities of fruits and vegetables, so you’ll need a plan for sharing, cooking or preserving them.

This article originally appeared on Policygenius. The Council for Disability Awareness is an affiliate partner of Policygenius. 




How to Build an Emergency Fund

Life preserver in the ocean.If you had to pay an unexpected $400 bill today, would you be able to without reaching for a credit card or asking for a loan? If your answer is no, you’re not alone. And you need to keep reading this blog.

A large proportion of working Americans are in the same boat, lacking liquidity or cash reserves, amid an overall feeling that they’re drowning in bills.

The fifth edition of the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Household Economics & Decision Making (SHED) was released last week. Once again it asked whether people would be able to pay for an unexpected $400 expense in cash or the equivalent of cash. Forty percent said they wouldn’t have enough. This was a slightly improvement from the 49 percent in 2013. 

According to a LendingTree report in 2017, four in five Americans are in the red—and a quarter of those in debt do not have a plan to pay it off.

An emergency fund is your essential starting point. There are many reasons why this is so highly recommended by financial experts: If an unexpected medical bill, car repair, or appliance disaster arises, you’re able to pay for that cost without adding further to your debt. This will help you then shore up even more helpful forms of income protection, such as disability insurance.

Here’s how to build your emergency fund: 

1. Set a goal

Goals are incredibly important in financial planning. A vague wish won’t get you anywhere. You need to make yourself accountable. Finance expert Dave Ramsey advises that people set the goal of saving a $1,000 emergency fund as soon as possible. You can also work out what three to six months of living expenses would be and aim to put that away. 

2. Plan a place for the fund

You don’t want it hanging out murkily in the midst of your active checking account.

A high yield savings account is a great place to store the money. You need to be able to access it should an emergency arise, but not have it mixing in with your regular money. At the very least, put it in a savings account.

3. Build a budget

In order to make this work, you need transparency into your daily habits, and where you may be losing money without realizing it. By building a budget (and there are a whole host of apps to help you do that) you can track your expenses in razor detail. Spend some time with your budget, and study your income and outgoings. 

4. Lower your expenses

  • Cut back on unnecessary items: Do you need to eat out at restaurants? Could you take a packed lunch to work more regularly? Do you really need your cable TV subscription? Go through your budget and identify areas you could cut back on costs. Everything counts. Even if it seems like a tiny action, those will add up over time.
  • Renegotiate your bills: Have you asked your various providers if they can provide you with better rates? It’s definitely worth the time to ask. From your internet bill to credit card interest rates, there are a whole host of items you can try to negotiate, so pick up the phone and have a conversation.
  • Add all of these savings into your emergency fund: Make a regular habit of shifting those extra dollars into your savings account.

5. Increase your income

In addition to cutting things back, how can you expand your income? 

  • Save the raise: If you get a raise, don’t just expand your lifestyle and indulge in more treats for yourself. Act as if nothing happened. Stick to your previous budget and siphon all that extra cash into your fund. By doing this, you’ll really be able to build up that nest egg quickly.
  • Sell something: Do you have a guitar lying in your basement that’s gathering dust? Throw it up on eBay. Do an inventory of your possessions that others may like, and sell off what you don’t need.
  • Use that tax refund: If you get a tax refund or a gift, rather than immediately splurging it, apply your inner-strength and shift it into your savings.
  • Find a side hustle: You may already be working full time, but is there another job you could take on to help bring in some extra resources? Maybe it’s walking dogs, working as a tutor, or even starting a blog that has money-making potential.

6. Automate everything

Make sure all your bills get paid on time by automating everything. If your budget allows you to shift a certain amount of money into your savings each month, automate this too. You can even think about setting up a separate “Bill Pay” account, and automatically move that money over as soon as each paycheck comes in (more on how to do that here.)

Once you put these steps into place, you’ll be moving in the right direction. The wonderful thing about saving money is that once you start to actually do it and see that nest egg start to form, you’ll become inspired and spurred on by your success. This activates a virtuous cycle of change. 




What to Do Now to Prepare for a Smooth Maternity Leave

Mother with her newborn baby.

Has the latest mommy blog replaced the Wall Street Journal as your go-to online reading? Congratulations! There’s no more exciting time than when you’re expecting a baby. But, along with the anticipation comes some worry — about your baby’s health of course, but also smaller things, like will you ever learn how that car seat works (yes); will you ever get a shower again (yes); and…how can you prepare for a smooth maternity leave? We can’t really help you with the first two, except to assure you that you’ll be fine, but here are some pointers to help with the third.

Check on your insurance coverage.

Now’s the time to find out exactly what your benefits are, from confirming what hospitals and services are covered to making sure baby is added to your policy.

Check your company’s maternity leave policy to see what coverage you have, which could fall under paid or unpaid family leave or short-term disability coverage. Yes, believe it or not, pregnancy is included as a disability — in fact, it’s the No. 1 cause of short-term disability claims.

Short-term plans typically cover you from the date your physician tells you to stop working before delivery (this can vary based on your particular situation) until six to eight weeks after delivery, depending on plan specifics. And there usually will be a short “elimination period” before benefits are payable. In the event you have pre- or post-partum complications and your doctor determines it’s best for you to be out of work longer, your short-term plan will usually cover the additional time — up to what’s called the “maximum payable period” or MPP for the plan (usually six months, although it can be as short as three months). Anything beyond the MPP would have to be covered by your long-term plan — if you have one.

To get short- or long-term disability coverage through your employer, you may have to sign up for it either when you first become eligible for benefits or during the annual open enrollment period. Keep in mind that you need to sign up for it before you become pregnant. And once you’ve got it, remember that other, unexpected, health events could keep you from working in the future, so it’s to your advantage to maintain continuous coverage (more on that here.)

Line up daycare.

In some areas, it can seem as tricky to get into a top-flight daycare center as to get into the college of your choice. The time to get on the waiting list is the minute you know you need to

Of course, there are numerous childcare options, from nannies to nanny shares to family members, so take the time to talk through the pros and cons and find the one that best suits your familial and financial situation. In addition to giving you peace of mind, having your daycare situation handled presents the solid message to your workplace that you are indeed intending to return. 

Tell your boss before social media.

Even if you’re not “friends” with your boss, social media news travels incredibly fast and your manager might not appreciate finding out your exciting news after your Twitter followers and Facebook friends do. 

Of course you’re going to break the news to family and IRL friends, but offer your boss the courtesy of letting her or him know before you post to the wider world online. Hopefully they will be happy for you, but remember, this might cause your manager some anxiety, too, so don’t be offended if the first reaction isn’t what you’d hoped for. 

Develop a plan.

You might use the first meeting to assure them that you’ve got your leave handled, but press for a separate meeting to go over the details. You’ll want to give them a chance to get over their shock and get some questions ready. 

Create a plan that includes as many details as you can about your planned leave and return, such as important upcoming events like client reviews or sales meetings, along with a preliminary idea of how you see those duties being handled. Naturally you can’t anticipate everything that might arise, but an initial plan will give your manager the added confidence that nothing is going to fall through the cracks. 

Document everything.

When you think about it, a lot of what we do every day is just second nature. Reports go to this client this day. That client prefers invoices in this format. You always give an end-of-week sales update to this person.

As you prep for your leave, look at the cadence of your days, weeks, and even months and figure out what types of details you can leave that will make the break seamless for your clients and your “replacement,” whether that’s one person or several dividing up duties. 

Then develop a “cheat sheet” that shows what dates each day or month certain activities should happen, and include a template, if possible, for agendas, reports, proposals and the like. The more your team knows, the smoother your leave — and your eventual return — will be. 

Don’t commit to too much availability until you know.

You might think you’ll be totally into a Monday morning sales call, until you spend all Sunday night soothing a fussy newborn. Beware of biting off more than you can (or want!) to chew and give the office some very loose guidelines, such as that you’ll check email once a week and respond to anything crucial, or if someone texts you with an urgent manner, you’ll respond as soon as you are able. 

Make sure your email and voicemail messages steer correspondents to other resources to avoid too many questions or issues, and then plan to play it by ear to determine what works best for you and baby. You may find that it’s a nice respite from “Goodnight Moon” to talk marketing, or you might want nothing to do with the office update. 

But above all else, enjoy every minute with your newborn. All too soon you’ll be back at the office and you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised at how little has changed (except you!)