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.




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!)

 




Team-Building Activities Your Team Will Actually Love

Trust falls. Ropes courses. Bowling or mini golf. Many offices plan a summer team-building activity designed for camaraderie, but forced group fun can cause anxiety in many. Maybe your office mates don’t know each other particularly well, or there are people of so many ages and ability levels that anything too physical can be a non-starter. The great news is that there are still a wide variety of team-building activities you can plan that everyone will love. Here are six to consider.

 

Throw a board game competition.

 

Not everyone’s great at kickball or golf but almost anyone can find the fun in a round of Monopoly or Sorry. Board games are having a resurgence, and it’s easy to see why. Everyone takes turns, works cooperatively and has a blast. Consider classics from everyone’s childhood or find a new one where everyone can learn the rules together. Depending on the size of your office, you can allow people to choose from among several or rotate every 45 minutes or so. Keep the competition level light and the snacks heavy.

 

Host a scavenger hunt.

This is another cooperative game that can be fun for all ages and abilities. Compile a list of offbeat items both inside the office and outside – if you’re close to a city, head downtown for even more fun. Have the gang take photos of the items they find, and gather back at the office after an hour or two to share wild stories and enjoy a snack.

 

Trade jobs.

What does Annette in accounting or Sam in sales do anyway? Sometimes walking a mile in another employee’s shoes can help promote better understanding – and possibly a renewed sense of appreciation and even patience. Work out a schedule where employees visit other departments to experience what others do; have each department offer a brief overview and then let the group loose to do a sample project — for example, working up a new client sales presentation or troubleshooting cybersecurity threats, just for fun, of course. After a couple of rotations, meet back and have the group share some observations or surprising insights about what they learned about other teams’ roles and challenges.

 

Plan a family day.

Often work activities fail because your employees may not want to give up precious free time to socialize with colleagues. That’s where a family fun day can serve triple duty –allowing them to be with their family, but also showing their family their workplace AND allowing coworkers to get to know each other better through their families.

Make sure there are suitable activities for all ages, from a bouncy house for the younger set, to games for older kids and a photo booth and plenty of food for everyone. If your budget allows, splurge on some sort of entertainment, maybe a music group or a family-friendly comedian. Make sure you have name tags on hand so everyone knows who belongs to who and plenty of action to encourage mingling.

 

Have a reading club.

If you don’t want to devote an entire afternoon or day to the team-building activity, or sense that this type of mixing wouldn’t be well-received by your staff, consider having a Book Club instead. Ask everyone to read the same book (you might provide copies so they don’t have to finance it) and give the team ample time to read the book and then hold a discussion to get everyone’s thoughts on it.

Not sure where to start? Here’s a list of recent business books that have gotten attention, or you might consider something by Malcolm Gladwell, who writes books full of engaging stories that have applications both for business and personal growth. Another option might be a book written by someone in your industry, such as “Shoe Dog” if you’re in retail or a creative field.

 

Volunteer together.

Believe it or not, almost half of respondents to one survey said their employer’s volunteer policies played a role in accepting an offer. While an ongoing volunteer program can be a powerful perk, even a one-day stint working as a group at a food bank, cooking a meal at a homeless shelter or assisting another non-profit that’s important to your team can help increase their bonds – and also give them the “helper’s high” that accompanies volunteering.

Not sure what project might resonate? Just ask! Maybe offer a couple of choices and either split up or let the group vote on which one might receive your collective power this time. Volunteering can be a huge win-win for your team and everyone whose lives they touch. And who knows…you might just spark an ongoing commitment for several of your team members.

 




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.




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. 




The Spring Cleaning Task You Likely Forgot

Daffodils in the sunshine

It’s that time of the year where the sunlight has returned with vigor and vitality (here in New England at least) and you find yourself in spring cleaning mode. Those magazines that have been piling up – recycled. The junk mail you needed to attend to – filed. Your tax documents – complete.

As you survey your office, there’s one place you probably forgot, and that’s your desktop. No, not that desktop, the one where you have neatly color-coded pens and tablets lined up. The other desktop. The majority of our clutter today resides on our computers. All that clutter can lead to stress and a spiraling sense of being out of control. Here are tips on how to perform a digital, springtime detox:

Email

We’ll start with email because, well, it just keeps arriving doesn’t it? In fact, almost 270 billion emails are sent each day. And sometimes it feels like they are all coming to your account.

There are two types of people in this world: inbox zero folks and digital hoarders. Neither one is necessarily better than the other. It’s all in what works for your personal style. Nevertheless, there’s no harm in cutting down on email clutter. Here are three tips to help manage the madness.

  1. Do a mass deletion.

Don’t worry; we’re not asking you to delete stuff you might later need. We’re going to give you the gift of clearing out tons of clutter, one big swath at a time. The secret? Go to your inbox and/or your “deleted files,” and pick someone who sends you emails every single day. It might be the local newspaper or retail store. It might even be Aunt Martha who loves a great cat joke.

Change your email view to sort by sender. Then, take that particular sender, highlight every email they’ve sent you and delete. Pick another one and do it again. Doesn’t that feel good? Guaranteed you have wiped out thousands of emails with this one trick.

  1. Deal with email as it arrives.

Staying on top of email is easier if you create a system. Most productivity experts recommend setting aside a couple of times a day that you can process email, rather than reacting the second it comes in, which will distract you from your current task. Take three actions with each email:

  • Read and delete – ideal.
  • Take action immediately – best for things that just take five minutes or less.
  • Save for later – but not in your inbox, lest it become a “dysfunctional to-do list.” Rather, put the note in an appropriate file, then add it to your actual to-do list or save it to a reading folder for when you have some down time.
  1. Keep email from coming.

One word: Unsubscribe. Yes, it seems simple to just delete the daily email from the photo-sharing site where you purchased holiday cards three years ago, but really… it’s not. Resolve to click “unsubscribe” every single time an email comes in from a merchant or news provider that you don’t need to see.

Too worried you might miss something important? Try Unrollme.com, a tool that allows you to keep your subscriptions available, but out of your inbox, as it catches them in a neat “Rollup” you can access when you have time. With this handy tool, you’ll no longer have to dodge the latest BOGO missive when looking for your boss’ update.

Computer Files

Your physical filing cabinet might be relatively well organized, but your digital files are probably overflowing. With the massive storage available in today’s computers, it’s easy enough to just leave everything where it is. But there’s a better way to handle the voluminous computer files that likely keep proliferating.

  1. Categorize the folders.

For projects that are complete, as in, you need to save the files but don’t need to refer to them currently, create one big folder and send all appropriate documents there. Then if you do need something, it will be easy enough to sort.

For projects that are ongoing, nest folders within folders. For example, give the main folder the client name, then create separate files for reports, sales data, invoices, etc.….whatever makes sense given the scope of your work. Then when you open a working folder, you won’t have to scroll incessantly to find a certain document.

  1. Name files strategically.

To make it easier to find the appropriate document, choose a naming structure that makes sense, whether it’s client name, followed by weekly report, followed by date…or whatever works for you. If you are consistent going forward, you’ll realize it’s far easier to find what you need without having to open every file searching for something.

Then when a project is complete, it will be that much easier to send all related documents to another part of your computer so they aren’t cluttering up the main screen.

  1. Have a backup plan.

Make sure you have working back-up storage, whether it’s a cloud-based system that automatically backs up each evening, or an external hard drive – or ideally, both.

Spending time spring cleaning your computer will pay untold dividends in productivity for the months to come. By having a desktop that is clean, well-organized and full of potential (rather than about to crash), you might even get to those essential tasks like building or refining your budget and organizing your finances for the year to come.




5 Frequently Asked Questions About Disability Insurance

Woman with crutches sitting on a sofaDisability insurance provides critical financial protection to American workers. Yet it’s a highly misunderstood form of insurance. You probably have health insurance, home or renter’s insurance, and car insurance. But what about your need for income protection insurance?

Disability insurance pays you a portion of your income when an injury or illness takes you out of work for an extended period of time. It’s a critical form of insurance for most working Americans — because it means if you have to miss work for weeks or months at a time, you will have a financial safety net in place to help cover the bills.

Here are six frequently asked questions about disability insurance:

1. Do I really need it?

Most people hear the word “disability” and assume this form of insurance only applies to very serious injuries and illnesses — yet many common injuries (like fractures) or chronic conditions (like back, hip, or knee problems) can result in your not being able to do your job and earn a paycheck.

According to the U.S. Social Security Administration, more than one in four of today’s 20-year-olds can expect to be out of work for at least a year because of some disabling condition before they reach age 67 (the normal retirement age). Will you have an ability to pay your bills if you need to miss work for several months? If you don’t have access to that much in emergency savings, or friends or family that can help pay your bills when you need to take time off work, disability insurance makes a lot of sense.

2. What’s the difference between short term and long-term disability insurance?

Short-term disability (STD) insurance plans generally protect your income for up to three or more commonly six months. Some plans can run even longer than that. Short-term plans typically cover between 60 and 70 percent of your pay, depending on the policy.

Long-term disability (LTD) insurance protects your income if you need to miss work for longer than three to six months. It usually covers 40 to 70 percent of your income. It costs more than short-term disability insurance because it’s a policy that will protect you for a significantly longer time. The time your coverage pays benefits will range depending on your policy. It can be for a specific period — ranging from two to five or ten years — or until your Social Security retirement age. The waiting period for most LTD policies is three or six months — so you’ll need a plan to cover costs before the payments begin (usually this time is covered by your STD plan or your savings.)

3. Does disability insurance cover all disabilities?

Every plan will have its own definition of disability, so you’ll need to review the definition in your particular policy. In general, many policies do not include the following disabilities:

  • A disability resulting from participation in a riot
  • Injuries which are intentional and a result of self-infliction
  • War or any act of war
  • Any period of disability during incarceration
  • A disability resulting from a crime in which the individual has been convicted
  • Pre-existing conditions (definition varies by policy)
  • For short-term disability: occupational sickness or injury (as this is generally covered by Worker’s Compensation)

4. Can I work part-time and still collect benefits?

Your insurance contract will specify if you can receive benefits while working part-time. Many policies allow you to work, but take the amount you earn and subtract it from your benefit. If your policy has a lifetime benefit cap, working part-time may extend the life of your benefits.

5. How much disability insurance should I get?

Insurance companies typically do not sell disability insurance policies which replace all of your income. But, they do sell policies which can replace up to 70 percent of your income. If your employer does not offer a disability plan with 70 percent coverage, you may want to look for supplemental insurance coverage to offset the difference.

One major benefit of owning your policy: When you pay premiums yourself, you are paying with after-tax dollars. Therefore, any benefits will likely be tax-free. Tax-free benefits paying 70 percent of your income comes close to being 100 percent of your take-home pay. If your employer pays the premiums and the cost is not included in your taxable income, then benefits will likely be subject to taxation.

A good rule of thumb is 70 percent coverage, but, as with all insurance needs, it depends on your circumstances and what you can afford. Regardless, seek out a qualified advisor if you need help crunching the numbers.

Disability insurance is a good idea

Just think how devastating the loss of income would be for you and your dependents. Then think how much worse it would be to lose the ability to earn an income. This is a circumstance you can avoid with proper planning and an action plan.