Category Archives for "Finances & Careers"

Jan 05

The Opportunity Cost of Your Job: Live with it or leave it?

By Kim Hall | Finances & Careers

opportunity cost of your jobThe hours you have available to work represent a fertile field of opportunity to grow in skills, obtain wealth, gather knowledge, gain power and prestige, form strong personal and professional relationships, and to live with a true sense of purpose and satisfaction.

How and where you choose to spend those hours determines the Opportunity Cost of your job.

Think of it in terms of how you choose to spend your money, except your currency is the time you offer in exchange for your labor. Once you spend your money—your work hours—it isn’t available to spend elsewhere.

The question before spending is this: Is the value you receive worth the price you pay, not only for you, but for your marriage as well?

This value is the Opportunity Cost of your job.

If you are in the nearly three-fourths of employees who are dissatisfied with their jobs, this opportunity cost is possibly too high. You are spending your valuable, limited capital—your time—in exchange for something worth far less.

You can continue on as you are, or you can use your experience as a springboard for some changes in your career/workplace, your perspective, or both.

You expect the situation to change

You’ve seen the lists of the top reasons people hate their jobs, and you nod in agreement as you mentally check off many items yourself.

Rather than harvesting the fruits of a job well done, you realize you are regularly frustrated by management who isn’t willing to lead, annoyed by a boss who is a micro-manager, and disheartened by the bad apples that are publicly lauded and rewarded while your valuable contributions go unnoticed.

Your expectations seem so simple: to be treated as you treat others, with respect, honesty, integrity, flexibility, and a positive attitude, and you just don’t understand how the situation doesn’t for the better.

You might be knee deep in the Big Muddy

Barry Staw coined the phrase “knee deep in the Big Muddy” to describe decision-making in which individuals continue to pour time, money, and effort into something that just isn’t working and shows no sign of ever improving.

This “escalation of commitment” can be seen in jobs in which people just don’t want to let go in spite of clear evidence that there is no change in sight and no solution to make things work the way they are supposed to.

Yet, folks persist in staying, believing they have invested too much to walk away and start anew.

Time to change your point of view

Long ago, my photography instructor taught me that in order to see what I was missing I needed to change my point of view.

I learned there was much that I couldn’t see because I wasn’t looking for it or wasn’t open to seeing it.

The same is true when you are stuck in the Big Muddy at work.

Taking the time to step back will give you the information you need to determine the opportunity cost of your job, and whether you can live with it or if you should leave it.

Determine the Opportunity Cost

First, make a list of the main areas that make up your life: Financial, Family/Marriage, Career, Personal Growth, Physical, Spiritual, and Social.

Beside each area list the opportunity cost or value.

For example, under Career, you may note that you thoroughly dislike your boss, yet you love the work. The long hours you are required to put in may pose a difficulty for your family, and yet the experience is invaluable for your future.

Go through all areas to make as complete a list as possible.

Have your spouse help you, as they can provide another perspective.

I highly recommend doing this over the course of at least one overnight so you come back to the list with fresh eyes and more ideas.

Decide to live with it or leave it

Once you have the list as complete as possible, set aside time to discuss it with your spouse.

Use your values as guideposts, because living a life aligned with your values creates more peace and joy.

Years ago, my husband and I wrapped up an amazing five years as innkeepers—which is pretty much a 24/7 job—with my parents.

My hubby and I agreed on some key points before we started our search for different work. We wanted time to attend church and related activities, volunteer, and have weekends for our family and marriage.

But then I landed my dream job of working for a professional photographer.

My commute was an hour each way, and I worked weekends and often into the evenings.

I was stressed, conflicted, often cried on the way to and from work, but kept at it, thinking it would get better.

Needless to say, we never did a final values check before I took on the position, and I didn’t recognize a Big Muddy when I was waist-deep in one.

You will find, as we did in retrospect, there will be costs and value associated with your job, and the decision to stay or go can be a complex one. I encourage you to keep at it until you come to a decision with which you and your spouse can be at peace.

If you decide the opportunity cost is worth it, yet still have to face a difficult environment, author and business journalist Suzy Welch offers a helpful solution to get through those challenging times.

For more help and hope, be sure to read these posts, too:

Dealing with the Mistress: 4 Considerations for balancing work and home

4 Ways a Midlife Career Change Can Help Your Marriage

When a God Wink feels more like a snake bite

Comment: How have you dealt with the opportunity cost of your job?

Photo credit

Dec 01

3 essential keys to furnish your home on a budget

By Kim Hall | Finances & Careers

3 essential keys to furnish your home on a budgetYou’ve been watching those shows about how to buy and makeover a house, and visions of your very own HGTV style home are now dancing in your head.

You’ve pinned hundreds of images of cheery kitchens, welcoming living rooms, and restful bedrooms on Pinterest.

Furniture and home decor catalogs litter your apartment, and you can’t wait to be on a first name basis with the folks at Target, Ikea, and Pottery Barn.

While this may lead to impromptu happy dances in the store aisles, it will most likely lead you down a path to more debt and deep regret.

There is a way to furnish your home on a budget, though, and to make it a space you love and can live with.

You just need to know the three essential keys: contentment, patience and gratitude.

The Key of Contentment

Contentment, as described by Dale Carnagie, “isn’t what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it.”

That means understanding your worth as a person is not measured by your home or any of your possessions.

You stop comparing where you are and what you have with others, because as Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Contentment frees you from envy and pride, two emotions that can easily push you to break your budget in an effort to keep up with the proverbial Joneses.

Being content allows you to be comfortable and at peace with where you are, while charting a course for goals that uniquely suit you and your circumstances.

What might contentment look like in your home furnishing budget?

Depending on where you are in your financial journey, perhaps it’s about making do with the dated and worn living room furniture you’ve been given because there’s space for everyone to spend time together, or finding a deal on Craigslist on a kitchen table and chairs, so there’s room for hosting family and friends.

For my husband and I, it meant being content with our well-used, thirteen year old, oversized sofa and loveseat while we searched for a new living room set.

The Key of Patience

Adding patience to contentment makes for a powerful combination to maintain your budget while furnishing your home.

Being content means it’s much easier to bide your time while you search for a piece or pieces that meet your needs and desires and costs no more than what you’ve set aside.

Nonetheless, I know firsthand how difficult it can be to be patient. It just seems so much easier to spend lots more to have what you want right now!

Patience was a struggle for my husband and I as we searched for living room furniture to fit our recently purchased, smaller home. We had budgeted $500, and our goal was to find a well-built, real leather set. We found lots that we loved, cost at least twice our budget, and that we were sorely tempted to buy. But, we held fast. Finally, five months into the search, we hit the jackpot: a four piece, relatively new, charming and comfortable real leather set, and it was $500.

Being patient has multiple benefits. Not only do you stay within budget, but you can enjoy the thrill of the chase, the additional sense of satisfaction of sticking to your goals, and the deeper appreciation for that rare gem when you finally locate it. Plus, as my parents would often say to me, and I said to my children, “Patience builds character.” 🙂

The Key of Gratitude

 Counting your blessings is not only is a critical component of eliminating your debt, but is a tremendously steadying force, especially when you become a homeowner. 

It’s very easy to become discontented with what you don’t have or can’t afford, and the solution is to create a firewall of gratitude.

When you develop a firewall of gratitude, you erect a barrier of thankfulness which effectively blocks pride and envy, as well as negative, cultural messages to buy and have more.

The good news is that being grateful becomes easier with practice, just like contentment and patience.

Still, it can be too easy to go from feeling grateful for being able to purchase a home you can afford, to being annoyed as you struggle against your budgetary restrictions on how to furnish the house. Refer back to contentment if you find yourself here.

I could choose to be embarrassed or annoyed that our house is filled with furniture and decor gathered over time from thrift stores, yard sales, Craigslist, and the like

Occasionally, I start to feel that way, but in the end, I always circle back to gratitude.

Because, at the core, it’s about being at peace with and finding joy in the choices we make.

Comment: How have you used these keys to furnish your home on a budget?

Photo credit

Nov 03

There Must Be a Pony In Here Somewhere

By Kim Hall | Finances & Careers

pony in here somewhereDo you remember the cool prizes that used to come in the cereal boxes when you were little?

Did you pray every week that your mom would buy the brands with the best freebies?

Were you disappointed when she’d bring home some “But it’s good for you!” cereal which never had any surprises inside, and didn’t taste anywhere near as yummy as Frosted Flakes, Lucky Charms, or Cookie Crisp?

At that tender age, it is certainly difficult to look on the bright side when your friends are showing off their nifty stickers, puzzles, and small toys, and all you have to show is a bit of oatmeal that dribbled onto your shirt and has turned into a hard, dry lump.

🙁

Who knew that years later you would probably be grateful to your parents for their food choices, which helped contribute to your overall healthier state as an adult?

🙂

Seeing—and taking full advantage of—opportunities for gratitude, especially where there don’t seem to be any, will help smooth your journey across the often stormy seas of life.

Plus, the earlier you recognize those circumstances, the more joy you will experience at home and at work.

There is an old joke that illustrates this concept very well.

I am sharing it below as an excerpt from the book How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life by Peter Robinson.

“Over lunch today I asked Ed Meese about one of Reagan’s favorite jokes. ‘The pony joke?’ Meese replied. ‘Sure I remember it. If I heard him tell it once, I heard him tell it a thousand times.’”

“The joke concerns twin boys of five or six. Worried that the boys had developed extreme personalities – one was a total pessimist, the other a total optimist – their parents took them to a psychiatrist.”

“First the psychiatrist treated the pessimist. Trying to brighten his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with brand-new toys. But instead of yelping with delight, the little boy burst into tears. ‘What’s the matter?’ the psychiatrist asked, baffled. ‘Don’t you want to play with any of the toys?’ ‘Yes,’ the little boy bawled, ‘but if I did I’d only break them.’”

“Next the psychiatrist treated the optimist. Trying to dampen his out look, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with horse manure. But instead of wrinkling his nose in disgust, the optimist emitted just the yelp of delight the psychiatrist had been hoping to hear from his brother, the pessimist. Then he clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to his knees, and began gleefully digging out scoop after scoop with his bare hands. ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ the psychiatrist asked, just as baffled by the optimist as he had been by the pessimist. ‘With all this manure,’ the little boy replied, beaming, ‘there must be a pony in here somewhere!’”

Gratitude is all about how you perceive what is in front of you.

The first little boy, when faced with a mountain of toys, couldn’t see any reason to be grateful for a pile of broken junk.

The second, when faced with a mountain of manure, saw delightful possibilities.

Maybe you spend your hours with someone who always assumes clouds on the horizons means rain pouring down on their parade.

Perhaps you spend time instead with someone who eagerly awaits the rainbows that the showers bring forth.

Whatever the case, gratitude is a skill that can be learned and cultivated, one baby step at a time.

You can begin with something as simple as Thank Youand move forward from there.

Wherever you are in the process, here are three basic steps I recommend:

1. Become more aware. If you need the extra nudge, set the alarm on your phone to go off during the day and perform a random gratitude check on your circumstances when it does.

2. Choose where to focus. If you look for the good, you will find it. It really is that simple.

3. Write it all down. This reinforces your expression of thankfulness and gives you examples to look back on when you need a boost.

 There will still be times when you struggle.

The more you practice gratitude, though, the more it will become your automatic response.

Just remember to keep this phrase in mind to help you the next time you face down mountain of manure at home or at work:

There must be a pony in here somewhere!

 

For more resources on changing your point of view to gratitude, check out these posts:

How counting your blessings can help lower your debt

Finding joy in the journey when it’s raining on your parade

Gratitude Schmatitude

Question: Under what circumstances do you find gratitude the most elusive?

Photo: Sara Nel

Oct 29

4 Ways a Midlife Career Change Can Help Your Marriage

By Dustin | Finances & Careers

4 Ways a Midlife Career Change Can Help Your Marriage

Note: This is a guest post from Amanda Brown.

A more fulfilling life outside your marriage can help you find the way to more fulfillment within the marriage.

If you’re not happy with your current career, why wait to make a change?

Check out these four ways to improve your career and your marriage simultaneously.

1. Reconnect with Your Passions

Now is the time to reconnect with your passions, inspirations, and values – the things that brought you to the marriage to begin with.

Your 40s and 50s are an age when you naturally begin to reassess your life and look for more inspiration. Once you have dispensed with many of the responsibilities of raising a family and supporting them with a lucrative career, it’s time to ask what you would have chosen to do with your life if money had never been an object.

You may not be in a position to volunteer your time or work at a low-paying job, but there are still many opportunities out there for fulfilling your dreams without sacrificing your income.

2. Freshen Things Up

Leave your comfort zone, and you may find that you feel empowered and have found a fresh outlook on life. Forcing yourself to experiment with new experiences on a regular basis can have a major impact on your perspective and sense of belonging in the world.

Feel better about yourself and be more attractive to your spouse by doing something that makes the household more money and/or involves some old-fashioned bootstrapping. In this sense, you might find it most fulfilling to become an independent entrepreneur or local small business owner.

3. Get in the Empathy Zone

Many people who make midlife career changes choose jobs that allow them to help others as well as themselves. This can nourish your sense of empathy, which, in turn, will make you a more attentive and sensitive spouse.

Your spouse will notice the change, which means that more feelings of affection will find their way back to you, too. It’s a win-win.

Jobs that involve helping others as a means to personal and marriage fulfillment include elementary school teacher, freelance interior designer, and certified nurse midwife.

4. Get in Touch With Your Mature Self

In order to figure out what your calling is, ask yourself what your values are now. Remember that your values may have changed over the years, and what’s important to you now may not be what you thought was critical when you first started out.

A midlife career change is a great opportunity to go into a field that may have been off-limits earlier in life due to various stigmas. For instance, nursing is often misunderstood to be a female profession, and young adults are unlikely to study the field. But older men already established in other careers are more likely to join the healthcare field and can benefit from salaries as high as they experienced in the corporate world.

Leaving behind these kinds of prejudices will allow you to be happier in your career choice, which will make you a better husband or wife.

Your midlife career change is an opportunity for major growth and actualization – not only for you but for your marriage as well. On the other hand, sometimes improving your home life requires a new perspective on what work means to you.

Ask yourself whether you can best fulfill your calling by making it into a career, or by choosing a career which will not get in the way of your calling.

 

Image via Flickr by Defence Images

Oct 06

The Secret to Buying a Home That You Can Afford

By Kim Hall | Finances & Careers

secret to buying a homeWhen the desire to become a homeowner latches onto your heart, it’s all too easy to lose your mind and ignore your budget.

Even on our most recent adventure—our fifth time around—my husband and I had difficulty keeping our priorities in the forefront.

It becomes even tougher when friends and family members are encouraging you to buy because It’s the same/a little more/a little less than renting! and You won’t be throwing your money away every month!

Whatever the source, that temptation can be hard to resist.

However, if you are willing to follow a simple formula, you will increase your odds of buying a house you can love and live with.

So what’s the secret to buying a home you can afford?

Live like you already own the house.

Here’s what that looks like:

1.  Add up the known expenses for the type and size of home you have in mind.

2.  Put these items in your monthly budget, and set the money aside as though you are actually spending it.

3.  Live with these finances as part of your life for at least six months.

If you can successfully and comfortably handle the increase in your budget, you’ll be well on your way to buying a home you can afford.

Plus, you will have set aside six months of the increase in expenses, which will add up to a tidy sum!

To know what you’ll want to include, see the list below.

There are several types of expenses you’ll need to cover.

Some are one-time outlays, and others are monthly or otherwise regularly occurring bills.

1.  Pre-purchase costs. When your offer is accepted on a house, you will need to have inspections done as part of your due diligence. These can typically cost $300-$900 per property.

2.  Down payment. Talk to your bank about what you can expect regarding requirements for a down payment.  As an example, our local credit union requires a minimum of 3%. If you are looking at a $150,000 home, that’s $4,500.

3.  Closing costs. There are various fees for the buyer in a real estate transaction. Typically, these fees—your closing costs—will range from 3-5% of the cost of the amount you borrow.

4.  Mortgage, taxes, house insurance, and PMI.  Again, your bank is a terrific resource for estimating mortgage payments. The yearly property taxes can generally be found in the real estate listing. House insurance can vary tremendously from region to region, so you might want to check with a local insurance agent to see if they can give you a very general idea of what to expect. PMI is the monthly insurance the bank requires on your mortgage until you have paid for at least 20% of the value of your home. Expect to pay anywhere from $35-$70 per $100,000 you borrow. You can subtract what you pay for rent from the total of these four items before adding it to the budget.

5.  Utilities.  You can call the utility company that services a neighborhood, and ask for the average monthly utility costs for the past year for a particular address. If that isn’t possible, speak to folks you trust to get an idea of what you’ll pay in your area for heat, water and sewer, electricity, and trash disposal. Remember, too, to subtract your current utility costs from this total before adding it to your budget.

6.  Appliances, furnishings, and equipment. You’ll probably be surprised at how much it takes to furnish an empty house. Everything from large appliances to installing a new toilet becomes fair game. Even smaller purchases like curtains and bedding can add up pretty quickly, so it’s important they are in the budget. Do a little window shopping, whether online, or in person, to get a feel for the cost of kitchen appliances, furniture, home goods, and equipment, such as  lawnmowers.

7.  Maintenance.  While there are many different variables that will affect how much you’ll need to set aside for repairs and maintenance, setting aside 1%-3% of the cost of your home is a good rule of thumb.

While these figures may seem daunting, they represent a pretty realistic picture of the cost of home ownership.

If going through this exercise reveals you are not financially ready for owning your own home, use this information to create a lifestyle and budget that will take you where you need to be.

That is a far better situation than purchasing your dream house and having it turn into a financial nightmare.

As the Boy Scouts say, “Be prepared!” so when you do buy, you choose a home that comfortably fits your heart and budget.

For a more insight on buying a home, check out these Engaged Marriage posts:

When Should Newlyweds Buy Their First House?

5 Questions to Ask Before Buying a Home

When Should a Couple Rent vs Buy a Home?

Comment: What would you add to this list to help couples buy a home they can truly afford over the long term?

Photo credit

Sep 26

When Should a Couple Rent vs. Buy a Home?

By Dustin | Finances & Careers

Should Couples Rent vs. Buy a HomeNote: This is a guest post from Jennifer Riner of Zillow.com

Most individuals dream of becoming homeowners one day.

Home-ownership is not a reality for everyone, and purchasing property is one of the riskiest and most profitable investments. However, most financiers would agree that buying trumps renting.

Rent can cost more than a fixed-rate mortgage, and lessees don’t hold equity in their rented homes. However, special circumstances can render renting the more economic, practical choice.

Whether looking for a primary residence or a vacation home, consider the benefits of renting before making an offer.

  1. Freedom to Relocate

Most buyers searching for new homes plan to live in one place and hold stable jobs.

Individuals anticipating drastic career switches might want to hold off on property purchases – their future employers could ask them to move halfway across the country. Selling a home isn’t like breaking a lease. The process is much more complicated given equity is on the line.

Breaking a lease can be as easy as paying an extra month’s rent or forgoing a security deposit. In the long run, moving out of an apartment early may be cheaper (and certainly less stressful) than attempting to sell a home.

  1. No Maintenance Fees

Decent landlords take care of just about everything when it comes to their units’ maintenance.

Granted, tenants are liable for avoidable damages, such as purposely punching holes in the walls or breaking furniture and appliances out of spite. Aside from tenant-related issues, property owners are responsible for replacing old or broken appliances, aesthetic modernizations, roof repairs and plumbing leaks, among other assumed expenses.

Homeowners, on the other hand, must pay all of their property and structural costs themselves. Heating, air conditioning, water, electricity, internet, landscaping and general repair bills are monthly realities for homeowners, and should be major elements of a projected budget.

Some renters are required to pay utilities, such as internet and electricity, separately. But, many landlords choose to lump those costs in with monthly rent.

  1. No Down Payments

Renting is the obvious choice for individuals just beginning their careers who haven’t acquired large savings.

Down payments take years to pull together, given most buyers aim to provide 20 percent of the sale price upfront. Those who don’t opt to put 20 percent down have to pay private mortgage insurance fees and may be underwater until they own enough equity in their home to either breakeven or profit at resale.

If 20 percent is unattainable, consider renting on a budget for a while until ready to invest in a home.

  1. No Homeowner Fees

Insurance costs and property taxes can add up quickly. Many new buyers forget to include these in their projected monthly budget after closing.

Use a mortgage calculator to determine potential total monthly home owning costs. Be sure to detail additional homeowners association (HOA) fees, if applicable. HOA fees are typically associated with condominiums, where residents contribute regular payments for the upkeep of their shared communities and complexes, including structures, clubhouses, parking garages and other collective spaces.

  1. Flexible Credit Checks

Financial strains, such as foreclosures and bankruptcies, can wreak havoc on credit scores.

Landlords are slightly more forgiving when it comes to determining if someone is capable of paying their rent on time than banks that require solid financial history before blindly administering home loans. Home purchases involve more risk, so building up credit scores to ensure loan approvals and receive good rates is pivotal for all buyers.

Solid rental history assists in raising damaged credit scores, but requires timely payments to take effect. Those who have been afflicted by recent monetary issues or who lack reputable payment history (i.e. recent graduates or young professionals) can rent within their budgets to build financial profiles.

Buying isn’t the only option, and outlying factors can sway highly affluent individuals to lease homes instead. Use the breakeven horizon, or the point at which renting a home ends up costing more than buying, to supplement the aforementioned deciding factors.

The Atlanta rental market, for instance, has a breakeven horizon of only two years whereas further north in Washington D.C., the median breakeven horizon is higher at 4.2 years.

Location, as always, plays a key role in the affordability of a mortgage versus median rent, and should be seriously considered by renters and owners alike.

Sep 17

4 Tips for Going Back to School…After You’re Married

By Dustin | Finances & Careers

Note: This is a guest post from Amanda Brown.

4 tips for going back to school when you are marriedGetting a better education is stressful, and adding marriage into the equation can certainly take the stress level up a notch.

So what’s the best way to handle going back to school when you’re all grown up and married?

Here are four tips to help reduce stress, increase the marriage bond, and enable guilt-free time for your advanced degree and your marriage.

1. Reduce Stress

There is a lot of pressure that married students have to balance, both with school and within their marriage.

TIP: Approach a college degree as a partnership.

No, that does not mean your spouse should do your homework. It means that going to school is not a personal project. It is a goal that will help both you and your spouse in the long run.

A degree means more opportunities for better jobs and higher salaries. That is a benefit you both receive. When you approach this as a team, there is less resentment and less stress. You both make sacrifices toward a better life.

2. Create a Chore Calendar

A strong marriage is full of rewards. Take advantage of every reward by working together. Your spouse is your biggest supporter. Let them be your motivation for doing well in school.

TIP: Create a calendar of everything that demands your time, including chores.

Major study time, projects, and test preparation should all be included on the calendar, as well as housework. The calendar helps you both see how much work needs doing and who will be doing it. If you want to measure equity, then initial who does what. Remember that getting any degree, such as a social worker degree, is a team project.

3. Build Together Time

Plan out your together time. This could include a date night when you are home together for dinner.

TIP: As you plan your school workload, schedule down time.

Use down time as together time, for both you and your spouse. This is an excellent time to build a stronger marriage. Another awesome tool is to do tiny, caring things like packing “I love you” notes in each other’s lunches. Make each note unique. Some suggestions include giving thanks to your spouse for helping with school.

Little reinforcements go a long way in building a strong marriage. The stronger your marriage is, the easier it will be to get through school.

4. Celebrate Achievements

Every semester comes with goals and obstacles. Those include midterms, finals and projects.

TIP: Chart out those obstacles and celebrate their achievements together.

If you approach going to school as a team project, then celebrate each achievement together. Make it part of your together time. Keep the celebrations on the simple and inexpensive side. Make victory cookies together or read poetry to each other.

Whatever you do, make it special. Save the expensive parties for when you graduate. When you are both grateful for an achievement, you erase negative emotions that may occur at stressful times.

Going back to school is a massive change for a married couple to go through, but you can do it. If you focus on being a couple and accomplishing the degree, then the victory that you celebrate is belongs to both of you.

You will each have contributed to the greater good of your marriage and improved your earning potential. 🙂

Note: This is a guest post from Amanda Brown.

Sep 08

5 Workplace Lessons for a Healthier Marriage

By Kim Hall | Finances & Careers

5 Workplace Lessons for a Healthier
Have you ever worked for a dysfunctional company?

Odds are you have, and you probably were very unhappy.

By the same token, if you have been blessed to work for a terrific company, you probably really enjoyed your time there.

As someone who has experienced both, I have learned there are practices that successful companies have in common.

In the years since we said, “I do!” my husband and I found these practices could be applied in our personal lives to keep our marriage strong.

Through our words and our actions, we have modeled these for our daughters to use in their relationships as well.

From our home to yours, here are five lessons from the workplace for a healthier marriage.

1.  Practice good manners.  Being polite, avoiding embarrassing others, and practicing discretion are just a few of the good manners that build trust and gratitude. These go a long way towards forging strong relationships, and are equally important at work and at home.  While this may seem to be a no-brainer, business people often tend to treat one another with more grace and thoughtfulness than they treat their spouses. Take some time this week to check on the manners you use with the person that matters most to you.

2.  Spend time and money on education.  No matter how long you’ve been married, there are always things you can learn to improve your relationship. Likewise, successful companies invest in their employees because they know it will pay dividends down the road. Fortunately, you don’t have to spend lots of time or money to gain this information. For example, if you aren’t a subscriber to Engaged Marriage yet, sign up here to get the very best tips to help you live a married life you love. The resource page is chock-full of great suggestions, too.

You can also attend events, such as those put on by Winshape Marriage or Family Life. My husband and I attended the Family Life Weekend to Remember a few years ago, and also did the Art of Marriage event, and we recommend both enthusiastically, whether you are engaged, fairly newly married, or you’ve been together for decades.

3.  Take time to recharge. This is a simple and powerful principle, whether you are skipping lunches at work or vacations at home. A change of scenery does wonders to clear the mind and refresh the spirit. Plus, a less stressed person is able to think more clearly and respond in more creative and healthy ways. You can take walks around the block, spend a weekend away, or book a luxurious cruise to a warmer climate. For terrific ideas on date nights, check out these suggestions from The Dating Divas.

4.  Have something to look forward to. To stay interested in and engaged with either your job or your marriage, you must have things to look forward to. Author Jeff Goins wrote recently that having something to look forward to keeps the monotony at bay. He recommends having “A common goal, something to anticipate, (that) can bring you together in ways that the daily grind won’t.” Depending on the stage of your marriage—newlyweds, new parents, empty nesters—a weekly coffee date or short walk with just the two of you may be all you can manage, and may be enough for the short term. What’s important is that you look forward to this joint goal with joy.

5.  Make your marriage a priority. As the old saying goes, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Thriving businesses understand there’s more to life than work, and they strive to be as flexible and accommodating as possible to help individuals make time for the other important things in their lives. Making your marriage a priority will help you weather life’s storms. That strong bond doesn’t develop, though, without taking regular and intentional steps.

You get to choose daily how to act towards and react to your spouse. When you apply these five lessons from the workplace to your relationship, you will be laying the groundwork for a healthy marriage that will delight you in good times and sustain you through the hard ones.

 Question: What lessons from the workplace for a healthier marriage would you add to this list?

 

Aug 04

6 Questions to ask before saying “I Do!” to college loans

By Kim Hall | Finances & Careers

6 Questions to ask before saying I Do to college loansHow is it possible you are thinking about and discussing college preparation, possible school choices, and potential education costs with your children?

Didn’t you just graduate?

It may seem like just yesterday you were considering those decisions for yourself, but times have changed, and so have the stakes:

College costs have risen dramatically—1,220% in the last thirty-five years.

Only a little over half of first-time, full-time students—59%—graduate with a bachelor’s degree, and they do so within six years, not four.

Many graduates struggle with loan payback because the relationship to the earning power of the degree or finding a job wasn’t considered.

Large amounts of education debt are keeping first time house buyers from stepping into home ownership.

About a third of millenials regret their decision to go to college.

Given this bracing splash of information, don’t launch that “Where do I sign?” ceremony just yet.

Instead, here are 6 questions to ask before you say “I Do!” to college loans.

A disclaimer: My husband and I believe children need to be financially responsible for a major portion, if not all, of their education, as there is a lot to be said for having a stake in the game. We also believe there are ways other than college to accomplish learning and skill-building, especially since debt-freedom helps provide a firm foundation upon which to build their lives. Finally, we believe a typical higher education doesn’t automatically provide a good value, and/or may not be the best path for a student. That’s why asking quality questions and doing your due diligence is so important.

1.  Who is ultimately paying for college?

Student? Parent? Are you sharing the responsibility? Whose name will actually be on the dotted line?  Instead of being the borrower, you can be the lender to your children, but be aware of the potential it has to cause some serious relationship and monetary problems. If your children are young and you’re thinking ahead, kudos! Dustin shares about investing—or not—for college here.

2.  What is the total amount of the school loan?

Equally important, what will the payments be? To get an idea, use an online loan calculator. If your debt load is average (2013), you’ll owe about $35,000 beginning six months after you graduate or quit school.

That translates roughly to between $400-$500 a month for ten years, based on interest rates that range from 6.9% to over 11%. Your actual total payback would average around $48,000 to $60,000. You wouldn’t finance a $35,000 car for ten years. Why would you consider financing your education for that long? Think about how, where, and even if this expense will fit into your overall budget.

3.  Where will you choose to go to college?

With over 7,000 establishments of higher education in the U.S., you have a veritable cornucopia of choice. Each has their benefits, depending on your needs and wants, and all of that comes at a cost. Many students spend their first two years at a community college because of the proximity to home and lower tuition, then spend their last two years at a larger institution.

You can do what my sister, the math teacher, did for her daughter when she was considering different schools. Take the total cost, fees and all, for the year, and divide that by the days in the academic calendar, which is usually around 150-160 days. That figure is the cost of the education per day. I think you and your student will find this a real eye-opener for helping to determine value, just as my niece did.

4.  When is the money needed?

Usually the first term’s full payment is due just prior to the start of the school year. But, step back for a moment and think about this: Does college need to start right after high school? Your student may opt for deferred admission, sometimes called a Gap Year. It allows time to work, save, travel, volunteer, and especially, mature.

Your student can be a Feb, a nickname given to students who begin in the spring term. When Middlebury College in Vermont studied freshman who started in the fall vs the spring they discovered, “The Febs not only had higher GPAs, but the positive effects lasted all four years.”

5.  Why are you going to college?

This is the biggest question of all, because you are paying a very high premium for those formative years: money out, typically no real-world work experience in. The hope, of course, is that the value of the degree will accrue as the years pass.

Here are what I consider bad reasons to say “I do!” to loans and college: your family expects you to go, your classmates are all going, your teachers tell you to, the world shouts you’ll be a failure without a degree, and you don’t have any idea what you want to do with your life.

If you’re not sure where else you’d go or what you’d do instead, consider these interesting eleven alternatives, or read Better Than College: How to Build a Successful Life Without a Four-Year Degree. To help get to the bottom of your Why, go through this exercise here.

 6.  How will you pay for the education?

Your choices are many: private or public lenders, scholarships, grants, and your own savings. Here’s a thought: What if it were possible to pay as you go, and graduate debt free? This young man explains how he did, and how you can too, via his book: Debt-Free U: How I Paid for an Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, or Mooching off My Parents. It’s important that your financial plans not be dominated by education financing at the expense of other goals, to quote one of the book’s reviewers.

Going to college is taking a leap of faith that the time and money you spend will result in greater future personal, financial, and career success.  Asking these 6 questions before you say “I Do!” to college loans will help you make the right decision, at the right time, in the right place, and for the right reasons for your family.

Question: What have you used to help make decisions about paying for college?

Photo credit: Ano Lobb

Jul 07

Essential moving tools to save your back, your sanity, and maybe even your marriage

By Kim Hall | Finances & Careers

 essential moving toolsTis the season to be moving, fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, UGH.

Whether you are one of the over 40 million people that will move to a new home this year, a parent moving your child to a college dorm, or a person who adores moving furniture around the living room, I have some essential moving tools to help you get through the task with more joy and less stress.

I think it was at least three houses ago my husband and I declared: This is it. We are never moving again. We are done. When we leave, they will be carrying us out in a box. 

Not only did we continue to move, but this last time we packed our cars and a twenty-eight foot trailer to the roof and headed 1,000 miles south to the beautiful state of Tennessee.

Needless to say, we have learned a great deal about moving over the years, and I am thrilled to be able to share some of that knowledge with you.

As always, be safe and smart with your choices!

Essential moving tools

Work Gloves.  Save your hands and your sanity with these soft and lightweight, latex-coated gloves. Atlas makes the brand we have used for years. They are comfortable, available in different sizes, provide an outstanding grip because of the latex-coated palms, and they are machine washable, too. The link will take you to Amazon, but you can also find them at department and home stores, for around $5-$8.

Free Moving Boxes.  U-Haul hosts a Customer Connect area on their website where you can “Connect with other customers to share or exchange boxes, moving supplies or rides.” I find that Craigslist and Freecycle are also good places to find boxes, as well as your local liquor store (sturdy boxes for books!). We’ve also asked folks who have recently moved if they’d like to get rid of their boxes, and they were thrilled to have us take them off their hands.

Free Packing Materials.  In addition to the places listed above, tap into your workplace or that of friends. My husband worked for a manufacturing plant, and he was able to gather lots of pre-used packaging: sturdy boxes, bubble wrap, and large sheets of plain paper. Not only was this double usage good for the environment, but it was great for the pocketbook! I have included free boxes and packing materials as essential because if you have to buy them, the cost of your move will be significantly higher. Just know you will need much more than you think!

Packing Tape Dispenser.  Whether you are packing boxes to store or move, be sure to invest in a quality tape dispenser. Not only will you be glad to have it at moving time, but it will become an indispensable part of your household toolbox. ULine, a family owned packing and shipping material business, carries several types. I like both the heavy duty tape model as well as the comfort grip dispenser, each under $20. In our house we have a saying: Buy once, buy quality, and that is especially important for tape dispensers and tape.

Pre-marked Tape.  Mark your boxes with at least the name of the room the contents came from. That way, you won’t have to constantly direct helpers to the place the boxes in the right part of the house. UHaul makes Smart Move tape that is both color coded and has messages so organization is easy. If you do a search on Amazon for Moving Tape or Labeling Tape, you will find more choices, too.

Evernote.  We went one step further beyond marking and numbering the boxes. We used the free software Evernote to list the boxes and their contents. Evernote can be accessed across your laptop, mobile devices, and your desktop, which is incredibly handy, especially when you are in the middle of a move. We were able to do a quick search in Evernote to find a specific item and just go to the correctly numbered box to find it.

Stretch Plastic Wrap.  Imagine heavy duty, extra-stretchy, Handi-Wrap on a handle, and what you have is an inexpensive tool—generally $8 to $20 for a large roll—you can’t do without. Rather than using rope, heavy tape, or ties, the stretch wrap holds things together with a minimum of effort and material. We especially love the brands, like U-Haul, that have a handle that allows for tension control.

Got unwieldy skis, poles, hockey sticks, etc? Put a bit of wrap at the top, bottom, and middle of the group. Want to seal the edges of those plastic tubs? Use the wrap. Want to make sure the ziploc baggie of screws stays with the furniture? Wrap them together. Just a word of warning: If you use this on finished wood furniture, it can leave marks if left in storage for months. Just saying . . .

Hand Truck.  We bought a little red beauty from our local Tractor Supply for $55, and it was priceless, especially since it’s rated for 600 pounds! You will be amazed at how handy these are to have around, and they are much easier on the back than carrying those bigger boxes and items. Amazon offers a lightweight, fold-up version rated for 250 pounds that has gotten terrific reviews, too: Wesco Steel Maxi Mover Folding Truck.

Forklift Straps.  These are the gadgety looking things you might have seen in the As Seen on TV! store displays, but don’t let the ads fool you into thinking these are junk. These straps are one of the most helpful tools for moving, especially in regards to keeping your marriage healthy and happy.  I get frustrated that I can’t pick up and/or manage bigger, heavier, things like my hubby can, and these straps help level that playing field somewhat. You can find them at home and department stores, as well as Amazon, starting at around $20 in black, safety orange, and pink, too! Consumer Reports tested them, and you can watch the short video here.

Big Slider.  Innovation and Technology News had this to say about this nifty moving tool:

It was invented by a woman looking for a way to move large items around her house when her husband wasn’t around. The resulting product is a flexible plastic sheet that can move up to 500 pounds on concrete. Best of all, no lifting is required – a person simply tilts, loads and slides the piece where it needs to go. The possible uses are endless; the Big Slider Web site even notes over 100. Among them, moving furniture, transporting machinery in a work area, and hauling bags of grass, mulch and fertilizer around the yard.

We just learned about this, and it is definitely on my list. Plus, think it would make a great gift for a college student, young apartment dweller, or folks who find themselves moving heavy things by themselves. You can learn more and buy it here, where the smaller Sliders start around $25.

Moving is difficult enough on your body, without the added potential of more stress in your life and relationships. Make your moves, whether across the room or cross-country, as easy on yourself and your marriage as possible with these essential moving tools!

Question: What is your favorite tool or tip for moving?