Archive for February 2015

Take Back Control Of Your Work-Life Balance

work-life balance

work-life balanceMany of us struggle to have a healthy work-life balance. There?s an old expression that says ?do you live to work, or do you work to live?? This is a question that is difficult for many of us to answer.

It costs money to maintain a living and the majority of us need to earn our money in order to pay for the cost of living. The challenge is to save enough of what we earn to have a backup plan, in the event of a worst case scenario, or a vacation fund to get away from the daily grind for a time.

What makes this goal even more challenging is that TV and movies convince us that there is always a light at the end of the personal financial tunnel. However, the truth is the onus is on us to make our own way.

Save For A Rainy Day

We expect that our jobs are secure and that we can continue maintaining the living that we grow accustomed to. But what happens if the company is downsizing, the economy goes into the tank, or as is often the case, we offend the bosses? How much do we believe in our job security then?

The point is that the unexpected can occur at any given time, and we must be prepared to accept that. Life is full of surprising challenges, and without money in the bank, we must scramble just to keep our head above the water if we are, without warning hit by one of these challenges.

A simple way to guarantee we have savings is to devote a fixed amount of each paycheck towards putting money aside in a savings account. This can be as little as $25 or $50 of our pay up to as high as we want to go. The point is that if we remain consistent, we slowly but surely build our emergency fund.

Pay Down Outstanding Debt

Whether its money we owe on a mortgage or the monthly statement for our credit card, we must pay down our debts to stay out of financial trouble. The rate that we keep up with our obligations impacts things like our credit score, which determines how much we can borrow in the future.

If we fail to keep up with our debts, our credit score pays the price and over the long term, so do we. Like we do with saving, we should dedicate a fixed amount of our money towards paying down debt.

This way we know how much we can afford to pay and by extension, how much we can afford to spend ? ensuring we avoid being bogged down by unmanageable debts and excessive interest rates.

Find The Balance Between Frugal And Shameful

Saving money is one thing, but what happens if our frugal habits are crossing over into outright cheapness? The term penny pinching is a very real thing, and we can actually cost ourselves more over the long run by cutting too many costs in the short term.

Maybe a little pride is worthwhile here. If we are buying something that will be given to someone we know or presented to a group of people, do we really want it to be obvious that we decided to cheap out?

It?s All About Control

The point is that we are masters of our own fate. Our bank accounts, credit cards, household payments, and vacation funds are all maintained based on how we choose to use our money. We are in control and it?s up to us to use that control wisely.


Photo courtesy of: Dion Hinchcliffe

4 Simple Tips for a Better Work-Life Balance

work-life balance

work-life balanceWe all want to make more money?and succeed in our careers ? but at what cost? If you make a lot of money but spend all of your time working, what good is the money? It is crucial that you are able to strike an appropriate work-life balance in order to succeed in your career but also enjoy your life away from the office.

It can certainly be a challenge to succeed in this effort, but it is worth your time to try and get it right. I know it has been a challenge for me way too often though it’s a battle worth fighting. If you’re wanting or needing a better work-life balance, hopefully some of these tips will help towards your effort.

#1 ? Put Work Away

It isn?t healthy, or productive, to feel like you are working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Instead, you need to have some time when you put work away and just focus on other things that you enjoy. This has become more difficult with the advancement of cell phones, but it is still possible.

Put your phone away at certain times and commit yourself to not checking email for a period of time. As long as your work is in order, it will still be there for you when you get back.

#2 ? Keep Up with Your Hobbies

As people move further into adulthood, they have a bad habit of getting away from their hobbies and simply focusing all of their energy on their responsibilities.

Don?t fall into this trap.

Keep up with the things that you enjoy doing, and make sure you dedicate enough time to them on a regular basis. Whether it is golf, running, music, camping, hiking, or any other interest, make it a regular part of your life to provide yourself with an outlet from work. Not only will you find that it actually helps you manage your time better, but it also can help you stay healthy as well.

#3 ? Prioritizing is Key to a Better Work-Life Balance

Most people are busy, but you can always make time for the things that are important in your life. If you have a family and want to spend time with them, keep that priority high on your list and don?t let work overrun it too often. You may have to make sacrifices for your job from time to time, but make sure that your boss and co-workers understand that you have priorities away from the office as well.

I have found that listing my priorities and taking time off actually helps me be more productive business-wise. It means I’m spending less time working but I know what I need to work on and what can be left til later so I can focus on spending time with my family.

#4 ? Plan Your Career Path

Some careers are simply better suited for a good work-life balance than others. If you are just getting started in your career, or even if you have been working for a long time, it is important to pay attention to your own career path and try to steer it in a direction that will give you the kind of balance you are looking for.

Talk to other people in your field to get an idea of what various positions are like, and then work your way into one that sounds desirable to you. It might require some time to research, but is well worth the effort in the long run.


What are some of the things you struggle with in trying to reach a better work-life balance? How do you prioritize tasks to ensure time for yourself? What is one hobby you’d like to take up but haven’t given yourself the time to do so?



Photo courtesy of: Kool Cats

Why You Might Need A Tax Preparer – Even in Your 20s

Tax Preparer

Tax PreparerBy now, we can stop pretending that 20-somethings are surprised when they learn that they have to pay taxes. Since a majority of young adults has held down at least part-time jobs since they were a teenager, they are acutely aware of the fact that Uncle Sam wants his piece of the pie.

However, what many 20-somethings may not realize is that they might be paying more than they should in taxes ? or making mistakes?that could land them in hot water later on. In some cases it might make sense to instead work with a tax preparer in order to make sure they’re done right and getting the biggest refund possible. (In reality, these really isn’t an issue younger people face, but virtually anyone can.)

The truth is, even if you don?t have a six-figure salary (yet), an impressive investment portfolio, or any real estate, you may still qualify for deductions and credits that can make a big difference in your refund. Even if you don?t, working with a qualified tax professional can help you avoid costly errors and stressful audits, as well as save cash.

You Have Freelance Income

Whether you made money online?through something like freelance writing or selling?custom artwork on Etsy, or provided tutoring for your neighbor, if you earned any income at all you have to claim it. IRS regulations require employers to send Form 1099 to freelancers (or any non-employee) only when compensation exceeds $600, but earning less does not exempt you from having to report that income. A tax professional can help you claim your income correctly, as well as help you make deduction that will lower your tax burden.

For example, if you had to purchase supplies for your artwork, you may be able to deduct a portion of that cost, as well as selling fees, marketing costs, or even space for your studio or workshop. At the same time, you may have to fulfill certain tax requirements (such as filing sales tax reports) that if you skip, could get you into trouble with the feds. In fact, working with a tax pro before you start your business to get you taxes in order?can get you off on the right foot and make it easier come tax time.

You Have a Retirement Plan

Most people who have retirement plans through their employers make their contributions and think nothing else of it. However, if you earn less than $30,000 a year, those retirement plan contributions could make you eligible for a tax credit.

The Tax Saver?s Credit encourages low-wage earners to save for the future by providing a tax credit of up to 50 percent of qualifying retirement plan contributions. For most 20-somethings, this amounts to a few hundred dollars, but it?s still a reduction in your tax bill and a potentially bigger refund. A tax professional can help you determine your eligibility for credits ? there are others you may qualify for, such as credits for going back to school ? and get your bill as low as possible.

You Moved

Moving expense deductions are one of the most misunderstood categories, and taxpayers are often surprised to find that they can?t deduct everything they thought they could. While only a tax expert can determine whether you qualify for a deduction, if you moved to take a new job ? and that job increases your commute by 50 miles or more ? then you can deduct moving expenses, including the costs to move your belongings, connecting utilities, lodging, etc.

You will need receipts for your expenses, and not everything is allowable, but you can reduce your tax bill by deducting moving costs.

You Purchased Health Insurance

If you get insurance through your employer, then all you need to do is check a box on your return. If you purchased coverage through the health insurance exchange, though, you have a little more paperwork to do. You?ll have to complete Form 8962, to determine whether you over or underpaid for your subsidized coverage, as well as submit a 1095 form to prove that you were covered for all 12 months of the year. If you weren?t covered all year, you may have to pay a penalty for each month you went without insurance. A tax pro can help you complete these forms correctly and help you hang on to more of your cash.

The services of a tax professional will cost you some cash, but the savings ? and peace of mind ? that can come from that help are well worth the expense. Before you dismiss the idea of hiring a tax accountant, consider the benefits of doing so, and take steps toward a stronger financial future.



Photo courtesy of: John Morgan

6 Simple Ways to Stage Your Home to Sell Fast

stage your home

2901853357_21006ecb57_zIf you’re getting ready to sell your home, you’ll get the best results if you learn how to stage your home to sell fast. When we sold our last home nearly three years ago, we had buyers within a week. One of the reasons our home sold so very quickly is because we took the time to stage it well.

When buyers are shopping for a home, there are certain criteria they use to keep that home on the “yes” list, or to put it on the “no way” list. Some criteria that buyers are looking for is out of your hands, such as the number of bedrooms they need, the layout of the house they want or the neighborhood they want to live in.? Other factors, however, are well within your control, and when used properly, can give your home extra sparkle to potential buyers.

Any number of interior designers offer home staging services, but if a professional staging coach is not in your budget, learn from these tips how to stage your home to sell fast. There are tips and tricks you can use to stage your home in a way that will boost its appearance without draining your pocketbook.

Stage Your Home to Sell Fast by Decluttering

Decluttering?goes a LONG way in staging your home for a fast sale. When determining what to keep and what to pack up or get rid of, walk through your home as if you’re walking through a model home. Determine what furniture pieces and accessories add to the appeal of the home, and what furniture pieces and accessories look intrusive.

Find a balance between having a sparse amount of things in the house but not too sparse. Not enough furniture pieces and accessories will induce a feel of lack, which could ward off potential buyers. Make sure that dressers, counters and the refrigerator (both the top and the front) are clean and clear. Go through each room and closet and remove anything that might make the room or closet feel cramped or cluttered. Closets are especially important in terms of decluttering, as cramped closets can create the illusion that the home doesn’t have enough storage space.

De-Personalize Your Home

When potential buyers enter your home, they want to be able to envision themselves living there. This will be difficult for them to do if they see your personalized items everywhere. By “personalized” I mean anything with eyes and names.

Take down pictures of people and replace them with pictures of stuff, such as landscape pictures or floral pictures, put away stuffed animals, and put away anything that’s monogrammed. Give the house a bit of an anonymous feel so that potential buyers can see themselves there and not see you there.

Add Warmth to the Home

Casually but neatly lay a fashionable blanket over the arm of the couch. Place a “welcome” sign near your entryway. Have a bowl of mints on the kitchen counter for prospective buyers. Light a battery-operated candle in the bathroom. Make sure the home encompasses a warm welcome in every room.

Deep Clean the Home

Give your home a super-deep cleaning, both in the house/garage, and in the yard. Wipe down the baseboards, the doors, the cupboards and every square inch of the house. ?Cut the lawn and trim the bushes. Make your home sparkle like it’s never sparkled before.

Get the carpets and furniture professionally cleaned if they need it. Elbow-grease and hard work are free, and will create a move-in ready feel to potential buyers.


If your home needs it, give the rooms a coat of fresh paint. Make sure to stick with super-benign, neutral colors in light tones. One or two rooms with a bright color is okay if the bright color is in fashion, but if there are too many rooms with wild colors, potential buyers will only associate the home with work to be done.

Buy a Few Inexpensive Accessories

One of the best purchases we made when we sold our last home was a cheap but high-end looking coffee table with matching end-tables. The set was $115 at our local home improvement store, but it added scores of class to our formal living room.? This frugal purchase was part of the reason we sold our home so quickly. It aired of elegance and class, but hardly cost us anything.

Working to stage your home well before you put it on the market will help you entice the maximum amount of potential buyers available, and will help you sell your home?quicker?and hopefully at top dollar. Work to make sure you put your home’s best foot forward before you put it on the market.


Have you ever staged a home for sale? What do you look for when shopping for a potential home? Have you ever seen a home that completely ignored doing some of these things while still trying to sell it?



Photo courtesy of:?Derec Shuler

4 Simple Ways to Save Money on Appliances

Save Money

Save MoneyWhen I first bought my house in 2012, it was completely unfurnished and since it had never been lived in before it also had no utilities. There was no washer and dryer, no oven, no stove, no microwave, no refrigerator, and no dishwasher. Since most of these things are essential for day-to-day living, I had to shell out for all of these things right away.

Buying all new appliances was fun because I could get whatever color, brand, and features that I wanted. The downside of buying all new appliances is that appliances are expensive! Luckily, I used a few different methods to make sure I was getting the best deal possible when I bought my appliances.

Haggle with Cash

If at all possible, you should go into the store with cash in hand to pay for your appliances. When you have the cash with you right then and there, sales people are generally more willing to go the extra mile to find exactly what you want and haggle with you for a discount too.

Whenever you are making a large purchase in cash, you should ask for a ?cash discount?. You?d be surprised how many places offer discounts just for paying with cash instead of a credit card.

Look for Imperfect Models

Most appliance stores have a section of models with small dings, dents, and scratches on their surface. Generally these superficial dings have absolutely no effect on the quality of the appliance or how it will function in your home. In fact, lots of these dents and dings will likely be covered up by your surrounding furniture or cabinets anyhow. I always look in this section as you can usually find a higher-end model for way less just because it has superficial damage.

Shop for Used Models

If you don?t have the funds to buy brand new appliances from a store, you should consider buying used models that are still in good condition. Lots of websites and online trading groups, like appliances on Gumtree, have fairly new appliances for way less than you?d pay for a new model. Just make sure you don?t buy appliances that are too old or worn out.

Check Out Energy Savings

One of the other things I look for whenever I buy an appliance is the cost it will incur to use it over the course of a year. Almost all appliances these days have an ?Energy Star rating? that will let you know if the appliances you are looking at are energy efficient.

Sometimes it might even be worth it to replace an older appliance that is still working but is not very energy efficient. Buying energy efficient appliances can really help save money on your utility bills?over the course of a year, and especially over the lifetime of your energy efficient appliance.

No matter if you are shopping for all new appliances or just replacing an older model or two, you can use these tips to help you save on your next appliance purchase.




Photo courtesy of: Wonderlane