Working from home has its perks. Thereâs the money saved from skipping the commute, and just think about all of that time you get back by avoiding crowded freeways or public transit during rush hour. As far as workplace attire goes, few employees would trade âwork-from-home casualâ for dress slacks.
But while working from home affords some new freedoms, it also creates new challenges. One of your biggest tasks is to create a productive, ergonomically correct workplace in your home without breaking the bank. If this sounds familiar, youâre probably asking yourself, âHow can I set up a home office on a budget?â
Whether youâve always worked from home as a freelancer or started during the pandemic, these expert tips will help you get started as you design your home office on a budget:
Strive for an ergonomically correct home office
Being home all day creates an unexpected obstacle: pain. Many workers find that transitioning from a well-equipped office to a makeshift setup at home leads to discomfort. Thatâs because many of them go from having a spacious desk, comfortable chair, and monitor and keyboard in their office building to working from a laptop in their living room.
If you suffer from neck pain or eye strain when working from home, you may be feeling the effects of poor ergonomics. Ergonomics, commonly known as the science of work, aims to optimize productivity and health in a workspace.
As a physical therapist with more than 25 years of experience, Karen Loesing, owner of The Ergonomic Expert, knows this issue all too well. Loesingâs company performs ergonomic assessments for businesses and home offices. Over the years, she has seen countless clients suffering from neck, back or other health issues due to poorly designed workspaces. But it doesnât have to be that way, Loesing says.
âHaving an ergonomically correct workstation enhances productivity and generally overall happiness at work.â
There are relatively easy ways to transform an ergonomic nightmare into a well-functioning home office on a budgetâeven if youâre stationed at the kitchen table, she says. And the investment is worth it.
âHaving an ergonomically correct workstation enhances productivity and generally overall happiness at work,â Loesing says. âFor those who are able to designate a certain space in their home where they can work without distractionsâmaybe even a window with a view and the flexibility to work at your own paceâit has been proven this makes for a happier employee.â
Who doesnât want to boost their health, productivity and happiness in one fell swoop?
Find the optimal location for your at-home workspace
When setting up a home office for remote work, location should be your first decision, says design consultant Linda Varone, author of âThe Smarter Home Office.â Depending on your living situation, there may be an obvious answer, such as that spare room youâve always thought could become an office space.
If you donât have a dedicated office, donât despair. While you design your home office on a budget, think creatively about where it can be.
Varone once visited a clientâs home to help reconfigure her workspace. The client was running a business from a table in the hallway. âAt the end of each workday, she had to pack everything up and store it in the closet in the guest room,â Varone says.
But as Varone learned, guests only stayed over two weeks a year, leaving the room empty the rest of the time. It hadnât occurred to the business owner, but turning the guest room into a home office for most of the year was the perfect solution.
âThere are some simple, simple ways that people can rethink their home office without a big investment and make that space really work for them,â Varone says.
In addition to using a guest room, a dining or living room can also function as a home office on a budget.
Establish the ideal setup for your workstation
Once youâve decided on the room, determine the location for your workstation, Varone says. As you plan your home office, consider placing your desk or table near a window, allowing for natural light and an occasional glimpse of nature. Donât face directly outside; instead, aim for a line of sight thatâs perpendicular to the window, Varone says. Thatâs because, even on an overcast day, youâd be looking into too much bright light if youâre facing the window.
âWhatâs happening is your eyes are adjusting back and forth between the bright sunlight that youâre facing and the darker light of your computer screen,â Varone says. âAnd that ends up being really fatiguing for the eye.â
If you live with others, the biggest challenge will be privacy. Try to clearly define the boundaries of your âofficeâ if you can, such as with an area rug, she says. Then ask your roommates or family members not to enter your space while youâre working, apart from an emergency.
If you use a multipurpose space, be sure to tidy everything up at the end of the day, Varone says. Taking the 10 minutes or so to clean up your âofficeâ will reduce clutter. Ultimately, a clutter-free space can reduce your stress and boost your productivity.
âThat also has a benefit of becoming a little ritual and helping you say, âAll right, my workday is over,ââ Varone says. ââNow I can focus on my personal life.ââ
Choose your furniture wisely
Now that youâve found the perfect location for your home office on a budget, focus on finding the perfect work surface. Maybe itâs a traditional desk. Or it could be your dining room table or kitchen counter.
If you do need to buy a desk or chair, donât feel like you need to spend a fortune. Try looking for a used office furniture store or liquidator in your area, Varone recommends. You could even try searching online marketplaces for a gently used model.
When planning a home office and considering your work surface, what matters most is the height.
The average desk is 29 inches high, Loesing says. This will likely accommodate someone whoâs 5â8â, she acknowledges, but for everyone else? It will take some adjusting to make it fit for them.
Thatâs where your chair comes in. Most people donât need a high-end office swivel chair to work comfortably. As long as you can adjust the height of your chair to fit you and your desk, youâll have a comfortable setup.
Itâs important to adjust the height of your chair to achieve a neutral position, Loesing says. If you donât have the instructions from the manufacturer on how to adjust your model, try searching for videos online, she adds.
One more chair takeaway from Loesing?
âIf you canât spend a dime, at least get as comfortable as you can where youâre sitting, and sit all the way back in your chair,â Loesing says. âWhen you donât sit so your back is against the backrest, youâre using your back muscles all day long instead of them being at rest.â
Adjust your furniture and equipment
As you continue planning a home office, youâll likely find that your computer is your most important piece of equipment. But it can also lead to neck strain. Whether itâs a laptop or an external monitor, Loesing says screen placement is key. In fact, she says itâs the single most important feature to addressâas well as the most commonly disregarded one.
While you plan your home office, Loesing recommends keeping the following ergonomic guidelines in mind to help avoid neck strain:
Align your monitor so your eyes are level with the screen. (Thatâs typically about 4â from the top of the monitor.)
Place your feet flat on the floor and your knees at about a 90-degree angle with the ground.
Place your arms at about a 90-degree angle from the writing surface so your shoulders are relaxed.
If you only have a laptop, and no monitor, you still have options for raising your screen to eye-level. âThere are budget-friendly laptop risers on the market,â Loesing says. âIf you donât want to spend any money, you can place books or reams of paper to bring the screen up to eye level.â
When setting up a home office for remote work and thinking about your arm placement, note that Varone is a strong advocate for an external keyboard. If youâre working at a desk that has a keyboard tray built into it, thatâs a great way to keep your arms at about a 90-degree angle, she says. If you donât have a built-in tray, she says you can improvise by placing your keyboard on an inexpensive laptop table situated directly under your desk.
While the exact adjustments will vary depending on your equipment, height and budget, the focus is on acquiring a neutral position or a position where thereâs no strain on anything, Loesing says.
âWith the addition of standing desks, which encourage movement, employees often find they have significantly more energy at the end of the day.â
Stand if it suits you
If youâre intrigued by the idea of a standing desk, youâre not alone. Standing desk sales have soared over the last decade, buoyed by reports of the dangers of too much sitting.
âStatic postures (e.g., sitting all day in front of a computer) present more fatigue than dynamic working,â Loesing says. âWith the addition of standing desks, which encourage movement, employees often find they have significantly more energy at the end of the day.â
You donât have to buy an official standing desk to reap the benefits when planning a home office. âThe least expensive way would be to take a laptop and place it up high on a built-in high counter using a compact wireless keyboard and mouse,â Loesing says.
Even if you donât have a standing deskâmakeshift or otherwiseâyou can still incorporate movement and circulation into your workday. Set a timer to remind you to stand up and stretch every 20 minutes, Loesing suggests.
For an even better boost, combine this with a popular guideline known as the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, give your eyes a break by looking out a window at something at least 20 feet away, and do so for at least 20 seconds.
Donât forget the ambience and accessories
Your desk, chair and computer are the major players when youâre setting up a home office for remote work. But there are a few additional items to consider, like lighting, plants and sound.
Your overhead light fixture likely isnât enough, as it will create shadows and can be too weak by the time it reaches your workspace, Varone says. She recommends investing in a table lamp that creates a wider spread of light in your area. Pick one with a translucent shade that will softly diffuse the light and make it easier on your eyes.
As youâre planning your home office, Varone also recommends incorporating a potted plant or flower into your workspace. Not only can it help purify the air and boost your mood, a natural element can contribute to a restful atmosphere.
Working from home means working with home noisesâespecially if youâre in an environment with roommates, a partner or little ones. To keep the noise down, consider noise-canceling headphones for a quieter workspace and clearer meetings. Other budget-friendly options? Try placing a towel under the door to block out noise from other rooms, Loesing says. Consider curtains instead of blinds, since theyâre better at blocking out sound. Even pillows or large cushions can help reduce noise, she adds.
After youâve taken care of the essentials and if you have the space and money, think about adding a reading chair to your home office. You can use this as a space to review documents or do some deep thinking, Varone says. It can be a welcome respite from your desk while keeping you in the office area, she adds.
One last tip? Add a personal touch, whether itâs a framed family photo or a souvenir from your travels. Itâs your home office, after all. Let your personality shine.
Set up a home office for remote work that allows you to thrive
Now that you know how to create a home office on a budget, youâre ready to make a space that works well for you. Whether youâre an experienced remote worker or a newbie, you can apply these expert tips to set up an office thatâs functional and keeps you motivated day in and day out.
Ready to break in your new home office? Keep that motivation going by learning how to increase your earning potential this year.
The post Planning a Home Office? Check Out These Budget-Friendly Tips appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
Before the coronavirus reached the U.S., unemployment was low and few could have anticipated a global pandemic. However, as the pandemic and ensuing recession took hold, a record-breaking number of people filed for unemployment benefits to stay financially afloat.
âCOVID-19 led to an incredible number of American workers being without work,â says Julia Simon-Mishel, an unemployment compensation attorney. âAnd itâs caused a huge need for individuals to file for unemployment insurance.â
Unemployment insurance, or unemployment benefits, can offer an essential lifeline. But if youâve never accessed these benefits before, you may have questions about how they work. You might also be asking: What do I do when my unemployment benefits run out and Iâm still unemployed?
This article1 offers tips about what you need to know about filing an unemployment claim. It also addresses the following questions:
How do you prepare for the end of unemployment benefits?
Can your unemployment benefits be extended?
What can you do when unemployment runs out?
Can you refile for unemployment after it runs out?
If youâre just getting ready to file or need a refresher on the basics of unemployment benefits, read on to have your questions answered.
If youâre already collecting benefits and want to know what happens once you reach the end of the benefit period, skip ahead to âSteps to take before your unemployment benefits run out.â
Common questions about unemployment benefits
Experiencing a job loss is challenging no matter what. Keep in mind that youâre not alone, and remember that unemployment benefits were created to help you.
While theyâre designed to provide financial relief, unemployment benefits are not always easy to navigate. Hereâs what you need to know to understand how unemployment benefits work:
What are unemployment benefits?
Unemployment insurance provides people who have lost their job with temporary income while they search for and land another job. The amount provided and time period the benefits last may vary by state. Generally, most states offer up to half of a personâs previous wages in unemployment benefits for 26 weeks or until you land another full-time job, whichever comes first. Requirements and eligibility may vary, so be sure to check your stateâs unemployment agency for guidance.
How do you apply for unemployment benefits?
Depending on where you live, claims may be filed in person, by phone or online. Check your state governmentâs website for details.
Who can file an unemployment claim?
This also may vary from state to state, but eligibility typically requires that you lost your job or were furloughed through no fault of your own, in addition to meeting work and wage requirements. During the coronavirus pandemic, the government loosened restrictions, extending unemployment benefits to gig workers and the self-employed.
When should you apply for unemployment benefits?
Short answer: As soon as possible after you lose your job. âIf you are someone who has had steady W2 work, itâs important that you file for unemployment the moment you lose work,â Simon-Mishel says. The longer you wait to file, the longer youâre likely to wait to get paid.
When do you receive unemployment benefits?
Generally, if you are eligible, you can expect to receive your first benefit check two to three weeks after you file your claim. Of course, this may differ based on your state or if thereâs a surge of people filing claims.
2020 enhancements to unemployment benefits for freelance and contract workers
In early 2020, the U.S. government enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act. In addition to other benefits, the CARES Act created a new program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. This program provides unemployment benefits to independent contractors and other workers who were typically ineligible. That means that if you donât have steady W2 incomeâfor instance, freelance and contract workers, those who file 1099s, farmers and the self-employedâyou still may qualify for unemployment benefits.
âThat program is a retroactive payout,â Simon-Mishel says. âIf youâre just finding out about that program several months after losing your job, you should be able to file and get benefits going back to when you lost work.â
Because legislation affecting unemployment benefits continues to evolve, itâs important that you keep an eye out for any additional stimulus programs that can extend unemployment benefits. Be sure to regularly check your stateâs unemployment insurance program page for updates.
“Itâs really important to keep on top of all the information out there right now and be aware of what benefits are available to you.”
Steps to take before your unemployment benefits run out
In a perfect world, your job leads would become offers long before you reached the end of your unemployment benefits. But in reality, thatâs not always the case.
If youâre still unemployed but havenât yet exhausted your benefits and extensions, you may want to prepare for the end of your unemployment benefits as early as possible so you donât become financially overwhelmed. Here are four tips to help you get through this time:
Talk to service providers
Reaching out to your utility service providers like your gas, electric or water company is one of the first steps John Schmoll, creator of personal finance blog Frugal Rules, suggests taking if youâre preparing for the end of unemployment benefits.
âA lot of times, either out of shame or just not knowing, people donât contact service providers and let them know what their situation is,â Schmoll says. â[Contact them to] see what programs they have in place to help you reduce your spending, and basically save as much of that as possible to help stretch your budget even further.â
Save what you can
To help prepare for the end of your unemployment benefits, a few months before your benefits end, Schmoll suggests cutting back spending as much as possible, focusing only on necessities.
âIf you can try and save something out of the benefits that youâre receiving while youâre receiving themâit doesnât matter if itâs $10 or $20âthatâs going to help provide some cushion,â Schmoll says. Keep those funds in a separate account if you can, so youâre not tempted to spend them. That way youâre more prepared in case of an emergency.
If you hunkered down during your period of unemployment and were able to save, try to resist the urge to splurge on things that arenât necessary.
âThere might be temptation to overspend, but curtail that and focus on true necessities,â Schmoll says. âThat way when [or if] you receive an extension on your benefits, you now have that extra money saved.â
Seek additional financial aid
If you find that your savings and benefits arenât covering your expenses, and youâre reaching a point where you no longer qualify for benefits, look into other new benefit programs or features designed to help during times of crisis.
For example, there are programs across the country to assist people with rent or mortgages, Simon-Mishel says. Those programs are generally designed to keep those facing financial hardship from losing their home or apartment. You may need to show that you are within the programsâ income limits to qualify, or demonstrate that your rent is more than 30 percent of your income. These programs vary widely at the state and even city level, so check your local government website to see what might be available to you.
As you prepare for the end of your unemployment benefits, explore which government benefits or government agency may be best suited for your needs.
Keep up with the news
During economic downturns, government programs and funds often change to keep up with evolving demand.
âItâs really important to keep on top of all the information out there right now and be aware of what benefits are available to you,â says Simon-Mishel. âYou should closely pay attention to the social media of your state unemployment agency and local news about other extension programs that might be added and that you might be eligible for.â
Options for extending your unemployment benefits
If youâre currently receiving benefits, but theyâll be ending soon, youâre likely wondering what to do when your unemployment runs out and asking if your unemployment benefits can be extended. Start by confirming when you first filed your claim because that will determine your benefit end date.
If youâre wondering, âCan you refile for unemployment after it runs out?â the answer is yes, but youâll have to wait until your current âbenefit yearâ expires. Note that a benefit year is 12 months from when you file a claim. If you filed at the beginning of June, for example, you generally can’t file again until the beginning of the following June.
You may get 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, depending on your stateâs rules at the time. Most states extended the payout period to 39 weeks in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Check your stateâs website for the particulars on what to do when your unemployment runs out.
If your claim is still active but youâll be in need of additional financial relief after your unemployment benefits run out, here are your options:
File for an unemployment extension
During extraordinary economic times, such as the coronavirus pandemic, the federal government may use legislation like the CARES Act to offer people more benefits for a longer period of time, helping many people concerned about whether unemployment benefits can be extended.
For example, in 2020, for most workers who exhaust, or receive all of, their unemployment benefits, a 13-week extension should automatically kick in, Simon-Mishel says. This would bring you up to 39 weeks total. However, if more than a year has passed since you originally filed and you need the extension, you will likely need to file a short application provided by the government. Details vary by state.
As youâre determining what to do when your unemployment runs out, reach out to your unemployment office. Itâs important to do this before your benefits expire so you can avoid a missed payment. You can also confirm youâre eligible and that you can refile for unemployment after it runs out.
Ask about the Extended Benefits program in your state
Can unemployment benefits be extended beyond that? In periods of high unemployment, you may qualify for a second extension, depending on your state.
âAfter those [first] 13 weeks, many states have added a new program called Extended Benefits that can provide another 13 to 20 weeks of unemployment when a state is experiencing high unemployment,â Simon-Mishel adds. This means you may be able to receive a total of up to 59 weeks of unemployment benefits, including extensions. The total number of weeks of unemployment you may receive varies based on your state and the economic climate.
Itâs hard enough keeping up with everything as you prepare for the end of unemployment benefits, so donât worry if you donât have your stateâs benefits program memorized. Visit your stateâs unemployment insurance program page to learn more about what benefits are available to you.
Beyond unemployment benefits
While life and your finances may seem rocky now, know that youâre not alone. Remember that there are resources available to help support you, and try to take things one day at a time, Schmoll says.
âRealize that at some point your current situation will improve.â
If you find that your benefits arenât covering all of your expenses, now may be the time to dip into your cash reserve. Explore these tips to determine when itâs time to use your emergency fund.
1 This article is not legal advice and should not be construed as such. Eligibility for unemployment benefits may be impacted by variations in state programs, changes in programs, and your circumstances. If you have questions, you should consider consulting with your legal counsel, at your expense, or seek free assistance from your local legal aid organization.
Articles may contain information from third-parties. The inclusion of such information does not imply an affiliation with the bank or bank sponsorship, endorsement, or verification regarding the third-party or information.
The post How to Prepare for the End of Your Unemployment Benefits appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
Months (and months) of grading papers, bringing work home on the weekends, staying on-point for all those young minds you’ve been charged with educating and finally… summer is here! It’s time to put your feet up and relax for a well-earned break from your awesome, and often intense, teaching career. But wait. How do teachers budget with no paycheck during the summer?
The summer paycheck gap doesn’t need to be a cause of stress for educators. You just need to put a plan in place to cover your finances for the months that school is out of session. You can follow these guidelines to create a summer budgeting plan that works for you:
Spread your income over 12 months
Bobby Hoyt, a former teacher and personal finance blogger at Millennial Money Man, says the beginning of the school year is always a “crazy time” for teachers. Your best bet to cover the summer paycheck gap is to have a budget in place well in advance of the bell on the first day of school.
To start, check to see if your school offers a year-round payment option. This would allow you to opt-in prior to the beginning of the school year to have your paychecks spread out over 12 months instead of the 10 or so months that you are working. “That way you’ll have a consistent paycheck no matter what time of the year it is,” says Kristin Larsen, personal finance blogger at Believe in a Budget. Even though your monthly pay will be lower with year-round paychecks, it could be easier to create a financial plan and manage the summer paycheck gap with the predictable cash flow.
If your school doesn’t offer this type of program or if you prefer to collect your standard paychecks and spread them out to accommodate summer, you can create your own 12-month paycheck plan to manage the summer paycheck gap. First, divide your annual income by the amount of months you receive paychecks. If you earn $57,000 a year and work for 10 months, for example, you’ll arrive at $5,700. Next, divide your annual income by 12 months, which in this example, would be $4,750. Finally, calculate the difference between those numbers. In this case, it’s $950. This is how much you would need to set aside from your monthly income to provide for two months of the same pay during the summer. You’re essentially putting money aside so you can give yourself a paycheck during your time off.
“Then, you’ll want to sit down and create a budget and find where you need to cut back and where you can still do the things you enjoy,” Hoyt says.
See if your school offers a year-round payment option. This would allow you to opt-in prior to the beginning of the school year to have your paychecks spread out over 12 months instead of the 10 or so months that you are working.
Calculate your standard expenses and summer extras
If you’re a teacher living with no paycheck during the summer, Hoyt suggests figuring out how much money you’ll need in the summer months to cover your standard living expenses. Think housing, utilities, groceries and transportation. The stuff you can’t live without. If you don’t have a baseline for your essential expenses, keep track of what you spend for at least three months, or sort through old credit card transactions and bank account activity by month. This should help you get a clearer idea of the minimum amount needed to cover your bills and and basic living costs. A summer budget tip for teachers is to use your highest expense month to forecast your summer costs so you don’t have to stress about coming up short, Larsen says.
Another summer budget tip for teachers is to anticipate discretionary seasonal expenses. Let’s face itâthere’s a lot of fun to be had over the summer, and the cost of extra activities and travel can really add up. Quickly. Luxury vacation or the summer festival circuit, anyone? Estimate how much you’ll need for your summer extras, and add those to the living expenses mentioned above. If any of your summer expenses recur annuallyâlike a standing trip with family or friendsâuse what you’ve spent in past years to arrive at how much you’ll need this time.
Whether you receive summer income from a year-round payment program or set aside money monthly to combat the summer paycheck gap, there’s a chance that your total summer expenses may exceed your summer paychecks. Read on for more summer budget tips for teachers that can help you plan for this difference.
Stash summer expenses in a separate account
If you’re stashing money away monthly to avoid the summer paycheck gap, creating a separate summer fund to contribute to throughout the year can be an effective summer budget tip for teachers. You could hold the portion of your paycheck you have set aside for summer in this fund, and look for other creative ways to add savings to the account. Bonus: If you put your summer paychecks and additional summer savings in a separate account, it may be easier to avoid the temptation to withdrawal for other expenses during the school year.
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Consider parking your summer funds in a high-yield online savings account so you can earn interest while you work your way through the school year. If you plan ahead and won’t need to withdraw your funds for a specific amount of time (say 12 months), you could earn even more interest with a certificate of deposit.
Create a financial cushion
In addition to the money accumulating in your fund for the summer paycheck gap, it’s important to also have an emergency fund, Hoyt says. An emergency fund is just thatâa fund that is set aside strictly for emergencies, like car repairs or medical bills you didn’t anticipate. “It’s always wise to have an emergency fund, but especially if you have gaps in income,” adds Larsen, from Believe in a Budget.
While experts typically recommend saving at least three to six months of living expenses in your emergency fund, you can start small and add as your budget allows. Any cash set aside in an emergency fund will be helpful if an unexpected bill or expense comes your way, especially if it’s during the summer paycheck gap.
Consider a side hustle
If you think your summer paychecks and extra savings are going to fall a little short of your summer expenses, “consider a summer side hustle to pay for the extras that can come with warmer weather,” Larsen says. With no paycheck during the summer, a side hustle can be a good way to funnel more cash into your summer fund account.
According to Hoytâwho actually started his website as a side hustle when he was a band directorâmany teachers can use their skill set for side hustles related to their profession. For example, teachers can offer private lessons or tutoring within their areas of expertise. Teachers can also pursue unrelated side hustles, like flipping items in online marketplaces to bring in more money in anticipation of no paycheck during the summer.
A side hustle may also be a perfect opportunity to explore a new venture, especially when there’s no paycheck during the summer. Hoyt says a side hustle can even provide a route to a new career path. “The skills that teachers pick up throughout their careerâdealing with people, managing a high workload, having high standards for excellenceâtend to translate extremely well into entrepreneurialism,” Hoyt says.
Make it a summer to enjoy
Teaching has its challenges, but it also comes with the major perk of having some of the best months of the year off. Planning ahead and implementing these summer budget tips for teachers will help make sure that these hard-earned months of vacation are truly an enriching time.
The post Teachers: How to Survive the Summer Paycheck Gap appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.