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Planning a Home Office? Check Out These Budget-Friendly Tips

Working from home has its perks. There’s 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 “work-from-home casual” 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, you’re probably asking yourself, “How can I set up a home office on a budget?”

Whether you’ve 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:

From finding the right location to choosing the ideal furniture, these tips will help you create 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. That’s 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. Loesing’s 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 doesn’t have to be that way, Loesing says.

“Having an ergonomically correct workstation enhances productivity and generally overall happiness at work.”

– Karen Loesing, owner of The Ergonomic Expert

There are relatively easy ways to transform an ergonomic nightmare into a well-functioning home office on a budget—even if you’re stationed at the kitchen table, she says. And the investment is worth it.

“Having an ergonomically correct workstation enhances productivity and generally overall happiness at work,” Loesing says. “For those who are able to designate a certain space in their home where they can work without distractions—maybe even a window with a view and the flexibility to work at your own pace—it has been proven this makes for a happier employee.”

Who doesn’t 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 “The Smarter Home Office.” Depending on your living situation, there may be an obvious answer, such as that spare room you’ve always thought could become an office space.

If you don’t have a dedicated office, don’t despair. While you design your home office on a budget, think creatively about where it can be.

Varone once visited a client’s home to help reconfigure her workspace. The client was running a business from a table in the hallway. “At the end of each workday, she had to pack everything up and store it in the closet in the guest room,” Varone says.

But as Varone learned, guests only stayed over two weeks a year, leaving the room empty the rest of the time. It hadn’t occurred to the business owner, but turning the guest room into a home office for most of the year was the perfect solution.

If you’re setting up a home office for remote work, picking the optimal location for your workspace should be your first step.

“There are some simple, simple ways that people can rethink their home office without a big investment and make that space really work for them,” 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 you’ve 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. Don’t face directly outside; instead, aim for a line of sight that’s perpendicular to the window, Varone says. That’s because, even on an overcast day, you’d be looking into too much bright light if you’re facing the window.

“What’s happening is your eyes are adjusting back and forth between the bright sunlight that you’re facing and the darker light of your computer screen,” Varone says. “And that ends up being really fatiguing for the eye.”

If you live with others, the biggest challenge will be privacy. Try to clearly define the boundaries of your “office” if you can, such as with an area rug, she says. Then ask your roommates or family members not to enter your space while you’re working, apart from an emergency.

When you're planning a home office, try to clearly define the boundaries of your workspace if you live with others.

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 “office” will reduce clutter. Ultimately, a clutter-free space can reduce your stress and boost your productivity.

“That also has a benefit of becoming a little ritual and helping you say, ‘All right, my workday is over,’” Varone says. “‘Now I can focus on my personal life.’”

Choose your furniture wisely

Now that you’ve found the perfect location for your home office on a budget, focus on finding the perfect work surface. Maybe it’s a traditional desk. Or it could be your dining room table or kitchen counter.

If you do need to buy a desk or chair, don’t 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 who’s 5’8”, she acknowledges, but for everyone else? It will take some adjusting to make it fit for them.

That’s where your chair comes in. Most people don’t 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, you’ll have a comfortable setup.

It’s important to adjust the height of your chair to achieve a neutral position, Loesing says. If you don’t 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?

“If you can’t spend a dime, at least get as comfortable as you can where you’re sitting, and sit all the way back in your chair,” Loesing says. “When you don’t sit so your back is against the backrest, you’re using your back muscles all day long instead of them being at rest.”

When you design your home office on a budget, make sure your chair and work surface allow you to get into a comfortable sitting position.

Adjust your furniture and equipment

As you continue planning a home office, you’ll likely find that your computer is your most important piece of equipment. But it can also lead to neck strain. Whether it’s a laptop or an external monitor, Loesing says screen placement is key. In fact, she says it’s the single most important feature to address—as 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. (That’s typically about 4” 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. “There are budget-friendly laptop risers on the market,” Loesing says. “If you don’t want to spend any money, you can place books or reams of paper to bring the screen up to eye level.”

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 you’re working at a desk that has a keyboard tray built into it, that’s a great way to keep your arms at about a 90-degree angle, she says. If you don’t 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 there’s no strain on anything, Loesing says.

“With the addition of standing desks, which encourage movement, employees often find they have significantly more energy at the end of the day.”

– Karen Loesing, owner of The Ergonomic Expert

Stand if it suits you

If you’re intrigued by the idea of a standing desk, you’re not alone. Standing desk sales have soared over the last decade, buoyed by reports of the dangers of too much sitting.

“Static postures (e.g., sitting all day in front of a computer) present more fatigue than dynamic working,” Loesing says. “With the addition of standing desks, which encourage movement, employees often find they have significantly more energy at the end of the day.”

You don’t have to buy an official standing desk to reap the benefits when planning a home office. “The 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,” Loesing says.

Even if you don’t have a standing desk—makeshift or otherwise—you 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.

Don’t forget the ambience and accessories

Your desk, chair and computer are the major players when you’re setting up a home office for remote work. But there are a few additional items to consider, like lighting, plants and sound.

Setting up a home office for remote work should include some thinking around ambiance, like lighting, plants and sound.

Your overhead light fixture likely isn’t 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 you’re 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 noises—especially if you’re 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 they’re better at blocking out sound. Even pillows or large cushions can help reduce noise, she adds.

After you’ve 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.

When planning a home office, think about adding a reading chair to your space.

One last tip? Add a personal touch, whether it’s a framed family photo or a souvenir from your travels. It’s 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, you’re ready to make a space that works well for you. Whether you’re an experienced remote worker or a newbie, you can apply these expert tips to set up an office that’s 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.

Source: discover.com

How to Financially Prepare for Post-Pandemic Life

As the dust slowly begins to settle and we observe businesses putting their action plans in place to recover, we all sit and wonder what this may look like for us. How will I recover from this? How am I going to cover these unexpected expenses? How will I increase my earning potential? Whether you’re navigating the muddy waters of being unemployed, furloughed, return to office plans or continue working remotely – we have many things to consider as time continues to quickly progress. How should we handle debt? Are there any more relief programs or funding? How can we pick up the pieces and properly recuperate what may have been lost? Use the tips below to jumpstart your journey of reclaiming your finances.

Identify your financial focuses

Over the course of this year, many financial goals that were initially set needed to be tweaked or came to a screeching halt altogether. While it would be nice if we could rectify the many financial aspirations we have for ourselves and our families all at once, it’s simply not realistic. To alleviate the impounding pressure many have had to experience for a good chunk of time this year, it’s best to identify two to three key areas of focus. Not only does narrowing your focus help direct where your efforts should lie, it removes unnecessary stress so that a plan of attack can be created and executed upon. For example, if you would like to begin rebuilding your emergency fund, savings or simply get caught up on bills and other overhead expenses – make sure the actionable steps you take align with the overarching goal. This helps create tunnel vision to execute on the goal while quieting the noise of things that can be tackled at a later time. You owe it to yourself and your finances to see these goals through to the finish line.

Revisit your budget and make adjustments as necessary

Many think of budgeting like that pesky chore you put off every single week. It’s that ‘thing’ you know needs to be done, but you always find something else to do instead. However, once it’s done – you’re always glad that you did it. Even if you have to have an adult temper tantrum, pull out the pen and paper (once again) to compare your income with expenses. Has your income increased or decreased? Are there expenses that are no longer on the list? Are there certain wants or luxuries that can be temporarily put on hold until things settle down? Take all of these factors into consideration when recalibrating your budget. Since there’s an increased amount of time indoors, are there any spending habits you’ve noticed that have been on the rise? If these questions are not easily answered, commit to reviewing the last few months of your bank statements. Do you notice more to-go food orders? An increased amount of emotional or impulsive purchases? Be honest with yourself and your habits so that you can address and make changes to healthily rebuild your finances.

Adjust debt payoff plan

If you haven’t taken the opportunity to contact your creditors – consider this as a reminder! It’s imperative you maintain an open line of communication with all lenders. These conversations can potentially lead to various options being available to assist you in your debt payoff process. Remember to keep in mind that you are not the only person experiencing financial hardship, so let pride become a thing of the past and be candid. Are there relief options during the pandemic? Are interest rates being lowered because of the current climate? If I were to miss a payment, what are the consequences? Are negative remarks being reported to the credit bureaus? Be very clear in your delivery. There are thousands and thousands of people attempting to pick up the pieces on their money journey. Take some time to check all creditor accounts for the most recent balances. From there, create (or readjust) your plan based on your personal circumstances. If it’s easier to tackle the smallest debt, shift your attention to those accounts. If catching up and restoring good standing with utilities and other overhead expenses need to be addressed first, do that. There is no right or wrong way to approach your plan; just don’t adopt the spirit of avoidance.

Monitor your credit score regularly

There’s been a huge surge in personal data being compromised due to the pandemic. To protect yourself and your credit score, be sure to obtain a copy of your credit report from at least one of the bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) and review regularly. Normally, you are allotted one free credit report every year – however, because of the pandemic you can now request your report weekly at no cost to you until April 2021. We all know there’s a lot on all of our plates, but this can be incorporated in your weekly routine to make sure information stays accurate. During your review if there’s anything that’s false, submit a dispute and be sure to have any supporting documentation that can serve as evidence to support your claim.

Even though we don’t like to admit it, life can present a lot of challenges that we may not be fully prepared for in our ever-changing adulthood journey. This pandemic has shined a light on the areas in our lives that can use some more time, intention and attention. Instead of beating ourselves up about the lack of preparedness, let’s be sure to make adjustments now so no matter what happens with the economy or the state of this country it does not have such a huge, negative impact to our financial goals. Let’s face it – even in the midst of tragedy, this year equipped us with a different level of endurance and resilience. It reminded us what really matters and where our energy should really be dedicated to. Start where you are and do what you can. Refrain from comparing your personal money story to someone else’s. We all have unique situations and obligations that influence our saving and spending plans. Dust yourself off, grant yourself grace and begin a new chapter in your financial journey.

 

The post How to Financially Prepare for Post-Pandemic Life appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

How to Save for a House in 8 Steps

When you buy a home, you’re making an investment in yourself and your future. You’re building financial stability, equity, and experience. You have a place to call your own and you can customize the space just how you want. Yet, you might be wondering how to get to that point — this is why saving up is so important.

There are some upfront costs to owning a home — primarily a down payment. Find out how much you should budget using a home loan affordability calculator and figure out how to save the amount you need. After all, the best way to save for a house is to formulate a budget that helps you work towards your house saving goals step by step. Soon enough, you’ll be turning the key and stepping into a home you love.

How to save for a house

Step 1: Calculate Your Down Payment and Timeline

When figuring out how to save for a house, you may already have a savings goal and deadline in mind. For instance, you may want to save 20 percent of your home loan cost by the end of the year. If you haven’t given this much thought, sit down and crunch the numbers. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is your ideal home cost?
  • What percentage would you like to contribute as a down payment?
  • What are your ideal monthly payments?
  • When would you like to purchase your home?
  • How long would you like your term mortgage to be?

Asking yourself these questions will reveal a realistic budget, timeline, and savings goal to work towards. For instance, say you want to buy a $250,000 house with a 20 percent down payment at a 30-year loan term length. You would need to save $50,000 as a down payment; at a 3.5 percent interest rate, your monthly payments would come out to be $898.

Step 2: Budget for the Extra Expenses

Just like a new rental, your home will have fees, taxes, and utilities that need to be budgeted for. Homeowners insurance, closing costs, and property taxes are a few examples of cash expenses. Not to mention, the cost of utilities, repairs, renovation work, and furniture. Here are a few more expenses you may have to save for:

  • Appraisal costs: Appraisals assess the home’s value and are usually ordered by your mortgage lender. They can cost anywhere from $312 to $405 for a single-family home.
  • Home inspection: A home inspection typically costs $279 to $399 for a single-family home. Prices vary depending on what you need inspected and how thorough you want the report to be. For instance, if you want an expert to look at your foundation, there will likely be an additional cost.
  • Realtor fees: In some states, the realtor fee is 5.45 percent of the home’s purchase price. Depending on the market, the seller might pay for your realtor fee. In other places, it might be more common to contract a lawyer to look over your purchase agreement, which is usually cheaper than a realtor.
  • Appraisal and closing costs: Appraisals assess the home’s value and are usually ordered by your mortgage lender. They can cost anywhere between $300 and $400 for a single-family home.

Step 3: Maximize Your Savings Contributions

Saving for a new home is easier said than done. To stay on track, first create a savings account that has a high yield if possible. Then, check in on your monthly savings goal to set up automatic contributions. By setting up automatic savings payments, you may treat this payment as a regular monthly expense.

In addition to saving more, spend less. Evaluate your budget to see what areas you could cut down or live without. For instance, creating your own workout studio at home could save you $200 a month on a gym class membership.

Step 4: Work Hard for a Raise

One of the best ways to boost your savings is to increase your earnings. If you already have a job you love, put in the extra time and effort to earn a raise. Learning new skills by attending in-person or virtual training seminars or learning a new language could increase your earning potential. Not only could you land a raise, but you could add these skills to your resume.

Sometimes, putting in the extra effort doesn’t always land you a raise, and that’s okay! When getting a raise is out of the question, consider looking at other opportunities. Figure out which industry suits you and your skillset and start applying. You may end up finding your dream job, along with your desired pay.

Step 5: Create More Streams of Income

Establishing different income streams could help your house savings budget. If one source of income unexpectedly goes dry, having other sources to cut the slack is helpful. You won’t have to worry about the sudden income change when paying your monthly mortgage.

For example, creating an online course as a passive income project may earn you only $5 this month. As traffic picks up, your monthly earnings could surpass your monthly income. To create an abundant financial portfolio, there are a few different ways to do so:

  • Create an online course: Write about something you’re passionate about and share your skills online. Sell your digital products on Etsy or Shopify to earn supplemental income.
  • Grow a YouTube channel: Start a YouTube channel and share your skills to help others within your industry of expertise. For instance, “How to start a YouTube channel” could be its own hit.
  • Invest in low-risk investments: From CD’s to money market funds, there are a few types of investments that could grow your cash with low risk.

Paying down debt

Step 6: Pay Off Your Biggest Debts

Before taking on more debt like a mortgage, it’s important to free up your credit usage. Credit utilization is the percentage of available credit you have open compared to what you have used. If you have $200 in debt, but $1,000 available on your credit card, you’re only using 20 percent of your credit utilization. A higher credit utilization could potentially hinder your credit score over time. Not only can paying off debts feel satisfying, but it could also increase your credit score and prepare you for this next big purchase.

To pay off your debts, create an action plan. Write out all your debt accounts, how much you still owe, and their payment due dates. From there, start increasing your payments on your smallest debt. Once you pay off your smallest debt in full, you may feel more motivated to pay off your next debt account. Keep up with these good habits as you take on your mortgage account.

Step 7: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help

Whether your touring homes or want help adjusting your budget, don’t hesitate to ask for help. If you’re trying to figure out what your budget should look like, research budgeting apps like Mint to build a successful financial plan.

If you’re curious about additional mortgage expenses, your budget, or investment opportunities, reach out to a trusted professional or utilize government resources. Not only are they able to help you prepare for your next big step, but they could also help you and your finances in the long term.

Step 8: Store Your Savings in a High Yield Saving Account

While you may have a perfect budget and a home savings goal, it’s time to make every dollar count. Before you add to your account, research different savings accounts and their monthly yields. The higher the yield, the more your savings could grow as long as your account is open.

In September of 2020, the national average interest rate on savings accounts was capped at 0.8 percent. If you were to deposit only $100 into a high yield savings account with an APY of 0.8 percent, you could earn $80 off your investment over the year. This helps you save extra money by just putting your money into a savings account.

In Summary

  • First, set a savings goal to match your estimated down payment and mortgage monthly payments. Then add your contributions to a high yield savings account to grow your money overtime.
  • Don’t forget to budget for extra mortgage expenses like appraisal costs, home inspections, realtor fees, or closing costs. Keep in mind, your monthly utilities and fees may also be more expensive than your current living situation.
  • Prepare for the additional costs by increasing your earning potential and optimizing additional income stream opportunities.
  • Free up your credit utilization by paying off as much debt as possible before buying a house. Keep up these good habits throughout the length of your mortgage term.

When you purchase a home, you’re building a piggy bank for your future. Every month you pay your mortgage, you pay part of it to yourself because you own the home. Instead of paying rent to someone else, you reap your own investment when you sell. Most importantly, though, you’ll have a place that’s truly your own.

Sources: Interest

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