7 Tips to Enjoy Debt Free Holidays This Year

How much money are you planning on spending this year during the holidays?

For the average American family, it’s a good chunk of change. During the 2017 holiday season, Bank of America found that of those surveyed, they spent on average $1,143 for purchases.

Another survey found that respondents spent over $600 on gifts for friends, family, and coworkers.

While being generous is a fantastic quality, some families are struggling to stay debt-free during the holidays.

Stay Debt Free This Holiday Season

The good news is that you can spend time with your loved ones and create cherished memories without having to rely on credit cards to cover the bills.

You’d not only be saving money, but you’d also be reducing stress as you don’t have that debt hanging over you after the celebrations.

Want to know how? Here are seven ways you can skip the debt this year!

Create a Budget for the Holidays

Did I really start this list with making a budget?

When people hear budgets, their first thought is typically restrictions, but that’s not true.

A budget is simply a way to prioritize your time and money so you’re getting the most out of both.

As parents, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with a ton of different invitations to different parties.

When you have a firm number, you’re better able to keep your spending in check and avoid unnecessary debt.

Better yet, you can make things even easier on yourself by creating a goal on Mint to automatically track your spending so you can see if you’re getting close to your limit.

That frees you up to focus on the big picture.

Don’t Procrastinate on Shopping

Don’t let advertisers dictate when you buy your gifts. If you’re planning on purchasing gifts, start shopping now if you haven’t already.

Black Friday can snag you some deals, but it’s also a trap for you to get stuck in long lines and extra spending. That’s a recipe for more stress, which you don’t need.

Take off some stress and pressure by pacing your purchases. If you created your budget, go ahead and break it down by paycheck.

That allows you to pick up gifts at more quieter times and give you time to really think about what you’d like to give.

Become a Deal Hunter

Black Friday is the best-advertised sale by far during the holidays, but you can still snatch up some fantastic deals.

If you’re shopping online, use apps and sites like Honey and RetailMeNot to find promo codes and coupons to save even more.

If you’re a fan of a particular brand, joining their newsletter may give you some additional access to sales and a heads up on steep discounts.

And once the shopping season is done, you can use a service like Unroll.me to unsubscribe to all those newsletters!

Think Personal Gifts

I don’t know who needs to hear this, but it’s important – There’s no rule that you have to buy your gifts.

Have you thought about instead getting supplies and setting aside a weekend or two to craft something special? You don’t have to be the king or queen of crafts to make something special.

A personal note with some sweets for your co-worker can be a more meaningful gift than the regular random $20 gift.

One of our hobbies was homebrewing. Not only did we get to enjoy our work, but we shared. We used to make batches of our friends’ favorite brews as gifts and came up with fun names using inside jokes for the brews.

Suggest a Gift Exchange

A trend that’s really helpful with keeping your budget in check are gift exchanges.

Every person gets assign one gift to buy instead of several small ones for every person in the office or family.

It’s much less stressful as you’re able to focus on finding a gift for a specific person rather than running around several stores to hit everyone on your list.

And on the environmental and minimalism side, you’re also reducing the amount of clutter and stuff around the house.

Keep Travel Cheap

Many people visit their loved ones during the holiday season and if you have kids, it can get pricey quick.

Add in that you’re traveling during the popular season and it can be a recipe for a budget disaster. You have to wise with your reservations.

Use sites like Priceline, Kayak, and Trivago to scour deals and save even more money on your hotel and flights.

Google Flights can make finding flights much easier as they can track trends with prices and offer suggestions about when to buy.

When I shared how we snatched up a hotel for $50/night in Los Angeles on Twitter, someone asked how we were able to get it.

The short answer is we shop around and make sure we take advantage of every deal feature we can find.

Many travel sites will price match and more are offering express deals with hotels. With this one-two combo, we’ve been able to minimize expenses while still finding wonderful hotels to stay in.

Take a Frugal and Fun Road Trip

Out of the estimated 54 million Americans traveled during the holidays, the vast majority did theirs by car. This year will most likely be the same.

Apps like GasBuddy can help you while you’re on the road to find the best deals on gas. If you’re doing a long trip, that can be a big cost saver.

When you have kids snacks can slow you down and be a big budget buster if you’re making several stops. The best way to keep costs in check is by packing smart.

Grab those bigger bags of chips, granola bars, and whatever you enjoy before you leave. You’ll get a much better price than what’s offered at those gas stations on the road.

Taking along reusable cups can also keep costs down and your car cleaner with less junk in the back seat!

Your Take

However you wrap up this year, please enjoy it! I hope these tips help you have a fantastic time with your loved ones this year while skipping the debt and reducing the stress. If you have any tips, you’d like to add, please let me know!

 

 

 

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The Ultimate Guide to Taking Your Dream Gap Year

Table of Contents 

For many young adults, it can feel like there’s an expected life path that they’re supposed to follow. You do well in school, get into a good college, take a well-paying job after graduation and begin “adulting.” But this typical path isn’t what everyone wants — and that’s okay! In countries like the United Kingdom and Australia, taking a gap year is a popular option for people that don’t feel quite ready to head off to college right away, and it’s becoming increasingly popular in the United States. 

A gap year, sometimes also referred to as a sabbatical year, is an opportunity to unchain yourself from classrooms and conference rooms to explore and experience what the world has to offer. While the concept of taking time off of work or education may not make sense to some, there are many successful people, such as J.K. Rowling and even Prince William, who have taken a gap year and used it to their advantage. 

If you’re considering taking a gap year —  whether it’s taking some time before heading off to college, or leaving your job to explore the world — we’ve laid out some tips on why a gap year can be beneficial, how you can save money for a gap year and spend wisely during it, and ways you can get back on track once you come back. 

Why Students Should Consider Taking a Gap Year

Attending college can feel like a lot of pressure, especially if you aren’t positive what career path you want to take in life. Taking a gap year can help provide you some clarity on what your passions are, and help make you a well-rounded individual. It’s a big choice to make, but these benefits of taking a gap year may help you make your decision. 

Independence

For many young adults, college can feel like their first real moment of independence. But with class schedules, homework, studying, and authority figures like teachers and parents still having a say in at least some part of your life, how independent are you really? By taking a gap year, you have the opportunity to set out truly on your own for the first time.

Time to Reflect 

Our lives tend to be fast-paced, and time passes in the blink of an eye. It can be hard to find moments to take a step back and think about the big picture. By taking a gap year, you allow yourself time to figure out what you truly want for yourself out of life, and come up with a plan to achieve those goals. 

Learn a New Language and Culture

If you choose to take your gap year in a foreign country, it is a great opportunity to practice a new language. Understanding the language will help you become more socially integrated into your new community, which in turn will help you understand the culture. According to the Gap Year Association, 94% of people said they spent their time abroad learning how to communicate with people from different backgrounds. The ability to acknowledge and respect other cultures will allow you to be more open-minded throughout your life, including in the workplace where you may encounter various beliefs and values. 

Improve Career Opportunities 

Some people may view taking a year off of work or school as a setback, but in reality it can offer a lot of new opportunities for you. People who travel abroad and take a gap year have better people skills, strong problem-solving abilities, and possess a better sense of self. These characteristics are highly attractive to employers — but be ready to address these soft skills in your cover letter or a job interview. 

How to Save for a Gap Year

One factor that deters many from taking a gap year is the concern of how you can afford to take a year off to travel. Before you jet off on your new adventure, use these tips to help you save up the funds you’ll need to support yourself throughout the gap year. 

Set a Goal

Think about everything you want to accomplish during your gap year and put a monetary estimate on it. Consider things like transportation costs, housing, and various living expenses that you’ll have to afford throughout your 12 months. There are simple ways you can save money, like cutting back on your subscriptions, or you can make a plan to put a certain amount aside every paycheck that you’ll use for your gap year. 

Do Your Research  

While traveling abroad can offer you a lot of spontaneous experiences, planning your gap year should not. Before heading off on your adventure, research things like the cost of living and transportation. Countries in Southeast Asia are more affordable for someone traveling on a budget versus European countries. You’ll also want to understand the exchange rate in the countries you’ll be visiting to make sure you’re making the most of your dollar. 

Make Sacrifices 

While it’s not something that most 20-somethings want to do, in order to save money you may have to make some sacrifices. Social expenses like bar tabs, movie tickets, and eating out at restaurants can add up quickly and take away from your gap year budget. Cut back on these activities will be beneficial for your wallet and your health! 

Work As Much As Possible 

The purpose of a gap year is to take a break from our regular day-to-day tasks and responsibilities, but you will have to work hard beforehand. If your job allows, take on extra hours or shifts to earn more money. You may also want to consider a part-time job or side hustle to help you save additional funds.

Plan and Book Ahead

Once you’ve started saving additional money for your gap year, consider spending some of that extra cash on accommodations or travel. Booking these things at the last minute can end up costing you more, which may prevent you from doing everything you wanted during your gap year. Use platforms like Google Flights or Kayak to set up price tracking so you can be sure you’re getting the best possible deal.  

Money-Saving Tips During Your Gap Year

You’ve saved the money, made the plans, and on your way to somewhere new to begin your gap year. But once you arrive, it may be tempting to splurge and blow your budget. These tips will help you stick to your budgeting plan and ensure you come home with money to spare. 

Don’t Exchange Money at the Airport

While it’s super convenient to exchange money at the airport, it also comes with a high commission fee. If you know what regions you plan to visit, exchange cash at your bank before leaving for your trip. You can also wait until you get to the main part of the city you’re visiting to exchange, where you’ll likely find better rates. 

Carry a Prepaid Card 

If you choose to go to your bank and exchange money before leaving, also consider picking up a preloaded currency card as well. This card will help you avoid ATM and overdraft fees, keep a better handle on your spending, and even lock in the exchange rate. If possible, wait until the rate is favorable to load your card — a prepaid currency card will protect you from any rate fluctuations. 

Use a Budgeting App 

Your gap year is all about gaining experiences and creating memories, and sometimes those come at a price. From dinners with new friends, to drinks at a piazza, and excursions through exotic locations, you might see your money disappear more quickly than you anticipated. Using a budgeting app like Mint can help you see exactly what you’re spending your money on and help you make adjustments.

Applying for College After a Gap Year 

At some point, your adventure abroad and gap year has to come to an end. While you may not want to immediately get back into the swing of things, it’s important you take steps to prepare yourself for applying to college upon your return. 

Deferring Your Acceptance 

If you’ve applied to college, received your acceptance letter, and suddenly feel a bit hesitant about to head off to school in the fall, that’s okay. Universities and colleges are more commonly recognizing gap years as a way for students to grow and experience the world. Check with your college’s deferral policy, outline your gap year plans, and share with the admissions board for approval of your request to defer. 

Records and Transcripts

If you choose to take a gap year between high school and college, it is recommended that you discuss with your guidance or college counselor first. While many high schools will have your transcripts and records on file for a few years after graduation, it is important to confirm with your counselor that they will keep these for you. 

Standardized Test Scores

Your test scores will still be valid after you return from your gap year, if you take either the ACT or SAT before you leave. These scores are valid for five years, and you can request score reports through the tests respective websites. If you’re unhappy with your scores, you can always retake the tests — just be sure to continue studying throughout your gap year to ensure you’re prepared.  

Accounting for Your Gap Year

Approximately 40,000 Americans take a gap year between high school and college, so most admissions counselors are familiar with what they entail. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to provide an account for your year. Whether you choose to write your personal essay about your experience, or submit it as additional information with your application, be ready to clearly explain why you chose to take a year off and what you gained from the experience. 

Additional Resources

If you’re thinking about taking a gap year, there are a lot of factors to consider. It’ll take thoughtful planning, saving and budgeting to ensure you make the most of your time, but it can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. By taking a gap year before college, you can grow yourself into a more well-rounded individual and set yourself up for a successful college experience and full life.

Sources 

Year On | Winterline | Go Overseas (1, 2) | Travelex | Forbes | Collegevine | Gap Year Association | HuffPost 

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Build a Better Tribe, Build a Better World

Women of EO Kimberly SmithIn August 2019, Kimberly Hickok Smith spoke at the MyEO Women of EO Summit in Bogota, Colombia. While sharing her professional journey—from tween entrepreneur to international executive—she also spoke to the audience of men and women about supporting each other and making a difference in the world. 

I was the first elected president of EO and the first chairman of the Global Board. Given that I am also a woman, I guess that makes me the first Woman of EO. I wasn’t the first female member, but I was the first of any gender to hold these important leadership positions—and I believe that says something important about the ethos of EO and how the organization sees everybody as equal and of value.

Living every day

When I was 8, two of my brothers were killed in a car accident at ages 12 and 16. My parents divorced soon after. These events really formed the way I view life. It taught me to live every day in case there is no tomorrow. And I learned to live outside the box and to sometimes breaks rules.

I started my first business when I was 12, Kim’s Katering. I was basically cooking and organizing parties for my mother’s friends, but it grew enough that I had to hire college students to serve drinks because I was underage. At 16, I started a trading company buying and selling art from Brazil and other places in Latin America.

Eventually, I moved to DC to study international relations and languages at Georgetown and completed six months in Brazil for economics. One of my part-time college jobs was as a receptionist for an international trade firm. Within three months I was promoted to vice president and I was hooked on trade. After graduation, I got married and was hired by a big firm.

Then I was in a car accident and I broke my neck. Six months in the hospital changed the way I looked at life yet again—from living one day at a time to looking toward the future. I knew I needed to start my own firm that acted and reacted the way I wanted, that worked to build fair trade in Latin America and Africa.

My mother lent me US$1,000 and I was off! My first contract was in Honduras, and all the bid docs were in Spanish. Imagine my surprise as I translated that among other things I had to purchase 3,000 artificial vaginas—for cows! Getting financing for the contract was a struggle. All the banks said, “you are a 23-year-old girl with a new company; no money for you!” Even so, the company eventually did very well and less than two years later, I was flying my mother to DC to watch me be awarded the exporter of the year award!

UNSDG Finding your people

Intercon International trading and consulting was a force to be reckoned with—that “young blonde woman” traveling all over the world, on the cover of business magazines and doing deals all day on my five-pound car phone. My clients were all in the then “under-developed world” of Latin America and Africa and a typical trip was 16 countries in 18 days. We focused on south-south trade, built technical training institutes, sold Brazilian cattle dip to Somalia, made creams in Guatemala, sold fuel bladders to Zambia and just about all you could imagine.

Days were exciting, hectic and fun but often challenging with no one to talk to or to answer the many questions that arose in my mind every day.

My father, Ray Hickok, also had that need to share with his peers, and he founded YPO around the time I was born. So I saw from an early age the importance of support and camaraderie with like-minded executives who could grow together by learning from each other. I understood the need for a safe space to discuss issues and learn from peers. I also understood that the chances of my qualifying for YPO at that point were slim, and plus I realized that the challenges faced as an entrepreneur, someone who started their own business, are very different from those faced by a hired executive.

By the late 80s, Verne Harnish approached my father about being the honorary founder of YEO (in those days, you had to be Y for young). Dad came to DC to have a meeting. Charming Verne convinced my father, who loved the idea of working with young people with big ideas. As for me, I met all the criteria of YEO—a 20-something-year-old doing more than US$2 million per your year—apart from having at least 15 employees. So they changed the criteria so I could join!

A few months later, Verne was feeling like he wanted to start his own business so he asked me if I would take over the reins and grow the fledgling organization and professionalize it. I said yes.

It was clear that EO could be something of real value and I jumped in to help grow it. Starting by providing space in my corporate “barn,” hiring the first executive director and hosting some of the first international events. I was elected the first president of the organization with my father and about 40 YEO members in the room, which was very special for both of us. I am proud to say we created the succession plan which is now EO Path of Leadership and we also started the Entrepreneurial Masters Program (EMP) at MIT program, among others.

Kimberly Hickok Smith An evolving tribe

And look at EO now! We’ve had eight women global board members, a female global chair and about 150 women in global leadership. And 1,859 women members!

The growth and development of EO is a beautiful example of how a tribe evolves to meet the needs of its members. The whole MyEO concept and movement is revolutionary and will keep the organization moving forward. Its focus on inclusivity is so important in that we all have so much to share. Your vibe really does attract your tribe.

In the early 90s, I am a 30-something and my business is growing well. EO is growing well. I have two adorable little blonde babes and a house in Architectural Digest. I have it all right? Well, maybe not. Washington DC was all about power and money, and I was very good at these things, but I wanted my children to grow up with different priorities.

With the support and encouragement of my adventurous and innovative EO peers, I decided to follow my dream to eradicate poverty and hunger and move my family to Kenya. I knew that the next three EO chairs were already in place and the management team had things under control. So I sold my EO-eligible firm and began my next journey, which would last until today. I’ve been working all over Africa for economic empowerment and creating solutions one step, one new entrepreneur, one child at a time.

I realized I needed to be purpose-driven not profit-driven. EO taught me the power of coming together and working together, and I have leveraged that knowledge and insight to change mindsets and conduct millions in trade from Africa.

I feel blessed to be a part of so many amazing initiatives—leadership transformation, organizational development, increasing international trade, helping develop self-sufficient associations, creating entrepreneurs and economic growth in 20 countries in Africa. I have realized that my main role is to bring people together to reach consensus, essentially building a tribe around issues that need to be championed for change.

A game-changer for girls

And it must have been a good decision to move my family to Africa because my daughters have returned to Kenya and want to raise their children there. Together, we have started a charity called It’s a Girl Thing, which provides menstrual cups to young girls and their mothers and teachers to enable them to stay in school with a sustainable eco-friendly solution.

In my years of working to eradicate poverty and hunger all over the African continent, our research has made it clear that the biggest economic game-changer is for a girl to stay in school. The UN reckons around 131 million girls worldwide are out of school. In Uganda, one country where I work, there are districts where 78 percent of the children, both boys and girls, between ages 8 and 12 report being sexually abused at school. If a girl can stay in school until high school, she can avoid early pregnancy and she can avoid HIV. Plus, with education, she can go on to a career and become a leader in her community.

My work in this field is one reason that I am so excited about EO working with the United Nations to make progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.

We have to remember that these girls I am talking about are part of our tribe and our future. We have the opportunity to do so much work together as a tribe—and some of this work must be to change traditional antiquated “tribal” practices. What are the tribal practices we think of? In Africa it’s marrying girls by kidnapping, selling or raping them, female genital mutilation and male circumcision ceremonies. There are also positive tribal practices in Africa, including caring for the extended family and keeping an open hearth for food.

What are those negative and positive tribal practices in your home country? How can you make a difference? Is there enough love, support, concern, compassion mentoring to build this better world? You know that whatever you can do on your own will be much stronger and better if you find your tribe of like-minded people with the same vision.

kim hickok smithLead the change

Consider this: It’s been proven that trees communicate. They spread their branches just enough to touch each other without taking each others space and their branches become stronger as a result.

Let’s focus our attention on defining and building our tribal vision to build a better world together. Let’s motivate and inspire each other toward our common goals, find our place in the tribe and strengthen our branches.

Our tribe can lead the change and be the change. Women of EO is the tribe that can provide a global platform for mentoring, building, innovating and financing the future we want our children to inherit. Now that EO is back in my life and on my to-do and To-BE list, I’m excited to help build new chapters in Africa.

Together, let’s build our tribe to build a better world.

Learn more about why entrepreneurs choose EO and the MyEO Women of EO group

The post Build a Better Tribe, Build a Better World appeared first on Octane Blog – The official blog of the Entrepreneurs' Organization.

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10 TED Talks on Minimalism to Inspire You to Spend Less

We’ve all heard the expression “less is more,” and the concept of minimalism embraces that fully. While it is not a new concept, the minimalism trend has gained popularity in recent years,  especially amongst Millennials in the United States. From tiny houses to the KonMari organization method, people are finding unique ways to declutter their lives.

At its core, minimalism is a lifestyle that chooses everything with intent and gets rid of things that cause distraction or serve no purpose. When people eliminate distracting things from their lives, it opens new opportunities to focus on other areas. One area that minimalism can help you refocus on is your finances. With less material items in your life, you can better prioritize how you budget and spend your money.

Adopting a minimalist lifestyle isn’t as simple as throwing a few things away, and it can require a lot of discipline to fully take on. If you’re in need of some extra inspiration to help you embrace minimalism, these TED Talks will help you see the value in it and how it can help you to spend less and begin your path to a debt-free life. Click on the image of any presenter to view their talk! 

Minimalism primarily focuses on decluttering your physical space of material items, and only keeping or purchasing items that provide value to you. In doing this, you free yourself of distractions and the temptation to buy unnecessarily. While minimalism does not stop you from spending money, it can help you shift your focus on more important ways to budget and spend. Over time, the changes in your spending habits by adopting minimalism can add up and make a difference, and you can find yourself in a healthier financial situation. 

 Sources

Money Under 30 | The Balance | Frugaling | Project Hot Mess | Apartment Therapy | The Singju Post | Business Insider | The Moneyless Man | The Art of Letting Go | Getting Rid of 1000 Things | Less Stuff, More Happiness | From Clutter to Clarity | Sell Your Crap, Pay Your Debt, Do What You Love | The Ten-Item Wardrobe | The Less You Own, The More You Have | Get Rid of the Unnecessary to Get Down to Basics | Minimalism – For a More Full Life

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Why You Might Want to Start Paying Your Student Loans in College

When I was 26 years old, I paid off my student loans just three years after graduation. People congratulated me on my task and couldn’t believe how quickly I’d done it, especially since I was only making $30,000 a year. 

But I wasn’t that impressed. I knew how much money I had wasted in college, eating out, buying new clothes.  

When I was in college, I didn’t budget or think much about my student loans. I knew I had “only” taken out $24,000 and wasn’t concerned about paying it back. 

If you ask me what one of my biggest financial regrets is, it’s not paying money on my student loans in college.   

Save on Interest 

The biggest reason to start paying off your student loans while in college is to save on interest.  

There are two types of federal student loans: subsidized and unsubsidized. If you have subsidized student loans, you don’t start accruing interest until you graduate. If you have unsubsidized federal loans, the interest accrues while you’re in school and capitalizes or becomes part of the principal.  

Because the interest grows, the amount you originally borrowed can balloon while you’re out partying and skipping classes. Each dollar you repay in college is one less dollar you have to pay after graduation.  

Private lenders may also charge interest while you’re in school, but their policy may vary. You should contact your lenders to see if they do. 

Get in the Habit of Paying 

Even if you only pay $25 a month toward your student loans, starting to make payments will teach you the habit of paying your bills. Personal finance isn’t an innate skill; it’s a series of successful habits. 

If you start paying your student loans while in college, you’ll learn how to manage your money, how much a dollar is worth and how to balance bills with other priorities. You may start to become more motivated to be frugal, live on a budget and focus on early debt payoff.  

It’s much harder to start a habit from scratch than it is to continue one. Even if you slip up and stop making payments for a few months, you’ll still have the experience of doing it. Getting back on the horse will be a lot easier.   

Give Yourself a Head Start 

When you pay your student loans early, you can have the payments applied to the principal or have them count as future payments. If you choose the latter, it will push your next due date. When I was paying extra on my student loans, my soonest due date would sometimes be more than six months away.  

That means that if you find yourself struggling financially, you can take a break from paying your student loans without deferring your student loans or applying for forbearance.  

When You Shouldn’t Pay off Student Loans in College 

There are a few situations when you shouldn’t start repaying your student loans in college. If you have high-interest debt, like a credit card balance or personal loan, you should focus on repaying that before your student loans. 

Look at your other loans and compare their interest rates to your student loan interest rate. If the rate is higher, then focus on putting extra money toward that debt.  

If your savings is below $1,000, you should also focus on building that up instead of repaying your student loans. A basic emergency or rainy day fund is essential because it helps pay for emergencies like a trip to the ER, a visit to the vet, or replacing a flat tire.   

It may be tempting to start paying your student loans, but you really need an emergency fund first. If you have a true emergency, like your car needs a new alternator, you may either go without or resort to putting that money on a credit card. This means you’ll owe interest if you can’t pay that bill in full.  

Be patient and focus on the basic building blocks. Once you have $1,000 in your emergency fund, you can start paying your student loans.  

How to Start Paying off Your Student Loans in College 

First, contact your student loan provider. You may need to create an online account, which can require some official documents and identity verification. The process may vary depending if you’re applying for a federal or private loan. 

If you’re not sure who you owe money to, look at your official credit report. All your lenders should have reported your information to one or more of the three official credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax or TransUnion. 

Go to AnnualCreditReport.com to get your free credit report. Look up reports from all three credit bureaus, just in case a provider didn’t report your loan to all three.  

If you already have an online account with a lender, go to their website and see if you can start making payments. You may have to call them directly to ask how to begin making payments. Before you do, ask them if that will affect your grace period. You should also ask them if it’s ok to make sporadic payments while you’re in college.  

Next, decide if you want to make manual or automatic payments. If you choose manual payments, you’ll have the flexibility to decide when to make a payment and how much. If you’re buying expensive textbooks one month, you may choose to skip a student loan payment. But if you get a raise from your part-time job, you may increase your payment.  

If you opt for automatic payments, you won’t have to log onto the account every month. Automatic payments are also good because there’s no chance you’ll talk yourself out of paying that money every month. It’s easy to think that you may need money for other priorities instead of your student loans. Plus, some loan providers give you a discount on interest if you set up automatic payments.  

When you start paying off your student loans, you probably won’t see a huge drop in your total balance. Anytime you pay back a debt, the first few year’s of repayment are interest-heavy. Most of your monthly payments will go toward interest, not principal.  

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4 Inexpensive East Coast Destinations to Travel to With Your Family

It’s amazing how things change when you have kids. Before kids, weekend getaways and trips were fairly easy. When we needed to take a break, I remember we could look at the calendar and twenty minutes later, have a few dates to run by work for time off.  Even the destinations would already be top of mind and after looking for deals on travel sites and asking around, we’d settle with whatever had the best price. Pretty easy.

Fast forward a few years and now we’re parents of an eight-year-old and a four-year-old.  

Those first few years with our little ones were honestly rough. We’re trying to coordinate between two jobs and one school schedule. It was tough finding the perfect time to take a week or so off. Once we had our dates, we’d then have to make sure that we could find a deal. Thankfully, we’ve gotten a little bit wiser. We found our footing and came up with our little system for timing our vacations and snagging some good savings. We’ve also found some spots that allow us to unwind without breaking the budget 

Affordable Family Vacations to Take This Fall 

While school is back in season, that doesn’t mean you have to write off the rest of the year.  You still have time to take one last getaway to recharge your battery, have some fun, and connect as a family.  

To make things easy for you, I want to share a few of our favorite spots that both we and the kids enjoyed. The cherry on top? They’re also affordable spots!  

Daytona Beach, Florida 

If you’re looking to escape and have some beach time, then Florida is the way to go. However, staying in Orlando is not on the list if you’re looking for a chance to relax and actually save money. Instead, soak up some beach time before the weather gets too cold and hang out for a bit in Daytona Beach.  

When we did our trip last October in Florida, it couldn’t have been more perfect. The weather was still warm, the large crowds of tourists were gone (along with the overpriced hotels), and there were plenty of things to do around.  

Racing fans can enjoy the Daytona International Speedway or if you’re in the mood for stars, you can head over to MOA’s planetarium.  And if your kids really want to visit the Magic Kingdom or Universal Studios, you can make it a more affordable day trip rather than blow your budget by spending your whole time there.  We once went to Universal right after Thanksgiving and were able to skip waiting in line because it was so quiet.  

Charleston, South Carolina 

We took trips to Charleston for the last few Decembers and I have to say, we’ve enjoyed every one. While the temperatures have cooled down a bit, making beach time minimal, we still managed to be out and about. Throw on a jacket, wear your fall layers, and you’re all set to hit the town and enjoy some history and food.  

You have to visit The Tavern at Rainbow Row. Besides being the oldest liquor store in the country, the vibe there is incredible. It’s small, but the selection is wide. Want to have an incredible lunch that’s still cheap? Try out The Blind Tiger. The truffle duck, bourbon bread pudding, buffalo cheese curds are delicious.  

Asheville, North Carolina 

One of our favorite low-key trips we’ve taken was a camping adventure with some friends just outside of Asheville. Being able to see the mountains shift into autumn colors was incredible. If you’re a photographer or love being outdoors, you have to take a trip here. It’s so peaceful and the views are amazing. For the parents, Asheville is the hot spot for fantastic food and a wide array of awesome breweries.   

After spending your days enjoying the parks and maybe getting some tubing in, treat yourself and the kids to Double D’s Coffee and Dessert. It’s a cool double-decker bus in the city that’s also nearby Wicked Weed brewery.  

Tuxedo, New York 

If you absolutely love New York City but also relish some peace and relaxation that a more rural spot gives, then you should check out some of the small towns upstate.   

I may be a little biased since I lived here for a few years, but fall is pretty much the best time to visit. You can truly have the best of both worlds with renting a spot in a town just outside the city.  The Metro-North Railroad means you can take a train to New York City, allowing you to enjoy a scenic ride and skip put on the nightmare of driving in Manhattan.  

Have your day trips to shop, visit the museums, and explore some of the best restaurants. You can then head back to your affordable getaway spot and enjoy some of the local events including celebrating autumn with exquisite apple cider.  

Saving Up for Family Trips 

While you hunt for the deals, you can start now saving up for your trip. You can create a vacation fund as separate savings to keep you motivated.  

Using a tool like Mint makes it easy to track your progress and help you find ways to trim your budget a smidge so you have more money for fun during your trip. Knowing our money leaks allowed us to try some fun monthly challenges to sock away an extra couple hundred dollars.  Keep your vacations debt-free also means there’s less stress as you don’t have to worry about a bill afterward. Double win in my book!  

If you’re looking for tips, please check out my post on how to shift gears and become a savvy saver.  It’s much easier than you think and you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish in one month.  

Your Take on Family Getaways 

Wherever you go, I hope you have a wonderful time together. Now that you know my favorites, I’d love to hear about your spots.  What have been some of your best vacations together?  

 

 

 

The post 4 Inexpensive East Coast Destinations to Travel to With Your Family appeared first on MintLife Blog.

from MintLife Blog https://blog.mint.com/family/4-inexpensive-places-to-travel-with-your-family-before-the-end-of-the-year/
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The Role of Middle Management in Your Company

middle managerFrom EO Melbourne, we share the skills of a great middle manager.

“Middle management” is the level in a corporate structure that bridges the senior executives and the junior ranks. While most startups are working with a lean configuration of staff members and flatter organizational chart, many larger organizations find benefits in layers and hierarchy. Still others will make the case for a flat organizational structure even as they grow.

For business leaders who are weighing the benefits of hiring managers, let’s review what these middle roles can bring to your team.

RELATIONSHIP BUILDERS

Middle managers have a closer relationship with frontline employees, which makes their role as relationship builders crucial to the business.

These individuals must be effective in translating the vision and mission of the enterprise to the day-to-day operations and activities of their team. Likewise, competent middle managers will communicate to senior staff any rumblings of dissatisfaction among entry-level employees.

Building cooperation and mutual trust between the senior management and the rank and file is one of the skills managers should have in order to contribute to the growth and success of the company.

ACCELERATORS AND MOTIVATORS

The advantage of having a middle management level in an organization is that it can prevent potential bottlenecks. They can support leadership in strategic and sales efforts, while also mentor less-experienced staff and chip in on day-to-day tasks during busier times.

The best middle managers are agile—quick to solve problems and put out fires, while also boosting the morale of the team, listening to the ideas and feedback of staff, and accelerating growth to bring the venture closer to its destination at the shortest time possible. Managers provide the needed energy and force to thrust the business forward as they encourage their people and inspire them to carry out their functions effectively.

STRATEGISTS

One key skill that middle managers should possess is being able to break down long-term goals into short-term targets, turning plans into actionable items using strategies that yield positive results. They know the available staffing and resources and can navigate toward goals or mapping out a path forward even with limited resources.

Be warned, though. This ability of a middle manager to manage both up and down can be exhausting, and job burnout is common for this group.

TEAM LEADERS

Managers provide direction, motivate team members, and pay attention to details—tasks which may be too draining or distracting for business owners. Learning to delegate to these direct reports will benefit you, your business and to the managers.

Identify managers who can uphold your aspirations and improve productivity, who may even balance your strengths with their own. Such leaders can help correct errors, fill in gaps and tighten loose ends.

Finding the right middle manager for your organizations means finding the person who embodies your corporate culture, ethics and values. It means identifying the person who can pick up your communication style quickly and translate your goals into action.

A version of this article originally appeared on EO Melbourne’s blog. 

The post The Role of Middle Management in Your Company appeared first on Octane Blog – The official blog of the Entrepreneurs' Organization.

from Octane Blog – The official blog of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization https://blog.eonetwork.org/2019/09/role-middle-management-company/
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Building a Freelancing Business: Try the Patchwork Method

When I was first curious about freelancing, I felt a bit overwhelmed. I wasn’t quite sure how to get started, and feared I didn’t have what it took to be a successful solopreneur. But here’s what I learned: The beauty of freelancing is that you don’t need to have a fancy degree, or even have “paid your dues.”

You really just need to deliver quality work. And that boils down to putting the time and energy into developing the necessary chops.

When I transitioned into full-time freelance writing in 2015, it wasn’t so much a leap, but just more of what I was already doing. That’s because I had gradually been prepping for that big day by building my portfolio, experience, and know-how in the years prior.

To accomplish this, consider the patchwork method. In other words, piece together skills you’ve learned from different realms of your life to land that first client.

To build my freelancing business, I leveraged my existing skills and experience to make the switch. Here’s how I did it, and how you can, too:

Use a Mix of Skills Learned on the Job

While I never did much writing — let alone writing about money — at my day job, I did learn a handful of useful skills that helped me along in my freelancing career.

Case in point: When I worked in the communications department at an entertainment labor union, I copyedited magazines and was the production coordinator for all the print-related projects — directories, magazines, and print collateral for screenings and special events. I learned the importance of creating a workflow and how to juggle different deadlines, which would later be essential for my freelance gigs.

And later, when I worked at a small publishing company, I wrote marketing copy for our licensed accounts. Being exposed to a lot of branding guidelines helped me better understand the nuances and details that go into a brand experience. That know-how helped me learn how to really pay attention to style, voice, and tone — integral pieces of creating content for brands in the financial space.

If you’re working a day job, think about what it is you enjoy doing the most, then try to find opportunities to do more of it. Annual reviews and private meetings with your boss are good times to let them know what opportunities you’d like more of. If you want to be a freelance graphic designer, see if you can take small design projects, or be a production artist to a head designer in the creative department.

Invest in a Passion Project

Besides enriching your life, your personal projects could help you land work as a freelancer. For instance, my blog on frugality, Cheapsters, helped me meet some cool hardcore frugalistas. More importantly, I gained experience writing blog posts about money.

And before I had any professional writing clips, potential clients checked out my blog to get a sense of my writing style. I was placed on my first editorial team for a content platform after a talent manager checked out my work on my blog.

I also used my time outside of work to learn to write fiction. Whereas running a blog helped me grow my network of money nerds and get some personal finance under my belt, writing fiction helped me become a stronger writer. By spending hours in writing classes, weekend workshops, and being part of a few literary groups, I learned the importance of syntax, word choice, lyricism, and telling a good story.

Because I didn’t do much writing at my day job, I used my passion projects to make up for the lack of opportunities. Not only did my personal projects help me become a stronger writer,  they also were a way to show the world what I’m most interested in, and what direction I wanted my career to head toward.

Think about how your passion projects can help do the same for you. What opportunities would you like to create for yourself in the world, and how can a passion project help polish your skills and showcase what you’re capable of?

Invest in Continuing Education

Coursework has been a solid way to fill in any knowledge gaps. During my time at the entertainment labor union, my boss was generous enough to subsidize evening courses I took for a copyediting certification. Getting my head around style guides and and checking copy for repetition and awkward phrasing helped me land my first freelancing gigs. I proofed novels for independent authors and copyedited an arts magazine.

When you freelance, there’s no one waving the promise of a promotion, or paying your way to a work conference. As a master of your own destiny, you’ll have to carve out opportunities and invest in yourself. Over the course of the last 15 years I’ve taken online courses and extension courses at local universities and community colleges.

I picked courses that killed two birds with one stone — that could add bolster my value at my current job, and also that best served future me. Because I spent a lot of time on my blog, I took graphic design courses to understand the basics of composition and web design. This also came in handy when I had to do basic layout on the publications at my then job. And I took copyediting because it helped me bolster my overall editorial skills.

Investing in yourself will be an ongoing endeavor. And as I’m doing more speaking engagements on financial literacy and freelancing, I’ve joined a local Toastmasters chapter. I’ve also registered for an independent study to become a financial coach, and am taking a community counselor course to work with underserved, traditionally marginalized populations.

If you don’t have time to devote to formal coursework, learn in dribs and drabs. That way you can spend smaller chunks of time on what’s most relevant to your current career path. Online education platforms such as Lynda, Skillshare, and Coursera could help you learn at your own pace.

Acquiring the skills and experience necessary to build a freelancing business certainly isn’t an overnight process, but that doesn’t mean you need to leave the workforce and go back to school. You can achieve your goals with  the patchwork method, using whatever combination of skills learned at your day job, passion projects, and continuing education suits you best.

The post Building a Freelancing Business: Try the Patchwork Method appeared first on MintLife Blog.

from MintLife Blog https://blog.mint.com/early-career/building-a-freelancing-business-try-the-patchwork-method/
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How to Slash Your Grocery Bill

How much does your family spend on food?

If you’re like most, food is one of your top three expenses (the other two being housing and transportation). While it’s an essential expense for sure, but when digging around those receipts, we’re probably finding out just how much those lunches out and dinners picked up on the way home is truly costing us. In fact with one survey, it found that families spend about 43% of their food budget eating out! A big reason why we do it is that we’re stressed from work and taking care of the kids, we go for the convenient options.  

It’s not only hurting our waistlines but our budgets.  

Frugal Foodie 101: How to Cut Your Grocery Bill 

Here’s the reality (at least for us). One, I love being a foodie. We want healthy and delicious meals. Two, we have a life and we want to enjoy it so we’re not interested in meals that take up a ton of time to prepare. Our kids are at the age where they want to help out and I’m going to take advantage of that so I need recipes that a third-grader can handle.

While I love a great deal, I’m not willing to cut my costs to the bone by going with cheap eats that are highly processed and not really filling anyways. I’d rather be smarter with my spending so that I’m enjoying my meals and keeping costs reasonable. Sound impossible? It’s not.  

Let me show you how you can slash your grocery bill and make your meals less stressful and more delicious!  

Grocery Shopping Tips You Need to Know 

Let’s start with the foundation of being a frugal foodie – mastering grocery runs.

We used to go in and hunt around, looking for sales. We’d come out with bags of food which included some extras we hadn’t intended on picking up.  Then by week’s end, we discovered we had wasted food in the fridge because we hadn’t used those fresh ingredients in time. Money down the drain. We now have a better way to shop.  

Make Your Shops Rewarding 

Since we need to be at the grocery store anyway, why don’t we save some money? Apps like iBotta and Fetch make it easy to trim that grocery bill with just your phone. 

Before you shop, see if there are any deals on items you were going to pick up anyways. Add them to your list and scan your receipts to get a rebate!  

The Mind of a Chef 

If you’d look at your meals for the past month, you’d probably see that certain dishes keep coming up. Not only is that normal, but it can also be a great cost and time saver. How? 

First off, you can start seeing if you can pick ingredients that can be used in several dishes instead of just one. Former chef and now personal finance writer Julien Saunders pointed out that successful restaurants shop with the idea of cross-utilization. Many fast-casual restaurants places, keep a relatively slim inventory of different ingredients that they can then use to create several dishes. (Think how Chipotle can use the same items for tacos, burritos, and bowls).  

We found simply writing down a list of regular go-to dishes with their ingredients can help us with groceries. We waste less, which is a win for our wallets.  

Shop in Season

Eating seasonally can save you some significant money at the grocery stores, especially if you like to shop organic. When you shop for produce when it’s in season, you tend to get a good amount at the fraction of the ‘regular’ price.  

By the way, if you do like to go organic, but you’re on a budget, check this list to make sure you’re getting a good deal and not overpriced hype.  

Easy Meal Prep for Busy Parents 

It might not sound exciting, but a huge help for us to resist the temptation of ordering delivery or picking up meals on the way home is meal prepping. And no, you do not need to break out a calendar and meticulously plan every single meal you eat. As Meal Planning on a Budget author Jen Smith pointed out, meal prepping can be as complicated or as easy as you like.  

For us, meal prepping simply involves taking a few minutes each weekend before the Sunday run to think about the three or four main dishes we’d like for dinner.  Using that as a guide we can then break it down by ingredients and create a shopping list that allows me to knock it out in about 20-30 minutes. When I get home, I roughly portion ingredients out into meal servings (using my trusty freezer bags). I may also chop up some vegetables for the next day’s dinner. A small amount of prep, but very handy when we’re having a busy night.  

Learn The Art of Freezing and Slow Cooking 

Another way we’ve reduced waste while still snagging those in-season deals is by freezing and preserving our foods. Even if you only focus on freezing, you can easily stock up on vegetables and fruit. 

An essential tool to have in your kitchen is a slow cooker (or Instapot). If you’re pressed for time, it’s one of the easiest ways you can throw a meal together while you’re hanging out with the kids on the weekends. You can also make a meal or two ahead on Saturday or Sunday if you know you’ll be pressed for time in the evenings.  

It’s easier to skip on those last-minute meals out if you have something at home you simply need to heat up.  

Your Take on Being a Frugal Foodie 

Eating well on a budget is an essential skill to not only making ends meet but having less stress! 

When you have a minute, go ahead and use an app like Mint to see how much you’re spending now. Once you have that number in mind, use these tips to see how much you can save with your groceries.  

Once you do, please share which tips worked the best for you.

The post How to Slash Your Grocery Bill appeared first on MintLife Blog.

from MintLife Blog https://blog.mint.com/food-budgets/how-to-slash-your-grocery-bill/
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4 Leadership Secrets I Wish I Knew Before I Became a Manager

leadership tips violet limWritten by Violet Lim, an EO Singapore member and the co-founder of Lunch Actually, Singapore’s first and largest lunch dating agency. A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn

I first became a manager at 24, the year that we started the business. I had never managed anybody before that, and everybody I hired at that point was older than me, with more working experience than me.

I had to learn management the hard way—on the job. I made many of same mistakes that all new managers make: I tried to be everybody’s best friend. I did whatever I could to please them and to placate them. I hoped that if they liked me, they would do what I asked them to do. Well, this obviously did not work. I was so bitter with that experience that I swung to the other extreme of the pendulum. I became a hard b***h and I drew a clear line: I am the boss and you better do what you are told! You probably have guessed the outcome: I just ended up with some very disgruntled and unhappy employees.

That was when I realized that I needed to seek balance. I needed to discover my own leadership style. And over the years, I found a formula that works for me. Here are four key steps to my leadership style.

1. Smile.

You might be surprised how crucial this is. On the days that I am not smiling, the mood in the office is completely different. My mood creates a ripple effect across the entire office. As a leader, I have learned that it is important to show up—and show up with a positive attitude. Nobody likes to work in a place where they have to constantly walk on eggshells.

2. Be a good listener.

In addition to having regular one-on-one meetings with my direct reports, I have created multiple channels for my 100-plus associates to reach out to me. I have lunch with newcomers, hold quarterly town halls and host small group catch-ups when I visit different branches. People want to be heard and they want to know their opinions matter. I always take notes and support them to my best ability.

3. Give them autonomy.

I found one of the most frustrating aspects of being an employee before I launched my business was feeling that the work I did didn’t have any tangible impact. So when we started Lunch Actually, we wanted to make sure that everybody—from the most junior associate to the CEO—could contribute ideas. And if it is a great idea, we encourage them to execute it and see their own ideas come to reality. Many of the products we have today are dreamt up not by me, but by our talented associates.

4. Recognize, appreciate and celebrate.

I love to hear nice things being said about me. And I am sure my associates love to be publicly acknowledged too. We have created structures for us to recognize and appreciate our associates on a regular basis. We launched a purple coin system where we encourage our managers and associates to appreciate fellow associates for a job well done. Purple coins can be saved and exchanged for shopping vouchers or time off!

What’s your leadership style? Of all the leaders you have worked with, who has had the biggest impact on you? What did they do well? How can you include some of these leadership ingredients into your own brand of leadership?

When we are given a chance to lead, it is an honor and a privilege. It is therefore up to us to step up, make the best of the opportunity and inspire others to be the best they can be.

The post 4 Leadership Secrets I Wish I Knew Before I Became a Manager appeared first on Octane Blog – The official blog of the Entrepreneurs' Organization.

from Octane Blog – The official blog of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization https://blog.eonetwork.org/2019/09/4-leadership-secrets-wish-knew-became-manager/
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