Making Networking Work for Your Career

networking-my-personal-finance-journeyThe following is a post by MPFJ staff writer, Kevin Mercadante, who is a freelance professional personal finance blogger for hire, and the owner of his own personal finance blog, OutOfYourRut.com. He has backgrounds in both accounting and the mortgage industry.

Networking is one of the most time-honored ways to find a new job or to advance your career. Sometimes it doesn’t seem networking is actually working. But often the reason for that is that we don’t manage it the right way.

Here are strategies to help you get the most out of career networking.

You Should be Networking Even When You Don’t Need to Network

Networking is often an activity that we participate in only when we are actively seeking a new job. But approaching it in this very limited way is one of the primary reasons why networking might not seem to work.

The power of networking is in the network itself – you will have to keep it active at all times, even when you’re not looking for work. That is, you need to stay in touch with your network partners at all times.

This is a situation that can work against you if you have been working with the same employer for many years. For example, if you have been with the same company for 20 years, the stability of your employment might make networking seem to be unnecessary. But should your situation change, either due to a layoff, an unfortunate termination, or on the realization that you cannot/will not be promoted, you’ll wish that you had done a better job of maintaining your network.

Be Intentional in Your Networking Efforts

What does it mean to be active in your network? It means being intentional. You should have some sort of loose plan as to how you maintain at least semi-regular contact with your network partners.

That will involve periodic phone calls, emails, and even occasional face-to-face meetings. This will keep your network contacts active and solid. It will also remove any hesitation you might have about contacting people in your network when you finally do need a job.

Not All Networks are Formal

You can of course join formal networks, such as industry trade groups, but that’s not always entirely necessary. You can also maintain common interest contact with people in your field where you get together for purposes unrelated to work. It could be hobbies, sports, religious affiliation or any common bond you can think of.

A contact is a contact, so it doesn’t necessarily need to be part of a formal group. Any kind of group that involves regular contact works as a suitable network. Each member of the group is a potential resource for referrals for professional purposes if only on an as-needed basis.

Your Former Co-workers are Some of Your Best Contacts

It’s very easy to lose contact with former coworkers. And unfortunately, in some organizations, once a person leaves they are considered to be “outsiders” and all contact with them stops.

But former coworkers can be some of your best networking partners. Since they actually worked with you, they know more about you, and may not only be more likely to give you job leads, but also personal referrals. This is especially important since many employers require referrals who are people you have worked with in the past, but not necessarily your immediate supervisors and managers (because legally they can usually only confirm dates of employment). A former coworker who will speak well of you is a powerful personal referral.

Network in Parallel Fields and Industries

If all of the contacts in your network are in your immediate field or industry you may be leaving an entire very important group out of the equation. That’s people who work in related fields, but not specifically in your industry.

These contacts are important because they are often aware of job openings within your industry. Even more important, since they are not specifically employed in your industry, they’re not competitors for the same jobs. They would likely have no reservation about referring jobs to you, unlike people who are employed in your industry and may be reluctant to make a referral.

Make it Mutual – Always!

Successful networking must always be mutual. If you want to get job and career referrals, it’s absolutely essential that you reciprocate. Even if you are not interested in a new position right now, you probably know of job openings and promotions. If you do, this is an excellent opportunity to reward the people in your network with specific referrals from you.

Rest assured that if you refer a network contact to a new position, that person will reciprocate when the time comes that you need a new job.

This is another networking activity that you need to be very intentional about. For example, when an opening becomes available with your employer, or even with an outside employer that you know, send out an email to some of your network contacts who may be qualified or interested. Even if they aren’t, they’ll remember your referral. If nothing else, it’s another opportunity to contact some people in your network. And you should be doing that all the time.

If you’re working your network even when you don’t need a job, it will be there for you when you do.

How about you all? What other ways have you utilized to network with others? Have you found anything that works better than others?

Share your experiences by commenting below!

***Photo courtesy https://www.flickr.com/photos/83532250@N06/7650804342/sizes/n/

Change Your Thinking, Change Your Financial Family Tree: 7 Lies that Keep Families in Financial Bondage

family-money-my-personal-finance-journeyThe following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Laurie Blank.  Laurie is a wife, mother to 4 and homesteader who blogs about personal finance, self-sufficiency and life in general over at The Frugal Farmer. Part witty, part introspective and part silly, her goal in blogging is to help others find their way to financial freedom and to a simpler, more peaceful life.

Financial expert Dave Ramsey often talks about how choosing to live a debt free life means re-writing your financial family tree. Many people who are in debt can look at their family tree and see that a host of other family members have also struggled or are still struggling financially. For many families, debt, poverty and lack are a way of life. Not saving money is normal. Not planning for retirement is normal.

For these folks, changing your money is going to take changing the way you’ve always been taught to think about money. It’s going to take renewing your mind to be like the minds of savers, investors and wealth-growing people. Here are 7 mindsets you might need to change if you really want to change your family’s financial tree for good.

I Have No Control Over My Financial Situation

We thought this for years. My husband and I were raised with the unspoken message that people either have money or they don’t, and that there’s nothing an individual can do to change that – it’s simply luck of the draw.

While people don’t always have control over every expenditure that comes their way, you do have the option to save more and spend less when it comes to items that are in your control, and practicing discipline on those things will help put you in a better financial position when unexpected expenses come.

The rule: control what spending you can so that you’re better prepared for those expenses you can’t control.

Saving Isn’t Important

Or as we used to say, “My credit card is my emergency fund.” The general rule is that if one chooses to rely on credit for covering emergencies they’ll never make saving money a priority. The truth of the matter is that money in the bank always trumps available credit in terms of enhancing financial security.

Choose to put a designated amount into a savings account, and commit to leaving it there. Even if it’s just $10 or $20 a paycheck, it’s something and it will eventually begin to add up to big bucks.

Debt is Okay

Some experts agree that some types of debt are okay. Mortgages and student loan debts are among those types of debt that are considered to be acceptable debts.

But the fact of the matter is that as long as you owe somebody money, they have a certain amount of control over the way you live your life. And as long as you’ve got payments to make, you decrease your financial security in situations where you might be forced to live with less income, such as in a job layoff situation.

It’s a “debt is okay” attitude that keeps people borrowing instead of saving to pay cash for items.

If you’re going to change your financial family tree, you’ve got to reject the mindset that debt is okay. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you can never borrow money again, but in order to truly change your habits and start building wealth, taking on debt has to be an exception instead of a rule in your financial life.

Financial Goals Aren’t Necessary

For years our family’s financial goals consisted of vague statements such as “I want to get out of debt”. Unfortunately, those types of semi-goals don’t usually get achieved.

People who achieve financial independence usually have written out goals that contain a step-by-step action plan that will help them achieve those goals. Here’s an example.

Goal: I will pay off $20,000 in credit card debt in two years by putting an extra $800 a month toward my credit card bills. I will find that extra $800 a month by cutting X, Y and Z expenses and by making X amount of money at a second job delivering pizzas.

Without specific, written goals you can pretty much guarantee that your financial family tree will continue to follow the path of those before you who also never had written financial goals.

Retirement Will Just Work Itself Out

I remember my grandparents struggling tremendously in retirement (and in all the years before retirement) from a financial standpoint. Birthday and Christmas presents from their kids and grandkids always had to be cash to help them pay the bills or purchases to repair things on the house because they didn’t have the money for anything other than the basics.

Back in the olden days, when social security money was guaranteed and debt wasn’t the norm, your grandparents and great-grandparents might have been able to get away with this mindset. After all, they probably had little to no debt and didn’t need much to live on.

Also, healthcare coverage in those days was much more all-encompassing than it is now. In today’s world, however, people need to have a plan for their money if they want to retire and be able to eat and pay the bills.

Choose to change your financial family tree by starting to save for retirement right now. Again, it doesn’t take much to add up to big bucks if you’re still in your thirties or below. Take advantage of employee matches on your 401(k), set a monthly pre-tax contribution amount to go into your 401(k) and put a small amount of cash monthly into an IRA.

If you’re into your forties and fifties and are on the road to a dismal financial place in retirement as your ancestors were, take steps now to do things differently. Cut expenses drastically, downsize your house if need be and start making retirement savings a top priority so that you can make big strides to live a more financially secure retirement than your parents and grandparents have or had.

I/We Don’t Really Spend That Much Money

This was our mantra – and the mantra of our family members – for many years. Then one day back in October of 2012, when we hit our financial rock bottom, we gathered our bank and credit card statements and took a look at what we actually spent our money on.

Here’s what we learned.

We spent 50% more on groceries per month than we thought we did. Three times as much on entertainment and eating out than we thought we did. Twice as much on gas for the cars as we thought we did.

It was then that we began changing our family’s financial tree and spend tracking each and every month. Spend tracking allows us to have a daily update of what we’re spending so that if we see we’re getting near our budget limit on a particular item we can reign in spending immediately.

Now that we know exactly what we’re spending money on each month, we are paying off our debt instead of accumulating more debt and not understanding why.

I Just Need to Earn More Money and Then We’ll Do Better Financially

I can’t count how many times my husband and I said this to each other. But the truth of the matter is that financial problems are rarely (as in 1% of the time) due to a lack of money, but instead due to a lack of restraint when it comes to spending.

If you can face this and other facts regarding how you and your ancestors manage money, you can indeed make the necessary changes to change your financial family tree from one of constant money struggles to a lifetime of financial freedom.

How about you all? As you look at your family’s financial history, do you see a pattern that lines up with your own spending and saving habits?

Share your experiences by commenting below!

***Photo courtesy https://pixabay.com/en/family-dollar-money-hedged-forward-960451/

Take These Steps to Protect Your Family and Assets from Fire

flame-my-personal-finance-journeyThe following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Melissa Batai.  Melissa is a freelance writer who covers topics ranging from personal finance to business to organics to food.  She blogs at Mom’s Plans where she shares her family’s journey to healthier living and paying down debt.

Fire.  We all hope a fire doesn’t happen in our homes, especially at night when we’re sleeping.

We hope that it doesn’t happen to us, we may live in fear of it, but we do very little to protect ourselves.  A surprising number of us don’t even have fire extinguishers in our homes.  We don’t know how to put out a grease fire in the kitchen.  Sometimes we don’t change the batteries in our smoke alarms, or worse yet, we don’t have smoke alarms.  We don’t go over a fire escape plan with our children.

And yet, for all of our lack of precautions, or maybe because of it, household fires are fairly common.  According to the National Fire Protection Association, “Between 350,000 and 400,000. . .house fires occur in the United States each year.  Households can expect a fire every 15 years on average. . .Your household has a one in four chance of having a fire large enough to be reported to a fire department during an average lifetime” (CBS5AZ).

Are you scared by those statistics, or do you think, “We’re careful.  That won’t happen to us.”

Hopefully none of us reading this post will have to experience a house fire, but as the statistics say, some of us will.  However, there are important steps you can take to protect your family and your assets:

Install smoke alarms

Don’t kid yourself—you need smoke alarms.  According to the National Fire Protection Association, “Almost two-thirds of home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms.”

How many smoke alarms do you have in your house?

You should have one on every floor.  In addition, you need one inside every bedroom and outside the bedroom, such as in the hallway.  The National Fire Protection Association recommends that you change your smoke alarms every 10 years.  If you can interconnect your smoke alarms so that when one goes off all the other ones go off, that’s the best protection.

Replace smoke alarm batteries every time there is a time change

Every time we switch to daylight savings time and then back again, in the spring and in the fall, replace your smoke alarm batteries.  This is a small price to pay for your safety.

Have a fire extinguisher on every floor of the house

If there’s a small fire in the bedroom upstairs, you don’t want to have to run downstairs to the kitchen to grab the fire extinguisher.  Have one on every floor, and make sure there is one in the kitchen.

In addition, know that there are different types of fire extinguishers, A, B, and C, that put out different types of fires.  Ideally, get a fire extinguisher that is Type ABC and can put out any small fire you may have in your home.  In addition, replace the fire extinguisher every 10 to 12 years, even if it hasn’t been used.  If it has been used, it will also have to be replaced.

Have an escape plan and practice it

You and your family members should plan two different ways to get out of the home.  You should also practice your escape plan regularly so that if there is a fire, your natural tendency to panic is overcome with your prior preparation.

Make sure younger children know how to open the windows and doors so they can get out.  If you have an infant or someone with mobility problems, make sure someone is assigned to help them out of the house.  Mark a spot to meet outside.   The National Fire Protection Association has a detailed list and sample map to use when making your escape plan.

Keep a flashlight and a phone by your bedside

If there is a fire in your home, you will likely want to call 9-1-1 immediately, and you’ll also need a flashlight to help you navigate the darkness, especially if you’ve already lost electricity.

Take pictures of your assets yearly

Imagine, if everything you owned was gone, would you be able to remember all that was missing and the value of everything?  Likely not.  Instead, today, go around your house taking pictures of everything that you own.  Open closet doors; open dresser drawers; take pictures of all of it.  Then, put those pictures somewhere safe so that if there is a fire and you lose most of your belongings, you’ll have documentation of them.

However, doing this once is not enough.  You’ll need to repeat the process every 12 to 24 months.

Have home or renters’ insurance

Your home and belongings are too valuable to risk losing.  Indeed, losing your home to a house fire and not having home insurance can be financially devastating.

If you’re renting, don’t assume that your landlord’s insurance covers you.  The landlord’s insurance covers his loss from the building.  You’ll need renter’s insurance to cover the cost of replacing your belongings.  When we rented, our renter’s insurance was only $100 a year.  That’s less than $10 a month and well worth the cost.

When you take out your home or renter’s insurance, make sure that the insurance is for the replacement value of your items (called replacement cost insurance), not the depreciated value (called actual cash value by the insurance company).  The latter type of coverage may be a bit cheaper annually, but if you have a catastrophe like a fire, it could cost you much more.

Say you lose your computer in a fire.  If you paid $800 for the computer but you’ve had it for two years, your insurance may only pay you half the amount you paid or less.  Consider this being done for all of the items that you lost, and insurance suddenly becomes inadequate.  However, if you sign up for replacement cost insurance, you’ll be given an amount to cover the cost of the item in today’s dollars, without depreciation.

Regularly update your insurance

As you stay in your house longer, you tend to accumulate more valuable items and your house also likely appreciates.  Make sure every two years or so you reevaluate your insurance.  You may find that you need to increase your insurance coverage for the items in your home, and determine if you have enough to cover the replacement value of your home now, after it has appreciated.

Have and use a fireproof safe deposit box

Finally, make sure you have a fireproof safe deposit box somewhere in your home.  Use it to store the photos you took of your valuable items as well as any valuable paperwork like birth, marriage, and death certificates, passports, licenses, etc.   You may also consider storing heirloom items in here like your grandmother’s wedding ring or older pictures that you wouldn’t want to lose.

No one thinks about the fine details of going through a house fire, but every year hundreds of thousands of people have house fires.  In fact, in 2013, there were 369, 500 reported house fires (NFPA).  Hopefully, you’ll never experience such a devastating event, but if you do and you’ve taken the steps above, you’ll likely reduce the possible damage.

How about you all? Have you or someone you know ever experienced a house fire?  What other tips would you give?

Share your experiences by commenting below!

***Photo courtesy https://pixabay.com/en/flame-fire-orange-flammable-heat-1013280/

How To Consistently Earn An Extra $1,000 Per Month

The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Chonce. You can read more articles by Chonce over at her personal blog, My Debt Epiphany. Enjoy! 

How nice would it be to make an extra $1,000 this month? If you have bills piling up, debt payments that need to be taken care of, or just need a little extra money to make ends meet, an extra $1,000 probably sounds very nice.

Let me tell you a little secret. It’s pretty easy to earn $1,000 this month if you consider all your options and work hard at it. You can pick up an extra job, sell some of your clothes, have a huge garage sale, or take on an additional project this month.

However, it’s not as easy to consistently earn $1,000 each month, but that’s what you really want. Instead of receiving a one-time lump sum, you can earn up to $12,000 per year if you utilize any of these techniques to earn at least an extra $1,000 per month.

 

Freelance Writing

If you have any experience with writing content for print or online or if you’ve ever written for a blog before, you might want to earn extra money for freelance writing. It’s a popular side hustle and an effective way to earn $1,000 per month consistently.

To get started, you should start a blog or develop an online portfolio to showcase your work. Once you start interacting with other bloggers or leaving comments on other sites, you can ask to contribute some quality guest posts to other sites to get yourself noticed and develop some writing samples.

Then, you’ll want to start pitching potential clients including other bloggers, small business owners, or solopreneurs who you think could benefit from your content on a consistent basis. A great way to earn money as a freelance writer is to pitch sites with a blog to see if they can hire you as a regular contributor or staff writer. Pitching is the hardest step in the process but the more you do it, the better your results will be. It’s a competitive industry but there’s also more than enough work for everyone.

Start quoting clients with a starting rate of $50 per 800-1000-word post, then you can raise it as time goes on. If you charge clients $100 per post and complete 10 posts per-month or two per-week, you’ll earn at least $1,000 each month.

Virtual Assistant Work

Virtual Assistants are becoming more and more of a necessity for growing businesses. A virtual assistant (VA) is an online work-from-home personal assistant who helps businesses and individuals with a wide variety of different tasks.

Being a VA allows you to work from the comfort of your own home and set your own hours so you can earn a flexible income. VAs do everything from scheduling social media updates and creating invoices to editing content and blog posts, checking emails, creating newsletters, online research and more.

As long as you are good with computers and can type well, you should be able to market yourself as a VA and learn how to perform a wide variety of tasks. Some of the best ways to get started are to start searching for gigs on sites like Zirtual.com, start a blog or professional website to immerse yourself in a community of people who may need your help in the future, and cold pitch busy blog owners, companies, and entrepreneurs.

VAs can start off earning between $12-15 per hour but can earn up to $30-60 per hour depending on the task. Of course, the higher you charge, the less you have to work to get to $1,000 per month, but even if you start with a rate of $18 per hour and work very part-time to earn $1,000 each month.

Real Estate Photography

Like to take photos? You can turn your habit into a profitable side hustle that allows you to earn an extra four figures per month. Real estate is a bountiful market as there are always potential renters and buyers who are searching for a new residence.

Property owners know the value of presentation and understand that good photos means more quality leads. If you have a quality camera that takes professional photos, start a portfolio of your work by uploading photos to sites like Flickr or even starting your own professional website to advertise your services.

Print out business cards and start sending them to realtors in your area and going to local networking events to meet other potential clients in the industry. You can even take on one or two pro bono gigs in exchange for a testimonial or referral. Freelance photography is already a pretty popular gig and with real estate images, you can easily charge anywhere from $100-300 per shoot so if you did just a handful each month you can earn $1,000 in no time.

Website Development

With more than 2 billion people on the internet, it’s no wonder why almost everyone wants a website these days. While everyone wants a visually appealing and professional website, they have no idea about what all goes into the process or how to create a stunning site.

If you have an experience with programming and coding, you can cash in on your skills by developing websites for clients. You can start marketing your services by using the same techniques I mentioned for the previous gigs.
On the bright side, if you’re interested in this type of work but don’t have much experience, you can always take a programming class and learn everything you need to know. You can make that investment back pretty quickly because experienced programmers who work full-time can earn up to $150k per year. If you just do it in your spare time and charge clients anywhere from $300-800 for a fully functional website as a starting rate, you can easily earn at least $1,000 after just doing two or three projects.

Teaching Students a Second Language

You don’t have to speak any foreign languages fluently to earn money from this side hustle. You can teach students English online from the comfort of your own home.

If you have a knack for English or a teaching background, this would be an ideal opportunity. Some great places to start looking for online teaching jobs are TurtorABC.com and Italki.com. You’ll want to charge a reasonable rate of around $30 per hour of language tutoring. If you teach online for at least 8.5 hours each week, you’ll earn $1020 per month.

Summary

As you can see, the list can go on and on. In order to earn $1,000 per month consistently, you must determine what your skills are and what you like to do. Then, properly market yourself to potential clients and network. You have to present yourself as a professional and showcase your experience in order to lock in the rates I discussed earlier. It may be a challenge in the beginning but it’s not impossible since many other people are doing it.

As an added motivation, just think of what you could do with an extra $1k each month when it comes to paying off your debt, making progress on your investments, and increasing the savings in your bank account.

How about you all? Do you have a side gig that brings in consistent income each month?

Share your experiences by commenting below! 

***Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/76657755@N04/7027595009/in/

4 Ways to Help Your Parents Prepare for Retirement

parents-retirement-my-personal-finance-journeyThe following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Laurie Blank.  Laurie is a wife, mother to 4 and homesteader who blogs about personal finance, self-sufficiency and life in general over at The Frugal Farmer. Part witty, part introspective and part silly, her goal in blogging is to help others find their way to financial freedom and to a simpler, more peaceful life.

It’s only been in the last decade or two that personal finance education has really begun to weigh importantly on the minds of adults. Because of that, many people find themselves wondering how to help their aging parents prepare for retirement.

Helping your parents prepare for retirement isn’t just about the money they’ll need to live on after they quit working; there are many other factors that need to be considered. As I recently worked through this with my mom, I thought I’d share our experience and what issues we addressed as we helped mom prepare for retirement.

Figure out Living Arrangements

This is a big one for those considering retirement. Some retirees prefer to stay in the home they’ve lived in for many years; some prefer to move on to less work-intensive living.

It’s important to talk with your parents about how they wish to live after they retire. If they want to and can afford to stay in their own home, who will do the maintenance and upkeep work? Will the kids and grandkids help?

If that’s not an option, can your parents afford to hire out to take care of home projects? Is there room in the budget for a maid? It’s important to have these conversations early so that kids can understand their parents’ wishes and parents can ascertain whether or not it’s realistic to stay in their current home.

If moving is the best option, where will your parents needs best be served? Will a 55+ apartment complex suffice, or is more intensive care – such as assisted living, – needed? If your parents are considering moving, visit several potential places before picking one.

Also, it’s important to start the moving research process early as many senior living facilities have long waiting lists for new residents.

In my mom’s case, we chose (after a lot of research) a basic 55+ apartment complex. The place we chose has a plethora of activities available for seniors but is somewhat small in terms of the number of apartment units.

There are many different types of living complexes for seniors to choose from, which is why you should allow plenty of time for the research period before deciding on where your parents will move should they decide not to stay in their current home.

Establish a Post-Retirement Budget and Financial Plan

How much money will your parents need to live on? How much do they currently have saved for retirement? What will they earn monthly from social security, pensions and part-time jobs?

Income often changes after retirement. Are your parents prepared for this change? Do they have an idea of how they want to live in retirement and if they can afford that ideal?

Some people’s parents may need the help of a professional financial planner to determine how to strategize investments to produce a sufficient monthly income. Others may simply need to sit down and create a realistic post-retirement budget.

Helping your parents assess their current financial situation and create a plan that will allow them to survive financially during retirement is key to making the senior years enjoyable and peaceful for parents and for their children as well.

Create a Realistic Plan for Medical Expenses

Your parents’ current health status is important as you help them determine just how much money they’ll need to cover medical expenses during retirement. Find out what prescriptions they’re currently taking and how much each one costs per month.

Factor prescription and other regular medical expenses in as you work with your parents to create a realistic budget.

Also, work with them to determine what types of medical insurance coverage they’ll be eligible for after retirement. Will they be covered by Medicare only, or do they have insurance coverage eligibility through their former employer or military time served?

How much will they pay monthly for their coverage? What does their coverage cover in terms of expenses and what are the deductibles? Having a thorough understanding of these factors will help you determine if your parents have sufficient income to pay for medical expenses.

Make Sure a Proper Will is in Place

Laws vary from state to state, so it’s important for you to check on the state laws governing estate property where your parents live. Some states require that all property go straight to probate if the property is only listed in a parent’s name, even if the will states clearly who the property should go to upon death of the owner.

In order to avoid long court battles, it’s wise to check on individual state laws where your parents live and to title all property (including bank and investment accounts) in a way that makes sense for your family.

It’s also important to discuss your parents’ burial wishes with them. Although this isn’t a fun topic, it’s important to know what your parents’ wishes are and to plan accordingly for those wishes (both financially and regarding the details) so that those details are out of the way and aren’t creating stress later on.

Retirement can be an exciting time and a scary time for one’s parents as they look forward to a new chapter of life. The more prepared you can help them be beforehand, the easier the transition will be.

How about you all? How have you helped prepare your parents for retirement and beyond?

Share your experiences by commenting below!

***Photo courtesy https://www.flickr.com/photos/rzuranski/6444826991/