Personal Finance 
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Ten Recession-Busting Money Tips for Young Professionals

Gray's Papaya Recession SpecialOver three million, six hundred thousand jobs have been lost since the recession started over a year ago. Three million, six hundred thousand. If you’re one of the three million, six hundred thousand, my heart goes out to you and I hope you’ll follow my friend Sarah as she chronicles her battle against joblessness in Diary of a Firee. If you still have your job and you haven’t started preparing for the possibility that you will lose it, start preparing. You have all the tools you need right now to fortify your finances so that, should you lose your job, you will be prepared for it.

These tips were tailored for young professionals but they can apply to anyone. They are focused less on family-related money saving ideas and more on the things individuals and couples tend to do, especially if they’re in the younger working demographic.

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 Taxes 
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Job Hunting Costs Are Tax Deductible

Careerbuilder Résumé PaperDid you know that you may be able to deduct the cost of looking for a job from your taxes?

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 Personal Finance 
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Setting Your Emergency Fund Amount

Emergency Fund TruckIt’s seven o’clock and you’re just leaving work. You’re tired after a long day of work and all you want to do is turn into a vegetable in front of yet another episode of Law and Order. As you walk to your car, you notice someone clipped the bumper and managed to unhinge it from the chassis. It’s scraped, a little cracked, and almost most importantly, since it is the bumped, it looks like crap. The culprit left no note. You are probably out a few hundred dollars of your deductible to get it repaired… fortunately you have an emergency fund… unfortunately, you’ll have to tap into it for this.

That situation is one of any number of reasons why emergency funds are so important. In the situation above, you are likely required by law to fix an unhinged bumper and any visit to the shop will cost you a few hundred bucks. Without an emergency fund, you might resort to a credit card or a short term loan. If you can’t pay that back, it quickly becomes a downward spiral you can’t escape. A minor expense becomes a major expense. But how much should you have saved in an emergency fund? The answer depends on who you ask! Some experts say twelve months of expenses, other will say six months, and even others say “however much you feel comfortable with.” The answer, unfortunately, is that the amount “depends” on you and your situation.

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 Career 
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How To Deal With Job Rejection

Sad FaceWhen I first graduated, the job market was bleak. It was so bleak, I opted to start attending graduate school before ever being accepted (I graduated early in December and wanted to take classes immediately, so I attended while applying). In the few months I did look for a job, I received a whole batch of GFY (go f- yourself) letters from all types of companies. The worst ones were from the companies I didn’t even want to work for, but would accept just to have a job. It wasn’t a pleasant time for me, or my graduating friends, but it taught me a lot about dealing with rejection.

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 Career 
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Accomplishment Journal: Record Your Achievements

Accomplishment JournalDo you have an accomplishment journal?

I don’t know if you’ve seen my Wall of Fame & Fortune & Awesomeness but it’s a list of all the awesome publications and websites I’ve have the pleasure of being in, on, or near. It’s essentially a list of my accomplishments as a result of this blog and it’s something I feel very fortunate to have been able to do. I was in the local paper once when I was in 6th grade for reading to kindergartners in my school, the New York Times was a little bigger than that. :)

The point of showing that post both here and at the top of every page isn’t to brag or show the world how awesome I am. It’s there because it gives me the motivation to keep doing what I’m doing every day, day in and day out. Life can be a grind, whether its in an office, a restaurant, a factory floor, a job site, or a retail store. Unless you make a record of the highlights, you can often get lost in the grind and find yourself on the flip side without a clue of what happened.

There are a few other reasons why I think an accomplishment journal is crucial.

What Is An Accomplishment Journal

An accomplishment journal is simply a place you can write down and celebrate all of your accomplishments. You define what success is and you define what you consider an accomplishment. The door is wide open and anything you want to put down is fair game. What an office manager considers a success is different than what a stay at home mom or dad considers a success. A student has different goals, and thus different accomplishments to note, than an executive. However, for any one of those people, an accomplishment journal is something that can provide value for years to come.

Why Keep One?

If you ever kept a journal as a child (I didn’t but my wife did and I love reading her cute notes), you know how much fun reading your own thoughts can be. Who and what bothered you, who you liked and disliked, what your concerns were at the time, etc. Now, an accomplishment journal is similar in that you can relive your successes. It makes it much easier to remember the past and offers a glimpse into your own development. That’s the emotional sappy reason, there are also many logical reasons to keep a journal.

It helps you keep your resume up to date. I recommend revisiting and updating your resume every three months, even if you aren’t looking for a job. It’s important to update your resume when the accomplishments and responsibilities are still fresh in your mind. Can you accurately remember the work you did five years ago? If you were put under the gun, like after being laid off, would you be able to remember the work you did last year with sufficient clarity? If you are able to recall exactly what you did, maybe you don’t need to update it every three months. I only know that I can’t, which is why I update it every three months.

It motivates you. One of the biggest things I learned from my wife when she was looking for a job several years ago was the importance of progress when there appeared to be none. One of the tips I offered in my post about Three Morale-Boosting Tips for Job Seekers was to track your progress. Tracking your progress in a job hunt is like tracking your accomplishments. It may seem silly or minor to you but when you send out ten resumes or go out on an interview, those are accomplishments. When you look back after a week of searching, it’s much better to see “I sent out 85 resumes.” than to remember “I spent all week sending resumes.”

It lets you define how success is measured. Mark at Soul Shelter recently wrote about his struggles with the idea of success. Mark is a writer, a midlist writer (where the books aren’t a bestseller but sell enough to justify publication), and struggles each year around the holidays to describe his vocation. While his struggle was with the external barometers of success for his field, bestseller lists and book sales, he does talk about how “we ought to try to recognize and value others’ achievements, big and small, vocational and personal. And most importantly, if we want to be happy and self-confident and continue wholeheartedly doing the work we love—however underpaid or undervalued—we must learn to rely on the measures of success that mean the most to us personally, and strive not to lose sight of them.”

Having your own journal of accomplishments can help further that goal, if only for yourself. Rather than look towards income or other external measures, your accomplishments are whatever you want them to be and when you write them down, they can give you the motivation to work harder. You decide what you want to write down and only you will be reading it, so feel free to write down things that are important to you that may not be important to anyone else.

Do you keep a journal of your achievements and accomplishments? If so, what was your latest accomplishment? It’s ok to share! :)

(Photo: shuttercat7)


 Personal Finance 
14
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5 Things I Wish I Knew When I Graduated

NYC Time Capsule 1964It’s been five years since I started my first job back in the summer of 2003 and in that time I don’t believe I’ve ever written a “Things I Wish I Knew” post. In looking back, I was probably as green as they came in the corporate world. I had some internships while in college but never co-op’ed anywhere and certainly didn’t know how to truly live on your own (college is more like training wheels). Now, five years wiser, having gone through two jobs, I think there are at least five things I would tell myself five years ago.

Work Life Balance, Spend Save Balance

One of the big phrases of the decade seems to be “work life balance,” referring to how workers should be careful to balance the amount of time and energy they spend towards work with what they spend on their personal life. The funny thing about that term is that employers don’t mean the two should be equal, just that they need to be “more in balance.” It’s an important concept to understand as a student because the workplace differs from college in one important respect – there is no visible end. In school, it was a series of sprints. In the workplace, it’s a 40 year marathon.

The same is true with your money. Spending and saving should be in balance, you shouldn’t sacrifice one for the sake of the other for too long a period of time. When I started working, I didn’t save much. I spent a lot of my paycheck because it was so much more than I was used to. I was still finding good deals and making the most of my money, I just wasn’t saving much of it (more on this later). After the first few months, the pendulum swung back as I thought about what I wanted to do in the future (buy a house). For a period of a couple months, I only went out to the bars a few times, brownbagged my lunch in more often, and spent little. While it didn’t “hurt” persay, the lesson I wish I learned sooner was to be more balanced about it. Going ultra-frugal for a while, especially if there’s a goal, is fine. I can’t go ultra-frugal or ultra spendy and expect myself to last for the long haul.

Set Realistic & Stretch Goals

A few months into my first job, I attended an off-site with about fifty other young professionals that were hired within a year or two of me. When collectively asked about our future aspirations, about 80% said they wanted to be managers. I was one of them. I wanted to be a manager because I thought that was what came next. I would only learn later that I definitely didn’t want to be a manager, I would rather be a lead on a part of a program. Either way, it’s important to set goals for yourself because it gives you a direction to go in. You can set goals using the SMART model (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely) or any other method, but it’s crucial that you give yourself direction (in your professional and personal life).

It’s also important to set stretch goals to give yourself something to strive for. Those are the ones where “attainable” is a little hazier and timely may be a little farther. Just think about the guy in your office or workplace that always has those big dreams, dreams that you think are closer to pipe dreams than reality. Well, those should be your stretch goals. Being #1 is hard, but someone has to be #1 and that has more to do with attitude, dedication, and hard work than anything else.

Windfalls Are Infrequent, Save Them

When I graduated in 2003, my job offer at a defense contractor included a very nice “signing bonus”/”moving stipend” of several thousand dollars. Some of it went to actual moving expenses but the bulk of it went to some frivolous expenses. I was a college kid, feeling flush with money, in economically rosy times… I did the irresponsible thing and bought some junk! :) One of the purchases was a paintball handgun, something I had always wanted when I was playing recreational paintball in college. It wasn’t too expensive but I’ve used it only a handful of times.

I wish I had told myself to use that windfall more intelligently. Windfalls, especially ones that don’t come with emotional anguish, are very infrequent in life and they offer an opportunity to save for the things that truly matter. Rather than spend it on a silly paintball gun, I should’ve put it away to get farther along in my house fund. While the choice to spend it didn’t derail any important plans, the opportunity to get a little ahead of the curve was, somewhat, squandered.

Take Advantage of All Opportunities

Another moving related benefit my first job offered was paid housing expenses had I stayed in a hotel while I sought an apartment or house, a maximum of thirty days. In addition to the room, they would pay for food as long as it wasn’t groceries (i.e. purchased from a restaurant). I didn’t take advantage because I was eager to get settled and get on with things. The only downside of taking that offer was that I’d have to live in a hotel for thirty days and I wouldn’t have access to most of my belongings.

Looking back, I should’ve taken advantage because it could’ve saved me an easy $600 in rent. $600 tax free for a little bit of headache? No brainer…

Building Relationships As Important As Performance

When I started working, there was this one guy who always seemed to be in the spotlight. I didn’t know how hard he worked or how strong of a performer he was, but he could kiss ass with the best of them. That’s when I learned that the workplace was different than school. In school, you took tests, you wrote papers, and you worked on projects – your grades were mostly the result of your performance. If you were buddy buddy with the professor, maybe he gave you some extra help or hints, but by and large it was performance driven.

In the workplace? It’s more “relationship based” and people who can brown nose and be “well-liked” can often shoot ahead. This is especially true in industries where the spread between a strong performer and a weak performer is very small. I’m not saying that you can be terrible at your job, kiss some butt, and expect to succeed… but…

Do you have any lessons I should tell myself once I build my time machine?

(Photo: wallyg)


 Your Take 
7
comments

Your Take: How Do You Evaluate Job Offers?

Working Man with a BriefcaseI was reading Salary.com’s 2008 Employee Job Satisfaction & Retention Survey and saw that, not surprisingly that the number one reason people leave their jobs is because of inadequate compensation (i.e. they’re underpaid). What also interested me were the four other reasons (of the top five) that people left for – lack of career advancement, insufficient recognition, boredom and inadequate development opportunities. So here’s a tip that I have, from when left one company for another, remember to consider all the other factors when making your decision of whether or not to leave.

One factor that isn’t listed is stress. :)

Another useful stat, 50% of employers believe an offer of 8-15% is enough to lure away an employee but 38% of employees would only leave for 16-30%… use that to your advantage!

So, how do you evaluate a job offer if money isn’t the only metric?

(Photo: manuelvdw)


 Career 
8
comments

Is Your Job At Risk?

Grays Papaya Recession SpecialBefore the last few weeks, I saw most of the talk about a recession as just talk. Experts were trying to get ahead of the curve on calling an economic slowdown through the US economy and we as consumers were eating it up. With short term lending on the fritz (ignore the movement of the stock market, there’s too much noise in that), companies are truly going to have an economic reason to start cutting back and labor is far easier to reduce than any other asset.

CNN Money just did an article on this very idea, of who is most at risk in a downturn, and they highlighted people who fail to perform, who are relatively overpaid compared to their peers, and those that do not adequately fill a business need.

Based on my limited experience in the workforce, I think the folks on this list of best paying careers are pretty safe but here are the groups that I think are at risk:

Cost Centers

A cost center is a department in an organization that doesn’t product a direct profit. A research and development department is a cost center, the marketing department is a cost center, and the HR department is a cost center. While cost centers are important, cuts often start there because they don’t directly affect the bottom line. If you’re a widget maker and times are getting tough, you might slash your HR department in half because you don’t intend to hire anyone in the next year if things stay rough. You’ll let go of an HR person before you’ll let go of someone working the manufacturing floor because the technician directly contributes to profit when he or she makes a widget.

Low Oversight or Visibility

If you’re working on a project that has very little visibility or has limited oversight, I’d try to find out how important it is to the firm. If management needs to pare away some overhead, are they going to cancel the project you’re working on? If it’s an important project, why is there little oversight over its progress? If it truly is an important project (it’s not uncommon for management to overlook important projects simply due to volume) and you want to help ensure it’ll stick around, try to get more visibility.

Contractors/Temps

If you’re a contractor or temporary employee, I’d be the most wary because “not renewing a contract” is the easiest way to let go of someone without dealing with the legal headaches. It could have nothing to do with your job performance, need, or anything else – it’s simply easier to let go of someone who isn’t a full time employee of a company.

Solution? I don’t know and I don’t know if there is one, the best advice I can give is that you should always, in both good times and bad, have a contingency plan. If you’re a contractor/temp now, you should be pushing to go full-time or have another job lined up. If you’re in a low visibility project, get yourself on a high visibility project. If you’re in a cost center, maybe find a new job at a firm where your specialty isn’t a cost center (accountants to an accounting firm, HR specialists to a head hunting firm). And as always, boost up that emergency fund.

(Photo: bobjagendorf)


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