It used to be that work spaces got filled with notebooks, binders, cards, piles of folders and papers, etc. Now, it’s far more likely that your computer is full of clutter. You may not notice immediately, but as soon as you go looking for something and can’t find it, the clutter is obvious. Don’t worry! Cleaning up digital clutter isn’t as hard as you think.
Start with Email
How many lists are you on? Do even want to be on them all? Check out unroll.me to quickly remove yourself from lists and consolidate the ones you do want into a convenient digest. Then take your inbox to the next level by creating rules or filters to automatically put incoming messages in the appropriate folders. You’ll be able to respond to important messages more quickly and easily find reference emails later.
Digital File Storage
Music, photos, and important files such as tax info take up a lot of space on most people’s computers. At a basic level, these should be organized into folders (and subfolders.) But to really clean up and organize your digital clutter, you need to get down and dirty with file names. Use something that makes them easy to find at a later date such as VISA_May_2018 or recipe_moms_chicken_soup.
Have a Backup
IT pros know that if something doesn’t exist independently in at least two places, it doesn’t exist. Even the best digital devices fail at some point. Without a backup, you’re in danger of losing all your digital files with them.
There are two basic options for backups: cloud services and physical drives. With cloud services, you can log in from anywhere, making it easy to work from a temporary location or computer if necessary. Look at Dropbox, Apple, Google, Amazon, MegaBackup, MediaFire, FlipDrive for cloud storage. Be aware, however, that if you sync photos or music and then delete them from your hard drive, they will also be deleted from your cloud storage. Don’t panic though. Most digital music vendors make it easy for you to redownload the song(s) you’ve paid for so there’s no need to back them up.
Physical drives can be a great option for sensitive data – anything you don’t want out on the web.
Take charge of your digital clutter today with these simple steps.
Think about the last time you had a great recipe you wanted to make. How long did it take you to find it? If you’re like a lot of people who collect recipes from a variety of places, it may have taken longer to find the recipe than it did to prepare the meal. Thankfully, there are a variety of apps that can simplify that process. Even better, you can use them to organize recipes from cookbooks, magazines, and online sources.
This is similar to Pinterest, but more dynamic for foodies. With Paprika, you can save recipes from any online source and use the app to create shopping lists and meal plans. And for those more complex recipes, there’s a feature that allows you to cross off each step as you complete it.
Most recipe apps require to manually enter recipes from offline sources like books or magazines – even that handwritten recipe card for Grandma’s Famous Cookies. OrganizEat has a different solution. Simply take a photo with your phone of the mouthwatering recipe and the app will store it alongside your online recipes.
Eat Your Books
How many cookbooks do you own? And how much time do you spend trying to remember which one has that veggie lasagna recipe your son’s fiancé loves? Stop wasting time searching through them and use Eat Your Books to organize it all instead. It’s basically an online, searchable bookshelf that easily directs you to the right book in your collection.
A well-organized recipe collection means you can spend more time with your loved ones and less time stressing about planning a meal for them. What’s not to love about that?!
As you know, your credit score determines your access to loans for things like cars, homes, and education. Anyone with a score of 750 or higher is considered to have excellent credit, while a score of 600 or less is considered poor. Don’t worry if you’re not in that 750 or above group. There are some simple things you can do to improve your credit score right now.
1. Double Check Your Credit Reports
The FTC discovered that about 5% of consumers have an error (or several) on their credit report. Obtain copies from each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian) and double check them for accuracy. You’re legally entitled to one free credit report each year. If you do discover an error, report it immediately to the credit bureau so it can be corrected.
2. Prove Your Track Record
Payment history is one of the biggest factors in determining credit score. To ensure consistent, on time payments, consider setting up automatic payments through your bank. The FICO score is weighted to give more value to recent history, so if you’ve missed payments in the past, you can override your bad history by being on time now. This also means you can’t skip payments. In addition, the age of the account matters. The longer you have a credit card open and in good standing, the higher your score will be.
3. Be Aware of Your Credit Utilization
Lenders look at the ratio of your credit limit and the amount used in a given month. Ideally, this should be less than 30%. Higher than that and you may be considered a poor risk. If you can keep it below 10%, that’s even better. To manage this, set up balance alerts, ask your lender to raise your credit limit, and pay off your balance several times during the month.
4. Lower Your Debt-to-Income Ratio
The debt-to-income ratio is a reflection of your monthly debt payments as a percentage of your monthly income. Lenders use this to determine whether you have enough excess money to cover your living expenses plus your debt obligations. The lower this ratio, the more income you have for a new loan. To lower your debt-to-income ratio, pay off outstanding debt and/or find a way to earn more income.
5. Consolidate Credit Card Debt
Credit card interest rates are often quite high and the interest rates on personal loans tend to be smaller. If this is true in your situation, consolidate your credit card debt into a personal loan. The lower interest rate could save you quite a bit of money as well as 3-7 years time in repaying the debt. In addition, because a personal loan is an installment loan with a fixed repayment term, you also lower your credit utilization in the process.
Taking one, or many, of these steps will greatly improve your credit score and help put you on the path to financial freedom.
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Alexa’s capabilities are seemingly endless and they’re expanding all the time. In addition to being a great way to keep yourself organized, entertain your kids, and find your favorite songs, Alexa has many benefits for seniors and caregivers. While Alexa is not a replacement for a caregiver and safety must always be the first consideration, using Alexa to support caregiver roles can be tremendously helpful.
Reminders Many seniors take several medications at different times of day. It can be a lot to organize and remember. With Alexa, you can set up reminders for different medications throughout the day. And because it’s voice activated, programming the reminders is as simple as talking to it.
Staying Oriented For people who struggle with memory loss, Alexa is an ideal companion. You can ask her what day it is or what time it is as often as you like and she won’t ever get upset or bored. Alexa can also help with general information such as what’s on TV or finding answers to historical questions.
Alleviate Boredom Want to listen to the radio or find a new audiobook? You can easily do any of that with Alexa, without getting out of your favorite chair! Or if you’re feeling like a good laugh, Alexa’s a real comedian with infinite jokes and riddles to keep you entertained.
Planning With reports on everything from weather and traffic to stocks and sports, Alexa has all the information you need to plan a trip or surprise for someone special. To go along with that and help you stay organized, Alexa makes it easy to create and organize as many lists as you want – and you can access them from anywhere!
Peace of Mind Thermostats and lights on timers are just the beginning. Using Alexa’s smart home features help reduce costs and improve safety. It’s great for everyone’s peace of mind. Of course, caregivers and seniors also need to consider safety and emergency situations. That’s where Ask My Buddy comes into play. While it doesn’t take the place of calling 911, it does help reach family or other specified contacts in the case of an emergency.
Communication Phones and emails will always be valid ways to communicate, but if you’re not near a computer or phone they can be inconvenient. With Alexa, you can send messages between any of the Echo devices. So if you have one and the senior in your care has one, you can message each other any time and retrieve the messages with a simple voice command.
Although Alexa is not a substitute for a caretaker or other professional help, she can be an excellent addition to provided care services. By making communication and easier and providing access to a variety of information and reminders, Alexa’s ever-growing skill set has something for everyone.
Whether you’ve just started thinking about saving for retirement or having been saving enough, you can ramp up your efforts and still put aside enough to retire. There are five specific steps you should take to start increasing your retirement savings today.
1. Max Out Your Contributions
People younger than 50 can contribute up to $18,500 of pretax income to a 401(k) or other employer sponsored savings plan each year. After turning 50, that amounts jumps to $24,500. By maxing out your contributions, you not only increase your retirement savings, you also reduce your taxable income. This may mean cutting some spending now, but consider your long-term goals and figure out what you can reasonably cut back on now for the long-term benefit.
2. Invest Extra Money
If you get a raise, a bonus, or a refund from the IRS, invest all of it in your retirement accounts. In the event that you’ve maxed out your contributions to tax-advantaged funds, look at alternatives such as stocks or mutual funds. While it can be tempting to spend these extra dollars, approaching your retirement savings fiercely is the best way to make up for lost time.
3. Take Calculated Risks
Typically, financial planners suggest shifting towards a more conservative investment approach the closer you get to retirement. However, if your portfolio is still small, it may make sense to skew it towards slightly higher risk growth equities. Even someone who’s 60 years old may have 20 or 30 years to plan for part of his or her retirement funds. Be careful, though, and avoid chasing “magic bullet” investments.
4. Reconsider the College Fund
While it’s admirable to want to help your kids pay for their education, the truth is that there are many financial aid options available to them, while you have only one way to fund your retirement. Particularly for parents who had their children later in life, it may be worth focusing on savings for your retirement and helping your children find alternative ways to pay for college.
5. Work a Little Longer
Anyone born after 1960 qualifies for Social Security benefits at 67, however, the government will increase your payments by up to 8% every year until the age of 70 as an incentive to delay collecting. You may decide to retire from your current career and work at something else, but each year you can hold off can dramatically increase your retirement income.
Most college students are living on student loans, and/or money earned from a low-paying part-time job. In a 2018 survey by Goldrik-Rab, more than 1/3 of the more than 20,000 students who participated said they were either food insecure or had limited access to food in the preceding 30 days. In addition, 36% of those students said they were housing insecure.
What this boils down to is that college students are barely scraping by financially. At the same time, a financial crisis could cause them to have to drop out of college, severely impacting their future earnings prospects. However, with so little money coming in, many college students struggle with setting up an emergency fund to cover unforeseen situations. Fortunately, there are services available to help students are the majority of schools in the US.
Emergency Financial Aid
Someone at the school’s financial aid office will be able to provide you with information on emergency programs including loans, grants, scholarships, or vouchers. Typically, these funds assist with paying for tuition, housing, books and supplies, and transportation.
Emergency Food Funds
Some schools have campus food pantries or yearlong meal plans. In addition, food vouchers, meal plan financing, and SNAP funds may be available depending on the school. Again, the financial aid office will have information about these services.
Unfortunately, there aren’t yet good solutions for this problem. Some schools have rooms set aside, but more often, the student affairs office will point you to off-campus solutions such as shelters, room shares, sublets, or apartments.
If you haven’t already applied via the FAFSA program, you need to do that each year. In addition, emergency funds, which are separate assistance, may be available based on a change in life circumstances.
College is stressful enough. Don’t let money concerns add to the burden. Seek help and support from a variety of emergency fund programs.
You’ve heard the horror stories about identity theft destroying people’s credit, or worse. Although it’s sad such crimes are so common, there are ways you can protect yourself – and that doesn’t mean hiding your money under mattress or making all purchases in cash. Try these highly effective steps instead.
1. Protect Your Social Security Number
Do not carry your social security card with you. The only time you should ever have to show it is if you’re filling out paperwork for a new job. Your SSN is the key to all your data, so be sure you keep the card in a safe place and only give out the number when it makes sense to do so. If you live in a state that still has the option to use your SSN for you license number, opt for a state issued number instead.
2. Check for Skimmers
Skimmers are a tiny device identity thieves attach to outdoor ATMs and other payment systems. Before putting your card in, wiggle the slot to be sure nothing is attached to it. Whenever possible, use indoor machines which are typically more secure simply because there are people around.
3. Update and Strengthen Your Passwords
It seems like everything these days requires a password and it’s easier on our brains to use the same one or two. However, you want to be sure you’re changing your passwords on a regular basis and that you’re using a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters to make it more secure.
4. Be Aware of Your Public Profile
Can strangers see your birthday or family members on your Facebook or other social media profiles? If someone called you and asked the right questions or offered the right incentive would you share that information? Take a few minutes to check your privacy settings on your social profiles and use caution when speaking with people who call you asking for information.
5. Watch Your Mail
One of the easiest ways for someone to steal your identity is to steal your mail. Free credit card offers and other similar mailings are an identity thief’s dream. If you’re going to be out of town have your mail held or ask a trusted neighbor to bring it in for you. Or take it a step further and opt out of all pre-screened credit card offers.
6. Love Your Shredder
Bank statements, pre-approved credit card offers, and other similar documents should be shredded or burned to prevent someone from stealing your identity by fishing them out of the trash or recycling bin.
7. Situational Awareness
When shopping, be aware of your surroundings and take steps to protect yourself. Know where your wallet or purse is at all times and always put your card back in the same place after every transaction. When entering your PIN, be sure no one can see the number and don’t share your PIN or keep it on your card.
8. Protect Mobile Devices
Entering a password to access your phone can feel like a pain, but what happens if you drop your phone or forget it somewhere? If it’s not password protected and someone else finds it, it’s the perfect way for someone to start the process of becoming you.
9. Check Your Credit Report Annually
Legally, you’re allowed one free credit report yearly from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus. Take advantage of this and check for suspicious or incorrect information. If you watch your credit score, be on alert for any large change you can’t explain.
10. Monitor Your Financial Statements
It only takes a few minutes to look through bank and credit card statements. Be sure you recognize every charge – no matter the dollar amount. Know the due dates for your recurring bills and call if you don’t receive an invoice in a timely fashion. Also check your health insurance statements to be sure you recognize each appointment and charge. Having someone else’s health records confused with yours could be a potentially life threatening situation.
Whether you’re a staff of one or managing a team of contractors and/or employees, being a great leader is essential to the success of your business. Contrary to the popular idiom, great leaders can, in fact, be made. According to research from Leadership Quarterly, 74% of what it takes to be a great leader is learned behaviors. To develop your leadership skills, drop these five habits.
Think about the best managers and leaders you’ve worked with. When someone points out a problem to them, chances are they step-up, apologize, take the blame, and fix it. They do not point fingers or blame someone on their team for not doing their job. Blaming others isn’t just disrespectful to your team, it isn’t respectful to the person raising the concern either. What it conveys to them is that you’re not in charge.
Focusing on Short-Term
Every decision you make has short-term and long-term impacts on your business. While the short-term results matter, to have a truly successful business that stands the test of time, you need to be more focused on the long-term. Define your long-term goals as part of your mission statement and keep them in mind with every decision you make.
It can be tempting to give orders and demand your team comes to you with every decision that needs to be made. The problem is that this makes your team feel undervalued. They won’t work has hard and their job satisfaction will be low. In addition, this method of managing takes a lot of your time. Instead, empower your team to make decisions and trust them to do what’s right.
Not Investing in Yourself
This can be as time consuming and expensive as taking classes or as a simple as swapping music during your commute for a relevant podcast or audiobook. What matters is that you’re continually increasing your knowledge and professional development and using your time effectively.
Having a Hero Complex
You’re in charge and your business is your baby, but that doesn’t mean you have to have all the answers. If you’ve hired you team or contractors correctly, you’ve surrounded yourself with people who are experts at what they do. Rely on them and delegate tasks that they’re better equipped to handle. Remember, growing your business is a team effort.
While these five things may seem obvious, many leaders have had these habits for so long they no longer realize they’re doing them. By taking a moment to look at yourself as a leader and let go of these habits, you’ll help yourself, your business, and your team achieve great success.
People should start saving for retirement as soon as they enter the workforce, but the fact is that most people don’t. Truthfully, most Americans don’t think about saving for retirement until their nearly old enough to retire. And those who do try to plan, often don’t consult a financial advisor and have a tough time figuring out how much money they’ll need to live comfortably once they stop working. That’s where the Spend Safely idea comes into play.
Basically, the Spend Safely plan suggests waiting until age 70 to withdraw from social security and to use the IRS’ required minimum distribution table to figure out how much to withdraw from other savings each year.
Even if you retire earlier than age 70, you can use a version of the Spend Safely strategy. A study by the Society of Actuaries determined that this strategy works best for people with $100,000 to $1million saved for retirement.
Although this strategy differs slightly from what most financial planners suggest, it may be a safe way to plan. Typically, financial professionals suggest a “4% rule” where you’d withdraw 4% of retirement savings the first year and increase the amount each year to coincide with the rate of inflation. Depending on the return rates, this strategy may not be as effective as it once was.
Instead, trending studies suggest using Social Security like an annuity and consider it to be about 75% of your retirement income. That way you can keep the rest of your retirement savings in high-return investments for as long as possible.
Of course, no strategy can make up for inadequate savings and how much you can withdraw from savings can vary greatly based on market fluctuations. But, the Spend Safely strategy is simple to follow and enables you to get as much income as possible without running out.
With spring (and spring cleaning) fast approaching, it’s tempting to purge a lot of stuff. While purging and focusing only on that which brings you joy (like Marie Kondo suggests), it’s important to also take a step back and focus on what you should keep. There are certain items that may feel like clutter, but are actually important to make space for.
While many of these may already be digitized, it’s likely you’ve got albums or boxes full of old photos somewhere in your house. Even though you don’t look at them regularly, don’t throw them away. Somewhere down the line, you’ll regret it. Instead, set them aside and commit to getting them digitized or organized before you dump them.
2. Infrequently Used Kitchen Utensils
Sure, you made not need that giant spatula on a regular basis, but what would you do if you needed it and didn’t have it? Set aside space on a less used shelf in your cabinet for kitchen items you use only a few times year.
3. Family Heirlooms
Maybe those family heirlooms don’t bring you joy or look that great with your décor. But they are family heirlooms. If you don’t want them and they don’t bring you joy, be sure you ask the rest of your family if they want them before you donate or sell them.
4. Electronics That Haven’t Been Wiped
You may not have used that old computer in years, but your personal data is still on it. Even seemingly innocuous electronics like a smart TV may hold some personal information. Before you get rid of them, be sure your data has been wiped and can’t be retrieved. Find out more from the FTC.
5. Vital Documents
Sure, you can toss out old birthday cards and other loose ends, but be sure you keep birth certificates, passports, social security cards, and other state and federal paperwork in a safe place. These items are quite difficult to replace and may be needed at a moment’s notice.
Maybe your ceramic pig collection no longer brings you the joy it once did, but your family and friends have probably spent years gifting you additions for it. Avoid hurt feelings by displaying the few that bring you the most joy and pass the rest on for someone else to love.
7. Emergency Supplies
It’s possible those extra batteries, band aids, and flashlights are taking up space you’d rather use for something else. But the thing about emergencies is that you don’t know when they’ll happen. Use a box or tote to consolidate your emergency supplies, but don’t ever get rid of them.
In the process of getting your house ready for the nicer weather, what you keep is just as important as what you toss out. Follow these tips to be sure you don’t mistakenly get rid of something you’ll later regret. And don’t forget, in the process of organizing and properly disposing of recyclable and reusable items, you’re taking care of the planet too.