Working From Home

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For a couple of years, it was known that my employer would be closing my office.  Last July, I began working from home full time.  What has the experience been like?

Advantages: Financial

Gas / auto - I reduced my daily driving by 46 miles.  There are 260 work days in a year.  After accounting for vacation days and holidays, that leaves about 230 days.  230 days X 46 miles is a savings 0f 10,580 miles per year.  I would get about 32 mpg and the current cost of gas here (Iowa) is about $2.099 per gallon.  (10,580/32) * $2.099 = $693.98 in fuel savings.

However, there's also much less wear and tear on the car.  The car is a 2007 Hyundai Elantra with 138,000 miles on the odometer.  I'm (hopefully) extending the life of the car a few years by driving it less - allowing me to push back the purchase of a new(er) car by a few years.  Lazy Man wrote about the cheapest cars to own a few months back.  The very cheapest cars to own cost about 40 cents per mile.  40 cents per mile X 10,580 miles =  $4,232.  That's the equivalent of getting a raise of about  $7,000 (since the automobile cost savings is a direct cash-in-pocket savings).  (Are you wondering if it's possible for us to get rid of one of the cars and cut that expense entirely?  Good idea, but just not feasible with kids and schedules.)

Food - When I worked out of the office, I ate out a lot.  I'm often up until 1:00 AM or so (for work) and was getting up at 6 AM.  Getting the kids (8 and 5) into the car was enough of a struggle without worrying about packing my own lunch.  I didn't eat at extravagant places, but even at fast food places, it's not hard to spend $7 on a meal.  I'd often end up buying a snack (or two) from the Goodie Box at the office.

When working from home, it's easy to make a sandwich or some other quick meal that utilizes ingredients in the house. When I began working from home, I also planned to walk around the block during my breaks and eat healthier - ham sandwiches and the occasional salad instead of so much fried food.

Advantages: Non-financial

Sleep - I can sleep until almost 6:30 and still have plenty of time to get ready, corral the kids, drop them off, and get back home in time to start the work day.  That's a net gain of about 25 minutes of sleep per day - for both me and the kids.

No driving - I hate driving.  I'm not subject to big traffic jams, but I simply don't like driving.  Cutting the drive time out of the day makes me happier.

Flexibility - I'm always home if a repairman needs to drop by.  I'm always there when a package gets delivered.  I can throw a load of clothes into the washer every once in a while.  I can pick up the kids and have them working on homework by the time my wife gets home.  It's much easier to make it to after-work appointments.  It's been a big win not just for me, but for the family.

Disadvantages: Financial

Utilities - I'll use more water, gas, and electricity since I'll be home more.  We have a pretty energy efficient home, which keeps heating costs reasonable in the winter.  I don't run the A/C much during the day (I prefer it a little warm), so that's not a big factor.  My two laptops use  electricity, but that's a much smaller impact that you may think - computers actually don't use much electricity.

Disadvantages: Non-Financial

Social interaction - I live in a neighborhood that's solidly middle class.  Almost every family has both spouses working.  It's a young neighborhood that has only existed for about a decade, so there aren't many retired people (by my count, there are exactly two).  The net effect is that it's dead quiet during the day, and there's no face to face contact unless I run to Amoco for a bowl of chili.

This would bother some people, but I'm a bit of a loner, so it's fine with me.  Also, I'm in a lot of conference calls, so I do have a lot of mouth to ear contact.  Additionally, I'm often listening to podcasts while I work, so there are plenty of voices in my head.  Some of them even intentional.

How is it going?

OK, I'm nine months into the arrangement.  How do I like it so far?  I absolutely love it.

I've driven the Elantra about 3600 miles in those nine months.  I'm spending a lot less money on meals and snacks.  I defrayed the increase in utilities by taking a few minutes one day to replace about 20 light bulbs with LED bulbs.  (We have a lot of bulbs in the house - we have a combined 2700 square feet).

I'm able to get a lot of household tasks done.  I can throw in a load of clothes in the morning and fold during lunch time.  It's much easier to get to appointments.  I've been able to volunteer at school several times.  Explaining my job to second graders was a fascinating experiences - I was peppered with questions, very few of which related to the specifics of my job.

Has everything gone perfectly?  Not exactly.  Remember the plan to eat healthy and walk around the block during my breaks?  That lasted about three days.  I have a lot of difficulty pulling myself away from work during the day.  I've found that I strongly prefer something hot for lunch.  For $4.50, I can get a bowl of delicious chili and a 44 oz Pepsi from the local Amoco (a country store type of place that sells everything from fried chicken to minnows and power tools).  Sometimes I do throw a Hungry Man meal ($2.50) or a Totino's pizza ($1.25) into the oven.   Sometimes I actually do have a ham sandwich or a salad.  Last week, I made Stove Top and threw in a can of chicken, a bunch of shredded cheese, and some A-1.  Not the healthiest meal in the world, but pretty tasty.  Overall, I'm probably eating slightly healthier than I was before.

And I'm famous.  The employees at Amoco all know me as the guy who likes the chili.

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Posted on April 27, 2016.

The Changing Nature of Jobs and How to Stay Relevant

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics between 1978 and 2008, the average American employee aged 18-44 years held 11 different jobs. As the world economy becomes increasingly global, the only certainty in employment is that the nature and structure of the workforce will inevitably continue to change. These changes will bring new opportunities for dynamic careers that provide increased work-life balance and flexibility.

Disappearing Jobs

New automation, production methods and manufacturing technologies will make certain types of jobs redundant. Among these will be manual and routine jobs like retail cashiers, word processing, and any task involving manual handling such as stock and warehouse or factory workers. In a recent example, Ford and Holden motor vehicle manufacturers in Australia notified closures of their domestic manufacturing plants. Impacting thousands of workings the shift in the industry has been quickly realised with the release of the new Ford Mustang, already sold out for 2016.

New Jobs That Didn’t Exist

At the same time, developments in science and technology will transform existing industries, creating new business models and new types of jobs. The shift in the working landscape has changed at a rapid rate in the last ten years, new jobs have been created that previously didn’t exist like social media managers, app developers and even chief listeners.

For example, Paul Minton graduated from college with a math major, but was unable to find a job. He took a 3 month course in computer programming and data analysis, and was able to get a 6-figure salary as a data analyst for a web startup in San Francisco.

Like Minton, up to 70% of students are training for jobs that soon won’t exist. The main drivers for change are automation, globalisation and collaboration. So which industries are going to provide the careers of the future?

How Will Employment Look in the Future?

The World and Employment Social Outlook 2015 (WESO) predict that employment in private sector services, accommodation and restaurants will increase rapidly the next 4 years. Service-based industries can keep costs low while charging premium, including business and administrative services, & real estate. More than ? of jobs worldwide in 2015 are linked to global supply chains for goods and services either consumed or further processed in other countries.

The International Labour Organisation reveal that employment relationships are becoming less secure, only 25% of workers worldwide having stable, full-time employment, 75% are employed in temporary work, informal and own account work, paid family work, and this trend is increasing.

Recent statistics show that the average worker stays in a job for 4.4 years. To position yourself for successful successive careers, you’ll want to match your skills growth to the fastest growing industries.

Technology is creating new ways of working. We are increasingly able to accumulate, store, manage and extract value from data. As technology becomes cheaper, multifunctional and easier to use, observes that workers will become more mobile, working over distance, on more flexible working arrangements, with increased connectedness* - with workers being available at any time. In the EU mobile working styles will give workers more autonomy and flexibility to combine work and family life.

In Australia, Tom Caesar has embraced the changing nature of business by driving his marketing efforts predominantly online. “Combining Marketing and Technology into a single department was an obvious decision as our business grew. When marketing is separated from technology it fails.”

“My IT and marketing staff are a single team, using technology to create multiple points of contact with clients, which is what clients want. Drawing data from the Customer Relationship Management system, we focus our marketing where it’s most effective. We’re having to adapt all the time, a recent example is where we have begun talking to our customers in terms of repayment values, not interest rates because it’s easier and more practical to understand”

This strategy has created exponential growth for the rapidly scaling South Australian loan writer, resulting in a doubling of the number of full-time employees in just 12 months.

Staying Relevant In the Midst of Change

Creating a dynamic career path will mean acquiring the skills relevant for the future of the industry you’ve chosen. This will inevitably mean getting tech savvy in some way. A friend of mine has been a Project Manager for 10 years, and during this time, her role has evolved in efficiency and in delivery time as expectations change with new technology. She’s created and defined her role by developing new skills, whilst moving through several international companies.

Rather than focusing on a particular job description, you’ll be focused on developing a core set of transferable skills that you enjoy. Whilst making sure you’re keeping up with popular technology used for communication and the business of your industry is essential, it may be just as important to focus on broader skills like cross-cultural competency and computational thinking.

One thing that machines will not be able to replicate is the ‘human’ side of being human. I recently watched a TED Talks video in which Harvard Business School psychologist Amy Cuddy observes that the most foremost in a potential employer’s mind on first meeting a prospective candidate is whether that person can be trusted. Focusing on the social skills which will enable others to perceive you as a warm and trustworthy will go further to improve your chances of securing the right career than even the highest grades or technical skills.

LinkedIn now has a ‘skills’ feature so you can research which skills are trending in your industry, and understand what employers are looking for. Remember though, your attitude is the key to getting a good job.

Business is changing so fast that employers often need to hire people before their eventual role within the company is fully outlined. So employers aren’t necessarily looking for someone with the skills and experience you’ll eventually need, they’re looking for someone who has aptitude, enthusiasm, independence and teamwork ability. If you’ve got one outstanding skill that your employer needs, and you’re willing to learn and be flexible, you’re likely to get that new position.

* RAND Corporation’s Report on Global and Societal Trends to 2030 on Employment and the Changing Labour Market

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Posted on January 23, 2016.

Factors To Consider When Making Money Working Overseas

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The following is an article by Justin Grossbard from 457VisaCompared. I invited him to discuss the financials involved with looking abroad to work and moving overseas. A few years ago I read from a personal finance blogger (I forget who) that you can make a lot of money overseas.

Many of the world’s great entrepreneurs and successful business people are those who not only find opportunity domestically but also abroad. While it’s common for multinational companies to send individuals overseas for temporary posting, another growing trend has been professionals moving to countries on skilled visas such as the UK’s HSMP visa or Australia’s 457 visa. When considering making such a move, it’s important to weight up the key elements which are discussed below.

Ease Of Receiving The Working Visa In The Host Country

Surprisingly worldwide immigration even for skilled individuals is very limited with many countries remaining virtually closed to prospective employees. While a visa such as the HSMP UK will allow an individual to move to the UK and then find a job, other schemes such as the 457 visa in Australia require you to find an eligible job first. Some countries migration scheme’s will also favor prospective workers from one area compared to another, so it’s important to first understand if you can get an actual visa first before researching further.

Ease Of Getting A job In The Country Chosen

A common mistake is individuals who move to a country only to find out that either they can’t find a job or that they are earning relatively less than in their home country. Going to the international labor organization website can be helpful to understand wage levels combined with local job sites. It’s critical to also factor in the cost of living as well naturally. Additionally, the unemployment rate and the demand for jobs in the area you are skilled in must be factored in as most countries will pay no unemployment benefits while you are looking for a job.

Hidden Immigration Costs

It’s critical to understand the true cost of becoming a working visa holder in a host country. An example is health insurance with 457 visa compared highlighting that for a family in Australia has to pay up to $300USD. Migrants also are not necessarily going to receive the same entitlements as locals such as school fees with cost skilled migrants $4,000 per child in Western Australia.

Ability To Gain Permanent Residency

While your move abroad may be purely financial, it’s important to think long-term as:

  • You may like the location you have moved to and want to live in the are permanently
  • Your pay may increase over your stay and it may be a financially poor move to relocate back to the country of origin

Working visa’s will vary in length with some allowing extensions while others will allow the visa holder to become a permanent resident. It’s really worth researching these areas as the last thing anyone wants is to move back home only because of a visa requirement. Employers may also be less willing to hire an applicant which can only work in their country for a set period.

Overall, any working professional should keep an eye on opportunity and consider relocating if the opportunity presents itself. Working overseas can be  a lucrative one and enjoyable but extensive research should always be done first to ensure its right for you and worthwhile.

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Last updated on February 11, 2014.

Is Being a Full-Time Family CFO the Wave of the Future?

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A long, long time ago in a galaxy very familiar, a man went to work to make money and a woman stayed home to keep the house and raise the children. As equal rights started to creep in we evolved into two-income families. I believe that's were most people are now. One of my friends has taken what I believe the possible next step for some affluent families... she's a full-time CFO.

Before I get into those details, I have to share a story about her while I suppress a little laughter. Whenever we've caught up after a couple of weeks or a month, she'd ask, "So what have you been doing with all your time?" There's a general misconception that because I am self-employed, I don't work and have infinite amounts of time. It was always an uncomfortable question to answer. Have you ever had that weekend day when you've been super busy, but really can't state at the end of the day what you accomplished? It's like that.

Several months ago, I was catching up with her and she told me that she had been slowly transitioning out of her job for about a year now. I was finally able to turn the tables on the question and put it to her. She responded that she's managing the family's money full-time. Hmmm, this sounded very familiar to me. I asked for more details...

She talked about her real estate empire that she started building over the course of last year. (One of the key words in the opening paragraph was "affluent.") On paper, these properties are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars more than what she paid. I want to stress that the equity gains aren't realized, but it's hard to argue that she didn't do well. For now, she rents them out the properties for income.

She says that she follows the financial markets and re-balances according to that. I know she's very financially intelligent (perhaps even more so than me if you can imagine such a thing - ha!), so she's not day trading or anything like that. One thing she mentioned is that none of this would be possible if she was still working full-time at her other job. She wouldn't have the time to go look at properties, put in bids, secure financing, and the like.

My friend is doing more things, but in her spare time she's also a soccer mom, shuttling kids here and there. It's half homemaker and half entrepreneur. Her husband brings in a more traditional income.

I'm seeing a lot of that in myself nowadays, which makes me wonder if it is a trend. I wear a number of CFO hats.

Certified Financial Officer

On one hand, I have an income stream from my online properties, most famously the one you are reading now. Like my friend, I am also looking to expand my real estate empire. In the past 9 months, I was able to refinance our three properties to save us more than a hundred thousand dollars in mortgage payments. It was no small chore given that two of them were HARPs. With a full-time job, I doubt I would have had the patience to spend the hours every week for months to get it done. (After the sub-prime collapse it seems that lenders are overly paranoid now.)

Certified Frugal Officer

I look for ways that we can save money, without putting in a ton of time and effort for a buck. This means taking advantage of the military commissary and deals at the local supermarkets without extreme couponing. It means utilizing services like DogVacay instead of a traditional kennel when we go vacation. One of the things I've done is get rewards credit cards for almost every category of items we buy to get an addition 2-5% cash back on everything we buy.

The little things add up.

Certified "Fudge!" Officer

[If this weren't a family-friendly blog, I would use another name other than "fudge."]

Most recently, I've been on full-time alert for people trying to swindle me out of money. I've mentioned that RainSoft scammed me out of $100, and that my tenants won’t get out. The later is means that I might lose a day going to court. The latest issue is the local hospital and our health care plan provider can't seem to connect on a bill. It seems that both agree that we shouldn't have to pay it, but nonetheless, it went to collections because the person at the hospital who was supposed to fix the error quit for a new job. It's a simple clerical error, but it's a few more hours of work.

Final Thoughts

In a lot of ways being a full-time family CFO simply means keeping an ear to the ground listening for opportunity. When you hear it coming, you get ready to pounce. It also means putting out fires that threaten to take money from you.

After some 800 words, I still don't think I'm any closer to coming up with an appropriate answer when someone asks, "Are you a full-time blogger?" In my mind that conjures up someone spending eight (or more) hours writing every day. That simply isn't me. Maybe the next time someone asks me, I tell them that I'm a "family CFO" and watch as their forehead crinkles.

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Last updated on August 20, 2013.

Negotiating Job Perks

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I'm not the best negotiator. I think I know what to do, but the execution just isn't there. I think I simply lack experience. I can't remember the last time I actually was in a situation where I had to negotiate something. It was probably the new car I bought at the end of last year. My friend actually took a college-level class on negotiating. Perhaps I should look into that.

When comes to negotiating salary at a job, I'm even worse. I think my success in getting a raise is close to zero percent. I'm always told there's no budget. I'm probably a fool for believing it, because the budgets are secret. When I fail to get more money, I typically move to negotiating perks. For example, I'll ask for more vacation time. That also hasn't been successful as I've been told that's standardized for everyone by HR based on length with the company. If I had a job that had a company car, I'd certainly try to negotiate some fuel cards to go with that. However, I haven't found a company that gives software engineers company cars.

I've also had no luck negotiating when it comes to educational classes. At my first job out of college back in 1998, I wanted to take a night class on client-server architecture which was really popular and relevant to my computer science degree and programming job. Or so I thought. When it came time to approach my boss (who happened to be the very worst boss I've had, good to get that out of the way early in my career) for approval she grilled me on how the course was relevant to FoxPro for Dos. FoxPro for Dos was the outdated software that the company used. Like most outdated technologies, there are very few, if any, classes available for it. The end result was that my request was denied.

From what I gather from friends, that situation isn't the norm. It was just a combination of a terrible boss and a poor company.

I've been working from home on my business for so long that I almost forgot that "working from home" would be a negotiable benefit if I was still programming at my previous companies. Even my wife, who is in the military working for the government, gets to work from home. As long as your job has no physical requirements it should be an option at most anywhere... except for Yahoo who took the perk away. While on the topic of Yahoo, they made me quite upset by buying and shutting down the awesome Astrid to-do app. This is why you are losing users, Yahoo. You take something that is awesome and purposely destroy it. (Sorry, I got a little off-track there.)

Finally, there's the easiest thing to negotiate. It doesn't cost the company a penny... a swanky job title. Looking through my LinkedIn connections this seems to be extremely pervasive. Or maybe people just take it upon themselves to give themselves a great sounding title there.

Have you successful negotiated any job perks? If so, let me know in the comments. (And please be specific on how you do it, because I'm clearly missing something.) Also, if you know of a free to-do application that allows sharing and assigning of tasks (so my wife and I can stay on the same page), I'd love your feedback. I've been trying Wrike, but it is focused on project management which adds unnecessary complexity for what we are trying to do.

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Posted on August 7, 2013.

Unemployment Adventures: Dealing with Debt and Cash Flow

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[Editor's Note: The following is a guest post by Elizabeth West. She's been recently unemployed and has agreed to share her experience with Lazy Man and Money readers. You can catch more of her writing at Graphomaniac and follow her on Twitter as DameWritesalot.]

Being unemployed means I can't pay my bills as easily as I did before.  The money coming in, even on unemployment insurance (UI) payments, is sharply reduced.  It's oh so easy to get behind.

While it's tempting to just shove bills into a file folder and not even open them, it's not a good idea.   That won't stop them from coming.  It also won't stop them from piling up.  So what's a girl to do?

First, call creditors and let them know what's going on.  Many times they will work with you.  Mortgage companies are a pain—they have illogical policies on accepting partial payments of any kind.  "Just tack it onto the next payment" doesn't work very well when it takes two checks to make the payment in the first place.  But calling them is better than not saying anything.

Tax debt?  Believe it or not, the IRS people are super nice if you call and talk to them!  I got on a payment plan and was actually able to negotiate something affordable.  So many people are afraid of the IRS, but the agency is made up of human beings.  They do understand that things are rough sometimes, and they will work with you.

Second, I'm trying to keep very good records of what I paid and what I owe.  Paper gets messy, so I try to do as much as possible electronically.  A spreadsheet is a good tool for tracking payments.  Microsoft Office has lots of free templates to download.

I also save my confirmation pages in case a payment doesn't go through.  I use CutePDFTM Writer, a free tool, to save them as a .pdf file on my computer.  It works for web pages, Word docs and other files.  In case there is a dispute, I can produce the confirmation.

Third, when I can, I pay something, even if it's only a few bucks.  If I can sweeten the minimum payment, that's even better.  At least having a minimum that I can actually reach makes me feel less like a total deadbeat loser.

Student loan debt is another animal entirely.  Right now, I'm on a deferment.  I had trouble paying anything for so long, because my income potential is rather limited.   I hope there is a change in the future.  Otherwise I'll die still owing money.

Getting debt paid down is one thing.  Coming up with the cash flow when you're unemployed is another.  Sure, you can take a part-time job while looking for something better, but for me, this is difficult.  Part-time jobs are 20 or 30 hours a week tops, and if that's only $7.00 or $8.00 an hour, it basically works out to less than my UI check.

UI has drawbacks.  It's usually way below what you were making before, and if you get a job, even a crappy, underpaid one, it stops.  As long as I'm getting it, I think the best thing I can do is concentrate on finding full-time work that will allow me to pay bills and get caught up again.

I've sold possessions here and there.  Nothing worth much, unfortunately.  But a pot rack netted some dough, and I may do the tag sale thing again.  I keep that part of my garage clean and ready so all I have to do is price and place merchandise.  Tag sales are a lot of work for little money, but you'd be surprised what people will buy.  I have a lot of craft stuff I'm not using.

Which, of course, I could be using to make crafts I could then sell at my garage sale and online.  That is definitely a possibility, as is exploring more freelance writing options.

I cut my own figure skating music, and I've cut some for other skaters.   This only nets me gas money, but it's better than nothing.

Lastly, I'm lucky my parents are still able to help me out now and then.  I hate that, but sometimes you have to do it.  If I had kids, I'd probably help them too, if they needed it.

These options aren't for everyone, of course.  Some people do odd jobs, and there are a lot of door-knockers who ask to mow my lawn or pick up my brush pile for a few bucks.  If you think outside the box, there are lots of ways to make a bit of cash here and there.  But they won't replace a job.  And that is still the goal.

[Editor's Note: If you enjoyed this article you can read more of Liz's "unemployment adventures": How I Could Have Been Prepared for a Layoff, Unemployment Adventures: Shall I Ditch This or Keep It, and Unemployment Adventures: Jobs Aren't the Same Anymore]

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Last updated on February 5, 2013.

Unemployment Adventures: Jobs Aren’t the Same Anymore

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[Editor's Note: The following is a guest post by Elizabeth West. She's been recently unemployed and has agreed to share her experience with Lazy Man and Money readers. You can catch more of her writing at Graphomaniac and follow her on Twitter as DameWritesalot.]

Being unemployed, my primary activity is job searching.  Since the last time I did this, things have changed.

Back in 2004, I was less well organized.  I kept a list of all the places I applied in a Word document, with notes, and it ended up 50 pages long.  Also, I was less experienced with targeting my resume.

This time, I used a spreadsheet.  Much easier.  I color-coded it—blue for No, purple for No Reply, yellow for In Progress or Interviewed, and light orange for Other (job was cancelled, was bogus, etc.).

Targeting isn't much good when there are hundreds of resumes for the same position, and only one opening.  In January 2005, I got a rejection letter from an employer who mentioned that they got 150 resumes for a posted position.  These days, you don't even get that.  And it's more like 300-400 resumes.

In 2004, online job boards and even the newspaper ads had tons of job listings.   Unemployment benefits require a minimum of job contacts made each week—in my state, it's three.   I had no trouble meeting that requirement.

This time, there are weeks where I struggle to find those three.  I don't believe it's worthwhile to apply to jobs I know will not make ends meet.

For example, a large local healthcare employer posts certain positions that, even without coding and billing experience, I am more than capable of doing.  They start at minimum wage.   In my state, that's $7.50 an hour.   For a 40-hour week, I would still be down $200-250 a month.  Oh, I could do it, if I stopped eating.  And teleported to work.   Gas and car insurance?  Nope.

Nor should I apply to jobs that are way over my head.  All that does is clog employers' inboxes and make me look unfocused.

In 2004, there were still jobs that offered full-time status, benefits, and even chances for advancement.  Many of them did not need a college degree, and if you had one, you might get slightly better pay.

Now, even entry-level positions want a bachelor's.   For those who don't have one, things just got a lot tougher.   Mid-level jobs are gone, like skilled manufacturing positions that were available to high school grads and offered a decent wage.  They've been replaced by low-paid, part time retail/service jobs.

I have two degrees, and I've had jobs that any reasonable, intelligent high school graduate could do.  Of course, that depends on the office, and the grad him/herself.  I think employers are looking for organizational and time management skills they assume college graduates have learned.  They either don't have time to look at experience and transferable skills or don't care.

In 2004, work responsibilities were more fragmented—that is, an office had a receptionist AND an accounting assistant.   That was the case with my last position.

Now, employers who have cut their staff to the bone have combined those jobs into one, and renamed them "Administrative Assistant," or "Office Support."  They're looking for one clerical worker to do everything.

Guess what?

Accounting ain't my thing.  I have problems with numbers.  If I could have picked one thing I do poorly, it wouldn't be that.  I may have to go back to school to work around this issue.

In 2004, when I applied to a position, it was an actual job, posted by a company who wanted someone to stick around for a while.  I even had an interview with someone who told me "We're looking for a long-term employee."  I didn't get the job because I was still in school, and they thought I would bail.   Wasn't planning on it…I had a house to feed.

Now, employers are posting jobs with temp agencies.  They don't want actual employees.  More are using temps short-term or keeping them on for a long time to avoid paying benefits.  I'm afraid the Affordable Care Act is only going to make that worse.

Last time I was unemployed, I temped.  It helped, but it's so unreliable—you can never be sure if there will be work, or for how long.  I tried it this time and all I could find were very short-term assignments.   Some agencies contract temp-to-hire, however, so if all else fails, I might find a job that way.

The recession has changed things in ways we didn't imagine.  As in any situation, survival boils down to who can adapt, not who is best at the status quo.  Like Dory in Finding Nemo says, just keep swimming.

[Editor's Note: If you enjoyed this article you can read more of Liz's "unemployment adventures": How I Could Have Been Prepared for a Layoff, Unemployment Adventures: Shall I Ditch This or Keep It]

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Posted on January 23, 2013.

Unemployment Adventures: Shall I Ditch This or Keep It

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[Editor's Note: The following is a guest post by Elizabeth West. She's been recently unemployed and has agreed to share her experience with Lazy Man and Money readers. You can catch more of her writing at Graphomaniac and follow her on Twitter as DameWritesalot.]

At the end of January, I wrote a post on my blog, Graphomaniac, about losing my job, the day it happened.  Still in shock at the time, I was pretty optimistic about getting another one soon.

I was wrong.

It's November, and I'm still unemployed.  I've cut and cut but I still can't make ends meet on meager and rapidly-diminishing unemployment, or on the few part-time filler jobs out there.  My small savings has been decimated.

Scaling back doesn't mean I have to live in a hovel and eat bread and water.  But it does require making adjustments in the household budget.

Some things I got rid of:

DirecTV:   My low-tier account is actually on suspension, and I extended it, just in case. If I don't find a decent job by the time it expires in May, or can't afford it on the one I do have, I think I may actually turn it off completely.  I can always sign up again later and take advantage of specials.  Most cable shows are available for free online the next day, or they eventually show up on Netflix.  Delayed gratification is a beautiful thing.  It gives you something to look forward to.

Car payment:  My aging and frequently broken Buick had only one more (tiny) payment when I was laid off.  My parents did me a HUGE favor and got me a nice little Chevy to replace it.  Now when a potential employer asks me if I have reliable transportation, I don't have to lie.  It's paid for, too, so I don't have that expense now.  Thanks, Mom and Dad.  I'm very lucky.

Amazon:  Dear God, I love One-Click Ordering.  Amazon has made it far too easy for me to buy things I don't need, now or anytime.   It's better if I don't even look.  So far, I've managed to stay away from it, except for buying a couple of songs for my skating rink's Christmas ice show.  At 99 cents, they didn't break the bank.

This pretty much goes for all unnecessary shopping.  Unless it breaks and I use it every day, I probably don't need it.

Travel:  This was made much easier by the fact that my long-distance boyfriend broke up with me.   So, no more flying.  Talk about mixed blessings.  Arrgh!

I try to keep car trips to a minimum, and if I have to run errands, I look for ways to cluster them.  That means I don't drive as far or as long, thus saving gas.  Out-of-town trips are a no for now.

Some things I kept:

Landline:  I kept it for DSL.  AT&T has a reputation for wrecking the Internet-only option, and I simply can't afford to be without it.  Employers don't want you to apply in person.  They want to screen you through online apps, or by email.

When I threatened to cancel the landline, they reduced my bill.  Win!

Internet also means communication.  I dropped all but local service on the phone, and now I make long-distance calls either by prepaid cell, or on the computer.  Skype is $2.99 a month, and I can call anywhere, any phone, in the US and Canada.

Netflix:  Since I no longer have satellite TV, Netflix provides the bulk of my entertainment.  A $10 RCA digital antenna from Walmart provides me with OTA network channels.  Disc and streaming is $16.99 a month, but that's way less than I was paying for DirecTV and is doable.  I don't go out much on this budget, so this is it.

Skating:  I'm an adult recreational figure skater.  Our ice rink charges $8.00 for an hour of freestyle time.  I've reduced practice time to one hour a week.  I've cancelled my lessons, although my coach has been helping me out now and again with a discount when she can.

Skating keeps me sane, gives me something to do each week and encourages me to cross-train (walking, using DVDs I already have) instead of living on the couch.  It's worth the little money I spend and if I have an extra ten bucks, I skate an extra hour that week.  I stockpiled fabric, so if I need a costume, I can still sew my own.

Because of these measures, when I do get a job, I'll be used to making do with less.  For most people, that usually means a spending spree.  Not for me.  I had some savings, and I want them again.  Cutting back doesn't have to make you feel deprived.

[Editor's Note: If you enjoyed this article you can read more of Liz's "unemployment adventures": How I Could Have Been Prepared for a Layoff]

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Posted on January 16, 2013.

Unemployment Adventures: How I Could Have Prepared for a Layoff

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[Editor's Note: The following is a guest post by Elizabeth West. She's been recently unemployed and has agreed to share her experience with Lazy Man and Money readers. You can catch more of her writing at Graphomaniac and follow her on Twitter as DameWritesalot.]

In this economy, there's no telling when the hammer will strike.  Anyone can become unemployed at any time.  I thought my job was somewhat safe.  Nope.

Thankfully, I got a severance, and I had a little bit of savings.  But knowing the state of the economy, I could have done a lot more preparation during the time I was working.   How?  By doing these five things.

5. Upgrading skills

There's no point in waiting until unemployment strikes to learn the latest software, or becoming fluent in another language.  The best time to do that was when I had a job.  Well, actually, I had two jobs last year, so I didn't really have time.  But I do now.

There are numerous free learning resources online for learning new skills or brushing up on old ones.   GCFLearnFree.org has tutorials on everything from Microsoft Office to social media.   Coursera.com and Open Culture aggregate free online courses from top universities.  You may learn something useful, or even find a new passion.

4. Downsizing

We have too much stuff.  Our houses are stuffed, our car trunks are bulging, and our backs are breaking from the weight of purses, backpacks and messenger bags.

Do I need all this junk?  No, I don't.  In my garage, a sad little pot rack lived for many years, alone and friendless.   I'll never have room for it, so I sold it for $30 on Craigslist.  That's not much, but it paid a bill.  An iPod shuffle?  Don't use that, so bye bye.  Now I'm eyeing furniture.  If I have to move, I'll have less to carry.

Selling stuff is great, but you can only do it once.  I still need a bed.  And maybe a plate or two.  I could have done this before and simplified my life.

3. Staying on Top of Bills

Don't get behind.  Just don't.  No matter what.  It's tough.  The recession drove prices up higher, so everything I normally bought—food, clothing, gas—took more money out of the good paycheck.  Any bills I was behind on got worse when I had less money coming in.

Paying bills when they arrive, or as soon as possible afterward, not only keeps relationships with creditors in good standing, it helps avoid late fees.  That money can go into savings.

2. Networking

This doesn’t have much to do with money, but it's vital when you're job searching.  I was employed at a smallish company located in an industrial park.   We didn't have customers coming in.  I didn't meet many people at work.

What I could have done was join a professional organization, while I had the dues money, such as the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP).  It's a worthwhile investment—local chapters can hook you up with like-minded people in your area.  They offer certifications, and many of them provide discounts on other resources for members.  If you're out of a job, you can tap into your network for leads.

1. Establish an emergency fund

If you read Lazy Man and Money, you probably already have one, or are looking for advice on how to get one.  Good for you!

The next sound you hear will be me banging my head on the desk.  I am such a jerk for not doing this.  There were plenty of times I could have put more into my tiny savings.   And I did not do it.

Why?

I don't know.  Lazy?  Maybe.  Budgeting is tough for me—I have issues with math—so maybe I was just intimidated.

But I do know this.  I vow, once I am gainfully employed again, to faithfully sock away money every pay period, even if it's only $5.00, into a savings account that is for emergencies only.  If I want to go on a trip, I'll save up for that separately.  If I need something, I'll build it into my budget.  The savings are just that—savings.   If my job has a 401K or other plan, I'll contribute to that too.  Had I done that in the last six years, I could have had enough put back to avoid a mandatory cash-out.

My ultimate goal is to have enough to carry me for a couple of years.   Unemployment is lasting much longer these days, since companies aren't hiring the way they were before the recession.  Now that the election is over, let's all hope that changes.

We can learn from every situation.  Preparation is the best way to get through any unexpected setback.

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Career, Employment

Last updated on February 5, 2013.

Working Two Jobs at the Same Time

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CNN has an article that I find extremely interesting... some employees are working two jobs at the same time. This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. People are so used to multitasking nowadays that it's hard to imagine people not working two jobs at the same time. I'm not much different. A quick look at my browser shows that I have 23 Firefox tabs open at this moment. That's probably about the average for me.

I know at least two people who are working three jobs now. They have a full-time job that I suspect is near the six-figures and the nature of the work leads to downtime that can be used for the other two jobs. Is it ethical? That's a tough call. What if I told you that their employers say that they are more than just getting their job done - they are excelling? That is the case with the two individuals that I'm thinking of. Their other two jobs aren't exactly bringing in chump change either. I know that they are making them a combined two thousand dollars or more a month.

I've never been a big of fan of paying for someone's time at a flat rate. If one can do the same job faster or more efficient than someone else then that person deserves the same amount of pay - regardless of whether they can do it very quickly or not.

I feel stuck in the middle of this issue. I see three things that I can't quite resolve in my head:

  1. I think everyone should be looking to diversify their income streams. We don't have the benefit of pensions, and some of us may be justified in assume no income from Social Security. Your current job doesn't necessarily have to have any loyalty to you, but just their bottom line and their shareholders. People can develop these in their spare time, but let's look at #2 and #3
  2. I can't say that it's ethical to agree to give your time to another company and then work another job during that time. I see the problem being that we don't have a better metric for measuring "work performed." Time might be better than anything else as it's quantifiable, but it's surely not a standard measure for all people.
  3. There are the cases of start-up companies that have a culture of effectively making you work excessive overtime with no guaranteed pay. You may get stock options, but these are not necessarily worth anything (and you usually give up other benefits like 401k matching to get them). If you have such a job, it's going to be difficult or impossible to build other income streams.

As you can tell, I'm all over the place in this article. Perhaps some kind readers will have some insightful comments that will help put my Humpty Dumpty mind back together on this topic?

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Posted on October 1, 2008.

 
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