How we use our Employment Benefits to Maximize Every Dollar

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There is more to your job than just your salary. Most people receive some kind of benefit at work. Whether they are non monetary like a flexible schedule or more tangible like an employee discount, we get more from our employers than our paychecks. Here are four valuable benefits that we use (or have used in the past).

401K Match: For 5 years, I worked at a company that offered a 100% match for retirement contribution up to 6% of your salary. From the first day I started working, I made sure to contribute at least the 6% that would get me the 100% company match. Anything less would seem like I am leaving free money behind. I left that firm over 4 years ago and no longer receive a match at my new place of employment. However, my husband does receive a similar benefit (100% match up to 5% of his salary) and we make sure to take advantage of it. So now, when he contributes 10% of his salary, his account is actually receiving a deposit of 15%.

Graduate School: I often discuss my journey to becoming debt free and instrumental in all of that is the elimination of my student loan debt due to the high interest rate. I graduated 2 years ago in May from a program that cost $75K. However my loans were less than $50K thanks to the tuition assistance I received when I first started the MBA program. I did switch jobs in the middle of graduate school, which contributed to the balance of my loan, however, I am $28k closer to completing my payments as a result of being able to benefit from the tuition program early on in my studies.

Cellphone Discount: We have a family plan with 3 lines for smart phones that gives all the users unlimited data and text. If that sounds pricey, it’s because it is. However, my carrier offers an 18% discount to employees of my organization. Every 2-3 years, I recertify my employment by providing a either a scanned copy of my badge, a pay stub or some other form that would indicate I still work there.

BJ’s Wholesale Club: A BJ’s membership costs $50 a year for 2 people. Given the savings opportunities that buying in bulk offers, not to mention the low gas prices, that is already a fantastic deal. However, my husband’s job offers a discount where the membership costs less and is for a longer period of time: $40 for 16 months. Per month, the discounted price is nearly 1/2 the regular advertised price.

How are you maximizing your employee benefits?

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I Don’t Work for Free: Why Asking for Real Estate Favors is an Insult

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I recently overheard my mom on the phone telling someone: “… yes, of course. And if you ever need anything or have questions, she’ll be glad to help.” This sounds like she’s doing some great free marketing for me and I should be happy, right? Well the problem is this is someone who specifically decided to NOT use my real estate services.

According to him, someone who owes him money happens to be a real estate agent. When the agent found out he was in the market for a home, the agent said: “Why don’t I represent you, that way I’ll use my commission check to pay you back.” I found out about that last minute arrangements after I had cleared my schedule & organized 4-5 property showings for him & his wife. Lucky for me I was able to make some additional  changes to reorganize my day & lucky for our delinquent borrower, I had not yet met with the potential buyer to make him sign a representation contract.

However, it turns out that the other agent is one of those “hands off” types. He expects the clients to do the legwork of hitting the pavement to look for properties alone. Later, he wants to show up at the 11th hour to submit offers & attend closing to pick up his check. This means he has not been very available to help them navigate the process as first time homebuyers. The buyer who is a family friend was sharing his woes with my mother when I heard her offer up my guidance. She doesn’t know any better & views it as “helping a friend”. The thing is, for me, real estate is a business. Not a charity, not volunteer work. I cannot do the work of another agent when I will collect none of the proceeds. If anything, family & friends tend to be your greatest source of referrals & your first opportunities for business. You cannot expect me to provide you with market information that I pay to access, dedicate time that I am taking away from PAYING clients to your inquiries free of charge. It is disrespectful because you are expecting me to work for free while you give your business to those who are not required to do much.

Real estate is an appointment & volume based business. Every minute I spend with someone is time I am not spending with someone else, time I am not spending marketing & generating business. I have to be discriminate with my time, effort & attention. Even paying clients can only get so much of my time since I have other people to attend to. Those who expect charity work or favors, will get none of my time. If I’m not good enough for your money, I’m not good enough for your questions.

You don’t work for free, neither do I. Call your agent.

Teamwork, Mentors and Success

 

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How many people have an official mentor? Someone who is an expert in an area that they have weaknesses in? I haven’t met too many people with mentors, however the vast majority of people I’ve met with a mentor have been very successful. While having a mentor is not a guarantee of success, not having one will likely ensure that you have to work harder to achieve what you are trying to accomplish.

Most of my life I did not have mentors. I simply didn’t come from the kind of background where I was taught to seek out the guidance of those who are more successful. It was an unspoken rule that these people are “too busy for you” and you shouldn’t bother them. As a result, I have always had to figure out things on my own, from the simplest tasks to the more complex situations like learning to navigate the highly political culture of corporate America as a woman of color and career planning.

However, ever since I started working in real estate, I have forced myself to break out of my shell and make the right contacts. Developing the skills required to talk to everyone, even those I considered to be out of my league, has been critical in helping me acquire new clients as well as transition out to of a bad real estate firm ran by a dishonest broker who misappropriated escrow funds. I had to learn that no one would think I belonged in the room or that I was entitled to their time if I did not believe it myself. I had to have the confidence that showed them that I was worth the conversation, the introduction, the contract.

With that new found confidence, I accidentally stumbled into a mentor relationship with someone who wants to partner with me and help me acquire more business. While her extensive experience will make her my mentor, we have agreed to work as a team to bring in business and I am projected to do 5 times more sales this year with her help than I could achieve on my own.

I could have very well observed her success and determined that seeking her help would be bothering her. But being open to networking and realizing that I had a lot to offer myself, gave me the confidence to approach the broker for a formal introduction. That introduction has led to a mutually beneficial relationship that will reflect a tremendous increase in my income, getting me closer to my goal of financial freedom, first through debt repayment and subsequently through investments in activities that will generate steady and reliable passive income. Because I built up the necessary confidence to market my skills and show myself to be a valuable team player, someone with the ability to help me succeed determined: I like you! I want to work with you so I will guide you.

Are You Maximizing LinkedIn?

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When I first heard of LinkedIn some years ago, someone explained it to me as the “Big kids’ Facebook”. That made me think of it as a social networking site for older people who have “adult” things to talk about. I promise that I don’t mean that in the XXX-rated sense. It did not take long for me to join the site before I realized that this was a simplistic view of a powerful platform that helps connect professionals all over the world.

Unlike Facebook, your ability to lurk on LinkedIn are limited to connections at the 2nd or 3rd levels. The controls in place also limit who you can contact and connect with, which is an attempt at curbing those who might want to artificially boost their network by sending out random connection requests. The website has matured tremendously since I first joined. You can now search and apply for jobs directly using the information on your profile, the recommendation feature has been enhanced, as well as users ability to build their portfolio through articles, posting media and publishing prior writings.

However, despite all the positive changes, many have not found LinkedIn to be as useful as it proclaims. Although I do not have any complaints about the site, I don’t think it’s fair for me to dismiss their claims. After all, I am not looking for a job, so if no one contacts me, I don’t see a flaw in the system. And even though I am not looking for work, I still receive “InMail” approximately every 3 months from recruiters with offers that I kindly turn down every time.

So for those who are looking, how can you position yourself to be noticed by all the right people?

Your Picture

Have a professional picture. Unlike a resume that does not require a picture, your LinkedIn profile is not complete without one. To someone who has never met you, this is their first impression of you. Your picture should portray you as you would look in a job interview. Your attire should not be too casual, your hair should be neat, your posture should be appropriate, and your face should be groomed adequately (no heavy night-life make up for women, no edgy facial hair on men).

The Headline

A headline is defined as: “denoting a particularly notable or important piece of news“. Your headline is not your life story. It should tell the reader the first and most important thing you want them to know about you. Don’t make jokes (unless you’re a stand-up comic), don’t leave it blank, don’t write about your childhood. Keep it short and to the point. Anything more or less shows that you can’t follow instructions. For example: “Oncology Nurse Practitioner with more than 15 years of experience.” is a much better headline than “Every day for the past 15 years, I’ve looked at death in the face through the eyes of my cancer patients. I have wanted to do this since my best friend died when I was 13.”

Summary

The name says it all. You are supposed to write a summary of your background and what makes you a valuable asset. Recruiters have a lot of prospects to consider. They will not look at every section of your profile unless they are very interested in you. You should write your summary with that fact in mind. Your goal should be that you say as much as possible to catch the reader’s eye and entice them to keep reading, but doing so in as few words as you can get away with.

For example, “I am an attorney in Massachusetts at a full service business law firm, located in Boston. Areas of expertise include real estate financing and development, including affordable housing development and financing. Projects include those with public funding sources and multi-tiered financing and tax credits.” is short enough for us to scan through it very quickly, however, we know a few key things about this person: s/he is a lawyer admitted to the Massachusetts Bar, with experience in business law and a focus on real estate, including affordable housing. If s/he started by telling us why they attended law school, we would have been bored and might have moved on before getting to the most relevant parts.

Experience

Your most recent job should have the most detail. While your past experience is relevant, they don’t care as much about the job you did 5 years ago unless it was a stepping stone that helped you transition to a higher position. If you used to be a teller and now you’re a lawyer, your reader will not put as much weight on your customer service skills as they will put on your litigation skills.

Connecting

Don’t be afraid to connect with people. If you’ve met someone and you had a meaningful professional conversation with them, chances are they will remember you, as long as you do it shortly after you had the opportunity to talk to them and they still remember you. For example, my 3 most recent connections are with people who I talked to at length about things we were passionate about, then within a week I received request from all of them. LinkedIn is the 21st century business card. It is the best way to stay in touch. I happily take someone’s card, however, eventually it starts to pile up and create clutter and I am tempted to recycle them. However, I can have 500+ connections and never have to worry about having to find a way to maintain tiny rectangular cards in a drawer or folder. This will help you build your network and will make it much easier for you to reach out to people if you need to.

Skills

Include your skills in your profile. Updating your skills not only allows users to see who else shares their skills, but it gives your connections the ability to endorse your abilities.

Be Professional

LinkedIn is not Facebook. Your ability to restrict what others see is limited. In fact, the website controls it as part of their marketing to get others to sign up. However, your profile and activity are relatively wide-open to thousands of people you don’t know. Do not post anything that you would not want your boss or potential boss to see. Stay away from political conversations, don’t discuss religion and do not complain or vent. It is important to understand your audience when you interact on a professional networking platform. Your reader is looking to learn more about your skills and network, either because they want to hire you or they want to connect with you. If you appear to be unstable, controversial, or vengeful, you will not get a lot of positive attention.

These are just some of the things that I can think of that will help improve traffic as well as the quality of the mail you reach. Take the time to review your profile and see what changes you can make today to get the right call tomorrow.

Work-Life Balance for the Type A Personality

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We all know the one: never late, always busy, own toughest critic, etc. If you don’t know that guy or gal, s/he is probably you. People with Type A personalities tend to be successful academically and career-wise. They usually have a lot of the characteristics that make them excel. Unfortunately, they also have characteristics that might make their personal lives suffer. If you have that ambitious spirit and competitive nature driven by high energy that is making your family and friends miserable, here are some ways to curb your bad habits:

Trade perfection for practicality: Learn to be ok with doing things right rather than doing things perfectly. If you are that driven, you are smart enough to know that chasing perfectionism is futile. Human nature simply won’t let us be great. The opposite of perfection is not mediocrity. Find the balance and relax a little.

Delegate: I should take my own advice in this area. But there is no greater insult to your team or your partner than to refuse to let go. You’re sending one of two messages: “I don’t trust you” or, “You are incompetent”. Learn people’s strengths and weaknesses and delegate accordingly. Should you have the most introverted employee go to a client meeting? Maybe not. But that person might also be the most organized and could thrive in an assignment that allows them to use that skill. You don’t have rearrange all the cabinets, and coordinate catering, AND meet with all the clients, AND pick up the kids from school, AND chaperone the girl scouts’ trip etc. That’s why there are employees, interns, assistants, spouses, grandmothers.

Take a break: I get it. Being smart and successful makes you feel invincible. But you aren’t. You need sleep, adequate nutrition and love. You also need time, and unfortunately we only get 24 hours, which aren’t even promised. There is always something to be done and if you don’t force yourself to stop, your duties will seem endless, because they are. Value your mental and emotional health as much as you value your success and schedule time off for some self-care.

If none of these sound appealing, consider the fact that people with Type A personalities are at a higher risk of a heart attack. If that’s not motivation, I don’t know what is.

Be Complacent At Your Own Risk

com·pla·cent: kəmˈplās(ə)nt/ (adjective) – Showing smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one’s achievements.
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How many successful people do you know aren’t very driven or motivated to look for more opportunities? Innovation is what leads to success and complacency is not the key to innovation. That mindset of being a seeker of knowledge and opportunities is what sets apart the haves from the have nots. Unless the have nots were spoiled spoon fed brats who inherited their wealth; in which case they don’t count.
I am one of those who refuse to be complacent. One of the things that encourage me to stay busy is my desire for an early retirement. I also know that unless I build multiple streams of income over time, I will spend more time working for my money rather than have my money work for me. I can work now or I can work 30 years from now. I don’t know if I’ll be around in 30 years, but I know that if I am, I won’t be as energetic and limber then as I am today. Which means, if I have to pick, I guess I have to work now.
But how exactly am I doing this? Well, as I mentioned in previous posts, in addition to my full-time job, I am now a licensed real estate agent. Will I become rich with this additional income? Probably not. It would be nice, but I don’t know that  Donald Trump needs to be concerned about me stealing his crown as the east coast mogul. However, I will say that my first transaction was a $500,000 house. After taxes, I recovered every penny I invested in crafting my professional image (business cards, taking the required class, sitting for the test, paying for my license, administrative expenses, etc.) and still made a profit. That’s just one house, but if I sold 4 more houses by December, I could completely pay off my student loans, after expenses. I think you see where I’m going with this…
I also mentioned in a previous post that I am now a landlord. I get some income from that. I have been dabbling in peer-to-peer lending (more on that later), some dividend stocks, and some low-yielding, but very safe investments in the form of CDs. (Yeah, I know. They’re being eaten away by inflation. But they are highly liquid and easily accessible.)
The idea of having multiple streams of income is to start “training” your money to work for you. It is time that we change our views about money. We need to see cash as an army of little employees who  are sent forth to recruit more little worker bees. And as they grow and reproduce, I use the power of compounding and reinvesting to build the next rung in the ladder. One could point out that my work as a real estate agent is still work. But real estate is more of a business than a job. I’m my own boss and make my own hours. How much flexibility do you have at your job*? And so what? Not all your income streams are going to be passive. Even Billionaire Oprah has to get up and do something every day.
I started small and I’m still small, but the war is won a battle at a time. A millionaire is made a buck at a time. So will you seek or will you be content?
(*At the risk of sounding like I’m a character from the movie Taken, I will say that I have a very particular set of skills. I work in the banking industry and I have an MBA. As a result, I understand money, banking and personal finance better than the average person. This makes selling real estate an easy side job for me.
For example, when I show a client a house and can easily tell them all their financing options, talk about the industry, and the impact I think Federal Reserve decisions about the fed funds rate might have on house prices, people trust me and my judgement. They respect my knowledge and that gives me confidence. I don’t need training in that area of the business because I’ve gotten it through years of schooling and corporate work.
Therefore, I am by no means saying that everyone can or even should go and become a real estate agent. But  this is something that works for me. You will have to discover what your skills are and capitalize on them. For example, my crafty friend sells crochet goods on Etsy. Another one who is a licensed cosmetologist does hair on the week ends. Find your talent and WORK.)
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Friday Fail: The Confidence of Youth

I decided to start a Friday Fail series. The idea came to me because, I know that not only do people like a good embarrassing story, but also because I think talking about our major fails, and being able to laugh at ourselves truly empowers us. There’s just something refreshing about not taking yourself too seriously 100% of the time. Also, I’m confident that I have enough failures in my past, big and small, to keep this going for a while.

When I was in high school I got an internship at a major bank through a program for students interested in finance. It was awesome and it was a paid position. I was working 40 hours a week for the entire summer, making $2 above my state’s minimum wage, and I felt rich! I had never have access to so much money at once. What happened one morning could only be explained by saying that, all the disposable income must have gone straight to my head, making me feel like Hercules.

That day, I got to work around 8:30 like I normally did, and got settled at my desk. I checked my email to see if any of my friends, who also got summer jobs, made it to work before I did had sent me a few emails. After exploring Google for a while (it was in its infancy!), I got up to get a drink of water. Surfing the net is hard work and can dehydrate you! To my despair, the water cooler was empty and being the absolute princess that I am, no way I was drinking tap. I decided to change the gallon myself. I mean how hard could it be?

I put away the empty gallon and grabbed a new one. From the moment I pulled it out from the crate, I knew I was making a big mistake. I thought about putting it back, but my mouth was feeling like I had been chewing cotton for hours, and I really needed a drink. I guess I could have asked one of the guys who sat in close proximity to the break room, but I’m a strong independent woman with a job! I’m paving a path for a career in banking! I am no weakling! So I ripped the seal and took the cap off. Once I did that, there was no turning back.

So here I am, 16, no upper body strength, 5’2″, 110 pounds, faced with a simple task to be accomplished in the following sequence: 1) lifting a 5 gallon jug of water up to my chest 2) tipping it over the cooler without spilling anything 3) and lowering it slowly down to my waist level until it was in place. “What could go wrong”, you ask? Everything.

First, I lifted. But my arms shook. Then I tipped it, but my arms shook more. The trembling arms caused me to miss the hole and it all went downhill from there. I heard the splash before I saw it, so I over corrected by pulling the gallon towards me. The force of doing that, combined with the weight of the jug, threw me off balance and knocked me straight on my ass into a growing puddle. Finally, enough water had escaped the bottle in favor of the ground for me to be able to put the bottle upright.

As I sat on the vinyl floor wondering how long it would take for my underwear to dry, I didn’t give much thought to how much commotion I had caused until someone rushed it saying: “oh my! What happened?!?” I must have been quite the sight. But I guess there wasn’t much explanation needed, because he looked at me for about 15 seconds before saying: “you could have just asked me.”

I was grateful he didn’t say anything else on the topic, at least not that I know of. But my gray slacks weren’t so discreet. Everyone could tell by the wide wet spots that I had an “accident”.

I don’t know how, but I did manage to get myself hired for one more summer before college.