Guest post by Drew Heikkila

Vacations have a certain stigma attached to them. Yes, we know that they’re there for us to use, but that won’t stop us from feeling guilty when we use them—if we use them at all. Who’s going to fill in for us when we’re gone? On top of that, even with PTO, vacations can be expensive. Where’s the net benefit in making a week’s worth in vacation pay if you’re going to end up spending double that on the vacation itself?

It’s not uncommon to sum up vacation time that way here in the U.S. Bloomberg reported employment firm Hudson’s survey findings that over 50 percent of American workers fail to utilize all of their vacation days, with 30 percent using less than half and 20 percent using only a day or two—and that was in 2007.

In 2009, Bloomberg looked at the topic again and found that, even though the U.S. may tend to view vacations as impedances and distractions from actual work, countries with twice the amount of vacation time generally perform just as competitively, if not more than Americans.

So… maybe we’re doing it wrong here in the states. Maybe we should invest in more vacation time.

The argument for vacations as a means to actually save money are stronger than you might think, especially in an era where on-the-job stress accounts for the number one reason that employees are dissatisfied with their jobs. This comes as no surprise, especially after a Gallop survey reported that 35% of those surveyed said that job-related stress is “interfering with their family or personal time”. But that’s really just the set-up. The real zinger is a CCH Human Resources Management study that showed that more than almost half of all surveyed employees feel more “rested, rejuvenated, and reconnected to their personal lives” as well as feeling “more productive and better about their jobs”.

Wow. So here’s a thought: maybe—just maybe—working yourself 24/7 is not the right thing to do. Perhaps actually getting outside of the office and soaking up the sun on a beach might help your workflow in the long run, and lower your levels of stress.

The biggest opposition to vacation that I’ve heard here in my office is that trips and traveling simply cost too much. The flight, the expensive suite, the fancy steak dinners and champagne brunches , the touring and sightseeing, all of it adds up. I’m sure that sentiment is echoed by plenty of other middle-class workers, especially in a post-2008 America—but honestly, that shouldn’t stop people from taking vacations.

First of all, there are plenty of group vacation and all-inclusive options. I will be the first to say that even though I’m not living lavishly, I am a staunch advocate for vacationing on a budget and am lucky enough to have a group of friends that are as adamant as I am. From day trip packages in New York (definitely recommended), to the group discounts tickets to concerts at The Gorge, I’ve generally always been able to find a deal.

Second, there’s always stay-at-home decompression options. Staycations can help clear your mind and alleviate the stress that piles up like hour-glass sand. Watch movies with your family, shoot the breeze with your friends, and focus on absolutely anything else other than work. Which brings me to my third, and final point…

STRESS IS THE NUMBER ONE REASON FOR LOSS OF JOB PRODUCTIVITY. Employees who are stressed are more angry and irritable, have poorer memory and quality of work, have more of a struggle managing time, and call in to work sick more often. On top of that, stress is one of the biggest invisible killers in the states, putting millions at higher risk for heart attack and stroke. So just remember that your job? Yes it’s important, but it won’t be if you’re dead.

If you’re still wondering whether or not you should be taking your vacation time this year, let me leave you with this: an article detailing how unlimited vacation policies have helped one company become Inc. 500’s #2 fastest-growing software company, while another recorded 200% growth after said policy’s implementation.

If that’s not reason enough to reconsider investing in a vacation, I don’t know what is.

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Commodity prices continue to rise today and with the recent recession and austerity measures being implemented by company CEOs, perhaps you’re among the millions of people who haven’t had a pay raise in the last couple of years. You ask yourself, “Should I make difficult sacrifices?” Or “Is it time to break the bank?”

In the endless battle between earnings and expenses, you might always think you’re on the losing side. Your buying power is depleting and it might make sense that you now have to lose some of the hobbies you enjoy but, let’s make it simple. Get your priorities straight with this checklist:

Get rid of your vices

Smoking and drinking can cost a lot more than you think. Sure, a Friday night out with the gang is reasonable. Daily drinking is something else. Think of how much you spend on alcoholic drinks and you’ll see how much you can save in a month. Smoking is surely worth quitting, too. Though it may be hard, it will not only save you a lot of money but will also save your health. Think about it.

Groceries

Regularly check group-buying sites for coupons that can help you good deals on grocery items. You can save a lot of money this way. Also if you’re used to branded products, be open-minded and try out the lesser known brands. This is most effective when buying toothpaste, tissue rolls, and cooking oil.

Also, the best way to save on groceries is to grow your own food. If you have the space, a spare pot around your house or apartment, you can plant herbs and spices. Or if you have a whole garden, it’s best that you plant edible fruits and vegetables. This way, you are not only saving money but also ensuring that you consume healthy, GMO-free food.

Utility Bills

Check your appliances at home. Your movie players, radio, microwave ovens –most of them stay “on” when plugged into an electrical outlet. It would be better to buy an auto-voltage regulator or an extension cord with a switch so that you can easily turn off all electric appliances when not using them. You will notice it in your next electric bill when your usage goes down. Make sure that your faucets and showers don’t have leaks too.

For mobile phones, it’s more economical to use messaging apps to make calls and send messages. You will not incur charges this way, unlike when you use your telecom provider’s services. These apps can be used anywhere where there’s Wi-Fi.

Credit Cards and Debt

If you’re knee-deep in credit card debt, it could benefit you to get a loan to pay it off to be able to give yourself some breathing room. Plan your monthly budget, which would include payments for the new loan. Once fully paid, cancel credit cards and apply for a new one. You’ll be able to enjoy their first-time perks and rewards. This is quite easy to do because you can now acquire a credit card online.

Travelling and Vacation

Watch out for promos on cheap flights and cruises! This is the best way to go on a vacation. You can still enjoy the thrill of travelling without burning a hole in your pocket. Travel agencies also offer discounts if you’re going as a group. Convince your friends to come with you, it will be cheaper and more fun. This same method is also useful when you go to work or when you go out. Travel with a group in a carpool and then chip in on expensive gasoline for your gas-guzzling SUV.

One useful reminder:  always be on the watch for promotional offers on free stuff and experiences. It wouldn’t hurt if you join Facebook contests and other social media competitions.

Remember the things on this list, as they will help you increase your savings while you work hard and wait for that coveted work promotion. In this economy, you have to be practical instead of wasteful. It’s not too hard. All you’ve got to do is change your mind-set.

Besides, what exactly is a happy lifestyle? Isn’t it more about being contented with what you have?

 

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Why you should invest in gold in 2013?

Why you should invest in gold in 2013?

by Roman on February 22, 2013

Anyone who watches the markets knows how well gold has done in the past few years. An investment in gold has done much better than equities or real estate in the last couple years. In all reality, most experts would agree that gold has a lot of room to grow in the future. While no investment is guaranteed, you should feel very safe by investing in gold given the current economic and political landscapes. Here are four reasons why you should invest in gold in 2013.

1.Government Policies

Most people are realistic when it comes to our government. Our government leaders from both sides of the aisle have created policies that have brought on economic problems. With the value of the dollar declining, gold is going to have another great year. As our government fails to fix the problems, inflation will start becoming more prevalent, and gold is a great hedge against inflation.

2.No better alternative

When you factor inflation into the mix, equities and real estate have performed poorly in the past decade. It appears that housing is going to be stagnant for at least a few more years. Equities have had a nice run, but valuations are now rich and it appears the market will be heading sideways or down for the foreseeable future. Gold has provided investors with a solid and safe return in the past few years and 2013 looks great for gold.

3.Not making more

Gold is a commodity, and with developing economies growing at a fast pace, gold is necessary. Gold is used in the production of electronics and other goods that people use every day. With the countries of India and China growing at a rapid rate, it has never been a better time to invest in gold.

4.Other governments

Not only is the United States government ignoring the problems, governments around the world are not helping either. All over Europe, Asia and the Middle Easy, governments are printing money in order to avoid recessions. This has a huge effect on currency and the value of currencies. Gold should continue to be a great investment as long as governments around the world are not fixing the problem.

Gold has been a great investment in the past five years. There is no reason why gold will not continue to be a great way to make money. For the foreseeable future, it appears that there will be sufficient problems around the world to merit investing in gold. While there is no guarantee, anyone who invests in gold should do very well over the next decade.

 

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Saving money on gifts and presents

5 Tips to Save Money on Gifts

by Roman on January 22, 2013

Even though we’ve just finished with the biggest gift-giving holiday season of the year, chances are you’ll encounter a gift-giving occasion soon: a birthday, a wedding, a baby shower or a colleague’s retirement party. And when you consider that Valentine’s Day is a only a month away, then graduations are around the next corner, it’s enough to make your wallet nervous!

Never fear. You can still make an effort to give gifts without going broke. Here are a few things to look out for that may help:

1. Clearance items

Especially if you have a kid in school, taking the time to stroll down the clearance aisle every so often will save you lots of money. Consider keeping a gift closet or storage box at home, and stash “classic gifts” you buy on clearance (things like unisex toys, crayons, books or games). For adults, you can find soaps, stationery or other trinkets that make for great gifts in a pinch.

2. Bonus buys

This can include things like gift cards with purchases or doubling of items. For example, if your garage or mechanic offers a gift card with an oil change, pay for your oil change and pass along the gift card. Gifts with purchases (offered by companies like Lancôme on sites like Sephora) include full-size items you can combine with other things to create inventive gifts. Other great bonus buys include “twofers,” or double items within single packaging (coffee cups, CDs or DVDs with other merchandise). If you wish to pair things like this, put them in a basket and top it off with a jaunty bow.

3. Online or mobile codes

Sites like Retail Me Not offer codes that expand your gift giving options. Also, become familiar with your favorite store’s sale cycles. Do they have gift rates for certain seasons,or offer free gift shipping? Remember, the cost of the gift extends beyond the item itself. If you pay $3 for a gift but spend $35 to ship it, have you really saved any money?

4. Magazine subscriptions

Although many people now read their magazines on Kindles or tablets, there is still a market for paper publications, and many of them offer two-for-one subscription rates, so if you know someone who loves a specific magazine, but doesn’t have it delivered to their door, consider gifting them a copy (or 12).


5. Gifts of yourself

Before you envision hokey dyed-macaroni necklaces and misshapen clay consider giving of yourself. Do you have a skill that is highly sought after, like painting, massaging or even dog walking? Even if (especially if) your gift is time, consider how valuable an hour of reading to your grandmother with cataracts would be. Fashion a little gift book on your printer or head to Kinkos and kick in the $.05 for the envelope. It will be priceless.

It really is the thought that counts when gift giving. Taking the time to choose something that will be appreciated is a gesture that speaks volumes — and you won’t necessarily have to break the bank to do it!

About the Author:

Mandy Fricke submitted this post. She works in community relations for Earn MBA Degree, which helps you explore MBA degrees. Outside of work Mandy enjoys biking, reading and traveling.

 

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