25 Ways to Improve Your Finances in 2016
Get on a great financial track with these tweaks to your money habits.
A new year often inspires new habits, including financial ones. If you want to put yourself on a path to build wealth throughout the year, then consider these 25 steps, all of which are designed to help you rein in spending and work toward greater financial security. They include both offensive moves, like saving more, as well as defensive ones, like protecting yourself from identity thieves.
1. Set your goals early and share them.
Sharing financial goals with friends – and even strangers through social media – can help you articulate just what those goals are and also hold you accountable. Indeed, research on goal-setting suggests that making public statements about goals helps people commit to them, whether they be money or health related. As 2016 kicks off, consider sharing your goals on Facebook, Twitter or a social goal-setting site like Linkagoal.
If you're stuck, flipping through images can help inspire and focus goal-setting, says Ellen Rogin, a financial services professional and co-author of "Picture Your Prosperity: Smart Money Moves to Turn Your Vision into Reality." She encourages people to flip through motivational images such as beaches and sailboats when planning their retirement. This exercise is especially useful for partners to make sure they're on the same page.
2. Guard against identity theft.
Identity thieves can steal not just your money but also your identity, which allows them to create new, fraudulent accounts in your name. The cost can add up to tens of thousands of dollars as well as hours of your time trying to rectify the situation.
One of the most common online identity theft methods is for an attacker to send an email with a hyperlink that leads victims to an official-looking site that requests personal information. People can be fooled into sharing their names, addresses, credit card numbers and even Social Security numbers this way. To keep yourself safe, avoid clicking on unfamiliar URLs sent to you via email, even if at first glance they appear to be from your bank or a retailer.
3. Get more out of your workplace benefits.
If you're lucky enough to have a job with benefits, then it pays to make sure you're getting as much out of them as possible. Aside from salary, take a close look at available retirement accounts (making sure to pick up any matching benefits), flexible spending accounts, financial literacy programs and wellness support, which can include free counseling. Health insurance and disability insurance can also help protect your finances in the long term.
4. Use tools to help you save more.
Apps can make it easier to protect bank accounts from fraud and save more money, and it can pay to use them. Some of the best entrants in the field include BillGuard, an app that flags potential fraudulent charges or errors, and Key Ring, which collects your loyalty cards digitally, so you can snag savings even if you leave your cards at home.
Other useful financial tools include PriceGrabber and RedLaser, which help you quickly compare prices when shopping online or in stores, and PriceBlink, a browser add-on that lets you know if there is a lower price elsewhere online. Mint offers a free budgeting tool to help you track your spending, and You Need a Budget is another good option.
5. Become more financially literate.
Financial literacy is a key factor when it comes to adults building wealth over time, according to research at the University of Massachusetts. If people understand basic concepts when it comes to saving, investing and compound interest, then they are more likely to sit on a significant nest egg as they get older. That's why making an effort to educate yourself, whether through workplace education programs or online tutorials, can pay off.
6. Get on the same financial page as your partner.
Coordinating your spending and saving habits with your partner can not only lead to a smoother relationship, it can also mean more money in your joint bank accounts. The blogging couple Derek and Carrie Olsen of derekandcarrie.com suggest holding a monthly get-together to review finances and to share one bank account, which can ease coordination. They also advocate developing a five-year plan, which can help guide daily choices.
7. Simplify your digital life.
If you're often tempted by emails promising amazing deals and killer savings, then you might want to consider unsubscribing from the dozens of retailer email lists you may have unknowingly signed up for. The tool Unroll.Me makes it easy; with a few clicks you can either unsubscribe or opt for a daily "Rollup" email that you can peruse at your leisure, instead of constantly getting pinged by unimportant emails all day long.
8. Prepare your money to age well.
As you get older and prepare to retire, it's important to make sure your money will last. That means ensuring your investments are in a portfolio that's aggressive enough to outpace inflation and reviewing your budget for any big leaks. You can also ask your bank what services they have in place to protect older adults from fraud.
9. Learn from millennial spending habits.
Millennials might still be at the relative beginning of their financial journeys, but they have some useful habits to teach the rest of us. Young consumers who experienced the Great Recession as they were coming of age tend to be savvy shoppers, maximizing coupons and savings. They also cut costs by taking on DIY projects and prioritizing expenses that are most important to them, like travel.
10. Spend less on food.
Food might be one constant in our budgets, but there are still ways to trim those costs. Buying in bulk, cooking at home as much as possible and cooking meals that can be stored in the freezer for later are among the smart strategies. By planning meals and keeping perishable items visible at the front of your fridge, you can also help minimize waste.
11. Pay off expensive debt.
If you're still carrying around expensive debt in the form of credit card debt or other loans, then it's time to make a plan to pay it off. In "The Debt Escape Plan," author Beverly Harzog suggests doing just that by setting specific targets for yourself (for example, pay off one credit card by April) and getting the support you need in the form of a credit counselor if necessary. You might also want to look for ways to scale back spending while simultaneously earning more money, which can then be put toward the debt.
12. Know how to start over if you need to.
If you've had a rough 2015 and 2016 is about rebuilding, then you might want to focus on prioritizing savings and re-establishing your credit, especially if it has been destroyed by previous troubles, like filing for bankruptcy. Financial experts suggest going slow, making on-time monthly payments, to eventually reach a higher credit score.
13. Use social media to improve your finances.
Facebook and Twitter aren't all fun and games; social media tools can also help you manage your finances. Tweeting to a retailer about a customer service concern is one of the fastest ways to get a response (or even a refund), and fleshing out your LinkedIn profile can help you land new clients or a new job. You can also check your Facebook "about" section to make sure you're not revealing details relevant to banking security questions that could make it easier for someone to hack into your account.
14. Improve your credit score.
Giving your credit score a boost can help you land a better interest rate on your mortgage or a new car loan. To improve it, you can start by paying off debt, requesting a credit line increase and always making on-time payments. Late payments and a high debt-to-credit line ratio can hurt your score.
15. Spend less on clothes.
Clothing can be a giant money suck, but there are ways to limit spending without sacrificing your style. Buying slightly off-season gear, swapping gently used clothes with friends and using rental sites like Rent the Runway for formal events can all help reduce costs.
16. Max out your retirement savings.
If you didn't meet your retirement savings goals in 2015, then you'll want to be sure to do so in 2016. If you have access to a 401(k) through work, then you can set it up to automatically deduct a certain percentage from your paycheck. Otherwise, you can check on your eligibility for an IRA account.
17. Prepare your finances for natural (and man-made) disasters.
A bad storm or power outage can leave your financial life in disarray. To prepare for any kind of unexpected disaster, you can come up with a plan for alternate housing, prepare an emergency kit and keep nonperishable food on hand. If you don't have access to heat or running water, you'll want to make sure you can still keep your family fed.
18. Manage household finances better.
Money can get more complicated as your family grows. Using an app like HomeBudget can make it easier to share expenditure information with your spouse. HelloWallet's emergency savings calculator is also useful to see if you have enough savings on hand to get you through a difficult period.
19. Plug money leaks.
Paying more than you need to for transportation, especially if you frequently use Uber or taxis, splurging on name-brand products and going out to dinner are among the common money leaks cited by financial advisors. To plug those holes in your budget, take a close look at what you spent money on over the last month by scrutinizing receipts or your credit card statement, and pick some areas to cut back on.
20. Check up on your insurance policies.
Life insurance is not particularly fun to take out, but it is an essential part of safeguarding your (and your family's) financial security, especially if you are the primary breadwinner. Reviewing your policies once a year to make sure they are in good standing and you have enough coverage is a good idea. You can also check if you have options to take out supplemental coverage through your workplace.
21. Calculate your net worth.
Knowing your net worth is a key step toward building it, so take some time, at least once a year, to crunch some numbers. Run through your current assets and liabilities to figure out your current net worth, and then you can work on building from there.
22. Reflect on your money beliefs.
Sometimes, building your wealth has to start by confronting deep-seated fears and beliefs around money. Perhaps your upbringing led you to believe that you can't enjoy earning money, or you don't deserve to have a big bank account, so you sabotage yourself with actions that ultimately hurt your finances. Exploring those long-held beliefs and massaging them can help you make smarter money decisions.
23. Rebalance your investments regularly.
If you invest too conservatively, then your money might not keep up with inflation. Meanwhile, if you are overly aggressive, swings in the market could lead to a loss of assets at an inconvenient time, like shortly before retirement. Review your portfolio at least once a year to make sure you have the right mix for you; a financial advisor can also help.
24. Take advantage of freebies.
You might be surrounded by free items and not even realize it: Local museums, libraries, public parks and outdoor concerts are often all around, but you might be overlooking them. Taking advantage of those freebies can help cut your entertainment costs.
25. Carpe diem.
As important as it is to save money, it's also important to spend it in ways that bring you joy before it's too late. That's why financial advisors recommend traveling in retirement before health issues make it too challenging and spending as much time with family members as possible.
Great Winter Festivals: January Edition
Enjoy the chilly season with snow sculptures, ice castles, sleigh rides and lots of hot chocolate.
True northerners don't let cold weather keep them indoors, not when they could be out on the ice playing broomball and bowling turkeys.
Many festivals in winter are held on frozen lakes, the best place for kite-flying, ice golf and hot-air balloon lift-offs. In northern Minnesota, an ice-house city goes up on Leech Lake for the goofy Eelpout Festival in February.
In parks, elaborate ice and snow sculptures entertain passersby. On rivers, buses take tourists to see bald eagles. Bonfires and hot chocolate are offered everywhere.
Below are some of the fun festivals going on around the region in 2016.
Always check before you go to verify dates and to make sure you catch the best parts of a festival, especially the parades.
Second weekend of January
The Big Chill in Racine, WI Watch the pros at Wisconsin's state snow-sculpting competition. There's ice-carving, too. Jan. 8–10.
Bald Eagle Days in Rock Island, IL At the Quad Cities Expo Center, there's an environmental fair, with flying demonstrations by eagles, hawks and owls and many other events. Jan. 8–10.
Breezy Point Ice Fest in Breezy Point, MN This Brainerd Lakes resort village celebrates with free horse-drawn trolley rides, hot-air balloon rides, dog-sled rides, snow golf, a candlelight ski and fireworks. Jan. 8–9.
Sleigh & Cutter Rally in Ashland, WI Antique sleighs and drivers in 19th-century costumes gather at Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center and offer rides. Jan. 9.
Jack Frost Fest in Spooner, WI There's turkey bowling, minnow races, an antique snowmobile show and a family snowshoe hike in this western Wisconsin town. Jan. 9.
International Festival in Madison, WI Dancers, musicians, storytellers and puppeteers representing traditions from around the world converge on the Overture Center for the Arts on State Street for this free festival. There's also food and a global bazaar. Jan. 9.
SISU Ski Fest in Ironwood, MI This Finnish fest includes a 10K Taste N Tour with four food stations showcasing Yooper cuisine, three snowshoe races, kids' races, a free Finnish reggae concert Saturday and 21K and 42K races through historic mining areas, scenic bluffs and along the Montreal River. Jan. 9.
Winter Festival in La Farge, WI Visit the Kickapoo Valley Reserve for horse-drawn wagon rides, guided snowshoe and ice-cave hikes, winter games and a sled-dog race. Jan. 9.
Bald Eagle Watch in Clinton, IA Two Mississippi River towns host this event, with live-eagle and nature programs at Iowa's Clinton Community College and free bus service to Lock & Dam 13 in Fulton, Ill. Jan. 9.
Gunflint Mail Run sled-dog race in Gunflint Trail, MN Mushers travel two legs of 50 miles, starting and ending at the Trail Center Lodge on the Central Gunflint Trail. Jan. 9–10.
Third weekend of January
Winterfest in Mackinaw City, MI There's a snow-sculpting competition, sleigh rides, a poker run and outhouse races. Jan. 14–17.
Bald Eagle Watching Days in Prairie du Sac, WI This town along the Wisconsin River, next to a hydroelectric plant, offers guided bus tours, birds of prey programs and a radio-tracking demonstration. Jan. 15–16.
Janboree in Waukesha, WI The fest in this Milwaukee suburb includes Friday-night fireworks, ice sculptures, wagon rides, a dog weight pull and tobogganing on the lighted run in Lowell Park. Jan. 15–17.
Isthmus Beer & Cheese Fest in Madison, WI A celebration of Wisconsin's greatest products at Alliant Energy Center, with plenty to sample. Tickets sell out, so buy early. Jan. 16.
Bald Eagle Appreciation Days in Keokuk, IA There's live-eagle presentations, Native American activities, demonstrations and viewing on the river. Jan. 16–17.
Fourth weekend of January
Frostbite Olympics in Algona, IA The festival in this north-central Iowa town features snowmobile rides, ice races, snow kickball and a treasure mountain for kids. Jan. 21–23.
Hunter Ice Festival in Niles, MI This festival in the southwest tip of the state, named for a turn-of-the-century ice-harvesting business, features more than 150 ice sculptures and a competition. Jan. 22–24.
Restaurant Week in Chicago, IL Time to pack on the calories: More than 250 restaurants offer three-course prix-fixe menus for $22 at lunch and $33-$44 at dinner. Jan. 22–Feb. 4.
Winterfest in Amana, IA Go on a wine walk or scavenger hunt or compete in ham-throwing, log-sawing, the Amana Freezer Run/Walk, snowshoeing or for the best beard. There will be ice sculptures, storytelling and schnitzel-sampling, too. Jan. 23.
Fifth weekend of January
Restaurant Week in Chicago, IL Time to pack on the calories: More than 250 restaurants offer three-course prix-fixe menus for $22 at lunch and $33-$44 at dinner. Jan. 22–Feb. 4.
Winter Games in Lake Okoboji, IA This resort area in northwest Iowa will offer human sled races, flag football on ice, indoor golf, a Freeze Yer Fanny Bike Ride, snowman painting, a chili cookoff and fireworks. Jan. 28–31.
Winterfest in Grand Haven, MI In this Lake Michigan town, there's a human sled race, cardboard sled race, luau, and snow-angel contest. Jan. 28–31.
Winter Carnival in St. Paul, MN See ice sculptures in Rice Park (go early if it's warm), the Grande Day parade and the Torchlight Parade, followed by fireworks, the overthrow of King Boreas and the Vulcan Victory Dance. Jan. 28–Feb. 7.
WinterFest in Rochester, MN This southern Minnesota city offers a cardboard sled race, figure-skating competitions and a candlelight ski. Jan. 28–Feb. 14.
Celebration of the Lakes in Center City, MN This Chisago Lakes festival on North Center Lake includes snowmobile races, an ice-fishing tournament, sled-dog rides and a free ice-fishing clinic for kids. Jan. 29–31.
Schnee Days in Elkhart Lake, WI The Snow Days festival in this town in east-central Wisconsin includes a hunt for colored ice cubes, dog sledding and a chili cook-off. Jan. 29–31.
Art Sled Rally in Minneapolis, MN Watch sledders or ride down a decorated hill at Powderhorn Park in your own wacky sled, which you can make at home or at free workshops at Powderhorn Park Community Center. There's also live music and hot chocolate. Jan. 30.
Norge Ski Jumping Tournament in Fox River Grove, IL See some of the nation's best jumpers compete in this northwest Chicago suburb. Jan. 30–31.
Groundhog Days in Woodstock, IL The 1993 movie "Groundhog Day'' was filmed in this town an hour northwest of Chicago, and it celebrates with storytelling, a bachelor auction and tours of movie sites, including the 1889 Opera House, where Bill Murray jumped from the belfry. At 7:07 a.m. Tuesday, Woodstock Willie will look for his shadow. Jan. 30–Feb. 2.
Eagle Watch Weekend in Utica, IL There will be eagle viewing and family activities at Starved Rock State Park Visitors Center, Starved Rock Lodge and, across the river, the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center. Trolleys connect the three venues. Jan. 30–31.
John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon in Duluth, MN Watch the start of the marathon to the Gunflint Trail and the mid-distance race to Tofte. Jan. 31.
Security Q-Tip: Should You Trust Apps That Access Your Credit Card Information?
Take these steps recommended by security experts to protect your finances when downloading new apps.
Mobile payments are hot. In fact, Forrester Research predicts that U.S. mobile payments will reach $142 billion by 2019. At the same time, though, recent data hacks have made consumers increasingly aware of how vulnerable their personal and financial information really is. So, when it comes to smartphones, should you trust apps that access your credit card information?
No, says Pat Carroll, founder and chairman of ValidSoft, a London-based company that uses biometrics (human characteristics like voice recognition) to help companies validate customer transactions.
"You should not give your credit card information through any app," Carroll says. "You can't trust apps, not even apps that are coming from legitimate sources. Information has been increasingly accessed by hackers, and the volume of [security fixes] that are delivered on a daily basis is astronomical."
However, other experts U.S. News interviewed felt more mixed on this question.
"These apps are not created equal, so the answer is it really depends on what apps we're talking about," says Shaun Murphy, founder of the technology firm PrivateGiant and a former government security consultant. Despite a few hiccups when Apple Pay launched, Murphy says the mobile payment option is trustworthy. "It is more secure than pulling out a credit card from my wallet," he says.
As Robert Siciliano, identity theft expert with BestIDTheftCompanys.com, says, "the weakest link is not what's going on the app. It's what's going on in a retail establishment where you hand over your credit card." Physical credit cards are susceptible to theft; for instance, a restaurant server can steal the numbers when the card is out of sight, skimmers at an ATM or gas station can compromise a customer's credit card or a company server storing customer's payment information can get hacked.
For other apps that access credit card information (for instance, a retailer's payment app or apps that allow in-app purchases), Murphy urges consumers to find out if their information is stored just on their phone or on the company's server. "When you type in your credit card information, theoretically that could be stored on your phone or in the cloud on company servers," he says. "If you put it in on your iPad and then you go into a different device and you can pay with that too, that's being stored on their server. That always worries me. At any point in time it could be hacked."
Money-tracking apps such as Mint and BillGuard represent another breed of apps that access your credit card information, not for purposes of making a payment but for helping you stay on top of your finances. Do the potential benefits outweigh the potential risks? "Any app that can keep you in tune with your financial life is a good thing," Siciliano says. "As far as their security, generally these apps are designed to make you aware and keep you secure."
If you do give mobile apps access to your financial information, consider this advice.
- Secure your phone. Many consumers adopt a laissez-faire attitude to smartphone security, Carroll says. "With our mobile phone, we seem to be less worried about attacks," he says. "People who would never click on a suspicious link within their tablet or laptop will click on their smartphone. It's become a huge target for hackers." For all smartphone users – and especially those who allow apps to access their credit card information – don't click suspicious links, keep your browser updated so it has the latest security features and passcode-protect your phone in case it's lost or stolen (you can also set up the ability to disable it remotely in case of theft or loss).
- Research the app. "Never just automatically trust [an app]," Siciliano says, adding that you can read the app's terms of service to find out what data the app can access and whether it can share or resell that information to third parties. How many app users actually do this? "I don't know of a sane person that can or would besides an attorney," Siciliano admits. "You can Google search and say 'terms of service,' 'name of the company' and 'review' [to] see if anybody's done a review." You might be surprised to discover how much information a basic free app accesses. In some cases, it could retain the right to resell the photos stored on your phone. "Apps are geared to solicit as much data from you as possible … because data has a price," Carroll says.
- Use credit over debit. A compromised credit card is no picnic, but a compromised debit card can be even worse. "If someone gets your checking account access, they could drain your checking account," Murphy says. "It could be days of checks bouncing." The protections afforded by credit cards often make them a better option for mobile payments.
- Set up credit card alerts. Notifications from your credit card company via text or email can alert you to a problem immediately. "Every credit card today offers some sort of notification service that will make you aware of charges in excess of, say $10, every time there's a charge in excess of $10," Siciliano says.
- Monitor your statements. Credit card thieves often first try small transactions to verify a card's legitimacy, so those might not trigger an alert. Therefore, you should check your credit card statements for any dubious charges. "In the end, whether it's a physical transaction or a [mobile] transaction, the most important thing is to check your statements and be aware of charges," Siciliano says.
Q-Tips are provided by Coulee Bank's IT Network Risk Manager, Quentin Fisher. He is always on the lookout for ways to keep our customers' information safe, here at the bank, and at work and home.
Important Money Tips for Older Adults Going Back to College
Returning to college, or going for the first time, can be harder than the course work itself, as Cliff Robertson, Jr., of Tyler, Texas, is discovering, in large part because he refuses to go into debt to pay for school.
"It's requiring every penny I can scrape up, applying for every program even remotely available. Then there are the bills of life that simply do not stop," says the 49-year-old, who attends the University of Texas–Tyler.
This is his second go-around with the university. Robertson graduated in 1991 with a communications and media degree. But he returned to his alma mater this summer to work toward a masters in clinical mental health counseling, while juggling a job in administration and sales for a local manufacturer and work as a part-time youth pastor.
"It's tough to balance," Robertson says, of all his commitments. He lost his first wife and little girl in a car accident 15 years ago, but has a 24-year-old son and now a grandson. Robertson also has an 8-year-old son from a second marriage that ended in divorce. "Going to see him while trying to stay on top of a 19-hour course load while working is tough. But I'm somehow managing … most of the time."
It isn't surprising that adults like Robertson are interested in going back to college, no matter the sacrifice or stress. After all, the more you learn, the more you earn. Plus, life is short, and you may really feel like you're missing out by not pursuing higher education.
"I chose this path because I am committed to helping people. It's my calling," Robertson says.
But returning to college is fraught with financial danger. It isn't only the expense; you have so many more responsibilities to juggle, much more than when you were young and naive and unappreciative of your freedom and flexibility. Toying with the idea of going back to school? Want the experience to go well? Study up on the following.
Understand that college degrees don't always mean big bucks. Yes, an advanced degree should help you earn more, but don't forget: Your success may depend on what you're studying. For instance, a 2012 census report concluded that engineering majors had the highest earnings of any bachelor's degree field, bringing in $92,000 a year in 2011. But if you were going to major in, say, education, psychology or communications, your median annual earnings would be $55,000 – or less.
Or you could have bad luck and not find a great job. This isn't to discourage anyone – there's a lot to be said for getting an education for the sake of an education – but if you're going to take this on, you want to do it right, especially if you are going to be steeped in the world of student loans.
"Older students should be more cautious about borrowing to pay for college," says Mark Kantrowitz, senior vice president and publisher at Edvisors.com, an informational website about college costs. He has also authored college-cost books, including, "Filing the FAFSA."
Research student debt. The rule of thumb, Kantrowitz says, is that "total student debt at graduation should be less than your expected annual starting salary."
If that's the case, he says, you should be able to repay your student loans in 10 years or less.
Kantrowitz also mentions that if you're 24 or older, as of December 31 of the academic year, you're automatically considered independent for federal student aid purposes.
"This may qualify them for more financial aid, since parent information is not required on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid," or FAFSA, he says.
He also advises older and nontraditional students to apply for financial aid just as dependent students would.
"Use a free scholarship matching service, such as StudentScholarshipSearch.com or Fastweb.com, to search for scholarships," Kantrowitz says.
Also consider going to a private college or university, says Alejandra Mojica, a 31-year-old public relations intern in San Francisco who is completing her Bachelor of Arts at the University of San Francisco.
"Although the tuition is higher, they often have better financial aid packages, and other tuition assistance can be much easier to access than with public universities," says Mojica.
Assume you'll be trimming your budget. Mojica had gone to community college in 2002 and then went off and on over the years. But mostly, she was off the college grid. Having a daughter made going to school tough, though Mojica admits, "I also wasn't that interested in going to school for a while."
She earned a living by working for nonprofit organizations in her community and eventually rethought her decision not to get a college degree. So four years ago, she started college again, and, unsurprisingly, had to make some adjustments to her budget. She ended up quitting her job, enrolling in school full time and moving in with her family.
Not that you necessarily need to be drastic when you scale back your budget, and maybe you shouldn't be too quick to cut everything. Mojica regrets not holding onto her apartment.
"With the rent in the Bay Area right now, I can't get anything close to what I had before for the price I had," she says.
Lindy Spurgeon, a development manager for a marketing firm in St. Louis, who is recently divorced and, at age 31, recently started at Webster University, majoring in international relations, also sliced her budget dramatically.
Government loans, grants and scholarships are covering much of her college education, but Spurgeon is on the hook for $3,000 of each semester's tuition. So she applied for a credit card with no interest for 12 months and managed to find $500 in her budget to cut – mostly by cutting back on restaurant meals and monthly subscriptions like the gym. She put the $3,000 fall semester tuition on her credit card, which she'll pay down every month in sums of $500. In another semester, with the $3,000 paid off, she'll do it all again.
It has been tricky.
"I had to completely rework my budget that didn't really have a lot of wiggle room to begin with," Spurgeon says.
But it's working for her, and Spurgeon is excited about her future. "I'm very passionate about human rights and the plight of refugees," she says. "My hope is to work with immigrants and refugees by helping them get accustomed to the cultures where they are moving."
Mojica is excited, too. "The experience has been incredible," she says. "When you go back to school as an adult it can be hard to adjust but you learn in such a different way. You are more focused, you have more life experience to apply to what you are learning, and you likely have more direction with what you want to do with your degree after graduation."
But, again, that's assuming it all goes to plan, and the older you get, arguably the harder it gets.
"The dedication needed is overwhelming," Robertson says. "The inclination to quit is huge. All the things pulling you in different directions seem like they are out to tear you apart."
Which is why you really, really want to be committed, if you're going to attempt this.
"After money problems, conflicts between school, work and home are the number one reason why students drop out of college," Kantrowitz says.
Which means you still don't have a college degree – just a lot of student debt.
Business Corner: The 5 Biggest Business Trends for 2016
How many of these trends are you already using to your business' advantage?
They say there's nothing new under the sun. Well, whoever "they" are, they likely never tried to build a business. Because in business it's always about finding something new that somehow allows you to differentiate and capture an advantage-fleeting though it may be. So, for 2016 here are five critical trends that will give you that edge. And if you find yourself saying, "Hey, that's not new!" you may want to reconsider because all too often we look at the future through the lens of the past, and that's a great way to miss the biggest opportunities!
One of the greatest opportunities in how we build and scale businesses is coming from the emergence of an obscure new model that's being called a Business Ecosystems. Simply defined a business ecosystem is an orchestrated set of capabilities across digitally connected businesses and consumers that creates entirely new value. Ecosystems form a platform on which you can easily do business, but only if you can plug into that platform. Take for example Apple's App Store. Better yet, think of it this way; the ecosystem business model is to commerce what telecommunications was to globalization. Both create a universal platform on which you can build unimagined new value and both are absolutely critical if you intend to compete. The difference is that business ecosystems involve much more than just a superficial connections; they cut deeply into nearly every aspect of how a business builds products, services, and customer experiences- to the point where the very notion of organizational boundaries begins to disintegrate.
Datafication is the ability to understand and predict behaviors through the availability of massive amounts of realtime data. But don't confuse this with Big Data, which is great for analytics but doesn't necessarily help to take action in the instant that an opportunity exists. Some of the best examples are real-time GPS, such as WAZE, that factor real-time traffic patterns, weather, and road conditions into the best route, and adjust that route in the moment. Companies such as Confluent are using a form of datafication called "streams" to help Netflix, Uber, and LinkedIn make real-time recommendations to users. With more computing devices projected by 2100 than there are grains of sand on all the world's beaches, we are moving towards a hyperconnected reality that will breed entirely new categories of datafied products and services.
The Frictionless Economy
The most successful businesses-whether Tesla or Google, Amazon or Netflix, Uber or MoDe, Alibaba or Samsung, Nest or Climate Corporation, GE or Discovery Health, Oculus or Oracle all reflect the new competitive reality that the most opportune markets for disruption are those that have the greatest organic friction. That's because these markets have evolved organically over time; none of them were ever really architected, they just sort of incremental and haphazardly grew. Uber is one of the best examples. Virtually everyone who's ever ridden in a cab has bemoaned all of the archaic aspects of the experience, from the sorry state of cabs to the ridiculous fee structures, to the cost of medallions, to the haphazard quality of the drivers. Yet, we accepted it all as just a part of a system that had grown up that way; the friction was there but none dared to reconstruct an industry so mired in legacy. The same is true of some of the biggest challenges that face us in healthcare, education, and financial services. All have evolved into arcane mazes of policy and procedure that make little sense from the vantage point of the ultimate consumer. In the same way that you can't get over a certain MPG using an internal combustion engine and you instead need to change the entire platform, as did Tesla, the single biggest area of economic growth will be in rebuilding these industries as entirely new frictionless platforms.
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)
The IoT, or the Internet of Things, has been front and center during 2015. From smart homes to connected cars, we are experiencing first-hand the consumer face of the IoT. But the bigger trend is the evolution of connected machines to machines. This is the single fastest growing number of Internet connections, eclipsing the person to person, and person to machine connections being created by nearly one order of magnitude. There are 10 billion user computing devices in the world and more than 100 billion connected machines.
But connections are just the start. The real opportunity is in how these machines are evolving into new forms of intelligence. Forget "lights out" factories and think "lights out innovation!" The IIoT will alter the nature of business in ways that will make the industrial revolution look like a speed bump on the road towards automation. Imagine supply chains that are self-organizing, AI controlled marketing and advertising, predictive models for not only how factories operate but what they actually produce. Far fetched? Not really! Companies such as GE and E2Open are already creating autonomic engines that drive markets and reconstitute supply chains without any human intervention.
We've all heard about Emotional Intelligence, the ability to be self-aware of how behaviors and actions impact on others. What few of us are as aware of is the emergence of Conversational intelligence, the understanding of how conversations actually rewire our DNA and brain chemistry. There are 30 years of deep research in this field and we are just beginning to understand how critical conversation is to actually shaping our biology. So why is this increasing in importance? Simple; most of our conversations are now in digital form. Many of us have long since passed the point where over 50% of our daily communication happens online. The science of understanding what this means and how to effectively harness digital conversations to create and reinforce trust, collaboration, and alignment among teams is one of the most important challenges as we move towards a globally connected human population where the notion of face to face becomes an increasingly smaller slice of how we interact and create value. Check out the book by Judith Glaser on Conversational Intelligence.
Five New Year's Resolutions That Will Change Your Life
We all likely have many more than five goals we'd like to accomplish this year, but in keeping with the lean mentality, I'll keep things simple and give you just five, which, if done mindfully can have dramatic ripple effects on your health, happiness and professional success—and perhaps all the other goals you've set for yourself.
1: Smile more. It is well known among social psychologists now that the simple act of smiling can make you happier and healthier, even if your smile is a forced one—so practice more in 2016! This effect apparently happens for two main reasons. According to the facial feedback hypothesis, smiling activates the release of dopamine, endorphins and serotonin, neurotransmitters that help reduce stress and elicit positive emotions. In other words, while your brain usually controls your muscles, your muscles (i.e., smiling!) can actually influence your brain. In essence, the brain senses the flexion of our facial muscles and, concluding that we must be happy about something, starts to make us feel happier.
Smiling works for another more obvious reason—it is contagious, literally. According to a Swedish study, when people are exposed to emotional facial expressions, they tend to unconsciously mimic those expressions, positive or negative, which as just discussed may influence their emotions. The key takeaway: when you smile, you may appear more inviting, attractive, relaxed and sincere to others. And when you don't smile, the impression you give may be the opposite. (For other great tips on how changing your body language can have a profound impact on your life, check out Amy Cuddy's TED Talk.)
2: Maintain a health and fitness regimen. The health impacts of regular physical exercise are widely known (and very important to your success as a leader). But, in addition to reducing stress, fighting disease and improving mood, energy and sleep, getting regular exercise and eating healthier can also make you appear to be a better leader. In fact, according to Harvard Business Review, healthy-looking individuals are perceived as better leaders than even intelligent-looking people.
3: Schedule personal time. That's right, schedule your personal time. Many of us are used to scheduling, but for some reason only seem to do so in the context of work (e.g., meetings, project deadlines, etc.). However, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that the most productive people are not actually the busiest but rather those who prioritize their free time—for personal passions, for family, for activities completely unrelated to their jobs.
As reported by Fast Company, social networking company Draugiem Group recently used the productivity app DeskTime to determine which habits distinguished their most productive employees from everyone else. They discovered that the top 10% of their most productive employees not only didn't put in longer hours than anyone else but also didn't even work full eight-hour days. Instead, they took 17-minute breaks for every 52 minutes worked, spending those breaks completely away from their work and email.
What the Draugiem Group results show is something that researchers have increasingly been concluding: that the best way to improve performance and focus is to reserve time to refresh yourself. In the New Year, schedule time for family, friends and passions. Your work will improve, your relationships will improve, and you never know what meaningless knowledge you'll accumulate in the process—of scuba, Star Trek, baking, or any other hobby—that will help you form great new relationships.
4. Don't commit to things you can't do. There's quite a bit of literature out there about the fake-it-until-you-make-it mentality—that is, committing to things outside your comfort zone in an effort to grow and improve. But in this case, I'm referring more to those activities you just know you can't do. Can't make it to dinner with your friend next week but prefer to say 'maybe' so you can delay the disappointment? Just say you can't. Not overextending yourself will save you time and consternation down the road, and when you do commit, you'll actually follow through—and become known as a person whose word means something.
5. Use your calendar. One of the best ways to stay on top of your goals is to schedule—relentlessly. Managing your to-do list in an online calendar will help you miss fewer deadlines, keep you organized, and ensure that you are prioritizing your most important tasks. Key non-work items to schedule include seeing family and friends, reading the news and books, engaging in personal hobbies and checking personal finances.
The point is to think of your personal to-do list the way a software development team might think of an agile project, breaking large tasks into incremental, iterative projects and continuously evaluating whether you must reprioritize. Get your time management app or calendar of choice, assign a time to your tasks and then continuously prioritize based on importance. Countless interviews suggest that the most successful CEOs are often the ones who most actively manage their to-dos.
Don't Just Set, Maintain
Success with resolutions, as with business objectives, isn't merely about setting goals but maintaining them. Come up with your own system to periodically monitor your progress and assess whether a change in strategy is necessary. That requires will power, discipline and a fluctuation in mindset between living in the moment and planning.
And, sure, you can have a much longer list of goals this year, but these five resolutions are about creating overall alignment—between your goals and reality, and between your identity and others' perceptions of you—and becoming a more well-rounded leader with a 360-degree understanding of yourself and consequently your organization.
Coulee Investment Center: The Phases of Retirement: Updating Your Finances for Your Changing Lifestyle
LPL Financial Advisor
Although many Americans now plan for a retirement up to 20 years, your retirement may last much longer.
Believe it or not, living nearly a century may someday soon be almost commonplace. As a result, rather than thinking of retirement as the final stage of life, a more realistic approach may be to view it as a progression of phases, such as early, middle, and late. This involves taking a fresh look at retiree expenses and income, as well as withdrawal and estate planning strategies.
The Need for Flexible Planning
Traditionally, retirees were advised to project income needs over the length of time of retirement, add on an annual adjustment for inflation, and then identify any potential income shortfall. But the planning required may not be that linear. For example, research suggests that some retirees' expenses -- other than health care -- may slowly decrease over time.
That means many retirees -- depending on personal expenses -- may need more income early in their retirement than later. That's why it's critical not just to determine a sustainable withdrawal rate at the outset of retirement but also to periodically evaluate that withdrawal rate.
Or consider another trend: The desire to remain active means many people are continuing to work part time or starting new businesses in retirement. In fact, some psychologists and gerontologists believe that many people don't really want to retire, but instead want to reinvent themselves through a mixture of work and leisure. As a result, more older men and women may be inclined to jump back into the workforce - and possibly enjoy the most productive years of their lives.
Early Years: Income and Tax Decisions
Keep in mind that adding employment earnings to your retirement "paycheck" requires careful planning because it may impact other sources of retirement income or bump you into a higher tax bracket. For example, in 2014 retirees who collect Social Security before the year of their full retirement age will see their benefits cut $1 for every $2 earned above $15,480. Also, depending on adjusted gross income, you might have to pay taxes on up to 85% of benefits, according to the Social Security Administration.
The need to potentially stretch out income over a longer period than previous generations also means that some people may not want to tap Social Security when they're first eligible. Consider that for each year you delay taking Social Security beyond your full retirement age until age 70, you'll receive a benefit increase of 6% to 8%, depending on your age. One caveat: If you do decide to delay collecting Social Security, you may want to sign up for Medicare at age 65 to avoid possibly paying more for medical insurance later.
Also plan ahead as to how you'll pay for health care costs not covered by Medicare as you age. Remember that Medicare does not pay for ongoing long-term care or assisted living and that qualifying for Medicaid requires spending down your assets.
If you have accumulated assets in qualified employer-sponsored retirement plans, now may be the time to decide whether to roll that money into a tax-deferred IRA, which could make managing your investments easier. A tax and financial pro can also help you decide which accounts to tap first at this point in your post-retirement planning -- a situation that could significantly affect your financial situation.
Finally, don't overlook any pension assets in which you may be vested, especially if you changed employers over the course of your career. Pensions can supply you with regular income for life. Annuities may also play a role in helping you generate steady income.1
Middle Years: Distributions and Lifestyle Realities
By April 1 of the year after you reach age 70½, you'll generally be required to begin making annual withdrawals from traditional IRAs and employer-sponsored retirement plans (except for assets in a current employer's retirement plan if you're still working and do not own more than 5% of the business you work for). The penalty for not taking your required minimum distribution (RMD) can be steep: fifty percent of what you should have withdrawn. Withdrawals from Roth IRAs, however, are not required during the owner's lifetime. If money is not needed for income and efficient wealth transfer is a goal, a Roth IRA may be an attractive option.
Also, consider reviewing the asset allocation of your investment portfolio. Does it have enough growth potential to keep up with inflation? Is it adequately diversified among different types of stocks and income-generating securities?
Later Years: Your Legacy
Review your financial documents to make sure they are true to your wishes and that beneficiaries are consistent. Usually, these documents include a will and paperwork governing brokerage accounts, IRAs, annuities, pensions, and in some cases, trusts. Many people also draft a durable power of attorney (someone who will manage your finances if you're not able) and a living will (which names a person to make medical decisions on your behalf if you're incapacitated).
You'll still need to stay on top of your investments. For example, an annual portfolio and asset allocation review are important. Keep in mind that a financial advisor may be able to set up an automatic rebalancing program for you. And finally, be aware that some financial companies require that you begin taking distributions from annuities once you reach age 85.
Preparing for a retirement that could encompass a third of your life span can be challenging. Regularly review your situation with financial and tax professionals and be prepared to make adjustments.
Points to Remember
- By April 1 of the year after you reach age 70½, you'll generally be required to begin making annual withdrawals from any tax-deferred accounts.
- Match living arrangements to changing lifestyle needs and plan ahead for how you'll pay escalating health care expenses.
- Make sure that financial documents are true to your wishes and beneficiaries are consistent.
- Regularly consult with financial and tax professionals and be prepared to make adjustments, depending on how your life and needs change.
1Withdrawals from annuities before age 59½ are taxed as ordinary income and may be subject to a 10% federal penalty tax. In addition, the issuing insurance company may also have its own set of surrender charges for withdrawals taken during the initial years of the contract.
Asset allocation does not ensure a profit or protect against a loss. There is no guarantee that a diversified portfolio will enhance overall returns or outperform a non-diversified portfolio. Diversification does not protect against market risk. This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax advice. We suggest that you discuss your specific tax issues with a qualified tax advisor.
Because of the possibility of human or mechanical error by Wealth Management Systems Inc. or its sources, neither Wealth Management Systems Inc. nor its sources guarantees the accuracy, adequacy, completeness or availability of any information and is not responsible for any errors or omissions or for the results obtained from the use of such information. In no event shall Wealth Management Systems Inc. be liable for any indirect, special or consequential damages in connection with subscriber's or others' use of the content.
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