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PWG Financial Tips

Posted by Dress for Success Midwest Professional Women's Group on November 12, 2010

The calendar page turns to November or maybe even December and we realize how few days remain until Christmas. It’s not too late to plan for a merry holiday season paid for with cash!

This week, start by making a list of all the people whom you’d like to bless with a gift this season. Keep it simple. Start with your immediate family and set a dollar limit for each. The dollar limit for each should be the amount that you are comfortable paying in cash. Commit to keep your spending to that amount or less.

The next thing to plan for is holiday gatherings, both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Determine now the amount you can spend on potlucks or travel.

Once you’ve determined those two amounts, total up them up and divide it by the number of paydays you have between now and Christmas. You may need to make adjustments.

Last, make a list of inexpensive or free gifts you could give. Examples are homemade cookies, fudge, chocolate sauce, soup mixes, certificates for nights of babysitting, free car washes, or for a homemade dinner. Look also for packs of items you could divide into several different gifts. There are a multitude of ideas.

By making a plan and sticking to a preset budget, you can have a merry holiday season with no financial regrets later.

 

By Natalie Ames

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Making your money work for you

Posted by Dress for Success Midwest Professional Women's Group on September 20, 2010

Michael Ravenscraft, MS, CPA
Financial Education Specialist

Since the economy began its downward spiral a few years ago, the trend of American over borrowing and overspending started to become less popular. As a result, many Americans have been paying down debt and saving more, reflecting more conservative attitudes toward managing personal and family budgets in general.

Here are some observations on how this shift from overspending to reducing debt has affected us:

· For some, this shift from overspending to debt reduction has been uncomfortable, but it has also served as a much-needed wake-up call. This change in economic trends and consumer behavior provides the opportunity to increase savings for longer-term financial goals, such as retirement, home ownership, or education, which were often previously neglected, or put off until tomorrow.

· Increasing savings and reducing debt are important steps to improving your personal financial situation. The feeling of financial security that comes with low debt and adequate emergency and retirement savings is a hard-earned accomplishment to be proud of, not simply a sacrifice of lost consumption. Achievement of these goals is the result of your decision to invest in the financial security of yourself and your family. Teach these healthy habits to future generations. It is the path toward accomplishing your most cherished long-term financial goals.
Don’t always view cutting back as a sacrifice; it simply means looking for value in your spending. Who doesn’t love getting a great deal and making the most of their hard-earned dollar? You can increase savings and reduce debt while enjoying the things you value most. Adjust your spending habits to maximize spending on
high-value items and savings, while cutting expenses on low-value consumer goods (the things that cost money, but don’t provide you with a long-term
benefit).

We have already begun to see this trend by observing a dramatic decline in consumer spending throughout the past few years, accompanied by a drop in consumer credit. Individuals and families are cutting back to live within their means, and they have increased their awareness of how to wisely use credit. Just because you have access to credit or cash on hand does not mean you should spend.

Establishing habits of spending only on necessities and high-value items, while also saving and reducing debt, puts you on the path to long-term financial success, builds a financial safety net for unexpected bumps in the road, costs less in the form of saved interest expense, and increases your chances of accumulating enough retirement savings to be comfortable. In the long run, the assets you set aside and save will be there when you need them. This puts you in a much stronger financial position than spending on day-to-day, low-value consumer items.

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10 ideas for entertaining without breaking your budget

Posted by Dress for Success Midwest Professional Women's Group on September 15, 2010

Damaris Karanja, MA
Nutrition & Health Education
Specialist
University of Missouri Extension, St. Louis County

As the holiday season approaches, opportunities to plan entertaining gatherings increase. In these tough economic times, we face the daunting task of keeping our family traditions without breaking our family budget.

The good news is that by being creative and planning carefully, you can still make this season fun and memorable. Saving money does not equate to missing out on all the fun.

A good part of the budget is spent on purchasing food for Thanksgiving and Christmas, Passover or other religious holiday. The following budget-friendly tips can help you to save money and have fun at the same time.

1. Planning comes first. Establish what your budget is and how much you can afford to spend. Design a menu around your budget and what is on special and seasonal at your grocery store. Next, write a list of who will be invited. Your budget will guide you on the number of guests you can comfortably invite.

2. Keep a grocery list. Having a list makes it less likely you’ll make an impulse purchase. It also saves gas for extra trips to the store in case you forget to purchase an item. Stick to your list for added savings, but stay flexible if you encounter a sale.

3. Plan ahead for how to use leftovers. We lose money whenever we toss food because it spoiled. If leftovers go bad because they’re left out too long, we’re putting money into the garbage can. Make planning to avoid tossing foods a priority.

4. Coupons, coupons, coupons! In most cases, grocery stores have great sales on holiday staples such as turkeys and hams. Their goal is to lure you into their stores with the hope you will purchase lots of other products that are not on sale. Use this to your advantage, but only buy items you need. It doesn’t hurt to visit more than one grocery store. Check for online coupons as well. Start with the Web site of the store where you shop or of products you use. Shopping on double or triple coupon days can save you a lot of money. Word of caution: Use coupons only for foods you plan to use, rather than for “extras.”

5. Buy in bulk. If the price is right and the larger size fits your criteria, go for it! Prices can be deceiving, so pay attention to unit prices to ensure you are getting the best deal. Bigger is not always cheaper. Make sure you will use the food while the flavor is still good.

6. Save on store brands. Buy generic and you could save up to 40 percent a year on your grocery bill. In taste tests, most consumers cannot identify the difference between generic and store brands.

7. Shop high and low. Bargains are usually on the top or bottom shelves. The worst deals are at eye level (kids’ eye level if you’re in the cereal aisle).

8. Pay attention at the checkout. Don’t lose out on a great deal because an item scans incorrectly.

9. Ask for help. If you are hosting a holiday gathering, ask for help with meal preparation. This will help relieve some of the financial burden. Contact everyone on your holiday guest list and see who can bring a dish to share. Guests traveling from out of town may not be able to bring perishable items, but they can grab some nonperishables on their way in. Make sure you coordinate who’s bringing what to avoid an overlap.

10. Include a variety of meatless dishes. These are usually cheaper and, as a bonus, generally healthier, too.

Finally, save by serving the poor. How about serving some homemade food or giving a grocery store gift certificate to a family in need? This is the greatest investment you can make for your money during the holiday season.

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10 Ways To Make (or find) $1000

Posted by Dress for Success Midwest Professional Women's Group on September 1, 2010

1. Start a pet sitting business. If you live in a large metropolitan city or even the suburbs, pet sitting and boarding can be a good way to earn extra cash.

2. Provide daycare/aftercare for children in your neighborhood. The best way to go about doing this is to research the costs into getting licensed (if necessary), set up costs (turning the basement or sunroom you never use into the child care area) and determine what your competitors are charging then undercut them but a few dollars while adding a bit more with regards to the services you offer.

3. Secret Shopper. EPMSOnline.com is a great way to get started in secret shopping. It’s really easy. You go to their website, sign up, get verified and then sign up for different “shops” in our near your home or workplace. What yo’re doing is providing secret shopping services for apartment companies that utilize EPMS to help them determine if their employees are providing great service. The typical pay out is around $40 and now most if not all of the paperwork is done online.

4. Reduce your budget. Drastically. Eating out. Shopping for unnecessary items. Limit yourself to 2-3 trips to the grocery store, buy what you need not what you want. Several trips = spending more money you don’t have and don’t need to spend. Cut the happy hours. Personal hobby shopping sprees. Review your budget and cut out the WANTS and leave the NEEDS in place. See how much you save. For some this may be less than and for some more than $1000.

5. Start a blog. This may take you at least 6 months to really start seeing a return but I believe it’s well worth it. Your topic? What are you passionate about? What could you talk about for days and not get paid to do so? That’s it! Find a host, pick a blogging platform, choose your theme and get started. For starters, join this challenge: ProBlogger 31 Days to Build a Better Blog | The Secret to Success.

6. Start an Ebay business. Check out sites like Tradekey.com and Alibaba.com for great prices on wholesale items. Make sure it’s something that you research and know a good deal of information about before you start selling. Customers like sellers who can troubleshoot issues as they arise.

7. Sell unwanted/unused furniture. You might be surprised as they add up once you start listing on sites like Craigslist.org, Ebay.com and Backpages.com. If you have furniture in storage or in a basement somewhere, that $1000 might be calling you!

8. End of summer garage sale. Every weekend in September you can have a themed garage sale. One weekend you sell clothes, another furniture, then antiques or random unwanted items. You choose your theme, make sure the items are clean and presented well. Have your neighbors join you in the fun by hosting garage sales along with you to bring out even more people.

9. Start your own business. This may not be in an area you love or are passionate about but do some market research and figure out where the need lies in your area or online. Where does your expertise lie? What do people need but don’t have? Start there.

10. Add yours here. Share with us in the comments area, how to make or find $1000. You can also share on our Facebook page and Retweet ways to find or make an extra $1000.

About the Author

Girls Just Wanna Have Funds is for the woman that wants to take charge of her personal finances. We value budgeting, investing, frugality and remain mindful of our spending habits. Move over and make way for women who are in control of their financial destinies and not afraid to say it. We’re armed with a positive net worth and not afraid to flaunt it while breaking financial ceilings one stiletto at a time!

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The Value of a Mentor & How to Find One

Posted by Dress for Success Midwest Professional Women's Group on August 30, 2010

Invest in your professional future by building a relationship with someone who is more experienced than you and who is willing to share that experience – a mentor.

Mentors can offer advice, ideas and contacts, and they can help you create a roadmap to your dreams.

How do you find a mentor, and how do you maintain that relationship? Read on to find out.

How to find a mentor?

Before embarking on a search for a mentor, ask yourself what you want to learn from him/her. Perhaps you want to learn a specific skill, get assistance in implementing a project, or get guidance on how to expand your network, balance your career and personal life, etc.

Once you’ve determined your goals, it’s time to find the right mentor. Check with your employer’s human resources office to find out if your employer offers a formal mentor program. If not, your alma mater may provide a mentor program – particularly in your area of study. There are also websites that offer mentoring matching, like

* MicroMentor
* Menttium
* Small Business Mentoring and Training
* FORTUNE/U.S. State Department Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership
* WOMEN Unlimited

And don’t underestimate the value of networking. Consider attending events in the field of your interest – meeting people, and following up with those who seem like they might be able to and interested in mentoring you.

Similarly, you can make a list of companies/organizations that you respect. Compile a list of the key executives; these are usually found on the “About Us” section of the establishment’s website, or you can search by company on LinkedIn. Do your research by reading any available bio on your prospective mentor and information on their employer prior to contacting them. When you contact your prospective mentor, introduce yourself and state your interest in their company and position. Ask if they could talk briefly over lunch, a quick office visit or call.

Once you’ve found a potential mentor, you need to gauge if it’s a good match. Are they a good listener? Do they have valuable knowledge and act with integrity? Are they positive, supportive, accessible, empathetic and willing to share their wisdom with you? Another observation to make is if your communication styles match. If yes to the questions above, explain your professional ambitions, challenges and desires – and ask if they are interested in working with you to navigate these issues – would they be open to being your mentor?

In this meeting, you might go so far as to establish the goals of the relationship, the duration of the program and how often and how (in person, by phone, by email) you will communicate. Try to establish clear objectives and evaluation measures. Make sure that trustworthiness and confidentiality are part of the agreement.

How to nurture the relationship?

Mentors are there to develop talent, teach valuable skills, and provide tools and resources. Other benefits include assistance with strategic planning, building your contact base, and increasing your knowledge and your opportunities to strengthen your professional standing. Keep in mind that your meetings or conversations can be brainstorming sessions for professional development that is mutually beneficial, as well.

It is important to nurture the relationship, to be accountable and to be realistic with your expectations. Your mentor may have more experience than you, but you can still contribute to their quality of life. Take time to show your appreciation by showing your gratitude — send a thank you card, treat them to a meal, send them information that is beneficial to their business/profession, write a note of praise to their boss on how valuable your mentor is, or volunteer to help them with a project.

Whether your mentor relationship is short or long-term, try to stay connected with them as you progress in your career. After the mentorship program, the mentor can serve as a reference. Above all, show your gratitude for your mentor’s insights and efforts. Perhaps one day, you will pay it forward and be a beacon of hope, yourself. As Oprah Winfrey said, “A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.”

Reena De Asis is a MarCom professional with experience in the corporate, agency and non-profit sectors. When she’s not initiating a corporate volunteer program or organizing a renovation mural project, Reena immerses herself in live music or savoring chocolate nuggets of wisdom. Words to live by: “My life is my message,” by Mohandas Gandhi. Her passion is http://www.laworks.com

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Setting Attainable Goals

Posted by Dress for Success Midwest Professional Women's Group on August 23, 2010

I was looking through a magazine and stumbled upon something I hadn’t seen in years, a glass piggybank.  I recall the first such bank I received as a child when I opened my first savings account.  It forced me to continue to save because I didn’t want to ‘break’ it until it was completely full, or I had enough to purchase something I really wanted.  My eyes were always on the prize.

By the ‘80’s piggybanks had changed; they had stoppers in the bottom to remove money whenever you wanted. By not having to keep adding to your savings until you’d reached your goal, many times they were never met.  The bank became a place to gather loose change and such, but it took away the demand, if you will, that you reach a goal or lose it all, by having to ‘break the bank’.

It makes me think about my business goals in somewhat the same way.  I have to find ways of making myself accountable to reaching the goals I’ve set.  Last year, I setup several reminders to check in on my 2010 goals. When I got the first reminder, I realized, – YIKES, now where did I put those goals?   I was not focused on reaching them.

It’s difficult when you’re the boss, isn’t it?  How can we set goals and make ourselves accountable for the goals we need to keep our businesses afloat in these challenging times?  

First, take a look at what types of goals you might want to set for yourself.  Some to consider might include:

  • Sales/income
  • Number of new clients
  • New equipment/software
  • Knowledge-based achievements (certifications; classes)
  • Adding staff or sub-contractors

As you can see, there are many types of goals you can set for your business.  I usually try and have three to four of these areas covered in my yearly goals; that way, if one seems to be lacking, I can transition more time and effort into making that particular goal a priority, or adjust it to give myself a clearer way to achieve it.

I think the next most important thing is to put it in writing – something about memorializing it makes it seem more attainable, and real.  You might even consider sharing your yearly goals with a colleague or peer and ask them to check in with you several times a year to make sure you’re on track to achieving them.

Equally as important is making sure that you don’t beat yourself up if you don’t attain a particular goal.  Goals are something you are aspiring to achieve; they should help you be accountable for where you want your business to go.

2008 was a perfect example of that for me.  I was right on track with my sales/income and new client goals for 2008, right until the stock market crashed in October.  Suddenly, everything changed.  By the end of the year, several goals had not been met.

I rewarded myself for those goals I did achieve, took stock of those I didn’t, and tried to understand why; then I realigned my goals for 2009 and again for 2010, to offset these changes, and added several new categories of goals that will help me keep my business on track and growing.

Goals are meant to inspire you and invoke you into taking action.  Don’t let them bring you down if you don’t achieve them; re-adjust them. Find a cheerleader, someone who will help you stay on track with your goals, but will also encourage you and help you see the positive changes and growth you have experienced.

Re-invent yourself and keep making deposits in your unbreakable piggybank of growth.  Stay positive and watch what happens.

Jeannine Clontz, is a successful entrepreneur, author, speaker, and trainer. Clontz teaches a 7-week business start-up class in conjunction with Connections to Success and the St. Charles Community College, as well as a 10-week Teleclass for start-up and established Virtual Assistants. Learn more about Time Management for Virtual Assistants by downloading her FREE report “A Fresh Look at Time Management for Virtual Assistants”, or request her FREE audio CD “What’s Holding Back my Business Success?”,  and more by visiting:  http://www.VAbizcoach.com; or contact her at: coach@VAbizcoach.com.

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