How to Work from Home While Schooling Your Kids

Parents all over the United States have had to make lofty and quick adjustments due to the pandemic erupting the daily routines many of us haven’t had to change in quite a while. Feelings of overwhelm, exhaustion, and sheer confusion…

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Here Are The Best Student Loans of 2021

The best student loans can help you earn a college degree that will lead to higher earnings later in life. They also come with low interest rates and reasonable fees (or no fees), which will make it easier to keep costs down while you’re in school and once you’re in repayment mode. For most people, […]

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The Best Time to Buy a TV, Mattress and More: Here’s Your Guide

When’s the best time to buy… just about anything? Here’s your shopping calendar.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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What I Would Change About My College Experience

  Recently, I published the post How I Graduated From College In 2.5 Years With 2 Degrees and Saved $37,500. While I did graduate quickly and there are benefits related to that, there are things I missed out on by rushing my college experience. Now I wouldn’t say I had the worst college experience, but I also wouldn’t […]

The post What I Would Change About My College Experience appeared first on Making Sense Of Cents.

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Inside Supernatural Star Jensen Ackles’ ‘Very Hip’ Lake House in Austin

If you’re a die-hard Supernatural fan like us, you’re probably still reeling from the show’s finale and coping with the fact that there won’t be any new Winchester adventures for us to follow. But we’re not here to talk about that, but rather snoop into the private life of one of the series’ leading men. […] More

The post Inside Supernatural Star Jensen Ackles’ ‘Very Hip’ Lake House in Austin appeared first on Fancy Pants Homes.

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How to Run a Virtual Brainstorm that Actually Works

Fun fact about pandemic life: Zoom fatigue is real. And not just real, but “widely prevalent, intense, and completely new,” according to Psychiatric Times.

Although we might be avoiding Zoom these days when an email or even a phone call (is it 1986 again?) will suffice, there's one place where video conferencing still shines, and that's the good ol' brainstorm.

Old school brainstorming was creative and connective and interactive—all things difficult, but not impossible, to recreate virtually.

When I picture brainstorms of years past, I see images of big tables full of candy and fidget toys and pens and Post-Its galore. Old school brainstorming was creative and connective and interactive—all things difficult, but not impossible, to recreate virtually.

Today we’ll talk about some virtual brainstorming strategies I’ve seen work really well. And then hopefully, you’ll give one a try. 

Choose your occasion wisely

brainstorms shouldn’t be a catch-all for any group conversation.

Back when our biggest workplace woe was a vending machine out of Diet Coke, many of us took brainstorming sessions for granted. But in a virtual world, it's harder to organize, facilitate, and get people engaged.

That's why brainstorms shouldn’t be a catch-all for any group conversation. (Often what you’re looking for is just a meeting.) Brainstorms are a very specific brand of discussion in which a collective of creative voices, ideas, and opinions are necessary inputs to achieve a valuable output.

Because of challenges like Zoom fatigue and burnout, I urge you to be stingy with your brainstorming sessions. They're a fabulous enabler of ideas and solutions, so do use them. But do so strategically and with clear intention.

Because of challenges like Zoom fatigue and burnout, I urge you to be stingy with your brainstorming sessions.

What are some great occasions to host a brainstorming session? Use them when you need to:

  • Add or refine product features
  • Define a path in a sticky situation
  • Solve a complex problem

These and many other scenarios call for a variety of perspectives in which there are no right or wrong answers, but only ideas.

In contrast, many other occasions don’t call for a brainstorm. Like when you need…

  • Approval or alignment
  • Receipt of a message or direction
  • Feedback on a mostly baked idea

These are not brainstorm moments—they're meetings with a much more defined outcome. See the difference?

Figure out the specific problem you want to address

Okay, so you've figured out that your situation calls for a brainstorming session. Now, it's time to make sure everybody who comes to the brainstorm is on the same page before you begin by creating a statement that lays out the specific problem and how you need to tackle it.

Your problem statement might be something like:

We’re losing market share on X product, and we need to define new features to attract Millennial customers.

And here's another example:

This client wasn’t happy with our last deliverable and we need to redefine how we’re engaging with them.

One of your goals is to keep the session short (because fatigue) while maximizing what you take away from it. A clear problem statement allows you to invite your brainstorming participants to get the creative juices flowing ahead of the actual session.

Assign some prework to get things rolling

Now that you've stated the problem or opportunity, it's time to let participants know you’re looking forward to a collaborative discussion and invite them to jot down some early ideas and send them your way.

You can then do some analysis ahead of the session. Did you spot any common themes? Any particular ideas you’re interested in having the group build upon?

Share your findings at the beginning of the brainstorming session. This will give you a strong foundation from which to build.

Get creative with tech 

Love it or hate it, video conferencing technology is definitely your friend in a virtual brainstorm. It allows you to create a purposeful connection amongst participants. But you have to understand how to engage them.

When I used to run in-person meetings with leadership teams, I was always intentional about switching up the activities every 30 minutes or so. I’d facilitate a breakout, and then we’d do a quick poll, and then I’d have people plot Post-It notes around the room, and more.

Keeping things changing and moving is a great way to keep adults engaged. According to the Harvard Business Review: "If you don’t sustain a continual expectation of meaningful involvement, [people] will retreat into that alluring observer role."

So take the time to learn the features of whatever platform you’re using, and make the session engaging. Some tactics you might try?

  • Use polls to test out early ideas
  • Use small group breakout sessions to create mini-competitions between your participants
  • Use a whiteboard to replicate a poster board people can plot virtual Post-It notes on
  • Use voting to prioritize or stack rank

Of course, talking is part of any brainstorm. But using technology can keep participants from slipping into the shadows without contributing.

Establish norms that serve your purpose

A brainstorm isn’t successful because of how smart its participants are, but because of how much freedom and space their voices are given.

A client once told me this story about a packaging company that was struggling with productivity. Their products had to be wrapped in newspaper before being shipped. But often, as employees were packaging product, they’d accidentally start reading the newspaper, losing precious packing minutes. These minutes added up to lost productivity.

One day the leadership team was brainstorming solutions to this distraction problem and one executive said, “Well, what if we just poked their eyes out?”

Of course, he wasn't serious—the question was absurd and meant to add a little humor. But it triggered a new line of thinking. Eventually, the company established a partnership with a non-profit organization that finds jobs for blind people.

Is this story true? I’m honestly not sure. But it’s a great illustration of the importance of free-flowing ideas.

A brainstorm isn’t successful because of how smart its participants are, but because of how much freedom and space their voices are given.

As the facilitator, what norms can you put in place to ensure that all ideas get voiced without judgment and everyone has a chance to speak?

Here are a few you might consider:

  • Use the improv rule of “yes, and.” It means that ideas are never knocked down, only built upon. (Don’t worry, they can get voted down later, just not during the brainstorm)
     
  • Use the two- (or one- or five)-minute rule. Ask people to limit themselves to two minutes at a time, even if they need to stop mid-thought (they can finish on their next turn). This challenges people to be concise and ensures that everyone gets a chance to speak.
     
  • Use a round-robin technique. Circle around the Zoom participants, calling on each person as you go. If someone isn’t ready, they can pass. But this is a great way to prevent introverts from getting overlooked.

What other norms will keep you on track?

Close out thoughtfully

Save a few minutes at the end of your scheduled session to check in on the process. How did it feel for everyone? What worked well and what might you skip next time? Do they have other tactics to recommend?

The best answer to “How do I host a great virtual brainstorm?” is the answer that your own participants give you.

When scheduled for the right occasion and with the right people, brainstorms are a fabulous tool. Don’t be intimidated by them. Just be open to learning as you go.

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Easy Ways to Increase Your Earning Potential Today

Are you sick of feeling as though you always have more bills than income? Every month, you work hard to bring home a decent wage to support your family. Yet, somehow, when you need funds, there never seems to be anything available in your bank account. Sometimes, the problem might be that you’re struggling to manage your budget. Not knowing how to properly look after your money could mean that you spend too much, too fast. In other circumstances, your issue might be that you’re not taking advantage of opportunities to increase your earning potential. If you’re already doing everything you can to reduce excess spending and improve your financial habits, but you’re still facing money worries, then the following earning boosters could be just what you need. Let’s look at some quick and easy ways to turn your life around.

Consider a new job

All jobs have their pros and cons to consider. However, some roles definitely pay more than others. If you feel as though you’ve already gotten everything you can out of your current position, and there’s no room left to grow, a new role might be the best option. If you don’t want to switch away from the current company that you’re with, you could ask about switching to a different department. If there’s nowhere else for you to go in your current business, then it might be a good idea to see what someone can offer you elsewhere. Many people who switch jobs can take advantage of looking to improve earning potential than those that stick with the same role. Remember, if you do decide to switch to somewhere new, take your time to find something that actually appeals to you. Don’t just jump at the first offer you get. Play the field first.

Stick with learning about topics that you’re genuinely interested in. This will give you an opportunity to get a job in a space that you enjoy.

Improve your reputation

Reputation can make a big difference in your earning potential these days. In a world where we’re constantly connected to the internet, your image online might help you to find a new or higher-paying job. For instance, if you’re connected to the right people on LinkedIn, then you might speak to someone who can give a good word for you in a higher-paying department in your company. Start by auditing your existing personal brand online. See what people will find if they look for your name. If you have any unprofessional social accounts that are set to public, make them private immediately. Once you’re ready to begin building a name for yourself, look for opportunities to network and show off your skills. This could mean that you join some professional groups, comment on forums, or even visit local events from time to time.

Once you’re ready to begin building a name for yourself, look for opportunities to network and show off your skills.

Develop your skills

Sometimes, jobs will pay you a higher wage for a reason. A career that requires a specialist skill will often pay more than a basic entry-level job. With that in mind, it might be worth building on the talents that you already have. Think about the kind of things that you enjoy doing. Maybe you could work on something like coding or improving your technical expertise. The best way to boost your chances of getting your new skills recognized is to check out some student loans and head back to school. There are tons of different courses that you can take to add new certifications to your resume. You could also look into building out your knowledge about other topics online, taking free courses in your spare time. Stick with learning about topics that you’re genuinely interested in. This will give you an opportunity to get a job in a space that you enjoy.

Ask for a promotion

When’s the last time you just asked your boss whether they could pay you more? If you know that you’ve been delivering excellent work for a good while now, then it might be a good time to ask for a raise. Most business leaders won’t want to take the risk of losing an employee that’s valuable to the team. Check websites that list job openings and find out if there are any higher-paying companies out there that provide a better wage for the role you do now. This will give you a good starting point when you start asking for a wage. If you’re nervous, remember that hiring new team members comes with its own costs. If you’re a great employee, your boss would prefer to keep you around most of the time—even if that means paying more.

If you want to be able to pay your bills each month without worrying about your bank account, it’s worth keeping your mind open to ideas that could increase earning potential.

Start a side hustle

Finally, if you’ve already gone and built some new skills at school, but you haven’t found the perfect job to use them in yet, why not try creating your own career with a side hustle? This is basically a job that you can do on the side to add more income to your bank. Many people have discovered that they can put a few extra hours into their work online each day and make a hefty amount of additional income. Thanks to the gig economy, it’s easy to find opportunities to make cash with things like graphic design, content writing, website development, and more. Start by making a list of the kind of things you’d be interested in doing. You might even decide to create your own business and sell items online using a dropshipping company. Dropshipping services handle things like manufacturing and shipping products for you, so you just need to build a brand and find customers.

Increase your earning potential

Money might not make you happy, but it’s one of the most important things in many of our lives. If you want to be able to pay your bills each month without worrying about your bank account, it’s worth keeping your mind open to ideas that could increase earning potential. Whether you’re developing new cash opportunities with your current employer or thinking about becoming your own boss with a side hustle, make the conscious effort to invest in yourself this year. The quicker you start working on your new earning opportunities, the more money you’ll make for your future.

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5 Ways to Not Get Divorced During the Homebuying Process

image of a couple fighting on a bench

Even the most level-headed couples can go a little crazy when hunting for a home. If not careful, stress levels can suddenly shoot through the roof.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Most homebuying decisions swirl around major life changes: marriage, a new baby, job relocation, retirement, and downsizing. Those are tectonic shifts in one’s life, and adding a hefty down payment and a 30-year mortgage to the mix doesn't ease the burden.

Tensions don’t end there. A home isn’t just an investment; it’s a place you’re tethered to for years. You’re literally shaping your future by the neighborhood you choose.

In such an emotional situation, people easily become overwhelmed. In fact, a U.K. report found that 70 percent of respondents thought buying a home was a critically stressful time in their lives. Only one other life event was ranked worse: getting a divorce.

Yet it’s not practical to live in the same place forever. In other words, it’s up to every couple to rethink the way they handle the house-seeking experience, starting with preparing themselves for the reality of the situation.

Decisions, Decisions, and More Decisions!

Any homebuying newbie can relate to how complicated the process can be. When two people are involved, however, the strain amplifies. Luckily, knowing a few upfront expectations and being prepared to make tough decisions can ease the pressure.

First, understand the substantial financial burden. You must openly talk about your expenditure expectations with your partner. Partners can have significantly different ideas of what they are willing to spend to have a comfortable, safe home.

You must also accept that both of your priorities won’t necessarily align. For example, you drive east for work, and your spouse drives west. Whose work is more important if you can’t find a house centralized between the offices? In addition, what if the new home allows your partner to be 10 minutes from relatives, while you have a two-hour trek to visit yours? Until these considerations are aired out, a couple will be far from acing the homebuying process.

5 Ways to Keep Your Marriage Intact During Homebuying

Overall, communication is essential. In fact, with a few steps, you can turn looking for the perfect house into a way to strengthen — not wreck — your relationship:

1. Stick to a budget

Ironically, people often discuss stretching their budgets before they’ve even set them. Take a pragmatic approach, and know your budget first. A fast way to figure out your top monthly payment is by multiplying your combined monthly income by 0.25. For example, if you two make $10,000 a month, your mortgage payment with taxes and insurance shouldn’t be more than $2,500.

At that point, you can work backward. Use a mortgage calculator, like the one provided by Zillow, to figure out that a $2,500 monthly payment equates to a $500,000 house. Don’t even consider asking your mom to co-sign a loan to get more money. Instead, acknowledge the fact that you two can only afford what you can. Accepting this will help you both make decisions logically.

2. Start with the “good,” and work up to “best”

You know you can afford a $500,000 house, but don't initially schedule showings in that price range. The first three homes should be listed at about 20 percent below your budget. As you walk through the homes, notice what you like and what you don’t. For your next house, go up to the $450,000 level. Jot down what you love and hate. Finally, step into a $500,000 home. Is it tremendously better than the $450,000 one? Are its advantages worth an additional $50,000?

By starting at “good” options and moving toward “best” choices, you gain control over the process, and both partners have a chance to air out their objections. But be warned: If you flip the order and start with a $500,000 listing, anything less would seem subpar.

3. Quantify what’s important

Try to quantify preferences to put a more rational tenor on the process. An example is weighing the objective value of school districts and home prices. Typically, a home in a stellar school district will cost up to 25 percent more than comparable homes. Thus, for your money, you would have to get a smaller home to live in a preferred community.

Talk about this not as a way to “steal” opportunity from your kids but as a way to look at the pros and cons of each decision. For example, if you have 15 percent less of a house, your kids could attend a better school. This is a more rational approach than blaming your partner for not caring about your children's education. Quantifying priorities allows both of you to look at the big picture.

4. Speak magic words

Couples involved in buying homes often forget to incorporate productive, positive phrases into their conversations. Even if it doesn’t come naturally, emphasize how grateful you are for your partner throughout the process. Talk about how you appreciate that he or she has helped make it possible to look at better homes. Or admit that you’re blown away by the flexibility you’re seeing in your partner’s willingness to incur a longer commute to work.

While it isn’t an easy feat to be affirmative, you'll end up with better long-term results. You’re starting a new chapter together, after all. Don't you want your partner to know you are here for him or her in this journey? All it takes is a sprinkling of gratitude.

5. Invest in a little reflection

Whether or not you’re religious or spiritual, make time for reflection before signing on the dotted line. This will ground you and your partner and create a sense of much-needed calm. Ask yourself: “Is this really the direction for us? Is this where we’re supposed to be?”

In addition, vow not to bicker about dollar amounts after making your choice. Rather, use your home as a launching pad for the next page of your relationship.

Who has time to heap additional stress into their lives? Avoid the price of a divorce lawyer, and focus on the exciting possibilities ahead that come with buying a new home. The homebuying process might not be a cake walk, but your marriage doesn't have to pay for it.

An entrepreneur at heart, CEO Mike Kalis leads the team at MarketplaceHomes.com, a Detroit-based brokerage that specializes in new construction sales and property management. If you purchase a new home through Marketplacehomes.com, we'll agree to buy yours. Marketplace Homes has sold more than $3 billion in new construction homes through its unique home trade-in system and manages more than 3,500 single-family properties for investors who have 1 to 10 properties. It also offers new-construction homebuyers a guaranteed lease on their previous properties for up to six years.

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The Highest Paying Trade Jobs On the Market

Pursuing a four-year degree or higher isn’t for everyone. If you fall into that group, it doesn’t mean you can’t get a high-paying job. There are a surprising number of trade jobs that pay salaries at or above careers that require a four-year degree. They pay well because they’re in demand and are expected to […]

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