Sunday, December 06, 2015

How to Get Paid on Time

Stefanie O'Connell, a small business owner, recently wrote about depleting her emergency fund in The Growing Pains of Business Ownership. She writes:
Though my earnings have climbed exponentially over the past two years, I found myself this Friday transferring the last of my emergency fund savings into my checking account – just enough to cover my near-term expenses. Despite successfully maintaining my savings through the financial crisis, unemployment and years as a part-time actress, part-time babysitter, my back-up balances have now dwindled down to nothing.

Invoices are out, but payments have yet to come in. Meanwhile, bills are still due at their usual times and my expenses are up in order to maintain my new business growth.
Since I have worked with accounts payable in some format during my entire career as an accountant, I’ve decided to provide a few tips to help Stefanie and others like her get their invoices paid on time.

First, you need to understand your client’s payment processes. Here is how invoices are paid at my company:

Every invoice must be approved by a department manager before it can be paid.
The payment process at my company is sped up substantially if you can get your invoice into the hands of the person authorized to approve it as quickly as possible. If it arrives in accounting without a purchase order number listed or a name or the location of the person who ordered your product or service it could sit in accounting for days until we determine who needs to approve it.

Securing a purchase order number is not required but is important:
Not only does a purchase order number help identify who placed the order, but having one means your service or product was pre-approved. If the invoice price matches the purchase order price the department manager should easily be able to approve your invoice and forward it to accounting.

We pay in 60 days:
Yes that is correct - 60 days. Regardless of your terms, unless you are a phone or utility company, charge us late fees or interest, offer a discount for early payment, won’t ship future product unless we comply with your terms, or are one of our top six major vendors your invoice won’t be paid for 60 days. (During the recession it was 90 days. Currently our owner would like it to be 45, but at the moment we don’t have the staff to process fast enough). We do make exceptions for freelancers and sub-contractors which we pay within 30 days. We also honor progress payment deadlines for major purchases and projects if we have approved invoices.

Who determines when an invoice is paid?
In my company it is the controller.  The person who ordered your service can request we pay you quicker, but he has no authority to make that happen and has been instructed not to make promises or negotiate with you.  They can try to go around the controller to our President, but the President almost always sends them back to the controller.  Neither the President nor the person who contracted with you know what other financial commitments and obligations are pressing.

We haven’t paid you because our customer hasn’t paid us:
For large products or services we resell to our customers we don’t pay you until we are paid. If we are slow invoicing our customer or receiving payment from them this could be what is holding up your payment. Many companies do this – it is called managing cash flow.

A friend who owns her own business refuses to work with a large company in our area because they utilize this practice when paying their subs. She wasn’t getting paid for 60-90 days, but still needed to pay her employees their weekly payroll check. Once her business was well established, she stopped working for this company.

We require a W-9 form be completed before we will issue a check.
This is an IRS form we need on file to prepare your 1099 at the end of the year. We have discovered if our vendors don’t fill this form out prior to us issuing them a check we struggle to get them. If you don’t know how to fill it out yourself have your accountant provide an unsigned master copy. Then make photo copies of it, sign and submit to clients as needed.

When checking our credit references you should hear good things about us:
Remember those six major vendors we pay in 30 days, they are who we list as references on our credit report along with a company whose owner was once an employee of our company. We pay him in 70 days, but when contacted about payment (especially during the recession when we stretched payment to everyone) he always said good things about us. If we get feedback that a vendor has indicated we are a slow payer we remove them from the list. To get a more accurate indication of our payments check our Dun and Bradstreet report.

Also on a side note, our credit manager does not respond to 95% of the requests he receives on behalf of our customers. He doesn’t want to be put in the situation of angering or lying for a customer, so instead says nothing.

If we haven’t paid you in 60 days we most likely don’t have your invoice.
Send statements. I recommend sending one to the person you contracted with and to accounting. If accounting doesn't have your invoice we will request a copy. We then follow up with the department manager. Occasionally they are holding your invoice because they are not satisfied with your work, but most likely your invoice was lost.

Make sure your contact information is on your invoice:
Include your company name, email address and phone number on your invoice, you would be surprised how often this information is not included.  Also, have clear instructions on who the check should be made out to and the remittance address.

Submit a new invoice for each progress payment:
Don’t assume someone at our company is keeping track of your progress payments. Maybe the employee you contracted with is, but most likely they are not and I can guarantee accounting is not. 

Offer a discount:
Unless we are cash-strapped we always take advantage of cash discounts for early payment. Either 1 or 2% off the invoice price is the most frequent discount offered, but I have seen 3%. (My company does not offer pre-payment discounts to our customers. We don’t want them to get used to paying less and then expect it).

Other tips

Call to ask about payment three or four days after payment was due:
The longer your bill goes unpaid the harder it will be to collect. Good luck getting an invoice paid if the person you contracted with is no longer at the company and the company has no record of the order. And speaking of due dates make sure you’ve indicated your terms on the invoice.

Be nice:
The person in accounting who takes your collection call does not need to be berated or to hear what a low-life scum they are. It is almost never their fault your invoice hasn’t been paid. If you are nice to them or befriend them they may look out for you and your invoices in the future.

Ask for an exception:
In a major cash crunch like the one Stefanie is experiencing above, ask if your invoice could be paid earlier than the terms agreed upon. Only do this if your project is on schedule and the company is happy with your work. Offer to pick up the check or have it mailed to you overnight at your cost. Offer additional discounts above what is stated on the invoice. We have been offered as much as 5%. Give a deadline – by the end of the week or by the end of the month; you don’t want them to take their good old time and still take the 5%. This is also where befriending the accounts payable person comes in handy. More than once my A/P person has asked if she could pay a bill early at a vendor’s request. She will tell me how nice they were, that they are just a small business, that they are in a bind etc. If we have the money, I always say yes.

You could also ask to have the money wired into your bank account.  You would then have your money the same day.  At my company this is a hassle because it involves additional steps and layer of approval.  I usually say no to these requests.

Don’t forget about credit card processing fees:
If you accept credit card payments you most likely are charged a fee by your credit card processing company. My company pays 2.5% on customer credit card receipts. We pass this fee on to our customers for sales larger than $25,000. On a personal level, I have worked with more than one contractor who charges extra if I want to pay with a credit card.

Have your customer sign a contract:
If you are large enough, have your contract verbiage reviewed and/or written by your legal consul.

Did I miss anything? What do you do to insure your invoices are paid on time?

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich,

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Do I Need to Attend Manager’s Party?

Remember my company’s HR Manager; the owner's family friend who personally attacked me, has caused problems in my department for years and was the impetus for my strength challenge. Well she is back at it again. The other day she called me into her office to complain about my boss and the employee we share. She proceeded to say how unhappy the owners are with both of them and that they were going to have a serious talk with my boss about his attitude along with my employee’s performance. Also, in the New Year my awesome new part-time employee is going to be working for her instead of me and I will be stuck with the employee she doesn't like full-time. Oh and by the way she is having a party at her home for all the corporate managers and their spouses in December. She thinks it will be a good opportunity for all of us to meet outside of work and that it will help with team building which our management staff desperately needs.

My head began to spin. I went back to my office and tried to work, but kept thinking my boss, who has been with the company 30+ years, was going to say to heck with this B.S. and retire. How will I manage if he leaves? I wondered down the hall into our operations manager’s office. Our HR manager also has issues with him, but feels she now has him wrapped around her finger. I told him this and relayed the entire conversation to him. He said, "It is all a lie."  None of this is going to happen; the owners aren’t going to talk to my boss, they aren't upset with him or with my employee and they would never allow my new part-time employee to be transferred from accounting to HR. 

I started to feel better and got up to leave saying, “I don’t think I’m up to going to her party.” Surprisingly he already knew about the party and had even discussed it with one of our owners. The owner is not fond of these types of events, because other employees hear of them, think they are company events and feel excluded. He advised our operation’s manager who also doesn’t want to attend, to have his wife drive and get drunk on our HR manager’s booze. The operations manager recommended I do the same.

In my fitness class that night, I couldn’t help but vent about my day. As I rattled off my list of complaints, one of my gym mates kept interjecting incredibly intelligent comments. Finally, I asked her where she worked.  She was self-employed, a writer and a leadership instructor. Who was she? Susan Marshall of the Backbone Institute.

I now know how I will respond when I meet someone I admire in person – I become a blubbering idiot. I read Susan’s column every month in Wisconsin Woman Magazine. Her October column "Good News About You" is currently sitting on my night stand with the following paragraph underlined:
Aggressive people are no more confident than you are. However, they have learned how to use their voices, posture and position to get what they want. When you understand this and refuse to be bullied by it, you gain freedom to go about your business in a professional manner. You need not try to change them, but you don’t need to be cowed by them either.
As to the holiday party, I still wanted to decline, but was concerned I would be missing out on the team building. Will not going be a bad career move?

 “NO," Susan replied, "Not going is called setting boundaries.”

Susan Marshall’s book Of Beauty and Substance: A Backbone Guide for Womenhas been on my reading list since I first heard of it. I went home and ordered a copy.

Have you been invited to a co-worker's house party you dreaded attending? Did you go?

Note, I am an Amazon affiliate.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

My Year in Nonfiction - 2015

Woo-Hoo – it’s nonfiction November!

I’ve been reading nonfiction almost exclusively for several years now, so I am excited Kim, Becca, Lu, and Katie are hosting Nonfiction November - a month dedicated to reading and celebrating nonfiction - again this year.


This week Kim of Sophisticated Dorkiness asks about our year in reading. I’ve read 17 nonfiction books to-date in 2015. Here they are in chronological order along with my opinions:

French Women Don't Get Facelifts: The Secret of Aging with Style & Attitudeby Mireille Guiliano
Intrigued by the title, I picked this one up from the library on a whim. I had read Guiliano's previous book French Women Don't Get Fatseveral years earlier and was looking for a book dedicated to appearance. Unfortunately, this book was mostly a recap of her previous work and was disappointing.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Businessby Charles Duhigg
I enjoyed this one while reading, but no longer remember much of it - except for the horrible story of casinos taking advantage of a woman with a gambling addiction.

Make the Bread, Buy the Butter: What You Should and Shouldn't Cook from Scratch--Over 120 Recipes for the Best Homemade Foodsby Jennifer Reese 
I read this one for my live healthy on a budget challenge. Despite being entertaining and informative, I never made a single recipe from the book.

Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection by A. J. Jacobs
This is another book that wasn’t what I was looking for. I wanted practical, researched health tips, instead this book read like a gimmick.

Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gainby Portia de Rossi
A must read for anyone wanting to learn what it is like to have an eating disorder. De Rossi provides an honest account of what was going on inside her head while suffering from anorexia and bulimia.

Ride of Your Life: A Coast-to-Coast Guide to Finding Inner Peaceby Ran Zilca
This one offered good advice, but I was left wanting more.

Buying In: What We Buy and Who We Are by Rob Walker
A bit dated, but still informative.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler
I know many of you loved this book, but it didn’t work for me and I now find Amy Poehler annoying. I was looking for more of a feminist manifesto. It seemed to me Amy didn’t really want to write this book and only did so because she couldn’t find a way to get out of it. I preferred Tina Fey’s Bossypants.

The Culture Code: An Ingenious Way to Understand Why People Around the World Live and Buy as They Doby Clotaire Rapaille
I don’t have any comments on this one because I can’t remember anything of substance from this book.

Face It: What Women Really Feel as Their Looks Change and What to Do about Itby Vivian Diller Ph.D.
I read this one after spotting it on a list of recommended reading for a female mid-life crisis. It was a decent book written by a psychologist that deals with understanding the emotions women experience as we age. (To be honest, so far I'm not too concerned about my aging looks).

The Power of No: Because One Little Word Can Bring Health, Abundance, and Happiness by James Altucher
I read this over the summer when I was feeling overwhelmed at work. I wasn’t expecting it to offer anything new and didn’t plan on finishing it, so I was surprised by how helpful it actually was.

Triumph of the Heart: Forgiveness in an Unforgiving World by Megan Feldman Bettencourt
I received this book in exchange for an honest review. This was a great study of forgiveness.

Your Life Calling: Reimagining the Rest of Your Life by Jane Pauley
This book was a light and somewhat informative book on reinvention.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
This is the best book I've read all year and have been recommending it to everyone. In addition to teaching me about racial history and the great migration, it provided an eye-opening lesson on living in the moment. This is the book I think about most often.

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Areby Brene Brown
This book taught me that comparison is the cause for much of our unhappiness and that creativity is the key to meaning. It is a good self-help book.

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
I read this one to learn more about living in the moment, it was helpful, but I started losing interest towards the end.

Stalin's Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyevaby Rosemary Sullivan:
I loved this book. It provided insight into Stalin, his family and life in Russia during and immediately after his regime. Life for Svetlana doesn’t necessarily get better when she defects to the US. She was looking for freedom, but wasn't prepared for our freedom of the press. The chapters she writes about Ogilvanna Wright (the wife of Frank Lloyd Wright) and Taliesin are highly entertaining and not favorable.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwideby Nicholas D. Kristof:
I have 20 pages left to read in this book, but want to mention it because I am sure it will go down as one of the best nonfiction books I’ve ever read.

This process of listing my year of books has been an enlightening experience. I see a pattern of trying to come to terms with my age, searching for help in dealing with work stress and attempting to figure out what to do next. I also realized I don’t want to write about health and have abandoned my life healthy challenge. I am hoping reading Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide is the beginning of a new direction for me.

Books from this list I’ve recommended the most:
The Warmth of Other Suns and Stalin’s Daughter.

What nonfiction topic do you not read enough of?
I am always reading to learn something new or to fulfill a book challenge I've set for myself or to write a review I’ve committed to. I’d like to spend more time reading nonfiction - that reads like fiction  - with the sole purpose being to read a really good book.

My reading picks for nonfiction November are:

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai

Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreamsby Alfred Lubrano

What are you reading for Nonfiction November? What was your favorite nonfiction read this year?

Please Note, I am an Amazon Affiliate

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Travel the World in Books Readathon Oct 2015, Day 11: Sharing our Real Life Travel Experiences

Our Travel the World in Books Readathon is a chance to read books to learn about different cultures and countries other than your own. Join us October 18-31, 2015 to expand your horizons, travel the world in books and let publishers know #WeNeedDiverseBooks.
Today is day 11 of our Travel the World in Books Readathon.  I hope you are all having a fabulous time reading books from around the world. I finished reading Rosemary Sullivan's book Stalin's Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva, so I've left Russia and traveled to Pakistan where I am now reading Malalya Yousafzai's book I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban. Where have you spent your readathon travels?

If you haven’t heard, our readathon goal is quite simple...to get you reading more about other countries and cultures than your own. It's both a learning opportunity and a great excuse to cozy up with a good book and travel to places you might not otherwise be able to visit! My fabulous co-hosts (CHANGE LINKS FOR YOUR OTHER CO-HOSTS) Becca, Tanya, Lucy, Aloi and I have a great couple of weeks in store for you, check out the entire schedule of events here.

Mini-Challenge:

Today Heather of Based on a True Story is hosting our mini-challenge: displaying books and props that represent specific countries.  For example display your favorite books from France with a replica of the Eiffel tower. Head on over to Heather's blog to share your books and props.

Daily Discussion Posts

Travel the World in Books Readathon, Oct. 18-31, 2015. Daily discussion topics to get you talking about your favorite world books, authors, genres and places to visit. This year we want to get YOU talking about your favorite books, authors, genres, and characters. Every day we'll have a different topic of discussion. You can write a new blog post, link up a couple of old posts that are pertinent to the topic and/or leave comments answering our questions. Linkups will be open through 11/7/15 ( a week after the readathon ends to give you plenty of time to write a new post if you want).

Today's discussion topic:  travel post, somewhere you’ve been or a bucket list of places you’d like to go

Instagram Photo Challenge

I LOVE Instagram. Join us for our Instagram challenge for our Travel the World in Books Readathon, using our new shorter #TTWIBRAT hashtag. Be sure to follow your hosts on Instagram too: TanyaBecca, Lucy and Aloi . Tag each day's photos with the #TTWIBRAT hashtag. Don't worry if you miss a day, just share and tag the photo with #TTWIBRAT anytime! Today, head over and share a TRAVEL PHOTO, A PLACE YOU’VE BEEN IN REAL LIFE, HAVE LIVED OR WOULD LIKE TO GO . Have fun and I'll see you on Instagram!  [caption id="attachment_7107" align="aligncenter" width="500"]Travel the World in Books Readathon Instagram Photo Challenge. Join us October 18-31, 2015 for the readathon and share pictures of your favorite books and authors from around the world. Image courtesy of potowizard at FreeDigitalPhotos.net[/caption]

GIVEAWAY!

Travel the World in Books Readathon Oct 2015 Giveaways! Sign up and enter to win one of 18 great books from around the world. You must be 18 years or older and a registered participant to be eligible for these giveaways. See the giveaways page for complete rules. Good luck and enjoy traveling the world in books!
Want to know more about our Travel the World in Books Readathon? Sign up here, check out our schedule of events, linkup your goals if you like and travel the world in books with us!  Want to continue the reading and traveling fun all year long? Sign up for our no-stress Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge and our Goodreads group too.

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Friday, October 23, 2015

My 5 Favorite Reading Spots in Amsterdam




Photos courtesy of Kate from The Diary of an Urban Housewife

Today the Travel the World in Books Readathon is traveling to Amsterdam where Kate from The Diary of an Urban Housewife shares her 5 favorite reading spots.  Enjoy:

Amsterdam is a beautiful city, I am so grateful that as an expat I have had the wonderful opportunity to live here. In case you don't know me, I am Kate, I own the blog The Diary of an Urban Housewife. I use that platform to record everything from our daily life to the wonderful travels we get to experience living all the way over in Europe. I know this sweet little city inside and out and learn something new about it everyday. The city is constantly alive, and some of my favorite haunts are unique, cozy, and perfect for settling in with a good book and an ice cold water or some mulled wine...depending on the season of course! So, without further ado I present my five favorite reading spots in Amsterdam... Side note: I also consider these "must visits" if you come to Amsterdam on a trip.
  1. Amstel Park.

    This is just across the street from my home. In the spring and summer it is blooming with gorgeous flowers, and in the fall the leaves are changing colors. There are always people around, but it has so many nice areas where you can lay down a blanket or sit on a bench and you feel completely secluded. You would almost think you are completely alone, not smack in the middle of the city with dozens of people running around the park.
  2. Cafe Zuiver.

    I discovered this one day after having lunch with my husband, it is just a block from his office. They have delicious coffee and the cutest atmosphere, with a wonderful garden out back that is wonderful on a sunny day whether it is hot or cold!
  3. Cafe 't Hooischip.

    This is an old Dutch brown bar....they serve great gluhwein (mulled wine) and they have one of the best apple pies in the city. It is directly across the street from the National Ballet and Opera so it is the perfect place to go after a free Tuesday lunch concert!
  4. Amsterdam Central Station Starbucks or Rembrandtplein Starbucks.

    As an expat, sometimes you just need a little bit of home. There are days when you are just tired from being an expat and miss home..well, a Starbucks is always a little bit of America on international soil. You can get a drip coffee, a flavoured latte, or a caramel hot cocoa without everyone thinking you are insane. Plus, you can sit and relax for as long as you want because that is how Starbucks rolls! These two places are particularly cozy because the one at Centraal Station is located just off the Ij so you can see the ferries and boats coming as you relax and get in to a good book, the one at Rembrandtplein is nice because you can often meet up with other expats who are doing the same as you-looking for a little bit of relaxation and reading.
  5. De Koffieschenkerij.

    This is actually located in the Red Light District in Amsterdam, but it is full of history. It is attached to the Oude Kerk which is the church the red light district was built around. This is by far my favorite place to read and have coffee as it radiates history. In fact, in the back room of this coffee shop they say is where Rembrandt met his wife Saskia, doesn't get much cooler than that!
These are just a few of my favorite places to get out of the house and read, it can be such a cozy experience to find a cozy corner in a cafe. Where is your favorite place to read when you want to get out of the house?

About Kate:

Kate is an American expat living in Amsterdam, Netherlands. She moved abroad with her husband and 15 year old daughter. Kate loves to spend her days reading, cooking, crafting, and if not at home touring Amsterdam and has made it her personal goal to visit every museum possible in a city known for its museums. In her spare time Kate loves to write about her travels on her blog, The Diary of an Urban Housewife. This is not only a platform to record everything that happens, but an outlet to help other travelers, and especially other expats if they are considering coming to the Netherlands.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Announcing the 2nd Travel the World in Books Readathon

"Image courtesy of potowizard at FreeDigitalPhotos.net"

Last year Becca of I'm Lost in Books, Tanya of Mom's Small Victories and I created a challenge to read more books from around the world. You can learn about how to sign up for the challenge and about my challenge goals here. Along with the challenge, we also hosted a Readathon giving everyone an opportunity to read and discuss books that take place in countries other than their own.

Today I am delighted to announce the readathon is back for a 2nd year. We’ve extended it to two weeks to provide more reading and discussion time. We’ve also added two great co-hosts. Tanya, Becca, Lucy and Aloi and I have come up with some great activities, check out the entire schedule of events here.

The goals for the Readathon are simple: read books that take place in countries other than your own.

Traveling around the world through books has always been a passion of mine. I continue to be amazed by how little some people know about geography and cultures outside of their community.
 
Here are some of my recent conversations with casual acquaintances:

My friend is being transferred to Belgium. Where is that? Somewhere in Europe right. (This statement was more shocking when I learned this person was a teacher).

I’d never go on a safari in Africa. I’m afraid I’d contact Ebola. See Ebola fears crippling Africa's safari industry.

My friend is interning in a third world country in South America. I think it is Portugal. When I say that doesn’t sound right, she texts a friend who informs her it is Paraguay.

I currently live in Wisconsin and read mostly nonfiction. My goals for the readathon are as follows:

1. Finish reading Rosemary Sullivan's book Stalin's Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva. This book takes place in Russia and the U.S. It also touches on Switzerland, India and England.

2. Finish reading Nicholas D. Kristof's book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide which has been on my reading list for years. It provides insight into several countries where women struggle to receive adequate health care and basic human rights.

3. Start reading Malala Yousafzai's book I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban which is also the discussion pick for Nonfiction November.

4. While preparing this post, I realized I’ve never written a post summarizing the nonfiction books I’ve read and recommend by country, so I plan to do so. Watch for it Tuesday, October 27th.

5. Participate in the evening twitter chat.

Are you participating in the Travel the World in Books Readathon? What books do you plan to read?

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Getting Back into Blogging



I received an email this week from a fellow blogger asking if I had quit blogging. My original plan was to take a week off. Somehow that week turned into two and the next thing I know I hadn’t blogged since August. To get back into the swing of things I’ve decided to provide an update. Here is my current status:

Work:

I am finally getting caught up at after an employee in my department resigned earlier this year. We were both working 40+ hours per week, so after she left my workload became overwhelming as I attempted to cover both positions. Initially, we brought in a temp who did not work out and were disappointed to learn she had asked the agency to be reassigned two full weeks before they felt the need to share that information with us. During that period she created an incredible mess; incorrect postings, duplicate payments and from what we surmise - throwing her mail away. We are still making corrections. We recently hired a full-time and a part-time employee who I am confident will be great hires.

Fitness:

I cancelled my gym membership and joined Jazzercise. With my increased work-load I was no longer able to attend the fitness classes I enjoyed at my old gym. Feeling depressed and lethargic, I asked a former gym member how she was liking Jazzercise. She loved it and invited me to a class. Impressed with the class variety, schedule, fitness instructors, location and the price (I receive a discount through my medical insurance) I joined and am back to working out consistently.

Reading:

Since my last post I finished reading Isabelle Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration. I had an “aha moment” when Wilkerson mentioned of the three lives she followed for the great migration she considered Ida Mae the happiest. Ida Mae also lived the longest. Instead of living with regrets or trying to be someone she was not she accepted who she was and lived in the moment. I have spent years living in the future – retired, self-employed or anywhere but at work. This book inspired me to read Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown. Both books helped pull me out of my workplace funk and back to a more balanced state mind.

Anticipating:
Travel the World in Books read-a-thon: The Travel the World in Book's team has chosen October 18-31st for this year’s read-a-thon. I’m already compiling a list of books and have chosen Rosemary Sullivan's book Stalin's Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva as my first read. Stay tuned for more information on the read-a-thon and our challenge.

Dog Update:
Buck, our golden retriever, was diagnosed with lymphoma earlier this year. After deciding against chemotherapy, our vet prescribed a steroid regimen and told us to begin preparing for his demise. After a rocky couple of months, I am happy to report yesterday was Buck’s 12th birthday. We celebrated with lots of photos and birthday treats. He seemed to enjoy himself and now when someone says the word birthday he stands by the treat jar.

Watching:
In the spirit of a friend’s resent trip to Tuscany we watched Under the Tuscan Sun last night. This was one of those rare instances where I enjoyed the movie more than the book. The movie is quite different in that Francis is portrayed as single while in actuality she is married and bought the home in Tuscany with her husband.

Have you ever taken a lengthy break from blogging? Did you miss it? What brought you back?

Please Note, I am an Amazon Affiliate

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Triumph of the Heart: Forgiveness in an Unforgiving World

Motivation for Reading:
I received an advance copy of Megan Feldman Bettencourt's book Triumph of the Heart: Forgiveness in an Unforgiving Worldin exchange for an honest review.

What is Triumph of the Heart: Forgiveness in an Unforgiving World about?
At age 33, Megan Feldman Bettencourt was struggling to pay her bills and reeling from yet another break-up. Her feelings of disillusionment, pain, and anger seemed completely justified to her. Then she met Azim. Azim had forgiven the man who killed his only son, and even befriended the killer’s family. Compelled by this amazing story, Megan set out to understand our capacity to forgive. 

In Triumph of the Heart: Forgiveness in an Unforgiving  Megan searches for what it means to forgive. The journey takes her from recovered addicts who restarted their lives by seeking forgiveness, to a Baltimore principal who used forgiveness techniques to eradicate violence in her school, to genocide survivors in Rwanda who forgave the people who killed their families. Along the way, practicing forgiveness alters Megan’s life in ways she never expected.

My Thoughts:
Initially, I wasn’t sure I wanted to read another self-help book especially one about forgiveness, but the book seemed to fit the reading projects I’ve been working on: to become a stronger person and to be savvier, so I decided to accept the advance copy. I am so glad I did. 

Triumph of the Heart is more than a self-help book, it is a beautifully written study of forgiveness. Many of us have difficulty forgiving or letting go of past grievances. In an attempt to understand and forgive her own grudges, Feldman examines others who were able to forgive; the daughter who forgives her father who raped her as a young girl, a man forgives the murderer of his son, a husband forgives his cheating spouse and Rwandan genocide survivors who forgave the people who killed their families are just a few.

Here is a sampling of what I learned:
- It's hard to be ruminating about how someone hurt you or disappointed you 10 years ago, or five years ago or one year ago when you're being mindful.

- Everyone is dealing with something. We have to remember that we never know what people are dealing with and why they're acting a certain way. For the most part, people are doing the best they can with what they have.

- When we are angry with our enemy and in the midst of an adrenaline rush we just want to be right and have difficulty slowing down to understand their side of the story.

-The forgiveness process is similar to the grief process; both aim for acceptance and vary in duration and intensity for each person.

Many of the people Feldman profiled would go on to channel their forgiveness into create a better world.

I found Chantal Nimugire, who suffered horrific loses, abuse and betrayal during the Rwandan genocide, to be inspiring: 
For eighteen years I was healing and having memories of genocide, but after I forgave, I began to share my story and become passionate about advocating for women who suffered rape and sexual abuse. She recently began speaking to groups of widows through AVEGA, making an effort to inspire and support women who lost their husbands and children to the genocide. She’s determined to take a stand against rape as a tool of war, whether in nearby Congo and Sedan or around the world.

“We have to stand up and speak out. We have to demand a better world.” (pg. 178)
Bottom line:
Triumph of the Heart: Forgiveness in an Unforgiving World is a beautiful well researched book. If you have an interest in learning more about forgiveness I recommend reading this book.

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Sunday, August 09, 2015

Was My Neighbor Entitled to a Referral Discount?


My husband recently received an estimate from a tree service contractor to remove a dead tree from our yard.  Apprehensive of the low quote, he asked for local references.  The contractor had plenty; not only had he removed and pruned trees for one of our neighbors, but a second neighbor had hired him after observing his work.

There was a minor glitch to this story:

After the first neighbor* witnessed the contractor working on the second neighbor’s property he demanded a huge referral discount be applied to his bill.  The contractor refused stating the discount was too deep and he’d lose money on the job. Our neighbor then withheld payment for three months until the contractor finally agreed to a discount – not as much as the neighbor initially asked for, but still excessive according to the contractor.         

Did my neighbor deserve a referral discount?

I’m going to side with the contractor on this one.  My neighbor never actually did anything other than hire the contractor to work on his own property.  He didn’t give the second neighbor the contractor’s name or provide a reference.  The second neighbor approached the contractor while observing his work on the first neighbor’s property.  In my opinion, I don't think he deserved a discount.

My husband thinks the contractor should have demanded payment immediately upon completion of the work rather than giving our neighbor terms. After receiving payment, he should have told him he was going to be working for his neighbor and handed him a token $10 Starbucks or Home Depot gift card as a courtesy. 

*On a side note, this isn’t the first story I've heard about this neighbor refusing to pay a bill.

How about you – do you think my neighbor deserved a referral discount?  Have you ever received a referral discount or finder's fee? If so, what was the situation?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Becoming Savvy at 53

Tomorrow is my 53rd birthday.  I like setting goals on my birthday; my New Year's resolutions are usually long forgotten, so my birthday is a good time to reassess and come up with new goals for the remainder of the year.

While brainstorming goals for this year, I reread my birthday post from last year. I had a little chuckle over the title, “Career Reinvention at 52,” thinking that didn’t work out so well. But as I read the post, I realized every word still applies to my life today except my retirement goal has been pushed out another year.  I still work too much – probably more this year than last as I struggled to find at adequate replacement after my employee resigned.  My workouts became fewer and fewer until I dropped my gym membership altogether and my diet has gotten worse. The good news is my company has approved an additional hire for my department, so hopefully my work load will improve in the future.

I would still like to retire early from my job and spend my time doing something more rewarding.  My plan last year was to follow James Altucher's The Ultimate Cheat Sheet For Reinventing Yourself. He says it takes five years to reinvent yourself.  Here is his recommended five-year plan:
  • Year One: you’re flailing and reading everything and just starting to DO.
  • Year Two: you know who you need to talk to and network with. You’re Doing every day. You finally know what the monopoly board looks like in your new endeavors.
  • Year Three: you’re good enough to start making money. It might not be a living yet.
  • Year Four: you’re making a good living
  • Year Five: you’re making wealth
In my 52nd year, I planned to read everything and start to Do.  Altucher claims reading 200-500 books are equal to one good mentor.  I finished 19 books last year and have to admit many of them were largely forgettable, so as I begin my 53rd year I am still at step one of the reinvention cycle.    I’ve always been a late bloomer, so for my 53rd year my goal is to

Become “savvier.”  I plan to do this by continuing my goal to read 200-500 books.  Only I hope to pick better books.

I am also adding Altucher’s suggestion to get your idea muscle in shape.  To do this he recommends coming up with 10 ideas a day.  As you do this the muscle will grow, you will be able to come up with more ideas and the ideas will get better.

What books have helped you become savvier?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Racism in My Community

I wrote at the beginning of the year, I’m considering rebranding this blog. One of the topics I’ve contemplated is “becoming Savvy” or “getting a clue.” I came up with the idea after reading an interview with Susan Jane Gilman where she describes her book Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress: Tales of Growing Up Groovy and Cluelessas a series of essays on getting a clue about her naiveté.

I am the queen of naiveté. I grew up on a farm in rural Wisconsin where the only sources I had for learning about the outside world were school, church, television – only CBS though since our reception couldn’t pick up NBC or ABC - and from books. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until later in adult life I realized these sources usually presented an ideal or white-washed version of the real world. 

While listing topics for my new “Getting a Clue Blog, racism along with feminism are always at the top of the list. It was rare for me to encounter people who weren’t white in my community during the 60’s and 70’s. The one and only time I remember seeing someone with darker skin was while visiting a nearby town with my Grandma. We were sitting in her car on a sweltering July day (probably waiting for my Dad to return from the feed store) when she said, “Quick roll up the windows and duck down. There are colored folks over there who’ll steal from us if they see you” I remember doing what she said, but only after sneaking a peek at this man and his son.

I learned about the civil rights movement in social studies and was taught God loves everyone equally at church. I believed our country had moved on from racism and that my Grandma was an anomaly. She was old, didn’t get out much and didn’t know better. In the eighties I went to see the film Mississippi Burning and was reassured the world had changed and my country had moved on from all that. 

That was until a few years ago, before the Trevon Martin incident. I was relaying bad news from a company I work with to a respected member of my community. This person is an educated, religious, wealthy, older white male. Upon hearing my news, he went into a rage swearing and spewing hatred towards every person he had ever dealt with at this company, even referring to a former employee of this company with a racial slur.

I was shocked. I stood there completely tongue-tied unable to believe my ears. I had been wrong. When this man singled out a person of color with the “n” word I realized not only did racism still exist, but I was looking right at it. This man may think he's good at hiding it, but racism and hatred are alive in his psyche. 

I was reminded of him this week as I read numerous articles and blog posts discussing how racism continues to be a huge problem in our society; in response to the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

Racism is not a topic I can easily write about. I feel I don’t know enough about it to write truthfully and intelligently. But I can tell you this, racism does exist and is more prevalent than I thought possible. It exists not just in our segregated cities and in the south. It is in the north, in our suburban communities, in our places of employment, in our churches, our charities, and our families. I would like to think the children of the man I spoke to above would have been appalled and embarrassed if they had heard his words, but I will never know for sure.

Another key element of my “Becoming Savvy” blog is to write about books that have made me a more informed person. A book I’ve been meaning to read for this project is The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson.

Mocha Mama, one of my favorite bloggers covering racism, writes:
There aren't many books that I would recommend be a part of a mandated curriculum in teaching History (because there are a great many to be sure) but one that I cannot stop thinking about is Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns. It is remarkable in scope and one cannot help but consider that movement, The Great Migration, in shaping cities and labor issues and the construction of what came to be known as the ghetto and the gentrification of those cities later on in history. Wilkerson herself has called that Migration "the biggest underreported story of the twentieth century.

I plan to read The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration next month. Will you join me?
 
 
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Sunday, June 14, 2015

How to Pay off Your Parent’s Mortgage?

 

My Parents divorced when my Mom was 55. One of the first things she did after securing full-time employment was to purchase a condo. Despite refinancing her mortgage for a more favorable interest rate (than the outrageous balloon she originally incurred) and a shorter mortgage term she still owed $60,000 of principle when she was forced to retire at age 75. She quickly discovered with almost no accumulated savings, making ends meet on a fixed income with a mortgage was difficult.

My siblings and I began discussing how we could assist her in paying off her mortgage, then recoup our investment when she eventually sold it.

My mom met with an elder care lawyer to discuss deeding her condo to her children. I knew it had become more difficult to transfer property since President Bush had signed the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (this Act increased Medicaid’s look back period from three years to five), but was surprised when the lawyer flat out refused to help us. She said with my mom having virtually no savings she would be ineligible for Medicaid for the next five years until every penny of equity transferred to us had been paid to her nursing home. What if her children couldn’t come up with this money? She refused to put my mom in that situation. 

We asked, “What if my mom doesn’t need nursing home care in the next five years?”
The lawyer didn’t care, she felt my mom’s condo equity should remain with my mom to cover her long term care or other expenses whenever they may occur. The discussion was over.

$60,000 split four ways was too great of an expense for my siblings and I to handle. There were spouses and grand-children to consider, child-care expenses and our own mortgages; $15,000 was a lot of money to hand over to your mother-in-law with no guarantee of ever getting it back. We explored other options such as selling the condo and having my mom rent or live with one of us, but she wasn’t ready for that. Plus, monthly rental payments cost almost as much as her mortgage expense. Instead, my brother reviewed all of her bills and cut every unnecessary expense. It literally made us sick to see how she had been taken advantage of over the years by cable companies, insurance agents, car repairmen, investment advisors, etc. When he finished her monthly expenses were manageable.
Her condo will be paid off next February and I’m confident she’ll make it.

I was reminded of my mom’s mortgage when my husband and I met with a Wisconsin title employee last week. As the representative was going over our mortgage paperwork she said something about it not being a good idea for our children to make our loan payments. Instead, she recommended they refinance the mortgage in their own names if they wanted to make payments.

After the closing was over, I asked her to explain what she meant about children refinancing the mortgage in their own names and if this was the preferred method for a child to pay off their parent’s mortgage.

She actually recommended children not pay off their parent’s mortgage and if needed do so only if:
- A written agreement was drafted by a lawyer and signed by the parent and the child prior to the child making any payments.

- All siblings were aware of the agreement and a written repayment plan was discussed and agreed upon by all siblings.

- Every mortgage payment was made with a paper trail. Never give a parent cash to make a payment.

She knows of several children (including herself) who paid mortgages and other expenses on behalf of their parents assuming they would be reimbursed from their parent’s estate only to have these repayments disputed by siblings. Lawyers were involved, the child was never reimbursed and the siblings no longer speak to each other.

Her bottom line advice on how to pay off your parent’s mortgage:

Don’t do it.

Have you or your siblings paid expenses on behalf of your parents? Has it been a favorable experience?

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Switching my Goal to Financial Independence

This week a 60-year old asked me, “How much money do you think the average couple needs to retire?”  I answered 1.2 million.

That was the number I had initially come up with for myself last fall when my husband decided to retire at the end of 2014.  The initial plan was for me to join him in retirement when our total liquid assets reached 1 million.  I added the $200,000 to cover taxes on our 401(k) distributions after hearing horror stories from a couple that didn’t plan for taxes on their 401(k) money.

The 60-year old has been asking this question to everyone he knows.  Most answers fall between $1 and $2 million.  For himself, he thinks he and his wife need between $3 and $4 million. His plan is to retire at 63.  He recently bought a condo in Florida on a golf course where he will spend the winters. He will sell his home in Wisconsin and buy a condo here where he will live in the summers.  His only hobby is golf.  He can play for free at his Florida condo.  His company offers retiree health care and he will receive a pension.

$3 to $4 million!  If that is what a couple needs to retire comfortably I will never be able to retire. 

Which is why I am changing my goal from retiring early to financial independence.  In addition to saving for retirement, I am going to spend the next 5-6 years building an alternative income stream to supplement our retirement funds.

In other news, I had to let my temp go last week for underperformance and am starting over on Monday with a new employee.  My boss told me not to count on having much of a summer…

Financial independence is looking very attractive right now.  What steps are you doing to create financial independence?

Also, how much money do you think the average couple needs to retire?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

What to Read for a Female Mid-Life Crisis?




In my post, Ride of Your Life, I wrote about Ran Zilca’s book Ride of Your Life: A Coast-to-Coast Guide to Finding Inner Peace. He was turning 40, and had been successful in business and his personal life, but was unsure who he really was. I think that many people experience this type of feeling in midlife, where they know what they do and where they live, but not exactly sure who they are. It made him feel restless, so he went out to rediscover his identity, quiet the restlessness, and regain his inner peace.

In response to this post, I received the following comment from Ray:
I am going to seriously consider reading this book and hear is why. I am in the 40's and I wonder to myself more and more, who am I? I started to write the blog partly to answer that...... I think I need to read, and find my inner self, and come to some peace as well.

Thoughts on this? Or if one should try another book?
Oh what a comment. I have so many thoughts.

First should Ray read this book?
Sure go ahead, it can’t hurt. I read this one in a PDF format on my e-reader and think I’d have gotten more out of it if I’d read it in print. I love dog-earing pages to review later and wasn’t able to do that with this book. I think I missed a few points especially towards the end.

As for self-help books:
I don't usually finish them. I wasn't even able to finish The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen Covey and How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnagie both of which are on a list of self-help books that stand the test of time at my local library.

Another interesting quote from Ride of your Life:
This one is from Dr. Jamie Pennebaker, Chair of the Psychology department at The University of Texas in Austin:

All of self-help is bullshit and probably most of psychology.

His recommendation:

Show me the money. Show me whatever you’ve got – does it work? Does it work for you? One thing I encourage everybody is to be their own inner scientist: you have to find out what’s really working.

Zilca feels most people are not always good at accessing how well it works for them. In response, Pennebaker suggest that people take their “life pulse” every day.

Well, then you start to measure. You start to write down how many hours of sleep you are getting. You write down how you feel today. Are you sick? What’s your body temperature? There are a million ways to evaluate how your life is going. And yes, we are all delusional about things, but measuring things is not a bad idea. What’s your heart rate and your blood pressure today? How many calories are you eating? How much exercise are you getting? How many fights have you gotten into with friends and coworkers? Make a list of things that are important to you – ideally, things that you can objectively measure. Take your life-pulse every day, see how it’s going. And if it does, that’s wonderful and if it doesn’t, get in line. Most things really don’t work. (Pgs. 82 and 83).
He then suggests using writing to gain clarity about events in your life, their meaning and the way you chose to respond.

So yes dear Ray, read this book and keep blogging it may work for you.

Other book recommendations:
Most of the books I’ve read on self-discovery were tailored towards career discovery.

Here are the ones that helped the most:
Dan Miller's book 48 Days To The Work You Love

Paul Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger's book Do What You Are

Tom Rath's book Strengths Finder 2.0

One of my favorite self-discovery books is Cheryl Strayed's Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar.

While searching for additional books covering female identity crisis I came across this article in Psychology Today What A Female Mid-Life Crisis Looks Like.  This article mirrors my experience perfectly:
The women in the article have not faced a crisis, but they are facing a mid-life quest for identity. For smart, goal-driven women, a mid-life crisis isn't about recovering lost youth. It's about discovering the application of their greatness. The problem is that no one has defined what "greatness" looks like so the quest has no specific destination.

If you are questioning what is next for your career and possibly, your life, this is a great time to talk to friends who might be going through a similar experience. One of the worst things busy women do is put their friendships on the back burner. There is no need to "tough it out on your own." Find a friend who is also interested in personal development who won't judge the struggle you are experiencing. A good coach can help as well.
I'm considering bringing back "The Savvy Reader Book Club" with a self acceptance or mid-life crisis theme.  Would you be interested?  For starters I'd suggest we read What A Female Mid-Life Crisis Looks Like.

What books would you recommend for a female mid-life crisis or acceptance book club?