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Op/Ed

Working harder isn’t always financially smarter (there’s a better financial path)

(FINANCE) Getting that pay increase can cause you to spend a little extra money on the things you like, but trying to keep that level of comfort is hard.

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One summer I was a lifeguard. I earned $2.70 an hour. My first check was around $250. I was so money! I hit Contempo Casuals and I was able to buy an entire outfit and have a few bucks left.

My income was increasing and so was my taste. It’s called lifestyle creep and it happens to hard-working folk when they aren’t paying attention. Workers start out earning minimum wage, get a raise, then move on to a better paying job. Repeat.

As you earn more, you spend more and sometimes your PBR lifestyle is replaced with a craft beer attitude.

Whether you are a broker or have multiple side hustles, working harder to make more money isn’t always the answer, according to finance experts.

As, Peter Dunn, aka Pete the Planner explains, the only thing better than a lot of money, is not needing that money.

Lifestyle creep happens when people have more income and they reward themselves, maybe buying a fancier car, buying nicer furniture, dining out at nicer restaurants, taking expensive trips. You get the picture.

But, as The Motley Fool, explains, rather than saving that extra money you are making, you have spent it. Should an emergency happen, or your income takes a dive, you will have a hard time going backward. And, you probably don’t have the income set aside for an emergency situation.

“When your lifestyle creeps up with your income, you’ve just become more and more dependent on your income,” according to Dunn’s blog.

But, you say, wait a minute! I’ve worked hard and I deserve that nice car and those fancy meals and drinks out at the hot spots.

Ok. First, you need to have a budget and, according to experts, save at least 20% of what you earn. As The Motley Fools lays it out, if you can buy the item and still reach your savings target, you are good.

You should also ask: Does the expense improve your life enough to justify the purchase?

How to know if those purchases are worthwhile? Be intentional about what you buy. See something you really want. Write it down, wait 30 days. Still can’t get it out of your head. Buy it. As Money Under 30 suggests, create a fun fund. Have your savings automatically deposited and determine how much can go toward fun each month.

Avoiding the “creep” is important if you are thinking long-term and considering what retirement will look like. If you can stick to your savings goals and manage your spending in the years leading up to retirement, Dunn says, adjusting to a lower income won’t be as challenging.

“Retirement planning is so focused on saving money,” Dunn says in his blog. “Yet, breaking your dependence on your income is a huge part of retirement success.”

Mary Ann Lopez earned her MA in print journalism from the University of Colorado and has worked in print and digital media. After taking a break to give back as a Teach for America corps member and teaching science for a few years, she is back with her first love: writing. When she's not writing stories, reading five books at once, or watching The Great British Bakeoff, she is walking her dog Sadie and hanging with her cats, Bella, Bubba, and Kiki. She is one cat short of full cat lady status and plans to keep it that way.

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Op/Ed

Security of client information is important, so change the process

(EDITORIAL) Too many companies have had security breaches, which is bad enough, but is the process for insuring client information safety too old to secure?

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While, it’s clear companies seem to get hacked regularly, the steps taken to keep users safe are a joke. Companies still rely on asking personal questions in an effort to make users feel safe, but those attempts are laughable.

I wasn’t laughing earlier this week as I was setting up a few new accounts.

As anyone knows, creating accounts can be a real pain in the buttocks. But, since I’m kind of a geek, I would sometimes find the humor in choosing and answering my three security questions. (Wondering if I’d remember the answers.)

What band was your first concert?
What was your favorite dog’s name?
Where were your parents married?
What model was your first car?
Who was your childhood bff?

Cool.

I never thought much about the security questions until the last few times when I encountered a few like this:

In which city were you married?

What is the name of your eldest child?

At what time of day was your oldest child born?

How old was your father when you were born?

What?

I felt I had taken a step back in time.

Sure, these questions might be ok, if there were a lot of options, but these were four of the seven provided.

I’m not a super touchy person who gets triggered easily or angered at the drop of a hat. But, these questions made me question this process and its security.

Whether you’re a man or a woman, in this day and age, it’s quite possible you’ve never been married or had a kid. It’s also possible for some folks, they didn’t know their dad. Or, if they do, maybe they don’t want their security question asking how old he was when they were born.

But, the bigger question: Why so very personal? And, from a woman’s perspective, why so presumptive. It made me wonder: are the questions the same for a man or a woman of any age?

I can’t imagine a 22-year-old being asked about the birth of their eldest child. Or, where they were married.

These questions had to be options based on my age and gender.

I chose the questions I could answer like, where was my elementary school located.

But, I didn’t feel safer for answering. Somehow I felt like the company asking them was 1) Prying to gather personal data 2) Not concerned about safety 3) Was sexist.

As many others have argued, it’s time to shut this process down, if only for the fact that it doesn’t make us safer online. This is a practice that should be relegated to the past, just like the presumptive questions being asked.

Seems no matter where you look online, banks, retailers and even medical providers are hacked. Our information is floating in space on the interwebs.

Obviously, security is a top concern. Who wants to sign up for a service only to find out later, “OOPS, our bad, your information was hacked. Here, we will give you free credit monitoring for a month.”

Doesn’t cut it.

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Op/Ed

Your career depends on you, and the mentors you select

(EDITORIAL) Moving up in your career can be dependent on your drive to be better, but improving does depend on who you choose to teach you

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Remember when you were younger and were encouraged to join extra-curricular activities because they would “look good to colleges”? What if the same were true for your career?

While applying to a university may be a thing of the past for you, there are still benefits to having extra-curricular activities that have to do with your career. Networking is a major piece of this, as is finding mentors who will help point you in the right direction.

These out-of-office organizations or clubs differ for every industry, so for the sake of this article, I will use one example that you can then interpret and tailor towards your own career.

The Past President of the national Federal Bar Association, Maria Z. Vathis, is someone who has taken the extra-curricular route throughout her entire career, and it has paid off immensely. Working as an attorney in Chicago, Vathis joined the FBA shortly after beginning her legal career and now is the Past President of the almost 100-year old organization.

She started working her way up the ladder of the Chicago Chapter of the association, and eventually became the president of that chapter. At the same time, she was also becoming involved in the Hellenic Bar Association, and would eventually become national president of that organization, as well.

“Through these organizations, I was fortunate to find mentors and lifelong friends. I was also lucky enough to mentor others and to have opportunities to give back to the community through various outreach projects,” said Vathis. “As a young attorney, it was priceless to gain exposure to successful attorneys and judges and to observe how they conducted themselves. Those judges and attorneys were my role models – whether they knew it or not. I learned how to be a professional and how to work with different personality types through my bar association work.”

Finding people in your industry – not just in your office – can be of great help as you go through the journey of your career. They can help you in the event of a job switch, help collaborate on volunteer-based projects, and help collaborate on career-advancing projects (like writing a book, for example).

And all strong networks often start with the help of a mentor – someone who has once been in your shows and can help you handle the ropes of your new career. Most importantly, they’re someone who you can seek advice from when you’re faced with someone challenging – either good or bad.

“I have been unbelievably fortunate with my mentors, and I cherish those relationships. They are good people, and they have changed my life in positive ways. I still draw on what they taught me to help make important decisions,” said Vathis. “My career success is due in large part to the fact that my mentors took an interest in my career, had faith in my abilities, and supported me while I held various positions in the organizations. Not only is it important to continue having mentors throughout your career, but it is important to recognize that mentors come in all shapes and sizes. You never know who you will learn something from, so it’s important to remain open. Also, after you become seasoned, it is important to give back by mentoring others.”

When asked why it’s important to be part of organizations outside of the office, Vathis explained, “To build a book of business, you need to be visible to others.” She also stresses the importance of putting yourself out there for new affiliations and challenges, because you never know where it may lead.

If you’re unsure of how to start this process, try asking co-workers and other people in your professional life if they have any advice or recommendations of organizations that can help advance your career. Another simple way is to Google “networking events in my area” and see what speaks to you. In addition, never be afraid to reach out to someone with a bit more experience for some advice. Take them out to coffee and pick their brain – you never know what you may learn.

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Op/Ed

Open letter to Realtors: Let your freak flag fly and quit judging each other

Tattoos are more and more acceptable in many fields of business, industry, and service. There still seems to be a gap in places like law, and real estate

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When most people think of Realtors, it’s easy to think of the boring headshot that seems to accompany them. You know the type: Boring suit, smarmy grin, some tagline about how they’re going to find you a house. Some Realtors, however, have set out to break that mold. One example is Justin Mercer.

Hailing from Arizona, Mercer goes by the title “The Tattooed Realtor.” It’s a name he’s definitely earned – Mercer sports tattoos everywhere from his hands to his face. And he looks awesome. Honestly, it’s about time more people start letting themselves live authentically, instead of trying to look like what society says they “should” look like.

Sure, Mercer has gotten plenty of strange looks, but he owns his appearance. In fact, he hands out fake tattoo stickers to kids and has a pen shaped like a tattoo machine for clients and visitors to use. The approach is interesting, but it helps break down the stigma surrounding face tattoos in fun ways.

His tattoos have also provided unique opportunities. For instance, Mercer has begun to land several acting roles! According to Mercer, he’s been in films, television, and even music videos. It’s a pretty neat perk to come from being visible and open.

That’s not to say it’s always easy for Mercer; he’s gotten a lot of pushback for his appearance. Even from within the industry:

Really, this says more about his detractors than Mercer himself. Why should tattoos stop someone from being a good real estate agent? In fact, why should tattoos stop someone from being a good anything?

Frankly, we’ve gone way too long subscribing to the idea that looking professional must mean trying to fit in. Who’s to say someone with pink hair, numerous piercings, or, in Mercer’s case, facial tattoos, isn’t fit to do their job? In fact, one of the great things about standing out is the ability to make like-minded customers feel at ease. There’s less fear of judgement when your Realtor looks like you.

Sure, no industry is going to change overnight – Mercer’s pushback is proof of that. But things are changing for the better. It’ll be an exciting day when everyone, no matter if they’re a doctor, lawyer, or real estate agent, feels comfortable enough to live authentically. And an even more exciting day when fellow Realtors don’t take to Facebook to trash a fellow professional for their appearance (isn’t there a saying about glass houses)?

In the meantime, congratulations to Mercer and those like him –– for pushing ahead in this relatively new frontier.

Here’s an adorable family photo, embracing the look:

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