Making a Difference: Volunteering

A simple way to make a difference in a hands-on kind of way is to volunteer. And the good news is that no matter what’s important to you, you can find an opportunity to help that meets your priorities. Many groups and organizations use volunteers to get things done and meet their goals, from political groups to health organizations.

Volunteer opportunities will vary widely. Some groups may need help organizing an event. Some may need help with phone calls or paperwork. Others may need help with physical work such as construction, landscaping, moving, etc. You can find an opportunity that suits you, no matter what your strengths may be.

You can find a group to help via several methods: online, cold calls, or even ads.

Online you’ll find several sites to help you find opportunities. Below are a few to get you started:

You can also check out an organization’s website to get information about the organization and any volunteer opportunities they may have.

If there’s a specific group or organization you’re interested in helping, your best bet may be to just call the organization. If they have a need for volunteers, they will let you know, or at least direct you to the person to speak with. You can also discuss with the volunteer coordinator exactly what you’re interested in doing. An organization may have different needs that you can choose from.

Some organizations will advertise when they need volunteers, either in general or for a specific event or activity. You can find these ads in local newspapers or in the organization’s newsletter or website. Some may even advertise around the community via signage. Keep your eyes open to find opportunities.

Your Health: Stress Relief

Few, if any, of us can say that we live stress-free. It’s part of life, and it does have a purpose. The results of stress can help us deal with moments of crisis and stir us to action. But too much stress can negatively impact our health, encouraging problems from heart issues to gastrointestinal concerns. So how do we take control of our health and cut back our stress levels? It can be easier said than done, however, here are some ideas that may help you.

The first step is to figure out what’s causing you the stress. If a particular situation, person, or item on your to-do list is creating your stress, identifying it and dealing with it can be the most effective solution. This means you’re taking care of the cause, not just the symptoms. If the cause cannot be taken care of, however, there are ways to deal with the symptoms that may bring you relief.

Massage is a popular choice, as is any method of pampering: manicures and pedicures, salon and spa treatments such as facials, relaxing in a hot tub. These can help loosen your muscles and get you to breathe easier, leaving your mind free to deal with the stressful situation.

Along the same lines is physical activity. Getting your body active can also let your mind clear. Take a walk, go for a hike, or ride a bike. Go to the gym. Play a sport with friends. Dance. Sing. Do yoga. The more muscles the activity uses, the better. Then, after you’ve exerted yourself, take a warm shower to soothe your muscles and let your body unwind.

You can also try simply taking deep breaths. Sit in a comfortable chair with your hands on your lap. Close your eyes and take deep breaths, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Focus only on your breathing. Let your shoulders sag, your muscles relax. Roll your neck. The longer you’re able to focus on your breathing, the better. Let the stress melt off you.

Sometimes the best cure for stress is getting your mind off it. Participate in an activity that brings you joy. Do you have a hobby you enjoy? Are there friends you like to socialize with? Is there a food or activity that gets your mind off everything else? Go out to the movies (and pick an upbeat comedy rather than that dramatic downer). Read a book. Listen to music.

To really get your mind off your own problems, try helping others who are less fortunate. Doing volunteer work can make your situation seem a whole lot simpler. Check out VolunteerMatch for ideas and opportunities or call your local social services department to find out where you can help.

Last but not least, don’t forget taking action. I find that if I’m stressed about a situation, taking actions to improve that situation brings me the greatest relief. Then I feel like I’m actually doing something, instead of avoiding it. Even if the solution has not been found, and the cause is not completely dealt with, at least I know I’m getting there. And that can help relieve stress in the long-term, not just the present.

Your Relationships: Online Help

When you think of “online” and “relationships,” you probably think about online dating sites. They certainly put their names out there, and it’s hard to ignore them. If you’re looking for a new romantic relationships, this may be a good place to start. Heck, I met my husband online, so I can’t say they’re a bad thing! But the internet has many relationships resources beyond dating sites, from advice to quizzes to forums — for all kind of relationships, not just romantic. If you’re looking for help, there are plenty of places to find it.

General Information
When it comes to general relationship advice, tips, and ideas, articles abound. Below are some sites dedicated to relationships that can help guide you in your life.

Articles can inform you of the latest studies, offer suggestions and guidance, and encourage you in your quest to improve your relationships. There’s certainly no shortage of information! But keep in mind that every relationship is different, and that articles and advice are not the be-all and end-all when it comes to determining your course of action. What they can do, however, is offer valuable information that can help if you’re stuck or need some motivation.

Forums
Sometimes it can help to have objective people offer their insight on your current situation. This can help you get ideas or look at things from a different point of view. It can also help to weigh in on others’ situations — you can help others and possibly gain new perspective on your own relationships. Below are some places that can help get you started with connecting with others online:

You can also find forums by going to your favorite search engine and searching for “forum: topic” (obviously replace “topic” with the actual topic you want to discuss!).

Other Electronic Help
I think at this pint we’re all pretty familiar with electronic methods of communication: cell phones, texting, e-mails, social media. They can be great tools when it comes to keeping in touch and staying connected. But just remember that relationships are often about the human touch, and electronic methods will only get you so far. There’s a lot to be said for face-to-face interaction, and if you’re not getting enough, that can lead to its own set of problems. So get out there and see people!

Your Money: Online Help

When it comes to money, there is a plethora of information out there — both online and in real life. Online resources, in particular, can be valuable tools. They can help with both general information and specific tools such as mortgage and retirement calculators. You can even get advice when it comes to your specific needs.

General Information
The sites below can offer general information on financial topics, as well as articles on the latest money and business news. Each site offers different categories, depending on your informational needs. Keep in mind that unless you’re business- or financially-inclined, some of the terminology may be advanced, requiring additional research:

The great thing about these sites is that whether you’re looking for personal finance information or information for your business’s finances, resources are available. So no matter what your goals are, you can get the help and information you need.

Calculators
Depending on your goal, you may be wondering what you have to do to meet your end result. Luckily there are many resources out there that suit exactly this purpose, whether it’s for a mortgage, retirement, auto loan or more. Click the links below for instant access:

These are just a few — there are many other calculators out there as well. If you’re looking for a specific type of calculator, you can also search for it using your favorite search engine.

Forums
Experts and other consumers can often help with specific questions or issues. To take advantage of this, check out money forums. These can either be general forums or specific forums that deal with the area of your money life that needs guidance. Below are some general money forums to get you started. You can also search for forums regarding a specific topic by heading to your favorite search engine and searching for forum: topic. (Obviously replace “topic” with the actual topic you’re searching for!)

Other Resources
In addition to websites and forums, there are other electronic tools that can offer help and inspiration. You can also check out podcasts, online magazines, apps, and more. Search your favorite electronic device to get ideas.

If you don’t know where to start, or need guidance with the basics, check out my own site-in-progress All About the Money for articles and links.

Your Career: Get Experience

With so much competition in the job market these days, it’s important to do everything you can to set yourself apart. Assuming you have the education required for the position you’re going for, the next step is to gain relevant experience.

It can be a bit of a conundrum to look at job postings; everyone wants experienced workers, but you can’t get experience without getting a job — right? Not necessarily.

Opportunities exist beyond the workplace. If you’re still in school or recently graduated, you can look for internship opportunities. Some may be paid, but even if they aren’t, you’ll gain the experience necessary to put on your resume and get real-world application of your skills. Depending on where you intern, you may even be able to get a job after the internship is over. Or, at the very least, gain valuable contacts that can help you find another position.

If internships are not a viable option — or even if they are — you can also look into volunteering at non-profit organizations. Many smaller groups and organizations don’t have the funds to hire a professional. You can volunteer to do the job for a nominal fee, or even for free. They get the job done, and you gain experience. Regardless of what you need experience in, there is likely an organization who could use the help.

Another option is letting friends and family know you’re looking for experience. Perhaps someone knows a person who could hire you. Or perhaps a friend of member of your family could use help themselves. As with an organization, even if you’re not charging much, if anything, you’ll still gain that valuable experience you need.

Don’t underestimate going out on your own. Advertise your services in the local paper or online. Be upfront and honest about looking for experience. Many people are willing to take a chance if it’ll be a lot cheaper for them. It’s a win-win.

Inspiration From Richard L. Evans

“Don’t let life discourage you; everyone who got where they are had to begin where they were.” ~Richard L. Evans

We all come into this world the same way: naked with nothing. Now, given, some of us have some advantages that soon become apparent: money, brains, looks. These advantages can make it easier to succeed in life. But despite advantages, however abundant they may seem, everyone has to build themselves up from this initial, naked beginning. Will we end up how we started? Or will we take whatever advantages we may have, build our resolve, and make something of ourselves?

Regardless of whatever advantages you may or may not have, life happens. I’ve said it before: Things get in the way. Plans don’t work out the way we’d like them to. Our goals seem too far out of reach to be achievable. As easy as it can be to let these disappointments bring us down, it can be helpful to think that all of the people we look up to — all the people we admire for having done great things — have had to deal with the same stuff. They had to make the decision to rise past it, to build themselves up beyond the hardships of life to become successful. They all started the same as we did: staring a difficult future in the face, having to make the decision to succumb to it or rise above it.

Will you let life get the better of you, or will you rise to the occasion?

Making a Difference: Online Help

Helping others can be as local or as broad as you’d like it to be. And online resources can help you in your quest, whether it’s locating organizations to help or researching a charity before donating. While many individual organizations or charities have their own websites, you can also find general sites that will guide you in your goals.

Where to Help
If you’re unsure where to start, these sites can help. You can find charities and organizations and get matched with the right ones for you.

Charity Ratings
It’s an unfortunate reality that in this day and age not all organizations are reputable. Some scammers will post as charitable organizations, looking to pilfer your money. Before donating, check out the following sites that will give you the info n the charities you’re looking to invest in:

These sites can also help guide you in finding a charity if you haven’t yet selected one.

Helping the World
In this global community, it’s easier than ever to connect with people around the world. And that means it’s also easier to help people around the world. If this is your goal, the internet is here to help. The sites below are just some of the many that can link you to organizations helping our global neighbors.:

Obviously this is just a beginning when it comes to making a difference online. You’re only limited by your imagination and resources! If you’re interested in a specific type of organization, using your favorite search engine can bring up several excellent choices. Just be sure to check them out before donating.

Your Health: Online Help

No matter what your health goals are, there are probably people out there who are going through the same thing. Whether it’s losing weight, starting an exercise program, eating better, or dealing with a particular disease or ailment, rest assured that you’re not alone. As a result, there will be websites to help you in your journey. In a previous post, I listed several sites to help you find a doctor, optometrist or dentist. If you don’t have a doctor yet, I urge you to start with that, before tackling any specific goals or self-diagnosing.

For overall medical information, my favorite site is WebMD. I can search by symptoms, or get general information, home treatments, and tips on when to call my doctor. While it’s not a replacement for actually seeing a doctor, it can be a helpful tool when you have a quick question or want to find out what that symptom might mean. The Mayo Clinic also has helpful information and research tools that can help you. When I was pregnant and had a newborn, I also found The Bump to be a helpful site. Not only do they have articles in which they answer questions, but there are also a variety of forums on the site to help anyone who is trying to conceive, who is pregnant, or who has a child. These sites, however, are certainly not the only ones out there.

Specific Diseases
If you’re looking for information on a particular disease or ailment, your best bet would likely be to do an internet search. There are simply too many categories for me to list on here! Just visit your favorite search engine, and type in the disease or ailment you’re looking for information on. If you’re trying to find a support group or forum, search for “forum: disease or ailment,” filling in “disease or ailment” with the actual disease or ailment you’re looking for information on, of course!

Losing Weight, Getting Healthy
When it comes to losing weight, starting a fitness regime, or eating healthier, the material out there tends to overlap. Therefore the sites below cover multiple categories, despite the names. And some sites will also offer forums, making them a valuable resource to discuss your goals and progress with others. Keep in mind that these are just a tiny sampling of the helpful sites that are out there.

Also keep in mind that some weight loss programs, such as Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig, also offer online components to their programs, which can be valuable tools as well if you find yourself needing extra help in your goals.

Beyond the Internet
Websites are not the only tools out there to help you succeed in your goals. If you have a smart phone or tablet, search for health apps. From calorie counters to pedometers to personal trainers, there’s an app for it. You can find yoga positions, healthy recipes, relaxing sounds, and more. There are even apps to help you quit smoking, train for a marathon, or learn emergency first aid. These apps can offer valuable information or an added boost to keep you motivated. Just be sure to check out review to find the best ones!

Your Relationships: Meeting Your Match

If you’re ready to be in a romantic relationship, you’ll need to put yourself out there and meet people. It can be a scary idea, and there’s no guarantee you’ll end up with quality options. But I’ve come up with a list of suggestions of where to look to get you started. Just remember to be yourself! Pretending to be someone you’re not won’t lead you to “happily ever after.” And confidence will get you far: show you’re comfortable in your own skin, and you’ll appeal to that perfect person.

Online
Online dating sites are definitely growing in popularity. And the possibilities continue to grow. You’ve got paid services, like Match.com and eHarmoney.com, that promise to connect you with your life’s mate. You’ve got free services, like PlentyofFish (POF.com) and Singlesnet.com, that offer budget-conscious people a way to connect (but without much, if any, filtering). And you’ve got a plethora of sites that cater to specific groups, from religious affiliations to ethnic groups to specific ages. (Of course there are also sites that gear toward sexual, as opposed to romantic, relationships, or those looking for less ethical relationships, but I’m guessing that that’s not what you’re looking for.) To find sites, you can do an internet search or just look for ads that are sprawled just about everywhere you look.

Another online option, if dating sites are not your thing, is to connect with people in online forums and chat rooms. You can meet others with similar interests in a casual atmosphere. Just keep in mind that you may end up with more friends than romantic possibilities.

Public Places
They say a great place to meet people is at the grocery store. I can’t attest to this, but enough people have said it that there must be some truth to it! But you can also meet people at other stores that appeal to your tastes, such as bookstores. You may need to have a bit of confidence to chat someone up, but you never know who you might run into.

Of course there’s also the cliched bar scene, where you can find many singles looking to connect. Depending on the atmosphere you may find young singles just looking to “hook up,” or you may find more mature singles looking for a real relationships (and, of course, anywhere in between). Ask friends and coworkers for suggestions or do your homework before popping up at a bar that’s not what you’re looking for.

Beyond the bar, you can check out parks, cafes, the gym, and more. Open yourself up to the opportunity to meet others — just about anywhere!

Other Options
Sometimes love will appear when you’re not even looking for it. Or at least you can be doing something else while looking. Along these lines are options such as taking a class, volunteering, participating in a club or organization, and joining a sports team. The people you meet will likely have some similar interests, providing a great starting point for a relationship.

If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, you can also ask friends to set you up on blind dates. Or you can check out speed-dating, in which you meet several members of the opposite (or same!) sex and interact for only a few minutes to see if you’re compatible. If money’s not an option, you can also look into hiring a professional matchmaker.

Think about the kind of person you’re looking to meet, and try to think of where that type of person would hang out. You never know where you’ll meet your perfect match.

Your Money: Where Does the Money Go?

Whether you’re trying to save more or looking to pay down debt, knowing where your money is going can be helpful. And I’m not just talking about bills, though that is, of course, important. I’m talking about the little things and the not-so-little things that come up on a daily or random basis.

Without knowing where your money is going, it can be difficult to make effective changes to your habits and make progress in your saving or spending goals. By tracking your expenses you can properly plan and decide where to cut back so you have extra money to apply toward your debt or save for your goals.

To track your expenses, carry a notepad with you and record any money you spend — whether it’s 75 cents in a vending machine or a shopping spree at the mall. You  may be surprised at what you spend money on and how easily it disappears. Keep the log for a week, month or longer — however long it takes you to see the pattern and find ways to cut back. Maybe your downfall is clothes. Can you spend less? Shop elsewhere? Buy one blouse instead of two? Or maybe you stop at the vending machine a few times a week. Would it make more sense to buy in bulk at the store instead and bring your own snacks? Tracking your purchases can help you pick up on these quirks and guide you in ways to save.

Once you’ve found areas to cut back, take action. When you find yourself moving to spend that money, stop yourself and earmark that money toward your goal instead. Even 75 cents a few times a week adds up. And that can make a big dent in your debt or savings goal.

If while tracking your expenses you find yourself spending on unexpected expenses such as car repair bills, consider starting an emergency fund. Put a little money aside on a regular basis so that when an unexpected bill comes up you’re ready for it. As I said above, even a small amount adds up over time. And being able to plan for the saving can help make the expense more manageable than having to deal with a several-hundred-dollar bill all of a sudden.

While you’re at it, take a look at your bills and see what you’re spending on. You may be overspending on things you don’t use. Make that money work for you instead of wasting it. Your goals may be closer than you think.