Making a Difference: Help Thy Neighbor

When people think about making a difference, they often think of the bigger groups and organizations that they can work with, volunteer for, or make donations to. Oftentimes, however, you can make an even bigger difference just by looking next door.

Someone doesn’t need to have gone through a horrible experience, natural disaster, or life-changing event to need a little assistance. And reaching out to those near you can have a more direct impact for both of you. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Elderly or disabled neighbors may need help with simple chores or projects: shoveling or raking, landscaping, even taking out the garbage. You can also help them with running errands, cooking meals, or cleaning house.
  • Parents of young children may need help with babysitting so they can get things done in or outside of the home, or just to spend time as a couple.
  • New parents, or anyone dealing with a family crisis, can benefit from home-cooked meals or help cleaning house as they struggle with new demands.
  • Children of busy parents may benefit from a mentor to help with homework or leaning life skills. You can even take it one step further and lead a scout troop or sports team.

Keep in mind, also, that someone doesn’t have to be inĀ need to benefit from a good deed. No matter their lot in life, most people would appreciate a helping hand. Imagine waking up one snowy morning to find your driveway had been shoveled and car had been brushed off. Imagine opening your door to find a homemade treat resting on your doorstep with a note from your neighbor. Perhaps something as simple as someone taking your garbage cans off the curb.

Anything that eases the burden of those around you and brings a smile to their faces makes a difference. What can you do to helpĀ your neighbors?

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Your Relationships: When to Move On

Whether it’s a romantic relationship or a friendship – or even a working relationship – it can be difficult to determine when it’s time to cut your losses and say good-bye. Below are some general guidelines to consider if you’re trying to decide. Of course there will always be exceptions, especially in a relationship that is longstanding and means a lot to you, but if you’ve gotten to the points where you’re considering cutting ties, these guidelines can help.

It’s just too much work

All relationships require work. But if it seems as if you spend all your time trying to salvage the relationship, you have to ask yourself: what is it you’re trying to salvage? Is there still enough there that’s worth holding on to, or are you just fighting for it because that’s what you’re used to doing? Relationships should be some work — but a lot of good times, too.

All give and no take

Relationships are partnerships, regardless of who you’re in a relationship with. They are about give and take, with each partner holding up their end of both. If you’re constantly giving everything to the other person — time, love, energy, money, support, etc. — and aren’t getting anything in return, that’s not a partnership — it’s a parasitic relationship. Though there will be times, such as during crises or emergencies, that the relationship becomes more one-sided, overall relationships should be mutually beneficial. If you reach out to someone in a time of need, that person should be willing to return the favor when you’re the one in need.

You’re just not happy

If on the surface everything seems to be perfect, but underneath you’re miserable, that’s not good, either. Relationships are about more than what’s on the surface. They should bring you some kind of fulfillment – whatever that kind of relationship is designed to fill. A relationship should add value to your life, and bring you happiness. If it’s not doing that, you need to ask yourself why.

Abuse

Not all kinds of abuse are easily identifiable, though if you’re in a relationship that is obviously mentally or physically abusive – get out! You deserve better. If you’re not sure, think about how you feel when you’re with the other person. Are you afraid? Do you flinch when he or she approaches? Do you hesitate from doing things because you’re concerned how the other will react? Have you distanced yourself from your friends? Even if the “good” times make you happy, if the “bad” times outweigh them — especially if you answered “yes” to any of the questions I just asked — you should seriously consider getting out of the relationship. Seek professional help if you need it. There are many resources available to people in abusive relationships, and you shouldn’t have to live in fear. Your life is precious, and you deserve to be happy.

Your Money: When to Spend

With all the talk about saving money and cutting back, you may find yourself thinking that spending more than the bare minimum is never a good thing. However, that’s not the case. There are many instances when spending a little — or even a lot — more makes the most sense.

When it comes to certain items, durability trumps cost. As such, when you’re shopping for something you plan on getting a lot of use out of — a car, furniture, clothes, etc. — shop by quality level, not by price tag. While spending a lot does not necessarily mean you’ll be getting the best quality, it’s not often that you’ll find the cheapest item to be, either. Do your research to determine which item will give you the most bang for your buck. Even if it’s not cheap now, it may still save you money in the long run: you won’t need to replace it as often, it will require less maintenance, and you’ll spend less time dealing with hassles. Of course if you only plan on using something a few times, by all means go cheap! And if you’re able to find a great deal on a high-quality item, don’t let a low price tag deter you.

I’m all about shopping around for the best deals. And it can be very tempting to go to a million different stores because each one has the best deal on something. But keep in mind not only the cost of your time, but also the cost of gas and wear and tear on your vehicle. It doesn’t make sense to go across town to save a little if you’re eating up the difference in gas! Weigh the pros and cons and determine what is truly the most cost effective option. You may end up spending a little more up front but saving more in the long run.

Perhaps most important of all — at least in my humble opinion — is the memory factor. Material items come and go, and any money spent on them will go as well. But memories last a lifetime, and money spent on them will, too. When it comes to experiences, vacations, events, etc., consider spending a little more. You don’t have to go all out to make great memories, but you don’t want your memories to be tainted by the fact that you were too cheap to do anything, either. Think about what you’ll really remember, and let that be your guide. The result can be the best use of your money yet.

Your Career: Temp Jobs

Whether it’s covering someone’s vacation or helping out during the busy holiday season, a temporary job can serve many purposes:

  • Provide extra income
  • Offer experience to boost your resume
  • Teach you new skills
  • Fill in gaps in employment
  • Give you an opportunity to help others

To find these temporary positions, you can partner with an employment agency, ask friends and family, or simply check out job listings. During the holidays many companies seek out extra workers to help them get through the busy season. But year-found you can find opportunities to cover associates who are out, help with special projects, or provide additional coverage for busy times. You can also create your own temporary jobs by finding a need and filling it (i.e. odd jobs such as yard clean-up, painting, etc.).

Depending on your availability, options may be limited. Retail is a popular choice, as it offers wide availability when it comes to hours. Chances are pretty high that you can find something that will work with whatever job or family obligations you already have. But there are plenty of other options, as well. Below are some ideas depending on your skills or time of year:

Winter

  • Retail – holiday rush
  • Shoveling / Snow removal

Spring

  • Yard clean-up / Landscaping

Summer

  • Landscaping
  • Pool set-ups
  • Lifeguarding
  • Summer camps

Fall

  • Retail – Halloween seasonal
  • Yard clean-up / Landscaping
  • Gutter cleaning

Year-round Ideas

  • Computer/technical assistance
  • Office assistance
  • House, garage, or yard cleaning
  • Construction
  • Painting
  • Babysitting
  • Housesitting
  • Petsitting
  • Delivering newspapers or phone books

Of course what you’re qualified for and what is available will vary widely depending on your skill set and where you’re located. Keep your eyes and mind open to come up with more ideas or find an opportunity that works for you.

Inspiration From William Ernest Henley

“It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.” ~William Ernest Henley

Simply put, we have control over our own lives. Regardless of what gets thrown at us, it’s up to us to interpret what has happened, determine our reaction to it, and then act as we deem appropriate. Depending on how we decide to act, our lives can go in very different directions.

That is why despite setbacks we are still able to succeed. Everyone has bad stuff happen. Everyone has to deal with disappointment, frustration, and tragedy. And yet many are still able to succeed. Many are still able to excel. At the same time, others let the experiences weigh on them, festering and multiplying. The moral? It’s not the experiences that determine how we end up. It is how we act that determines if these experiences will keep us down or offer opportunity for improvement. Will we rise to the challenge or let them sink us?

Making a Difference: All About the Kids

Groups and organizations fall into all kinds of categories — and many of them focus on helping children. If you want to make a difference in a child’s life, there are plenty of opportunities available.

For a permanent — or at least long-term — impact, you can look into adoption or foster parenting, both of which we’ve discussed previously. Another option is being a big brother or big sister. That means forming a relationship with a child in need of positive influences. To learn more about the Big Brother / Big Sister program, visit their website.

Short-term impacts can take on many forms: volunteering, donating, mentoring, coaching, and more. For volunteer opportunities, reach out to organizations in your community such as hospitals, schools, and libraries. You can read to kids; help them with their school work; deliver gifts, foods, etc. to sick kids; become a teacher’s aide; help organize programs, events, and fundraisers; babysit; and much more.

Mentoring and coaching take this one step farther. In addition to helping the children, you’re teaching them valuable skills that have a lasting effect, such as teamwork, self confidence, leadership, and more.

One important thing to remember when working with children is that these are just kids — meaning they’re still vulnerable and impressionable. Your actions can have a greater effect than they would with adults, simply because of this. Children will look to you for guidance and knowledge, and how you handle that can determine how those children view you, other adults, and the world.

Working with children requires patience and understanding, especially if you’re working with kids who have had to deal with traumatic events, such as illness, abuse, poverty, and homelessness. These events can have created emotional and physical scarring that can affect a child’s personality and actions. But while these scars can make it difficult to get through to a child, your guidance can have a much greater impact because of them.

If you want to help children, but lack the time or understanding to volunteer or mentor, you can also consider donating. The organizations that help kids need money to continue, and they often rely on donations to fund some or all of their projects. Find an organization whose mission you can support and give as freely as you can.

Your Health: Monitoring Your Progress

Keeping track of how you’re advancing in your health goals can not only keep you motivated to keep going but can also ensure the actions you’re taking are having the desired effects.

General goals can be difficult to quantify, so if your goal is to “get healthier,” you may want to break that goal into specific steps and smaller goals. Some suggestions? Lose weight (with a specific target weight), eat better (with specific goals such as cutting out sweets or eating more vegetables), start and maintain a fitness routine, get blood pressure or cholesterol under control, etc.

If your goal is to lose weight, monitoring your progress is easy: just weight yourself. But if you’re working out while you’re losing weight, the simple number can be deceiving. As a result, you may want to calculate your body fat and measurements as well. That way you know if you’re losing fat weight even as you’re gaining muscle weight.

To monitor eating or workout habits, try keeping a journal. Keep track of what you eat, when you work out — and even what actions encourage what you eat or when you work out (i.e. eating junk food when stressed, working out when angry, etc.). Knowing what you do and why you do it can help guide you in your actions and help you modify your thinking and doing so you’re successful in your ultimate goal.

To monitor your progress when it comes to medical concerns, such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and certain diseases and disorders, you will likely need to partner with your doctor. He or she can order tests and help you stay on track with medications, dietary restrictions, and other guidelines. Your doctor can also give you guidance in what your ultimate goal should be and how to not only reach it but keep yourself there.

Your Relationships: Adoption

If you’re having difficulty conceiving, or you want to open your heart and home to one of the thousands of children looking for a family, adoption can be a wonderful way to add to your life.

Adoption is not to be taken lightly. If the child is older, he or she may have special needs or emotional scarring from previous experiences. And regardless of the age of the child, he or she needs love, support, and care — for life. Taking a child into your family means being there for him or her and providing for that child physically and emotionally. Adoption can also be expensive, and the wait time for a child can be lengthy, especially if you’re looking for a newborn.

That being said, adoption — like any other method of becoming a parent — can be a worthwhile, rewarding experience. But there’s a lot involved in the adoption process. Do a search on Google for “adoption resources” and you’ll be bombarded with websites full of information and support. Before getting overwhelmed, get started by asking yourself some questions:

  • Am I capable of raising a child?
  • Do I have the necessary income to support a child? Can I afford the adoption process fees?
  • What age child am I looking for? Race? Nationality?
  • Do I want to adopt from my own country or abroad?
  • Am I willing to adopt a child with special needs?
  • Am I willing to adopt siblings or do I just want a single child?
  • Do I want to be a foster parent with the intent to adopt, or do I only want to adopt directly?

And these are just the beginning. To really get you started, check out Adoption.com for more information and guidance in the adoption process. While it can be lengthy, if you’re willing to take on the time and expense involved, you can be matched with a child to love and welcome into your family.

 

Your Money: Building Your Savings

Having a savings account can serve many uses. It can offer a cushion by way of emergency savings. It can help you put money aside for periodic but irregular bills, such as heating oil. Or it can help you save up for an expected future expense, such as a vacation, new car, or new appliance.

If you’re like me, you probably find that money disappears way too quickly. Between bills and everyday expenses, there just doesn’t seem to be enough. So how can you have any hopes of putting some aside for long-term saving?

If money is tight, it’s not easy. But there are some steps you can take to make it a little easier. Here are some tips that can help get you started:

  • Set up an automatic transfer from your checking account into a savings account. When it’s automatic, you have no choice but to put that money aside. Just make sure to record it in your checkbook so you don’t forget about it and overdraw your account!
  • Instead of paying with a debit or credit card, pay cash. And only pay with bills. Whenever you get change, put it aside in a piggy bank. You’d be surprised how quickly change can add up.
  • Some banks will let you set up your accounts so whenever you make a payment, the bank automatically rounds up and withdraws the whole dollar amount. The difference between the actual payment and the withdrawal amount goes into a savings account.
  • When you go grocery shopping, pay with a debit card and get cash back. But instead of spending that cash, put it aside. It doesn’t have to be a lot to add up quickly.
  • Set a budget for purchases such as groceries or clothes. Then, do your best to spend well under the budget. Put the difference in a savings account.

There are countless other ways to save money, and the most important part is to find something that works for you. Trial and error can help you. And you may find that you have to dip into your savings periodically if money is especially tight. Keep your eye on the long-term goal, and don’t beat yourself up over short-term setbacks. It will get easier, and saving will become second nature over time.

Your Career: Starting Your Own Business

In the last Career post, we touched briefly on starting your own business. Specifically, what questions to ask yourself. In this post, we’ll go into more details so you can decide if owning your own business is right for you.

When you’re sitting at your current job, ticked off at your boss, frustrated at your measly paycheck, and tired of the tedious tasks, it can be tempting to get away from it all and become your own boss, with your own rules. But before you decide to make that leap, you need to decide if it’s really the right step for you.

Entrepreneurs tend to have many similar traits that serve them well in their careers. Among these traits are a drive to succeed, the ability to self-motivate, creativity, and willingness to think “outside the box.” If you’re missing some or all of these qualities, you may still be able to successfully run your own business, but the journey may be a bit more difficult. Having the passion for what you decide to do, however, can outweigh just about anything.

If you decide that starting a business is the right choice for you, you’ll next need to decide what it is you want to do. This can be based on a talent or a passion or both, but make sure that whatever you decide holds your interest enough that you’re willing to stick with it in the long-term. If you lose interest after a short while, your business is not likely to succeed. Passion for what you’re doing can keep you going, but lack of passion can dwindle your chances of success.

Another thing to keep in mind is the money factor. Regardless of what you decide to do, chances are pretty slim that you’ll bring in a lot of money right off the bat. You need to be mentally and physically prepared for the lack of funds in the beginning. There will be a lot of expenses and not much income, and you’ll still have living expenses not related to the business, as well. Think about cutting back expenses or building your savings — or, most likely, both — before making the business your primary source of income.

As a reminder, here are other questions to ask yourself, as indicated in the previous post:

  • Will you work by yourself, or will you need partners or employees?
  • How will you get paid?
  • Where will start-up money come from? Will you need a loan?
  • Will you work out of your home, or will you need a physical location? How will you pay for the associated expenses?
  • How will you let the world know about your business? Who is your clientele?
  • How will you deal with customer/client concerns?

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and you’ll likely keep adding to it as you go. You don’t need to have all the answers right away, but the more research and preparation you can be beforehand, the most likely you are to be successful. Many have gone before you, but success is not guaranteed. Think long and hard about your choices and the path you want to take. And good luck! Owning your own business is not easy!