Enjoy Lifelong Learning on a Shoestring Budget

Lifelong learning enables you to enrich your mind and expand your career
opportunities even if you completed your formal education a long time ago. If you’re on a limited budget, there are still many ways, both in your community and online, to build your knowledge and skills.

Educational Opportunities in Your Community

  1. Visit your local library. Borrowing books is a good enough reason to make a trip to your local library, but they now offer much more. Search the downloadable media for audio books and test-preparation guides for graduate school exams and civil service tests. Browse the event calendar for free lectures and courses.

  2. Give yourself a museum membership. Museum memberships are a great bargain compared to the ticket prices for sporting events or movies. Being a member will usually give you access to special events and classes for the whole family.

  3. Take advantage of education benefits at work. Check your employee manual for tuition discounts and other benefits your employer may offer. Ask if you can organize a lunchtime speaker series. Many local professionals will welcome the opportunity to share their expertise on financial management or vegetarian cooking.

  4. Do an internship. In a tough job market, internships are one way to get the training you need to succeed. Target organizations where you can make a contribution while learning new skills.

  5. Volunteer your services. Volunteer work goes far beyond stuffing envelopes. Sign up to assist with a project outside your usual line of work. Most communities have nonprofit clearinghouses with a wide variety of choices or contact a favorite charity you already support.

  6. Let your kids instruct you. Ask your kids to teach you what they’re learning in school. It’s a great way to help them master their coursework while you pick up a new language or review geometry.

  7. Teach a class. Try teaching a class on a subject where you have some expertise at your local church or community center. Preparing for classes and interacting with students is an effective way to deepen your own knowledge.

  8. Retire to a university town. University towns are becoming increasingly attractive to those who are retiring with smaller savings than they expected. You get access to all kinds of educational resources with a lower cost of living than many major cities.

  9. Search for financial aid. If your goals require that you go back to school, there are options for defraying the costs. Talk with the financial aid office at the university you select about scholarships, loans, grants, and veteran benefits that may be available to you.

Educational Opportunities In The Digital World

  1. Take free university courses. Hundreds of respected universities and colleges offer free online courses. You can download audio and video courses from Oxford or Ivy League schools on every subject imaginable, from poetry to physics.

  2. Switch to smarter YouTube channels. Tear yourself away from the videos of kittens petting puppies to visit organizations like the Aspen Institute that airs nonpartisan seminars on critical world issues or the Nobel Prize where past and current Nobel Laureates talk about cultural and scientific advances.

  3. Turn on the subtitles. Foreign movies are a fun way to help you learn a new language or brush up if you’re getting rusty. Use the subtitles while you watch to learn correct pronunciation and expand your vocabulary. Some television stations also air subtitled foreign news programs where you can learn about world events while you improve your language skills.

Enjoy the thrills of new discoveries and the satisfaction of improving your mind. Many educational opportunities cost little or nothing, so all you need is a commitment to lifelong learning.

Achieving Goals That Really Matter

Goal setting is one of the best ways to get ahead in life – but only if you’re setting your goals effectively!

Are you trying for unattainable goals that you aren’t really passionate about? Do you quickly give up on your goals? It can be easy to get discouraged, but you don’t have to end up there!

With the right strategies, you can set goals that really matter to you and meet them more easily than you ever imagined.

Most importantly, your goals should be yours and not someone else’s. The goals that your parents, friends, and family members have for you may not be the same for yourself.

What’s Important to YOU?

Too many people set goals to be rich, write a best-selling novel, or marry someone who’s famous, wealthy, or otherwise important or influential. If those are truly your dreams, there’s nothing wrong with them. However, if they’re just society’s dreams – and not yours – let them go, and think about what really matters to you. What do you want out of your life?

When you’re setting goals, stop and ask yourself, “What will bring me joy, beauty and happiness?”

Your goals might include things like:

  • Getting married
  • Having children
  • Finishing college
  • Starting your own business
  • Changing careers
  • Helping others
  • Buying your own home
  • Having material wealth
  • Being physically fit
  • Attaining spiritual enlightenment

No matter what you choose or how many goals you have, you can reach them if you’re dedicated and committed to making them happen.

Making Your Dreams Come True

Once you’ve decided what really matters to you and you set your goals, you can begin to make them a reality in your life. Although your goals will take some work, watching them come into fruition is exciting and satisfying!

Follow these tips to help you achieve your goals:

  1. Keep your focus. Keep a picture of the life you desire at the forefront of your mind. When frivolous things try to distract you, as they will, remember to make choices according to what’s really important to you.
    • Take action toward your goal every day. Each day, find something you can do that will bring you a little closer to meeting your goal.
    • When challenges arise, getting discouraged won’t change anything, so seek solutions that can put you back on track. Just stay focused and adjust your plans as necessary.

  2. Be open to change. Your goals aren’t set in stone. If you choose to change what you’re focused on and set a new goal, that doesn’t mean you’ve given up on your goals. It only means you’ve seen that your goals need to change, just as you change. That’s a sign of growth and wisdom.

  3. Set realistic timelines. Some goals can be met in a day or a week, but larger goals often take months or years. When you set goals, it’s important to be realistic about how long you expect them to take.
    • If it’s too far away, you might procrastinate, or you may not start at all.
    • If it’s too soon, you’ll be frustrated and discouraged if you don’t make your deadline.

  4. Divide your goal into small steps. Another great way to reach your goals is to divide big goals into smaller ones. Each small goal is one step, or one task, on the way to achieving your ultimate goal.
    • Set individual deadlines for these small steps. This way, you’ll always be moving forward, one step at a time.
    • For example, if your goal is to own your own business, there are things you’ll need to look into like licensing, income, credit, location, and others. Each one of these tasks is one step. You could also subdivide these steps into even smaller goals.

  5. Avoid giving up. Many people give up on their goals just before they reach them, not even realizing how close they were. Never give up! You may be closer than you think.

These strategies will enable you to not only reach your goal, but also enjoy the journey along the way – all without getting overwhelmed!

Creating Passive Income When You Have a Full-Time Job

Learning to balance work and other activities is important. It’s especially difficult to put in a full day at your regular job and then go home and work some more. But if you want to create passive income, it will require some additional effort.

Creating passive income can greatly enhance your financial well-being. If you have any desire to break free of your full-time job, it will require you to put in some quality time at home getting those passive income projects up and running.

Consider these ideas for creating passive income when you’re working full-time:

  1. Think about the best times to work. Maybe waking up earlier each morning is a viable option. Perhaps you can work through your lunch break. Are evenings best? Would you rather work all weekend and have your evenings free?
    • There isn’t a perfect strategy, but you need a starting point if you want to achieve success.

  2. Set a schedule. A common misstep is thinking that you can work on passive income streams whenever you have free time. But “free” time is hard to come by. Therefore, it’s helpful to create a specific schedule and stick to it.
    • Treat your pursuit of passive income sources as you would any other regular job.

  3. Eliminate distractions. We all have our ways of distracting ourselves, whether it’s with TV, the computer, or food. Others get sleepy when faced with work they’d prefer to avoid. Do whatever is necessary to stay focused on the work at hand.

  4. Make a list. Before you go to bed each night, make a list of the things you want to accomplish the following day. When it’s time for those tasks, avoid working on anything else. Keep working until you’ve completed all the items on your daily list.

  5. Take advantage of breaks in your day. Ideally, you’ll have some things you can do when you have a few extra minutes. Maybe you can make a few phone calls or respond to emails.

  6. Avoid working on your passive income activities at work. It can be tempting to spend some of your regular work hours on your passive income projects, but avoid doing so. Many companies monitor internet usage and emails.
    • Be cautious and avoid jeopardizing your job.

  7. Get involved with smaller passive income projects. It may be difficult to find a good 200 unit apartment complex for a great price, get commercial financing, hire management, and oversee the project when you’re already working 40+ hours a week. Start small and build from there.

  8. Take planned breaks. Every few weeks, consider taking a week off from your passive income activities, even though it might seem like you’re losing ground. Your productivity will be about the same, but you’ll be less overwhelmed and much happier.
    • Studies have shown that marathon runners will finish a race faster if they walk for one mile after running four. It’s the same idea.

  9. Keep your projects to yourself. You might want to refrain from discussing your other passive income activities at your full-time place of employment. Many bosses take exception to the idea of you earning extra money outside of your regular job, thinking your free time ought to be spent working harder for them.

  10. Learn to meditate. Meditation is a great way to give your mind a break. It’s one of the few times your brain gets to rest. As long as you’re thinking, your mind is still working. Learn to relax and focus.

It’s challenging to manage a full-time job along with other activities. Limit yourself to the most important tasks and use your time wisely. Passive income takes some time and effort to create. Ensure you’re giving yourself adequate time to manage it all.

Are Your Friends And Family A Threat To Your Finances

We love our friends and family, but some of them can be a hazard to our financial health. Have you ever taken the time to consider the impact these people have on your finances? It’s possible you might not have noticed the negative impact the people in your life are having on your wallet.

You might need to have some tough conversations or use your wits to deal with these assaults on your budding wealth. But no one ever said becoming wealthy was easy!

Be on the lookout for these folks:

  1. The struggling businessman or woman. This person is full of great ideas that seem worthy of a small investment. Unfortunately, having great ideas and executing them are different skills. Avoid investing money that you’re unlikely to see again.
    • Solution: Let the future Donald Trump know that you’re uncomfortable investing in a business that isn’t even off the ground yet.

  2. The partier. The partier barely needs an excuse to celebrate. Cleaning out the closet is a good enough reason to head out on the town and drag you along for the ride.
    • Solution: Show up for the celebration, but keep your expenditure limited to a soft drink. Most places will provide free refills. Another alternative is to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

  3. The charity case. This person is constantly collecting money for worthy causes. He’s climbing Mount Everest to save the antelope and needs $1 for every vertical foot of ascent.
    • Solution: If you don’t have money for the cause, assist with your time or let them know that you can’t contribute to every cause. Support charities that are close to your own heart and decline the rest.

  4. The fancy gift giver. Most of us exchange presents of moderate value with our friends and family. This person goes overboard and spends way too much money. By way of guilt, you’re forced to reciprocate and blow your gift-giving budget.
    • Solution: Suggest a dollar amount limit or let them know you’re
      uncomfortable with such extravagant gifts.

  5. The encourager. Have you ever been torn between the option of spending a lot of money on an item and keeping the money in your bank account? The encourager always seems to talk you into buying that item you want, but don’t need. All the while, they think they’re doing you a big favor.
    • Solution: Keep your shopping dilemmas to yourself.

  6. The wealthy friend. Your budget might call for a movie rental and a frozen pizza, but the wealthy friend doesn’t want any part of frugality. She likes to go to the expensive wine bar and eat the fancy sushi that runs $200 per pound. It’s embarrassing to say “no” all the time.
    • Solution: Be honest and let your friend know her tastes are simply out of your budget.

  7. The moocher. This person eats the food out of your refrigerator, borrows your tools and never brings them back, and always needs $5 for a variety of reasons.
    • Solution: Just say no.

The key to dealing with all of these people is communication. In every instance, you can choose to let the person know that you either don’t have the money to spend or that you’d prefer to keep your money in your bank account. The conversation might be awkward, but the awkwardness is over quickly.

Avoid allowing your friends and family to drag down your finances. Stick up for yourself and be back in charge of your money.

Buying A Home The Escrow Process Explained

If you’ve recently had your offer on a house accepted by the seller, you must be ready and waiting to move in! If you’re on the other end of the transaction, you want your money! You’re also likely to be wondering, “What is escrow and why does it take so long?”

Escrow may be the last hurdle in buying or selling real estate, but it’s a hurdle that can take a while. Let’s discuss what escrow really is and what needs to happen for everything to go smoothly.

The Purpose of Escrow

The escrow company simply acts as an impartial third party. They ensure that everything that must be done has been done before the property and the funds are swapped. So, they hold the money and the property and then transfer them to the proper parties when all the requirements have been met.

For example, they would hold any earnest monies. How could you be sure the seller wasn’t going to cash your check and then refuse to sell you the house?

The escrow company handles the money and the required documentation.

Steps in the Escrow Process

  1. Appraisal. Your lender will have the home appraised, as it is part of their process to approve your home loan. It also serves as a second opinion regarding the fairness of the selling price. They’re making sure that the amount of the loan isn’t greater than the value of the home. The bank is always concerned about the collateral on the mortgage.

  2. Financing. Hopefully, you already have your financing secured, but it’s not uncommon for the lender to have additional requirements that must be met before they’ll provide the funds.Usually the underwriter working for the lender makes these requests.
    • The escrow company helps to ensure that these additional requirements are met before the closing takes place.

  3. Various Inspections. A home inspection, termite / pest inspection, hazard inspection, and more are normally required before the bank will approve the loan. The bank doesn’t want to make a loan until it’s fully aware of the condition of the property.
    • The home inspection will look at the electrical system, plumbing,
      structure, roof, and general condition of the property. It will also assess any necessary repairs. Pest inspections look for termite damage and any other type of infestation that would reduce the value of the property or require extermination.
    • The bank’s primary concern with these inspections is that they’ll be able to get their money back out of the property should the buyer fail to make the mortgage payments.

  4. Title Search. Do the sellers even own the house? Are the property taxes paid up? Are there any other liens against the property? A title search will make sure there are no clouds on the title.
    • Basically, the title search ensures that there are no creditors with any claims against the home and that the seller actually has the right to sell the house. It also looks for any other people that might have an ownership claim on the property.
    • For example, can the husband sell the house without the wife’s
      agreement? Are there any uncles, cousins, business partners, or anyone else that has a claim to the home?
    • Title insurance is also part of the closing process. This means the
      insurance issuer will deal with any title problems that may have been missed during the title search.

  5. Insurance. Your lender will require home insurance. Obviously, they want to know that they will be paid if the house is destroyed.

While this list is not inclusive, it covers the basics of the escrow process. It varies from state to state. Your escrow company, lender, real estate attorney, and real estate agent are all very familiar with the process. Don’t be afraid to ask any questions you may have so you can help expedite the process where necessary and move into your new home as soon as possible.

Engarde Financial Group is positioned to educate and serve its clients with other insurance coverages.

We understand that your personal items that you possess are of significance to you. Here at EFG we look at every situation differently. When it comes to your needs there is no such thing as one size fits all. Speak to a insurance professional today so that we can design a policy to cover all the things you love.

How to Gain Laser Focus in a World Full of Distractions

Our ability to focus has been reduced dramatically. We’ve never had more
distractions to deal with. And as disheartening as it sounds, many of the distractions we face were engineered to be as distracting as possible.

Our brains quickly become addicted to these distractions and our ability to focus on important work suffers.

Learning how to focus is a vital skill if you want to be productive and successful.

Overcome the distractions in your life and get things done with these strategies:

  1. Single-tasking beats multitasking. Avoid fooling yourself. You’ll get more done and feel more relaxed if you focus on a single task at a time. It’s not easy for your brain to switch back and forth between different things. Set your priorities and complete them in order.

  2. Do deep focus activities early in the day. Your ability to focus deeply is greatest in the morning and decreases throughout the day. A few people also do well late at night if their day isn’t too demanding.
    • Schedule your more demanding mental tasks earlier in the day. Save the simpler items for later when your focus is weaker.

  3. Practice focusing. You can’t be good at something you don’t practice. It’s harder to focus deeply than you think.
    • Try setting a timer for 15 minutes and keep your attention entirely on performing a task. Notice how stray thoughts constantly interfere. Notice how strong the urge to check your email, text messages, social media becomes.
    • Over time, you’ll be able to focus for longer periods of time before you need a break.

  4. Remove distractions. Make life easier for yourself by removing as many distractions as possible. Put your phone away. Turn off the TV. Block any websites that you find compelling. Close any computer tabs you don’t need. Remove any distracting sounds. Turn off the radio.

  5. Learn to be comfortable with being bored. When you’re focused and working, it can also be boring. Most of us choose to distract ourselves because we’re bored. The better you can handle boredom, the easier it is to avoid engaging in those distractions.
    • When you have the urge to distract yourself, force yourself to wait 15 minutes longer. After a few days of this, try 30 minutes. Keep building on this.

  6. Plan time for your most common distractions. You don’t have to avoid your favorites distractions 100% of the time. Simply schedule time for those activities after your work has been completed for the day. Put a reasonable limit on how long you’ll spend on them.

  7. Get enough sleep. Sleep is important for focus and energy. Your brain needs at least seven hours of sleep to be at its best. Have consistent times for going to bed and waking up.
    • Try sleeping for seven hours each night for a week and rate your ability to focus. The following week try 7.5 hours. If you see an improvement, try eight hours. Keep going if necessary and find the optimum amount of sleep for you.

  8. Eat healthy foods. Your body and brain function better when you eat in a healthy manner. Your focus improves with a healthy diet. Start by eliminating everything you know isn’t good for you – one at a time will work.

Life is a never-ending series of distractions. The most successful people are able to focus in spite of distractions. It takes practice to focus intently in the face of other things vying for our attention. Incorporate these tips into your daily schedule and you’ll see your ability to focus grow.

How to Control Impulsive Shopping

We all have ways of entertaining and soothing ourselves. Some eat to excess while others use drugs or alcohol. You might surf the internet or get a thrill from shopping. While unnecessary shopping isn’t hazardous to your health, it is harmful to your finances. It can be exciting to go shopping and purchase something new, but the thrill doesn’t last for long.

It doesn’t take long before you need to purchase something else to capture the same feeling.

Or maybe you’re just one of those people that leave the house for bread and milk and come home with bread, milk, two candy bars, a fax machine, and a crockpot.

Control your urge to shop and preserve your finances instead:

  1. Have a mandatory wait period. Some states have a waiting period to purchase a firearm. You can impose your own waiting period that applies to any non-essential purchase. Dying to purchase that new pair of shoes or the latest iPhone? Make yourself wait.
    • Impulsive shopping is just that – impulsive. You might make a different decision if you give yourself a little time.
    • How long do you have to wait? Anywhere from 48 hours to 30 days. It’s up to you. You might use a sliding scale depending on the cost of the item. A $50 item could invoke a shorter waiting period than a $1,000 item.

  2. Shop when you’re in a good mood. Many impulsive purchases happen during times of grief, anxiety, or other stressful emotional states. No one ever made themselves feel better by purchasing something, at least not for long. Shop when you’re in the best possible mental state to resist the urge to splurge.

  3. Determine when you’re most likely to make an impulsive purchase. Is it mood-related? Is it on payday? Do you purchase unnecessary items when you’re bored or lonely? When you’re with a particular friend? Think about it. Why do you make these types of purchases and when?

  4. Limit unnecessary purchases to things you can return. How many times have you purchased something only to feel let down afterward? Make it easy to return the item and get your money back.
    • Be careful when unboxing anything you purchase. Save all the packaging and avoid damaging the item. Save your receipt, too. You might want to return the item in a week.

  5. Make a list of the things you need and stick to it. When you want to purchase something, see if it’s on your list. Take inventory at home and determine what you need. Your refrigerator might be 10 years old, but if it’s still running without any issues, you don’t need a new one. Start making a list today and keep it with you whenever you leave the house.

  6. Avoid shopping online. Unless you need the item and it’s cheaper online, avoid purchasing anything online. It’s too easy to sit on the couch with a good movie and allow your shopping instinct to run wild.

  7. Keep your money where you can’t access it easily. Move any excess money out of your checking account as soon as you’re paid. Move it into an account that doesn’t include a debit card. You’ll still have access to the money for emergency purchases, but it won’t be easy to splurge unnecessarily.

Some people purchase items they don’t need as a way of dealing with discomfort, while others enjoy the thrill of a good sale. Colorful items carefully placed by retailers entice a third group to make unnecessary purchases. The result is a diminishing bank account. Take steps to ensure that you’re not shopping irresponsibly.

4 New Year’s Resolution Goals Worth Setting

New Year’s Day is a great time to implement change and personal growth by setting goals that you want to achieve throughout the upcoming year. Some resolutions are well worth setting, because they can contribute greatly toward helping you live the life you desire and they’re attainable without any unrealistic expectations.

Try these types of New Year’s resolutions to ring in a happy new year:

  1. Health improvements. When your body thrives, you have more energy, enthusiasm, and vitality to do everything you want to do. Focus on setting goals for the specific actions that will provide the results you’d like to see.
    • For example, rather than stating that you want to lose 25 pounds next year, try to find achievable goals that will help you lose weight. Set resolutions such as enrolling in a yoga class, trying three new types of aerobics, or going for a walk each day after dinner.

  2. Resolve to bring new experiences into your life. Set goals about new foods that you want to try, eating 3 more vegetable servings each day, or growing your own organic vegetables.

  3. These goals are more fun to reach, but they’ll contribute to the same end result.

  4. Financial improvements. Following the same advice as above, try to avoid setting unrealistic resolutions like “pay off all my debt next year” or “Put $10,000 away in savings.” Instead, choose goals for specific actions that will get you where you want to be financially.

  5. For example, you may resolve to save all of your spare change and deposit it into your savings account every month.

  6. Maybe you’d like to pick up 3 extra hours at work each week and dedicate those earned funds to your savings account or debt repayment.

  7. Or make a list of specific money-saving actions like the above that you’d like to incorporate into your daily life and add a new action to your routine each week. By the end of the year, you’ll be an automatic money-saving machine!

  8. Creative endeavors. Creative goals can absolutely lead to personal enrichment and development. What interests you? Set resolutions to try new things, experience new places, challenge your comfort zone, and learn about yourself all at the same time.

  9. To get you started, consider resolutions to try new crafts or creative projects, start writing in a journal, take up pottery, or a variety of other creative endeavors. Create a resolution to try a new recipe at least once a month. Or fashion a resolution to hand-make every Christmas gift you give, starting at the beginning of the year!

  10. Intellectual endeavors. Intellectual New Year’s resolutions can also benefit you in many different ways. Elect to take a course or seminar on a topic interests you, such as photography, scrapbooking, auto repair, or entrepreneurship.

  11. Challenge yourself to read ten non-fiction books about subjects that interest you, or resolve to participate in an intellectual challenge like NaNoWriMo, November’s “National Novel Writing Month.”

  12. New Year’s resolutions are a great way to find new ways to challenge yourself.

Above all else, choose New Year’s resolution goals that actually interest you and that are achievable for you. Resolve to do things that will be enjoyable, while also improving your life as a whole.