Major financial change #1

Last week I wrote a post about how 2018 will become my year of financial stability. Today I received my first paycheck of 2018 and a major decision I made n 2017 is paying off – I changed my health benefit plan.

For me, this was a big decision. With having an insurance agent for a sister, I spent years living in the world of “what if”? What if I need major surgery? What if I develop some crazy disease? What if…? But the reality is that I rarely go to the doctor. I rarely get sick, and I definitely do not have some crazy disease. In fact, I realized I had spent thousands of dollars on “what ifs” over the course of several years when that money could have been going towards paying off major debts – like student loans.

Now, if you have a disease such as diabetes or a blood clotting disorder, it may make more financial sense to have better coverage. For me it did not. So I did my research on what options were available to me through my employer (several) and went with a lower premium/higher out of pocket cost plan. I figured for the maybe once a year I go to urgent care or the ER, what I would save in biweekly premium costs would be more than enough to cover the bill.

Shortly after making this decision, I learned I would be receiving a 2% cost of living adjustment come the new year. Now I have been with my organization for 5 years and this is, by far,  the highest cost of living increase I have ever received (my organization keeps a tight grip on the purse strings).

Well…. it paid off. I had $300 more in this paycheck than I had in my last one. That equates to an extra $7200 a year! That’s a lot of coin to put towards other/better things. I haven’t yet decided how I will spend my extra $600 month, but I’m that’s a struggle I am more than happy to have!

Crock Pot Shepherd’s Pie

My (step)daughter LOVES Shepherd’s Pie! And although a little too bland for my taste, I must admit that there is something about meat and potatoes that I can’t deny. I found this recipe over the weekend on Recipes That cROCK! and modified it to meet our needs. WARNING: it tastes better the next day when the juices have been absorbed, but still yummy the evening of. 

Ingredients:

  • 3 lbs ground beef
  •  1/4 onion chopped
  •  4 Russet potatoes boiled and mashed with a splash of milk and approx. 2 tbsp. butter
  • 2 .87oz brown gravy packet mixes
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 12 oz frozen carrots (I could only find raw and they took until the next day to soften, so highly recommend the frozen!)
  • 12 oz frozen peas (my (step)daughter requested less peas next time…)
  • 10.5 oz cream of mushroom soup

Directions

1.     Boil potatoes, add milk and butter then mash until desired texture. Set aside

2.     Spray crock pot with cooking spray

3.     Brown beef and onion in skillet over med-high. Drain and put in crock pot

4.     Add brown gravy packets, onion powder, garlic powder, carrots, peas, and cream of mushroom soup in the crockpot with the beef. Mix well

5.     Spoon mashed potatoes on top and spread evenly

6.     Cook on low 8 hours or high 4 hours

Like I said, we all thought it tasted better after sitting in its juices overnight, but it was heart & filling and perfect for a winter night!

2018: My Year of Financial Stability

To put it bluntly, 2017 was a year of financial ruin for me. I lost my first home to a short sale as the result of a messy divorce and spent several thousand dollars moving cross-country for a new opportunity. The blow of both of those life changes left a bruise that still lingers….. but 2018 WILL BE my year of financial stability. 

I made 3 major commitments during my first full weekend of 2018, and I cannot do them alone. 2 of the 3 will also take the same commitment and support of my fiancé and (step)daughter.

1.     We are now only eating out once a month. This is HUGE for us as we used to eat out once a week at $100+ a pop (from boozing during dinner). That’s over $400/mo on what?! Nothing that is leaving a long-lasting impression on me other than wider hips. My fiancé and agreed to only eat out once a week and limit our alcohol consumption during those meals (one drink v. two)

2.     The second one ties in to the first one but requires slightly more elaboration. I have spent the last few years sharpening my leftover remake skills, because honestly, who wants to eat the same thing 4 nights in a row? I have vowed to not only make more meals at home, but develop more variety in my meal options, freeze half of large meals I make for future meals when I am too tied to cook, and buying less pre-made ingredients and ready-made meals and make more from scratch. 

3.     Get control of my finances!! My fiancé struggling from a low credit score due to a lack of credit v. bad credit. One of the things he did was to create a Credit Karma account and monitor his score weekly. He would get emails every time his score went up or down. His score jumped nearly 100 points in less than a year based on suggestions CK made. So here I am like SIGN ME UP! I created my account and spent about an hour perusing all the features an account offers. One of my favorite features is an outline of all your accounts reported to your credit score in order of highest to lowest and organized by category (credit cards, car loans, students loans, etc). I’m going to attempt my own version of Dave Ramsey’s Snowball Method – starting with the smallest and working our way up. 

So my January money goal is this – pay off a credit card bill from Christmas for $487. 

 

My goal is sharing my personal financial goals is to 1. motivate myself (I put it in writing for all the world to see, now I must act on it!), and 2. to serve as inspiration to others. Financial security is no easy feat – it takes times, dedication, and encouragement from others to reach your goals. So happy goal chasing!

Gifts for Children with Autism

We all know those kids that are easy to buy for – the ones with obvious hobbies or interests. One trip to Toys R Us or the bookstore and you are golden! But what about children who are difficult to shop for? Especially those that may have developmental or educational delays. As an aunt to a newly turned 9 year old niece with autism, I’m here to provide you with a list of gifts that are well-suited for children on the autism spectrum.

It’s important to remember that the autism spectrum is broad, and that each individual with autism is different. Some are non-verbal, some have accompanying intellectual disabilities,and some are high-functioning. Autism Speaks is a great resource for autism families and those who wish to support loved ones with autism. 

So when buying gifts for the autistic child in your life, think about what best suits their personality. For those who enjoy sensory gifts, check out these great options:

1.     Fidget Sets  There are a variety of options to choose from, but all of them will keep those who need to touch things occupied 

2. Kinetic Sand   Many color options and brands available. Note: this is also easy to make at home – check out this homemade recipe (courtesy of Baby First Blog)

3. Water Beads   These are similar to Orbeez (but cheaper) 

 

Here are some ideas for those children who are visually stimulated:

4. Music Lightshow DJ

 5. Starry Night Nightlight 

 

 6.  Zoetrope  There are several different models available, from classic to modern

 

 

Many people (not just children) with autism struggle with social skills. Here are some games that will assist them in developing their skills while having fun at the same time

7. Social Skills Board Games – Set of 6

 

8. Conversation Starter Game

 

9. Hidden Rules Board Games – Set of 4    Can also be purchased separately 

 

 

I hope this guide helps you find the perfect gift for the autistic child in your life!

 

 

When Your Friend Becomes a Pessimist

I have an old colleagues, a friend you would say,  I’ll call Sal for the purpose of this post. Sal and I met while working together at our previous organization. How we met continues to bring a smile to my face (no matter how negative he has become). Before we met in person, we were introduced by our boss via email who asked both of us to complete the same task. A sort of “who completes it first receives the recognition”, but in a friendly fire kind of way.

One of us (I can’t remember who at this point) emailed the other and said “whoever gets it first owes the other a coffee”. Long story short – I met him in person while delivering a Hazelnut coffee. We were insta-friends. We talked about work, home life, childhood memories, and funny memes. Eventually our friendship escalated to dinner dates with each other spouses and they too hit it off in the friendship department. It was like coworker friendship heaven.

Fast forward 6 9 months.

Sal decided the organization we worked for was no longer bearable. He had managed to get on radar of Executive Leadership for unfavorable reasons – reasons that would take a long time to be professionally forgiven. Sal decided that the best course of action would be to move his 7 month pregnant wife 7 states away….

This was the beginning of the downfall.

I spent 9 months watching my friend make bad decision after bad decision – all while trying to be the supportive friend I know he and his wife needed me to be. Even my fiancé tried to be supportive to people he barely knew, but was familiar with their circumstances. I tried to offer support without offering advice. I tried to be understanding without being dismissive. I tried to do everything I could think of that a friend should do when their friend is going through a tough time. But in reality, I was dealing with a personality type I had never dealt with before – a narcissist.

The realization of my “friendship” with Sal hit me like a ton of bricks. To be clear, I am not wallowing in self-pity or speaking out of jealousy. In fact it is quite the opposite. There I was – a working (step)mother trying to manage a very demanding and stressful job, raise a pre-teen daughter, and maintain my own romantic relationship with my partner while staying in touch with my own friends and family. I didn’t exactly have a lot of extra minutes in a day, especially to cater to the delusions of a narcissist.

After trying repeatedly to have a normal conversation with Sal, just like old times, (and during a particular stressful, patience less day) I had finally reached my breaking point – I cut ties with Sal.

I wished him the best of luck to his young family and told him I hope life settles down and he finds happiness. I also told him why I was walking away – that he was no longer the person I knew before. He was no longer a friend to me.

Sal didn’t say anything in response, and to be honest, I’m glad he didn’t. His lack of response told me he knew what he was doing and wasn’t remorseful about it. What I have learned in my lifetime is that people who are in denial tend to be defensive about things. Those who have accepted actions/decisions/etc tend to remain silent. Say no more my former friend, your silence speaks volumes.

 

Happy New Year!

Apologies for me delayed posting (we had out of state family visiting), but Happy New Year from The Gypsy Professional to you and yours!

I try not to make resolutions such as “lose weight” or “work out more” but instead I try to aim for goals such as “be kinder”, “exhibit more patience”, and “be more present”.

As my (step)daughter moves into the teen years, I have decided to focus 2018 on “exhibiting more patience” because, let’s face it, I’m gonna need it 🙂

May your 2018 be all that you hope it to be!

2 Coworker Gift Ideas well under $10 each

The organization I work for has very strict rules on gift-giving: it’s generally discouraged but if you choose to exchange, the value of the gift has a $10 limit (and no booze). $10 these days won’t get you very far, so here are 2 coworker gift ideas that are not cheesy and come in well below the budget.

  1. Stovetop Potpurri

I found this idea on Pinterest and made it my own! I put the following ingredients in a bag and printed out an instruction tag on how to make.

  • 2 oranges (whole)
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 cup cranberries
  • 3 teaspoons cloves
  • 2 teaspoons nutmeg
  • 2 sprigs rosemary

My mother used to do this at Christmas and the smell always brings back fond memories of my childhood!

 

Hot Cocoa & Chocolate Goodie Bag

I saw this idea on At Home With The Barkers and thought “genius!” (Although I must admit that I forgot to take a pic of the goodie bags before lugging all 32 of them into work, so photo cred goes to AHWTB)

What you’ll need:

  • Goodie bags (I bought mine from the Dollar Tree – best store ever!)
  • Candy canes
  • Bags of small marshmallows (put a handful of marshmallows in sandwich baggies)
  • Boxes of Starbucks Hot Cocoa packets (8 per box)
  • Several bags of Godiva, Lindt and Ghirardelli chocolates (I used peppermint bark, coconut, mint chocolate chip, and sea salt caramel)

I bought enough of each ingredients to make 32 goodie bags and placed one of each of the above (including one of each kind of chocolate)and tied it off with curly ribbon to make a bow – viola!

Oreo Cheesecake Cupcakes

The holiday season brings with it presents, potlucks, and parties! My go-to dessert to bring is Oreo Cheesecake Cupcakes. They are delicious and always a hit! Here is the recipe I use:

Ingredients:

  • 21 Oreo cookies. 15 left whole and 6 chopped into small pieces
  • 16 oz cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 c sour cream
  • 1/8 tsp salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit
  2. Line muffin tin with paper liners
  3. Place 1 whole Oreo in the bottom of each cup
  4. Place cream cheese in a large bowl and beat with electric mixer until smooth
  5. Mix in sugar, eggs, sour cream, and salt
  6. Add in chopped Oreos
  7. Fill lined cups almost to the top (will not rise)
  8. Cook for 22 minutes
  9. Place entire muffin tin on wire rack o cool. DO NOT REMOVE CUPS FROM TIN UNTIL COMPLETEY COOL! Removing beforehand will alter the shape of the cupcakes.
  10. Refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight
  11. Enjoy!

How to Balance Work and a Sick Child

When the inevitable happens, i.e. an up-all-night sick kiddo or a phone call from the school requesting a pick up, the dread and anxiety set in…. are they ok? What is my plan? What will my boss say? Working parents have all been there – balancing work demands with mommy/daddy demands. How do we balance it all?

Family Comes First

For me, family always comes first. I tell that to myself and to my employees. If you have to go, go. If you have to stay home, stay home. Work will be there tomorrow.

Family Communication

When my fiancé and I first started on this co-parenting journey together a few years ago, we made sure we laid out an action plan of what to do when these sick days came. Our particular situation relies heavier on me to be the emergency contact parent and the one to stay home as I have a much more flexible and supportive job (I can work from home if need be and I get a ton of sick days). Its not that Chris doesn’t have a supportive job but he is required to travel for work and often is unable to answer his phone or is out of range.

Employer Communication 

I make it a point to communicate with my supervisor initially about what our child care plan is. As a supervisor I appreciate when my staff tell me what their demands are. It helps me to know what is a legitimate issue versus what could be perceived as abuse of PTO.

Work Backup Plan

If I have to leave early, I hand off projects to those who are familiar with them and can do the basic things to get us through the remainder of the day. If I have to miss an entire day, I log in from home and delegate any work I am unable to complete to those who are in the office. Most of the time one day isn’t going to be a catastrophe but making sure key players can complete needed tasks is key.

Backup Babysitters

Once we moved away from our hometown we didn’t have Grammy or Pop Pop nearby to act as a backup babysitter. Most of the responsibility fell on me and I was fine with that and communicated it to my supervisors. As we settled into new areas and befriended others, I asked them if they would be willing to be a backup pending there was an emergency as I could not get there fast enough. Everyone we encountered agreed and fortunately we never had to use them. Look to someone you trust your children with to be this person if it is only for emergencies. For a more constant on-call babysitter, do background and reference checks on potential sitters so you don’t experience a surprise down the road.

Finding a work/life balance is difficult at baseline, but throw ill children into the mix and the anxiety level rises exponentially. Employers should be supportive of family responsibilities and can hopefully work with you to make stressful times as smooth as possible.

 

 

 

Helping Others to Grow

Today I had a conversation with one of my new supervisees that I wish someone would have had with me when I started out on my professional journey. Although I have only known Kim for a short period of time and my interaction with her has been limited, I can tell she has is struggling. She is struggling to find her place in a world that insists on shoving square pegs into round holes, a world where “good” is never enough.

Kim is a young, intelligent, unmarried female with no children who just completed her Masters last winter and wants desperately to promote to a level she feels she deserves. While some might argue that is the stereotypical Millennial mindset of entitlement – I totally get where she is coming from. I, too, was once that girl fresh out of school and full of energetic drive to conquer the world. And then reality slapped me in the face.. hard.

But Kim’s story is more complicated than mine as she has the added pressure of cultural demands of success from her Asian family. Her exact words to me today were, “I come from a very Chinese family, where success is measured by salary”. Although I am a Caucasian female born and raised in an Irish-German city, I can appreciate the cultural pressure that is very real in modern society.

Our conversation began when I attempted to do what I can only describe as “damage control”. Kim recently interviewed for a promotion that is also supervised by me but was not selected. She wasn’t selected on anything she did wrong – there was just a more qualified candidate who presented as a better fit for the position. I learned that Kim was notified on Friday that she was not selected and I felt it was my due diligence to follow up with her on the why behind my selection – not because I have to (because I don’t) but because I wanted to (and wished someone would have done for me years ago).

My leadership style can best be described as a desire to set others up for success. when my team succeeds, I succeed. So I asked Kim to come to my office and I dove right into it by letting her know I was aware she had been informed she was not selected for the position, but I wanted to let her know it was not because she performed poorly during the interview. In fact, as I informed her, she had done exceptionally well, but the truth was that someone else had done better. A harsh reality in a world of participation trophies for everyone.

The conversation led into what she was doing well in her current role – taking on additional responsibilities, self-initiating directive, demonstrating a performance improvement mentality, etc.  I also touched (gently) on things she could improve upon – having tact in sensitive situations, remaining professional when dealing with difficult co-workers, and self-awareness. The key part of constructive criticism is delivering the message in a way that doesn’t make your employee hate themselves, you, or the organization, and that is something that takes time and experience.

I then asked Kim what her future goals were… what did she want to be when she grew up? She didn’t know, so we started to discuss some things she was interested in – data analytics, management, etc. I reminded her that she was young and that her next job was not her end all, she didn’t have to do that for the rest of her life. We also discussed the possibility of leaving our organization to find a better fit elsewhere. Now, this is tricky water to navigate, but I believe I did so successfully. I flat out told Kim that while I do not want her to leave our organization, I also support personal and professional growth and that it’s important to recognize that what may be a good fit for one person is not for another. I also reiterated that I didn’t think she was a bad fit for her current position (she isn’t) but she has a lot of talent that can be used elsewhere – and that is what I want her to explore.

I encouraged her to explore other options within our organization and together we looked online at fellowship opportunities. I forwarded her some useful links and some info that I have amassed over the years. I also let her know that other organizations within our industry offer the same thing, and that she shouldn’t limit herself. I also squashed any false hope that she may have been given. What I mean by this is that people have good intentions when they would tell her “you should do this” or “I heard this can help you” but have no real experience or knowledge in what they are talking about. I have been interviewing, hiring, and disciplining people for a few years now and I know the ropes, loopholes, and what’s possible v. what’s not. I let Kim down easy by telling her what was bad information coupled with what was an actual possibility in her situation.

One of the things I stressed to her was to not make an emotional decision! I told her she will have days when she leaves the office pissed off at the world, when she tells herself she isn’t coming back the next day and that this is it! we all have those days, but I reminded her that is not the time to go home and apply for 50 jobs on Indeed.com. instead, I encouraged her to apply for internal positions, apply for external positions, interview and ASK QUESTIONS! The grass is not always greener on the other side. She may find out the reality of another organization is not what she thought it was and that she is better off here. But she won’t know unless she seeks out that information. I also let her know that building relationships is everything in business. I encouraged her to talk to others who worked for other companies, who used to do other jobs and find out what they have to say. We all have our own story, our own path. Life is not a one size fits all.

I felt like I was talking to myself years ago, reminding her that this is not her end all but that she must work her way up. That these other little silly jobs (as she may see them) are actually preparing her for jobs that carry the burden of responsibility. That us hiring officials see the type of jobs that she is currently working through as stepping stones that build the foundation of knowledge that those at the top have. I told her that we hire for skill – we see talent and teach you how to use it. That is our job as managers.

I also told her I would delegate to her what I could so she could build her skillset and get a better glimpse of the 30,000 foot perspective. How can we as managers expect our people to grow if we don’t plant the seed? It took me a long time to lay down roots, and I want to provide the knowledge I have gained along the way to the next generation.

Who knows, maybe one day Kim will be hiring me.