Sometimes I think that the worst part is traveling is being forced to watch TV news while eating my free breakfast. The world is a terrifying place on TV news, with toddlers kidnapped, teenagers raped, and wives murdered by husbands.
Then they immediately switch it up by doing a human interest story on the country's most friendly ice cream shop. (In Minnesota of course!)
What are you more afraid of? Losing your memory towards the end of your life, or death itself? An article from the New Yorker (July 29, 2013 edition) says that more baby boomers are scared of the former than the latter.
Then again, humans may just be bad at answering that question, since I've also heard the statistic that public speaking is the number one fear that Americans harbor in their hearts, and that death is only ranked second. Oft interpreted as "they would rather die than give a speech." Put in an actual scenario where this choice is offered, a majority of people would get over it and make the speech.
The article moves on to discuss various companies and researchers working on memory-loss prevention products and studies. We're told that keeping our fight-or-flight mechanism turned on for long periods where it is inappropriate to both flee or fight (such as being under stress at the office), is detrimental to our brain health.
Meditation is often cited as a means to improve focus and decrease stress, and this article does not exclude this ancient art as a method of treatment. Trying new things to develop new neural pathways through the brain is also recommended. According to this article, this doesn't mean you have to pick up a new hobby each month, but can just be breaking a routine in a trivial (and eyebrow-raising) manner, such as wearing earplugs to a family meal. Of course, when today's busy workers are also wondering how to balance their careers and spending time with their children, this particular experiment may do more to hinder your progress towards goal achievement than it will to promote it.
Do you use any of these techniques? Trying out new activities to keep your brain flexible, or meditation, to keep your mind balanced?
Now that we're past tax season, it's time to review some finances. This sort of post is my personal motivation mechanism, so feel free to skip if this is not your sort of thing.
My last mortgage post was back in May, when I decided to pay an additional $500 in principal each month, to speed up reaching the 22% equity needed to stop paying PMI. I also thought that I could put $500 per month towards savings/investments. How did I do?
Original mortgage balance, March 9, 2012: $133,039
Mortgage balance May 2013: 129,963
Mortgage balance September 2013: 126,981
Reduction in mortgage since May 2013: 2,982
Reduction in mortgage since inception: 6,058
It is nice to see how much has been paid off in the last 4-5 months. That is almost 50% of the total amount paid off at this point, but I have been paying off the mortgage for 18 months. To stop paying PMI, I need to pay down 22% of the original mortgage balance (about $30,000). I've paid down about $6,000, so I need to pay down another $24,000. With about $220 of the regular monthly payment going towards the principal, plus the extra $500 per month, it will still take me another 30 months or so to reach this goal.
Of course, the faster I pay down the principal, the more of each regular payment goes towards principal too, instead of interest. So, another milestone to celebrate this month is that the portion of the payment going toward interest dropped below $400 per month. (It was $401.49 in August, and only $399.16 in September.
As discussed in May, even with PMI, with such a low interest rate on the loan, it is a toss up as to whether it makes more sense to invest extra cash, or to pay down the mortgage faster. So instead of putting all of my extra cash into the mortgage, I resolved to try and invest an additional $500 per month. I'm about to look up the exact numbers now, but I can tell you that I did not accomplish this goal.
Additions to Roth IRA: I added about $300/month to my Roth IRA - when I use the "set it and forget it" method, the contribution gets made
Additions to 401(k): This is so "set it and forget it" that I don't even know how much I put into this each month. It is nowhere close to the maximum allowed contribution. I re-figure my contributions for this each year after we get our raises, to make sure that I'm always increasing how much I contribute as my salary increases.
Additions to savings account: This is much trickier for me - I had to pull money out of this account each month, because I was over optimistic with how much I could set aside. My total bank balance has essentially not changed since May. The reason I want to stock pile the money in a savings account is so that I can open a trading account once I have accumulated enough.
So, there are two reasons for my struggle to save cash - 1) I just spend too much to be able to sock much more away, or 2) I need to use a set-it-and-forget-it mechanism for putting cash aside, where I am unable to pull the cash out of my savings into my checking for daily use. Addressing both of these issues will be necessary for me to continue to grow my non-retirement accounts. Although discussing all of that sounds like a separate post.
The answer is - I'll keep chugging away at the mortgage payments and Roth contributions, but I need a fix to keep my cash savings increasing each month!
It's that time of the year again - accounting recruiting season is underway at universities across the country. As the economy picks up, the competition to get the best students is picking up, and if you have decent grades, you should expect to have a variety of opportunities to choose from when offers are extended.
Based on a recruiting event I attended last week, here are some easy ways you can stand out to the firm doing the recruiting:
- Ask questions about the firm! The people doing the recruiting don't want to do all the work of making conversation. Ask the typical questions - how long have you worked there, what do you like about working there, what do you think makes your company different, etc. It shows that you're interested in the firm, it makes the employee of the recruiting firm appreciate not having to put all the work into the conversation, and everyone likes to talk about themselves anyway.
- Ask for business cards, and use them to get in touch with people later. We have noticed a dearth of students asking for business cards, and an extreme lack of thank you notes after our events. I didn't have business cards on me at the last event, but helped students find me on LinkedIn on their phone web browser, so they would not only have my contact info, but also a photo to remind themselves of who I was. (I still didn't receive any thank you notes.)
- Dress for the part! Even if the event is casual, don't confuse this with the outfit you would wear to class, or downtown to go out with your friends. Make sure that your clothing is neat, clean, and not revealing. While we might appreciate your fashionable look, it is not what will convince us you'll make a good accountant. At our event last week, a few students elected to wear nice black slacks to a casual recruiting event where jeans were perfectly acceptable. These students looked just a little more professional than everyone else by comparison.
- Make sure to speak with one of the partners. We all get to submit our opinions, but at our firm at least, it helps to have a partner rooting for you when it comes time to pick who gets an interview.
- Make your interest in the firm clear - work into conversation something like "What sounds interesting to me about your firm is..." fill in "the employees all seem to get along great," "your clients are in the manufacturing/banking/non-profit sectors", "the exposure to international accounting." Because if you're someone who we like, but we don't think you like us back, we might not want to take the time to interview you, over someone who is less qualified but seems more likely to accept a job with us. Last year we made offers to several students who turned us down for Big 4 jobs - those students did a good job of convincing us they would seriously consider us over Big 4. Good move on their part, but this also shows the environment that our firm is recruiting in - we are even more skeptical of whether students are serious about getting a job with us. As a student, I thought that just attending recruiting events made it clear I was interested in a particular firm, however, as an employee of a firm looking for recruits, I see now that it is important for the recruit to emphasize their interest.
Hopefully these are some practical tips that might be a bit easier to apply than the general "appear more confident." Even if you're nervous, I think that the 5 actions above will set you apart from the crowd.
Any other tips for accounting students looking for jobs this time of year? Any questions from people going through the recruiting process?
Is the desire for positive feedback unique to younger generations? The older people around me seem to dismiss this as useless fluff, and, intellectually, I would agree with them.
However, without positive feedback, all you're left with is negative feedback. If your work is 99% free of changes/errors, the only feedback is the 1% they would like you to do differently.
Of course, we are all striving to hand in work that is 100% free of changes from the reviewer, but I don't see that happen much. If only because the reviewer feels like it is part of their job to find some change or improvement.
Which means every single assignment results in negative feedback, with no positive feedback to let people know that overall they're doing well.
Anyway, during a recent training, this topic came up, and the suggestion was that people at my level can be the ones to provide this feedback to our younger staff. But man, it would be nice to get some from the people above me a bit more often.
From discussions with my coworkers, it seems like most of us need a certain amount of time to unwind or "decompress" between getting home from work and going to sleep. During these times when we work long hours, it seems silly to waste time reading (blogging) instead of going to bed right away. But it turns out that I will just lie wide awake for hours if I don't take the time to calm down after work
No matter how tired I am when I leave work, once I get home, and especially after I've had something to eat, I find myself suddenly exploding with energy. I sometimes think that if I wanted to write a novel, these times after a long day at work would be the best time to get something creative done. Unfortunately, I can find no hint of this energy the following morning, and since I need to get some sleep to perform well at work, I can't justify staying up until all hours working on the next great American novel.
Do you have a similar experience when you come home? What is your routine to unwind?
It's evenings like tonight that make me wonder if I'm the world's biggest sucker for thinking that I have a good job.
11:41, I just got home. No dinner. And I don't earn enough to justify paying for a laundry service.
I met my congressman yesterday, thanks to a friend who excitedly dragged me along to meet him. I'm glad that she did.
This August 28th marked the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech. Congressman John Lewis was the youngest speaker that day, and the only one of those speakers still alive today.
I've learned most of that from the congressman's new graphic novel "March" which tells the story of how he went from being the son of a farmer to being involved in a world-changing political movement. The book is beautifully drawn and written, and a great medium to share the story.
Unfortunately, when I look around today, I see many of the injustices that these people fought for are still going on, and yet the drive to push for changes is so much less.
We are at a time when we have many more rights than we did in 1963 (we being women, minority races, homosexuals) and the existence of these rights reduces the impetus to push for true equality. That, and when inequality is not created by the law, it is hard to create equality by changing the law.
There is no law that says that my employer can or should pay me less than my male colleagues. There is no law that insists on a far higher percentage of African American men in jail than makes sense, given the smaller percent of the population that is African American. But these things still happen, without a clear solution. Women need to work harder, not show that they have commitments outside of work, in order to increase the number of us at the top. African American families sit their children down to talk to them about how to "safely handle" encounters with the police or local vigilantes who seem to be looking for any excuse to arrest them.
The solutions I hear are all in the hands of the disadvantaged, not in changing the structure that surrounds us.
I'm not very politically minded, and maybe there is a growing movement of people out there that I don't know about who are looking to change the system not just their own place in it. I wish that I felt the level of inspiration that Congressman Lewis did, to risk his life and throw his whole purpose into his cause. But then, I'm well paid, even if my male colleagues are better paid. I have a lot of advantages and comforts.
So, I'm vowing to myself again to get involved somehow, to choose a local organization that is making a difference in some small way, and to actually participate. I always find myself getting stuck on the idea that any contribution I make, even any local organization, will not make a dent. But I think it's worth more to get involved and try than to spend my life concerned about the state of the community around me, but not lifting a finger to change it.
We don't have a mentoring culture at the firm I work at. I suspect that this may be a wide-spread problem, but I'm sure that there are firms that do a better job at this.
Evidence of lack of mentoring culture:
- Only 2 of the 6 partners on our team within the firm take staff out to lunch regularly. One of these partners takes people on his team, plus a random selection of other staff at least once per month during our non-busy season. The other partner takes people on his team out for lunch on their birthday, plus some others get invited to make it a group thing.
- None of the partners take staff out for a one-on-one time to chat about any issues they might want to ask about.
- Our official mentoring system is limited to the first 3 months of a new hire's career here. They are assigned a "buddy" who helps answer their questions and checks in with them to make sure that they're doing well. This buddy is typically in their second or third year only, and typically more senior staff are not invited to be buddies. This system was begun at the insistence of the the junior staff who felt that we needed this, and as a result, the junior staff are responsible for doing any of the "work" involved. (Note: I do like our buddy system, just wish it was a bit more extensive.)
I think that we have senior staff and managers at our firm who would love to take the time to be mentors, but aren't quite self-motivated enough to do this, since it is not a firm-value, therefore they would rather spend their time doing work that is valued.
I think I am even one of those people, despite my resolve to take my former "buddies" out more often to check in with them, I never seem to have the time, and it always seems like the desk work needs to come first.
Does anyone have any thoughts about mentoring experiences and culture? It seems like something that you can't quite force on a company, but that the company could certainly encourage. How involved is the ideal mentor? And is it better to find a mentor outside of your firm anyway? Does it help firm's retain employees if they have more mentoring going on?
It seems clear why the United States Postal Service is going out of business. I usually buy through Amazon.com, and they ship via UPS. UPS leaves the packages at my front door, so far I have never had one stolen.
USPS, on the other hand, needed to deliver a $10 piece of foam to me. I was not home to receive it (because for whatever reason, they assume everyone has a stay at home wife to sign of their packages.) Now I have to drive to their office in a distant and dangerous part of Atlanta, during their office hours (which are what, 10am to 3pm, open 3 days a week these days?), to pick up my $10 piece of foam. Here's a hint USPS - I don't even care that much if this gets stolen, and it is highly unlikely that such a thing would occur.
The vendor I purchased this foam from also charged me $9 to ship this foam via USPS, when I am pretty sure it does not cost that much to ship a lightweight item through UPS, so I'm not sure why the vendor bothers using the inferior shipping company.