Archive for June, 2011

Working 101: First Job Basics

Congratulations, you’ve gotten your first college–or post college–job! (And if you haven’t, go ahead and check out the archives to learn about how to get job experience and how to write a resume and how to apply for a job.)

Welcome to the workforce… Now what?

Fill Out Your W-4 Correctly(!!!)

Before you start working, your new employer will hand you a scary looking tax form called a W-4. Don’t toss it in your bag and forget it–this little form will help determine how much you owe in taxes at the end of the year.

The most confusing (but important!) part of this form is the “Allowances” box, where you enter a withholding number that tells your employer how much they should take out of your paycheck to pay towards taxes. If you don’t have them withhold anything (or enough), you will owe a ton of taxes at the end of the year. (Guess how I know that?)

Not sure what to enter? Don’t worry–try using the IRS’s Withholding Allowance Calculator.

Walk the Line

Now that we’ve got the scary tax stuff out of the way, on to the rest of the basics–the things that will make you look good to your boss (which can obviously lead to more responsibility, a promotion, or at least a good reference when you move on to greener pastures). These are pretty obvious, but they can make a big difference!

  • Watch the Clock. Time management is a big deal when you’re on the job, and you can bet your boss will notice if you’re good (or bad) at it. So be on time (or better yet, early!) for work, be honest about your break time, and don’t stay late at lunch.
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  • Look the Part. Have you heard that cheesy saying, “Dress for success”? Well, in some ways, it’s true: the way you dress–and the first impression it gives–usually makes a difference in the workforce, because it sends a signal about how seriously you take your job. So, look good (and professional) for work, and save your sweatpants or fishnets for after hours.
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  • Skip the Surfing. Think your employer doesn’t notice you poking around Facebook when you should be filing? Think again. Many offices have software that keeps track of your every click (yikes!), but even if they don’t, most bosses will notice how your internet time detracts from your productivity. (BUT it is totally fine to surf on appropriate sites during break time as long as your boss doesn’t say that’s taboo!)
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  • Trash the Trash Talk. Want to know what’s not fun? Office politics–especially if you’re on the wrong side of them. You can moan and groan about your co-workers as much as you want to at home (if you must), but keep the smack talk and gossip out of the workplace as much as possible. Negative energy is contagious and does not make for a fun work environment.
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  • Work Hard. Really. You’re going to be spending a lot of hours doing whatever you’ve just been hired to do, so do your best work–it will make it feel more worthwhile. Plus, it should (hopefully!) be something your employer will notice and reward you for.
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  • Be Honest. This one can be hard–for example, who wants to confess to the boss if they’ve messed up?–but it is also, in my opinion, the most important. Honesty, even when you’ve completely bungled something, is what will allow your employer to trust you, possibly encourage him or her to give you more responsibility (and maybe a raise eventually!) and want to keep you around.

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1 comment June 9th, 2011

Real World Roundup: How to Get an Apartment

There may be no bigger step into adulthood than getting your own apartment (even if it is shared with a bunch of other students)–but do you know what it takes to get one? Read on my friends, and maybe you, too, can rent your own little slice of real-estate heaven.

Baby Steps

  1. Find some roommates. Unless you’re rolling in scholarship dough or Mom and Dad have offered to foot the bill, you’re probably going to want to split the cost (and responsibility) with a roomie or two (or more). So before you even start the hunt, line up some buddies to live with. George Fox University posted a great, practical article about how to choose a roommate. Trust me, this is a big decision!
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  2. Talk budget. Now that you’ve got your roommates, you need to decide how much you can each afford to spend. If you’ve got a bigger budget, you may opt for a room of your own. To save some cash, you might want to share. Tally up your funds and decide your total monthly budget for rent and utilities, and talk about how many bedrooms/bathrooms you want to get.
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  3. Go On the Hunt. Your roomies are secured, your budget is set, now its time for the fun part–apartment hunting! Scout the area for complexes you might like to live in, and be sure to talk to other students and/or the student housing office for more info. Once you find some spots you like, take tours, check out their online reviews (at sites like apartmentguide.com, forrent.com, or apartments.com), ask questions, and build up your pro/con list.

Ask the Right Questions

Apartments can have a lot of hidden costs and requirements, so while you’re visiting your prospective new places, be sure to ask these crucial questions so you know what you really need–and what you’ll really pay.

  • Does your complex allow co-signers?
    A co-signer is someone with good credit who signs your lease with you if you can’t qualify to rent an apartment on your own (either because you have a low credit score or you don’t earn enough income). My roommates and I had to have a co-signer (one of our parents volunteered) for our first apartment.
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  • What is included in the rent?
    Are there community amenities like an office, pool, or gym? Does your rent cover some of the utilities? Find out if your rent entitles you to any extras!
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  • What utilities will we have to pay for?
    Will you have to come up with money for things like gas, water, and trash on top of electricity, internet, and phone? Find out what your complex covers with rent and what you’ll have to pay for on your own.
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  • What is the average cost of those utilities?
    Most complexes can give you an idea of how much the above items will cost you.
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  • How much is the security deposit?
    Most rentals require you to put down a security deposit (money to cover any damages that may occur while you live at the apartment). You may get all or some of this money back when you move out, depending on how well you’ve cared for your unit.
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    (If you have a pet, you will most likely have to pay an additional deposit, and possibly additional rent to keep it in the apartment, so be sure to ask about that, too.)
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  • How much rent do you require upfront?
    In addition to the security deposit, most rentals also require you to pay the first month’s rent before you move in. Some require both the first and the last month’s rent before they’ll hand over the key.
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  • Do you have any specials going on? Can you work with my budget?
    Apartment complexes don’t like to have their units empty for long, so often they will run specials such as one month of free rent or even a monthly discount. If they don’t have a special, you can still make them aware of your rent budget and ask if they can work with you. Just remember–whenever you’re asking for a discount, be nice!

Compare, Contrast, and Sign

Now that you’ve got your questions answered, your tours completed, and your budget worked out, talk to your roommates and figure out which option is the most practical for you. Once you’ve made your choice, and have the funds available, you can arrange to sign your lease–and schedule your move-in day!

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2 comments June 6th, 2011

Stick the Summer Slump–Get Happy!

I hope the title of this post is cheesy enough for you, but rest assured I am serious about getting you out of your summertime slump–you don’t have to be miserable just because you’re spending the summer back home!

Sure, we’d all love to run off and find balance in some exotic foreign country à la Elizabeth Gilbert, heroine of Eat, Pray, Love–but most of us don’t have the time (or funds!) to drop everything and adventure into the wide wide world. So for the last couple months I’ve been sampling my way through a fantastic book, Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project–a book about how one woman took simple steps to make her life happier. Her steps are basic, but I’ve been trying a few, and they really work! Here are a few of my favorites:

Tackle a Nagging Task. You know that thing in the back of your mind–that little project you’ve been putting off for weeks (or months!)? Get it done. Whether it’s your annual checkup (ugh–I personally hate having my blood pressure taken) or cleaning out the chaos under your bed, get it done. It will take a little of the weight off your shoulders.

Remember Birthdays. You know how good it feels when someone remembers your birthday? Pass on that good feeling (with more than a wall-post on Facebook). All you have to do is shoot out an email to your BFFs asking for their birthdays and add them to your calendar (you can even have Google Calendar email you if you’re worried about forgetting). Making other people feel good can give you a nice mood boost, too.

Take Time for Projects. Don’t skip this idea if you’re not in to arts and crafts! All this means is to choose a goal, and make the time to do it. Always wanted to learn about photography? Skip some TV time and check out some library books, peruse photography blogs, or just play around with your camera. Trying to get a little healthier? Take a nutrition class, round up a running group, and make yourself a calendar to help chart your progress.

Laugh Out Loud. My Dad laughs out loud all the time, even if he is alone watching TV–I can hear him from across the house when I go home to visit–and it is part of what makes him so fun to be around. Too often we feel too self conscious to really let loose and laugh, but you know what? It feels good–I’d even say it can be kind of cathartic. So why not?

Want more ways to get happy? Pick up Rubin’s book at the library, or check out her blog, happiness-project.com.

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Add comment June 2nd, 2011


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