Stop Reacting and Start Responding


True health comes from listening to your whole self.

Of course, when you’re talking about physical health, listening becomes a lot easier — that ache in your left knee is hard to ignore. Emotions, on the other hand, are a little trickier. Somewhere along the line, you started labeling events as “good” or “bad” and constructing predetermined responses to both.

Virtually all of your thoughts and feelings are conditioned responses to past experiences. It’s a normal strategy for dealing with new opportunities. But if your strategy is flawed, you’ll continue to get low returns on your efforts — both in your personal and professional lives.

Eventually, something will pop up and push you out of your comfort zone. If you don’t have a strategy to deal with new challenges, it won’t be long before you buckle under the pressure.

Stop reacting and start responding. Being able to respond with a clear head is extremely important in business, especially in the early stages. For example, I once lost a multimillion-dollar business deal because I couldn’t let go of my past failures. I was reacting based on the past, and as a result, I soured a promising deal.

Each day is filled with decisions that shape the future of your company. When you react to life, you’re acting from either memory or old habits. But to build a successful enterprise, you need to be ready to respond calmly and rationally.

Responding means observing with intensity and awareness. It means not jumping to conclusions, seeing the situation from every angle and accepting that your opinion may not be the only one or even the best one. The more you listen to yourself, the easier it will become to pinpoint your old conditioned reactions. As the feelings occur, you can create new responses and let the faulty reactions fade away.

Revamping your response mechanism will afford you many benefits. According to the American Psychological Association, a healthy mental state can help improve your overall health, preserve your immune system and reduce the risk for depression and heart disease. And with a clear mind, you’ll be able to confidently make the best decisions for your growing venture.

However, making the shift from reacting to responding takes emotional intelligence and patience. Here are a few strategies to get you started:

1. Collect yourself.

Before reacting, pause and allow your initial emotional reaction to pass. Then address the opportunity again, and see how you respond differently. Repeat this process, giving yourself time to work through your old conditioning. Consider going for a drive. This will give you time to relax and settle your thoughts.

2. Tune in to your feelings.

Clarity is tough when you’re under pressure, so never make an important decision when you’re feeling anxious. If you’re not physically or emotionally up to the task, put off making a move until you’re in the right state of mind.

3. Move around.

A health break never fails. Besides giving you time to think, physical activity helps dispel that anxious energy. In fact, studies show that college students who engage in weekly exercise have reduced feelings of hopelessness, depression and suicide. I like to go to the gym, put on my headphones and just give myself time to not think about life’s challenges. This creates solutions from a clean sheet, rather than inside the problem.

Life is a series of events and experiences. Each one is an opportunity to grow and become a better person. So take on each challenge with fresh eyes. Reacting in the same way to new experiences won’t get you where you want to be personally or professionally

By Shawn McIntyre of Entrepreneur


Who Should Do Your Taxes?


Your payroll forms and stock records start to arrive in the mail and you begin to swear you’ll soon gather up all those receipts. Tax Day looms. Who’ll help file your 2014 return?

Every U.S. citizen living and working in this country or abroad must determine the federal income taxes he or she owes, as well as taxes owed to individual states or other local authorities. The deadline to pay those taxes for yearly salary earners falls on April 15 of most years, including 2015. If you pay taxes quarterly, you face deadlines in April, June, September and January.

Whichever category you find yourself in year to year, you must choose how to file a tax return before the deadline, as well as which filing status you qualify for. Generally, your choices for filing status are:

  • Single or head of household, meaning you detail on tax forms only your income, deductions and tax breaks.
  • Married filing jointly, meaning you and your spouse report your combined income and deduct your combined allowable expenses.
  • Married filing separately, which absolves each of you for the other’s possible unintentional omissions or deliberate errors.

Because some filing statuses can be more advantageous for you than others, determine the filing path that best suits your personal and financial situation.

Next, decide who if anyone will help prepare and file your return. The average fee nationwide for preparing a tax return, including an itemized Internal Revenue Service Form 1040 with Schedule A (for itemized deductions) and a state tax return, is $273 this year, according to a survey by the National Society of Accountants.

Using a certified public accountant or tax preparer is a common way to address your tax situation well before a deadline but many people continue to prepare and file federal tax returns themselves.

CPAs versus tax preparers. Even though CPAs and tax preparers may have significant experience in completing and processing tax forms, there are differences between each type of professional.

CPAs, for example, must undergo rigorous education and certification to become experts in many areas outside of tax preparation, such as accounting matters or other financial services. While you may very well pay more for the services of a CPA than for a non-CPA tax preparer such as an enrolled agent or a registered tax return preparer, the additional cost generally covers the expertise to analyze complex tax situations.

If you believe your tax situation is relatively straightforward and simple, choosing a tax preparer might be a more cost-efficient method to file. Another advantage: These professionals offer you a degree of protection. If one of these professionals makes a clear error or miscalculation on your return, the IRS often holds the preparer accountable before penalizing you.

Remember: Booking a professional preparer becomes harder the closer we get to the filing deadline.

Filing yourself. Individual or self-filing can be an option if you want to save money on hiring a CPA or preparer and especially if you’re experienced with tax filing. If you make less than $60,000 a year, you can find free forms and other tools on the IRS Free File page.

Several national tax chains, local and national organizations, and even makers of tax software offer free or low-cost preparation services both in-person and online. Online services allow you to enter employment information that generates the necessary documentation needed to file both state and federal income taxes.

Among those that charge a fee, these alternatives generally cost $12 to $25, depending on the complexity of your return. While these services may be cost-efficient and user-friendly, you do risk incorrectly inputting data or taking an inappropriate deduction.

Complexity of your employment often dictates the best option. For example, if you hold a long-time job with the same company or organization and take a few standard deductions, you might simply go with a preparer or an online, self-filing service. If you changed jobs more than twice in a year or are an independent contractor, you probably ought to consult a CPA or other experienced preparer.

Either way, start your preparing long before the tax deadline.

By Kimberly J. Howard

The 5 Numbers You Need to Know to Get a Handle on Your Money


Do you really know your money? You would be surprised how many people don’t know anything about their all-important relationship with their finances. You may think you’re pretty financially savvy, but if you can’t answer these five questions you may need to get better acquainted with your money.

  1. Monthly Income. This may seem very basic, but more often than not people can’t answer how much money comes into their home. That means knowing the gross and net income. Almost everyone knows what their salary is, roughly, but when it comes to pre- and post-tax income per month, many people have no clue. Look at your next paystub and take note of both your gross (pretax) and net (post-tax and other deductions) pay. This knowledge really comes in handy when putting together your budget.
  2. Monthly Expenses. This one goes hand-in-hand with knowing your monthly income. While knowing how much you have coming in each month is important, it’s equally important to know how much you have going out. Get a grip on your expenses. Take the time to write down everything you spend your money on in a given month. You’d be surprised what expenses you have over and above your rent/mortgage, car, utility and insurance payments. An understanding of your expenses can help you identify areas where you’re overspending and can reveal new ways for you to save. If you want to have a well thought out and effective budget, knowing both your income and expenses is pivotal. Without this knowledge, you won’t know what you can (and can’t) afford and you could easily spend beyond your means.
  3. Net Worth. You may think that a ‘net worth’ is only for wealthy people. Not so fast: Net worth, simply put, is the difference between what you own and what you owe. This begins with your bank account, income and expenses. Assets such as investments, cars and real estate all factor in to your net worth as well. Knowing your net worth provides you with a straightforward financial snapshot. If your number is positive, you can give yourself a pat on the back. If it’s negative, you might want to take a closer look at your finances so you can diagnose the problem, and create a plan to get you into the positive.
  4. Debt-to-Income Ratio. While your net worth compares all of your assets to what you owe, a debt-to-income ratio shows you specifically how much debt you have compared to how much money you’re making. The first step to figuring this out is to pull up your credit report (to get the most accurate estimate pull it from all three bureaus, in case there is a debt that is reported to one and not the others; also make sure there are no errors in how your debts are reported). Once you’ve checked your free annual credit reports, you can monitor for changes to your credit reports every month by getting a free credit report summary on Tally up your monthly debt payments, and divide them by your gross monthly income (money before taxes and other deductions). As you could have guessed, the lower this number is the better off you’ll be. Ideally you want to keep that number below 35%.
  5. Your Invested Income. You may know the number in your savings account, (this is invested income, too, despite the small return) — but do you know if you’re making the most of your money? Ask yourself what your money is doing for you. Is it sitting in the bank to use for a rainy day, or is it working to make you more money? Work with a trusted adviser to come up with a plan. Even if you’re just starting out with your first job, wrangle your money and make it start working for you. If you already have some investments, ask yourself if you know what the money is invested in, not just the old, “oh, it’s in an IRA.” Know who manages it, what you earn, what the money is invested in and what kind of returns you get. The younger you are, the more freedom you have to make that young money work hard to earn you the most possible future money.

Finally, your money should be in line with your future goals. Know what those goals are and the compatibility with your money. Saving money alone is not enough when it comes to having good financial health. You have to make sure you’re paying attention to what amount of your savings is for what, and whether you’re not on track for the big things.

When it comes to managing your money, it’s easy to get overwhelmed if you don’t really know your money. Between knowing all the terms and numbers, you can quickly lose track and get discouraged. However, if you take the time get to know your money and how it impacts your life, it’ll be easy to see that financial health comes down to being in the know. So the next time you want to have a close relationship with your money situation, take a deep breath, and jump in as if you were interviewing your money for a job … to work for you.

By Leslie Tayne of

7 Times Paying More Isn’t Worth It

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Sometimes, when you see two products that are designed to do the same thing, paying more is actually a good idea (think toilet paper or tissues). You really do want thicker and softer, and it’s worth paying for. But other times, going the cheap route makes perfect sense — and any differences are all but undetectable. Here are some instances in which you can pay less without sacrificing quality.

  1. Groceries Approaching Sell-By Dates. If it looks fine to you, and you can freeze it or cook it right away, go ahead. Grocery stores mark food way down when it’s close to the date they cannot sell it at all. This can be a great way to save on meats and produce in particular, but you’ll want to make sure you prepare or freeze right away. You don’t want to end up throwing away what the grocery store didn’t have to because you bought it.
  1. Books. If you have an e-reader (or an app such as Goodreads), there are many, many books that you can read for free. (Project Gutenberg includes more than 46,000 free books.) Think of it as a library that never closes. It can also be useful for children who forget about a book report until the night before it is due … the book is right there. No frantic trip to the mall and, in many cases, no fee. And if you enjoy shopping for books? Check out used books. They are usually far less expensive than new. And don’t forget your local library — even some late fees can still cost you less than buying the book outright.
  1. Razor Blades & Disposable Razors. Whether you choose disposables or blades for a safety razor, you’re paying much less than you would for an electric razor or a razor with cartridges. And if you want those cheap blades to last longer, here’s a tip: Keep them dry, meaning wipe them off after every shave.
  1. Dishes. The cheap ones hold up just as well as the expensive ones. You may prefer the more expensive ones, but the others are just as functional, and it’s likely less traumatic when they get broken. The same goes for glassware.
  1. Spices. You may see them at the dollar store or in ethnic sections of the supermarket — and the prices are often significantly lower than those in the spice display at your supermarket. Don’t be afraid to try them.
  1. Children’s Clothes. If kids are still growing — or if this is a special occasion outfit that will likely be worn just once — don’t worry about getting top quality. It will be outgrown before long, and you’ll need the savings to buy more clothes for your growing child (unless you are lucky enough to get hand-me-downs). Many parents’ groups hold sales of gently used children’s clothing — you may be able to pick up some bargains there as well.
  1. Cellphone Plans. Know yourself before you do it — but if your usage is well within what is permitted, you may find that a cheaper plan offers significant savings. But do not assume you’ll get what you pay for, and therefore the most expensive phone/plan is the best. A cheaper one may not be noticeably different for you, and the savings can be enormous. I recently cut my family’s cellphone bill in half when I switched from a major carrier to one that piggybacks on free Wi-Fi when available. It’s not perfect; there are some dead zones where we can’t place or receive calls, but it works fine about 98% of the time, which is good enough for us.

Whether you’re working to pay off debt or just want to avoid paying more than you need to, choosing products that do what you need them to do but cost less can help you get closer to your goals. And getting in the habit of evaluating everyday spending can help you stay alert to whether you think you are getting your money’s worth when you choose to pay more. It’s easy to go over budget and get into debt — a scary idea for many, especially considering the lifetime cost of debt.

There are many, many more ways to spend less without feeling shortchanged, and many of them, like cellphone plans, depend on how you use the item in question. If you use it frequently, it may be worth it to you to buy the highest possible quality. Other times, cutting corners won’t be noticeable at all — and you may feel freer to dispose of no-longer-needed purchases (think holiday decorations from the dollar store).

By Gerri Detweiler of