Author Archives: Andrew Dauphinee

About Andrew Dauphinee

Education and learning are passions of mine. Lifelong learning is a core part of who I am and I strive to pass that desire for information on to everyone I meet. As the Instruction and Outreach Librarian, it is my goal to provide quality, informative, and relevant programming to meet the diverse needs of our patrons. Please contact me regarding programming at adauphinee@njstatelib.org.

How to Be a Good Remote Worker

The current health crisis has forced many organizations to close physical spaces, creating an opportunity for many employees to work from home.  For many people, this is a dramatic change in their work lives. Distractions from television or children can make it difficult to concentrate, especially if you do not have a dedicated space at home where you can seclude yourself to work. However, there are many strategies and tips that can make us into productive workers.

The information below is from the JobFlex webinar “How to Be a Good Remote Worker”.

Setting shared expectations

    • Be open with your team and managers about your new reality, including any challenges or home commitments
    • Determine if you need to shift your work priorities in order to accommodate for a lack of equipment or resources
    • State your hours of availability and the best way to reach our when offline
    • Determine communication methods and regularity ahead of time
      • Determine when phone or email conversations are better

Manager and coworker dynamics

    • Engage in frequent communication, especially to provide or seek support; something as simple as a positive email can boost you or your teams’ morale
    • Engage in proactive relationship building, including sharing stories or tips of adjusting to the new work environment
    • If something is late or someone is struggling with a task or deadline, assume a mistake rather than malice – we are all working out the kinks of working from home and it make take some time to adjust or understand new directives
    • Consider using appropriate memes, gifs, or emojis to communicate feelings or humor in written communications if appropriate
    • Self-management and co-management are key to a healthy working dynamic
      • Keep yourself focused and put a system in place to meet your goals and deadlines
        • The Pomodoro Technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks
        • David Allen is a popular speaker and author related to time and task management
      • Simple check-ins can be a helpful way of co-managing and create a positive working relationship
        • Encourage others to check in on you
    • Be sure to clarify and reclarify goals and priorities to ensure comprehension and prevent miscommunications or quickly changing directives

Create a dedicated home office space to create order and control

    • If possible, find a quiet place that is out of the way such as empty closets, finished basements or attics, or even your vehicle
    • Try to set up your space that will allow for easy transition from sitting to standing work

Ensure you have the appropriate gear and equipment to meet your essential work needs

    • Determine what you can borrow from the office or see if your organization will offer a stipend to purchase work-related items
    • Some popular work from home equipment include
      • an external or larger monitor
      • full keyboard and mouse
      • Good pair of headphones, including microphone
        • Noise-canceling ones if you need quiet
      • Wired internet or wireless boosters

Some other best practices include:

    • Set expectations with family, friends, or roommates along with coworkers and managers
      • Create visual reminders such as a daily schedule, signs, or physical barriers to enforce your work commitment
    • Watch for overwork and isolation
      • It can be easy to feel you are not accomplishing enough so you may work too much
        • A laptop sitting out can be tempting to answer one more email or finish another task that is not crucial
      • Many workspaces have some element of social interaction that can get lost at home and add stress or lower productivity
        • Take time to walk outside, if able, chat with friends or family, or just enjoy a few moments watching a favorite television show or spending time with your family

To view a recording of the webinar, please visit https://www.flexjobs.com/blog/post/webinar-recording-how-to-be-a-good-remote-worker/.

Check out these other resources for more tips and strategies for working from home:

  1. PC Magazinehttps://www.pcmag.com/news/get-organized-20-tips-for-working-from-home
  2. HubSpothttps://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/productivity-tips-working-from-home
  3. Good Housekeeping https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/career/a31436581/working-from-home-tips/

Reducing Stress at Home

The current COVID-19 outbreak has forced many people to work from home.  While the idea of working from home may sound appealing and appear to be a wonderful break from the stress of the workplace, there are many new challenges that can add stress and anxiety to an already intense situation. Additionally, stress and anxiety are playing a bigger part in our lives, as we worry about the health and wellness of our family, friends, and neighbors.

During an American Library Association webinar, “Libraries and COVID-19: Managing Strategies and Stress“, Loren McClain, a certified instructor for the National Council of Behavioral Health and Mental Health First Aid USA, shares some wonderful tips for adjusting to a new daily routine that focuses on staying home while still accomplishing work and home tasks:

  • One of the best ways to reduce stress with family and friends is to share accurate and empirical information regarding the disease
  • Try to engage in activities that bring you joy, modifying them to reduce your risk of exposure or find alternate ways to ensure that you don’t need to leave the house.  Check YouTube and Pinterest for craft activities as well as exercise and yoga routines
  • Focus on positive thinking, focusing on what you can do and control rather than the negatives of being stuck at home or what is going on in the world around you
  • Limit your exposure to news and social media.  The constant bombardment about the disease and the woes of the world will make you more stressed and depressed, causing you to miss opportunities for fun and memories with your family
  • Try to keep your home organized, predictable, and tidy.  One of the few things we have control over right now is our own home.  This is a perfect time to practice Spring Cleaning and get the entire family involved.  Even a little progress can make you feel accomplished and help focus your thinking on staying positive.
  • Try to stick to a daily routine you are accustomed to, such as a morning walk or reading a newspaper.  Being able to salvage some parts of your daily routine will help keep the feeling of chaos from keeping in.
  • Develop a new quarantine ritual or plan with your family to follow so that everyone can get adjusted to the new way of life.  This will help everyone understand each other’s priorities throughout the day and allow for the structure that we usually get from a workplace or school.
  • Set small goals to see results and gain a sense of confidence.  This includes work goals and household tasks.
  • Watch your screen-time.  With devices constantly around us from TVs, to computers, to mobile devices, we are constantly focused on screens throughout our day.  Follow the 20/20/20 rule to reset and refocus your brain and help prevent eye strain and headaches – For every 20 minutes of screen-time, look away and focus on an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
  • If you are dealing with higher levels of stress or anxiety, including difficulty adjusting to a home-bound life, check with your health insurance company about telehealth options.  Some companies are waiving restrictions for mental health counseling.

To view a recorded version of this webinar, please visit https://alapublishing.webex.com/recordingservice/sites/alapublishing/recording/71af3c666df243e3b38186e214f3cf54.  Loren McClain speaks from 43:00 – 1:00:00.

Mindfulness to Reduce Stress Program Recap

Thank you to Chelsea Hoagland from Capital Health Behavioral Health Specialists to sharing her knowledge of mindfulness and techniques to help us reduce stress.   While mindfulness is not designed to be a quick fix to reduce stress, with practice and conscious effort, you can transform your lifestyle to become more mindful of our senses, surroundings, and the present moment.

Mindfulness was first espoused by Dr. Jon Kabatt-Zinn and is composed of elements from yoga and Buddhism.  According to Zinn, “Mindfulness is awareness, cultivated by paying attention in a sustained and particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally.”  One of the major tenants of mindfulness is to love yourself regardless of what is happening in our life – past, present, and future.  By removing any judgement of yourself, especially while you are trying to practice mindfulness, you can release your mind and body from the trials and tribulations of past and future, focusing solely on the present moment.

Mindfulness is designed to redirect your focus from outward issues and influences to your inner self, connecting you with the present moment.  The 5 senses play an important role and serve as focal points as you calm your mind and shift your focus away from that meeting you missed or that upcoming deadline at work.  True mindfulness is learning how to let go of everything in your life and just be, which means being “OK”with what is and feeling better about how to handle it.

Mindfulness in action is often divided into Formal and Informal practice.  Formal practice focuses on guided meditation, which can be done in a group session or the use of videos or audio tapes.  The following videos are 2 examples of guided meditation for mindfulness:

Informal practices tend to be quick things you can do throughout the day that focus on senses.  A common practice is take a moment to look at your natural surroundings and just appreciate the current moment, such as a sunrise or a bird perched on a branch.  Washing your hands can be another great informal practice since we do it multiple times a day, allowing us to just focus on the smell of the soap, the sound of the water, and feel of the lather, forgetting what we just did or we have to go next.  There are 2 other practices that are more a little more involved, but are still great ways to practice mindfulness throughout our day when we have a brief moment of downtime or when we start to feel overwhelmed:

  • 2 Feet, 1 Breath
    • Stop what you are doing and feel one foot, then the other, and then take 1 conscious breath.
    • Repeat this often during the day as a small reminder that you are actually living in a physical body.
  • The 3 Ps
    • Every time you do something repetitive throughout day (answer an email or touch a door handle), take 1 second of the length of 1 breath to:
      • Pause.  Take just a moment for yourself, just that single breath.  Let go of the planning mind and the task orientation of the day and simply notice the moment.
      • Be Present.  Be aware of what is happening in this moment by experiencing the sensation of the body, noticing the thoughts and feeling the emotions just as they are, without trying to change anything.
      • Proceed.  Using mindful speech and skillful means, respond compassionately to whatever needs your attention in this moment.

The Aging Eye Program Recap

Thank you to Joan Micucci, Certified Ophthalmic Medical Technologist from Matossian Eye Associates for a very informative session on our eyes as they age.  She covered different aspects of 3 common eye-related problems: cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration.  While none of these issues can be prevented, early detection can help limit severe damage and preserve your eyesight as you age.

Cataracts are the most common cause of reversible vision loss and often manifest in older people.  Cataracts are caused by a clouding of the natural clear lens and oftentimes compared to frosty or fogged windows.  Some symptoms of cataracts include glare (especially at night), decrease in color vision, and adjusting your daily life to deal with blurry or tinted vision.  Generally, cataracts are associated with age, but diabetes, previous eye injury or surgery, or prolonged steroid use cause cause cataracts to form earlier in life.  Cataracts are removed through a simple outpatient surgery that involves removing the clouded lens and replacing it with an intraocular lens.  While there are different lens types available, it is common for people to need basic reading glasses after the surgery.

Glaucoma is a more serious issue that can cause blindness if left untreated.  It is also the leading cause of blindness in the United States.  Glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve in which fluid builds up and causes pressure or “cupping” of the optic disc.  While family history is the primary risk for glaucoma, age, hypertension, sleep apnea, migraines, and prolonged steroid use.  Glaucoma is most commonly treated with eye drops to control the pressure, but cold laser surgery or the implant of a stent during cataract surgery cause also help promote the flow of fluid away from the optic nerve and reduce pressure.  Unfortunately, glaucoma can not be cured and constant management of the pressure is required.

Macular degeneration occurs when the macular tissue deteriorates.  While people who suffer from macular degeneration lose their center vision, their peripheral vision often remains intact.  This is caused by yellow deposits called drusen that form in the macular tissue.  Risk factors include age, race (especially Caucasian women), family history, smoking, obesity, and heart disease.  While 90% of macular degeneration cases are consider dry and develop slowly, a more rapid and severe form called wet occurs due to leaking blood vessels.  Wet degeneration is most commonly treated with injections, while dry degeneration is primarily treated by Omega-3 nutritional supplements, such as fish oil.

As with many medical conditions, early detection is key so please visit your eye-care provider regularly.  For more information, please visit Matossian Eye Associates at https://www.matossianeye.com/ or contact them at info@matossianeye.com.  For a copy of the presentation, please visit https://www.njstatelib.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/The-Aging-Eye.pdf.  For a copy of the handout, please visit https://www.njstatelib.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/The-Aging-Eye-Handout.pdf.

Nutrition for Weight Management Made Simple Program Recap

Weight loss is a resolution we all too often give up on.  It takes time, effort, and discipline, but it very manageable once you figure out your specific goals and set yourself up for success.  John Wojciechowski, a certified strength and conditioning coach as well as founder of Metabolic Functional Fitness, shared some helpful and simple tips to help along your weight loss journey as well as maintain a healthy weight.

Energy balance is an important component for understanding what is body weight and how it functions.  Everything we do and consume affects our energy balance and ultimately our weight.  Weight is primarily determined by the quantity rather than the quality of the energy (food) we consume.

When we consume food, we are consuming calories, which is the body’s energy source.  Our body weight is a direct reflection of the balance between calories burned and calories consumed.  The more excess calories we intake, the more fat we develop, regardless of where those calories come from.  To loose weight, you need to create a caloric deficit through a combination of eating less and moving more.  Therefore, it is important to measure, track, and adjust the quantity of food you eat to ensure proper weight loss and maintenance.

The food we eat has a significant impact on how our body functions and whether we gain or loose weight.  Macronutrients are responsible for providing the fuel we need to survive, which include proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.  Vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, while important to our overall health, do no provide any caloric energy the body needs to survive.

Proteins contain 4 calories per gram and important to build and repair tissues.  Also, proteins are made up amino acids, of which there are 9 essentials ones our bodies need to survive.  Whether you get your essential amino acids from a singular complete protein source or a variety of incomplete protein sources, the goal should be to consume all the essential amino acids for a healthy body.  It is recommended that you intake between 0.4 – 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day.

Fats, while often considered the enemy of a health diet, are very important to your body as they help with hormone production and provide your body with energy.  Fats contain 9 calories per gram and fit into 2 basic types – Saturated and Unsaturated.  It is recommended to avoid trans-fats found in processed packaged foods as they do not have the same benefits from naturally occurring fats.  It is recommended that fats make up between 20 – 50% of your total daily calories.

Carbohydrates’ main purpose is provide your body with energy by releasing glucose once they are digested.  Carbs contain 4 calories per gram and are classified into 3 types – Monosaccharides, Disaccharides, and Polysaccharides.  While carbs are not required for survival, they provide a good source of energy and it is recommended that cards make up between 45 – 65% of your daily calories.

So now that you understand more about the basics of calories and how they relate to different types of foods, what should be your calorie requirements?  There is no simple answer as your daily caloric requirement is a moving target that changes with time and different conditions.  For example, your metabolism is flexible and adaptable, so as you age or your body is exposed to prolonged calorie restriction, your metabolism will slow down and therefore affect the amount of calories you burn.

There are many different equations out there that provide an estimate of calculating your calorie requirements.  Generally speaking, use the following equations to determine how many calories you should intake based on your weigh goals:

  • Weight loss = BW (body weight) X 10 – 12
  • Maintenance = BW X 14 – 16
  • Weight Gain = BW X 18 – 20

John also shared his 3 tips for fat loss:

  1. Create a calorie deficit – start with a caloric intake of BW X 12
  2. Aim for a macronutrient ratio of 40/30/30 – Carbs, Protein, Fat
  3. Start resistance training 3 times per week for 45 min – 1 hour

Some other considerations to consider include:

  • Plan for 3 – 6 evenly spaced meals per day and prep your meals in advance
  • You can eat almost anything you want as long as you are measuring, tracking, and adjusting your calories
  • You cannot diet forever, so plan out some breaks
  • Weight loss is not linear so you must be patient

If you have further questions about managing your weight, please contact John at jwcscs@hotmail.com. For a copy of the presentation, please visit https://www.njstatelib.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Nutrition-for-Weigh-Management.pdf.

Understanding Credit Program Recap

Credit plays a critical role in many of our lives, allowing us to afford cards, homes, and even college education.  It is used as a gauge of financial responsibility that can influence where you live and even where you work.  By understanding the basics of credit, you can more easily master this financial necessity and get yourself out a debt or plan for a better financial future.

Credit is borrowed money that you can use to purchase goods and services when you need them.  You get credit from a credit grantor, whom you agree to pay back the amount you spent, plus any applicable finance charges, at an agreed-upon time.

There are 4 types of credit:

  1. Charge cards/accounts
  2. Revolving credit – credit cards, equity loans
  3. Installment credit – mortgage, student loan, car loan
  4. Service contracts – cable, utilities

Credit in and of itself is neither good or bad; it is how you utilize it that can have positive or negative impacts on your financial well-being.  Credit can be a convenient way of purchasing items, especially expensive items, without the need for cash.  However, credit is a loan and you will be paying more for that purchase in the long run.  Also, because of the convenience, it is easy to overspend with the appropriate means to pay back the loan effectively.

All of your credit information is compiled into a credit report by 3 different credit reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.  Your credit report is made up of:

  • identifying information (name, address, social security number)
  • Job history (where and how long)
  • Creditors; payment history (name of creditor and how long credit has been open)
  • Legal actions (liens, collections, foreclosures, bankruptcy)
  • Inquiries you initiated (where personally or by a creditor with your permission)

You are entitled to a free credit report every year from each of the 3 reporting agencies so it is best practice to request your report from a different agency every 4 months to ensure your credit report is accurate.  If there is an error with your report, you can dispute the error in writing to the credit agency.  The agency is required to investigate your dispute within 30 or automatically remove the disputed item from your credit report.

Credit reports and credit scores are often mistakenly assumed to be the same thing, but they are very different and focus on different aspects of your credit situation.  The most common credit score is the FICO score which is used by Experian.  Each credit reporting agency has its own scores and ways of calculating them.  As a general rule of thumb, you credit score is made up of:

  • Payment history – 35%
  • Accounts owned – 30%
  • Length of credit history – 15%
  • New credit – 10%
  • Credit mix – 10%

Your credit score is often utilized by creditors to determine interested rates while your credit report can be used to determine pre-qualified or pre-approval amounts.  Lenders, landlords, insurance companies, and even employers can all look at your credit score.  Generally, a credit score of 700 or higher is considered good.  There is a new movement to include other information for consideration in your credit score, especially for those with little or no credit history, including payment history for service contracts as well as length of address history.

There are many different ways to establish credit:

  • Open a checking or savings account with a credit union
  • Put utilities/rent/mortgage in your name
  • Get a local department store or gas card
  • Have a co-signer for a small personal loan
  • Apply for a secured credit card

While your credit report and score are major components that creditors consider, they also look at the 3 C’s of Credit:

  1. Character – From your credit history, a lender may decide you possess the honesty and reliability to repay a debt
  2. Capital – A lender will want to know if you have valuable assets such as real estate, personal property, investments, or savings with which to repay debt if income is unavailable
  3. Capacity – Refers to your ability to repay the debt.  The lender will look to see if you have been working regularly in an occupation that is likely to provide enough income to support your credit use

So how to you maintain good credit?

  • Create a spending plan and live within it
  • Pay your bills on time, all of the time
  • Have some credit, but not too much
  • Have a mixture of credit types
  • Keep credit card balances low
  • Use caution when closing accounts
  • Be aware of your debt-to-income ratios
  • Contact lenders if you fall behind on payments

For more information about managing your credit or to discuss your personal credit situation, please reach out to the Credit Union of New Jersey for a consultation.  For a copy of the presentation, please visit https://www.njstatelib.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Understanding-Credit-Compressed.pdf.  For a copy of the handouts, please visit https://www.njstatelib.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Understanding-Credit-Handouts.pdf.

10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s Program Recap

Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementia-related conditions are a growing concern as more and more people are being diagnosed and suffering the effects of these incurable illnesses.  Alzheimer’s Disease affects each person differently and it can be difficult to spot the signs of the disease in the early stages.  However, by knowing and recognizing the early warning signs of Alzheimer’s, we can be better positioned to deal with symptoms and seek help to lessen or delay the effects of the disease.  Nicolette Vasco from the Alzheimer’s Association shared these 10 warning signs we should all be on the look-out for:

  1. Memory Loss that disrupts daily life – Forgetting names, dates, or why we came into a room happens to all of us, but within time, we usually remember what we forgot.  However, forgetting important dates, names, or events such as a child’s name or when someone was married, may be indicative of dementia.  It is also important to look out for repeatedly asking the same questions or a sudden introduction of memory aids (reminder notes) to assist in tasks that were formerly managed with ease, such as how to start a dishwasher.
  2. Challenges in planning or problem solving -While we all make mistakes balancing a checkbook or get distracted in the middle of doing something, we usually can fix those issues.  However, having trouble repeatedly following basic instructions, such as following a recipe, or taking a long time to complete basic tasks may indicate in a change in cognitive function.
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks – While we all occasionally need help with new technologies or finding new locations, difficulty with completing familiar tasks or finding familiar locations can be an indication of Alzheimer’s.  For example, forgetting where a person’s church is located or forgetting the rules of favorite game can be a sign of more significant cognitive problems.
  4. Confusion with time or place – We all experience forgetting what day it is, but we are able to figure out the correct day quickly.  Someone suffering from dementia can lose track of time, both short term and long term, or where they are and how they got there.  A common occurrence is the ability to remember decades old information, but unable to remember what they ate for breakfast that day or who they saw a week ago at bingo.
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spacial relationships – While visual deterioration is common with getting older, people suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia have difficultly perceiving things visually rather than simply seeing them.  This can manifest in having difficulty with balance while walking because their depth perception or peripheral vision is impaired or they may have trouble judging distance when trying to step into a bathtub.
  6. New problems with words in speaking or writing – While we all have difficulties finding the right word, someone suffering from early stages of Alzheimer’s may start showing problems joining or following a conversation.  They may repeat themselves, struggle with vocabulary, or stop in the middle of conversation and be unsure as to how to continue.
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps – While we all misplace things, we are usually able to retrace our steps and figure out where something is or why we put it there.  Someone suffering from dementia will not only forget where they placed something, but also be unable to retrace their steps.  They will have difficultly remembering what they did in the lead up to or after placing an object and may even start accusing others of stealing or moving items.
  8. Decreased or poor judgement – We all make mistakes from time to time, but someone suffering from dementia may start using poor judgement with money, like following through with scam phone calls, or neglect personal grooming and cleanliness.
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities – There are times where we all want to skip a family event.  However, someone with Alzheimer’s may start to completely remove themselves from any social situation because they are unable to recognize people or hold conversations.  They may also stop engaging in favorite activities or organizations because they forget how to properly play a game or do some sort of activity.
  10. Changes in mood and personality – As we get older, we often settle into a routine and may get frustrated if that routine is disrupted. However, people suffering from dementia can take this to the extreme where any slight deviation from a routine can cause them to act out aggressively (verbally or physically) because they are unfamiliar with a new place or order of events.  Additionally, someone may become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful, or anxious at simple things that would not normally bother someone.

Someone suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s does not have to exhibit all 10 warning signs.  Each person will experience different difficulties and changes so it is important to pay attention to any odd shift in behavior or practices.  Consult with others who interact with the person to see if they notice the same or different things you do and if necessary, seek out medical help from psychologist, geriatrician, or neurologist for further evaluation.  If you suspect someone is suffering from memory related concerns resulting from any form of dementia, follow these 10 steps:

  1. What changes in memory, thinking, or behavior do you see?
  2. What else is going on in that person’s life?
  3. Learn about the signs and benefits of early diagnosis.
  4. Has anyone else noticed the change(s)?
  5. Who should have the conversation to discuss concerns?
  6. What is the best time and place to have the conversation?
  7. What will you or the person having the conversation say?
  8. Offer to go with the person to the doctor.
  9. If needed, have multiple conversations.
  10. Turn to the Alzheimer’s Association for information and support.

For more information about Alzheimer’s, including support groups, care, or early detection, please visit the Alzheimer’s Association’s website or call their hotline 24/7 at 1-800-272-3900.  For a copy of the presentation, please visit https://www.njstatelib.org/assets/10WarningSignsofAlzheimersPresentation.pdf.  For a copy of the Memory Test Handout, please visit https://www.njstatelib.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Memory-Test-Handout.pdf.

How to Manage Debt Program Recap

Debt is a problem many people struggle with and if left unresolved, can easily spiral out-of-control.  While some debt is a part of life nowadays, effectively managing your debt can provide great benefits should you need to finance a car or are looking to purchase a house.  The Credit Union of New Jersey has some tips for managing your debt and help you achieve financial independence.

What is debt?  Debt is money that you have borrowed with the agreement to pay it back in full, oftentimes with interest.  Some common types of debt are mortgages, car loans, personal loans, or credit cards.  Debt is often organized into different categories:

  • Secured debt – debt associated with some sort of collateral that can be taken back for failure to repay the debt (car loan, mortgage)
  • Unsecured debt – debt without any collateral (credit cards or personal loans)
  • Installment credit – debt where repayment terms and amounts are fixed (mortgage, student loans)
  • Revolving credit – debt where repayment amounts may vary depending on amount of debt (credit cards, cash advances)
  • Fixed interest rates – interest rate does not change over the life of the debt (car loan, mortgage)
  • Variable interest rates – interest rate can change depending on size of the debt or a failure to pay debt on time (credit cards, payday loans)

While debt is scary, not all debt is bad.  Debt has a large impact on your Credit Score, which many places use to determine finance options for important purchases such as apartments, homes, cars, and furniture.  Good debt or debt that directly affects your overall net worth or helps generate you value, such as a mortgage, are positive things to have and will help boost your Credit Score.  A higher Credit Score can help you secure low or no interest payments for loans and may allow you to qualify for higher loan amounts.  Bad debt does not help you generate value and oftentimes is associated with credit card purchases for expendable items with no longer term value, such as gas, food, or utilities.  For example, if you pay a $100 electric bill on a credit card rather than a debit card, you may be paying $120, $150, or even $200 for that same bill once interest accrues.

You can find out more about all of the debts you have through your credit report.  A credit report is a record of all your credit-related activities from three major credit bureaus – Equifax, Transunion, and Experian.  It lists any credit-card accounts or loans you have, their balances, and how regularly you make your payments.  It also shows if any actions from creditors has been taken against you.  Similar to your credit report is your Credit Score.  Your Credit Score is made up of the following information:

  • 35% Payment History
  • 30% Amount Owed
  • 15% Length of Credit History
  • 10% New Credit
  • 10% Credit Mix

So what are the warning signs for having too much debt?

  • Spending more than you earn
  • Making the minimum payments on credit cards or having maxed out credit cards
  • Unsure about what you owe
  • Arguing with your family or loved one about money
  • Debt to income ratio is more than 36%
  • You have no emergency funds (3-6 months income)
  • Little or no retirement savings
  • Credit card balance exceeds 10% of income

If you have too much debt, what can you do to change your financial situation?  First and foremost, you have to make a plan.  Sit down and write out a budget, including your monthly income and expenditures.  This will help you visualize where you are spending money on unnecessary things, such as a $5 coffee every morning or eating out multiple times in a week.  Once you can identify areas where you can save money, put that money away, such as in a savings account, so that it can grow, or apply it to one of your debts to pay it off quicker.

Another way to help get out of debt is to increase your income.  Whether it is selling items from a personal hobby or unused items around the house, downsizing a car or home, or getting a part time job, being able to increase your income, if not to pay down the debt, but at least to provide more financial security is important.  Additionally, set SMART financial goals for yourself – Specific, Measurable, Adjustable, Realistic, Time-Oriented.  Lastly, never give up; oftentimes people give up too early on their efforts to become debt free.  It will not be easy or fast, so remain committed to your financial plan and reward will be more freedom with your money.

If you have any questions about your personal financial situation, you can reach out to the Credit Union of New Jersey for a free financial assessment.  For a copy of the presentation, please visit https://www.njstatelib.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/How-to-Manage-Debt.pdf

Autism NJ Resources and Services Program Recap

Thank you to Dr. Suzanne Buchanan, Executive Director of Autism NJ, for speaking about how Autism NJ serves the Autism community through a wide variety of ways and initiatives.  Founded in 1965, Autism NJ has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of those effected by Autism Spectrum Disorder, including children, parents, and caregivers.  Autism NJ is one of the leading Autism groups in the state leads the way to lifelong individualized services provided with skill and compassion.  New Jersey has the highest rate of Autism in the country, 1 in 34 children, which can be attributed to Autism NJ and other groups’ efforts to help professionals better identify and diagnosis children at younger ages.

Autism NJ aims to serve the greater Autism community through 4 service pillars:

  • Awareness
  • Information
  • Training
  • Public Policy

Autism NJ constantly collaborates with community groups such as libraries, religious organizations, and service organizations to spread the word about Autism as well as share resources and services available to those affected by the condition.  They offer a Helpline, 1-800-4AUTISM, which serves more than 2,000 people per year.  Additionally, their website, https://www.autismnj.org, provides a wealth of information.

One of the most impactful services NJ Legal provides are referral lists for a wide variety of services, including legal and financial services, medical care, governmental services, and education-related services.  Additionally, they will work with parents and caregivers to identify the individual needs of someone with Autism to better identify the types of care and services that person needs.  For a membership fee, they will review IEPs (Individual Education Plans) to ensure that those plans are in accordance with federal, state, and local policies.

Autism NJ approaches their information sharing mission from the evidenced-based intervention perspective, which means that they will only recommend what has been proven effective for the greatest number of people with Autism.  While there are many claims circulating about causes and treatments for all aspects of Autism Spectrum Disorder, Autism NJ only focuses on those that are backed by sound science and substantiated results, ensuring that they are providing the best information for their constituents.

Autism NJ is constantly working with state lawmakers to ensure the needs of people diagnosed with Autism as well as their support structure are recognized and addressed through state law.  They have been influential in the passage of the Statewide Transition Plan, Medicaid Fee-for-Service, and increasing the insurance age cap from 21 to 26.  Autism NJ focuses is public policy initiatives in 4 areas:

  • Funding
  • Fee-for-Service Transition
  • Workforce Development
  • Severe Challenging Behavior.

If you would like more information about how Autism NJ can better serve you, someone you know, or your community, please visit their website, https://www.autismnj.org, or contact them at information@autismnj.org or 1-800-4AUTISM.  For a copy of the presentation, please visit https://www.njstatelib.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Autism-NJ-Resources-and-Services.pdf.

Interview Tips and Tricks Program Recap

The interview is the final stage to finally getting that new or dream job.  Your resume impressed, now it’s your chance to convince them that you are the best person for the job.  However, the interview process can be daunting and it’s important to be confident and well-spoken.  The following tips will help you build your interview skills and are applicable to any interview situation, from a preliminary phone interview to a formal panel interview.

First and foremost, it is important to prepare for your interview through a variety of ways.  You should have an understanding of your career goals so that you can effectively communicate them to others.  Also, be prepared to discuss everything in your resume and cover letter because you never know what questions will be asked of you.  Before the interview, look up some common interview questions and practice how you would answer.  Practicing your answers allows you to come up with appropriate responses and remain confident throughout the interview.  Check to make sure your social media presence is clean and appropriate as some employers may look to see what you are posting before deciding whether to extend an interview.  Avoid embarrassing or compromising pictures and stay away from public posts on controversial topics, such as politics or religion.

One of the most overlooked aspects of preparing for an interview is to research the company or organization.  By understanding more of the company’s values or goals, you can tailor your interview answer to align with them and find important information that you may want to ask about in the interview.  Look for mission statements, press releases, or strategic plans on their website or check out Glassdoor or LinkedIn for more information you can use to better inform your answers and career decisions.

Some of the most popular interview questions you should be familiar with are:

  • Tell me about yourself
  • What are your strengths/weaknesses
  • Where do you see yourself in ___ years
  • Tell me about a time when…

Being prepared to answer these questions with thoughtful and appropriate responses will set a positive tone for the interview process and demonstrate your confidence in your own abilities.  Let’s take a look at 2 methods to help us answer the different types of interview questions we may encounter.

The SHARP Method is designed to help you craft answers to more general or information questions, such as tell me about yourself or what are your strengths/weaknesses.   SHARP stands for:

S – Specific
H – Honest
A – Appropriate
R – Relevant
P – Positive

When asked about yourself, use the SHARP method to discuss your previous position(s) that are applicable to the field or career, talk about specific duties or accomplishments, and avoid negative critiques of former employers or supervisors.

For more situational questions that ask you how you handled a situation or need to elaborate on a specific outcome, use the SOAR Method.  SOAR stands for:

S – Situation
O – Obstacle
A – Action
R – Result

Clearly identifying each of these components in your response will demonstrate your ability to identify problems, weigh your options, and come to a reasonable solution to the obstacle.  These questions are designed to test your critical-thinking and problem-solving skills and are a great way to bring in experiences from other jobs that may not be related to the career or job your are currently in or applying for.  There are no “right” answers to these questions, so use positive examples from your past that highlight your qualifications.

It is important to point out that there are questions that employers are NOT allowed to ask you.  These relate to:

  • Martial status
  • Race, religion, national origin
  • Sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation
  • Disability or pregnancy
  • Current or previous salary/benefits (NJ specific)

If an interviewer attempts to ask you any of these questions, politely decline to answer and shift the focus back onto the job and your qualifications as a candidate.  Additionally, you should not ask about salary in the interview unless it is disclosed by the interviewer.  If you wish to know the salary of a position, you can inquire with the HR department, which may disclose that information, or check Glassdoor, through which current and former employees may post their salary and other useful information about the employer.

To obtain a copy of the presentation, please visit https://www.njstatelib.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Interview-Tips-and-Tricks.pdf.

 

Planning for Retirement Program Recap

One of the biggest financial considerations for anyone is retirement.  When do I retire? How much money will I need?  Where should I put my money?  These are some common questions as it relates to retirement, but you don’t need to be a financial expert to start planning.  Britany Enelow, Financial Advisor from the Credit Union of New Jersey shared the following information to help you on the pathway to retirement.

First and foremost, there are some broad considerations regarding retirement you should think about.  What does retirement look like for you?  When are you going to start retirement and how long will it last?  What sources of income do you need in order to live comfortably in retirement?  By having a clearer picture of what you want your retirement to be, including where you are going to live, you will have a better understanding of how you should start preparing financially for retirement.

Once you have a picture of our retirement, you need to start building a retirement strategy.  When determining how you are going to prepare for retirement, you should plan to have enough funds to last 20-30 years while in retirement.  The assets in your portfolio should be spread out between Growth, Access, and Predicable Income:

  • Growth – assets that continue to grow while in retirement, such as stocks.  Goal is ensure that your money outpaces inflation.
  • Access – liquid money that you can use immediately for emergencies or unexpected expenses, such as a savings account
  • Predictable Income – used to cover necessary expenses, regardless of how the market is doing, such as Social Security, Pension, Annuity, part-time employment

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual expenditures for persons aged 65 and older are:

  • Housing and utilities – 34%
  • Transportation – 15%
  • Health Care – 15%
  • Food – 13%
  • Entertainment – 5%
  • Other – 18%

By preparing a budget using the assets in your portfolio, as well as your current expenditures, you can more definitely determine how much money you would need in retirement to survive.  This includes determining the sources of income that you will rely on to meet those expenditures.  Possible sources of income include Social Security, 401k, IRA, investments, pensions, or deferred compensation.  Once you identify all of your income sources, organize them into Predictable and Variable incomes to better determine how much money you will have easily accessible to pay for your necessary expenses as well as plan for non-essential costs that add to your quality of life.  Use the 4-Box Strategy, shown below, to better visual your incomes and expenses and determine what works best for you.

Once you have done all the planning, its time to start building your Nest Egg.  As you approach retirement, your asset allocation should become more conservative, relying less on stocks and high-risk ventures and more one safer options, such as bonds.  In an ideal world, you want your Nest Egg to be 15x your annual income.  The reason for such a high number is to ensure that your annual growth from the investment, about 5%, will equal 75% of your pre-retirement salary, which should be enough to pay for your necessary expenses.  For example, for someone making $75,000 a year, their Nest Egg should be around $1.125 million.  5% of that Nest Egg equals $56,250, which is equal to 75% of their $75,000 annual income.  This will help insure that you will not run out of money in retirement and allow you to have some monetary legacy to pass on after your death.

Unfortunately, retirement planning and funding are not without risk.  With modern medicine, people are living longer which means that you might outlive your retirement funding.  Therefore, it is critical to plan for at least 20 years of retirement when determining how much money you will need.  Another risk is inflation, which means that the money you have today will not be worth the same amount in the future.  Therefore, it is important to have some of your money in growth-focused assets to ensure that your money keeps up or outpaces inflation.  Healthcare expenses are rising quickly and can easily consume a majority, if not all of your retirement spending.  For example, the median yearly cost for a home health aid is about $50,000; it is higher if you live in NJ.  Lastly, withdrawing money too soon or too often can have a devastating impact on your future finances, which you may never be able to recover from.

For more information on retirement planning or investing, please contact Britany Enelow at benelow@cunj.org or 609-538-4061 ext. 2056.  For a copy of the handout, please visit https://www.njstatelib.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Planning-for-Retirement.pdf.

 

Persist and Prevail: African American Family Achievements Program Recap

Thank you to Muriel Roberts and Barbara Polk Riley for sharing their family histories in honor of National Family History Month.  African American lineages can be difficult to trace further than a few generations and thanks to Muriel and Barbara, there are some tricks that may help people when searching for ancestors who were or came from former slaves.

A unique aspect to both of their families was the propensity to refer to people, especially males, by their middle names.  As a result, they ran into many roadblocks by searching for their ancestors, thinking that the name relatives called them was their first name when actually it was their middle name.  Oftentimes, names can be confirmed by checking vital records (birth, marriage, and death), which is why it is so important to obtain these documents when starting research on any ancestor.  They can confirm or reveal important information that can be used to identify other relatives, locations, and time periods with certainty.

Muriel Roberts was able to find a wealth of information through a little known source, the Works Progress Administration’s Slave Narratives, published between 1936-1938.  During the Great Depression, the Roosevelt Administration commissioned writers to produce books and documents on a wide variety of topics, one of which was to record interviews of former slaves.  Comprising of roughly 3,500 interviews, the Slave Narratives can provide a wealth of first-hand knowledge that can greatly influence one’s research into their African American lineage.  While the interviews were only 1-2 pages long, they contain important information such as names, both family and owners, locations, including during and after slavery, and occupations.  These narratives can be a major breakthrough and a hidden treasure trove for anyone researching slave ancestry.

It is also important to consider DNA testing when dealing with African American ancestry.  In some cases, a person’s ancestors may have been the offspring of a white owner and African slave.  This may be revealed through matches in a person’s DNA which can lead to more avenues for one to look, including wills that may confirm the presence of a slave ancestor.

Anyone who can prove ancestry to a slave can join the lineage society of the Sons and Daughters of the United States Middle Passage.  As a lineage society, there are stringent requirements regarding what documents are needed to prove direct ancestry, but the society has many resources available to its members that can help further along genealogical research.