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May is Mental Health Awareness Month. That may not seem like something to talk about on a personal finance blog, but it’s more important to discuss than ever.

Here at EYF we have three core values: optimization, education and security. We want to use education to help you build security even if you’re working with a mental illness. Ignorance shouldn’t be a barrier to your financial security and success.

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Who Is Working With A Mental Illness?

One in five adults in the United States experience mental illness in a given year. Most of those adults will experience major depression or an anxiety disorder.

Mental illness often leads to significant losses. Employers waste money by paying for absenteeism and presenteeism (employees who are there, but aren’t really there).  Employees are forced to cut back their hours, take more menial jobs or drop out of the workforce altogether.

Mental illness costs upward of $193 million in earnings each year.

It is one of the leading causes of disability in the United States and the number one cause in the world.

Mental Health Stigma Costs Us Big

You don’t need me to tell you that there’s significant stigma around mental illness. People are discriminated against, thought of as weak and expected to suck it up. Because mental illness is invisible, many people simply don’t believe that it’s real. If you struggle with mental illness learn your rights.

You have options.

For instance, many employees pay for short-term disability benefits without even realizing it.

Learn Your Rights: There Are Protections

Having a mental illness does not mean that you will be fired. In the United States, the law protects many employees from discrimination on the basis of their illness. Companies with 50 or more employees are required to attempt to provide reasonable accommodations. If, for example, you need time off to see your psychiatrist the company should be able to accommodate you.

Before telling anyone about your condition, it’s important to ask yourself why you want to disclose. Read the company culture. Is your direct supervisor someone you trust? Will he gossip? If not, maybe talking with someone in human resources would make more sense. Your direct supervisor may not know the rules about proper accommodation.

Human resources is probably the best source to learn your rights and options.

Benefits: Get What You’ve Paid For

If you have been with your company for some time — generally a year in the United States — check to see whether your company provides short-term disability coverage. Trying to work when you’re not well could do more harm than good. You may be able to get a temporary leave or partial reduction in hours to help you get better. You may also be able to receive partial reimbursement for lost wages. If you are having a tough time, strongly consider whether you can find a way to work with your company.

Don’t give up just because the first accommodation doesn’t work out. Leaving may cost you your health coverage. Without it you may struggle to treat and manage your illness.

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Consider All Of Your Options

Once you are doing better, it may be time to ask yourself whether you need to pursue alternative forms of employment.

Maybe you should consider temporary work, freelancing gigs or starting your own business.

You might want to pursue a job in an environment that is less triggering to you.

Or change fields entirely.

Working with a mental illness often provides a sense of purpose and is empowering. So if you can continue working, it’s definitely recommended.

That said, it isn’t your only option. If you simply cannot work, consider disability. If you have a support system, lean on them to help you make the difficult decision to withdraw from the workforce.

Most importantly, take care of yourself.

Changing your regular habits can have a major effect on your finances. Making small lifestyle changes can result in significant savings over the course of a year. The money saved can be used to progress on a number of financial goals, including paying down debt and saving for the future. Here are twelve easy lifestyle changes that will help you save more money as they are implemented.

Communicate by e-mail rather than by phone. If you’re on-line, e-mail communications are virtually free.

Cut down on the amount of television you watch. You will have less exposure to spending-inducing ads, a lower electric bill, a lower cable bill, and more time to focus on other things in life, like a side business.

Learn how to create homemade gifts. You can learn how to make food mixes, candles, fresh-baked bread or cookies, soap, and all kinds of other things at home easily and inexpensively from online tutorials.

Always shop with a list. When you shop without one, you are more likely to make impulse buys and unplanned purchases, spending more than you intended.

Invite friends over instead of going out. Have a pizza party or a movie night. Break out the cards and the board games. Schedule a pot luck dinner where everyone brings their favorite dish. The possibilities are endless.

Learn how to make minor repairs to your clothing to save more money. Knowing how to attach a button, expand or reduce a hemline, and patch holes will extend the life of your clothes and save you a considerable amount over the course of a year.

Cook more meals at home. Cooking your own meals is healthier and cheaper than eating out. If you are pressed for time to cook during weekdays, spend some time during the weekend preparing meals that you can pop into the oven when you get home. You can also invest in a crock pot that will cook your meals while you’re away.

Start comparing prices. There are a number of apps available that will compare prices for you so you can save more money by getting the best price on everything from groceries to clothing to home improvement items.

Cancel unused memberships. If you’re on the fence about any of your memberships or find that you’re not using them very often, get rid of them and use the money for something else. You can always renew the membership at a later date if necessary.

Try generic brands. You’ll save a few cents and are likely discover that the store brand is just as good as the name brand. Once you’ve switched to generics, you’ll find your regular grocery bill getting smaller and smaller.

Cancel magazine subscriptions if you have a pile of unread magazines sitting around your house. You might even be able to get the prorated amount back as a refund.

Take your own lunch to work instead of going out to eat. With some thoughtful preparation and just a few minutes of time, you can create something more enjoyable than a fast food burger.

Fidelity Investments’ latest New Year Financial Resolutions Study found that 37 percent of Americans intend to make a money focused New Year’s resolution for 2016. That’s is an increase from the 31 percent reported in 2015. It’s a good sign that more people are thinking about financial goals. However, making money focused New Year’s resolutions does you no good if you cannot stick to them. Here are some of the best money focused New Year’s resolutions to make and how to stick with them throughout the year.

Putting More Money Into Savings

According to Fidelity’s survey, about 54 percent of respondents planning to make money focused New Year’s resolutions said their goal is to save more money next year, making it the most common goal among those surveyed. It is not difficult to see why. Having savings available allows a person to take care of unexpected financial issues quickly without having to resort to using expensive credit.

The best way to get more money into your savings account next year is to automate your savings. Setting up a regular deposit into your savings from your paycheck or through an automatic transfer from your checking account allows you to save continuously without having to think about. You will not miss the money transferred and will find yourself in a much better financial position by the end of the year.

Saving More For Retirement

More than 20 percent of the respondents to the survey said their New Year’s resolutions would be to save for long-term needs, like retirement and healthcare expenses. Many households currently have little to nothing saved for the retirement years and many people plan on Social Security being their primary source of income once they retire. While these payments will provide some financial relief, they will not be nearly enough for a person to live a comfortable, financially secure lifestyle.

The easiest way to save more money for retirement is to take full advantage of your employer’s workplace retirement plan. These plans are typically funded with pre-tax dollars, reducing your taxable income for the year. Many employers also offer matching funds for contributions, allowing you to grow your nest egg even more quickly.

Paying Down or Eliminating Debt

Roughly 16 percent of survey respondents reported that paying off debt would be one of their money focused New Year’s resolutions. Many people have difficulty paying off debt because of the way that their debt is structured. With high interest payments, low minimum payment amounts, and sneaky prepayment penalties, its no wonder that a large swath of the population is experiencing difficulty.

One way to tackle paying off debt is to focus on the debt with the highest interest and pay as much as you can on that debt while still maintaining minimum payments on the rest of your accounts. The faster you pay off this debt, the less interest you will end up paying on the account. Once the debt with the highest interest is eliminated, you can start focusing on the next one in the line.

Halloween is a good time to teach your kids the basic principles of money management. According to the National Retail Federation, consumers will spend about $6.9 billion on Halloween this year, an average of $74 per shopper. This figure includes the cost of candy, Halloween decorations, and costumes. Shopping together for these items gives you an opportunity to discuss important money lessons with your kids. Here are some good opportunities for using Halloween to teach kids about money.

Saving Money With Bulk Purchases

You can show your kids the importance of bulk buying certain items by showing them the price savings per unit of their favorite bags of Halloween candy. On the labels on the store shelves, the stores post the price that you are paying per ounce for that selection, making it easy to compare values in the store. You can also turn this into a math lesson by asking your kids to calculate which item is the best value using the size and unit price of the items under consideration.

Comparison Shopping

Kids need to know that comparison shopping can help them save a lot of money on their purchases. You can demonstrate how to use apps like RedLaser or ShopSavvy to compare current prices for Halloween costumes or for Halloween décor across several stores. Letting your kids see you price checking your purchases will make it more likely that they will do the same in the future.

Searching For Deals And Discounts

Another important lesson to teach kids about money is that they don’t always have to pay the full retail price for their purchases. Many stores run weekly specials and last-minute markdown offers on Halloween products in the weeks leading up to the holiday. Show your kids where to find the latest deals, coupons and special offers using apps or weekly circulars and let them help you find the best price for the Halloween items you are looking for.

Trading And Bartering

While our cash based financial system has eliminated much of the trading and bartering in our society, it is still an important thing to teach kids about money. Halloween provides you with an opportunity to show kids basic trading and bartering skills, like how they need to trade more than one piece of less popular candy for premium brands to make it a fair trade. Even the youngest kids can start learning this skill and it will put them in a better position to negotiate when they get older.

Saving money is on everyone’s minds these days. Sometimes, in the search for ways to save, some of the most interesting solutions are overlooked. Here are six unconventional ways to save money that you may not have thought about.

Split Your WiFi Bill

If you live in close accommodations, like an apartment building, and you are friendly with your neighbors, you should see if they want to split the WiFi bill with you. Many cable internet packages have no data limit and the signal will easily reach adjoining apartments.

Threaten To Cancel Your Cable

Cable company representatives are trained to try to convince you to continue your cable service if you threaten to cancel it. The representatives will often offer to cut the price of your package or offer you a deal to keep your service active. You may even be able to take advantage of the company’s current promotional rate.

Remove Weight From Your Car

Removing weight from your car is another of the overlooked unconventional ways to save money. The heavier your car is, the more gas it will consume getting you from place to place. Remove any heavy items that you are storing in your car and store it in your home or garage instead. You can also increase your gas mileage by making sure your tires are properly inflated and ensuring your air filter is in good condition.

Trade Date Night Babysitting With Friends

Date nights are important for maintaining a relationship, but paying a babysitter to watch the children for the evening can be expensive. A cheaper option could be to trade date night babysitting with another couple you are friends with. This way, both couples get to have a night out without the added expenses of hiring a babysitter.

Plan Outings Around Free Events

Free events are a great way to have some inexpensive fun and meet new people. Most cities hold a number of free events throughout the year, including free concerts, free movies, free festivals, and other community events. These free events can be found in your local newspaper or online at your city’s visitor website.

Explore Your Local Library

Local libraries offer a number of unconventional ways to save money. In addition to loaning out books, magazines, movies, and music for free, many libraries also hold events and classes that are free for participants. For example, the Westerville Public Library in Ohio holds classes to learn Windows 10 and Internet Essentials, musical dance classes for children, homework help nights for teenagers, and wine appreciation groups.

Living paycheck to paycheck is not just a problem for lower-income workers. Studies have found that many high earners are also finding themselves trapped in the living paycheck to paycheck financial cycle. A recent survey by SunTrust found that almost one-third of survey respondents making $75,000 per year or more are living paycheck to paycheck on occasion. The same survey found that nearly one-fourth of the respondents making over $100,000 annually do as well. The SunTrust survey polled 518 adult respondents in households with a combined income of $75,000 or higher.

One of the biggest culprits for this trend in living paycheck to paycheck is lifestyle inflation. Many people that receive a raise, a bonus, or some other type of increase in their income begin to spend more money instead of maintaining their current lifestyle and saving the additional money. For example, 68 percent of the survey respondents that acknowledged they were not saving as much money as they should cited expenses from dining out as the main reason for their lack of saving. Entertainment and clothing expenses came in close behind. This shows that their discretionary spending is out of control, not that they are not making enough money to meet their necessary expenses.

So how do you break the living paycheck to paycheck cycle? The first step is to figure out where your money is going each month. Establishing a budget and tracking your expenses will show you what you are spending your money on each month and how much you are spending in each category. If this sounds like a lot of work, it can be if you do it by hand in notebooks or on sheets of paper. Fortunately, there are a number of free apps that will link to your bank and credit accounts to log your transactions and categorize them into easily viewed budget categories. A favorite app for this task is Mint.

The next step is to reduce your spending to a more manageable level that allows you to have money left over for saving. This could mean limiting dinners out to once or twice a week and cooking the rest of the time, getting rid of memberships and subscriptions that you do not need, establishing a set amount for entertainment each month, or getting rid of the premium packages on your cable bill. Most people have many areas of spending that could be trimmed if necessary and living paycheck to paycheck makes reductions in spending necessary.

Are you overextended financially? Many people are, yet are blissfully unaware of how precarious their financial situation really is. Financial overextension is very easy to get into and can be very hard to extract yourself from. Months or years of financial overextension damages your financial security, leaving you vulnerable to financial devastation at any turn of events. Before you can begin to correct the problem, you must be able to recognize the problem. Here are some of the signals that indicate you are facing financial overextension.

You Carry A Lot Of High Interest Debt

If you have a lot of debt spread out over different credit cards and you are paying close to the minimum amount each month on the debt, it is a signal of financial overextension. Roughly a third of American adults carry credit card debt from month to month with over 35 million of them rolling over $2,500 or more on their credit cards from month to month. Carrying high interest debt results in a considerable portion of your income going towards interest payments on the debt. Pay down your debt as much as you can or consider consolidating your debts into a single loan with a lower interest rate to retake control of your finances.

You Are Having Difficulty Paying Bills On Time

Having difficulty paying bills is another red flag that signals financial overextension. According to a recently conducted survey, nearly a quarter of Americans are constantly late with their bills. If you’re frequently paying bills late, getting hit with late fees or getting burned by your bank’s overdraft fees, that’s generally a sign that it is time to revamp your budget and reduce your spending. Getting a handle on the problem will take time, but it will be well worth it when you have more breathing room with your finances.

You Are Not Saving For Retirement

Neglecting to save for retirement because all of your money is going towards your current expenses is another signal of financial overextension. If your company has a retirement plan and you aren’t putting money in, especially if the company provides matching funds, you’re creating a future problem for yourself. Find a way to begin saving at least 5 percent of your current income for retirement by reducing your expenses in other areas. Once you have managed to save this amount on a regular basis, you can put a portion of any future raises or bonuses towards your retirement savings to increase the balance faster.

Picture Courtesy Of Cashhelper.com
Picture Courtesy Of Cashhelper.com

Many people are advocating for more personal financial skills to be taught to students in high school as more and more people graduate with few personal finance skills. Currently, only 17 states in the U.S. require high school students to take a personal finance course. Mismanaging your personal finances can have negative repercussions for many years and making a financial mistake soon after high school could affect your ability to secure employment and save for your future well into your thirties and forties. It is important for everyone to know some personal finance basics that will help keep them out of financial trouble. Here are some of the things you need to know.

Keep Track Of Your Spending

One of the biggest financial mistakes you can make is spending freely without documenting where your money is going. People who take this approach often overspend and fail to save for their future. When you document where your money is going, you can easily see if you are overspending in any one area of your life and can determine where spending can be cut to save money for future needs, such as buying a home, college savings for your kids, or funding your retirement. There are a number of personal finance software options that will track your spending for you based on the information provided by your bank accounts and credit cards.

Create A Budget

Spending without a budget is almost as dangerous as neglecting to track your spending. Your budget should be used to determine the portion of your income that should be spent on food, housing, transportation, entertainment, etc. It is also important to put an amount for saving into your budget and to transfer that amount from your checking account to your savings account as soon as you get paid to ensure that the money is available for the future. If you are having difficulty creating an effective budget or need help getting started, financial management programs like Mint can help you get on the right track.

Use Credit Sparingly

Many of the people that find themselves in financial trouble are in that situation because they used credit excessively and are now dealing with mountains of debt. The best way to avoid this fate is to use credit sparingly and only charge what you can afford to pay off in a month or two. If you must carry a balance on the credit card for more than a month, pay as much as you can to get the balance paid off quickly. The minimum payment amount tricks you into staying into debt forever as most of the money you pay goes towards paying the monthly interest amount, not the principal amount that the interest is based on.

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