Did you know that the United States has the lowest amount of vacation days for employees than any other country?! Data from the World Tourism Organization (WTO) find that America ranks amongst the lowest in developed countries in the average annual amount of vacation time their citizens receive. Member-countries of the European Union (EU) like Italy, Germany, France and the England receive, on average, 42 days, 37 days, 35 days, and 28 days; respectively for time-off. Canadians benefit from an average of 26 days of leisure time yearly; the Japanese receive 25 days, while the United States trails behind with 13 days per year. What?! The United States is also one of the only developed nations without vacation-time minimums mandated by law. Employees in European Union countries are entitled to four-weeks paid vacation by law. For Canada and Japan, there is a legal mandate that workers receive a minimum of two weeks.
The irony of this phenomenon is that despite the paltry serving of free time, Americans are still reluctant to redeem their vacation time in its entirety. Some studies cite the behaviors of peers and supervisors as a major influence as to their unwillingness to leave the office. Other reports maintain that it is the demands of the workload that keep them chained to a desk and not smelling the roses.
Nonetheless, these reasons do not blur the necessity of taking time away from work. Distance from the job gives you perspective on your career decisions, reconnects you with your family, friends and your inner self. If, however, you are an American that has completely internalized the Puritan work ethic and finds that time away from work is for the idle and weak, take a couple of days off anyway. But do not do it for rest, relaxation and fun, do it for reassessing the state of your finances, charting your next career moves and streamlining your money outflow.
5 Vacation Do’s
1. Put it in writing.
With work not being a priority for a few days, you will best able to reflect, create and think on the shape of your finances. Get comfortable. Find a spot in your home where you are be alone. On three separate sheets of paper, you are going to brainstorm all of your financial accomplishments, your present financial responsibilities and your future financial plans. Writing everything down gives you the beginnings of a blueprint and guide to gauge your progress toward your particular financial goals. Seeing your financial “have dones” and “have not dones” in black and write may allay your concerns, shift your financial priorities, or catapult you into action.
2. Get really defensive.
When it comes to money, we focus our attention on playing “financial offense.” We actively engage in finding positions that pay more. We embark on financially sound endeavors–such as entrepreneurial projects, investment activities and reading fiscally savvy magazines and books. We seek to increase our income by bringing in more money. When we are on-the-go everyday, so it is hard to stop and take total financial inventory. But maximizing our income also has to come from playing strong, if not stronger “financial defense.” Unlike “financial offense,” financial defense focuses on what income you already have and attempts to reduce what money goes out of the budget. Strengthening your “financial defense” can create as much surplus income as a part-time job if done methodically and consistently.
Things to think about during your days off could include: Are there cable services that I do not need? What foods do I seem to let spoil because I don’t really eat them? Have I taken the 6-hour class to reduce my car insurance? Have I checked the website of my health insurance carrier for discounts on health and wellness services? Have I called my student loan provider to inquire if I could defer or cancel my loans in full or in part? Is there a way to reduce the amount of times I eat out? Could I be clipping more coupons?
3. Organize your files.
When we leave for work, we physically leave our homes. Given the demands of some of our jobs, we spend more time at work than we do our own homes. And once we return home, we may take a cursory glance at financial statements, policies, and reports or even pile them up with the intention of getting to get to them later. But usually our priorities boil down to tending to the basics: family, food, and rest in order to prepare ourselves for the same routine for the next day.
This trend leaves our finances in disarray. Make organizing your files a three to five day project. On the first day(s), locate your important policies, tax documents, titles and deeds. Spend one day purchasing basic filing tools: folders, file cabinet, stapler/staples, paper clips, etc. On the final day(s), file accurately and systematically. Once the foundation has been created for storing and retrieving files, updating them should be quick and easy. It is also a good idea to scan copies of some of these documents and keep corresponding e-files.
4. Clean-out closets.
With a few days to yourself, find out what hidden treasures and scary secrets lurk inside your closets. If you are cleaning a clothes closet, try the following the system: a) store out of season clothes away b) return unworn outfits with tickets to the store (if you can), c) identify clothes for consignment, trading with girlfriends, or potential yard sale and d) set aside clothes that require repair, dry cleaning, and washing. If you are brave enough to tackle a closet with appliances, the system is much easier. For the appliances that you use, keep ’em. For the appliances that you don’t, chuck ’em.
5. Pick up the phone.
There is only so much time that you can steal away from your job to conduct personal matters. The nature of correspondence that includes matters of money are usually time-consuming, involve paperwork, require follow-up and include more than one person. Take advantage of your time at home to refute errors in your credit reports, schedule information interviews for prospective career advances, confirm doctor appointments and negotiate with creditors about outstanding debt.
Kara is the founder of the personal finance and lifestyle blog The Frugal Feminista, an online home for financial empowerment, girl power and juicy living. Connect with her on Twitter @frugalfeminista.
Check Out These Tips For Filing Your Taxes:
1. Your Income Tax Cheat Sheet
Even if you decide to handle the filing of your taxes solo, it is always important to know and seek the advice of a tax advisor/accountant, who can offer valuable information and point you in the right direction for optimum returns during tax time. This includes proper deductions, organizing year-round and reducing your tax stress. You're welcome.
2. Be Mindful Of Holiday Bonuses
It's always a great feeling to have that bonus check in hand, but sometimes it may not be the optimal scenario for your tax accountant. Boosting your income by a slight margin could shift you to a higher tax bracket for the year, offsetting your bonus and then some. Consider if it's better to realize your bonus in 2013 or 2014 and inform your employer accordingly.
3. Consider Charitable Donations
Giving to charities can carry tax deductions, helping you save on your IRS payment. If you need to get in a gift during the year of 2013, you can count the donation via credit card as long as you sign up for the payment by December 31. Just be careful of fraudulent charities, which the IRS has been warning people about for years.
4. Prepare For Tax Season
If you have a few extra minutes away from work and the family, maybe you can unwind over some tax documents. While it isn't most peoples' idea of a good time, creating a tax checklist and gathering together all relevant documents for the year before next year's become scattered everywhere can be a serious time saver come April.
5. Keep Track Of Deadlines
Deadlines can creep up at any time and in any shape or form. Some deadlines for income considerations can be at the year's end, so there's certainly plenty coming up in the near future. While the official filing deadline is April 15, the work doesn't start then — and shouldn't start the day before that — so plan out your time to meet the different deadlines of various parts of the tax code.
6. Don't Forget Retirement Savings
A great way to save money on taxes is by having a properly structured retirement plan. Both 401K and Roth IRA plans carry tax implications of various shapes and sizes, and planning ahead for retirement isn't the worst thing to do, either. By balancing contributions, the savings can really add up once tax bracketing is considered.
7. Consider The Child Care Credit
The IRS published an entire post about the child care credit earlier this year, in which the agency explained exactly how to use the credit and under what circumstances it is appropriate to file for it. Since it runs year-round, there's no better time to jump on board than now, and you just might save a dollar or two. Child care credit: http://1.usa.gov/1gKgeFf
8. Lump Medical Bills
There are thresholds for which medical bills become deductible if they total a certain percentage of your gross income (10% for most people is standard; however, it varies depending on circumstances). If you can lump your medical bills into this year or the next, you may become eligible for the effective tax deduction. This could involve prescriptions, getting new eyewear, extra checkups and prepaying plans.
9. Rashida Maples, Esq.
Rashida Maples, Esq. is Founder and Managing Partner of J. Maples & Associates (www.jmaplesandassociates.com). She has practiced Entertainment, Real Estate and Small Business Law for 9 years, handling both transactional and litigation matters. Her clients include R&B Artists Bilal and Olivia, NFL Superstar Ray Lewis, Fashion Powerhouse Harlem’s Fashion Row and Hirschfeld Properties, LLC.