Working from home has its perks. Thereâs the money saved from skipping the commute, and just think about all of that time you get back by avoiding crowded freeways or public transit during rush hour. As far as workplace attire goes, few employees would trade âwork-from-home casualâ for dress slacks.
But while working from home affords some new freedoms, it also creates new challenges. One of your biggest tasks is to create a productive, ergonomically correct workplace in your home without breaking the bank. If this sounds familiar, youâre probably asking yourself, âHow can I set up a home office on a budget?â
Whether youâve always worked from home as a freelancer or started during the pandemic, these expert tips will help you get started as you design your home office on a budget:
Strive for an ergonomically correct home office
Being home all day creates an unexpected obstacle: pain. Many workers find that transitioning from a well-equipped office to a makeshift setup at home leads to discomfort. Thatâs because many of them go from having a spacious desk, comfortable chair, and monitor and keyboard in their office building to working from a laptop in their living room.
If you suffer from neck pain or eye strain when working from home, you may be feeling the effects of poor ergonomics. Ergonomics, commonly known as the science of work, aims to optimize productivity and health in a workspace.
As a physical therapist with more than 25 years of experience, Karen Loesing, owner of The Ergonomic Expert, knows this issue all too well. Loesingâs company performs ergonomic assessments for businesses and home offices. Over the years, she has seen countless clients suffering from neck, back or other health issues due to poorly designed workspaces. But it doesnât have to be that way, Loesing says.
âHaving an ergonomically correct workstation enhances productivity and generally overall happiness at work.â
There are relatively easy ways to transform an ergonomic nightmare into a well-functioning home office on a budgetâeven if youâre stationed at the kitchen table, she says. And the investment is worth it.
âHaving an ergonomically correct workstation enhances productivity and generally overall happiness at work,â Loesing says. âFor those who are able to designate a certain space in their home where they can work without distractionsâmaybe even a window with a view and the flexibility to work at your own paceâit has been proven this makes for a happier employee.â
Who doesnât want to boost their health, productivity and happiness in one fell swoop?
Find the optimal location for your at-home workspace
When setting up a home office for remote work, location should be your first decision, says design consultant Linda Varone, author of âThe Smarter Home Office.â Depending on your living situation, there may be an obvious answer, such as that spare room youâve always thought could become an office space.
If you donât have a dedicated office, donât despair. While you design your home office on a budget, think creatively about where it can be.
Varone once visited a clientâs home to help reconfigure her workspace. The client was running a business from a table in the hallway. âAt the end of each workday, she had to pack everything up and store it in the closet in the guest room,â Varone says.
But as Varone learned, guests only stayed over two weeks a year, leaving the room empty the rest of the time. It hadnât occurred to the business owner, but turning the guest room into a home office for most of the year was the perfect solution.
âThere are some simple, simple ways that people can rethink their home office without a big investment and make that space really work for them,â Varone says.
In addition to using a guest room, a dining or living room can also function as a home office on a budget.
Establish the ideal setup for your workstation
Once youâve decided on the room, determine the location for your workstation, Varone says. As you plan your home office, consider placing your desk or table near a window, allowing for natural light and an occasional glimpse of nature. Donât face directly outside; instead, aim for a line of sight thatâs perpendicular to the window, Varone says. Thatâs because, even on an overcast day, youâd be looking into too much bright light if youâre facing the window.
âWhatâs happening is your eyes are adjusting back and forth between the bright sunlight that youâre facing and the darker light of your computer screen,â Varone says. âAnd that ends up being really fatiguing for the eye.â
If you live with others, the biggest challenge will be privacy. Try to clearly define the boundaries of your âofficeâ if you can, such as with an area rug, she says. Then ask your roommates or family members not to enter your space while youâre working, apart from an emergency.
If you use a multipurpose space, be sure to tidy everything up at the end of the day, Varone says. Taking the 10 minutes or so to clean up your âofficeâ will reduce clutter. Ultimately, a clutter-free space can reduce your stress and boost your productivity.
âThat also has a benefit of becoming a little ritual and helping you say, âAll right, my workday is over,ââ Varone says. ââNow I can focus on my personal life.ââ
Choose your furniture wisely
Now that youâve found the perfect location for your home office on a budget, focus on finding the perfect work surface. Maybe itâs a traditional desk. Or it could be your dining room table or kitchen counter.
If you do need to buy a desk or chair, donât feel like you need to spend a fortune. Try looking for a used office furniture store or liquidator in your area, Varone recommends. You could even try searching online marketplaces for a gently used model.
When planning a home office and considering your work surface, what matters most is the height.
The average desk is 29 inches high, Loesing says. This will likely accommodate someone whoâs 5â8â, she acknowledges, but for everyone else? It will take some adjusting to make it fit for them.
Thatâs where your chair comes in. Most people donât need a high-end office swivel chair to work comfortably. As long as you can adjust the height of your chair to fit you and your desk, youâll have a comfortable setup.
Itâs important to adjust the height of your chair to achieve a neutral position, Loesing says. If you donât have the instructions from the manufacturer on how to adjust your model, try searching for videos online, she adds.
One more chair takeaway from Loesing?
âIf you canât spend a dime, at least get as comfortable as you can where youâre sitting, and sit all the way back in your chair,â Loesing says. âWhen you donât sit so your back is against the backrest, youâre using your back muscles all day long instead of them being at rest.â
Adjust your furniture and equipment
As you continue planning a home office, youâll likely find that your computer is your most important piece of equipment. But it can also lead to neck strain. Whether itâs a laptop or an external monitor, Loesing says screen placement is key. In fact, she says itâs the single most important feature to addressâas well as the most commonly disregarded one.
While you plan your home office, Loesing recommends keeping the following ergonomic guidelines in mind to help avoid neck strain:
Align your monitor so your eyes are level with the screen. (Thatâs typically about 4â from the top of the monitor.)
Place your feet flat on the floor and your knees at about a 90-degree angle with the ground.
Place your arms at about a 90-degree angle from the writing surface so your shoulders are relaxed.
If you only have a laptop, and no monitor, you still have options for raising your screen to eye-level. âThere are budget-friendly laptop risers on the market,â Loesing says. âIf you donât want to spend any money, you can place books or reams of paper to bring the screen up to eye level.â
When setting up a home office for remote work and thinking about your arm placement, note that Varone is a strong advocate for an external keyboard. If youâre working at a desk that has a keyboard tray built into it, thatâs a great way to keep your arms at about a 90-degree angle, she says. If you donât have a built-in tray, she says you can improvise by placing your keyboard on an inexpensive laptop table situated directly under your desk.
While the exact adjustments will vary depending on your equipment, height and budget, the focus is on acquiring a neutral position or a position where thereâs no strain on anything, Loesing says.
âWith the addition of standing desks, which encourage movement, employees often find they have significantly more energy at the end of the day.â
Stand if it suits you
If youâre intrigued by the idea of a standing desk, youâre not alone. Standing desk sales have soared over the last decade, buoyed by reports of the dangers of too much sitting.
âStatic postures (e.g., sitting all day in front of a computer) present more fatigue than dynamic working,â Loesing says. âWith the addition of standing desks, which encourage movement, employees often find they have significantly more energy at the end of the day.â
You donât have to buy an official standing desk to reap the benefits when planning a home office. âThe least expensive way would be to take a laptop and place it up high on a built-in high counter using a compact wireless keyboard and mouse,â Loesing says.
Even if you donât have a standing deskâmakeshift or otherwiseâyou can still incorporate movement and circulation into your workday. Set a timer to remind you to stand up and stretch every 20 minutes, Loesing suggests.
For an even better boost, combine this with a popular guideline known as the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, give your eyes a break by looking out a window at something at least 20 feet away, and do so for at least 20 seconds.
Donât forget the ambience and accessories
Your desk, chair and computer are the major players when youâre setting up a home office for remote work. But there are a few additional items to consider, like lighting, plants and sound.
Your overhead light fixture likely isnât enough, as it will create shadows and can be too weak by the time it reaches your workspace, Varone says. She recommends investing in a table lamp that creates a wider spread of light in your area. Pick one with a translucent shade that will softly diffuse the light and make it easier on your eyes.
As youâre planning your home office, Varone also recommends incorporating a potted plant or flower into your workspace. Not only can it help purify the air and boost your mood, a natural element can contribute to a restful atmosphere.
Working from home means working with home noisesâespecially if youâre in an environment with roommates, a partner or little ones. To keep the noise down, consider noise-canceling headphones for a quieter workspace and clearer meetings. Other budget-friendly options? Try placing a towel under the door to block out noise from other rooms, Loesing says. Consider curtains instead of blinds, since theyâre better at blocking out sound. Even pillows or large cushions can help reduce noise, she adds.
After youâve taken care of the essentials and if you have the space and money, think about adding a reading chair to your home office. You can use this as a space to review documents or do some deep thinking, Varone says. It can be a welcome respite from your desk while keeping you in the office area, she adds.
One last tip? Add a personal touch, whether itâs a framed family photo or a souvenir from your travels. Itâs your home office, after all. Let your personality shine.
Set up a home office for remote work that allows you to thrive
Now that you know how to create a home office on a budget, youâre ready to make a space that works well for you. Whether youâre an experienced remote worker or a newbie, you can apply these expert tips to set up an office thatâs functional and keeps you motivated day in and day out.
Ready to break in your new home office? Keep that motivation going by learning how to increase your earning potential this year.
The post Planning a Home Office? Check Out These Budget-Friendly Tips appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
Your utility bills likely make up a significant part of your monthly budget, so itâs important to keep a close eye on them. But while your rent or mortgage stays the same month to month, your utilities donât.
Sweltering summer days and icy winter nights can lead to budget-blowing spikes in your utility bills, and no matter how hard you try to budget and plan, you canât predict the total each month. Or can you?
Budget billing may offer the consistency you crave. Here, personal finance experts describe how budget billing works and explain who may benefit from it, empowering you to answer this question for yourself: Does budget billing save money?
What is budget billing and how does it work?
As you consider this option, your first question might be: What is budget billing? Budget billing is a service offered by some utility companies that provides a set monthly bill for services like gas or electricity.
How does budget billing work? To calculate your monthly budget billing amount, a utility company will look at your past usage, typically over the last year, and average it to determine your monthly charge, says Sara Rathner, financial author and credit cards expert at NerdWallet. This will give you a predictable bill to pay each month, rather than one that fluctuates.
Keep in mind that if you recently moved into your home, the charges used to calculate your budget billing amount may be based on the previous ownersâ or rentersâ usage, says Rathner. Your actual usage may end up being more or less than theirs.
Another point to remember on how budget billing works: While budget billing gives you a steady amount to pay each month, this amount can, and likely will, change over time. Some providers update bill amounts quarterly, some annually. Thereâs no universal timeline for these updates, so be sure to ask your utility provider about its specific process, says Lance Cothern, CPA and founder of personal finance blog Money Manifesto.
These changes are made to capture your actual usage, whether that usage has decreased (a mild summer allowed you to keep the AC off more often) or increased (a brutally cold winter forced you to blast the heat). Typically, you will be notified in advance of the change.
Now that you know how budget billing works, you may be wondering: Could it save me cash?
Does budget billing save money?
âBudget billing won’t save you money; it just evens your bill out over time,â Cothern says.
How does budget billing work if you end up using less energy and overpay? You may be reimbursed for the amount you paid above your actual energy usage, or the amount overpaid will be applied to next year.
âAnyone who sticks to a strict, detailed monthly budget may prefer the predictability of budget billing.â
How does budget billing work if you underpay? Youâll have to pay the extra amount to make up the difference. These payments or credits happen in addition to any adjustments your provider makes to your monthly bill if your usage changes over time, Cothern says.
What are the benefits of budget billing?
Overall, thereâs a fairly straightforward answer to what budget billing is, and the benefits are clear, too. While it doesnât save you money per se, it may allow you to more easily manage your monthly budget.
For example, if you know your monthly electricity bill will be $100, you can account for this expense in your budget and more precisely allocate funds into other expenses or savings.
âAnyone who sticks to a strict, detailed monthly budget may prefer the predictability of budget billing,â Rathner says. âYou know exactly how much your utility bill will be each month and can plan your other spending around it.â
Combine budget billing with autopay and you can set and forget your utility bills, ensuring theyâre paid on time and in full, making money management a lot simpler. This could also help you deal with financial stress.
While budget billing has its pros, it also comes with cons. Does budget billing save you money? To help answer that question, consider the following:
You may face extra fees. Some utility companies charge a fee for budget billing. In Cothernâs view, this negates the benefit since thereâs no reason to pay tacked-on fees for this service. Itâs important to find out whether there are fees before signing up when youâre researching how budget billing works.
You may ignore your utility usage. Budget billing puts your monthly utility charges, as well as your actual usage, out of sight and out of mind. Without the threat of a higher bill or the reward of a lower one based on your energy habits, some people get complacent, Rathner says. They leave lights on or turn up the heat instead of grabbing a blanket. If this sounds like you, budget billing may actually cost you money in the long run.
âAlways keep an eye on your monthly bill even though you pay a level amount for months at a time,â Cothern says. Most utility companies provide your usage information right on your bill.
If you can financially handle the seasonal swings of each bill, budget billing may not be much of a benefit for you, Cothern says. Paying the full amount also means youâre paying attention to the full amount, he says, which may motivate you to reduce your energy consumption. And thatâs where the real opportunity to save money lies.
By considering potential fees and the impact on your energy usage, youâll have a good sense of whether budget billing saves you money in the long run.
Make the most of how budget billing works with this hack
After scrutinizing how budget billing works, the potential downsides have led some financial pros, Cothern among them, to develop a new hack for paying utility bills.
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Instead of signing up for budget billing, open a savings account online specifically for utilities, Cothern suggests. Youâll also want to sign up for a rewards credit card, if you donât have one already.
Next, grab your last 12 months of utility bills, total them up and divide by 12 to get your monthly average. Youâll then want to set up an automatic transfer of that amount from your checking account into the utility savings account each month.
When the utility bill comes, pay it with your rewards credit card and then pay that bill with the money in your savings. You reap the benefits of maintaining a consistent amount coming out of your budget, as well as credit card rewards and any interest earned on that money from your savings account.
Do your homework before signing up for budget billing
After weighing your options and considering your personal budgeting style, you may decide that budget billing is right for you.
If thatâs the case, itâs important to read your utilityâs program rules in detail. Yes, that means digging into the fine print to understand how budget billing works at the specific company, Cothern says, because budget billing is a general term for a wide variety of utility company programs. Budget billing may be called something else, like flat billing or balanced billing, and it may carry different nuances and terms.
Before signing up for budget billing, Rathner suggests calling your provider and asking the following questions:
Are there startup or maintenance fees?
How is the monthly amount calculated? How often is it updated?
What happens if you overpay or underpay?
What happens when you move or end service?
With the answers to these questions, youâll have a better idea of how budget billing works for your provider. Armed with that info, you can determine whether budget billing saves you money and make the call on whether enrolling is right for you.
Whether you opt for budget billing or not, small adjustments to your home can result in major savings on your energy bills. For starters, check out these four ways to save energy by going green.
Articles may contain information from third-parties. The inclusion of such information does not imply an affiliation with the bank or bank sponsorship, endorsement, or verification regarding the third-party or information.
The post What Is Budget Billing and Is It Right for You? appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
So youâre at the point in your life where buying a home is not a question of if, but when. Youâre scrimping. Youâre saving. Youâre dreaming of walking through the front door of your very own home.
But as the decision draws near, you start questioning everything. Is now a good time to buy a house? Or is this the worst time? Is it more financially responsible to buy a house right now or wait? And what if you mistime the market, buying too soon or too late, and miss out on lower home prices?
Ultimately, the experts say the answer is less about economies, markets and pandemics and more about you.
So, how do you think through this decision? Youâll want to take time to thoroughly review your personal financial situation and life goals. At the same time, youâll need to gain some understanding of the market dynamics that impact home costs.
This process will take some time, but itâs well worth the effort. With a firm grasp on your personal situation and some context on the housing market, youâll be able to confidently go forth knowing youâre making a fiscally informed decision about whether to buy a house right now.
Honestly assess these aspects of your finances
Financial security is always important if youâre trying to determine when youâre ready to buy a home. To decide if now is a good time to buy a house, ask yourself the following questions about your finances:
How secure is your income?
Job or income stability is an important factor if you are buying a home in a rocky economy, such as the one triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, says real estate economist Gay Cororaton. Even in a robust economy, your income security should be top of mind when youâre thinking of buying a house right now.
If you have any inkling that your position may be eliminated or that youâll be making a career change, you may want to delay buying a home. Even a recent break in employment that caused you to draw down some of your savings may raise a red flag with lenders, says Kate Ziegler, a real estate agent with Arborview Realty in the Boston area.
If youâre considering buying a house right now, you should avoid opening any new lines of credit right before purchasing a home.
Do you have enough money saved?
After income stability, savings is the next-most-important financial factor youâll want to consider to determine if now is a good time to buy a house, Ziegler says. The old rule of thumb was to save 20% of the price of the home for your down payment. While that is ideal, itâs not necessaryâfar from it, Ziegler says. In fact, it has become more common for first-time buyers to put down much less than 20%.
How much house can you afford?
The down payment is one side of the affordability coin. Your monthly mortgage payment is the other side. You need to know how much you can spend on both to determine if you can afford to buy a house right now, says Jeff Tucker, a senior economist at Zillow. Aim for a monthly mortgage payment that doesnât stretch you too thinâexperts typically put this at around 28% of your monthly gross income, according to Bankrate.
With those guidelines, you can determine what you can afford. For example, if you make $4,000 a month, you should typically spend no more than $1,120 on your monthly mortgage payment in total.
How much house that buys you depends on multiple factors: mortgage rates, property tax rates, homeowners insurance andâif you donât have the savings to put down 20%âprimary mortgage insurance, or PMI. To get a rough estimate, plug your income details into an online calculator. For a more specific figure, talk to a local lender and get pre-approved for a mortgage, Ziegler says.
Once you know your price range, you can determine how much savings you need in the bank to buy a house right now. Youâll also need to have money saved for closing costs, which vary but typically run 2% to 5% of the loan amount, according to Bankrate.
Again, Ziegler recommends talking to a lender to really understand what your individual down payment and closing costs would be. Finally, be sure to add a line item in your budget for home maintenance that will inevitably pop up after you move in. Whether itâs a dishwasher on the fritz or a leaky roof, you donât want to be caught off guard, so be sure to save money for emergency home repairs.
How is your credit?
Your credit profile is also important to lenders, and it will likely be a factor in what interest rate youâre offered. Given that, you should be checking your credit report and know your credit score before investing in a home. If youâre considering buying a house right now, you should avoid opening any new lines of credit right before purchasing a home, Tucker says.
What is your debt-to-income ratio?
Another factor lenders check is your debt-to-income ratio, or DTI, Tucker says. This is the percentage of your gross monthly income that goes to paying monthly debt payments, plus your new mortgage. Lenders typically require this ratio to be 45% or less but prefer it even lowerâin the 33% to 36% range.
Another financial consideration when deciding if now is a good time to buy a house is the opportunity cost of delaying a home purchase, Ziegler says. If youâre renting in a market where the rent is higher than your would-be monthly mortgage payment, you may be spending a lot more money each month than if you were to purchase a home. And of course, with a mortgage, your monthly payment increases your equity.
After taking a clear-eyed look at your income, savings and these other financial factors, you will have a better sense of when youâre ready to buy a home and whether nowâs the time for you to dip into the market.
Consider key market factors
Next, take a look at factors that are outside of your control, but still influence your purchase: prices, interest rates and national employment trends.
Where are housing prices?
As youâre looking at the market, one of the biggest considerations when you are ready to buy a home will be housing prices and availability. Research your local market by talking to real estate agents who work specifically in the area where you want to buy and asking them about market trends, Ziegler says.
Track current listings and recently sold prices to get a sense of how prices look today. Generally, the tighter the inventoryâmeaning the fewer houses availableâthe higher prices will be, Tucker says.
Whatâs going on with interest rates?
When youâre ready to buy a home could also depend on another major economic factor: interest rates. When interest rates are low, your housing budget is effectively supercharged, Tucker says, and you can afford a more expensive house because youâre spending less on interest. When they are high, the opposite is true.
This is what compels people to buy when interest rates are lowâyou get more for your money. If you get a 30- or 15-year fixed-rate mortgage, you lock in that rate for the entire life of the loan, which could save you money now and into the future, Tucker says.
How does employment look nationally?
Finally, if you want to get a general idea of where the housing market may be headedâif prices will drop or rise soonâcheck out the national employment trends, Cororaton says. Low unemployment means prices will generally trend upward because more people can afford houses, boosting competition and prices, she says.
But if unemployment is inching up, then people are losing jobs and will be more likely to remain in their current homes. As a result, there tends to be less competition for them, lowering prices.
You donât need to be an expert in the market to determine if now is a good time to buy a house, but a baseline understanding of these big-picture forces can give you the confidence you need to embark on your home-buying journey.
Think about your future plans
After reviewing your savings and income and assessing the market conditions, take a step back and think about your life plans over the next few years. Your lifestyle and goals will help determine whether now is a good time to buy a house.
âFor buyers who are not certain whether they will still be living in the same place in three or five years, I would caution against locking themselves into a certain location,â Ziegler says. âIf theyâre just not sure what the future holds, it may be better to have that flexibility.â
Itâs unlikely in many markets that you will see substantial financial gain from homeownership if you move within five years, Ziegler says. Your equity gains will likely be offset by the transaction costs of buying and selling your home.
That goes for remote workers, too. Are you working from a home office these days? While widespread remote work may allow buyers to consider homes farther from their offices, ask yourself: Is my company going to permanently allow employees to work from home? Do I think there will be other remote opportunities in the future?
While youâre thinking about the next three to five years of your career, also consider the next three to five years of your personal life. Will you have a family? Will that family grow?
These can be weighty topics, so be sure to think them through on your own schedule. Buying a house is a big decision, and itâs not one to be rushed. By taking the time to assess your life, from your job security to your financial health to your lifestyle, and considering the impact of market factors, youâll have a clearer sense of when you are ready to buy a home.
If youâve decided that buying a house right now is the best decision for you, itâs time to learn more about how it will impact your budget. Get started by reading up on these eight unexpected expenses when buying a home.
Articles may contain information from third-parties. The inclusion of such information does not imply an affiliation with the bank or bank sponsorship, endorsement, or verification regarding the third-party or information.
The post Is Now a Good Time to Buy a House? appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.