With the release of the latest zombie apocalypse movie this weekend, it is clear that we have the undead on the brain. So we started thinking: what would your zombie survival kit look like if you were on a budget? How about if you could spend like there was no tomorrow? Fear not – we have the answers for you.
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Ed note: Getting promoted and mastering our jobs are results of consistent hard work and great relationships. But sometimes we need a little help to reach our career goals, whether it’s attending a conference, joining a job-specific association or going back to school. To help make going that extra mile a little bit less expensive, Careerealism.com’s J.T. O’Donnell provides four career advancement activities that could come with tax benefits.
Many people don’t realize there are expenses you can write off on your taxes that can serve to further your career. I don’t know about you, but I’m always incentivized when I know I can do something deductible while improving my professional worth and positioning myself to be more valuable.
Here are four things you can do to advance your career, the associated cost of which you can write off come April:
1) Join an association with annual dues so you can network with your peers.
Networking is the number one way people get ahead today. Our network is an asset – the bigger and stronger we make it, the more we can leverage it to advance our careers. As an added bonus, if you join certain organizations that help you carry out the duties of your job, you may be able to deduct your membership dues if you itemize, to the extent it exceeds 2% of your adjusted gross income for the year. For instance, membership dues paid to business leagues, trade associations, chambers of commerce, boards of trade, real estate boards, professional organizations and civic or public service organizations are deductible. These include bar associations, medical associations or the Kiwanis, Rotary and Lions clubs. However, membership dues paid to country clubs, athletic clubs, etc. are never deductible. Remember, if your employer reimburses you for your professional dues, you may not deduct the expense on your return.
2) Attend a conference with people in your industry.
If you attend a professional conference that is required by your employer (but unreimbursed) or that is otherwise an ordinary and necessary business expense, you may be able deduct the cost of attendance, travel, lodging and even meals if the conference is outside of the city where you normally work. Generally, attendance at a conference is considered ordinary or necessary if expected or considered common practice in your profession.
3) Subscribe to and read trade journals and magazines related to your industry.
As they say, “knowledge is power.” Staying informed on industry news and trends is vital to staying current in our professions. If you subscribe to a professional journal or trade magazine and are unreimbursed by your employer, you can generally deduct the cost to the extent it exceeds 2% of your adjusted gross income for the year, if you itemize your deductions. With today’s rate of change in all industries, we can’t afford to appear out of the loop.
4) Take a course to advance your skills in your area of expertise.
Learning new methods, technologies and programs is the best way to stay fresh and relevant in your chosen profession. Investing in education that will keep us up-to-date on the latest techniques ensures we don’t become stale to employers. Depending on the nature of the education, you may be able to claim a deduction or claim a credit for certain education related expenses.
For more information on tax-deductible career expenses, visit this IRS page: Publication 529.
There are a lot of viable tax write-offs you can take advantage of to up skill and move forward professionally. All you need to do is make the choice to invest the time and energy into an activity that will give you the greatest return on that investment.
Ed note: Ever get back from the supermarket to realize you just spent a fortune buying the bare necessities for your family? We know how that feels. So we asked Christina Brown, frugal blogger and Supermom over at Northern Cheapskate to give us a few tips on home-growing food to save money (and starting a fun new hobby in the process!).
With food prices continually on the rise, more people are turning to gardening as a way to save money. If this is something you’ve been thinking about, you have a couple of options to consider.
You could invest in a Community Supported Agricultural (CSA) program, where you buy a share of produce from a local farm. It’s much less work than planting your own garden, but it also offers less flexibility. You’ll spend a minimum of $400 for the season and you may end up with produce you don’t know what to do with (rutabega, anyone?)
If you’re willing to invest some time, growing fruits and vegetables in your own back yard can be very economical. A $1 packet of carrot seeds will give you dozens of fresh carrots to eat. Just a few tomato plants will bear enough fruit for salads, salsas, sauces and more for a few months for a family of five.
Either way, gardening on your own has a lot of perks, besides the obvious cost savings. One of the perks is that you control the conditions. You can choose to raise your food organically, which provides a significant cost savings over buying organic produce at the store. You could pay as much as $3 a pound for organic carrots, or you could grow 25 pounds of carrots for the cost of a $1 packet of seeds.
The other perk: food you’ve grown yourself tastes amazing! Your food is picked fresh from your garden when it’s ready and doesn’t have to be transported on a truck or sit around on store shelves. When food tastes better, you’re less likely to let it go to waste.
I first started gardening three years ago. I’ve never had much of a green thumb, and I’ve made plenty of mistakes (and I’ll make more), but I can honestly say that growing your own food isn’t that hard. I’ve grown tomatoes, broccoli, green beans, carrots, peppers, zucchini, and basil in just two 4’x4’ raised bed garden plots and saved more than $125 on my food bill.
The first year is the most expensive as you get set up. My initial investment consisted of less than $70 for one 4‘x4’ raised-bed kit, dirt and plants. I added a second plot in year two. This year, my only investment has been plants and seeds. The amount of produce I’ve grown more than makes up for the money I’ve spent on my garden.
Of course, if you’re not careful, gardening can be expensive. If your motivation is to save money, it’s important to keep your costs low. Here are a few ways you can save money on planting a garden:
- Start small. A smaller garden takes much less work and needs fewer materials to start. With a small raised bed and some containers, you’ll be able to grow plenty of fresh produce.
- Start from seed. Starting seeds indoors can be a huge savings over what you’d pay for plants at the greenhouse. For example, you may pay $2 for tomato seeds to plant dozens of tomato plants, or you could buy one tomato plant at a greenhouse for $5 or more. You just need a bit more time and planning to start from seed. Since each seed packet has more than you need, consider a seed exchange with friends to get the plants you want for less.
- Shop the sales. If planting from seed isn’t for you, then be sure to shop the sales at your local greenhouse. Sign up for any mailing lists or newsletters from local greenhouses to be notified of special sales. Watch for end-of-season close-outs and save 50% off or more on your plants.
- Plant what you’ll eat. There’s no point in having a garden if you don’t like anything you plant. One of the best ways to save money when gardening is to plant things you love to eat but hate spending money on. For me, that’s broccoli. For you, it might be fresh herbs or tomatoes.
- Compost. You can start your own compost bin or pile and provide hearty nutrition for your garden with your own vegetable scraps. You’ll save money on fertilizer and be doing something good for the environment.
- Preserve your harvest. Make sure to make the most of what you’ve grown – I highly recommend freezing or canning whatever produce you don’t eat right away. You can watch the sales for deals on vacuum packers and bags for freezing, or use coupons to buy canning supplies. Canning jars can be picked up for great prices at thrift stores and estate sales – you’ll just need to get new lids and rings. You can even use a food dehydrator to preserve items like carrots and celery for use in soups during the winter months.
Gardening is a fun, family activity that doesn’t have to cost a lot. And if I can do it with my two brown thumbs, I know you can, too!
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