WBEZ | Q&amp;A: Your economy questions answered http://www.wbez.org/tags/qampa-your-economy-questions-answered Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Stimulus Questions and Resources http://www.wbez.org/ahill/2009/05/stimulus-questions-and-resources/948 <p>I've been spending the last few days trying to wrap my head around the stimulus money flowing into the state.‚  Please send/post any questions you have--I'll try to track down the answers. <strong>Federal information and funds tracking</strong><strong> </strong><a title="http://www.recovery.gov/" href="http://www.recovery.gov/">www.Recovery.gov</a>‚ is the primary federal ARRA website: it includes regular news and spending updates as well as reports from Inspectors General. The <a title="http://www.gao.gov/" href="http://www.gao.gov/">GAO</a> is tasked with providing bi-monthly reports on stimulus funding.‚  You can find the first report here: <a title="http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d09580.pdf" href="http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d09580.pdf">http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d09580.pdf</a>‚  Federal Agencies have their own stimulus pages which include more information about programs, awards and fraud hotlines: <a title="http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/!ut/p/_s.7_0_A/7_0_1OB?navid=ARRA_PLANS&amp;parentnav=USDA_ARRA&amp;navtype=RT" href="http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/!ut/p/_s.7_0_A/7_0_1OB?navid=ARRA_PLANS&amp;parentnav=USDA_ARRA&amp;navtype=RT">Department of Agriculture</a>, <a title="http://www.commerce.gov/Recovery/" href="http://www.commerce.gov/Recovery/">Department of Commerce</a>, <a title="http://www.ed.gov/policy/gen/leg/recovery/index.html" href="http://www.ed.gov/policy/gen/leg/recovery/index.html">Department of Education</a>, <a title="http://www.energy.gov/recovery/reports.htm" href="http://www.energy.gov/recovery/reports.htm">Department of Energy</a>, <a title="http://www.hhs.gov/recovery/reports/index.html" href="http://www.hhs.gov/recovery/reports/index.html">Department of Health and Human Services</a>, <a title="http://www.dhs.gov/xopnbiz/recovery.shtm#three" href="http://www.dhs.gov/xopnbiz/recovery.shtm#three">Department of Homeland Security</a>, <a title="http://www.hud.gov/recovery/" href="http://www.hud.gov/recovery/">Department of Housing and Urban Development</a>, <a title="http://www.usdoj.gov/recovery/reports.htm" href="http://www.usdoj.gov/recovery/reports.htm">Department of Justice</a>, <a title="http://www.dol.gov/recovery/" href="http://www.dol.gov/recovery/">Department of Labor</a><a title="http://recovery.doi.gov/plans.php" href="http://recovery.doi.gov/plans.php">, Department of Interior</a>, <a title="http://www.dot.gov/recovery/reports.htm" href="http://www.dot.gov/recovery/reports.htm">Department of Transportation</a>, <a title="http://www.treas.gov/recovery/" href="http://www.treas.gov/recovery/">Department of Treasury</a>, <a title="http://www.va.gov/recovery/Agency_Plans_and_Reports.asp" href="http://www.va.gov/recovery/Agency_Plans_and_Reports.asp">Department of Veterans Affairs</a>, <a title="http://www.nationalservice.gov/about/recovery/reports.asp" href="http://www.nationalservice.gov/about/recovery/reports.asp">Corporation for National and Community Service</a>, <a title="http://www.epa.gov/recovery/plans.html" href="http://www.epa.gov/recovery/plans.html">Environmental Protection Agency</a>, <a title="http://www.fcc.gov/recovery/" href="http://www.fcc.gov/recovery/">Federal Communications Commission</a>, <a title="http://www.nea.gov/recovery/nea-recovery-plans-reports.html" href="http://www.nea.gov/recovery/nea-recovery-plans-reports.html">National Endowment for the Arts</a> Also worth checking out:‚ <a href="http://www.stimuluswatch.org/">Stimuluswatch.org </a> <strong>Illinois</strong> <strong>information</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>funds</strong> <strong>tracking</strong>: <a title="http://recovery.illinois.gov/" href="http://recovery.illinois.gov/">http://recovery.illinois.gov/</a> is the primary state ARRA website. As part of the GAO reporting responsibilities, the organization is tracking spending in 16 states including Illinois.‚  IL specifics start on page 145 <a title="http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d09580.pdf" href="http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d09580.pdf">http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d09580.pdf</a> ‚ Also of interest: The <a title="http://www.ffis.org/452501/index.html" href="http://www.ffis.org/452501/index.html">Federal Funds Information for States</a><strong> </strong>includes good information about allocation, grants and funding streams.<strong>‚ ‚  </strong> ‚ The <a title="http://www.ncsl.org/statefed/2009economicstimulus.htm" href="http://www.ncsl.org/statefed/2009economicstimulus.htm">National Council on State Legislatures</a> has also created a very useful site (they compiled the federal agency sites listed above).‚  <strong>Chicago</strong> information and funds tracking The city of Chicago has set up a site: <a title="http://www.explorechicago.org/city/en/special_pages/mayor_-_recovery_and.html" href="http://www.explorechicago.org/city/en/special_pages/mayor_-_recovery_and.html">http://www.explorechicago.org/city/en/special_pages/mayor_-_recovery_and.html</a> The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning has set up a site to help coordinate regional ARRA funding requests: <a title="http://www.cmap.illinois.gov/blog.aspx?blogid=872" href="http://www.cmap.illinois.gov/blog.aspx?blogid=872">http://www.cmap.illinois.gov/blog.aspx?blogid=872</a></p> Thu, 28 May 2009 08:51:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/ahill/2009/05/stimulus-questions-and-resources/948 Q&amp;A: Helping your family deal with the recession http://www.wbez.org/ssargent/2009/04/qa-helping-your-family-deal-with-the-recession/7316 <p>When it comes to making money-conscious decisions for your kids, the picture might not always be black and white: Should I start saving for college now? How can I plan for their future when mine is so unsure? What do I tell them about the recession? Michael McAuliffe, president of <a href="http://www.familycreditmanagement.org/" target="_blank">Family Credit Management</a>, has recommendations for how to get your family through this tough time. McAuliffe, a former branch manager for a national credit counseling agency, oversees all operations at FCM, which offers pre-purchase and foreclosure avoidance and provides credit counseling and debt management plans. <strong>1. For parents who are tight on funds, what is your recommendation for how they can start to save for their kids' college tuition?</strong> The first thing that needs to be done is to make sure your spending is under control. (We have a great booklet called "100 Small Ways to Save BIG!" which most families can use to find areas to save from their monthly spending.) Then you need to look at your age and how prepared you are for retirement. The old saying is that you can't borrow for retirement. If you are not saving for retirement, start now. If you can start to put some money away you may want to look at the College Illinois program which is a pre-payed tuition plan. I did this for my two girls and am glad I did. At this point I like to tell people about the economic theory of Opportunity Cost, which basically means every dollar spent cannot be put towards anything else. Spending $5 per day on coffee is $1,800 per year that cannot be put towards your stated goals like saving for college. The real decision is, what are your actual priorities? It's important to not just talk the talk, but walk the walk. <strong>2. When is a good time to start a Roth IRA for my kids? Is this something you recommend?</strong> This question is beyond my expertise, so I asked our company CPA who responded with: "A few general details, The child must have taxable compensation (i.e. W2 income not just interest/dividends) and the contribution cannot exceed that compensation amount for the year. Given that limitation, whether or not the parents should gift their money to fund their child's Roth IRA depends on the parents' overall financial plan, goals, cash flow, etc." <strong>3. Should we be talking to our kids about our financial difficulties? And if so, how do we broach the subject?</strong> Yes, but make sure you don't tell your children anything you do not want the neighborhood to know. Kids are hearing the bad economic news on TV and can tell when there is stress in the household. Make conversations age appropriate and try to alleviate any fears they may have. Allow them to ask questions and try to give honest answers. Let them know they are loved and the family has contingency plans to deal with and problems that may arise and there nothing for them to worry about. If changes are going to be taking place, let them know most people in the country are making changes to their spending and finances and your family is no different. Some changes may be made and everyone in the family needs to understand. It should be made a family project to figure out ways money can be saved, i.e. cancelling cable TV. <strong>4. What is your best recommendation or method for teaching kids about money, savings, credit especially with things the way they are?</strong> First make sure they understand where money comes from and how hard it is to obtain, but easy to spend. Make sure they are aware of the benefits of compound interest on savings accounts but the dangers of interest when it comes to taking on debt. Also make sure you are being a good example with how you are handling your money. No credit card debt, no home equity loans, and NEVER a Pay Day Loan. Only buy what you can afford and teach your kids that they cannot have everything. This will help them to understand realistically how things work. It is an important lesson in life. If they have income or get an allowance, open a savings account for them and encourage them to put away for long term goals (for kids, this may be during the summer). <strong>5. I was going to get my teenager a credit card, but now I'm not so sure. Is a credit card a good lesson in managing credit or a disaster waiting to happen?</strong> You never want to co-sign a loan for anyone...ever. This is for many many reasons. You may want to add your child as an authorized user on your credit card. This can help them establish credit (as long as you are not over limit or delinquent on any payments now or in the future in which case it would hurt their credit.) Also, you need to have complete trust in them as they will have the ability to charge this account up and their spending could get out of control.</p> Fri, 17 Apr 2009 02:59:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/ssargent/2009/04/qa-helping-your-family-deal-with-the-recession/7316 Q&amp;A: Unemployed and navigating a new job market http://www.wbez.org/ssargent/2009/04/qa-unemployed-and-navigating-a-new-job-market/7310 <p><p class="MsoNormal">If you recently lost your job and are in search of a new one, you might be inclined to turn to head hunters or staffing agencies for help. But before spending money to make money, you would be wise to check out a local resource here in Chicago: the YWCA. The Economic Empowerment Institute at <a href="http://www.ywca.org/site/pp.asp?c=euLRI7OZH&amp;b=62681" target="_blank">YWCA Metropolitan Chicago</a> provides services from a professional coach who can: help you learn new skills, improve your application techniques and give general advice on how to proceed with the job hunt. Below, Associate Director Cynthia Anglin answers questions about getting back on your feet and how the YWCA can help you do that.</p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong>1. For individuals who have lost their jobs, what advice do you give for retooling resumes?</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">When providing advice to people who have lost their jobs, our YWCA Economic Empowerment Coaches offer many tips to help make our clients' resumes stand out. We emphasize to our clients that resumes have a primary purpose -- to get you an interview. HR managers often review hundreds of resumes a day. For this reason, resumes should be well-formatted and bulleted to ensure readability. Hiring managers will often pass over a resume rather than spend time reading paragraph after paragraph, even for the most qualified candidates. We also encourage resumes to be accomplishment-based. Employers are more interested in your successes in a job rather than your general job responsibilities. For example, "Increased company sales by 50%" is much more impressive than "Served as member of sales team."</p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong>2. What are the biggest concerns about the new job market for people who have been employed for years or decades and are now unemployed? </strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">Generally, for people who find themselves recently unemployed, their biggest concern about the current job market is having the skill set to be able to compete. Lapses in employment can be great opportunities to sharpen skills. We often suggest our Economic Empowerment Institute clients enroll in classes during this time to improve computer or trade skills. We also remind our clients that many skills are transferable across jobs, and they could benefit by being open to other career paths if opportunities present themselves. We encourage our clients to stay optimistic and do their best not to become discouraged. Contrary to popular opinion, job searching can be less productive when done every day. Searching for jobs every other day or a few times a week is a good way to give yourself a much-needed break from the ups and downs of job hunting.</p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong>3. What trade or graduate schools do you recommend for sharpening people's job skills?</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">We believe there are many great learning institutions here in metro Chicago that individuals can use to increase their current skill set, ranging from universities and community colleges to trade schools and community organizations. Our Economic Empowerment Coaches work with clients to research institutions and classes that are specifically suited for their content, scheduling and pricing needs. Currently, the YWCA offers computer classes for beginning and advanced students. The YWCA also works with the CARA Program, Kennedy King College, Olive Harvey College, Chicago Women in Trades, and HSBC -- North America to provide additional training for the YWCA's Economic Empowerment Institute clients. <!--[if !supportLineBreakNewLine]--><!--[endif]--> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong>4. If I am a middle-aged individual competing against college graduates and twenty-somethings in the job market, how can I sell myself successfully to potential employers?</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">Finding a job at any age is always about playing to your strengths. One of the obvious strengths for someone older is experience. I advise people to look at their experience as a positive when applying for jobs. Maintaining initial salaries can be a challenge, and we encourage individuals to be flexible in this area if possible. However, all things being equal, employers often choose the more experienced candidates over other candidates. Being organized and consistent are good skills to have when searching for a job. Set aside set times on certain days of the week to look for jobs. This will help you keep to a regular schedule. Also keep track of where you apply and when. This can keep you from re-applying for companies and positions that might not be suited to your background and skill set.</p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span> </span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong>5. Where are you seeing people have success in the job search: which industries, using which tactics, selling themselves in what ways, using what interview strategies?</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">We are seeing people be successful in all industries. Someone in every field is always hiring even during this downturn in the economy. The most successful people, however, are those who effectively use their networks of family, friends and former colleagues to find employment. Many jobs currently available rarely make it to internet or newspaper postings. If you have a particular employer in mind, call to see if the company has a public job board. This can also assist you in knowing what jobs might be available that aren't being advertised. Websites like LinkedIn can also assist people in using their professional networks to the fullest. As far as interview strategies, make sure you read the job description for which you are applying thoroughly. During your interview, we encourage our clients to use phrases and words mentioned in the job description in your responses. This will reinforce to your interviewer that you have the qualities they are looking for in this position.</p></p> Fri, 10 Apr 2009 02:17:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/ssargent/2009/04/qa-unemployed-and-navigating-a-new-job-market/7310 Q&amp;A: Farewell, faux pas! Be your best employable self. http://www.wbez.org/ssargent/2009/04/qa-farewell-faux-pas-be-your-best-employable-self/7303 <p><p class="MsoNormal">We all have preconceived notions about how a resume should look and what information a cover letter should convey. But, seeing as most of us are not hiring managers or HR reps, we might be off the mark. Taz Wilson, on the other hand, is right on the mark. Wilson, who works at staffing agency <a href="http://www.altastaff.com/" target="_blank">AltaStaff</a>, sees hundred of resumes and cover letters from people looking to find jobs. Below, she tells you how to polish that resume and what never to say in a cover letter.</p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong>1. What do you consider an ideal first line in a cover letter? </strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">I always say that a cover letter's first sentence should be like an email subject line: simple and direct (in sentence form, of course). It states your interest in the specific opportunity and how you found out about the job. For example, "I am interested in the Legal Secretary to the General Counsel opportunity posted on Monster.com." This statement gives a quick reference before reviewing your resume and cover letter and/or directing it to the hiring manager. With a volume of resumes to review for each opening, this straightforward "subject line" gives an immediate cue on the direction of your resume and search.</p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong>2. What are the most common resume mistakes and how can people fix them?</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">I believe the most common resume mistake is explaining your job duties rather than your successes. Focusing on responsibilities makes a resume read like a job posting (managed files, wrote proposals, edited documents, etc.); an employer can only match skill for skill. Turning the focus towards your successes and achievements allows the employer to see how your work can add value to the role and overall company. For example, we had a candidate who listed that she provided the monthly expense reports for her department. Upon further inquiry, we discovered that she created a workable spreadsheet to facilitate and standardize the expense reporting. Furthermore, upon discovery of this expense spreadsheet by their corporate office, the management adopted it as the corporate standard nation-wide. She never thought to communicate this huge achievement and value to her company on her resume because to her, it was a simply a component of her job. However, a future employer now looks at this achievement and sees a potential candidate who could also save their company time and money. With this candidate and most job seekers, it takes time to understand your personal value in a role and begin to explain this value in a resume. However, this time is well spent. Once you focus on achievements verses job duties you begin to distinguish yourself and your professional worth.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">3<strong>. How do I sell myself in a cover letter without sounding like a cheerleader or telling an employer, "You must hire me"?</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">I see a cover letter as your written "2-minute elevator pitch" to a hiring manager. Much like a pitch to a potential investor, you need to communicate three items to in your pitch:</p> <p class="MsoNormal">1.<span style="font-size:7pt;"> </span><em>What are you selling? </em></p> <p class="MsoNormal">2.<span style="font-size:7pt;"> </span><em>What is your market and experience? </em></p> <p class="MsoNormal">3.<span style="font-size:7pt;"> </span><em>What is your value proposition?</em></p> <p class="MsoNormal">Following this formula, explain who you are in paragraph one, describe your past professional achievements in paragraph two, and conclude with how these successes add value to this potential role and company going forward. Similar to your resume, your focus is communicating the value that you bring to a role. Both a strong cover letter and elevator pitch explain how your potential employer and investor will get a return on their investment and intrigue them to learn more.</p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong>4. If I am looking to relocate and am applying to jobs in other cities, do I have to address that in my cover letter? I am concerned employers aren't even considering me because I don't live there.</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">A cover letter provides a great opportunity to explain your relocation plans and interests. We find that one of the concerns that employers have with out-of-town candidates is their budgets do not allow for relocation compensation. If you address these plans and details in your cover letter, you can alleviate some employers concerns. For example, "I am currently conducting my job search from Michigan and plan to relocate to Chicago this spring."</p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong>5. What do employers look for in cover letters?</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">An employer wants a reason to interview a candidate in a cover letter. You want to convey why they should select you to fill that interview slot in their calendar. Specific employers could focus on skills and experience relevant to the specific opportunity (e.g. writing skills for an editor). However, your focus should be explaining how you added value and will add value with these skills and experiences.</p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong>Bonus Question: </strong><strong>What are the top 5 phrases or words you NEVER want to see in another cover letter?</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">1.<span style="font-size:7pt;"> </span>I need a job, desperately.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">2.<span style="font-size:7pt;"> </span>I was terminated (or fired) from my last position because of theft.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">3.<span style="font-size:7pt;"> </span>My goal is to work and save money until I can afford to travel around Europe.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">4.<span style="font-size:7pt;"> </span>I just need a job until something better comes along.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">5.<span style="font-size:7pt;"> </span>I need to make sure that I have health insurance by next month.</p></p> Fri, 03 Apr 2009 03:38:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/ssargent/2009/04/qa-farewell-faux-pas-be-your-best-employable-self/7303 Q&amp;A: Get in touch with your inner Mommy on a Shoestring http://www.wbez.org/ssargent/2009/03/qa-get-in-touch-with-your-inner-mommy-on-a-shoestring/7289 <p><p class="MsoNormal"></p> <p class="MsoNormal">If you consider yourself a creative mother who manages creativity on the cheap, you're not the only one.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">Beth Engelman, who lives in Glenview and comes up with all sorts of inexpensive crafts for her kids, has dubbed herself an official "<a href="http://www.mommyonashoestring.com/" target="_blank">Mommy on a Shoestring</a>." Her <a href="http://www.pioneerlocal.com/index.html" target="_blank">column</a> of the same title <span>is filled with activities and games that budget-conscious parents can do with their kids.<span> </span>The author of several children's books and a former teacher, Ms. Engelman has no shortage of experience on the subject of wee ones. Below, she answers questions on being a savvy mother and, after the jump, lists a slew of ideas for how to entertain kids during Spring Break! </span> <p class="MsoNormal"><span><strong>1. <span> </span>If I want to keep 5 cheap items in my home for a rainy day with the kids, what should they be?</strong></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Precious Junk: keep your recyclables (cereal boxes, paper towel rolls, orange juice containers, etc.) in a bin to be used for invention making, art projects and the like.<span> </span>We just used an old latte cup, water bottle and 2 cardboard boxes to make an airport that would rival </span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Powdered tempera paint: I like powdered paint as it keeps longer and doesn't run the risk of drying out. </span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Construction paper: for painting, making paper chains, grass skirts, etc.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Chocolate pudding: when in a pinch, nothing is more fun than finger painting with pudding.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Pantry staples such as cream of tartar, flour, salt, sugar, cornstarch, baking soda and flour: these items can be used to make everything from goop to play dough to bubble bath balls.<span> </span></span></p> <span>*My favorite activity is finger-painting with chocolate pudding (on wax paper), which is always a crowd pleaser in my home.<span> </span>Making inventions, robots, remote controls, and airports out of "precious junk," paint, glue and construction paper is a close second.</span> <p class="MsoNormal"><span><strong>2. I'm newly unemployed and now spending more time at home. Do you have recommendations for how to juggle my job search and applications without making my kids feel neglected?</strong></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Buddy Up: If possible, try to find a neighbor, friend or relative who can swap childcare duties with you.<span> </span>In these tough times, we are all in the same boat and hopefully you have a friend who can watch your children while you do a little work and you can watch her children next time she needs a little time for herself. </span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Wake up early: It might not sound fun, but you can get a lot done in the wee hours of the morning. I am a big fan of sleep, but if you go to bed early enough, waking up with the roosters won't be as hard and will afford you some time to get your job search in order.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span> Give your kids work to do alongside of you: In my studio, I have an area that is reserved for my son. He has his own markers, paper, stickers and Legos. On those days when I need to work and don't have childcare options, I find activities that will engage him as he works by my side. Sometimes, having you in the same room is all that your child may need to feel comfortable enough to play independently.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span> Find a mommy's helper: If you have toddlers at home, you might be able to get extra work done if you hire a mommy's helper. A mommy's helper is usually someone who is old enough to follow the rules and watch your toddlers, but not old enough to baby-sit or be alone with your toddler. I use my Mommy's helper on weekday afternoons, when I am writing and need an extra pair of hands and eyes. She and my son will play in the family room while I type on the computer nearby. That way I am right there if needed, but for the most part my son is happily engaged with his "friend." </span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span><strong>3. The summer is coming and I'm debating whether to send my kids to camp (but it's expensive!). What are some cheaper ideas for how my kids can spend the summer?</strong></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Cut down on costs this summer by creating your own camp-like experience. Most local libraries, community centers and public pools have wonderful summertime activities on the cheap. Most communities in the Chicagoland area also have tennis courts that are free and available to the public as well as public golf courses that charge relatively small green fees. Having Lake Michigan nearby opens up a slew of beach activities such as Frisbee, beach volleyball and swimming.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span><strong><span>4. </span>How did you get into this line of work?</strong> </span></p> <span>I got divorced around the time my son was born, so I quickly learned how to manage on a limited budget. I started to make small changes that didn't affect my lifestyle but meant big savings at home.<span> </span>Professionally, I have always been creative with my work, first as a kindergarten teacher and then developing books and games for Leap Frog Toys and Piggy Toes Press. As the economy turned sour, I started finding new ways to cut corners: making my own gifts and coming up with inexpensive projects to do with my son. Hence the idea for <em>Mommy on a Shoestring</em> was born.</span> <p class="MsoNormal"><span><strong>5.<span> </span>What inspired you to share your activities and money-saving advice with others?</strong></span></p> <span>Last fall, when my son turned 3, I hosted a birthday party on the cheap.<span> </span>I made 20-cent birthday invitations by writing all the information on an easel and taking a picture of my son standing next to it. He and I made play dough to give out as party favors, and we made the birthday cupcakes as well.<span> </span>I noticed the other moms really liked my "birthday-party-on-the-cheap" model and started following a similar suit for their own kids' parties.<span> </span>I feel that by scaling back on the bells and whistles, we are giving our children a chance to learn how to make their own fun.</span> <span>After the jump: How to keep your kids entertained this Spring Break without breaking the bank! </span> <span><!--break--></span> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong><span>Be the Mommy for the Morning!<span> </span></span></strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>This idea came to me from a dear friend, Amy Hamill, who is one of four children.<span> </span>Amy's very smart mother would allow each of her daughters to be the mommy for the morning. That meant the child got to make all the morning decisions including making breakfast, getting everyone dressed, choosing a morning activity, you name it! Giving your children this type of ownership strengthens their self-esteem and self-reliance as well as provides a lot of fun and memories for your family.<span> </span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span> </span><strong><span>"YOJNE" Backwards Day</span></strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong> </strong><span>Another fun idea is the timed-honored Backwards Day. Basically you and your kids spend you day in reverse! For example, when you wake up in the morning, watch a movie with popcorn. After the movie, cook up a little pizza for "dinner". In the afternoon, make a big bubble bath for your children using handmade "paints" (shampoo mixed with food coloring). Kids can stay in the bath till the water gets cold, painting on the walls and tub with their handmade "paints." After their bath, everyone gets into their jammies for a delicious pancake breakfast.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong>Capture the Moment with Pictures</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">A wonderful activity for when the weather warms up is creating a photo gallery with your children. The first step is to get a disposable camera and then take your children out for a walk. I recommend a disposable camera because they are inexpensive and more importantly, they are fairly indestructible (which is always a plus when dealing with children).<span> </span>Take a walk around your neighborhood with your budding photographers and watch their imaginations run wild as they snap away at all the "cool" things they see.<span> </span>You might even consider taking your children into the city and letting them photograph the busy streetscapes and skyscrapers. Once the roll is finished, get the pictures developed and sort through them with your children, picking out the photos they like best. Together you and your children can create an art gallery by mounting their favorite pictures on colored paper and hanging them on an empty wall. Encourage your children to name each image just as a professional photographer would. To make the gallery theme even more special have a "gallery opening" where you invite family and friend over for a viewing. Be sure to serve refreshments. I recommend following the stained glass cookie recipe (listed below) for a delightful and colorful treat!</p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong><span> </span></strong><strong><span>Think Spring with Stained Glass Window Cookies</span></strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>These cookies make great window decorations or are a tasty treat when served with cold milk!</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><em><span>Ingredients</span></em></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><em><span>One bag of hard candies (Jolly Ranchers work well)</span></em></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><em><span>1 roll of </span></em><span><em>Pre-made sugar cookie dough or make your own sugar cookie dough.</em></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span> Step 1:<span> </span>Pre-heat over to 350 degrees. </span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Step 2:<span> </span>Crush the hard candies into small pieces by placing them in a plastic bag and pounding them with a mallet (Let your kids do this -- they'll love being "allowed" to pound something).<span> </span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Step 3:<span> </span>Slice cold cookie dough into circles and roll out into 1/4-inch thick circles.<span> </span>Using a sharp knife cut a hole in the middle of each cookie and fill it with bits of broken candy.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Step 4: Place cookies on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet (you do not want to ruin your cookie sheet!) Bake for 17-20 minutes or until cookies are brown and candy is melted.<span> </span>Allow to cool and enjoy!<span> </span><em>To hang your cookies in the window, punch a hole at the top of each cookie prior to baking and then thread ribbon or string through the hole once the cookies have cooled.<span> </span></em></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong><span> Open a restaurant in your home</span></strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Spring Break is the perfect time to get your kids interested in cooking and nutrition.<span> </span>Talk to your children about their favorite kinds of food, restaurants and store bought items. Encourage your children to look through cookbooks and recipe boxes for new ideas and twists on old favorites. To make the meal planning more memorable, let your children turn your kitchen into a restaurant for the night.<span> </span>Your chefs can shop with you for the needed groceries, design the menus, decorate the tables, pick the mood music and wait on their customers.<span> </span>Who knows, you might find your child is the next Wolfgang Puck.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong><span> </span>Can't go to the beach?<span> </span>Watch the waves with an ocean in a bottle</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">This is a great project that is easy to make, requires a few ingredients and teaches your a little science in the process.<span> </span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><em>Ingredients</em></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><em>1 clear plastic bottle with top (a liter soda bottle works well)</em></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><em>‚½ - 1 cup vegetable oil</em></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><em>Water</em></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><em>Blue food coloring</em></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><em>Glitter (optional)</em></p> <p class="MsoNormal">Fill 2/3 of the bottle with water.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">Add oil until the bottle is almost full.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">Add a few drops of blue food coloring.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">Place cap on bottle and make sure it is screwed on tight.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">Now, move the bottle around and watch the glittery waves roll.</p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong>And for something really different"¦try Letterboxing</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">Check out <a href="http://www.letterboxing.org/">www.letterboxing.org</a> to learn about this fascinating and fun activity.<span> </span>Letterboxing is a community-organized treasure hunt where unconnected people place letterboxes throughout the United States.<span> </span>It is best to do with children over 5 and requires some planning and preparation. Be sure to check out the website or the book, <em>The Letterboxer's Companion</em> by Randy Hall.<span> </span></p></p> Fri, 20 Mar 2009 09:27:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/ssargent/2009/03/qa-get-in-touch-with-your-inner-mommy-on-a-shoestring/7289 Q&amp;A: Be true to your school: The career office is there for a reason http://www.wbez.org/ssargent/2009/03/be-true-to-your-school-the-career-office-is-there-for-a-reason/7278 <p><p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:12pt;">If you're preparing to graduate from college this spring, I imagine you've developed a new obsession: Employment.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:12pt;">According to Marthe Druska, Senior Associate Director of <a href="https://caps.uchicago.edu" target="_blank">Career Advising and Planning Services (CAPS)</a> at the University of Chicago, the job hunt is in full swing on the South Side campus. She helps students and alumni secure internships and full-time opportunities, connects employed alumni with job-seeking undergrads and maintains a <a href="http://uchicago-caps.blogspot.com/" target="_blank">CAPS blog</a> to answer students' questions. Below, she talks about her experience at CAPS and offers advice for those doing the "job thing" for the first time.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:12pt;"><strong>1. How has the recession affected the demand for your services, both by soon-to-be grads and alumni?</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">The economic climate is certainly at the forefront of everyone's minds, especially for students about to graduate. We've seen an increase in the number of alumni who have contacted our office, both recent alumni who are 1 to 5 years out of school and more experienced alumni. These are individuals who have either been laid off, are concerned about being laid off, or are considering a career transition. Student demand for our services has remained strong as students are thinking about summer plans and planning for internships.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:12pt;"><strong>2. What are the biggest obstacles facing your students and how can they overcome them?</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">The obvious answer is the economy, and the fact that fewer organizations are hiring. We're advising both graduating students and alumni to start early and to be open minded. Students who may have been determined to go into a particular industry, or even to work at a specific organization, really need to widen their search. In addition, more than ever, networking is such an important career search tool right now. Companies are still hiring, but the more connections students can make with alumni and other professionals in their fields of interest, the better. We're really encouraging students to reach out to alumni, and to go on information interviews. Even if there isn't a position open at this time, it never hurts to learn more about an organization and express your interest in working there.</p> The other piece of important advice is not to get discouraged. This can be difficult when it seems as if there aren't many jobs available right now. Being organized is very important: keep a spreadsheet of the positions that you've applied to, the people that you've met with, and the follow up that you've done with each organization. <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:12pt;"><strong>3. What are the 3 most important pieces of advice you give to imminent grads looking for jobs?</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">1. Expand the areas that you are looking at. Especially for students at the University of Chicago, where a liberal arts education is so important, they have strong, transferable skills. So consider fields or lesser known organizations that you may not have planned to apply to. Education and healthcare are two areas that are doing well right now, despite the economy. And even in hard hit areas like financial services, there are smaller, boutique firms that are hiring. <!--[if !supportLineBreakNewLine]--><!--[endif]--> <p class="MsoNormal">2. Make sure you have a targeted resume and cover letter. For every position that you apply for, the resume and cover letter that you submit should reflect that you've read the job description carefully and researched the organization. Sending a generic resume or a generic cover letter to an organization is one of the fastest ways to remove yourself from consideration. It's also important to relate the experience that you already have back to the position you are applying for. It's not enough to state in your cover letter what you've accomplished in previous positions - you also have to explain why those skills are relevant to the position you are applying for. Imagine that you tell a potential employer about a skill set you already possess. Now imagine that employer asks, "So what? What can that do for me?" Try to answer those questions in your cover letter.</p> 2b. It goes without saying, NO TYPOS in your resume or cover letter. Have a friend, roommate, partner, someone read your materials to make sure you're not missing any grammatical or spelling errors. 3. Follow up. Following up includes sending a thank you email or note AND checking back in if you don't hear from an organization or individual. You don't want to be pushy (calling or emailing every day is not acceptable) but you also want to stay on people's radars. I can't tell you the number of times that I've heard from a student "I submitted my resume, but then I never heard anything back." But that student never called to follow up and emphasize his or her interest in the position. 3b. Say thank you. Always. You'd be surprised how many people don't send thank you notes after an interview. It doesn't guarantee that you'll get the job, but it does make you stand out from the pack. <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:12pt;"><strong>4. How has the recession affected the level of on-campus recruitment and recruiters' interest in your students?</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">We haven't really heard that recruiters would prefer to hire alumni, as opposed to graduating seniors. We have seen a decrease in the number of organizations who came to campus for full-time recruiting this past fall. We've seen a slight decrease in the number of organizations who attended our fall and winter career fairs this year, but that was very slight -- for the most part those numbers have remained strong. However, at the same time we're still seeing quite a bit of interest in internship recruiting. We currently have over 250 Jeff Metcalf Fellows Internships available to our students -- these are paid, substantive summer internship opportunities exclusive to University of Chicago undergraduates -- so while it's been challenging, we have still seen some growth.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:12pt;"><strong>5. For the coming school year, how does CAPS plan to continue helping students through this difficult time?</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">Our mission continues to be to connect undergraduates, graduate students and recent alumni to opportunities in a wide range of fields -- this has not changed. At the same time, we do want to provide as much support as possible to both students and alumni during this difficult time. On the undergraduate side, we are developing new programming for this spring that will address looking for positions in a difficult economy, and strategies for seeking out those "hidden" positions in this job market. On the graduate side, there is a similar series of workshops planned for this spring, for students both interested in continuing in academia, and for those who are looking to enter the post-academic job market. To read more about the undergraduate programming, you can go <a href="http://uchicago-caps.blogspot.com/2009/02/summer-and-full-time-job-resources-from.html" target="_blank">here</a>; for upcoming graduate student programming, you can visit <a href="http://uchicago-caps.blogspot.com/2009/03/upcoming-academic-and-post-academic.html" target="_blank">here</a>. And for alumni who are entering the job market, we are continuing to work with our colleagues in Alumni Relations and Development to provide both one-on-one advising and programming for individuals with more experience. This includes offering more appointments for more experienced alumni, and developing regional networking events for alumni across the country who are seeking job resources.</p></p> Fri, 13 Mar 2009 08:55:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/ssargent/2009/03/be-true-to-your-school-the-career-office-is-there-for-a-reason/7278 Q&amp;A: Freeze, fry, repeat: How to cook through the recession http://www.wbez.org/ssargent/2009/03/freeze-fry-repeat-how-to-cook-through-the-recession/7274 <p><p class="MsoNormal">Cheap recipes are one good way to save money, but how should you approach recession cooking in general? Shelley Young, owner of <a href="http://www.thechoppingblock.net/" target="_blank">The Chopping Block</a> and a <a href="../2009/03/09/the-downturn-dish-our-blog-launches-a-new-weekly-recipe-feature/" target="_blank">Monday conbtributor</a> to our blog, answers some questions about money- and time-saving strategies to help you through.</p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong>1. In tight-budget times, what foods are best to stock the kitchen with?</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">Counter to what most people might think, fresh and frozen products can be more economical. Prepared, canned and processed foods can be less nutritionally dense and more expensive due to the packaging and processing costs.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">There are many selections to be made in the produce aisle that are reasonably priced and keep for weeks or even months: potatoes of all kinds, butternut squash or any hard skinned squash, parsnips, turnips, beets, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, onions, celery root, carrots, celery, sweet potatoes. Certain herbs such as rosemary and thyme last longer; try working with those more than, say, basil.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">Buying fresh meats, poultry and seafood when they are on sale and freezing them is a great way to save money and enjoy high-quality meats. Meat freezes beautifully for months. If properly thawed in the refrigerator and cooked well, most people would notice very little difference.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">If you have some meat in the freezer you can pull it out when needed throughout the week. If you purchase produce that lasts for weeks it will still be there and fresh when you need it. Supplement your shopping lists with a smaller amount of produce that expires quickly such as lettuce or fruit. Lastly, stick to the outer aisles of the grocery store where you will find the deals and nutrient dense foods!</p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong>2. I don't want to break the bank over fresh produce, but I'd also hate to eat canned beans the rest of my life</strong> -- <strong>what are some approaches?</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">Here is produce that doesn't break the bank: squash, parsnips, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, eggplant, turnips, carrots, and beets (really most everything except exotic peppers, tomatoes, lettuce). Frozen peas, spinach, corn, and artichokes can also be great.</p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong>3. Meat can tend toward expensive</strong> -- <strong>what are the best good and tasty substitutes?</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">Short ribs, chicken thighs, chuck roast, whole turkey, ground meats and sausages work well. A whole chicken will also be very economical.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">I also suggest that you try quinoa as a protein choice. It is the perfect grain as it is a complete protein and inexpensive and quick to cook.</p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong>4. If I have some vegetables that are still edible but on the edge of going bad, and hate to waste money throwing them away, what catch-all dish is a safe bet?</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">Any one pot dishes such as soups, sauces, stews, pasta dishes and casseroles are a great way to utilize aging produce. Also, don't forget about egg dishes! You can add all those veggies in an omelet.</p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong>5. What are your top recommendations for how people can save money?</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">"¢Cook! Cooking at home is less expensive, healthier and better on the calories than eating out. Learn how to braise, for example. Less expensive cuts of meat lend themselves to braising and are delicious, so learn how to do it. They also tend to be great leftovers.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">"¢Buy things that have a long shelf life, see produce above.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">"¢Plan ahead, cook for the week on the weekends and take your lunch to work. This takes planning, but will make a world of difference.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">"¢Spend any extra cash you have on a good quality olive oils and vinegars, fresh cracked black pepper and good quality stock instead of bouillon cubes. Use your whole chicken or turkey to make stock and keep it in your freezer. It is worth every penny and elevates your cooking to the next level with no effort.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">"¢Grate your own cheese, it tastes way better and you will need less and ultimately save cash and lose pounds!</p> <p class="MsoNormal"><em>What are some of your strategies? Leave a comment and help out other readers!</em></p></p> Wed, 11 Mar 2009 08:56:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/ssargent/2009/03/freeze-fry-repeat-how-to-cook-through-the-recession/7274 Q&amp;A: COBRA confusion? Your questions answered. http://www.wbez.org/ssargent/2009/03/cobra-confusion-your-questions-answered/7266 <p><p class="MsoNormal">A lot of you have probably heard about recent changes to the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, or COBRA. COBRA gives workers and their families who lose health benefits because of job loss the right to receive continued care. Under new legislation, certain individuals eligible for COBRA coverage may receive a subsidy for 65 percent of the premium (these individuals are required only to pay 35 percent).</p> <p class="MsoNormal">But how does it all work?</p> <p class="MsoNormal">Below, Fred Garfield, Senior Vice President of benefit solutions at <a href="http://www.thehortongroup.com/" target="_blank">The Horton Insurance Group</a> in Orland Park, Ill., answers some important questions about the new legislation. <span style="font-family:Arial;font-size:x-small;"><span style="font-size:10pt;font-family:Arial;"> <!--[if !supportLineBreakNewLine]--> <!--[endif]--></span></span><strong>1. What specific steps must I take to claim this premium reduction?</strong> The employer is required to send a written notice and enrollment form to the employee no later than April 18th, and the employee has 60 days to notify the employer of their desire to accept. Acceptance would be retroactive to March 1, can only be taken for the employee and those dependents covered at the time coverage was initially lost, and full payment of the premium, less the 65% federal subsidy amount, retroactive to March 1 must accompany the written reinstatement request. <strong>2. If I did not enroll in COBRA when I was laid off, can I definitely enroll now and receive the premium reduction?</strong> Yes, however only for yourself and those family members you covered at the time you were laid off. You will receive the reduced premium cost for up to nine months. <strong>3. If I am an employer, how does the new legislation affect me--how will I be reimbursed? </strong> You can take your reimbursement as a reduction of the payroll taxes (FICA and Medicare) you report on your quarterly 941 report. Instructions on how to do this, including recordkeeping, was provided on the IRS website and was described in one of our prior handout attachments. <strong>4. Is the government likely to extend this legislation past Dec. 31 2009? </strong> If the economy turns around, it would be unlikely, but this is hard to predict. We know at this time it is not extended to any individual COBRA beneficiary beyond the nine-month subsidy period. The government did this in recognition that without insurance people would likely get no preventative care, and more serious illnesses would be coming through the emergency room at much higher, uncontrolled cost. <strong>5. What happens if I reach the end of my maximum COBRA coverage period? </strong> <p class="MsoNormal">At the end of COBRA, the options include taking individual coverage (subject to medical underwriting), converting the COBRA to an individual policy (very limited coverage and extremely expensive), signing up for the State I-CHIP high risk program (also limited coverage and high cost), or if financially qualified getting financial assistance to acquire or purchase coverage through the Illinois State Medicaid program. Some short-term or "bridge" policies can provide current coverage (no pre-existing conditions) and they do not qualify as "HIPAA Compliant Credible Coverage" to offset pre-existing conditions on a new employer sponsored group plan.</p> <p class="MsoNormal"></p></p> Fri, 06 Mar 2009 10:56:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/ssargent/2009/03/cobra-confusion-your-questions-answered/7266 Q&amp;A: Questions about internships? The Intern Queen has answers. http://www.wbez.org/ssargent/2009/02/questions-about-internships-the-intern-queen-has-answers/7237 <p>After completing 15 internships in college and then starting her own business dedicated to helping students find work, Lauren Berger considers herself the "Intern Queen." Berger, who is 24 and living in Los Angeles, runs the <a href="http://www.quarterlife.com/intern" target="_blank">internship page</a> of a social networking site called Quarter Life.‚  The site's main goal, Berger says, "is to let students know their dreams are realistic--and these internships are an integral part of that." And considering the site gets 3,000 unique visitors a day and Berger has received more than 2,500 resumes since launching in August, a lot of students are dreaming big. Below, Berger talks about her experience with Quarter Life and shares her advice for finding a job in today's difficult market. <strong>What function does your Quarter Life site serve in the employment world?</strong> It's the bridge that connects students with their future. Internships are so important and they're becoming so competitive; and with today's economy and layoffs, companies that are hiring interns--getting people who work hard but don't receive a salary--are getting a great opportunity. Plus, we have postings from Fortune-500 companies, sure, but a good portion of the companies on the site are also start-up companies. <strong> So the recession has increased the popularity of internships?</strong> Because of all the layoffs, people do want free help. With an internship you give a student college credit and they work really hard for you: it's beneficial for the company and really beneficial for the student who makes professional contacts. <strong> Why are internships important for future professionals?</strong> If you have internships under your belt, you have a much better chance of getting a job you apply for. If you have no internships under your belt, you need to be applying to some because you're going to make contacts and these contacts are people who refer you to your next position. <strong>Based on your experiences with job-seeking students, what are some trends among today's twenty-something set?</strong> The big thing to remember with Generation Y is that everyone wants quick information and wants it fast. With all of the technology and social networking sites, everyone is finding new ways to communicate things quickly and that has spread to the ways they want internships. These students are on it [looking for positions] and they want the internships and want to get them quickly; and if they apply to one and don't get it, they want to apply to another. <strong> What advice do you have for students applying to internships?</strong> 1. When applying to internships, it's important to have all the materials together and prepared. Your resume only needs to be one page long, currently updated and it can't have nothing on it. A lot of times, the problem with freshmen and sophomores is they have no experience, but they need to know they <em>have</em> had experiences, they just need to look at small experiences--volunteering with their families, high school activities--and pick out the important tasks they have learned. 2. Before interviewing--and even before you apply--go online and find out the company's mission statement. Find out if it's something you want to be involved with, and tie that into your answers at your interview: make it clear you understand the company's mission and you want to help work on the goals the company is trying to achieve. 3. When interviewing, go in there with a sense of passion and excitement for what you're doing. Feel free to email Lauren with your own questions at internqueen@quarterlife.com, or visit her internship site for more information.</p> Thu, 05 Feb 2009 15:17:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/ssargent/2009/02/questions-about-internships-the-intern-queen-has-answers/7237