Since companies like Google or the Austin- and Portland-based start-ups of the world have become famous for their fun and liberal company culture, it seems that more and more companies are trying to jump on the fun train. Millennials continue to rank work/life balance and a positive company culture just as or more important than traditional perks like health insurance and PTO. The quality of work life has become a driving factor in choosing to work with a company. According to a new study by Fidelity, "On average, millennials would be willing to give up $7,600 in salary every year to work at a job that provided a better environment for them." All kinds of corporate team building activities have been growing increasingly popular, with some seeming more like a Michael Scott idea than a real one.
Last week, a few members of my team and I decided to try our own hand at team building outside of the office and chose to go to a local New York City Escape Room called Exodus. Here's the premise of an Escape Room. You start with a team of 2-10 players and agree to being locked in a small room where you must work together to find a key that unlocks the door to get out in less than hour. If you don't make it out in 60 minutes, you lose.
Over the past decade, the interest in Escape Rooms has been steadily growing across the country. Not only do you get to test your analytical skills and puzzle solving capabilities, but your sense of patience and level-headedness under pressure are brought to light as well. Escape Rooms are a fun way to challenge yourself with a small group of friends, coworkers, or even strangers if you team up with other patrons. My coworkers and I formed an average sized team of five and had never done much more outside of the office than the occasional work Happy Hour, so we were excited and a bit nervous.
We had three rooms to choose from: Exodus is recommended for first timers, Hound of Baskerville is the next level up and Masquerade Manor is for the most experienced players. We went for Exodus since only one of us had ever tried an Escape Room before. The Exodus room had an Indiana Jones vibe and was set in a museum with Egyptian artifacts. The premise of the story is that we're in the New York History Museum and the ghost of the evil Pharaoh Ramses II has possessed the art curator and is devising the end of the world. We were given a brief introduction to the facility and a short list of rules, then the timer began and we were left alone to "escape the room."
Exodus Escape the Room
The experience that followed wasn't claustrophobic or stressful like I had anticipated, but instead taught me a valuable lesson about teamwork. We were working with each other and found ourselves repeating "leave no stone unturned" (seriously, we were fully embracing it). Every member of the team was contributing in different ways and it was entertaining to see how each of us worked under pressure. Because we were a team of coworkers, the sense of camaraderie was high and the trash talking kept to a minimum.
We made it out in a boastful 37 minutes and were surprised by the sense of accomplishment we all felt afterward. Getting to see where everyone's skills lie was fascinating and revealed that everyone on a team adds value. One person was looking more abstract, another person was looking more at details that most of us didn't notice, while someone else was re-reading all of the clues. The game revealed how different perspectives brought to the table can help solve a problem more efficiently. It was fun to see how we reacted to different puzzles and mind games especially with the pressure of the timer thrown in the mix. We didn't even have to ask for a clue! We felt a sense of accomplishment when we successfully "escaped the room," and we all agreed we'd do it again. The game was more fun and challenging than we had expected, and we were proud of ourselves for working together to make solve the mystery.
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As anyone who has ever sold a house will tell you, you must prioritize curb appeal. Before a potential buyer even considers looking inside your house, they notice the outside first. Does it attract the right kind of attention? Does it take away from the feel you're going for? If you plan to sell sometime soon, you must think about these things. Here are some landscaping options to increase your home's curb appeal, so you can get the best price on your home.
Extensive Plants and Greenery
A barren front yard won't get you the price you want on your home. So, invest in at least a little bit of greenery to keep the surrounding area from looking too dead. Shrubs and bushes tie the house to the lawn that precedes it, and flower beds bring a pop of color to an otherwise drab structure. You can also strategically plant some trees to improve the overall feel of your home's exterior.
As we mentioned, your lawn is one of the most prominent features of your home's exterior. A patchy, dried-up lawn will quickly drive your home's price way down. Some of the best landscaping options for your home's curb appeal involve improving your lawn for the next inhabitant. Overall fertilization, ground aeration, underbrush removal, proper mowing—all of these lawn care tasks contribute to a greener and more lively area that invites people to see your house, rather than stay away from it.
There's nothing like a broken and disheveled pathway to make someone think twice about buying a property. Just as you want the entryway in your house to be welcoming, so too should the pathway leading up to the house be inviting. The pathway from the street to your front door provides plenty of real estate to get creative with. You don't have to settle for a boring concrete pathway. Consider something more eye catching, like a cobblestone path or intermittent brick patterns, as a way to better welcome potential buyers.
Usable Outdoor Furniture
Landscaping doesn't just involve the ground you walk on; also included are the items you use as extras to the overall look. Outdoor furniture is one such extra that you don't necessarily need but can look quite attractive if done correctly. Staging is important with outdoor furniture. Old, broken-down pieces will only look like more work to the potential buyer. A few comfortable chairs, a bench, or a table with an umbrella really go a long way to improving your outdoor aesthetics.
A good tip for deciding on curb appeal items is to decide what you personally would want to see as a part of a welcoming home's exterior. You don't need to go overboard, but a little bit of forethought could net you quite a lot of extra cash in the sale.
Many people strive to support their community by donating their time or their money. When you find a meaningful cause, you might be quick to cut a donation check. Though it's admirable to be quick to act charitably, you should be wary of several common mistakes made when giving to charity. Being mindful of these mistakes and learning tips for making informed charitable choices can help you make the most out of your generous check.
Acting Quickly Out of Emotion
Mission statements are meant to be compelling. If you're an emotionally driven individual, it's natural to pull out your wallet at the sight of a sad puppy on TV or when informed about food insecurity over the phone. Unfortunately, not all charities are as effective or official as they may seem.
Take your passion for helping others one step further by making sure your chosen charity is legit. Speaking with a representative, reviewing their website and social media accounts, and looking at testaments online can give you a better idea of whether the organization is worth your donation.
Forgetting to Keep Record of the Donation
Don't forget that you can reap some financial perks from giving back! With the proper documentation of your donation, you can acquire a better tax deductible.
If you donate more than $12,400 as a single filer or $24,800 as one of two joint filers, you're eligible to deduct that amount from your taxes. So, when a charity asks if you'd like a receipt of donation, always answer yes.
Donating Unusable Materials
Most charities can utilize a monetary donation—it's the physical donations that usually cause some issues. Providing a local nonprofit with irrelevant materials or gifting them with unusable products are surprisingly common mistakes made when giving to charity.
Always check your intended charity's website for a list of things they do and do not accept. The majority of places will provide a guideline to donating or offer contact information to clarify any questions.
Strictly Giving at Year's End
As more and more people get into the holiday spirit at the end of the year, nonprofit organizations see an influx of donations. While it's great to spread holiday cheer via a monetary donation, it's important to keep that spirit going year-round.
With regular donations, charities can more effectively allocate their annual budget. Setting up an automatic monthly donation with the charity of your choosing can maximize your impact. You can account for a monthly donation by foregoing a costly coffee every once in a while.
Knowing how much you should spend on home maintenance each year is hard to figure out and may be preventing you from buying your first home. The types of costs you'll incur depend on the house you buy and its location. The one certainty is that you should start saving now. Read on to figure out how much to start setting aside based on the home you own.
The Age of Your House
Consider several factors when budgeting for home repairs. If you've purchased a new home, your house likely won't require as much maintenance for a few years. Homes built 20 or more years ago are likely to require more maintenance, including replacing and keeping your windows clean. Further, depending on your home's location, weather can cause additional strain over time, so you may need to budget for more repairs.
The One-Percent Rule
An easy way to budget for home repairs is to follow the one-percent rule. Set aside one percent of your home's purchase price each year to cover maintenance costs. For instance, if you paid $200,000 for your home, you would set aside $2,000 each year. This plan is not foolproof. If you bought your home for a good deal during a buyer's market, your home could require more repairs than you've budgeted for.
The Square-Foot Rule
Easy to calculate, you can also budget for home maintenance by saving one dollar for every square foot of your home. This pricing method is more consistent than pricing it by how much you paid because the rate relies on the objective size of your home. Unfortunately, it does not consider inflation for the area where you live, so make sure you also budget for increased taxes and labor costs if you live in or near a city.
The Mix and Match Method
Since there is no infallible rule for how much you should spend on home maintenance, you can combine both methods to get an idea for a budget. Average your results from the square-foot rule and the one-percent rule to arrive at a budget that works for you. You should also increase your savings by 10 percent for each risk factor that affects your home, such as weather and age.
Holding on to savings is easier in theory than practice. Once you know how much you should spend on home maintenance, you'll know what to aim for and be more prepared for an emergency. If you are having trouble securing funds for home repairs, consider taking out a home equity loan, borrowing money from friends or family, or applying for funds through a home repair program through your local government for low-income individuals.