A smart home — with lights you could turn on and off with a button, remote locks, music piped into every room — used to be out of the average homeowner's reach.
"When you used to think about these systems, it was very much high-end," Mark Spates, a senior product manager for Nest and Google Home told the New York Times. "It was a luxury."
Not so anymore. Prices have come down, DIY installation is indeed doable, and if you're thinking of resale value, homebuyers expect it.
According to Coldwell Banker's smart-home survey, most potential homebuyers want some smart home technology. Seventy-seven percent want smart thermostats, 75 percent want smart smoke detectors, and 63 percent want smart locks.
All you need is a weekend and a couple hundred dollars to bring your humble abode into the 21st century — and it won't cost a mint.
Wouldn't it be so much easier to be able to turn your lights on and off when you're away on vacation, rather than crossing your fingers and hoping for best? Or what about coming home late at night alone. With a touch of a button, you could walk into a house that's warm and welcoming.
There are two ways to add this functionality: with smart bulbs or smart dimmers. Smart bulbs like Philips Hue (from about $70 for a starter kit) and LIFX (from about $20 a bulb) are the easiest to install — just screw them into an existing socket — and offer dimming and optional color changes. Smart dimmers are a little more complicated and will require some simple eletrical work. Lutron Caséta (about $100 for a starter kit) and Leviton Decora Smart (from $45 a switch) replace existing wall dimmers and switches.
Both smart bulbs and smart dimmers can be scheduled to turn lights on and off automatically, and they both have lighting-level presets. With a touch of a button, you'll can hit the sweet spot for cocktail hour or a sewing project.
It seems like something the Jetsen's would have used. If used correctly, with remote control over wifi and smart scheduling, a smart thermostat can save you hundreds of dollars.
The Honeywell Lyric T5 smart thermostat ($130) is Consumer Report's pick that features an easy-to-use manual control and plenty of smart features like voice control and what's called "geofencing" — a feature that allows the thermostat to automatically adjust the temperature as you leave and return home.
Remember when multiroom audio that spilled fluidly from the kitchen to the living room out onto the pool deck seemed like the height of glamour? You don't need to win Powerball to live this sonic version of the high life.
Sonos makes speakers (from $149 each) that can be plugged in to any electrical outlet. With wifi and an app, Sonos speakers can play the same music across all rooms or different music in different rooms, with independent volume controls for each.
"We use Sonos a lot, even at the super high-end," Michael K. Chen, an architect in New York, told the New York Times. "Anywhere you have power, you can have music, and I think that's great. Suddenly, there's no need for complex additional equipment to properly zone your apartment or house into different areas. It's just set up to do that well."
Smart Smoke Detector
If only I had the ability to lower my smoke detector's sensitivity when I'm roasting a chicken or when the broiler's on. With a smart smoke detector, I can silence an alarm with a tap rather than waving a tea towel like a white flag. Consumer Reports recommends the Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide detector ($100). It will send a text alert to your phone when it detects smoke or when the batter is running low — which will keep it from making that oh-so-annoying beeping sound when you're trying to get some much needed shut eye.
Your house will feel more like Fort Knox and less like a low-hanging fruit to the lazy burglar when you install smart locks. They're also a godsend for the forgetful type. Did I lock the front door? Now there's no need to double back on your journey or say a prayer. Just tap your phone and you're good.
Consumer Reports recommends the August Smart Lock Pro + Connect ($250) There's the auto-lock and unlock function when you leave and return home that you'd expect, but it can also make electronic keys for your weekend guests and housecleaner.
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It's a blessing and a curse to work from home or as a freelancer. On the plus side, you're not expected to fit into the prefab 9-to-5 box. Unfortunately, that means you have to create the whole day from scratch. For some, this is divine freedom. For others, it's a lot of free-floating time to eff up.
The secret to a successful work schedule is to know thyself.
The Seeker's Approach to the Work Schedule
The very notion of "time management" makes some of us want to rebel. It sounds restrictive — which anyone who has been on a crazy diet knows is a recipe for disaster. Rather than start color-coding a planner in blocks, artist and writer Laureen Marchand, says making a work schedule that works for you is about asking questions:
- What do you want?
- What's important?
- What's important enough so you can commit to it?
- Do I have goals? If so, what are they? If not, should I develop some?
- What do I want to change?
"Remember, there are no wrong answers," she suggests. "What's right for you is right. But you're more likely to know what's right for you if you ask the questions."
For Marchand, these questions boiled down to values that could guide her days: "Almost daily time for the work that matters most to me. Enough money so I don't have to think about it. Recognition. Connection. Possibility."
The Structure-Is-Freedom Work Schedule
Some people, like Mark Wahlberg, like to schedule every hour of the day. For those who thrive in conditions of ultimate order, hand the job of taskmaster over to Google Calendar or the scheduling function of your choice. Rather than only putting in meetings, doctor's appointments, and the occasional lunch date, create a calendar that is your Daily Routine, suggests Whitson Gordon on Lifehacker.
Set up recurring events with pop-up reminders on your computer and cell phone that will remind you to shift gears. And here's the trick: When you get that pop-up to "Eat Lunch," "Yoga with Alison," "Draft Grant Proposal," drop everything and actually do it.
"Take these events seriously, and respect the calendar, and you'll find your routine becomes much easier to stick to," Whitson writes. "The key here is to set up the calendar and stick to it. Be serious about following to it. It's okay to 'boss yourself around' with this calendar. You're making these appointments with yourself b/c this is the way you want your life to be, so respect that. Don't put yourself at the bottom of all your other priorities/responsibilities. This calendar is here to remind you of that."
Create a window of time for revolving but endless errands and admin, so that you have time each day to go to the post office/drop bike off for a tune-up/call the insurance company.
"It may seem like overkill at first," writes Whitson. "Like you're scheduling every second of every day like a crazy person, but once you get it all set up, it won't seem so bad. Again, the idea isn't to interrupt your important work, just to send you little blips that remind you to shut down the distractions and get your daily routine back on track."
Know your own rhythms
Do you work best in short increments? Or will a long chunk of quiet and solitude lead to better productivity? Will getting email out of the way free up brain space for more innovative and big picture work? Or is that a form of procrastination for the real intellectual heavylifting your job requires. Again, know thyself. And then create the boundaries in your schedule that set you up for success.
We All Have the Same 24 Hours. What Can You Do With Yours?
There are real obstacles to getting our work done — childcare, meal planning, the whole great wide Internet. Feeling like we don't have enough time is such a constant many of us have adopted it as our mantra. There's never enough time!
"Of course, you don't have enough time! Who does? But then again, do you really not have enough time?" asks Laureen Marchand. "Or is it that you have lots of time and you aren't using it for what's important to you? Is your time taken with things that used to be matter but don't so much now? Are you busy doing things you don't really want to do? How can you do less of what you don't want and more of what you do?"
Defining what is enough for you — and "for you" are the operative words — means learning to silence what Jennifer Louden calls the "Hounds of More, More, More," who have endless suggestions for how to live well.
"Improve yourself! Make more money! Be more awesome! Rise to the top! More, more, mooooooooorrrrreeeee!"
The hounds also love to mess with your routine, yammering:
"Meditate first thing in the morning! No, I meant start with yoga! No, you should go to the gym! But it's summer so walk in nature! No, I meant writing, working on your side gig/sketching!"
It's exhausting. Why? Because the Hounds of More are concerned with illusory perfection, Louden writes, and are never satisfied.
But building a sense of personal satisfaction and accomplishment into your day is essential for creating momentum in a routine. Louden's Conditions for Enoughness help create finite and measurable action plans so that you can declare you did enough at the end of each day — even if you don't feel like you did.
Know your No's and Yes'es
We'll quote the master, here. As Steven R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People put it:
You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage—pleasantly, smilingly, non-apologetically, to say "no" to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger "yes" burning inside.
But how do you say no when we've been taught that abundance in all things is about saying yes?
"One thing that helps in this process of choosing a bigger yes is knowing that you do not have to choose one 'big yes' thing forever; you simply have to choose what you want to focus on for now," writes Melissa Dinwiddie, who says that all time management problems are really priority management problems. "In other words, 'no' does not have to mean 'never;' it can mean 'not right now.'"
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If you're one of the 800 million employees who can expect to have their jobs taken over by robots by 2030, now might be a good time to look over those company policies regarding severance. There might be protections in place that will keep you from moving into the poor house even if you do find yourself out on the curb.
What Is Severance?
Severance is an employee benefit paid to workers who are laid off or terminated for matters unrelated to their job performance. Is your department being eliminated? You might get a severance package. Fired because you stole from the company? Or quitting to live your dream of #vanlife? Sorry, severance is likely not in the cards.
Who Gets It?
In general, companies aren't required to provide severance packages, and most employees do not have a legal right to a severance package when their employment ends. When companies do offer severance packages, it's not just to be nice. Severance agreements can help reduce an employer's legal liability, and as such, many companies will offer severance packages regardless of whether they are required to do so. Check your company's policy or the employee handbook to find out what's on offer.
When to Negotiate
There are two good opportunities to negotiate a severance package, Jaime Klein, founder, and president of Inspire HR, told Refinery29: At the beginning of the road, when you're hired, and at the end.
Bringing up severance during the hiring process is a little like asking someone to sign a prenup; it's a delicate subject at best. These days, though, with so many industries on shaky ground, Klein says it's usually okay to ask once an offer has been extended. After the layoff, remember to be polite and have a rationale for your negotiation request.
What Can You Expect in a Severance Package?
Severance packages usually include some form of payment based on length of employment, typically one to two weeks for each year you were with the company. It's given as a lump sum or paid over a number of weeks or months. Your severance agreement should also include any accrued but unpaid PTO or vacation pay.
Under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1995 (COBRA), a terminated employee is entitled to continue medical/health coverage under the company's plans for up to 18 months after termination (or up to 29 months if the employee is disabled). These premium payments are your responsibility (Sound no bueno? See "What Else Can You Ask For?" below.).
You might be asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) as a requirement to benefits like severance pay and COBRA. More on that below.
What Else Can You Ask For?
The agreement isn't cut and dry, notes Richard Harruch on Forbes, and there are a number of things you can ask for:
Can you get the severance in one all-cash lump sum upfront, instead of spreading it out over time?
Can the severance pay also include any partially or fully accrued but unpaid bonus?
If the severance pay is the continued salary for some period of time, does the continuation pay continue even if the employee gets a new job?
Can your employer cover the COBRA payments for anywhere from 6-18 months?
If your termination is a result of a "change in control" of the company (like a merger or other acquisition), you might successfully argue that the severance pay should be greater. But be aware that such change in control payments could rack up a 20% excise tax on the employee.
Go over any non-compete clauses of your severance or hiring package with special attention to geography, scope of the agreement, and duration. Many employers will be open to narrowing the scope of this after a layoff.
That NDA you had to sign? They might make it a two-way street, suggests Harruch. Language that some employers have approved is: "The Company shall not authorize and shall take reasonable measures to prevent its present or former officers or directors from making derogatory or disparaging statements regarding Employee to any third party."
You might go one step farther than including language that bars the company from speaking ill of you and require that a section of the severance agreement include language that requires your positive recommendation. For example, "company acknowledges and agrees that Employee has performed admirably in his/her work with the Company and Company will provide positive recommendations to any interested new employers of Employee." Or, you ask for glowing recommendation letters from supervisors and have the company provide those letters to any prospective new employer.
Know Your Rights
If your company has more than 100 employees and plans to lay off a lot of people, your employer is required to give you 60 days notice of a company closing or a large departmental closing. If they don't, you are legally entitled to severance pay, thanks to the W.A.R.N. Act (Worker Adjustment and Training Notification).
If you are over 40 years old and the company offers you a severance package, the company must give you at least 21 days to consider it and 7 days to revoke after you sign the package, thanks to age discrimination laws.
Some states, like California, have more protections in place for workers whose employment ends without cause. In other places, such as New York, employment is "at-will," and either employer or employee can end a working relationship for any reason. Wherever you live, research and familiarize yourself.
Look to the future
Getting laid off is like a breakup you didn't see coming. It's disorienting, can ruin your sense of self, and rock your most basic sense of security. It's also part of life and something you will survive.
"Getting reorganized, laid off, restructured happens to nearly everyone," Klein said, and it's rarely personal. "Unfortunately, companies have very little loyalty to employees anymore."
Once you've picked yourself up and dusted yourself off — and yeah, you might need to cry and sulk, just like your last broken heart — get back to work. Your job now is finding a new job, and often a former employer will offer outplacement services to help you spiff up your letters and resume. Even if they don't, work your network and keep your head high. You've gotten a job before, and you can do it again.
Here's the sad truth: Divorce doesn't just break your heart; it can leave you broke.
When married, women's median weekly earnings are about 20 percent higher than women who are divorced, separated, widowed or who have never been married, reports US News and World Reportbased on figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Married women even have the edge on single men, earning almost 10 percent more than them, too.
But after divorce, a woman's financial profile plummets, falling by 41 percent, on average, nearly twice the income loss of divorced men, according to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
According to research by Stephen Jenkins, a professor at the London School of Economics, men, on the other hand, see their incomes rise more than 30 percent post-divorce.
The pay gap is partly to blame. In heterosexual marriages where both the man and woman are employed, the man out earns the woman 77.8 percent of the time, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But the divide is not entirely accounted for by the difference in earning power between men and women so much as it is the pay disparity for the unpaid labor of parenting.
The main reason women bear the brunt of divorce's financial devastation, according to Jenkins, is that during the marriage, they are more likely than men to leave their careers to raise kids. "The key differences are not between men and women, but between fathers and mothers," he tells The Guardian.
Having stepped off the corporate ladder for a number of years, these child-rearing women may not have advanced as far in their careers as their spouses who didn't take off, leaving them less developed workplace skills and holes on their resumes.
"The dynamic is changing a little as more women are staying in the workforce and continuing and accelerating their careers," Nicole Mayer, a certified divorce financial analyst, and partner at financial planning firm RPG Life Transition Specialists tellsUS News and World Report, "but typically, divorce hits women harder than men."
And that's not even counting the bill of the divorce itself. According to Divorce Magazine, the cost of divorce can range from as little as $8,500 to over $100,000 for lawyers and legal fees. But if the split is amicable and you can take the DIY divorce route, you might be looking at a tab closer to the cost of an airline flight — from $200 to $500.
Remember: if the divorce isn't done yet, the price tag for lawyering up need not fall only on you, a divorce lawyer in Boston tells The Atlantic: "If someone calls me and says, 'I need an attorney but I have no money,' I remind them they're not divorced yet, so they actually do have money. In those cases, I file a motion asking for retaining fees and the other person's lawyer will cut a check."
In fact, in all divorce matters, it's important to remember your legal rights. Here's a big one: if you didn't sign a prenuptial agreement, and you live in Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, or Wisconsin, you're entitled to half of any assets acquired during the marriage. Those are joint assets to be divided equally. Even if your name isn't on the deed to the house, half of it is rightly yours.
You may have let your emotions get the better of you when you were falling in love, but don't let them cloud your judgment here at the end. The objective is to not let the pain of the breakup lead to further financial distress. Marie Claire found that women who wanted to "get it over with," experienced guilt over the end of the relationship, and those who trusted their exes to make good on promises once the divorce was finalized suffered financially.
"The silver lining [to divorce] is that most women feel much more confident, much more in control of their finances after the divorce than before," Natalie Colley, an analyst at financial planning firm Francis Financial tells US News and World Report. "That's because they're finally the ones in control of their finances."
"You always assumed there'd be two of you and maybe two 401(k)s and two IRAs, and that's now all changed," Mayer says. "So now it's really [about] updating your picture as a whole, your long-term picture."
And that can be a beautiful new image. It's time to start imagining your post-divorce dream.
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