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Embrace lifelong learning: be ready for any challenge
Can't teach an old dog new tricks? That might be true for a canine, but it's not the case for his master in today's world where 'lifelong learning' can keep your career, mind and finances healthy.
Lifelong learning has become a buzzword in recent years. But for anyone who groans at the thought of returning to class, don't worry, since lifelong learning can be any way of acquiring knowledge, including informal learning gained by experiences and new situations. You can pick up knowledge simply by interacting with different people, changing how you do things, or teaching yourself a new skill.
Open new doors
Of all the reasons to keep learning, the one that inspires many is the desire to move up the career ladder. It's sound advice that if you want to rise through the ranks, you should increase your knowledge to qualify for higher positions.
In the past, we typically sought training or new skills if we became bored in our current role and dreamed of moving on. Today, career counselors suggest that even the recently hired should start to think about new skills once you've mastered your immediate duties, and consider ways to both grow in your present job and plan for longer-term goals.
This is the idea behind company performance reviews when you and your boss set 'development goals' for the year. This sometimes-routine task actually can be a great chance to talk with your manager about ways to position yourself for a salary increase or promotion. You may even discover workplace training or study programs to cover education costs.
Adapt to change
Being open to continuous learning is also invaluable for anyone inundated by change. Whether you see your daily work demands increasing, or you feel pressure to adopt new technologies, lifelong learning can help you adapt. You may seek a one-day workshop to master new software, enrol in a graduate program to prepare for a different profession, or take a night class on a favourite hobby to release daytime stress.
Good for body and mind
This brings us to a point raised by medical experts, that learning new skills provides health benefits. Studies show that new challenges can stimulate our brain and provide positive mental and physical effects. For seniors, increased cognitive activity from building new skills, interests or social networks can help fend off dementia. For all ages, taking on new challenges can simply feel rewarding, provide fresh perspectives or recharge our batteries to face our to-do list.
More skills, more income
If the idea of building skills isn't appealing for the personal challenge, then do it for the cash. Put simply, if you find it hard to make ends meet, or your financial dreams seem out of your reach, take advantage of learning opportunities to build new skills or contacts. The payoff could be a raise or a better-paying position that enables you to save for important goals, like your children's education or a comfortable retirement.
Whatever your motivation, there are lots of ways to insert some learning into your day. Remember that informal learning is equally valuable, so consider actions like reading professional journals, signing up for lunch and learn events, or talking with colleagues to hear their perspectives.
If you want to pursue formal learning, don't let time, costs or other obstacles get in the way. A bit of research can help you find solutions. For example, a wide range of online and distance education programs is ideal for busy individuals with family obligations. And, take small initial steps so that you can find ways to juggle your extra-curricular learning with your work and home demands. Friends or colleagues who are currently studying can likely share practical ideas and tips.
So while your dog may not be eager to learn fetch or rollover, there are plenty of reasons and ways to add some new tricks to your own routine.
My plan - Home alone? Plan an active, social retirement
Imagine starting your first day of retirement and finding yourself home alone since your friends and family have moved away, are still working, or too busy to help you enjoy your new freedom.
While this is an extreme scenario, you should think about how you will build an active, social and healthy retirement. You were likely kept busy with obligations during your working years, and the abrupt switch to retirement could be a shock. Also, an increasing number of seniors live alone, making it even more important to find social outlets.
These tips can help you plan your life after work:
- Talk with loved ones: Discuss specific retirement plans with your spouse to find activities you can do together and separately, and try to coordinate your retirement dates. Talk with family to find ways to spend time with them without imposing on their hectic lives.
- Activities old and new: Retirement is a great time to revive an old hobby or discover a new activity, whether it involves a sport, study or volunteering. Come up with a balance of social and independent pastimes.
- Learn a skill: Finally you'll have time to master something that interests you, like cooking, dance or web-design. Find clubs or groups to meet others who share these interests.
- Return to work? If you think you'll miss work, consider a part-time role, consulting in your field or mentoring others. This can help you maintain those co-worker friendships you might miss.
- Find a purpose: From the points above, you may find a couple of ideas that provide a new sense of purpose. For example, "I want to assist the youth hockey league, help care for my
grandchild, or finally write a novel."
- Test the waters: Talk with recent retirees and ask how they made the transition to active retirement living. Accept the offer to join their social circle and 'test the waters' to see what activities might interest you.
- Budget for it: While dreaming up ways to keep busy, consider some of the activity costs or find affordable options. Check out seniors clubs that may provide member discounts and the chance to meet others.
- Do things differently: Finally, remember that retirement may require a mindset change. Although you will gain control over your time, you may lose control over other factors, so learn to be flexible. Start saying, "Yes" to invitations you previously refused. Or, finally sign up for Facebook or buy a smartphone to keep connected with other active retirees.
Many retirees joke that they are busier than ever, and the tips above can help you find your own healthy balance of activities, leisure and fresh challenges.
My money - We need to talk
Many of us raised in traditional households recall that open discussions about money seldom occurred. Parents ran the finances - and silently shouldered any financial worries - except when kids made dinnertime pleas for allowance, school trips or gas money.
But today, tougher financial situations are prompting more families to talk about money. Home economics can be a healthy dinner table topic, enabling everyone to be part of family goals and challenges, while teaching kids invaluable life lessons.
Start young: If possible, start teaching your kids about money early so it doesn't become a tough lesson later. When they want a new toy, explain that parents must work hard to get money to buy those things. Teach the importance of making choices and saving for goals, whether it is for new shoes, a bike or university tuition.
Start now: If you've avoided money talks for too long, start the conversation now. It's better to talk honestly with family before a small issue becomes a bigger problem. You'll be surprised how much your kids already know and understand.
Start small: If you begin talking about money before a crisis occurs, you can raise the topic gently and gradually. Pick a relaxing time and comment casually about money issues, such as prices of household goods or the tradeoffs you make daily between needs and wants. Avoid the dramatic 'family meeting' if you can.
Team parenting: If there is a financial issue, plan your strategy with your partner so you share a common view, before talking with kids. You can alleviate children's worries if parents
Honesty works best: To tackle a financial problem, you've got to be honest with yourself and everyone involved. By talking sincerely and calmly with your loved ones, you can help them understand the situation and reassure them that the challenge is solvable.
Set goals together: While you're the parent, and the final decision-maker, try to involve your whole family in fixing an issue. If belt-tightening is in order, get family members to suggest ways to cut costs or set priorities. Together you could agree to fewer Christmas gifts or choose between a new TV and a summer trip.
Control emotions: Since money talks may involve your partner, an adult child or an aging parent, remember to keep emotions in check, avoid blame, and treat them with respect. To build trust and teamwork, let others share their points-of-view and encourage them to offer suggestions. Agree to some next steps rather than leaving a discussion unresolved.
By making money a normal family topic, you can reduce your stress, work towards financial goals and prepare your kids for a healthy financial future.
My life - Stash some cash for Murphy's Law
Sometimes the future looks so bright, we can't imagine how anything could go wrong. Then suddenly you find yourself scrambling for an umbrella or flashlight. That's precisely why you should start an emergency fund, since sooner or later Murphy's Law will strike.
An emergency fund is exactly what the name suggests: some extra cash stashed safely away for an unexpected financial challenge. Perhaps your car needs expensive repairs, your roommate can't pay the rent or your spouse suffers a job loss. Since many of us seem to live from one paycheque to the next, any of these events could cause major stress.
You might ask, "Can't I just use credit to cover the expense?" You'd be wise not to, since you'll incur interest charges which may be hard to repay and interfere with other goals. And if your financial woes drag on, you'll have a growing problem.
How much is enough?
Experts generally advise saving between three to six months of living expenses. That may seem like a lot, but it's reasonable if you consider the length of the typical job search or the cost of a major home repair. Relax, you don't need the whole amount right away. Just start saving towards that target.
Your first step should be to open a separate account to accumulate your emergency money. It's better if the funds are kept apart from your day-to-day finances so you won't spend them inadvertently. Consider a high interest savings account with a reliable financial institution that allows you to withdraw the funds within a few days. If you are tempted to spend the money, it might be better if you can't access the funds instantly. And don't carry the debit card in your wallet.
If it's hard to find the money to begin, you'll need to do a little budgeting to cut a few household expenses. Eliminate some ongoing costs, like that unused gym membership, or cut one night-out per month, and redirect those savings into an automatic savings program. That way, the funds will be deposited regularly in your emergency fund without you even noticing. Start with a small amount and if it doesn't inflict pain, increase the deposit over time.
Keep in mind that your emergency savings should not grow endlessly. Once you have reached your target - and you've gotten used to those automatic regular contributions - redirect the deposits to other financial goals like your retirement savings plan or increase your mortgage payments.
With a respectable emergency fund in place, a flashlight in the glove box, and an umbrella in your briefcase, you'll be ready for anything Murphy can throw at you.
If you have a general question or suggestion about this newsletter, please send an e-mail to email@example.com or write to my money At a Glance Newsletter, Group Retirement Services Marketing, Sun Life Financial, 225 King Street West, Toronto, ON M5V 3C5.
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