Of the many things America does well, taking vacation time isn’t always one of them.

Don’t believe us? According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research (which has in the past dubbed the United States the “No vacation nation”), the United States is the only country in a group of three dozen of the world’s wealthiest nations that doesn’t require employers to give their employees any paid vacation time each year.

colorful image with luggage tag that reads out of office #vacay

And even when U.S. employees do get PTO (paid time off), we have a tendency to leave many of those days on the table unused. A recent Bankrate survey found that only about 30% of Americans who get paid vacation days plan to use all their time in 2022, with 35% planning to use fewer than half of the days they’re entitled to.

The land of less vacation

So why would American workers who are lucky enough to get paid vacation time not use it? Among the most common reasons given are:

  • Their workload is too heavy to get away
  • They’ll be too overwhelmed when they get back to the office if they don’t work on vacation
  • Their supervisor requires them to answer calls and emails, even on vacation
  • They feel their employer is more approving of workers who skip vacations
  • They fear that someone will take their place while they’re away

While some might call that work ethic admirable, the fact is that working without a break can take a serious toll on your health. A Finnish study found that those who worked 55 or more hours a week not only had a 35% higher risk of stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from heart diseases than those who worked 35-40 hours per week, but they were also twice as likely to have depression issues and lower cognitive function.

When you never get the chance to rest and recharge, your mental health is at significant risk, too, which can result in:

  • Anxiety, irritability or impatience
  • Increased aches and pains
  • Decreased energy
  • Lower focus
  • Obesity
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Lowered resistance to illness

Eventually, all these negative effects can lead to not only job burnout, but also problems in relationships with family, friends, and colleagues.

Vacation to the rescue

So, what can a vacation—even if it’s only a long weekend away—or a staycation at home do for you? There are countless studies showing that taking your vacation time regularly can result in an increased quality of life. The American Psychological Association cited benefits that include:

  • Less risk of heart disease
  • Better sleep
  • Reduced anxiety and depression
  • Less stress (even after just three days away!)
  • Improved productivity
  • Higher satisfaction with life

That’s why vacations or extended work breaks aren’t just a luxury. Other research has shown that even anticipation of a planned vacation can positively affect both your heart health and your level of stress. And the vacations don’t have to be long ones; short vacations of five days or less, when people relax, detach from work and engage their minds in new ways, continue to positively affect mental and physical health upon their return.

So, if you’re tempted to let your vacation days lie unused this summer, think of it this way: Prioritizing time off not only recharges you, but it also recharges your relationships with your family, friends, and coworkers and can help revive your job satisfaction. And as the research shows, it may actually give you a few more years with the people you love. Even if you start small with a long weekend or a couple of days here and there, you’ve earned it—now go enjoy it!

When you own a small business, it can be tough to match larger employers when it comes to pay and benefits. So how can you retain your best employees in a competitive climate on a small-business budget—without pricing yourself out of business?

By shining in the intangibles, like job satisfaction, growth potential and an enjoyable work atmosphere. Here are several suggestions for affordable ways to keep your small business’s staff happy and around for the long term.

1. Create an engaging culture

Engaging cultures start at the top and are built on open communication, respect, recognition and clarity for all on how each individual is essential to the success of the business. Make it a point to meet with each employee on a regular basis to ask how they’re doing, ask about any challenges they’re facing, and find out what can be done to help them achieve their career goals. Listen carefully, stay transparent, honestly acknowledge what they say to you and act on feedback when possible—or explain why it’s not possible at the moment. Make a habit of recognizing team members publicly for their hard work and contributions.

(Bonus tip: Consider forming a culture committee with employee representatives from each department to help ensure that your business culture is one that truly represents and includes everyone.)

2. Give your team the chance to recognize each other

In addition to your recognition, why not assemble a kit your employees can use to thank and praise each other for their hard work? The items in the kit don’t have to be elaborate. Thank-you cards, stickers, fun small trophies from the dollar store, coupons you and the team can create (e.g., “Use of the VIP parking spot for the day” or “Leave work one hour early”), $5 gift cards, candy bars, and a dry-erase or bulletin board where thank-yous can be posted for everyone to see are a good and inexpensive start.

3. Offer a flexible schedule

One of the most lasting effects of the pandemic is its impact on the workforce, which now feels empowered to request time for that no-longer-mythical concept of work-life balance…or they’ll find an employer who will provide it. Everyone has obligations that don’t always blend nicely with work schedules—and everyone deserves time to fulfill them. If your employees can work remotely, consider allowing them a day or two a week to work from home. If you’re not a remote-type business, there are still a number of options you could consider to help take the burden off your employees and their families, such as staggered or reduced schedules, shorter workweeks or extra paid personal days.

4. Encourage community involvement

Many of us have charities or causes that are dear to our hearts—especially Millennial and Gen Z workers, who are focused on living their values at home and at work. Give your team yet another reason to be proud of their workplace by giving back to your community. An annual (paid) day that enables employees to work with their individual causes, or a whole-team day spent working with Habitat for Humanity or helping out at local community events, sends a strong message that you want to make a difference, too.

5. Offer options for professional development

Give your team a chance to grow, get up to date with the latest technology or make it easier for them to move into positions of more responsibility with the ability to access professional development options. A number of online learning platforms, such as LinkedIn Learning, Skillshare, Alison, Udemy, and Coursera, offer reasonably priced courses that make it affordable for you to offer your employees an online learning subsidy.

6. Celebrate important days

Since some employers don’t make a habit of remembering employee birthdays, separate yourself from the pack by commemorating days that are important to your employees—birthdays, employment milestones like anniversaries—with a greeting card, a bag of candy, a special certificate, or a gift card. Everyone loves to feel appreciated on their special days.

When employees are unhappy, their work suffers, which means your business suffers. When you prioritize your employees’ experience, you help improve every aspect of your business, from employee retention to productivity to customer service. Even if you’re unable to pay top dollar, ideas like the ones above can help you keep your team engaged, smiling, and proud to work for a small business that walks the walk—right alongside each member of the team.

The recent popularity of M. Night Shyamalan’s “Old” offers a fascinating yet unsurprising truth—we fear aging. This fear could be why so few of us consider saving for retirement until it’s too late. When seniors reach retirement age, many discover they haven’t saved enough to live comfortably in their golden years.

A close examination reveals the crux of the problem: People fail to put a comprehensive retirement plan into action early enough. If you don’t set aside a nest egg in your youth, your money doesn’t have time to accrue interest or compound.

In other words, contemporary retirees will likely not have saved enough money to keep up with basic living expenses. Despite this danger, individuals are still putting reliable savings account consideration “on the back burner” until they find themselves standing at the doorstep of impending retirement. And that’s why it’s so important to focus on saving now.

Time-honored, proven retirement strategies

Even those who understand the importance of creating a solid retirement plan can feel stymied about where to start. What you want to do—nay, what you have to do—is utilize proven techniques that minimize risks and maximize your investment’s long-term growth.

To that end, here are nine proven, productive ways to help you start saving—or revamp your current strategy—for retirement.

  1. Set a retirement goal—The average age of retirement in the U.S. is 62.3 years for women and 64.6 for men. At what age do you want to retire, and how much will you need to live comfortably? Use the 25x rule here. Estimate annual expenses and multiply that figure by 25. Example: If your current annual expenses equal $50,000, you will need to have $1.25 million saved.
  2. Start in your 20s—Young employees should get started today. The younger you are, the smaller your payments can be. Even an employee in their teens can save with this goal in mind.
  3. Use company benefits—If your company offers a 401(k) plan, make regular contributions. Investing in a 401(k) can be especially advantageous if your company offers a match.
  4. Open an IRA—IRAs are tax-smart, and you can borrow from them within reason. You can also save outside an employer-sponsored retirement account.
  5. Make timely payments—Set up recurring deposits into retirement accounts to prevent spending money that should go to a retirement fund.
  6. Reduce debts—Once debts are paid off, the ability to contribute more money into your retirement accounts increases.
  7. Diversify—Make smart investments such as stock mutual funds or exchange-traded funds (EFTs).
  8. Pay what you can—Jobs and income can alter with time, so pay what you can, when you can. The goal is to put away something, no matter what income bracket you fall into.
  9. Increase your rate—Regularly increase your retirement savings rate. If you cannot immediately save 15% of your income from retirement, that’s okay. Start small and increase the amount you contribute by 1% each year.

Make retirement a dream

Making sound financial choices today ensures your retirement adventures will not become an M. Night Shyamalan-style horror story tomorrow. No matter your age today, get started right away to make the most of your golden years.

If you handle your own payroll, you may be familiar with that feeling of dread each time a new payroll cycle rolls around. Pile on the added stress of payroll tax filings and keeping up with changing regulations, and you can find yourself experiencing payroll paralysis.

A woman's hand tapping a screen of computer graphics.

As a business owner, you have enough to do. Processing payroll can suck up a lot of your time and keep you locked away in the back office away from your staff and customers. If you’ve experienced that feeling of being stuck…the dreaded onset of payroll paralysis…here are three tips to get you moving and back to what you really love—your customers, your staff and growing your enterprise!

  1. Identify the best payroll solution for your business—Having the right application and professional support can mean all the difference if you choose to handle payroll in-house. Several payroll vendors offer phone and/or email support—some on a 24/7 basis. Things to consider as you research payroll vendors:
    • Level of support offered
    • Availability of flexible plans and features that support business growth
    • Customized pricing to meet your unique needs
  2. Have your payroll workflow analyzed by an accounting professional—A review of your current payroll solution and process can help you uncover areas in need of improvement. Feedback received can also help streamline and automate your payroll workflow and weed out time-draining bottlenecks.
  3. Outsource your payroll to a trusted partner—Many accounting firms offer business clients full-service payroll support. This enables you to hand over payroll to a seasoned specialist and work within an on-demand platform to exchange data. The firm handles all of your payroll processing and tax filing needs—taking the pain of payroll off your already overflowing business-owner plate.

Whatever the path you take with payroll, be sure to consider all your options and do your homework. The goal is to avoid payroll paralysis so you can focus on your true passion—serving your customers, mentoring staff and growing your business.

Need help with payroll?

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When most people think about accountants, a vision of a dark room with a disheveled accountant hunched over a desk rapidly entering numbers into a calculator comes to mind.

Well, we’re here to tell you…that’s just not true.

Accounting may not be as electrifying as being a stunt artist, but it still has its thrilling moments—like the forensic accountants who took down famed mobster Al Capone for tax evasion. Now that’s exciting!

While you may find us in our offices from sunrise to sunset during tax season, we’re more than just number crunchers. That’s why we’re here to debunk five common myths about accountants.

Myth #1: Accountants are boring

We get it. Accountants are stereotyped as boring and introverted. We may be critical thinkers, but we’re far from boring. Ever heard of Rolling Stone Mick Jagger? He earned a scholarship to study accounting at the London School of Economics.

And everyone’s favorite elevator music saxophone artist, Kenny G, graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in accounting. Maybe it’s our love for numbers that influences our musical abilities, but whatever the case, we’re far from dull—even if we love a good spreadsheet now and then.

Myth #2: Accountants are only good for tax time

While many people are under the impression that accountants’ bread and butter is tax season, they fail to realize that tax returns are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the many facets of accounting.

Accountants have an abundance of other duties: Preparing financial statements, creating invoices, handling payroll, ensuring federal and state regulation compliance, advisory services, and much more. Preparing tax returns is part of the job, but accountants also help their clients stay on top of their finances and assist with growth opportunities throughout the year.

Myth #3: Accountants can be replaced by technology

“I don’t need an accountant for my business—I use accounting software,” is a phrase that makes accountants cringe. Yes, some accounting applications are relatively simple to use, but you need a working knowledge of accounting or how your company operates financially. That’s where professional accountants come in.

Technology will never replace an accountant’s education, knowledge and financial experience. While automation makes its way into the financial world, it’s only improving upon certain tasks accountants do (i.e., automated payroll vs. manual entry), while providing more data to help them advise their clients (aka you).

Myth #4: Accountants are math geniuses

No, accountants don’t need calculus-level skills to do their jobs. We need to have a number-oriented mind, but we can do our job with even just the basics of addition, subtraction, division and multiplication. That doesn’t mean anyone with rudimentary math skills can do our jobs; it just means that the basics are where we start.

We also have analytical and problem-solving skills to advise our clients on their businesses, along with our expertise and ability to stay current on state and federal rules, regulations and finance laws by regularly participating in continuing education.

Myth #5: Accountants love to give free tax advice

Accountants spend many hours making sure their clients conform to local, state and federal tax regulations, so the last thing they want to do is give advice out for free. Accounting takes years of education—and continuing education—to stay on top of changing tax laws.

We understand you may have what seems like simple questions about your tax returns, but without knowing your exact situation, we’d only be able to give general advice—and that would include speaking to your accountant about your specific questions. Or better yet, seek us out at the office so we can legally offer advice.

The truth about accountants

We know there are many myths or stereotypes about accountants, but most of them aren’t true. Do we love spreadsheets? Absolutely. Do we spend time crunching numbers? Yes. But we provide our clients with much more than that—we give them peace of mind.

Remember, we’re here to help not just during tax season but all year long. Invest in a good accountant to handle the numbers and advise your business in order to become—and stay—successful.

People do lots of things during the summer—take vacations, grill in the backyard, attend ball games and go to the beach, among other pursuits.

What kinds of things don’t they do in the summer? Well, spend time indoors patronizing businesses, for one. That’s why you might hear a business owner refer to “the dreaded J months,” which encompass the post-holiday quiet of January and the notoriously slow months of June and July.

If you’re nervous about the summer affecting your bottom line, here are seven ideas for enticing your customers out of the heat and into the cool of your small business (or the glow of your online store).

1. Ask for reviews and referrals

Take advantage of the slower pace to contact current customers and ask them for online reviews or a referral. Consider offering them a coupon or a gift card from your business for their efforts. It’s a terrific way to get the word out and gives you a chance to check in with your most valuable customers to let them know how much you appreciate their loyalty and feedback.

2. Offer a new product

Consider taking advantage of the slower pace to offer a new product during the slow months; your product won’t have as much competition and will stand out more. Plus, you can use the smaller audience to judge if the new product is a hit or a miss before going full steam ahead.

3. Entice customers with specials

Flash or one-day sales, sidewalk sales, and holiday-themed sales (e.g., Flag Day, Independence Day, even National Sunglasses Day on June 27) are great promotional tools. There are so many good excuses to throw a sale. Plus, let’s face it—there’s probably nothing customers love more than a great deal.

4. Appreciate your customers

Being in business is as much about customer relations as it is about sales. So, let your loyal customers know how much you appreciate them by throwing a Customer Appreciation Day. Market the heck out of it, and on the big day, have snacks, drinks, fun giveaways (e.g., merchandise from your stock, gift cards to your store), games, special discounts—whatever your imagination can dream up and your financial situation can bear.

5. Amp up your social media

Post photos and videos of interesting or unusual merchandise; introduce your staff; link to helpful informational articles or videos. Or, if you’d like to get a little more interactive, use your feeds for a contest or giveaway. Ask people to follow, like, comment or tag a friend (which increases your reach), or even to post photos of themselves with their favorite purchase from your store to be eligible for the drawing.

6. Start a loyalty program

Whether you use a higher-tech key tag or cards and a punch tool, reward your return customers. Example: Every time a customer buys a loaf of bread, a bakery adds one punch to their loyalty card. After 10 punches, the customer gets a free loaf of bread. Or a discount. Or a special coupon. Or reward points. Trust us, watching those rewards add up is addictive!

7. Improve your customers’ shopping experience

We’d bet that like all good business owners, you note customer requests about the layout of your shop, both physical and online. Examples: “It’s so hard to get to the sales rack in that corner,” or “The special instructions box on your website is confusing to use.” Take advantage of the slower pace to improve your sales floor layout, spiff up your dressing rooms, or re-organize and update your website. Then, monitor and take note if your sales numbers improve.

Try one or try all these tips to boost your sales this summer and beyond. Good luck

Ahh, summer. Those long, lovely, lazy days are almost here—and for many of us, that means one thing: Lots and lots of beach or backyard reading.

You may already be planning your vacation reads, but have you thought about how you’ll read them? Whether you’re a die-hard digital fan—Kindle, Nook, tablet, phone—or you’d die before you give up your print books, both reading methods have different advantages for readers.

Ease of transport

The average eReader weighs seven to eight ounces. The average 300-page paperback book weighs 15.6 ounces. According to Amazon, the typical book text is about 1MB. That means an 8MB Kindle Paperwhite can hold up to 6,000 books, or about 3,000 if you like books with more graphics. That can lighten your luggage load significantly.

Reading experience

As children, we generally start reading with the tactile experience of holding a book—or snuggling with someone who holds it—turning the pages, smelling the paper (or is that just us?) and being entertained by the colorful art. It’s a warm and fuzzy sensory experience that implants in our memories early and isn’t easily overcome.

On the other hand, with adjustable font sizes, ease of turning pages, built-in dictionaries and text-to-speech, an eReader makes reading accessible to those who have a hard time seeing, holding or wading through print books.

Environmental friendliness

No deforestation, no paper, no ink, no shipping, no storage space, no landfill equals very little carbon footprint. That’s a definite plus for the eReader. Of course, it also takes minerals, metals and energy to create and use an eReader, so natural resources are still required.

In print books’ favor, you can swap, borrow, give away and recycle them. Plus, many paper companies have developed sustainable manufacturing practices that offset the production of physical books. A lot depends on your reading habits, but frequent digital readers do tend to have less of an impact on the environment than ravenous print book fans.

Book safety

It may not be a pleasant experience, but after a paper book has fallen into a pool or a hot tub, it’s still possible to let it dry and keep reading. A digital reader? A dunking is more likely to mean repairs—or the purchase of a new device.

Better pricing

The initial cost for an eReader can run more than $200 (but you can always download the app to a smartphone or tablet for free). Digital books purchased online tend to cost less than print books, but make sure to check prices on both formats if you have the option to read either version. eBooks, especially when first released, have been known to be more expensive than digital.

Book availability

Print books aren’t always readily available, and sometimes must be ordered. Digital books generally are just a quick download away.

According to a recent Pew Research survey, 72% of adults in the United States read a book in some format over the last year. So, no matter where you fall in your reading method preferences, neither book format is going away any time soon. The important thing here is that the love of reading is still alive and well.

Now, all those books aren’t going to read themselves this summer, so start building your stash—digitally or physically…or both—for those sweet, sweet vacation days!

Over the past year, we’ve all spent more time than usual at home—which may mean you’ve paid more attention to your utility bills than in previous years. If you’ve noticed a creep upward, here are some easy ways to help keep your energy costs down.

energy efficient lightbulb and wall plug with green glowing background

Use energy-efficient light bulbs—CFL and LED bulbs offer more energy efficiency than incandescent bulbs. CFLs are the more budget-friendly choice and use about 75 percent less energy compared with incandescents (LEDs use about 80 percent less energy but are still expensive to buy, although prices are coming down).

Use Energy Star-rated products—Those stickers you see on appliances have helped users save more than $30 million dollars on utility costs and reduce greenhouse gases. An Energy Star-rated appliance can cut bills for that product by 30 percent.

Change your furnace filter—Experts say you should change your furnace filter once a month. It will not only help extend the life of your furnace, it’ll lower energy costs. And as a bonus, the air quality in your home will be more comfortable for allergy sufferers and healthier for everyone.

Clean your dryer’s lint screen and duct—According to the Consumer Energy Center, a clogged lint screen can increase your dryer’s electrical use by 30 percent, or $25 a year. A blocked dryer duct will not only make your dryer less efficient, it’s a fire hazard. You should clean your lint screen after every load…and the duct yearly.

Unplug electronics when not in use—The Department of Energy estimates that when small electronics (toaster, coffeepot, etc.) are plugged in and turned off, they continue to suck an additional $100 worth of electricity per year. Unplug them when not in use or plug them into a power strip and turn off the strip until needed.

Close your curtains in the summer—Here’s a super-basic, super-easy tip to end on. In the summer, keep your curtains closed during the day to prevent the sunlight from heating up your home. This simple step can reduce incoming heat by as much as 30 percent.

When you were young and your parents yelled, “Turn off the lights when you leave the room! Is our name Edison?” they weren’t just being cranky. The fact is every little bit does add up…to bigger savings. Try some of these easy ideas for reducing energy costs and see if your utility bills don’t start inching downward.