Planning a Home Office? Check Out These Budget-Friendly Tips

Working from home has its perks. There’s the money saved from skipping the commute, and just think about all of that time you get back by avoiding crowded freeways or public transit during rush hour. As far as workplace attire goes, few employees would trade “work-from-home casual” for dress slacks.

But while working from home affords some new freedoms, it also creates new challenges. One of your biggest tasks is to create a productive, ergonomically correct workplace in your home without breaking the bank. If this sounds familiar, you’re probably asking yourself, “How can I set up a home office on a budget?”

Whether you’ve always worked from home as a freelancer or started during the pandemic, these expert tips will help you get started as you design your home office on a budget:

From finding the right location to choosing the ideal furniture, these tips will help you create your home office on a budget.

Strive for an ergonomically correct home office

Being home all day creates an unexpected obstacle: pain. Many workers find that transitioning from a well-equipped office to a makeshift setup at home leads to discomfort. That’s because many of them go from having a spacious desk, comfortable chair, and monitor and keyboard in their office building to working from a laptop in their living room.

If you suffer from neck pain or eye strain when working from home, you may be feeling the effects of poor ergonomics. Ergonomics, commonly known as the science of work, aims to optimize productivity and health in a workspace.

As a physical therapist with more than 25 years of experience, Karen Loesing, owner of The Ergonomic Expert, knows this issue all too well. Loesing’s company performs ergonomic assessments for businesses and home offices. Over the years, she has seen countless clients suffering from neck, back or other health issues due to poorly designed workspaces. But it doesn’t have to be that way, Loesing says.

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“Having an ergonomically correct workstation enhances productivity and generally overall happiness at work.”

– Karen Loesing, owner of The Ergonomic Expert

There are relatively easy ways to transform an ergonomic nightmare into a well-functioning home office on a budget—even if you’re stationed at the kitchen table, she says. And the investment is worth it.

“Having an ergonomically correct workstation enhances productivity and generally overall happiness at work,” Loesing says. “For those who are able to designate a certain space in their home where they can work without distractions—maybe even a window with a view and the flexibility to work at your own pace—it has been proven this makes for a happier employee.”

Who doesn’t want to boost their health, productivity and happiness in one fell swoop?

Find the optimal location for your at-home workspace

When setting up a home office for remote work, location should be your first decision, says design consultant Linda Varone, author of “The Smarter Home Office.” Depending on your living situation, there may be an obvious answer, such as that spare room you’ve always thought could become an office space.

If you don’t have a dedicated office, don’t despair. While you design your home office on a budget, think creatively about where it can be.

Varone once visited a client’s home to help reconfigure her workspace. The client was running a business from a table in the hallway. “At the end of each workday, she had to pack everything up and store it in the closet in the guest room,” Varone says.

But as Varone learned, guests only stayed over two weeks a year, leaving the room empty the rest of the time. It hadn’t occurred to the business owner, but turning the guest room into a home office for most of the year was the perfect solution.

If you’re setting up a home office for remote work, picking the optimal location for your workspace should be your first step.

“There are some simple, simple ways that people can rethink their home office without a big investment and make that space really work for them,” Varone says.

In addition to using a guest room, a dining or living room can also function as a home office on a budget.

Establish the ideal setup for your workstation

Once you’ve decided on the room, determine the location for your workstation, Varone says. As you plan your home office, consider placing your desk or table near a window, allowing for natural light and an occasional glimpse of nature. Don’t face directly outside; instead, aim for a line of sight that’s perpendicular to the window, Varone says. That’s because, even on an overcast day, you’d be looking into too much bright light if you’re facing the window.

“What’s happening is your eyes are adjusting back and forth between the bright sunlight that you’re facing and the darker light of your computer screen,” Varone says. “And that ends up being really fatiguing for the eye.”

If you live with others, the biggest challenge will be privacy. Try to clearly define the boundaries of your “office” if you can, such as with an area rug, she says. Then ask your roommates or family members not to enter your space while you’re working, apart from an emergency.

When you're planning a home office, try to clearly define the boundaries of your workspace if you live with others.

If you use a multipurpose space, be sure to tidy everything up at the end of the day, Varone says. Taking the 10 minutes or so to clean up your “office” will reduce clutter. Ultimately, a clutter-free space can reduce your stress and boost your productivity.

“That also has a benefit of becoming a little ritual and helping you say, ‘All right, my workday is over,’” Varone says. “‘Now I can focus on my personal life.’”

Choose your furniture wisely

Now that you’ve found the perfect location for your home office on a budget, focus on finding the perfect work surface. Maybe it’s a traditional desk. Or it could be your dining room table or kitchen counter.

If you do need to buy a desk or chair, don’t feel like you need to spend a fortune. Try looking for a used office furniture store or liquidator in your area, Varone recommends. You could even try searching online marketplaces for a gently used model.

When planning a home office and considering your work surface, what matters most is the height.

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The average desk is 29 inches high, Loesing says. This will likely accommodate someone who’s 5’8”, she acknowledges, but for everyone else? It will take some adjusting to make it fit for them.

That’s where your chair comes in. Most people don’t need a high-end office swivel chair to work comfortably. As long as you can adjust the height of your chair to fit you and your desk, you’ll have a comfortable setup.

It’s important to adjust the height of your chair to achieve a neutral position, Loesing says. If you don’t have the instructions from the manufacturer on how to adjust your model, try searching for videos online, she adds.

One more chair takeaway from Loesing?

“If you can’t spend a dime, at least get as comfortable as you can where you’re sitting, and sit all the way back in your chair,” Loesing says. “When you don’t sit so your back is against the backrest, you’re using your back muscles all day long instead of them being at rest.”

When you design your home office on a budget, make sure your chair and work surface allow you to get into a comfortable sitting position.

Adjust your furniture and equipment

As you continue planning a home office, you’ll likely find that your computer is your most important piece of equipment. But it can also lead to neck strain. Whether it’s a laptop or an external monitor, Loesing says screen placement is key. In fact, she says it’s the single most important feature to address—as well as the most commonly disregarded one.

While you plan your home office, Loesing recommends keeping the following ergonomic guidelines in mind to help avoid neck strain:

  • Align your monitor so your eyes are level with the screen. (That’s typically about 4” from the top of the monitor.)
  • Place your feet flat on the floor and your knees at about a 90-degree angle with the ground.
  • Place your arms at about a 90-degree angle from the writing surface so your shoulders are relaxed.

If you only have a laptop, and no monitor, you still have options for raising your screen to eye-level. “There are budget-friendly laptop risers on the market,” Loesing says. “If you don’t want to spend any money, you can place books or reams of paper to bring the screen up to eye level.”

When setting up a home office for remote work and thinking about your arm placement, note that Varone is a strong advocate for an external keyboard. If you’re working at a desk that has a keyboard tray built into it, that’s a great way to keep your arms at about a 90-degree angle, she says. If you don’t have a built-in tray, she says you can improvise by placing your keyboard on an inexpensive laptop table situated directly under your desk.

While the exact adjustments will vary depending on your equipment, height and budget, the focus is on acquiring a neutral position or a position where there’s no strain on anything, Loesing says.

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“With the addition of standing desks, which encourage movement, employees often find they have significantly more energy at the end of the day.”

– Karen Loesing, owner of The Ergonomic Expert

Stand if it suits you

If you’re intrigued by the idea of a standing desk, you’re not alone. Standing desk sales have soared over the last decade, buoyed by reports of the dangers of too much sitting.

“Static postures (e.g., sitting all day in front of a computer) present more fatigue than dynamic working,” Loesing says. “With the addition of standing desks, which encourage movement, employees often find they have significantly more energy at the end of the day.”

You don’t have to buy an official standing desk to reap the benefits when planning a home office. “The least expensive way would be to take a laptop and place it up high on a built-in high counter using a compact wireless keyboard and mouse,” Loesing says.

Even if you don’t have a standing desk—makeshift or otherwise—you can still incorporate movement and circulation into your workday. Set a timer to remind you to stand up and stretch every 20 minutes, Loesing suggests.

For an even better boost, combine this with a popular guideline known as the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, give your eyes a break by looking out a window at something at least 20 feet away, and do so for at least 20 seconds.

Don’t forget the ambience and accessories

Your desk, chair and computer are the major players when you’re setting up a home office for remote work. But there are a few additional items to consider, like lighting, plants and sound.

Setting up a home office for remote work should include some thinking around ambiance, like lighting, plants and sound.

Your overhead light fixture likely isn’t enough, as it will create shadows and can be too weak by the time it reaches your workspace, Varone says. She recommends investing in a table lamp that creates a wider spread of light in your area. Pick one with a translucent shade that will softly diffuse the light and make it easier on your eyes.

As you’re planning your home office, Varone also recommends incorporating a potted plant or flower into your workspace. Not only can it help purify the air and boost your mood, a natural element can contribute to a restful atmosphere.

Working from home means working with home noises—especially if you’re in an environment with roommates, a partner or little ones. To keep the noise down, consider noise-canceling headphones for a quieter workspace and clearer meetings. Other budget-friendly options? Try placing a towel under the door to block out noise from other rooms, Loesing says. Consider curtains instead of blinds, since they’re better at blocking out sound. Even pillows or large cushions can help reduce noise, she adds.

After you’ve taken care of the essentials and if you have the space and money, think about adding a reading chair to your home office. You can use this as a space to review documents or do some deep thinking, Varone says. It can be a welcome respite from your desk while keeping you in the office area, she adds.

When planning a home office, think about adding a reading chair to your space.

One last tip? Add a personal touch, whether it’s a framed family photo or a souvenir from your travels. It’s your home office, after all. Let your personality shine.

Set up a home office for remote work that allows you to thrive

Now that you know how to create a home office on a budget, you’re ready to make a space that works well for you. Whether you’re an experienced remote worker or a newbie, you can apply these expert tips to set up an office that’s functional and keeps you motivated day in and day out.

Ready to break in your new home office? Keep that motivation going by learning how to increase your earning potential this year.

The post Planning a Home Office? Check Out These Budget-Friendly Tips appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.

Source: discover.com

How Much Should You Spend on Rent?

One of the most exciting parts of becoming an adult is moving out of your old place and starting your own life. However, as is the case with most major life events, moving out comes with a lot of added responsibility. Part of this duty is knowing and understanding your budget when shopping for the perfect apartment, condo, duplex, or rental house. So how much should you really spend on rent?

The 30 Percent Threshold

The first step in deciding how much you should spend on rent is calculating how much rent you can afford. This is done by finding your fixed income-to-rent ratio. Simply put, this is the percentage of your income that is budgeted towards rent.

As a general rule of thumb, allocating 30 percent of your net income towards rent is a good place to start. Government studies consider people who spend more than 30 percent on living expenses to be “cost-burdened,” and those who spend 50 percent or more to be “severely cost-burdened.”

When calculating your income-to-rent ratio, keep in mind that you should be using your total household income. If you live with a roommate or partner, be sure to factor in their income as well to ensure you’re finding a rent range that’s appropriate for your income level.

If you’re still unsure as to how much rent you can afford, consider an affordability calculator. Remember to consult a financial advisor before entering into a lease if you’re unsure if you’ll be able to make rent.

Consider the 50/30/20 Rule

Consider the 50:30:20 Rule

After you’ve set a fixed income-to-rent ratio, consider the 50/20/30 rule to round out your budget. This rule suggests that 50 percent of your income goes to essentials, 20 percent goes to savings, and the remaining 30 percent goes to non-essential, personal expenses. In this case, rent falls under “essentials.” Also included in this category are any expenses that are absolutely necessary, such as utilities, food, and transportation.

Let’s consider a hypothetical situation in which you make $4,000 per month. Under the 50/20/30 rule with a fixed income-to-rent ratio of 30 percent, you have $2,000 (50 percent) per month to spend on essential living expenses. $1,200 (30 percent) goes to rent, leaving you with $800 per month for other necessary expenses such as utilities and food.

Remember to Budget for Additional Expenses

Now that you’ve budgeted for rent and essential utilities, it’s time to make a plan for how you’re going to furnish your apartment. One of the biggest shocks of moving out on your own is how expensive filling a home can be. From kitchen utensils to lightbulbs and everything in between, it can be pricey to make your space perfect.

For the most part, furniture falls under the 30 percent of personal, non-essential expenses. Consider planning ahead before a move and saving for home goods so that you don’t go into major debt when it comes time to move out.

Be on the Lookout for Savings

If your budget is slightly out of reach for your dream apartment, try to nix unnecessary costs to see if you can make it work. Look for ways to cut down on utilities, insurance, groceries, and rent.

Utilities: Water, heat, and electricity are all necessities, but your TV service isn’t. Cut the cord on TV and mobile services that may not serve you and your budget anymore. Consider swapping out your light bulbs for eco-friendly and energy-efficient light bulbs to cut down your electric bill.

Insurance: Instead of paying monthly renters insurance rates, save a fraction of the cost by paying your yearly cost in full. If you have a roommate, ask to share a policy together at a premium rate.

Groceries: Swap your nights out for a homemade meal. You can save up to $832 a year with this simple habit change. When grocery shopping, add up costs as you shop to ensure your budget stays on track.

Rent: One of the best ways to save on rent is to split the bill. Consider getting roommates to save 50 percent or more on your monthly rent.

A lease is not something to be entered into lightly. Biting off more rent than you can chew can lead to unpaid rent, which can damage your credit score and make it harder to find an apartment or buy a home in the future. By implementing these best practices, you’ll hopefully find a balance between finding a place you love and still having room in your budget for a little bit of fun.

Sources: US Census Bureau

The post How Much Should You Spend on Rent? appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

5 Things You Should Pay Premium for as a Homeowner or Renter

Being a homeowner on a budget is nothing to be ashamed of, if anything, most people prefer to keep their expenses low, especially after recently purchasing a home! But,there are some things you shouldn’t cheap out on, and we’ve got you covered.

The post 5 Things You Should Pay Premium for as a Homeowner or Renter appeared first on Homes.com.

Source: homes.com

How Much House Should I Afford?

The internet is a treasure trove when it comes to finding information that can help you buy your first home. Unfortunately, searching for “How much house can I afford?” will mostly lead you to online calculators that use an algorithm to come up with a generic estimate.

To come up with a figure, these calculators ask you for details like your zip code, your gross annual income, your down payment amount, your monthly liabilities, and your credit score. From there, they come up with an estimate of your debt-to-income ratio (DTI), or the amount of bills and liabilities you have in relation to your monthly income. 

The truth is, most lenders prefer your debt-to-income ratio to be at 43 percent or lower, although some lenders may offer you a loan with a DTI slightly above that.

Either way, the figures these calculators throw at you are a simple reflection of what a bank is willing to lend you — not an estimate of what you really can or should spend. 

Let’s dig in a bit more to what factors to consider.

Factors that Should Impact Your Home Purchase Price

One of the main factors to consider when deciding how much to spend on a home is how much you want to pay for your mortgage each month. What kind of payment can you commit to without sacrificing other goals?

A mortgage payment calculator is a good tool to use in this case. With a mortgage calculator, you can see how much your monthly payment might be depending on the amount you borrow, the interest rate you qualify for, and the term of the loan. 

While you decide on a monthly payment you can live with, there are additional details you should consider. The main ones include:

  • Down Payment: If you’re able to put down 20% of your home purchase price, you can avoid private mortgage insurance, or PMI. PMI adds an additional cost to your mortgage each month (usually around 1% of your loan amount), although you can have this charge removed from your loan once you have at least 20% equity.
  • Property Taxes: Find out the annual property taxes for any home you’re considering, then divide that amount by 12 to figure out approximately how much you’ll need to pay toward taxes in your mortgage payment each month. Also remember that your property taxes will likely go up slowly over time, which will increase your monthly housing payment along the way.
  • Homeowners Insurance: Your homeowners insurance premiums will also vary depending on the property and other factors. Make sure to get a homeowners insurance quote so you know approximately how much you’ll pay for coverage each year.
  • Home Warranty: Do you want a home warranty that will repair or replace major components of your property that break down? If so, you’ll want to price out home warranties that can provide coverage for your HVAC system, plumbing, appliances, and more. 
  • Other Monthly Bills: Take other liabilities you have into account, and especially the big ones. Daycare expenses, college tuition, utility bills, car payments, and all other bills you have should be considered and planned for.
  • Financial Goals: Are you trying to save more than usual so you can retire early? Or, are you saving in a 529 plan for future college expenses? If your financial goals are a priority (as they should be), then you’ll want to make sure your new house payment won’t make saving for other goals a challenge.
  • Upgrades and Repairs: Finally, don’t forget to come up with an estimate of how much you might want to spend on repairs or changes to your new home. A property that is new or move-in ready may not require much of anything, but money you plan to spend on a major renovation should be taken into consideration along with the purchase price of your home.

Hidden Expenses to Plan For

The factors you should consider when figuring out how much home to buy are pretty obvious, but what about all the expenses of homeownership you can’t always plan for? The reality is, you will need to do some work on your home at some point, and many of the most popular repairs can cost tens of thousands of dollars on their own. 

These repair and renovation cost estimates from Remodeling Magazine’s 2020 Cost vs. Value study are just a few examples: 

  • Garage door replacement: $3,695
  • Vinyl siding replacement: $14,459
  • Wooden window replacement: $21,495
  • Asphalt roof replacement: $24,700

In addition to major repairs like these, you’ll also have repair bills for your HVAC system, mulch to buy for your flower beds, and ongoing costs for maintenance and upkeep to pay for. You may also decide to remodel your older kitchen one day, or to add an extra bedroom as your family grows. 

As you figure out how much you should spend on a home, remember that you won’t know exactly how much you’ll need for home repairs or upgrades. Most people set aside some money for home maintenance in their emergency fund, but you can also set aside money for home repairs in a separate high-yield savings account. 

How to Calculate How Much House You Should Afford

All of the costs we’ve outlined above probably seem overwhelming, but keep in mind that most major home repairs will be spread out over the years and even decades you own your home. Not only that, but you will hopefully start earning more over the course of your career. As your paycheck grows, you’ll be able to set aside more money for emergencies and potentially even pay your mortgage off faster.

So, how do you calculate how much house you can afford? That’s really up to you, but I would start by tallying up every bill you have to pay each month including car payments, insurance, utilities, student loans, and any other debts you have. From there, add in some savings so you have money to set aside for your investing and savings goals. Also factor in money you set aside for retirement in a workplace account.

At this point, you could consider other factors that might impact how much you want to pay for a home. For example:

  • Do you need to build an emergency fund?
  • Are children on the agenda, and should you play for daycare expenses?
  • Do you like being able to save more money for a rainy day? 
  • Do you want to have one spouse stay at home in the future?
  • How long do you want to pay off your home loan?

Once you’ve considered all other factors, you may decide that you should set aside money for some other goals, like future daycare bills or college savings. Maybe you decide you want to pay double on your student loans so you can pay them off early, or that you want a 15-year-home loan with a larger monthly payment instead of a traditional 30-year loan. 

Either way, experts tend to agree that your mortgage payment should be no more than 25% of your income. For a $7,000 monthly income, that means your payment shouldn’t exceed $1,750. If your income is $5,000 per month, your monthly payment should be no more than $1,250 per month. These are ballpark estimates, and your property taxes and homeowners insurance premiums (or estimates) should also be figured into this amount. 

What to Do If You Already Spent Too Much?

If you already overspent on your home, you’re probably wondering which steps to take next. Maybe your monthly mortgage payment is making it impossible to keep up with other bills, or perhaps the home you bought required a lot more work than you realized. 

Either way, there are some steps to get back on track financially if you bit off more than you can chew. Consider these options:

  • Refinance your mortgage. Today’s incredibly low rates have made it so almost anyone can refinance an existing mortgage and save money these days. If you’re able to qualify for a new mortgage with a lower interest rate, you could lower your monthly payment and save money on interest each month. Compare mortgage refinancing rates here. 
  • Cut your expenses. Look for ways to cut your spending on a daily basis — at least until you figure out what to do in the long run. Figure out areas of your budget where you might be spending more than you realized, such as dining out, getting takeout, or going out on the weekends. If you can cut your monthly spending somewhat, you can find more money to use toward your mortgage payment each month. 
  • Get a roommate. Consider renting out your guest room in order to get some help with your mortgage. If you live in a tourist area, you can also rent out a space using platforms like Airbnb.com or VRBO.com. 
  • Sell your home and move. Finally, consider selling your home and moving if you have enough equity to do so without taking a financial loss. Sometimes the best thing you can do in a financial crisis is cut your losses and move on.

The Bottom Line

How much house you can afford isn’t always the same as how much you should afford. Only you know what your monthly bills and liabilities look like each month, and only you know the goals and dreams you really should be saving for.

When it comes to buying a home, you’re almost always better off if you err on the side of caution and borrow less a bank will lend. Buying a modest home can leave you with a lot more choices in life, but buying a home you can’t really afford can leave you struggling for years to come.

The post How Much House Should I Afford? appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com