MONEY

How to Keep Health Emergencies from Bankrupting You

Celine Dion takes a break from touring to care for her husband, who is battling cancer.
To help care for her ailing husband, Celine Dion has stepped out of the workforce for a while. Ryan Remiorz—AP

Céline Dion cancelled her tour to care for husband René Angélil, who's been fighting cancer. She doesn't have to worry about money, but most people in a similar situation do. Here's how to contain the financial damage.

Earlier today, singer Céline Dion announced that she would be canceling her tour to take care of her husband René Angélil—who has been battling cancer.

“It’s been a very difficult and stressful time for the couple as they deal with the day-to-day challenges of fighting [Angélil's] disease while trying to juggle a very active show business schedule, and raise their three young children,” a publicist was quoted as saying.

No amount of money can erase the worry and heartache associated with caring for a loved one who’s dealing with a critical illness. And of course Dion, with a net worth estimated at $500 million, doesn’t have to fret about how her family will cope financially at this difficult time. But for the average American, the economic consequences of a tough diagnosis can compound the stress. A study by Sun Life Financial found that even with health insurance, the average cancer patient faced $6,700 in out-of-pocket costs a year. Plus, a family illness can take you away from the office, potentially crimping your earnings.

Should something like this happen to you, a parent or a partner, follow these steps to keep the financial toll to a minimum:

First, maximize your insurance coverage

Dig into your health plan. “Find out if the treatments you need will be covered or if you’ll have to go out of network to see the best specialist,” says Donald Duncan, a Chicago financial planner. Check how much you could be on the hook for; note that your out-of-pocket max when you leave your network can be twice as high as for in-network care.

Appeal to your insurer. If you can successfully argue that no specialists in your network are experts in your care or that none have treated your condition frequently, your insurer may be willing to cover out-of-network care at in-network rates.

Negotiate with your doctor. Another cost-saving option is to see if an out-of-network practitioner will accept in-network rates. Get a sense of what prices doctors and insurers typically agree on at healthcarebluebook.com.

Next, Get Down to Business at Work

Make the most of open enrollment. Use the annual benefits election period to switch to better health coverage, fully fund a flexible spending account ($2,500 max), and see if you can sign up for extra life and disability insurance. For most large group plans, you don’t need a physical for life insurance during this annual event.

Protect your position. If your firm has 50 or more workers and you’ve been there a year, the Family Medical Leave Act lets you take 12 weeks of unpaid leave—for your care or a family member’s.

Work out a lighter load. Your company may very well pay all or part of your salary for a leave under the firm’s short-term disability policy. If all you want is to reduce your hours, most policies will allow for that too.

Last, Guard Against Greater Financial Damage

Get your shoebox in order. Assemble all your financial statements, insurance policies, property records, and estate plans now, not later, says Philadelphia financial planner Stephen Cohn. Add to that list online IDs and passwords.

Raise cash. Prepare for big medical bills and a potential reduction in earnings by deciding which funds you’d tap in a worst-case scenario. If you must raid your assets and you’re under 59½, tap taxable accounts first to avoid the penalties you’ll pay to cash out an IRA or 401(k) (unless you can get a hardship waiver). “Sell before you need cash so you won’t have to liquidate at a bad time,” says Cohn.

Pick a point person. Draft a durable power of attorney and health care proxy. And says Tampa financial planner Keith Amburgey, “identify who will be your trusted person through your illness.”

MONEY Careers

Wish Every Work Day Felt Like a Vacation? For This Guy it Is.

David Harris
"We offer a great product," says David Harris. "It was a matter of getting it in front of the right people.” Benjamin Rasmussen, wardrobe and grooming by Ashley Kelly

After toiling in the tech industry for over three decades, David Harris decided to buy an adventure travel company. Here's how he did it.

For 30 years, David Harris bounced around Silicon Valley, using his sales and marketing savvy to overhaul tech companies. But in 2011 he received a sizable payout from the sale of Tumbleweed Communications, where he had been vice president—and he was ready for a change. Though his work was highly compensated, it was also high pressure. “I wanted to continue to chal­lenge myself,” he says. “But I needed to get out of high tech for my mental health.”

Around the same time Timberline Adventure Tours, a Lafayette, Colo., company offering hiking and biking trips across the U.S. and Canada, went up for sale. Harris and his wife, Kisa, had gone on many vacations with Timberline and had even become friendly with the owners.

For Harris, it was the perfect opportunity. He was looking to do something he felt passionate about, and Timberline filled that bill. Plus, he felt the business had potential beyond its current revenue: “I knew Timberline offered a great product. It was a matter of getting it out to the right people.” While details of the purchase were still being ironed out, Harris moved with Kisa (then an aerobics instructor) and his three daughters to Louisville, Colo., where they lived off investments until he settled into his new role.

Immediately after taking over in January 2012, Harris began boost­ing Timberline’s digital presence—revamping the website and developing strategies for social media and email marketing. He used skills he’d honed in Silicon Valley, only now “product overhaul” meant testing trails and putting together a “fun puzzle of trip itineraries.”

Today Timberline offers 84 tours to about 600 clients annually. Revenues hit $1.2 million in 2013, up from $850,000 in 2011. While Harris isn’t making the big bucks he used to, he’s enjoying going to a job that doesn’t feel like work. “At the end of a trip, when clients are beaming and thanking you for making their vacation,” Harris says, “it’s just such a pleasure.”

BY THE NUMBERS

$500,000: What the company cost

Harris, who bought the business with cash from the sale of Tumbleweed, drew on his sales experience to create a valuation. The owners still cared about the company, and Harris says that made it somewhat harder to negotiate them down to the price he wanted to pay.

84%: how much less Harris earns than he used to

While his family can live off the $100,000 he and Kisa bring in (she’s the VP), they’re still adjusting to the seasonality of the business, which requires intensive budgeting. Harris credits Kisa, who is “as organized as the day is long.”

240: Target number of new clients to add in 2014

Harris is proud of Timber­line’s customer loyalty— 84% of travelers in 2012 were returning—but he’d like to grow the customer base so that 40% of clients are new. He plans to introduce more trip itineraries, and he’s working on building corporate partnerships, hoping that this will help raise revenues to $2 million by 2015.

MONEY Small Business

The 4 Essential Traits You Need to Build Your Own Business

It's not enough to want to be your own boss. The founder of an advertising company explains the key qualities that go into being a successful entrepreneur.

Many people aspire to become entrepreneurs, but it’s not something that just anyone can do. To actually succeed you need more than a desire to make money or be your own boss. You need certain qualities.

Soon after I started my own business, Fortune Cookie Advertising, I began to identify crucial qualities that were fundamental if I wanted to succeed. While I had all of these four traits to some degree at the outset, I also had to consciously develop them over time.

1. A Clear Vision

This is the foundation of your business. Your vision may be based on a product, a service, or simply the desire to solve a problem for your customers. This is the “why” of your endeavor, and it must be relevant to the people you will be serving.

That’s why it’s not enough to want to be independent—your customers or clients don’t care about this. They care about your vision, which could be anything from wanting to build the most advanced computer operating system to wanting to find a fast way to deliver flowers around the globe.

Your vision may change, expand, or narrow over time, but you need to have one when you start. In my business, I started with the vision of being able to provide advertisers with an innovative way to get their message out.

2. The Ability to (Quickly) Pitch Your Business

If your business is straightforward, like selling books or changing the oil in people’s cars, it’s easy to explain. But some products and services are more technical or abstract. No matter what kind of business you decide to run, however, you should be able to describe it to prospective customers, investors, or even friends and family members in a few short sentences.

If this isn’t your strong suit, you might want to study the art of the pitch in terms of the movies. A screenwriter must be able to sell his or her idea to a busy and skeptical producer in a few minutes. Any new business owner should have the same ability. It shows that you not only know your business well, but can convince others of its value in language they can easily understand.

3. Persistence

Many of the most successful entrepreneurs in history failed at their first (and in some cases second, third, or more) businesses. Notable examples include Harland Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic, and even Bill Gates.

But perhaps the most famous example in history is Thomas Edison and his many attempts to design the light bulb. The quote “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work” is often attributed to him. Hopefully, you won’t have to be quite as persistent as Edison, but the principle is the same. Many new ventures fail or experience setbacks, but you cannot let this stop you from trying over and over again until you devise the formula that works—you won’t get paid if you don’t.

At one point in our business, a computer failure resulted in the loss of hundreds of names of contacts, including customers and prospects. This data, of course, should have been backed up, but I had not gotten around to doing this. So my team and I had to manually rebuild the entire list. It was a painstaking process, but we recovered everything, and I learned a valuable lesson: Always back up!

4. Focus

This last quality is one that entrepreneurs need in abundant supply. You need to be able to see a project from inception to completion while overcoming distractions. You must be able to prioritize, set your own schedule, and meet your own deadlines. For people accustomed to having their tasks assigned to them by employers, parents, drill sergeants, or professors, this is a big change.

When I first started my business, it took me a few months to understand this. At first, I made elaborate schedules and to-do lists to keep myself on track. I still do that to some extent, but now it’s more internalized as I’ve gotten comfortable in the role of entrepreneur.

Almost everyone like the idea of being independent—in theory. The freedom to be one’s own boss is one of the most desirable things about starting a business. But only you can decide if you are focused enough to do it.

Shawn Porat is the CEO of Fortune Cookie Advertising, a media placement company selling advertising space within fortune cookies at Chinese restaurants throughout the United States.

Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

More from the YEC:

MONEY Careers

What You Can Learn From Derek Jeter’s Perfect Exit

140715_EM_JETER
ZUMA Press—Alamy

Whether you’re a 14-time All-Star or a regular employee, leaving a long-term employer on the best terms can pay off handsomely. 

When shortstop Derek Jeter leads off for the American League All-Star team tonight, you can bet the crowds will roar and the 20-year Yankee veteran will modestly acknowledge the fans, take his stance in the batter’s box, and get on with the job at hand. You can also bet that Jeter, who announced his retirement from active play at the start of the season, can parlay that adulation into a very lucrative post-baseball second act.

That’s what a job well done and a well-honed exit strategy from a long-term position can do for you too.

Whether you’re on the verge of retirement or are simply leaving a company you’ve been with for a while to take a new position, here are three lessons from the future Hall-of-Famer’s actions in his final season that you can take to the bank.

Get early buy-in from management. Jeter gave Yankee manager Joe Girardi, general manager Brian Cashman, and owners Hal and Hank Steinbrenner more than six months’ notice about his plan to end his playing career at the close of the current season. That’s allowed them plenty of time to plan for his replacement at shortstop.

Show your bosses the same courtesy. Notify your manager a good three to six months in advance if you’re retiring and a month to six weeks ahead of time vs. the standard two weeks if you’re leaving for a new job so they have enough lead time to fill your position. That’s especially important if you’re in a critical, revenue-generating role or are a highly skilled employee who may be difficult to replace. Help identify other staffers or professionals outside the company who might be good candidates, and offer to train them before you go, or at least to write a detailed memo that will help the person fill your shoes.

Your reward: If you’re retiring, you never know when you might want to earn a little extra cash by doing some consulting work or might want or need to return to part-time work. Your behavior helps ensure your former employer will want you back in some capacity. And if you’re simply moving on, you can count on a glowing reference if and when you need one in the future.

Mentor younger players. They don’t call Jeter the Captain for nothing. Since late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner appointed him team leader in 2003, Jeter has taken his job as a role model seriously, consistently mentoring younger players and youth off the field through his Turn 2 Foundation.

Share your knowledge as generously with younger colleagues at work, especially those who toil in a similar capacity albeit at a more junior level. Offer some inside tips that only someone who’s been around for a while would know, and make yourself available for questions and as a sounding board. Be especially generous in passing along your know-how to the person who’s taking your place. Those junior staffers will be the bosses one day, possibly sooner than you think. Good for them to remember you fondly if they’re in a position to hire you someday.

Show fans your appreciation. Jeter is notoriously not on board with hoopla over his career accomplishments, and his farewell tour has been subdued compared with that of fellow Yankee Core Four member Mariano Rivera last year. Yet Jeter has graciously accepted the gifts and gratitude shown him as he plays at various ballparks for the last time and tips his cap to the fans, just as they tip theirs to him.

Remember to show your gratitude to those who helped your career along as well. If you had a mentor at work, let him or her know how much you appreciated the help and mention a particular lesson or words of wisdom that were especially useful (the specificity makes your gratitude seem more genuine). Let colleagues who you particularly admire know and, again, try to identify a specific accomplishment or skill that you believe sets them apart. Bring in bagels or doughnuts for the staff one morning near the end of your run or buy a round of drinks. Think of it as a form of networking that may one day help you professionally.

This kind of classy behavior may not earn you a standing ovation on your way out the door, let alone an emotionally resonant and star-studded tribute video sponsored by Nike. But it can’t hurt in the good karma department — and is very likely to pay off in hard currency after you hang up your spikes.

More in Careers:
These Two Key Moves Will Help You Land Your Dream Second Career
How to Find Happiness in Your Second Career—And Earn Money Too
Your Career Is Your Biggest Asset. Here Are Five Ways to Protect It

 

MONEY Small Business

The 5-to-9 Startup: How to Launch a Business Without Quitting Your Day Job

Startup Coach Antonio Neves offers advice on how to make the most of moonlighting.

These days, entrepreneurship is all the rage. And you want in. Well, just not all in.

Maybe you already have a 9-to-5 (or more like an 8-to-6); maybe you even love this job. Or perhaps you aren’t out to disrupt an entire industry or create the next Facebook; you just have an idea and want to see if it will work.

Does this sound like you?

If so, I have good news. Having a job doesn’t mean you can’t take a dip in the entrepreneurial pool. (Doesn’t that sound refreshing?)

Instead of diving all in, you can build a “5-to-9,” or a company you can start to run in your after-hours. This lets you test the waters and bring out your inner entrepreneur on your own terms. As an added bonus, building your 5-to-9 may make you better at your 9-to-5.

Here’s how to do it right:

1. Pick Your Project

Odds are, you have an idea of what you’d like to work on. Maybe it’s something that’s been languishing on your hard drive or in a journal for years. Whether you’re looking to launch a web-based business, self-publish an e-book, or offer consulting services, the key is to choose just one project to focus on—this is critical. You have limited time after your regular work day ends, and the more you cram into it, the less likely you will be to succeed.

2. Establish a Brain Trust

Working on a new business idea and making decisions on your own is challenging. Don’t operate in a vacuum.

Instead, identify three to five people whose business expertise you value and ask them to be on your personal “board of advisors.” These could be co-workers, former classmates, family or friends, who you think would provide you with frank feedback, special subject knowledge, or mentorly guidance. In particular, seek out people you think would be able to help you develop your idea, find hidden opportunities, identify new clients and market your product. If your circle is small, consider hiring a business coach or joining a local Meetup group.

Once you establish a board, stay in regular touch with them. Making a habit of being in contact with these folks will give you a sense of accountability, which you may need to keep you motivated on the second shift of a 16-hour workday.

3. Fill In Your Knowledge Gaps

If your new biz is in a different field than your current gig or it will require skills you haven’t applied before—like product marketing—you’ll want to get yourself educated. But “I’ve got a job,” you say, “and I don’t have time to get an M.B.A. or a certificate in product management.”

There’s a hack or two for that: Online education platforms like Creative Live, General Assembly, and Skillshare offer free and paid courses on a range of topics like coding, photography, marketing, art and design that are easy to work around your schedule. Or, you can also book time with subject matter experts on platforms like Clarity and PopExpert.

4. Set Targets

If you don’t put down some benchmarks, you’re starting a race without knowing where or when it ends. Establishing goals to hit will help you measure progress—and can provide the rush of small victories that you may need to keep going (especially when you’ve had a rough day at your 9 to 5).

To do this, break down your project into small parts and establish dates of completion for each portion. Take some pressure off yourself by breaking big projects down over three 5-to-9 work sessions.

5. Look for Infrastructure Cheats

When it comes to selling your product or collecting money, you don’t necessarily have to reinvent the wheel. Especially for a part-time business, you’ll probably find it more efficient to utilize existing platforms like Elance, Etsy, Gumroad, or Fiverr to sell products and services like Dwolla, PayPal, and Square to process payments. Once you’re more established, you can think about going out on your own.

Antonio Neves is an executive coach to top startup founders, speaker and award-winning business journalist.

Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of promising young entrepreneurs. YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program.

MONEY

Are Baby Boomers Downsizing Into Condos? Not So Fast.

Baby Boomers talk about downsizing but apparently don't do it. Trulia's economist says the long-term trend among older households shows downsizing getting rarer and happening later in life.

Throughout the recession and recovery, Millennials have hogged the attention: they suffered a particularly bad recession, which delayed their launch into the housing market, slowed overall household formation, and lowered first-time homeownership. But they’re hardly the only demographic that matters for housing. Baby Boomers will help determine the demand for different types of housing and the supply of homes for sale when – and if – they downsize.

This morning, Fannie Mae released a note on boomer downsizing, showing that the share of baby boomers in single-family detached homes has been roughly stable from 2006-2012 (rising slightly on a per-capita basis and falling slightly in the most recent years on a per-household basis). The big question is what happens longer term: are we about to hit a wave of baby boomers selling their single-family homes and moving into apartments and condos? It’s unlikely, for two reasons: baby boomers are still years away from the age of downsizing, and the long-term trend shows that older households today are less likely to downsize than older adults in the past.

Let’s start by looking at the age when older households move from single-family homes to multi-unit buildings. Based on the 2013 Current Population Survey’s Annual Social and Economic Supplement (CPS ASEC) – the most recent detailed demographic data available – baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964, which means 50-68 years old in 2014) are less likely than almost any other age group to live in multi-unit buildings as opposed to single-family homes. The only age group less likely to live in multi-unit buildings is 70-74 year-olds, which is the age group that baby boomers will start to enter in the coming years.

In later years, the share of households in multi-unit buildings rises, but by less than you might guess. Just 25% of households headed by 80-84 year-olds live in multi-unit buildings – which is a lower share than 40-44 year-olds. Even among households headed by adults aged 85 and older, only one-third live in multi-unit buildings – and that’s only counting those who head their own household are not living with adult children or in institutions.

Therefore, as today’s baby boomers age, they’ll grow into age groups first with a lower likelihood of living in multi-unit buildings (70-74 year-olds). Multi-unit living starts rising slightly at age 75-79, and rises more notably only when heads of household reach their 80s.

But will baby boomers, who are in their 50s and 60s today, look like today’s 60- and 70-somethings ten years from now – or will they make different housing decision as they age? One clue is to look at the longer-term trend in multi-unit living among older age groups using CPS ASEC data back to 1979 (no data are available for 1988). The share of households headed by 50-69 year-olds – roughly the age of baby boomers today – living in multi-unit buildings rose to 21.3% in 2012 and 21.6% in 2013, after holding steady in the 19-21% range for decades. Therefore, baby boomers today are a bit more likely than their parents to live in multi-unit buildings instead of single-family homes. It’s too soon to tell whether that increase is a temporary effect of the recession or the beginning of a longer-term trend.

The clearer long-term trend, though, is the decline in multi-unit living at the ages that baby boomers are approaching. The share of age-70-plus households living in multi-unit buildings has been dropping for decades, from over 30% in 1980 to under 25% in recent years. That means that even if the recent uptick in multi-unit living among 50-69 year-olds persists, baby boomers are entering an age group that is less likely to live in multi-unit buildings than their own parents did two or three decades earlier. While the cyclical effect of the recession might hasten downsizing for some boomers, the long-term secular trend means boomers are reaching older adulthood in an era when downsizing is less common and comes later in life than it used to.

Note: the CPS ASEC data were downloaded from IPUMS, which requests to be cited as: Miriam King, Steven Ruggles, J. Trent Alexander, Sarah Flood, Katie Genadek, Matthew B. Schroeder, Brandon Trampe, and Rebecca Vick.Integrated Public Use Microdata Series, Current Population Survey: Version 3.0. [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2010.

See the complete article with charts on Trulia.

Jed Kolko is the chief economist of Trulia.

MONEY Small Business

How This Former Techie Gave Her Career a Jolt

Vicky Lewis in her Dripping Springs, Texas coffee shop
Jay B. Sauceda; Wardrobe Styling by Lauren Smith Ford; Hair and Makeup by Lisa Gleeson

Weary of her job, Vicky Lewis decided to take a shot at a completely different venture: opening a coffeehouse.

Vicky Lewis, 49, didn’t just wake up and smell the café one day. Her desire to open a coffeehouse grew over a few years, following her family’s move from Seattle to the far suburbs of Austin in 2005. Tired of “being wet all the time,” she and husband Bruce had given up their jobs to relocate their two kids to an area with affordable housing and abundant sunshine. The only oversight: “We were coffee addicts living in a place without a coffee shop,” says Lewis.

Within a year of arriving, Lewis found a job similar to the one she’d had, as a program manager at a semiconductor firm. But after surviving several rounds of layoffs, she became unhappy: “The more disgruntled I got, the more I thought about the fact that somebody was going to make a killing opening a coffee shop. I began to think maybe I should do it.” While she didn’t have hospitality experience, Lewis knew she’d be able to draw on skills developed over 20 years in the chip industry to perform functions like tracking inventory and schedules: “My strengths are around organizing systems,” she says, “and successful businesses are system-based.”

By the time she told her boss she was quitting in August 2012, she’d taken a three-day class at Texas Coffee School in Dallas and leased a storefront in down­town Dripping Springs. To write a business plan, she pored over data on population growth and traffic patterns. Plus, she often drove the 50 miles roundtrip to Austin to sit in coffeehouses and analyze custo­mer behavior. Meanwhile, her husband, a real estate broker, helped with the build-out of the space.

Named after a town in the Cascade Mountains where her family used to vacation, Mazama Coffee Company opened its doors in November 2012. With strong ties to the community—the café sells drink local T-shirts and uses a nearby roaster—the shop stirred up sales of $200,000 in its first year. “It’s a little weird being known around town as the ‘coffee lady,’ ” says Lewis. “But I’m thankful; it’s a sign that we are beginning to flourish.”

BY THE NUMBERS

$135,000: Cost to start up the café

The funds came from her 401(k), which contained $150,000. She rolled over the balance into a retirement plan she set up for Mazama, then spent $135,000 of it to buy all the stock of the new C corp., which turned the funds into tax-free startup capital.

5: Number of employees the café has

That doesn’t include Lewis’s three family members, who all pull shifts. Her kids, both in college, put their pay toward tuition. With reduced income and savings, the Lewises are unable to subsidize their children’s education as much as they’d hoped.

66%: Increase in pay Lewis expects this year

While she took home $30,000 last year, she figures she’ll make about $50,000 in 2014, as she now has a license to sell alcohol. With plans to add mobile espresso carts for weddings, Lewis thinks she’ll close in on her previous salary of $121,000 by 2019: “And I know for sure I’ll be happy with what I’m doing.”

MONEY buying a home

Countdown to Buying Your First Home: Our Checklist

Get ready for one of the biggest financial moves you'll ever make: Buying your first home.

First-time home buyers have it tough. The supply of homes for sale is tight, and lenders are tightfisted.

Student debt, at an all-time high of nearly $30,000 per grad, is getting in the way of saving for a down payment, says David Stevens, president and CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association. But it’s a great time to get your foot in the door.

“Interest rates remain the envy of even your grandparents,” says Keith Gumbinger, vice president of mortgage publisher HSH.com. First, make your finances sparkle.

THE TURNING-POINT CHECKLIST

12 months in advance

Make sure the time is right. Use Trulia.com’s rent or buy calculator to see if you’d really come out ahead, based on loan rates, taxes, and where rents and prices are headed in your area. Nationwide it’s 38% cheaper buying vs. renting.

Clean up your act. Devote this year to saving money and paying down debt. You’ll need at least 3.5% down for an FHA loan, or 10% to 20% for a conventional mortgage. Lenders also like to see job stability, so settle in for now.

Learn what you like. When a home catches your eye—a listing, say, or a photo—pin it to a board on Pinterest. Or try Swipe, a new app from the site Doorsteps, which lets you browse listing photos and mark them pass or save.

Six months out

Look better to lenders. To boost your credit score, order your free credit reports at annualcreditreport.com and fix any mistakes. Pay bills on time, chip away at credit card balances, avoid new debt, and don’t close any accounts or apply for new credit. The average credit score for approved mortgage applicants is 755.

Figure out what you can buy. Use an online calculator like the one at Zillow.com to estimate how much house you can afford based on your income, savings, and debts. That’ll help you research homes and drill down on costs.

Forecast future bills. With an idea of how big a house you can buy, you can do a more detailed budget. Scan listings for property taxes on homes you like. Get a homeowners insurance quote at Insweb.com. Call local utility companies for the typical bills. And tack on 1% of the home’s value for yearly maintenance.

Related: Baby on the Way? Time to Make a Budget.

Three months out

Pick your loan. Fixed mortgage rates, now 4.4%, may edge up to 5% this year, forecasts HSH.com. If you are confident this is a starter home, you can save with a 7/1 adjustable-rate loan, now 3.5%. The risk: You end up staying longer than seven years and rates rise sharply. Most—92% of mortgage borrowers—opt for fixed-rate loans.

Prove you’re a serious shopper. Based on your income and credit, a bank will give you a mortgage pre-qualification. “It’s the No. 1 thing you want in your back pocket when you go shopping,” says Svenja Gudell, an economist with Zillow.

Even better in a hot market: Pay a few hundred to go through underwriting upfront.

Find a guide. Look for a realtor who has worked in the neighborhood where you hope to live. And in a tight market like today’s, ask candidates what their strategies are for unearthing listings and handling potential bidding wars.

MONEY Careers

Get Out From Under a Too-Heavy Workload

Buried by tasks on the job? Here's how to speak up if you're maxed out, without sabotaging your next promotion. Illustration: Mikey Burton

Ready to collapse under your workload? Consider it a form of flattery: With companies today demanding that employees work faster while tackling more complex tasks, the nimble professionals who “get it” have been deluged, says Anat Lechner, associate professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business. “When you’re that kind of person, everyone knows who you are.” Lucky you. Here’s how to speak up if you’re maxed out, without sabotaging your next promotion.

Speak to the firm’s interests

Your manager probably hasn’t thought about what else is on your plate when she asks you, in passing, to take on a new proposal. It’s up to you to speak up if you don’t have bandwidth. “But you have to be able to react within seconds,” says New York City career coach Caroline Ceniza-Levine.

Related: Don’t let divorce wreck your finances

Keep a running tally of all your projects, so you’ll be ready to respond. Then, rather than whining to the boss that you already do the job of five people, you can explain how taking a new project will prevent you from achieving some other equally important task, says Atlanta executive communications coach Darlene Price. You might say: “Jim, the client in New York needs my attention this week so I can close the deal, which is worth $1 million. What should we do?”

Related: Baby on the way? Time to make a budget

Of course, the right approach depends on your manager’s personality and the security of your job. You may find it safer to agree to a task but ask for the resources you need to do it. “Say, ‘Yes, but to do that, I need x, y, or z,'” suggests Lechner.

Name the right recipient

Aim to hold on to high-profile jobs and offload work that won’t help you advance. Instead of letting the duties fall upon your peers, who may not be pleased to pick up your discards, suggest that a junior colleague take an unwanted project as a stretch role. “Something you don’t want to do can be useful to someone else,” says Ceniza-Levine.

Draw a line in the sand

If a manager essentially tells you to suck it up, you may be part of a workaholic culture or chronically understaffed department where the only way to scale back is to leave, says Price. Once you have a “walkaway” strategy, consider making a final attempt with your boss.

Related: Budgeting for a new home, and a disability

One executive Price coached — who traveled so often her 6-year-old asked her where she lived — tried repeatedly to get her manager to reduce her business trips. Finally she told him she couldn’t accept the working conditions and asked if he’d write her a letter of recommendation. “That called his bluff,” says Price. With this tactic, you’ve got to be ready to hear “buh-bye” — but you may be better off in a new job anyway.

MONEY

Budgeting for a New Home, and a Disability

The Crosbys, with son Owen, are eager to move to a bigger home. Kinzie+Riehm

Tim and Jennifer Crosby are ready to trade up from their 2,000-square-foot suburban Orlando home. They’d like more space — maybe even a pool — in a district with better schools for their son, Owen, 7.

Expected cost: $450,000.

With real estate in the area recovering, the Crosbys’ house is worth close to their 2004 purchase price of $268,000.

Between equity of more than 20% and savings, they can foot a bigger down payment; plus, they have $2,000 a month after savings and bills for higher carrying costs. (Combined, they earn $147,000 from his job as a network administrator and hers as a business analyst.) But they’d like to be sure it all pencils out.

“We want to enjoy what we have now without blowing it for later,” says Jennifer, 42.

Related: Baby on the way? Time to make a budget

They’re also dealing with a major unknown: Tim, 43, has Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a neurological disorder that could one day affect his mobility.

“I’d like to work into my sixties,” he says, “but don’t know what my condition will bring into play.”

WHERE THEY STAND

Real estate value: $243,000
Retirement savings: $189,500
Cash: $80,000
Cash value of life insurance: $23,000
Stocks/other investments: $15,500
TOTAL ASSETS: $551,000

Student loan: $50,000
Mortgage: $180,000
TOTAL LIABILITIES: $230,000

THREE FIXES

Fix retirement first. The Crosbys save $16,000 a year for retirement. At that rate, they’ll have around $1 million in today’s dollars by their mid-sixties, estimates Jacksonville financial planner Carolyn McClanahan.

A great start, but not enough to maintain their lifestyle in the best of circumstances — and definitely not if Tim has to leave the workforce before 67. (The disability insurance he has through work will replace only 60% of his income.

McClanahan wants them to stash $8,000 more a year, preferably in Roth IRAs.

Related: Don’t let divorce wreck your finances

Downscale the dream. Figuring a 20% down payment, a 30-year mortgage on a $450,000 house adds $650 to their monthly nut, not including higher taxes, insurance, utilities, and maintenance. Adding the higher retirement contributions, along with $3,000 a year that McClanahan would like them to save for Owen’s college, the Crosbys will nearly erase their monthly surplus.

McClanahan would rather they dial back their budget to, say, $350,000, so that they can …

Speed-pay the debt. McClanahan wants the Crosbys to get a 30-year mortgage, but put their leftover funds each month toward the debt. Erasing the loan early will reduce their retirement income needs and give them leeway if Tim is forced to retire early.

Plus, it’s a “backdoor college savings plan,” she says. “If you can’t fund tuition through cash flow, you can use a HELOC to help.”

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 45,251 other followers