5 Must-know Investing and Retirement Tips

(BPT) – Parents and grandparents typically pass down many things to the next generation — jewelry, furniture and other family heirlooms. But what if the best thing that the preceding generation passed along was their financial wisdom? Through years of investing and saving for retirement, Baby Boomers have experienced a lot and learned many helpful lessons along the way.

A recent survey from Capital Group(R), home of the American Funds(R) and one of the world’s leading investment management firms, studied the dynamics for Boomer investors as they transitioned into retirement. The survey revealed what expenses cause the most sticker shock for retired Boomers, why they retire earlier or later than they planned, how they see the financial markets performing over the next 10 years, and their goals for growing their retirement nest egg to ride out the market’s ups and downs.

Five Golden Rules From Retired Baby Boomers

Boomers have learned many lessons — some good, some bad and all beneficial to future generations of investors. Here are five rules that these seasoned investors found to be essential to saving for a secure retirement.

1) Stay invested for the long term — A large majority (92 percent) of retired Boomers say that Americans need to save more for retirement by getting and staying invested in the market. When asked about what they would do in fluctuating markets, only three in 10 (32 percent) would adapt their strategies based on market conditions.

2) Keep an eye on fees — Low fees and transparency really matter to Boomers. Ninety-four percent of retired Boomers want to be able to easily understand the fees they pay, and 78 percent stressed low-cost simple investments to buy and hold for the long term.

3) Diversify your portfolio — Eighty-five percent of retired Boomers believe that building a diversified portfolio is one of the most important elements for a safe path to a better retirement.

4) Protect yourself against market downturns — Eight in 10 (80 percent) retired Boomers stress the importance of protecting their nest egg and lowering the risk of losses during market downturns. Thirty percent of Boomers wish that they had learned sooner what to do in turbulent markets — near the top of the list of lessons learned.

5) Start saving early and often — Eight in 10 (79 percent) retired Boomers believe saving a portion of monthly income toward retirement is one of the best things you can do, and 60 percent said they wished they had started investing as young as possible.

Unexpected Retirement Costs

Retired Boomers are surprised by their spending patterns and are paying more than expected on unanticipated items.

Health care tops the list in terms of surprise costs and unanticipated spending in retirement, with 43 percent saying they are spending more on health care than they had planned. Travel, an activity popular with retirees, is also more costly than expected, with 40 percent of retired Boomers spending more on travel than they anticipated. Rounding out the top five items: One-third (34 percent) report paying more in taxes than expected, and about a quarter say they are spending more than they had planned on food (25 percent) or utilities (23 percent).

While these surprise costs may exceed retired Boomers’ expectations, they are not losing sleep over their finances. Among Boomers who are already retired, less than one in three (27 percent) list having enough money for retirement as a top concern, while two-thirds (65 percent) of Boomers still working say it is a top concern.

Whether your “perfect retirement” is traveling the country on a motorcycle, sitting by the pool all day or starting your dream second act, following these rules could put you on track to fulfilling your retirement dreams.

For additional findings and the full report, “Expect the Unexpected: Baby Boomer Lessons on Investing and Retirement,” visit http://bit.ly/2y8rokm.

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Top trends for the 2018 housing market identified

(BPT) – In the real estate market, springtime is go time. It’s the busiest time of the year for home sales, and with this year’s stable economy and low unemployment rate, the spring of 2018 has the potential to be especially active.

Every market is defined by its trends, and while each year is different, identifying these trends early on can be a useful tool for buyers, sellers and agents to navigate the upcoming market and secure the best long-term solution for themselves or their clients.

With that in mind, here are a few top real estate trends to watch for in 2018, according to the real estate experts at RE/MAX.

1. Generations on the move

The shift in home buying preferences is more than just an individual choice; it’s a generational one. Two of the nation’s largest generations are suddenly competing with one another in the real estate market. Millennials have come of age, so to speak, and they’re starting to abandon their condos in the city for single-family starter homes in the suburbs to raise their families. This shift has put them in direct competition with baby boomers, who are looking to downsize to something smaller that meets the needs of their new lifestyle.

With these two groups looking for similar housing, well-maintained single-family homes are expected to go very quickly in 2018.

2. Inventory is tightening

While the spring will be flush with buyers, it remains to be seen if sellers will follow suit. The fall of 2017 proved to be sluggish in regard to the number of homes available for sale; in fact, total housing inventory was down 13.4 percent in October 2017 compared to the same time the year before, according to the RE/MAX National Housing Report.

The report also found that only three of the 53 metropolitan areas reported being in a buyer’s market or having an even balance. For the rest of the country, sellers seem to have the advantage. Will that change in the spring? It may, but buyers should be prepared for a market where they will have to be aggressive to purchase the home they want.

3. Housing policies have shifted

The presidential election in November 2016 and local elections from this past fall both have implications on housing policy. Adjustments to tax rates, the growth or decline of suburban options and zoning ordinance changes may all impact the markets where consumers are shopping.

To better understand how these changes may affect the housing search in a given area, potential homebuyers should contact a licensed real estate agent who understands the latest housing policies and how those policies will affect a potential home sale.

4. Technology is king

Like most other industries, real estate today is profoundly affected by the advent of technology. Homebuyers and sellers can go online or use apps to access information about a house or the market like never before, and virtual walk-throughs allow a buyer to enter a prospective home for the first time with few surprises.

For buyers and sellers, technology has the potential to reward those who do their homework and make the most of digital options before deciding how to use their precious time.

Navigating the 2018 market requires expert advice

The 2018 market will be dictated largely by what takes place in the spring, and the trends above figure to play a prominent role in most home sales and listings across the country. Every market contains its own subtle nuances, but homebuyers and sellers everywhere will benefit from the expertise of an experienced real estate agent, one who can help them capitalize on these latest trends and leave the 2018 market with everything they ever wanted and more.

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5 strategies for protecting your valuables

(BPT) – Home is your sanctuary, your castle, the place where you feel the most secure and protected. It is natural to feel this way. So, it is not surprising that you store your prized possessions and valuables at home as well. But is that the best choice for all your valuables?

The recent wildfires in California are the latest in a string of devastating disasters to impact homeowners in the U.S. Together with the hurricanes along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and tornadoes and flooding in the Midwest, residential property losses are expected to approach $100 billion according to CoreLogic. Making matters worse, as much as 80 percent of these losses are not insured. Together with the surge in residential burglaries over the last few years, it appears homes are under siege.

Because of these events, the cost of homeowners insurance is expected to increase dramatically in 2018 and beyond.

Now more than ever, you need a thoughtful examination of how best to protect your valuable possessions and to identify strategies to reduce your insurance costs.

These tips will help get you started:

* Create an inventory. Start with a written and video inventory of your prized possessions and valuables, including jewelry, cash or hard assets like gold, electronics, family heirlooms, and collectibles, such as coins, watches, or anything else that has monetary or sentimental value. Prioritize it starting with the highest value items first. With this as your starting point you can now begin putting a plan in place.

* Maintain secure off-site storage. On average, $2 billion of gold, silver and jewelry are stolen from homes each year and 93 percent of that property is never recovered, while fires and natural disasters destroy billions of dollars of valuable personal property every year. Using a safe deposit box to store these smaller valuables, cash, and collectibles substantially reduces the risk of loss from such events.

* Follow basic security rules.

– Don’t broadcast on social media when you are out of town for work or vacation.
– Leave lights on variable timers.
– Accompany repair or utility staff while in your home.
– Keep valuables out of sight and make sure to stop mail delivery while out of town.
– If you have a safe, make sure it is bolted down, preferably to a concrete floor.

* Evaluate your insurance. Standard homeowners or renters insurance places relatively low limits on jewelry, cash, and many other items. It also does not cover losses from flooding, earthquake, and hurricane unless you insure your valuables by a special endorsement or policy. Check your policy to see if you’re fully protected. If you rent a box, inexpensive safe deposit box insurance covers any property stored in your box against virtually all events. Additionally, using an insured safe deposit box can significantly reduce your insurance costs and give you the ability to insure items that are not covered under your homeowners policy.

* Have a disaster plan. You typically have advanced warning of flooding, most wildfires, and hurricanes. Know what you would take if you needed to flee your home, what you would place in your safe deposit box and where you would store items left behind. Place your important documents in your safe deposit box and store them digitally in the cloud where they can be accessed at any time.

Today, when the 100-year event seems to occur multiple times every year, these basic steps can help you begin to manage the real threat to some of your most valuable property.

For more details on protecting your valuables, go to www.sdbic.com/savemoney.

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5 tips for working adults returning to college

(BPT) – Most working professionals want to advance their skills, land that promotion and get a raise. However, some 36 million adults face a significant barrier to achieving their goals and aspirations: They still need to complete a significant amount of coursework in order to earn a college degree.

While many of these adults have completed at least some higher education classes, the demands of family life and maintaining a career, along with a lack of financial resources, can both be forces that derail these plans.

Fortunately, the pathways to earning a college degree are evolving, which means a working professional now has more affordable and efficient means to finish the coursework. With a smart strategy, a busy working professional can make that dream of earning a diploma into a reality.

1. Define your goals

Some people know exactly what they want from life and how a college degree will help them fulfill their goals. Others may have more general ambitions related to finishing the degree, but they may need to take time to create a more detailed plan. In either case, before choosing a higher education program, it’s important to take time to inventory skills and career experiences. The insights from this exercise can be helpful in charting your course to earning that diploma.

2. Consider your time and explore your financial options

For a working adult, using traditional means to earn a degree isn’t always best-suited to the realities of life — not to mention finances. With the demands of family and work encroaching on study and class time, fitting it all in can seem overwhelming.

It’s important to take time to research your options, because there may be more flexible and affordable paths to choose from.

One great example is a new program from Kaplan University called ExcelTrack. Students begin with an assessment, which measures what they already know and advises a course of study. Even better, the coursework allows them to focus on what they need to master, not what they already know. They then work through the courses online — which entails participating in seminars, doing practice activities, completing projects that demonstrate what they know and can do — all while taking as much or as little time as they need.

For people who are able to move at a faster pace, the option can be more affordable than the traditional route because they can pay a flat fee for 6 weeks (graduate level) or 10 weeks (undergraduate level), enabling them to take and complete as many courses as they can handle. This makes earning a degree from an accredited university much more affordable and flexible.

3. Get organized

Working toward a degree can be an intense experience for anyone, which is why it’s important to create the right environment to focus and study. Start by setting up a study station. Ideally, this is a desk or table that’s clean, well-lit and organized with plenty of supplies on hand, and a comfortable chair.

Begin by holding study sessions at different times of the day, while paying attention to energy and productivity levels. Many do their best when they rise an hour or two before their families do, while others come alive in the evening hours. Studying online offers this kind of flexibility so whatever time of day works for you, be sure and stick to your study routine. Before long, your mind will anticipate and expect a study session at certain times of day, which makes it easier to get focused.

4. Get support

With the demands of school and work, now is an appropriate time to seek help from family and friends. Talk to your partner, parents or siblings about taking on child care duties a few days or evenings a week so you can work without interruption. This is an opportune time to give older kids additional responsibilities, such as folding their laundry, starting dinner and packing their own lunches.

Beyond that, consider informing your employer about your college courses and your goals. If your degree is relevant to other work at the company, you might discover they are willing to help. After all, they already have an employee who knows the business, and they will more than likely appreciate your ambition.

5. Keep it in balance

When life gets this hectic, especially when it’s consumed with family, work and school, it’s easy to burn the candle at both ends, leaving you feeling overextended and burned out. This is why it’s important to schedule some down time. Having a break to look forward to can be a powerful motivational tool. Maybe it’s a weekly bike ride, or relaxing with a favorite movie. Whatever it is, don’t feel guilty about taking this time for yourself.

For more information about earning a degree online from Kaplan University with its new ExcelTrack program, visit kaplanuniversity.edu.

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The hidden dangers of oversharing on social media

(BPT) – Locking doors and windows and leaving a light on used to deter criminals from breaking into homes when you were away on vacation, but our obsession with sharing photos and experiences in real time on social media has created a whole new security risk for travelers. According to Mercury Insurance, burglaries involving social media have become all too common these days.

“Instead of looking for physical signs that a home is unoccupied, burglars can simply scan Instagram posts, monitor Twitter feeds and check Facebook for signs that someone isn’t home. Posted photos can also show them exactly what to look for when they break in,” says Mercury Insurance Vice President of Claims Kevin Quinn. “Oversharing on social media is commonplace and built-in smartphone features like geotagging, which share the user’s exact location when they post, are only making things easier for thieves.”

One example is a Mercury claimant who took his family on vacation to Cancun, Mexico. The family was very active on social media, publicizing their upcoming vacation and continuing to post updates throughout the trip. Thieves used this information to break into the claimant’s home and steal nearly $200,000 worth of personal property, along with a Mercedes-Benz parked in the driveway. Many of the items stolen were pictured on the family’s social media accounts, so the thieves knew exactly what to target.

“It’s important to make sure no one in your family is posting your travel plans. Facebook posts checking into restaurants or Instagram photos of your family’s vacation blatantly advertise that you’re away from home and put your property at risk,” adds Quinn.

Quinn offers the following social media tips to consider before taking off on your vacation:

* Never share photos of your belongings. Be careful about displaying any expensive belongings on social media that might entice thieves. Steer clear of posting pictures of expensive jewelry, cash, designer clothing and accessories, and electronics.

* Don’t tag your location. Disable the geotagging feature on your smartphone and resist the urge to check in at locations while you’re away.

* Avoid uploading photos during your vacation. Wait until you’re home to share your family’s trip.

* Be selective about what and with whom you share. Limit your following or friend base on your personal accounts and adjust your privacy settings so that others have a limited view of your profiles. You never know if a friend of a friend is looking at your photos or other posts.

* Never announce your vacation plans on your social media channels. If you plan to go out of town, consider having a neighbor check on your home, or hiring a trusted friend or family member to housesit.

* Verify friend requests. It’s easy for people to pretend to be someone they’re not online, so don’t get “catfished.” Be wary of connecting with people you don’t know.

* Power down your PC. Disable the internet connection to cut off access to any personal information stored on your computer, because unattended machines are easy marks for hackers.

“Live in the moment and enjoy your time with your family. The purpose of vacation is to relax, recharge and experience things in person, not just on a screen. Save the photo sharing and status updates for when you return home — it could make the difference between whether you need to file an insurance claim after your well-deserved time away or not,” adds Quinn.

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Buckle up for the new passenger economy


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(BPT) – A hundred years ago, few thought that the clunky automobile that broke down so often would ever replace a horse. In the 1970s, people wondered if the personal computer that a few eccentrics were using would have any use beyond storing recipes. It’s safe to say that these innovations, along with many of the technologies we now use daily, were once considered impossible dreams.

Right now, the most-talked-about piece of technological innovation that is poised to transform our lives is the autonomous or self-driving car. As self-driving cars gain widespread adoption, analysts are predicting the rise of what is known as the passenger economy — a term coined by Intel — that is expected to be worth $7 trillion by 2050 as validated in a new report by analyst firm Strategy Analytics.

Seven trillion dollars is a lot of money! A decade ago, people couldn’t fully imagine the way smartphones would give rise to the app economy. Today we are at the threshold of something equally momentous — that’s why entrepreneurs and investors are now beginning to imagine the economic possibilities tied in with autonomous cars.

The following are five big areas of opportunity that will unfold in the passenger economy era.

  1. Time will be on people’s side. One of the most obvious benefits of a self-driving car is the amount of time it frees up. Drivers become passengers, and so will be able to concentrate on other tasks. Not only will people be able to work or watch a movie on their way to work, but the commute itself will be shorter, since traffic congestion will become a thing of the past. With smarter analytics, it’s estimated that by 2050, the widespread use of autonomous cars will free up over 250 million hours of commute time per year in the most congested cities.
  2. Apps were only the beginning. As more people use autonomous cars, companies and entrepreneurs will respond by developing innovative applications that will entertain and provide services to passengers. Just like innovators used smartphones to unlock the sharing economy, there will be opportunities for startups to discover new “car-veniences” that will be expected to generate some $200 billion in revenue.
  3. A new world of advertising. From the late ’90s, we started seeing new forms of advertising emerge on the web. With self-driving cars, we are poised to see powerful new opportunities that deliver personalized messages to consumers. For instance, algorithms can compute routes and route history to hone in on passengers with specific onboard advertisements from surrounding businesses or attractions. This could be a huge boost to local businesses and will be much more effective than the primitive billboard.
  4. Mobility-as-a-service. Imagine ordering take-out, or having your groceries or a package of diapers come to your door via a driverless car. This is something that we’re likely to see fairly soon. Shipping and freight companies, local delivery services and internet giants will make use of autonomous vehicles to transport goods across the country. These types of services will likely generate $3 trillion in revenues by 2050.
  5. New business models. Today, many companies offer perks such as work-from-home days or the option for people to leave the office to work in a cafe or wherever is most suitable for them. In the not-too-distant future, the workplace will further transform as the commute evolves. The self-driving car will blend with the office, turning the commute into a productive part of the workday. In turn, this will allow people to go home earlier and spend more time with their families.

The advent of the passenger economy will contribute to a safer and more efficient world. Those who can imagine and anticipate the coming changes will be in the best position to get the most out of it.

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5 hacks to save time and money during the holidays

(BPT) – The holidays are a wonderful time of year to spend with family and friends, and to reconnect with those you may not often see. However, the festive season can also be a busy and expensive time. By January, many are left feeling exhausted physically, emotionally and financially. But don’t let the stress of the season stand in the way of the magic — follow these easy tips and tricks to enjoy a more relaxing and joyful holiday season.

* Make a list: And check it twice! Getting organized this holiday season can save you time and money. When shopping for holiday gifts, having a complete list before you enter the store can prevent you from browsing the aisles for items you do not need. You will also have an estimated total cost before shopping, so you can stick to your budget.

* Send e-cards: It is always exciting to receive holiday mail from loved ones, but between the postage and printing fees, sending your own cards can quickly add up. Sending e-cards, however, is a more cost-effective approach and you can send as many as you’d like! You can also apply the money you save to your gifting budget.

* Switch to Straight Talk: From searching seasonal recipes to online shopping, there is no better helper than a smartphone during the holiday season. Straight Talk Wireless recently launched its new Ultimate Unlimited Plan for just $55 per month — helping you tackle the holidays and stream your favorite videos at DVD quality, without worrying about running out of high speed data. Never get throttled again. So treat yourself to the gift of unlimited data by switching to Straight Talk Wireless, the leading no-contract wireless provider that offers customers the best phones on the best networks for less. With no contracts, no credit checks and no mystery fees, your phone bill will be one less cost to worry about this season.

* Wrap like a pro: Gift wrapping can be one of the most time consuming activities of the holidays. However, there are multiple hacks to expedite the wrapping process. For oddly shaped gifts — use Kraft paper bags and decorate with a silver paint marker. You can also spruce up plain wrapping paper using twine, ribbons and stencils. Be creative if you run out of supplies, in the end it is the thought that matters, not the presentation!

* Monitor for deals: Online holiday shopping has made it easy to avoid the craze of the mall. But another added benefit of shopping from home is finding ways to avoid paying full price. Once you reach the checkout page, do a quick online search for discount codes for that particular site. You will be shocked to find how simple it is to save a few extra bucks or even snag free shipping!

Make it a priority this year to not lose the spirit of the season within the hustle and bustle. While they may seem simple, these few steps will help you put an end to the post-holiday slump before it hits.

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Beyond the diploma: Helping teens forge their futures

(BPT) – What’s the key to optimism? From a career standpoint, it’s having a vision where you see yourself climbing and thriving, and you know there will be a place in the world for your skills and knowledge.

Unfortunately, there are many teens and young people who have a much bleaker vision of their futures. Ask them where they see themselves in five years, and they may shrug, draw a blank or get that tight feeling in their stomachs. They worry about living their lives adrift or being left behind.

It’s more prevalent than you may think. Approximately 5 million young people between the ages of 16 and 24 — or one out of seven — are not enrolled in school and are unemployed, according to the Social Science Research Council’s Measure of America report.

Within this problem, though, is an opportunity for these youth. The U.S. has a record 6 million job openings, even as 6.8 million Americans are looking for employment.

Two groups have come together to help young people pursue these in-demand jobs by providing resources to prepare them for college and their careers.

Through a $3 million partnership, Boys & Girls Clubs of America and The Hartford will help develop the next generation’s workforce by creating 30 college and career centers in the next three years. The centers will be built in Boys & Girls Clubs across the country, reaching 70,000 teens per year.

“This partnership is part of The Hartford’s commitment to help build successful communities through targeted philanthropic investment and employee volunteerism,” said Diane Cantello, vice president of corporate sustainability at The Hartford. “We are proud to partner with Boys & Girls Clubs of America to give teens access to relevant and inspiring resources as they plan their futures.”

With career preparation in mind, it’s never too early for any teen to start thinking about how to achieve workforce success. Here are some tips from Boys & Girls Clubs of America and The Hartford to help young people find traction.

Set short-term and long-term goals. From passing next Friday’s test to graduating high school and pursuing a college degree, focus on setting and achieving individual goals that ladder up to your vision of success. Take time to think about the progression of steps that need to take place between now and where you hope to see yourself in the future. At the same time, don’t get overwhelmed. After all, each journey begins with a single step. And each step can shape your future in ways that are both large and small.

Learn how to look for a job — and how to stand out. Whether you’re looking for a part-time job, or starting to put together your resume, learn about what hiring managers are looking for. Spend time revising your application and resume, and ask trusted adults to help you fine-tune it. It’s also worthwhile to put your video camera to use to practice job interviews. Do some research on common interview questions and then film yourself as you answer. Learning to respond to these questions with confidence and poise will help you stand out above the crowd.

It’s never too early to network. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying that “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” While it’s true that the economy isn’t exactly stable and technology is rapidly transforming the job market, the most valuable resource in a job search is people. Talk to teachers, guidance counselors, mentors and parents about your career interests; not only can they provide feedback on what fields they see as a potential fit, they can also connect you with people in those careers for a job shadow or informational interview.

Volunteer. If you already know what you want to do, finding a volunteer opportunity is a great way to get hands-on experience. Or if you’re not sure yet, volunteering allows you to try out different things and discover what you find interesting. Take the opportunity to volunteer — on top of all the other benefits to yourself and others, community service stands out to employers, so be sure to include these experiences in your resume and talk about them during your interviews.

Pursue your passions. Discovering what you’re passionate about is a lifelong pursuit that will evolve and change over time; however, you will spend a significant portion of your life working, so why not make it as enjoyable as possible? Think about the things you love most and areas where you excel, then consider potential career options that align with those interests and skills. And above all, don’t be afraid to fail. If you discover at some point that your chosen path isn’t the best fit after all, it’s disappointing, but don’t be discouraged. Learning these things now will only help you find the career path that’s right for you.

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