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Saving Money At Work, And Saving Your Job

People go to work to earn money, right?

But, plenty of people also spend much more money on the job than they have to, or than they realize.

With the economy facing a possible recession, and even when it's not, every penny counts, in the workplace and elsewhere.

And on The Early ShowWednesday, as part of our "Recession-Proofing Your Life" series, Fortune magazine Senior Editor Leigh Gallagher pointed out how you can make your dollars last, as you make them!

While she was at it, she also offered advice on preserving your job, should a recession indeed hit, or even if it doesn't -- in bad economic times, and good.

Gallagher's observations:

Penny-Pinching at the Office

Your probably have ways to save right under your nose that you're not taking advantage of. This is a matter of "all of those little things add up."

  • Eat at employee cafeteria: Employee cafeterias are always less costly than going out for lunch. Even if you save $2 a day on your lunch, that's a savings of over $500 a year!
  • Drink that free coffee!: Most workplaces offer coffee, tea, or at least a water cooler. Take advantage of them. It's not hard to figure out how quickly those $1 cups of Joe can add up. And if you don't like the company coffee, make your own!
  • Maximize all benefits: Look at your paycheck or your Human Resources Web site. Could you be signing up for a flexible spending account? A health savings account? A dependent savings account? Commuter reimbursement? Basically, all of these programs allow you to take money out of your paycheck BEFORE TAXES to spend on various necessities. They're fairly common, but many employees still fail to take advantage of them. The savings are more than you might think. Also, don't forget to put money into your 401(k). You may feel that people repeat this mantra constantly, but it clearly bears repeating: One-third of eligible employees still don't participate in their company-sponsored 401(k)s. That's literally like turning down free cash.
  • Ask about discounts: Large companies often offer corporate discounts, on movie tickets or amusement park admissions, prices at stores, and more. Even a small company might have a deal with adjacent business or other partners. Just because you haven't heard about such a program at your office doesn't mean it doesn't exist. There's an excellent chance it simply hasn't been well publicized.
  • Check out tuition reimbursement possibilities: According to The College Board, about 86 percent of large companies offer some form of tuition assistance to full-time employees. Believe it or not, less than 10percent of today's workers take advantage of employer-sponsored retraining or corporate financial assistance. Why not let your current employer help you improve your skills? With your new knowledge, you can get a promotion at your current employer, or be in position for a whole new challenge! And right now, there's a decent chance you WILL be looking for a new job in the near future, with a possible recession in the wind.

    Preserving Your Job

    The unemployment rate jumped to 5 percent last month, and many industries -- think banking, financial services, construction, and real estate -- have recently seen some pretty serious job losses. Gallagher expects the employment picture to only get uglier in months to come, particularly if we are officially declared to be in a recession. Unfortunately, recessions are always marked by heightened unemployment. So, we all need to know that job loss is a real possibility right now.

    Is there such a thing as a "recession proof job?"

    Gallagher's thoughts:

    There's no question that some fields survive hard economic times better than others:

  • Food Service: This industry added 304,000 jobs last year, including 27,000 in December, when other industries were stagnant. Such "nitty-gritty" fields tend to do well during recessions because, even if people cut back on vacations or new cars, they will always need to eat.
  • Health Care: Experts have been saying for years that this is a growing field, and facts continue to prove them right. Recession or not, our population is aging, and somebody has to be there to care of these folks.
  • Technology: Here's another one that experts repeatedly say is a growing field and again, they are being proven right time and again. Specifically, technical consulting services and systems analysis positions seem to be in demand now.
  • Public Sector Jobs: This might seem a bit counterintuitive at first, but there tend to be more openings in various government agencies during a recession. Typically, governments at all levels boost their spending and stimulus programs during hard times, so they need more employees to help carry out the initiatives.

    Think about how various people respond to recessions and you'll put your finger on a few more "recession-proof fields."

    Many people take this opportunity to head back to school, so jobs in post-secondary education are usually available. Others become quite protective of their finances, so wealth management firms often do well. Finally, recruiters say alcohol makers and distributors, gambling institutions, and cigarette manufacturers also fare well.

    Gallagher suggests that people who are concerned about losing a job, or already have, to really examine those hot fields and consider a career change. Even if you aren't interested in one of those areas, take a hard look at where your industry is going: What areas will be in demand? What areas may not make a big comeback after a recession? Thinking like this will prepare you for even greater success as they economy gets back on track..

    The most important thing, in general, you can do right now to hold onto your job is to make yourself indispensable: Launch new projects, propose new ideas. This isn't the time to be slacking off, or asking for more vacation or money.

    Specifically, there are three "career killers" that Gallagher says everyone should avoid:

  • Developing a Sense of Entitlement: Many people get to the point where they feel they deserve a promotion, simply because they've been at a company X-number of years, or because they've reached X age. Face it: You could be fired from any job, at any time. Employees tend to think a company couldn't get along without them, that they're impossible to replace; unfortunately, that's just not true, Gallagher says. She finds that members of Generation Y are particularly prone to developing a sense of entitlement. Bosses report that workers in that age group think they deserve the world, and just don't understand the concept of paying your dues.
  • Avoiding Office Politics: Surprisingly, Gallagher says, you NEED to indulge in some office politics if you want to get ahead. People think they're "above" playing politics, or they think they're going to get by on their merits alone. Gallagher's take on that? Sorry, all you Pollyanas! That's just not the way the world works. What does that really mean you need to do? You need to sense who truly carries the power in your office, who the "gatekeepers" are. Frequently, they're not the bosses. Gallagher isn't suggesting you befriend these people on fake pretenses or brown-nose: Just be smart. Be chatty. If these people come to like you they can, in one way or another, make it easier for you to do your job well. Along those lines, says Gallagher, it's important to be plugged into the office grapevine -- and no, not for juicy gossip! "If you only leave your desk to go to the bathroom, you may be doing yourself more harm than you might imagine," she says. Being plugged in also means reading the culture of your workplace. If it's a very entrepreneurial setting, it may not be cool to be the person who's always dotting "i"s and crossing "t"s.
  • Voicing Negative Thoughts: Nobody likes a troublesome employee, and at a time when companies may need to shed jobs, you don't want to give executives any excuse or reason to let you go. Obviously, if you're being harassed or abused at the office, you should report it. But otherwise, swallow your complaints until times improve.
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