Talk of the Town: February 2020

Take a Leap

February marks another Leap Year, and we’re using the extra day to jump into something new! Maximize your productivity, plan a getaway to cure your cabin fever, and get some financial tips from some unique sources this month.

Have An Adventure!

These weekend getaways offer a much-needed change of scenery for the whole family. So why not hit the road?

  • Madison, WI 150 miles from Chicago
    Madison offers families a wide array of cool activities and experiences that you won’t want to miss. The Madison Children’s Museum, geared towards kids 12 and under, and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art are some of the best area museums. Get outside if it’s not freezing! The children’s playground at Vilas Park along Lake Wingra—one of five lakes throughout the city—is home to the city’s famous Old Women in a Shoe slide.
  • Kalamazoo, MI 160 miles from Chicago
    The Air Zoo is a high-flying attraction full of aeronautical activities, founded by a former member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots and a former Marine Air Corps member. Focused on ground transportation? The Gilmore Car Museum has an amazing collection of antique, classic, and collector cars. Enjoy the great outdoors at the Kalamazoo Nature Center, from winter hiking to cross country skiing.
  • Galena, IL 160 miles from Chicago
    Did you know that about 85% of the buildings in Galena are listed on the National Register of Historic Places? Soak in the history of this charming town while shopping the indie boutiques along Main Street—once named one of the country’s best “main streets” by Midwest Living magazine. Or take a narrated trolley tour to check out the home of Civil War hero and the 18th President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant. Hit the slopes at Chestnut Mountain, with its 19 ski slopes suited to skiers of any level.
  • Indianapolis, IN 180 miles from Chicago
    A year-round, 250-acre tourist mecca, the White River State Park is home to some of the city’s finest cultural institutions and must-see destinations like the Indiana State Museum and the Indianapolis Zoo, which boasts the nation’s first underwater dolphin-viewing dome and a shark touch pool! Got a need for speed? No trip to the world of the Indy 500 would be complete without a stop at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway & Hall of Fame Museum.
  • Springfield, IL 200 miles from Chicago   
    Visit the heart of Abe Lincoln lore in Springfield! Take a walk around the most-visited presidential library ever at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum, and check out the scaled replicas of Abe’s home. Need a bit more authenticity? Visit the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, where the Lincolns lived for 17 years. For a literal taste of history, grab a bite at the Cozy Dog Drive-in—it’s been a Route 66 mainstay since 1949!

Up Your Productivity Game

We’ve got an extra day this year, so let 2020 be the year you get a handle on your finances, manage your time like a pro, or encourage healthier habits with the help of some handy—and often times, free—apps.

  • Any.do
    This nifty app integrates with your phone’s calendar to create a single interface for all your appointments and to do items. Premium accounts even have access to some cool capabilities like recurring reminders, productivity reports, and location-based reminders so you’ll never forget to pick up the milk when you’re at the store.
  • Trello
    This app makes juggling projects a piece of cake. Easy to use, Trello allows you to track a project from start to finish. Create a board for your task, assign individual tasks to columns, then click and drag tasks from column to column as work progresses.
  • PocketGuard
    Not really sure where your money is going? This app will crunch the numbers for you—simply feed all of your accounts into it, and it will give you a straightforward figure representing how much you have to spend. PocketGuard will look for potential savings across recurring bills, and may even be able to find lower rates on your behalf.
  • Goodbudget
    Drawing inspiration from an old school budgeting habit—earmarked envelopes for specific expenses—this app lets you create virtual envelopes for groceries, entertainment, and more and pre-allocate dollar amounts to each. It’s a unique way to save up for large purchases or pay off existing debts. You can even sync and share between other people, making common goals easier to save for.
  • Rescue Time
    Get an overview of how well you’re managing your waking hours. Tracking both the programs you use and the sites you visit on your computer or phone, this app will show you exactly where you spend your time. Broken down by categories—like Design and Social Networking—Rescue Time gives you unique insight into how you use technology.
  • Forest
    This $2 app makes avoiding distraction into a game. Once you start the timer, a virtual tree starts growing onscreen. If you make it through the set time period without fiddling with your phone, a full tree emerges. Forest allows you to set aside focused work slots—or phone-free time—easily. A Chrome extension provides the same benefits on your computer, and can even block certain websites while the timer is running.

Make a Fiscal Plan

If one of your goals this year is to become a bit more fiscally smart, there are a few steps you should take to set you on the path to achieve five-star financial status.

  • Review your credit report regularly. Credit reports are key to maintaining a firm grasp on your finances. Use it to monitor your overall credit health and make sure that none of your accounts have been compromised.
  • Track your net worth—the difference between your assets and debt. It’s the big picture number that shows where you really stand financially. Keeping an eye on this number will help you see the progress you’re making towards your goals, or warn you if trouble is afoot.
  • Earmark 20% of your income towards financial priorities. Putting 20% of your income towards priorities—emergency savings, paying off debt, and padding your nest egg—will ensure you’re prepared for the future.
  • Take a daily money minute. Setting aside one minute each day to check on your finances will help you identify problems immediately, track goal progress, and set your spending tone for the rest of the day.
  • Create a financial vision board. Looking for a little extra motivation to develop better money habits? A vision board will help remind you of your goals, and keep you on track.
  • Evaluate purchases by cost per use. When deciding if the latest gadget, tech, or apparel item is worth it, factor in how many times you’ll use it. That basic $30 shirt will likely get more use than the trendy $7 option, so keep use in mind while shopping.