Coping with a Sudden Death in the Workplace

The loss of a loved one shatters our reality — even more so when it is unexpected, without warning.

Not surprisingly, there are many resources devoted to helping folks cope with the loss of a loved family member, but what do you do when the loss is in the workplace? There are often uncomfortable yet necessary conversations that need to take place, at seemingly the worst time imaginable.

Recently, our office of five suffered a nearly unbearable blow when our coworker and friend, Nathan Osburn was tragically killed in a car collision.

A father-of-four and only 42 years old, Nathan’s death hit the entire Denver community hard — the driver was high on marijuana and methamphetamine, fell asleep at the wheel and veered into oncoming traffic before striking Nathan. The first few days and weeks after his death, we walked around in shock and anger at what had happened to us, and to our office — our family-away-from-family.

We looked to each other with disbelief that our tiny little bubble had been shattered. Most of all, we looked to each other for guidance. What do we do? Who do we call? How do we move on? Where is the handbook for how to rebuild our business after a loss of such magnitude?

Nathan was killed by an impaired driver while walking in his own neighborhood, at four in the afternoon. He was young, a father — in the prime of his life. We struggled with anger, and disbelief that such a tragedy could hit so close to home, and could happen to a person who, on paper, did everything right.  And most of all, how do we replace him? Do we replace him? How does a business survive when one of the supporting pillars has crumbled?

The following are a few key things our business did to move on from such an unspeakable loss. While painful to have had to go through this loss, we wish there had been a roadmap — some kind of guide to help us in this tragic situation. If you find yourself in a similar circumstance, we are so sorry, and I hope these will help you:

Have a contingency plan

When I worked in the corporate world, there was constant planning and preparing for an emergency. In fact, often there was an entire team whose sole job was planning for every type of disaster or potential loss of business. We had backups of backups, computers off site, and literal books on whom to call, when every imaginable emergency hit. But what if you are a sole proprietor? Or team of two?  Or five? Or 10?

The answer is the same. Have a backup plan. Take the time to have a written document that includes not only what you do as part of the day-to-day operations in your business; but also whom you call and what to do in the event of an emergency.  Planning for death in our personal lives is often tough and taboo. It is nearly unheard of in the workplace. Having plans in place on what to do when things go wrong will save your loved ones (both family and business) much stress and worry.  It will also help in the case of future training. If your partner decides to retire, having a written account of everything that he or she does on a daily basis will help immensely with training a new partner.

Take time to grieve

Just because the person you lost was not a member of your immediate family does not make their loss less important in your life. It took me a couple of weeks after we lost Nathan to realize that trying to “tough it out” wasn’t working for me. While putting our business on hold was not an option, taking time to process my feelings of grief, while I wasn’t in the workplace, was. And it helped more than I realized at the time.

Treating the loss of my coworker and friend with the same importance as the loss of a family member made it easier to process, and eventually became a starting place for how to move on. Taking the time outside of work hours to work through my grief also gave me the opportunity to focus on rebuilding our business during office hours, which made my working hours far more effective. 

Reach out for help

After our loss, I kept looking around for someone to tell me what to do. What is the next right step? Who do we call?  Is there someone to call? Do I bother Nathan’s family with this? The next right step for our office may not be the next right step for yours, and it may take a series of wrong steps to get on the right path. Do not get discouraged.  There is no wrong way to move forward.

Is there someone who could help guide you? I’d say it’s likely.  Don’t be afraid to bring in a third party for advice. If you find yourself in a position like we did, it’s likely you may not be an expert. Why not ask someone who can help? In our case it was a combination of our own expertise, as the one who built the business; as well as an expert on processing grief in the workplace. Searching for, and ultimately bringing in, a new partner with a completely different personality than Nathan helped. It brought new energy into our office, giving all of us the jolt to get back into a routine that we didn’t know we needed. 

Embrace the new normal

It’s been so easy since our loss to look back on our time with Nathan with rose-colored glasses and wax poetic about how things could have been. I’ve come to realize that while reminiscing about our friend and how wonderful he was is good and cathartic, living in the past is not. Things were not perfect then and they are not perfect now. Life is perfectly imperfect even in the workplace.

Accepting that the good things that have happened to us since he left us — and have happened because we suffered a loss —  has helped. Looking back on how far we have come and grown as a group since our loss has also helped. I’m happy to say now that things are looking good and we are starting to see the light at the end of this dark tunnel. But it hasn’t been without a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.

Focusing everyday on moving forward for the better, while learning from our mistakes, keeps me coming back to the office. I know that is what Nathan would have wanted. In short, what my grandparents (and probably yours, too) always preached to me is true: “Prepare for the worst, hope for the best.” The new normal for our company looks pretty good, and accepting that it will never be the same (both good and bad) was the first step.

Tips for Saving Money on Kids Birthday Parties

Tips for Saving Money on Kids Birthday Parties

Bring down birthday party costs and amp up the fun with these tips from Rachel Namoff, a financial literacy expert and managing partner with Arapaho Asset Management.

Use free digital invites. Evite.com offers free online invitation options that eliminate the cost of printed and mailed invitations. Remember to request that guests RSVP for kids and adults attending—an exact head count will ensure that you don’t overspend for people who aren’t there.

Don’t invite your child’s entire class.
Invite just a couple of your child’s closest friends. Or, ask parents to drop off if the children are mature enough to handle it. By not feeding and entertaining each child’s parent, you can dramatically cut costs.

Create your own games. Think of pin the tail on the donkey or tic-tac-toe. If the party is outdoors, break out some lawn games like washers or corn hole. Kids don’t need a lot of bells and whistles to have fun together.

Stick to cake and ice cream. Serving a full meal can be expensive. Schedule your party at a time in between lunch and dinner so you only need to serve cake and ice cream. A sundae bar can be a cost-effective fun treat, too.

 

coloradoparent.com – Family Tax Refund

9 Ways to Put Your Family’s Tax Refund to Work

Is your family getting a tax refund this year? Our guest blogger, Rachel Namoff from Arapaho Asset Management, shares her advice for using the money to reach your family’s financial goals.

It’s tax time and that means your family may be getting a refund. As parents, we are always thinking of ways to maximize our resources: coupons, secondhand clothes, free days at local attractions and even staycations. Using your tax refund wisely could also make your hard earned money work harder for you.

First off, let me say, I am a fan of adjusting your W-4 to accurately reflect your actual deductions. I mean, getting a tax refund is great, but isn’t getting a bigger paycheck all year even better? That little extra for family needs and wants each month could make a big difference.

If you are getting an income tax refund, however, what are your plans for the money? Here are some financially fit ideas:

  • Pay off debt: Think about paying off overdue bills, loans or credit cards first. If you have high interest debt, you are eroding your wealth potential. Not only will you be using your tax refund to decrease your debt, but you will be decreasing your interest as well.

 

  • Pre-pay your mortgage: Using this strategy, you can pay off the principal on your mortgage more quickly and save interest payments over time. You can do this by specifying that the additional money you’ve included in your payment is for principal. You are potentially saving yourself thousands.

 

  • Pay down high interest student loans or car loans: Applying your refund to high interest loans is an awesome way to save on some of that sluggish interest. The quicker you can pay down the balance, the less total bill you will have over time. Make sure the payment goes toward the principal, by specifying with your payment that the additional funds are for principal.

 

  • Save for retirement: If you are smart and savvy and debt free, pay yourself directly. Put your refund into savings. Be aware, not all savings are created equal. Contributing to an IRA will give you a step up at retirement. A Traditional IRA will give you tax breaks now and a Roth IRA gives you tax breaks when you retire. Add a little padding to your financial future now.

 

  • Jumpstart college savings: Do you have children that will attend college someday? A 529 Plan is an education savings plan operated by a state or educational institution designed to help families set aside funds for future college costs. Colorado offers 529 Plans with state tax advantages, such as deducting current year contributions and realizing tax free withdrawals if used for qualified educational expenses. 529 Plans are a great place to put a surprise windfall, and experience additional revenue paying you forward through tax savings and growth potential. More information on 529 plans at savingforcollege.com.

 

  • Invest: Put your money to work in any form of high interest savings accounts or maybe buy a share of stock in your favorite company. This is a great way to make your refund go further because now you have an investment!

 

  • Build an emergency fund or vacation fund: Both of these options are making your money work for you, rather than the other way around. They also provide peace of mind and stability for life events or unexpected expenses at a later date.

 

  • Fund your dream: Another great option is to invest your refund directly in your own efforts or dreams. Start or invest in a business, take a college course, learn a new technical skill or advance your career. Your family will thank you for it.

 

  • Diversify: How about a little bit of everything? If I have gotten your mind swirling, don’t fret. You can use your refund for all or some of these options.

 

And lastly, if your heart is set on indulging, find that amazing electronic, latest toy or awesome pair of shoes and then wait 24 hours before you buy it. Take the day to think about whether the item will truly bring your family joy and whether it’s really where you want to put that money. Often, the impulse item itself is not what we are looking for, but instead we crave the feeling of excitement that comes from the purchase. Consider whether this purchase will fit with your family’s goals. If we are truly reaching our goals and fulfilling our lives, the impulse item is not always as appealing.

Mindfully contemplate where your family’s tax refund will best be used. When we are helping ourselves by maximizing our purchasing power, we can truly enhance our lives, and isn’t that the definition of our money working for us?

5280 The Denver Magazine – Cash for College

Cash for College: The Ground Rules for Investing

Summer is drawing near, and that means it's time for families with high school students to start scheduling college visits. But before you do, you ought to look over your financials—something easier said than done. We asked Rachel Namoff, a managing partner at Denver’s Arapho Asset Management, to lay out a simple plan parents can follow while saving for their kids’ impending college careers.

First, Namoff recommends creating different accounts for each of your children, then chat with a financial expert and start saving. “Save as much as you can afford for your kids to go to college, but it really depends on your income," Namoff says. "In a perfect world, we are all earning way more than we are spending, but the ideal amount is a moving target with many different variables.” Namoff suggests breaking your child’s first 17 years into three categories—newborn, eight years old, and 17 years old—as your strategy will morph as your kid matures. Here’s how to get started:

Newborn: Invest 100 percent in equities

In the first years of your child’s life, be as aggressive as you feel comfortable with. Save and invest as much as possible, even if you have less liquid cash during this time. Equities (stocks and shares that don’t carry a fixed interest) can flourish over time more than fixed income investments such as bonds. Tip: Try to put away even $10 to $15 per month, per child, as it will make a major difference with long-term compounding interest. Of course, it's important for parents to pay down lingering debts and save for retirement ahead of putting money away for college, but any extra cash you can earmark for it will help. A great place to start is 529 plans as they offer tax savings.

Eight-year-old: Invest 70 percent in equities, 30 percent in fixed-income options

Start decreasing your risk by moving a third of your investments into a safer fixed income bucket. As your family income (hopefully) increases, this is the time to increase contributions to college savings plans as well. Tip: Bump the contribution up to $50 to $100 per child.

17-year-old: Invest 30 percent in equities, 70 percent in fixed-incomes options

Look at exactly how much money is earmarked for the impending four years of tuition bills. Take away the major risk by funneling investments into less volatile bonds and CDs. With university acceptance letters (and hopefully scholarship awards) in hand, it’s time to see if nearly two decades of stashing cash will be enough. Tip: Ask the tough questions. Is your child contributing to his/her college expenses? Have you looked into scholarship and loan options? Would your child be best suited to attend a community college for two years? 

The biggest mistake you can make with college savings is not doing anything. Remember that every little bit counts, especially if you get started early. 

Follow assistant editor Lindsey R. McKissick on Twitter @LindseyRMcK.