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Keeping up with the Joneses

It’s always fun when disparate worlds of geekdom collide. Today, for instance, I learned that the term “keeping up with the Joneses” — a popular phrase in the realm of personal finance — actually originated in the funny pages.

Keeping Up with the Joneses

That’s right: “Keeping Up with the Joneses” started out as a newspaper comic strip. As a comics nerd, one who especially loves comic strips, this makes me happy. (Note: For some strips in this post, you can click on the image to open a larger version in a new window.)

Keeping Up with the Joneses (04 April 1913)

Arthur Mormand created “Keeping Up with the Joneses” in 1913. This comic strip (which was very typical for its time) parodied American domestic life, especially the increasing drive toward conspicuous consumption.

The term conspicuous consumption was itself relatively new in 1913. This concept was introduced by Thorstein Veblen, a Norwegian-American economist and sociologist, in his 1899 book The Theory of the Leisure Class. (You can download this book for free from the new Get Rich Slowly file vault.) People at all levels of life, Veblen says, buy things “as an evidence of wealth”, to signal financial “prowess”. This is worth an entire article of its own. (I should re-read the book and write it up, shouldn’t I?)

Keeping Up with the Joneses

Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia’s brief history of the strip:

[“Keeping Up with the Joneses”] debuted on March 31, 1913 in The New York Globe. The strip is a domestic comedy following a family of social climbers, the McGinises: parents Aloysius and Clarice, their daughter Julie, and the family’s maid Bella Donna. Various strips feature the McGinis family attempting to match the lifestyle of their neighbors, the Joneses, who are often mentioned but never seen.

The strip was later picked up by Joseph Pulitzer’s The New York World, and was subsequently syndicated in many other papers by Associated Newspapers. The title and central conceit of a family struggling to “keep up” with the neighbors resonated with its audience, to the point that the phrase keeping up with the Joneses became a common catchphrase.

According to interviews with Mormand, “Keeping Up with the Joneses” was based on his own life. He and his wife lived for a time in Cedarhurst, New York, a relatively wealthy community on Long Island. Mormand claimed his family lived “far beyond our means in our endeavor to keep up with the well-to-do class”.

Keeping Up with the Joneses

Eventually, Mormand and his family gave up. They moved to Manhattan. There, he used his experience as source material. Mormand claimed that he originally wanted to call the strip “Keeping Up with the Smiths” but it didn’t have the same ring to it as “Keeping Up with the Joneses”.

Keeping Up with the Joneses

Some argue that the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” was already in use when Mormand started drawing his comic strip. This may (or may not) be true. Regardless, it was his work that made the phrase a part of the American vernacular.

Keeping Up with the Joneses

While “Keeping Up with the Joneses” never became as popular as, say, “Gasoline Alley” or “Bringing Up Father”, it did achieve some measure of success. At one point, more than 150 newspapers around the U.S. carried the strip. And, for a time, a few of the gags were adapted into short animated films like this one.

If, like me, you are both a money nerd and a comics nerd, you might enjoy browsing this public domain collection of Keeping Up with the Joneses strips from 1920. (Again, this is part of the new Get Rich Slowly file vault.)

Keeping Up with the Joneses (16 April 1938)

Mormand died in 1987, at the age of 101. He spent the latter part of his life working as a portrait painter in New York City, but his lasting contribution to American society was coining the term “keeping up with the Joneses”.

The post Keeping up with the Joneses appeared first on Get Rich Slowly.

Danny Amendola Speaks Out Again After NSFW Rant About Olivia Culpo

Danny Amendola, Olivia Culpo, 2017 ESPY Awards, ESPYSDanny Amendola has more to say after his lengthy rant about ex Olivia Culpo.
Earlier this week, the 33-year-old NFL star aired his grievances about the 26-year-old model, who broke up…

Six Effortless Ways to Make a Bigger Dent in Your Debt

Paying down debt can often seem daunting, insurmountable, and sometimes entirely defeating.

Yet the need for Americans to get control of their debt is more pressing than ever. As of February 2019, according to the Federal Reserve, consumer debt exceeded $4 trillion for the first time ever — that’s not even including home mortgages.

While there are many tried-and-true approaches to paying down debt, including the debt snowball method and using a loan to consolidate high-interest debts into one (ideally) lower monthly payment, we asked personal finance and debt experts to share some of the other, smaller, daily or weekly ways to effortlessly chip away at those bills. It turns out there are a variety of tactics you can apply to your payment routine to help speed up your journey toward being debt-free.

1. Use apps that help pay down debt.

There are apps for nearly everything these days. Apps that help you save money, apps that help you invest and yes, apps that were created specifically to help you with the chore of paying down debt.

Robert Farrington, creator of the site The College Investor, likes Cents, an app specifically designed to help users pay off credit cards with their spare change.

Cents makes monthly payments toward your debt by using what it calls the roundups from your purchases. In other words, spend $9.45 on something, and Cents will round up the purchase to $10 and put the remaining 55 cents toward debt payments.

The app claims it can help erase compounding interest on your debts, saving the average user hundreds of dollars.

Farrington did a test run with the app himself, and liked what he saw.

“When I looked into this app, a quick review of my transactions for the previous month showed that the Cents app would have directed $42 to debt, and charged another $2 for its services,” he explained. “That isn’t a ton of money per month heading to my debt, but the cost also isn’t too high. I believe someone struggling to pay down debt or who is simply looking for more painless ways to pay down debt might find the extra $2 well worth the cost.”

Cents is of course, just one example. Other options include ChangEd, which operates in a similar way as Cents, rounding up your spending to the nearest dollar. But in the case of ChangeEd, the money is applied to student loan debt.

Tally, meanwhile, is yet another helpful app, one aimed at those with particularly high-interest credit card debt.

2. Set up direct debits to a savings account.

Yaz Purnell, founder of The Wallet Moth, a lifestyle and money website that provides practical, sustainable, and frugal living advice, offers yet another option to help banish debt.

“One of my favorite ways to pay extra towards debts without even thinking about it is to simply set up a direct debit into a savings account that’s dedicated to paying off a loan,” explains Purnell. “Hide, or even destroy, the debit card associated with that savings account so you can only access the money via your online banking.”

Once the account is established, set-up a direct debit to transfer a small amount of money to your new savings on the same day you get paid.

“Soon enough, you won’t even miss that spare cash – and you’ll have a nice pot of money accumulating for paying off your loans in no time,” says Purnell.

3. Split your debt payments in two each month.

A biweekly approach to debt payment can go a long way toward more quickly eliminating those bills, says Adele Alligood, a financial advisor with EndThrive. It was one of many measures she used to help pay off $76,000 in debt.

“By using this biweekly payment method, it means you’ll have an extra payment go towards your loans each year with no extra effort,” she explains.

Here’s what Alligood means: Whether it’s a credit card, mortgage, or student loan payment, divide the monthly payment in half, and then pay that bill every other week instead of just once a month.

“For example, if you’re paying $400 per month, split it into $200 every two weeks,” said Alligood. “This method is great because it requires no extra work – you just change the way you make the payments.”

The biweekly approach to paying debts means you’ll make 26 half payments in a year– or 13 full payments, as opposed to the standard 12 full payments made on a monthly payment plan, continued Alligood.

In other words, you will have made an extra payment towards your debt each year, without even feeling the financial impact.

Yet another variation on the increased payments theme, Lisa Hebert, creator of Money Minded Mom, suggests making payments every single week.

“There are two advantages to making weekly payments, says Hebert. “One, you’ll end up making 52 weekly payments, which equates to an extra payment per year. Secondly, you’re accruing less interest throughout each month on the outstanding balance of the loan. This reduces the total amount of interest you’ll pay during the life of your loan, saving you money in the long run.”

4. Increase debt payments when you get a raise.

Sure, it might be tempting to pocket your annual raises and live a little larger. But if you immediately put the extra income towards your loans or debts, you won’t even notice the missing money, says Anna Keisler, an associate financial advisor with SG Financial.

However, Keisler offers one caveat to this suggestion. If you have no emergency savings, it’s a good idea to split that raise in half.

“Put half of it into savings while putting half towards debt,” she explains. “When you have enough saved up, consider increasing the amount you put towards debt.”

5. Transfer your debt to a lower interest rate.

This tried and true method of helping to attack debt should be well known by now, but it’s worth repeating.

“If you have outstanding credit card debt, transfer it to a line of credit so you’re paying a lower interest rate and putting extra money towards your overall debt,” advises Jacqueline Gilchrist, creator of Mom Money Map. “The interest rate for credit cards is often over 20%, whereas the interest rate for a line of credit is usually around 5%.”

Yet another variation on this theme is shifting your credit card balances to a zero-interest balance transfer card, so every bit of your payment is being applied to the principal.

6. Use gift cards as budgeting tools.

When we overspend in our daily lives, it impacts how much money we have available to pay towards debt each month, says Ryan Junas, a personal finance coach and creator of the blog Arrest Your Debt.

“Often groceries and entertainment are the areas we overspend on the most,” Junas explained. “If you plan out your entertainment and grocery bill at the beginning of the month, you can purchase gift cards for those amounts. When you go to the store, bring only your gift cards and leave your credit cards at home. When the money runs out, you cannot overspend. This leaves more room for debt repayment at the end of the month.”

What’s more, you can often buy gift cards on the resale market at a discount, freeing up more cash for debt repayment. Junas suggests looking for discounted gift cards at places like Costco, Sam’s Club, or

Mia Taylor is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. She has worked for some of the nation’s best-known news organizations, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the San Diego Union-Tribune. 

More by Mia Taylor:

The post Six Effortless Ways to Make a Bigger Dent in Your Debt appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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This Woman Made $1,200 in a Season With a Home Garden Business. Here’s How

Finding myself utterly broke and apparently unemployable a few years ago, I decided that if I wanted to work, I would have to start my own business.

Since I didn’t have any startup money or business experience, I was forced to narrow down my ideas to the bare skeleton and ask myself two questions:

  • What resources do I have already?
  • What do I already know how to do?

Not much. I didn’t have a degree or own anything valuable I could sell.

But I was living with my parents, with a roof over my head, food to eat and a few acres of grass and trees at my disposal.

And I knew how to garden.

How to Sell Plants and Start a Gardening Business

In the Midwest, trees pop out of the ground each spring, just to get mowed over by well-meaning suburbanites, who flock to nurseries and garden centers to pay big bucks for new ones to plant.

I decided to take advantage of this cycle. Armed only with determination, a spade and a wheelbarrow, I began digging and potting.

I made a small profit the first year. It helped pull me out of “brokedom,” but it was nothing to brag about.

However, the realization of money actually can grow on trees inspired me to go full force the next season.

That year, I made $1,200.

Think you want to give it a shot? Here’s what to do:

How to Choose Plants

Chances are, if you have any kind of garden or yard, you have perennials growing out of control.

Carefully thin these out and repackage them, and you’ve got your stock.

Pro Tip

Want to give gardening a try before you buy? Hundreds of public libraries across the U.S. have seed-sharing programs free to patrons. Most programs only ask that you return some seeds from your yield.

I can almost guarantee you when friends hear about what you’re doing, they’ll offer you their own overrun gardens, too. Four of my friends did!

You can make small investments, too, such as raising tomatoes from seeds in early spring. Plus, the fruit that demands to be a vegetable also offers some of the biggest bang for your gardening buck — cherry and heirloom tomatoes offer some of the highest ROI among veggies.

Where to Get Compost

I was fortunate that my parents’ yard already had several compost piles in its corners — all I had to do was dig for limitless black soil.

If you don’t have one, here’s how to start a compost pile in your backyard.

How to Create Containers for Your Plants

Like most families who garden, mine had an arsenal of used plastic containers in our garage. I went through those first.

Throughout that first winter, I checked every container in the recycling bin to see if I could cut off the top and poke holes in the bottom.

Pro Tip

Wrap newspaper around containers like coffee canisters to form cheap seed-starter pots. Customers can plant with the pot still on — the paper will gradually break down in the ground.

I broke a knife in the process, but by spring I had enough containers for the entire season. Quite a few customers even brought me their extra containers at no cost.

Capitalize on the fact you’re only using natural methods and reused containers — customers will be happy knowing they’re helping the environment.

Fertilize for Free (Almost)

There’s no need to buy fancy, expensive supplies from a garden center.

An elderly woman taught me this simple hack: Set up an old garbage can under a gutter to catch excess rain water. Throw eggshells in and cover it with a lid.

Pro Tip

Let your fish feed your plants. Use the dirty water from a freshwater aquarium (and the accompanying fish waste, full of beneficial bacteria) to fertilize your plants for free.

Use this to water your plants. The nutrients from the shells provides them with all they need to flourish.

Make Your Presentation Perfect

My setup soon spread from a bench alongside the garage to cover the entire back porch and parking area.

I put the plants in sections and made sure there was space to walk between them so customers would feel comfortable. I set up a tarp for the shade plants.

Keep your “store” looking nice by keeping it clean and weeding out any droopy daisies (or other dying plants).

Be available and friendly to customers — explain what the plants are and how to take care of them. Do your research!

Price to Sell

I kept pricing simple: Most plants were $3, or two for $5. Large plants were $5, and nothing ever went over that price.

If people bought a lot of plants, I’d give them a few for free.

For example, if their total came to $70, I’d just ask for $60. You’ll be surprised how quickly the money adds up, even at these prices!

Don’t Forget Advertising

I advertised on Craigslist every few days, posting a detailed description of what I had in stock, how to find the store and prices.

I always added nice pictures of my best-looking plants.

Pro Tip

Connect with your customers on picture-heavy social media sites like Pinterest and Instagram. Include photos of your prize plants as well as gardening tips to create a community of loyal fans.

Be sure to provide a phone number in case customers have questions or can’t find you.

And in case you were wondering, I also hung up some old-fashioned posters around town and looked into newspaper advertising. Neither was effective.

Before You Get Started, Consider These Factors

Potting plants and taking care of your store takes time and muscle, but if you enjoy working outdoors, this could be the business for you.

You’re also at the weather’s mercy. My third year in business, it rained nonstop all spring, and I sold almost nothing.

Running your own business also can be mentally stressful. Frankly, for the number of hours you put in, you might make more money working for minimum wage as a cashier or server. You’ll have to motivate yourself to keep things running and turning a profit.

But at the same time, there’s nothing like the freedom and satisfaction of being your own boss.

Stephanie Spicer is a freelance writer, filmmaker and artist.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Plastic Capitalism. Contemporary Art and the Drive to Waste

Plastic Capitalism. Contemporary Art and the Drive to Waste, by Amanda Boetzkes, Professor of Contemporary Art History and Theory at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada.

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Agnes DenesPublisher MIT Press writes: Ecological crisis has driven contemporary artists to engage with waste in its most non-biodegradable forms: plastics, e-waste, toxic waste, garbage hermetically sealed in landfills. In this provocative and original book, Amanda Boetzkes links the increasing visualization of waste in contemporary art to the rise of the global oil economy and the emergence of ecological thinking. Often, when art is analyzed in relation to the political, scientific, or ecological climate, it is considered merely illustrative. Boetzkes argues that art is constitutive of an ecological consciousness, not simply an extension of it. The visual culture of waste is central to the study of the ecological condition.

Amanda Boetzkes
Edward Ruscha, Molten Polyester, 2005

Drawing on the writings of Georges Bataille, Timothy Morton, Walter Benjamin, Jacques Rancière and other thinkers of modernity, aesthetics, politics and ecology, Amanda Boetzkes investigates the use of waste in contemporary art. In her essay, the art historian challenges us not to reduce an artwork using waste to a critique of consumer culture or of modernism in general. It’s more complicated than that. If waste is so popular among artists today, she explains, it is because it reveals the value systems, beliefs and politics that shape our planetary condition.

Plastic Capitalism is both a book about contemporary art and an essay that exposes the blind spots between economy and ecology. Through her selection of artworks, the author dissects waste and reveals its many dimensions, dilemmas and contradictions. Waste is both valueless and a commodity. It is visible and invisible. It is a lowly legacy of global capitalism and a formidable force that hides complex industrial infrastructures, labor power and massive energy expenditures.

Alain Delorme, Murmurations: Ephemeral Plastic Sculptures, 2012-2014. Film by Quentin Labail

The final chapter offers a stimulating reflection on plastic. Plastic, Boetzkes explains, is the ultimate petroleum-based material, the agent that symbolizes humanity’s mastery of planet and its total impotence to alter the course of the Anthropocene, it is the icon of throw-away culture and of a durability that stretches into a future when there’s no one left to use it.

I won’t pretend that Plastic Capitalism is a light and easy book. I often found myself huffing and ploughing through the text. Yet, i soldiered on. The author’s readings of the work of well-known and less famous artists (Mal Chin, Agnes Varda, Critical Art Ensemble, Agnes Denes, Thomas Hirschhorn, etc.) opened up new perspectives on performances and installations i thought i knew. It also allowed me to see more clearly that the formidable power of waste extends far beyond its (much visualized and calculated) physical mass.

Some of the works i (re)discovered in Plastic Capitalism:

Critical Art Ensemble, A Temporary Monument to North America Energy Security, 2014

Critical Art Ensemble, A Temporary Monument to North America Energy Security, 2014

Antony Gormley, Waste Man, 2006

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Francis Alÿs, The Seven Lives of Garbage, 1994. Photo via

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Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Touch Sanitation Performance, 24 July 1979 – 26 June 1980

Georges Bataille
Tejal Shah, Between the Waves – Landfill Dance, 2012

Swaantje Güntzel and Jan Philip Scheib, Spring Cleaning performance from the Plastisphere series, 2016

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An Te Liu, White Dwarf, 2012 at the Musée d’art de Joliette

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Tara Donovan, Untitled (Plastic Cups), 2006-2015

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10 Lessons from My Well-Worn Winter Coat

This past weekend, I put my winter coat away until next November or so. It’s a hardy winter coat, a green Carhartt arctic coat, one that gets me through an Iowa winter where you can have entire weeks where the temperature doesn’t peek above 0 F. I keep a nice spring jacket around that will serve me well for temperatures down in the thirties, but the winter coat is now in “overkill” territory.

I’ve had this coat since 2003. That means this is the seventeenth time I’ve put the coat into storage for the warmer months. It’s a little worn in a few places, but it’s still as sturdy as can be and incredibly warm on a cold winter’s day.

This wonderful winter coat is kind of a living embodiment of a lot of the financial principles I live by.

Lesson #1: Paying More for a Well Made and Reliable Item Is Worth It, Because You Won’t Have to Replace It

As I said, I’ve owned this coat for 17 years. During that period, I’ve owned at least four spring jackets that I can remember. They were all somewhat less expensive than this thick winter coat, but each and every one of them has had split seams or tears or other major problems. I repaired some of those issues; other issues just weren’t worth it.

In the end, I’ve spent quite a bit more on those four (at least) lighter spring jackets than I spent on this well made winter coat, even though each of those lighter spring jackets was individually much less expensive than my winter coat.

The winter coat was well made from the start. I paid more to get a well made one, one that would last for many, many winters.

The other coats were less expensive, but they weren’t well made. I knew with some certainty that they would probably not last nearly as long as my winter coat.

What’s the lesson here? It’s worth your money to pay for something that’s genuinely well made and reliable because you’ll be able to use it for years and years and years. If you go cheap, you’re probably replacing that item before too long, and it won’t take too many replacements before that pile of cheap items was more expensive than that one well made item.

The lesson has been learned. My next spring jacket is going to last me until I’m 70.

Lesson #2: There’s No Reason Not to Use an Item Until It’s Truly Worn Out

This winter coat of mine has some signs of wear on it, don’t get me wrong. It’s clearly not a new coat any more, especially if you look closely at it. There are some spots where the fabric has worn to a very smooth patch, but it’s still strong. This coat has quite a few years of use left in it.

It’s not unsightly, though; it’s just not new.

I am reminded of an old martial arts instructor that I know. He achieved a very high level black belt, a level at which it takes an incredible amount of discipline and work and time and effort to earn another level. His belt was extremely worn, almost in tatters around him, as he approached the time to get a new belt. Yet, there was something deeply impressive about his worn belt.

“Worn” doesn’t mean bad. The idea that something being “worn” is a bad thing is a curious construct of our modern society. Something being “worn” but not broken is a sign of strength, of durability, of resilience. It’s something to be lauded.

There was a time in my life where I didn’t see it that way. Something worn meant something that needed to be replaced. Sometimes, that might be true, particularly if that wear indicates a functional problem, but often, wear simply means that an item is very well made and reliable. Much of our lives rest on a backbone of well made items that have shown a little wear.

At this point in my life, I like things that have some wear on them. That shows they’re well made. That shows they’re reliable. That shows that they’ve put in the work. I’d rather have a lot of items that have a little wear but have done the job reliably for a long time and will very likely keep doing that job reliably for a long time to come. My winter coat falls into that category, as do many of my favorite possessions.

Lesson #3: Buying a Used Car or a Smaller House or a Sensible Insurance Package (and So On) Means You Can Afford to Buy Many Other Well-Made and Reliable Items

One of the big knocks against buying a more expensive but well made and reliable items is that the upfront cost is usually pretty high. If you’re on a tight budget, a well-made $200 coat might be wonderful, but your budget only accounts for a $60 coat, so which one are you going to buy? Sure, the well made coat might outlast four of the cheap coats, but the expensive one just isn’t an option.

That’s the point at which you have to stand back and look at the big picture.

Obviously, over the long haul, a well made and reliable and highly regarded item that’s still reasonably priced is going to be the item that gives you the most bang for your buck. Over the course of 20 years, a $200 coat is going to give more value than four or five $60 coats that fall apart or look like they’re about to.

However, to get on that bandwagon, you need the resources upfront to invest in those things, plus the willpower to make good financial choices now and later.

In the short term, the best thing you can do is cut back on the big things. Rather than replacing that car, keep driving it until it’s ready to give up the ghost and is facing a big repair bill to stay on the road. Rather than having a bigger house or apartment than you need, get a smaller one – all you’re really losing is extra space to pile up stuff you don’t really need.

Those kinds of moves save hundreds of dollars a month. Then, rather than spending that money frivolously, start putting it towards stuff that returns value.

Pay off credit cards. Put it into your retirement savings. Spend a little more to get well-made reliable items like a $200 winter coat that will last for many years rather than a $60 one that will be trash in three winters.

Not only that, driving a well made car for a very long time is basically the same idea behind wearing a well made coat for a very long time. You might pay a little more up front for it, but it’s going to last and last and last until the total cost of ownership is lower (and it’s a lot less headache, too).

Lesson #4: Worrying What Other People Think Is a Trap

One of the big motivations for many people to replace things like winter coats when they show the slightest bit of wear is an over-concern with what other people think. The reality is that other people rarely think of you nearly as much as you think they do. They just don’t. Rather, people spend a lot of time thinking about themselves, and their spare thoughts about others are spread across so many other people that you rarely get a deep thought from others.

It’s called the “spotlight effect.” We think others think about us as much as we think about ourselves, which is simply impossible. We obsess over our own flaws and think others are similarly concerned – they’re not. Even if they notice the flaws, they often don’t care. Often, when someone criticizes you and is cruel, it’s because they’re grinding an axe about something completely unrelated to you.

The truth is no one is going to care about a little wear on your coat, and very few are even going to notice. People are almost never looking for those kinds of things at all because they’re just not relevant. It makes no difference in my life whether a person on the street has mild wear on their coat, so why would it even enter my mental radar? The truth is, it doesn’t.

That doesn’t mean you should give up on all hygiene and start dressing in rags. The best maxim to apply when interacting with others is to treat others as you would like to be treated, which for me means being clean, wearing clean clothes, and being friendly but not overly intrusive. Does anything really change for you if you interact with someone in a brand new coat versus someone in a coat that has mild wear that you would really only notice if you were looking for it?

Lesson #5: A New Coat When My Old One Still Works Doesn’t Bring Me Real Value or Joy

For some people, buying a new coat might bring them a burst of joy that fades quickly. For others, it may even bring some degree of lasting joy, though I would suspect that it fades as the coat’s newness does.

For me, though, my coat is not a source of joy. It’s a functional item. As long as it keeps me warm in the winter and doesn’t cause me to look too out of place, I’m happy because it’s serving its purpose. (If anything, I feel slightly good about the wear, as I noted earlier.)

If you’re buying something you don’t need, it should bring you at least some measure of real joy, ideally a lasting joy. This isn’t just about coats or about articles of clothing. It’s about everything you buy, from electronic devices to cutlery, from a cup of coffee at Starbucks to a can of black beans.

Is this something I need? If not, is it bringing me significant joy or lasting joy that I can’t easily get elsewhere? If not, I shouldn’t be buying it.

I don’t need a new coat. Getting a new coat would not bring me any significant or lasting joy, at least not any that I couldn’t get elsewhere (like the joy of grabbing that warm coat on the first cold day of the year, which I can get from my current coat).

This is a valuable perspective to apply to everything you might spend money on. That worn coat of mine is just an embodiment of the idea.

Lesson #6: Reliable and Reusable Are Earth-Friendly Concepts

Remember those four worn out and falling apart spring coats that I talked about earlier? Those things were sadly trashed, to my regret. I’m not sure where they all wound up, but wherever it was, it was likely not a positive thing for the environment.

However, this winter coat of mine has been in my home for almost two decades. It has outlasted all of those other coats. It has never taken up space in a trash bin. It has never taken up space in a landfill. And it won’t for quite a while yet.

That’s an Earth-friendly move. Yeah, it’s a small one, but let’s say everyone in America had a winter coat that they didn’t replace for two decades rather than a winter coat replaced every five years. That’s 900 million coats over the course of 20 years. That’s a landfill full of coats (at least).

“Yeah, but what difference does it make?” This goes back to that old analogy of a beach full of starfish. You can’t save all of the starfish – no one can – but you can certainly grab a few and toss them back in the ocean. Buying a long lasting item that won’t need to be replaced soon is the equivalent of tossing a starfish back into the ocean. Thus, you can certainly toss back quite a few starfish in your life.

Lesson #7: The Coat Has Memories

This might seem strange, but when I pull the coat out of the closet, I often think about the many different adventures I’ve had with this coat. I think about sledding down a hill with my kids, especially when they were small. I think about my misadventures with skiing. I think about our trip to Yellowstone when it was unseasonably cold and my choice to bring my winter coat turned out to be a great one.

A new coat wouldn’t have those memories and pleasant thoughts associated with them. A coat that gets replaced every three or four years never has the chance to build up those kinds of associations.

It’s similar to how I feel about our kitchen table. There are a few notable scuffs and scratches on it, and I remember what was happening when almost all of those things happened. There’s a huge scuff that came from a heavy crock that we were using to make a jumbo batch of sauerkraut. There’s a big scratch that my son made with his fork when he was two or three.

Those things have meaning and value to me, and those things go away if we just replace the item as soon as possible. Not only is such a replacement expensive, there’s something of value that’s lost and can ever really be replaced. There’s something special in a worn item.

Lesson #8: The Savings Is Building Toward Greater Things

I’ve made the case that a reliable and long lasting item at a reasonable price saves money compared to buying cheap items that wear out quickly. The financial implications of this are numerous.

First of all, the expense of replacing an item comes up much less frequently. I haven’t bought a new winter coat in almost two decades. It’s just not an expense in my life. Sure, if I replace it with something durable in a decade or so, it might be expensive, but it’s simply a long way down the road.

Second, I’ll see that replacement coming a mile away. The nice thing about having a durable well-made item is that it’s usually pretty clear when it’s getting close to replacement time, but you’re not usually facing an emergency replacement. You have some time to save, to research, and to shop around for another reliable and reasonably-priced replacement. This process won’t be an emergency replacement. I’ll have time to find the right thing and to look for sales.

Third, I can use the money in the interim to build the future I want. Because I know these two things about my coat, I know that the money I might have to throw at a regular coat replacement cycle can go to other purposes in life, namely building the future that I want. It’s a lot easier to save for retirement when you’re not replacing a lot of the regular use items in your life with any sort of frequency.

Obviously, my coat alone isn’t making that kind of difference, but when you add up lots of things that are well made and reliable and don’t have to be replaced, it does make a difference. My goal is to eventually have all of my frequent-use items be well made and reliable so I never have to worry about replacing them, ever, and I’m not too far away from that right now.

Because of that philosophy, I recognize that my worn winter coat and other items like that in my life are contributing to my early retirement goal. There are so many things that I simply don’t have to replace with any frequency, and because of that, my regular expenses are lower, and because of that, I can contribute more to retirement, which is the big financial goal that matters to me.

Lesson #9: I’m Setting an Example

Another thing I value about this worn coat is the example it sets for my children when it comes to practical frugality. You don’t need a new coat every year. You don’t need a new coat every five years. This one keeps doing the job and, yes, real people use items until they’re truly worn out.

I’ve noticed that my children take after this idea. None of them are ashamed to shop for clothes at a secondhand store. They don’t mind used items a bit as long as they work. They appreciate the value in getting something that’s of high quality at a reasonable price rather than the cheapest thing they can find, a phase they seemed to outgrow well before their friends.

It’s also in line with my core social circle. Most of my closest friends apply the same principles to their possessions. Get something that’s good quality, even if it’s used. Use it until it’s genuinely worn out before replacing it. Repeat. The coat is a symbol of that, in a subtle way, and it very subtly reinforces that idea within my social circle.

Although I’m aware of the spotlight effect, I’d like to think that if anyone does really notice my coat, it nudges them in this direction as well. They see a coat with a little wear on it and they think that it’s a good thing, not something to just be replaced immediately.

Lesson #10: The Homework Matters

The final lesson I’m reminded of is how the homework matters with these kinds of purchases.

Finding a well-made and reliable item that does what you want it to for a reasonable price isn’t easy. There are a lot of companies out there selling badly made items, or items that look good at first glance but will fall apart quickly with regular use. Taking the time to sift through the options and find the item that’s actually of high quality does take some time and effort.

However, buying a well made item should be a pretty irregular purchase, so you should have time to do the homework for each one. Let’s say it takes 30 minutes to buy a coat as an off-the-cuff decision, but it’s likely a poorly made coat that will be replaced in five years. If I spend an hour right now researching coats and find a really good one that lasts, then I spend 30 minutes shopping for a good price on that coat, and that coat lasts me for twenty years, I’m still saving time.

The homework pays off, in terms of both money and time. Finding the right item might take some effort, and finding it at the right price might take some diligence, but if you don’t have to replace that item for twenty years, that effort and diligence reap real financial rewards.

Final Thoughts

My well worn winter coat is emblematic of the kind of life I want to live. I don’t want to spend my time buying poorly made things that won’t last. I don’t want the expense of that, either. Instead, I want items that provide lasting value and perhaps build up a little character as well.

Good luck!

Read more by Trent Hamm:

The post 10 Lessons from My Well-Worn Winter Coat appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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Double Down on Going Green: These Green Friendly Companies Hire Remotely

You may be looking for ways to go green  — and maybe make a little green while you’re at it. Working from home is a great way to do both, especially if it’s for a green-friendly company.

Transportation pollution is currently the leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions, and a close second is electricity usage. Commuters and office buildings are responsible for a large portion of those emissions, but the good news is that remote jobs, which disincentivize both commuting and large offices, are soaring in popularity.

The number of remote workers is up 140% since 2005, according to data from Global Workplace Analytics.

To add to those environmental benefits, remote workers also have $4,000 higher annual earnings. — Global Workplace Analysts’ telecommuting study.

“In terms of personal footprint, working from home is a big deal,” says Dr. Robert Brinkmann, Hofstra University professor of geology, environment and sustainability. “You can reduce your greenhouse-gas footprint significantly.”

That’s because working from home, on average, will cut 8,000 commuting miles off your odometer and will curb an estimated three tons of carbon emissions each year.

To double your environmental impact, we found  several green jobs you can do remotely.

What Are Green Jobs?

Generally speaking, green jobs are jobs that help the environment. They can be in almost any industry, but they must strive to increase energy efficiency and sustainability.

Direct examples include land, water and wildlife conservation, whereas a less direct example is a vegetarian food brand.

Companies With Remote Jobs That Help The Environment

If you’re a nonprofit organization or a business in green tech, it makes sense to hire remotely. Here are a few companies that put their environmental mission where their mouth is.


Audubon, more formally The National Audubon Society, hires many jobs explicitly aimed at helping the environment, some of which are available remotely. The nonprofit membership organization was founded more than a century ago, and it lobbies the government on environmental conservation issues.

Remote work is available for interns and conservation organizers. Visit its job board for open positions.

Impossible Foods

detail shot of Impossible Foods burgers

This is a company you may have already come across in your daily routine. Impossible Foods produces plant-based meat alternatives to offset the environmental impacts of the agricultural industry. It’s made headway since 2011 in getting its faux meat into grocery stores and restaurants across the nation.

The company is based in California, but it offers some work-from-home positions, typically in sales. Check the current job listings for available opportunities.

Mercy For Animals

An advocate for cruelty-free farming, Mercy For Animals is a nonprofit organization that has spurred several factory-farming investigations since its launch in 1995. For most positions, applicants can choose between working remotely or at one of its physical locations. Remote jobs in tech, community organization and communications are available.

See current openings on its job board.

The Humane League

The Humane League started in 2005 in Philadelphia as a small grassroots organization. Since then, it’s expanded into an international nonprofit that campaigns for animal rights and sustainable farming practices. All jobs at The Humane League are remote, and its workforce is decentralized across several countries.

Check the current job listings to apply.

The Sierra Club

Long a champion of environmental conservation and sustainability, the Sierra Club boasts more than 3 million members, making it one of the largest nonprofits in the U.S. Most of its jobs are located at the California headquarters or in one of the field offices around the nation. Remote positions include volunteer management and communications.

For current openings, visit its job board.

For other remote job opportunities that aren’t directly associated with environmental organizations, browse The Penny Hoarder’s Work-From-Home Jobs Portal. We post legitimate remote jobs there all the time.

Other Ways It Pays to Go Green

close up shot of window with an air conditioning unit

If you’re interested in reducing your greenhouse gas emissions overall, Brinkmann says to think of your carbon footprint in a broader sense.

While, yes, working from home is a noble way to reduce about three tons of carbon pollution a year — if you’re not careful, you can easily undo those efforts in other areas of your life. Take travel, for example: A one-way flight from Atlanta to Beijing will produce roughly the same amount of emissions.

And if you’re working from home, you may be tempted to blast the AC all day.

Brinkmann says small energy adjustments around your home office can have a significant environmental impact, especially on your energy bill.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, about half of your energy bill is due to air conditioning. Ensuring your heating and cooling equipment is Energy-Star certified will reduce your bill and your emissions. A switch to energy-efficient lighting is another cheap investment that will save you in the long run, as the bulbs use 75% less energy and last up to 10 times longer.

For those times when you have to use services that emit large amounts of greenhouse gases, such as airplane rides, Brinkmann offers this solution: carbon offsets. These are small investments in renewable energy projects that help negate the impact of carbon-emitting services you use.

For example, to negate the effects of three tons of carbon dioxide emissions —  aka a year’s worth of commuting to work or one 12-hour international flight — you could purchase the equivalent in carbon offsets for as little as $30 through organizations such as Terrapass and Carbonfund, which use your investments for environmental initiatives like forest restoration and land conservation.

“When you buy [an international] flight, you just throw another 30 bucks in the coffers for that,” Brinkmann says.

To have a “guilt-free Earth Day,” as he puts it, be sure to earmark some of that money you saved from a lower energy bill and reinvest it in green energy.

“It’s a win-win for everyone.”

Adam Hardy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. He specializes in ways to make money that don’t involve stuffy corporate offices. Read his ​latest articles here, or say hi on Twitter @hardyjournalism.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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Eight Strategies for Maximum Value from Secondhand Stores

One of my favorite tactics for saving money when I need certain items is to head to secondhand stores in my area. Secondhand stores are invariably good sources for certain types of goods and, because of that, they’re often the first stop when I go shopping for those items because I can save a lot of money. (I’ll get into which items in a minute.)

There’s a catch, of course – isn’t there always? The catch is that if you go to secondhand stores without a plan, they can often feel like a waltz through a pile of junk. You look around and see a bunch of used items that you’re not interested in and, well, it just doesn’t seem worthwhile.

You have to have a plan or else a trip to a secondhand store probably isn’t worth your time.

So, what’s the plan? Here are eight key strategies I use when shopping secondhand.

Strategy #1 – Treat It As Your First Stop When You Need Something – But Know What You’ll Find There

For me, a trip to a secondhand store is the first stop in a shopping trip where I know that it’s highly likely I’ll be stopping elsewhere. I go in there with a list of things I’m looking for and those are the things I seek out. If I find things that work for me that are on my list, great – I cross them off and buy those inexpensive items. If not, it’s okay – I’ll shop elsewhere.

There are certain types of items that I always shop for at secondhand stores first. I always check clothing at secondhand stores, not because everything there is great, but because there are often a lot of gems on the racks that you might not notice first. I buy small appliances there – rice cookers, bread makers, toasters, and so on. I often buy camping gear at secondhand stores, believe it or not – things like plastic plates and cups in our camping box have come from secondhand stores. When we had babies and younger children, I’d buy lots of baby and young child items there – toys, clothes, and so on. I buy sporting goods secondhand. I buy musical instruments secondhand. I buy books there, too – I’ll often find stuff by serendipity and then wind up reading it.

If I find that I need anything like that, a secondhand store is going to be a place that I stop. There are many things that I don’t bother buying there – electronics come to mind, for example – and I don’t bother stopping there unless it’s purposeful, so secondhand stores aren’t an “every time” stop. They’re an “occasional” stop, when I know there’s a reason to go.

Remember, secondhand stores are a “first stop” on a shopping trip. It’s at least somewhat likely that you still don’t find everything you need even after stopping at a few such stores, and that’s okay – that’s part of the equation. Once you’ve looked, then you can move on to other retailers where you’ll be buying new and likely paying more. Secondhand stores just solve your problem at a low price a lot of the time, not every time; in my experience, it happens often enough that it’s well worth spending half an hour visiting a couple secondhand stores before shopping elsewhere, especially if I’m applying the other strategies in this article.

Strategy #2 – Look Beyond Goodwill and Salvation Army

Many people seem to think that secondhand stores begin and end with Goodwill and Salvation Army and don’t even consider whether there are other stores in the area. This honestly wasn’t a concept that ever crossed my mind until found myself being a more active participant in local community message boards, when people would suggest only Salvation Army or Goodwill as secondhand stores and seemed stunned that there were other options.

Most communities of any size have a wide variety of secondhand stores as well as some stores that mix secondhand goods with new items. In the two larger cities nearest me, there are independent secondhand clothing stores, secondhand sporting goods stores, secondhand bookstores, and a number of specialty stores that have lots of used items on their shelves along with the new ones.

Don’t start and end your secondhand shopping at Goodwill and Salvation Army. They’re great stores for finding secondhand items, don’t get me wrong, but they can often give a limited impression of the possibilities of buying secondhand items. Do some Google searching for secondhand stores in communities near you and see what kind of shops are out there. You’ll almost definitely find more options than you expect.

Strategy #3 – Check Out Secondhand Stores Close to Wealthy Residential Neighborhoods

One great strategy for finding high quality secondhand items is to intentionally check out stores that are relatively close to affluent neighborhoods. If there’s a neighborhood or a suburb in your city that has a lot of nice houses and nice cars, make it a point to check out secondhand stores that are relatively close in proximity to those areas.

The reason is that wealthier people will quite often simply donate high quality items that are barely used because they’re buying a whole new winter wardrobe or replacing a small kitchen appliance they used twice because the color wasn’t perfect in their kitchens. It’s truly amazing how many great things you’ll find in those stores for a surprisingly low price.

You can identify such stores using Google Maps. Simply pull up a map of your city and search for secondhand stores, then see which ones are close to affluent neighborhoods. Look for used clothing stores, used sporting goods stores, used bookstores – they’ll all have good things. The Goodwill and Salvation Army stores near nice neighborhoods are often very well stocked, too.

Strategy #4 – Always Check on Items That You Can Quickly Value

Whenever I’m at a secondhand store, I always check on a few items that I can quickly value at a glance. For example, I’ll look for things like old roleplaying books, board games, old books, older video games, old trading cards, and things like that.

Most of the time, I find junk. I find scratched up PS2 games or copies of Scene It!

Every once in a while, though, I hit the jackpot. In the last four years or so, by doing two or three minutes of extra browsing while in a secondhand store, I’ve found the following:
+ Some early Dungeons and Dragons books in immaculate condition, worth about $75 a pop, on sale for $0.99 each. I bought them all, naturally.
+ A copy of the Super NES game Earthbound for $5. This was without the box or any other material. It sells for around $200 on the secondary market. This was in a HUGE box of Super Nintendo games; I bought several, but this was the jewel.
+ A copy of the board game Civilization published by Avalon Hill in the early 1980s, unpunched, which often sells in the $50-$100 range, for about $3.
+ Autographed copies of Rabbit, Run and The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike for $0.50 each.
+ A box of mixed Magic: the Gathering cards for $10. There were several cards in there I was able to sell individually for more than $10 each.
+ A Vitamix blender for $8 in great shape. I actually doubted it would work, so I asked if I could plug it in and it whirred right to life. It sells for hundreds new.

Those are just the things I can think of off the top of my head. I didn’t go shopping for these things specifically, but I just kept an active eye for bargains like this while wandering through the store and looking in a few areas where I knew I could identify bargains.

Strategy #5 – Remember Secondhand Stuff Can Sometimes Be Overpriced, Too

One might think that I view everything at a secondhand store as a great bargain, but that’s not true. There are often items that are overpriced at secondhand stores. In general, I’m not going to pay the majority of what an item lists for new at a secondhand shop.

Basically, don’t turn off your internal price detection when you’re in a secondhand store. Always look at the price tag and if it doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t right. The price in a secondhand store should seem low to you; if it seems high, don’t buy.

I should say that I don’t think such pricing happens intentionally. Most used stores want high throughput. They don’t want stuff to stick around forever because they’re always receiving donations and consignments or they’re always picking up new lots of things to sell. Often, items are priced by someone making a quick guess and a high price is just someone pricing something a bit higher than they should. You should only shy away from a used store if lots of their items are priced higher than you think. A single item or two is likely just someone making a quick estimate that’s a little high.

Strategy #6 – Planning Makes a Huge Difference

As I noted earlier, I usually don’t go into a secondhand store without a plan of some kind. Unless it’s a weird situation like I’m waiting at an office and there’s a secondhand store nearby and I’m just scanning the shelves for something to flip, I don’t go into a secondhand store without something I’m specifically looking for, and I’m usually looking for several things.

As I mentioned earlier, there are several types of things I look for at secondhand stores – clothing, sporting goods, small kitchen appliances, camping items, children’s items, and so on. When I find that I want or need one of those items and it’s not blisteringly urgent, I’ll start a “list” of things to buy secondhand. Over the next few weeks, I’ll add items to that list – maybe my son is growing fast and needs some new casual t-shirts, or maybe my daughter needs a new soccer ball, or maybe I want to try out a bread making machine if I can find one for a pittance. Once the list has three or four items on it, then I go to a couple of secondhand stores in the area and look for those items.

You should always go into any store with a plan in mind, not just to browse. Browsing means that you’re going to buy unplanned things that you probably don’t need. If you go in with the intent of looking for specific items (and leaving if you don’t find them), you’re going to be focused in what you’re looking for and be much less likely to walk out with extra items.

Go secondhand shopping with a list. Give that list some time to build a little unless there’s an urgent need. Remember, you can also use this list for yard sales, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and other secondhand buying opportunities.

Strategy #7 – Be Flexible

It’s generally a bad idea to go into a secondhand store with an overly specific idea of what you want. For example, if you’re going to buy a secondhand toaster, don’t go in there with a specific toaster model in mind – rather, just go looking for a toaster and see what they have. Don’t go in there looking for a shirt from a specific company in a specific color or else you’re going to be disappointed – rather, just go looking for a summer shirt.

The more specific you are, the greater the chance that you won’t find what you’re looking for and the greater the chance that you’re overlooking a perfectly good solution for your situation. The more specific you are, the more likely it is that you’re going to end up buying that specific thing new, which means you’re going to be paying far more. It also means that you’re probably wasting your time at the secondhand store.

Be flexible. Be as unspecific as possible with what you’re looking for when you go in the door.

Strategy #8 – At the Same Time, It’s Okay To Move On If You Don’t Find Something That Works

When I say “be flexible,” I don’t mean “buy junk.” You might go in the door looking for a toaster, but if there are only two toasters and they look like fire hazards, you don’t have to buy one. If you go in the door looking for summer shirts and there are only a few in your size and they look like rejects from the rag bag, don’t buy them.

What you’re really looking for are items at a low price that actually solve your problem without creating new ones and without bringing home something that will just have to be replaced again in a few months. Take a problem-based view of all of your used item shopping. Does this fix the problem at a very low price without creating new ones or just delaying the problem for a very short time? Then buy it. If not, skip it. You can always shop elsewhere.

Final Thoughts

Secondhand stores are a great tool in a person’s shopping repertoire. They’re not going to always have what you want at the price that you want, but if you’re flexible and keep your eyes open and you go into a good store with a sensible plan, it’s quite likely that you’ll find some great discounts that are really useful to you.

Good luck!

The post Eight Strategies for Maximum Value from Secondhand Stores appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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We’ve Tested 100s of Banks, Credit Cards and Apps. These Are the Best

It seems like there are a million financial companies competing for your attention.

Put your money here. Invest with us. This is the best credit card. You’ll get cash back. Hey, we’ll give you a loan! We’ll give you the sweetest deal, we promise. We are totally not a scam. Here at (fill in the blank) company, your financial future is our top priority.

Sound familiar?

We’re here to cut through the noise. We’ve road-tested countless financial apps, products, services, tools, accounts, cards and companies. If it has to do with money, we’ve tried it.

Let’s cut to the chase: Here are the only four you really need. We’re recommending these four because we’ve found them to be legit, easy to use, and effective. Each of them does something different, but they all offer smart ways to grow and manage your money.

Put Your Money in This Fee-Free Online Account

We’ve reached a point where online accounts are simply easier to use than traditional accounts. They’re cheaper and more accessible.

One of our favorite companies, Aspiration, works on a pay-what-is-fair model. You choose to set a monthly tip up to $20 or as low as $0, and you can change it anytime.

That gives you fee-free access to a Spend and Save account — and its perks. Check these out:

  • Earn 2.00% APY on your savings as long as you squirrel away at least $1 a month.
  • Earn 0.5% cash back on purchases with your debit card.
  • Get reimbursed for any ATM fees (i.e. get money anytime, anywhere you need it without worrying about the exorbitant cost of those pesky machines).

Plus, in an age when we all look on the big banks with a touch of suspicion because of years of scandal and mismanagement, Aspiration has popped up with the simple motto to “Do Well. Do Good.” It commits to donating 10% of earnings to charity and makes it easy for account holders to do the same.

Invest Your Money in Real Estate — Even If You’re Not Rich

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Want to try real-estate investing without playing landlord? We found a company that helps you do just that.

Oh, and you don’t have to have hundreds of thousands of dollars, either. You can get started with a minimum investment of just $500. A company called Fundrise does all the heavy lifting for you.

Through the Fundrise Starter Portfolio, your money gets invested in private real estate around the United States.

This isn’t an obscure investment, though. You can see exactly which properties are included in your portfolios — like a set of townhomes in Snoqualmie, Washington, or an apartment building in Charlotte, North Carolina.

You can earn money through quarterly dividend payments and potential appreciation in the value of your shares, just like a stock. Cash flow typically comes from interest payments and property income (e.g. rent).

You’ll pay a 0.85% annual asset management fee and a 0.15% annual investment advisory fee.

Get Cash Back From Your Credit Card

There are so many credit cards to choose from! So many.

Here’s the one we like: It’s the Chase Freedom Unlimited card*. Its claim to fame? You’ll earn an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all your purchases. Plus, if you spend $500 in your first three months of opening the card (hi, groceries), you’ll pocket a $150 bonus.

There’s no annual fee, and the cash-back rewards don’t expire.

As a Penny Hoarder, you just have to be sure you don’t get too carried away with those purchases — and that the card is paid off at the end of each billing period.

Get signed up — and 0% intro APR for 15 months — here.

Cut Down Your Credit Card Debt with a Personal Loan

When you think about how much debt you have, it can make you anxious. A lot of us are being crushed by credit card interest rates north of 20%. If you’re in that boat, consolidation and refinancing might be worth a look.

That’s where a company like Fiona can help. It can help you find personalized lending options to refinance or consolidate your debt to potentially save thousands of dollars in interest.

Fiona will show you all the lenders willing to help you pay off your credit card debt and eliminate the headache of paying bills by allowing you to make one payment each month.

If your credit score is at least 620, you can borrow up to $100,000 (no collateral needed) and compare interest rates, which start at 3.84%. The idea is to secure a loan at a lower interest rate than your credit cards, potentially helping you save thousands. Repayment plans range from 24 to 84 months.

Take, for example, Katherine, who faced $12,000 in credit card debt. Holding her back? The 15.24% interest rate. By refinancing with a 5%-interest, seven-year personal loan, she saved $12,000 in interest.

If she’d kept on the same road, she would have paid something like $14,000 in interest alone over 25 years. Yikes!

If you’re just curious about what’s out there, checking rates on Fiona won’t hurt your credit score — and can probably save you in interest.

Cut Through the Clutter and Focus on Solutions

Countless financial services are vying for your business. Too many to keep track of.

Sometimes it’s best to keep it simple, and focus on a few good, solid ones that can really help you out.

Based on our experience, all of the ones we mentioned here are legit. They’re a good place to start.

*The information for the Chase Freedom Unlimited card has been collected independently by The Penny Hoarder. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. The Penny Hoarder is a partner of Credible.

Mike Brassfield ( is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He keeps it simple.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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Do It for Mother Earth: How Working From Home Can Help You Help the Planet

Need another reason to work from home?

Do it for the planet.

According to a study published by FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics, 10 million cars — or approximately the entire New York State workforce — would leave the road each year if every U.S. worker who could and wanted to telecommute actually did.

“There is no single solution that offers as large of a potential environmental impact and reduction in greenhouse gases than having people work at home,” says Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics. “It is the biggest part of our burden on the planet.”

Pro Tip

By becoming even a half-time remote worker, you’ll gain back an average of 11 days a year that would have otherwise been spent commuting.

By cutting their commutes, the current U.S. work-from-from population keeps the equivalent of 600,000 cars off the road each year.

How much could dropping your commute do to save our planet?

Figure Out How Much Pollution Your Commute Contributes

Your actual contributions can vary based on a number of factors, including your commute time and driving conditions, but you can get a general idea of your personal output with this tool from the Environmental Protection Agency, which calculates your vehicle’s average mileage and CO2 output.

To figure out how much CO2 your commute produces annually:

  • Determine the number of miles you travel to and from work each day. For example, let’s say you drive 20 miles each way to work for a total of 40 miles.
  • Multiply that number by the number of days you drive to the office for the total number of miles you drive each year. Let’s assume you head to the office five days a week and get two weeks off for vacation: 40 x 250 = 10,000 miles
  • Multiply that number by your car’s CO2 output for your total. If your car produces 261 grams (or 0.575407 pounds) of CO2 per mile, then your commute results in 10,000 x .575407 = 5,754 pounds, or 2.877 tons of carbon annually.

Earth Day Tips to Help Remote Workers

Even if working from home isn’t always an option, every day you cut your commute can help, according to Brie Reynolds, senior career specialist at Flexjobs.

“When you’re able to work from home even one day a week, you’re reducing your commute by 20%,” Reynolds says. “Sometimes people think it’s all or nothing, but it can be some kind of compromise.”

Pay Attention to the Thermostat

In addition to cutting the commute, remote work can help reduce the environmental cost associated with working in office buildings, according to Reynolds.

“Energy consumption goes down across the board when you’re able to stop using office space,” she says. “When people work from home, they have more control over their environment — I know a lot of remote workers who pay very close attention to their thermostats.”

By opting to dress in layers or use fans around the house, you can control the comfort level of your space without wasting resources on heating and cooling, Reynolds notes.

Bonus: You can retire that office sweater you wore in your aggressively air-conditioned cubicle.

Pro Tip

Energy consumption goes down across the board when you’re able to stop using office space.

Choose Essential Office Equipment

In addition to the building, an office’s high-volume equipment often requires additional energy to operate and cool, according to Reynolds. Most remote workers can get by on a less equipment, which saves energy and money.

“If you are largely in a role that doesn’t require a lot of extra office equipment, you can get by on pretty much a laptop,” Reynolds says, adding that less equipment also means less of it ending up in landfills.

Reduce Use of Office Supplies

When you use your own office supplies, your cost-cutting tactics can also help the earth. Think: How many sticky notes do you use in the office vs. when you work from home?

“When you’re at home and you are the one responsible, you’re a little more hesitant to print something you don’t really have to,” Reynolds says. “Individual choice and individual consumption is a key piece of the environmental benefits of remote work.”

That’s a win for your employer, you and the environment.

Happy Earth Day!

Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer for The Penny Hoarder.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

10 Books I Read in March

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here.

In 2019, I’m sharing the books I read each month and what my honest thoughts were on those books. If you love books, you don’t want to miss this post! (You can see all of my book reviews for this year here.)

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My Goal of 80 Books Read in 2019

I set a goal to finish 80 books in 2019 and a second goal that 40 of those books will be books I already own. (You can see which books I picked to read from those I already own here).

By the way, I’m truly loving using GoodReads to track my reading. You all were right! It is really motivational to see my progress!

I’m excited that I made more progress on my reading goals this past month, thanks to being able to check out so many great audiobooks for free through the Libby app.

And yes, I know that some people might consider listening to an audiobook as “cheating” a little. Jesse is constantly teasing me about this. But hey, I think that any way you get a book finished is a good thing and I’m going to count it and celebrate it!

a girl at Barnes & Noble

10 Books I Finished in March

I finished 10 books in March — yay! Here’s what I read + my honest thoughts on each of the books:

A photo of A Gentleman in Moscow

1. A Gentleman in Moscow

I’ll be honest, this book was nothing like I expected it to be. And I almost quit listening to it after a few chapters because it was just so slow to develop and I was struggling to follow where the story was leading.

However, because it was highly recommended to me and because I have had it on my To Read list for so long, I decided to keep listening. And I’m really glad that I ended up sticking with it.

It turned out to be so different than my expectations, but it was a beautiful story with a lot of richness and depth. The author’s style wasn’t my favorite and I think it would have been hard to stick with had I been reading it (it’s a l-o-n-g book), but there was something about it that just grew on me more and more as I read it.

Have you read it? If so, I’d love to hear what you thought of it!

Verdict: 3 stars

A photo of The Middle Matters by Lisa Jo Baker

2. The Middle Matters

I read a pre-release copy of this book because Lisa-Jo asked me to write an endorsement for it. It’s a collection of essays she wrote on various aspects of living “in the middle” — those years you’re just in the middle of the mundane or the messy.

Here’s a little info on it from the Amazon description:

The middle is the place where our lives really live. This is the place where we have grown into the shapes of our souls even as we might have outgrown the shapes of our jeans.

The middle is the marrow. The glorious ordinary of your life that utterly exhausts you but that you might have finally started to understand in ways you didn’t at the beginning. Listen, I’m not asking you to seize the day here; I’m just asking you to actually see it. Even if just out of the corner of one eye. The middle is worth remembering while you are actually living it, because you won’t pass by this way again.

So it’s worth slowing down long enough on random afternoons to really look around at your life and your husband and the human beings you are raising together and let it sink in that you’ve grown up and that it’s good. You are living at the very center of what will be your story. Right now. Let’s stop long enough to read a few lines of these lives out loud. Because trust me when I tell you, sister, the middle is worth reading.

Verdict: 3 stars

A photo of Everybody, Always by Bob Goff

3. Everybody, Always

I got an email a recently from a woman who told me she has followed me online for a long time, but she’s been too scared to write in because she knows I’m a Christian and she’s afraid of what I might think of her since she’s so different than me. She felt I wouldn’t want to associate with her because of her choices, beliefs, and lifestyle.

My heart broke when I read her words. And it made me really stop and examine my heart. Am I oozing with Jesus’ love — for ALL people?

Or am I just loving those people who are most like me, who have the same beliefs or viewpoints, or who I most relate to?

If I’m truly following Jesus, I’m not just going to be hanging out with people who are like me.

I’m going to be spending a lot of time with those who are on the fringes, those who are often overlooked, and those who are very different than me.

If I say I’m following Jesus, but I’m unwilling to love those who are different than me, those who have hurt me, and those who are hard to love, I’m not truly following Jesus.

Thanks to Bob Goff for how he inspired me through his book Love Everybody, Always. While I don’t agree with all of his theology, I do 100% agree with his heart for challenging us to love others much more wholeheartedly!

My favorite quote: “If following Jesus doesn’t lead you to the poor, the lonely, and the isolated, you’re not following Jesus.”

Verdict: 4 stars

a photo A Love Letter Life by Jeremy and Audrey Roloff

4. A Love Letter Life

As I talk about on my recent podcast episode with Audrey and Jeremy Roloff, I actually didn’t know who they were until their publicist reached out to me a few months ago and asked if she could send me their brand-new book, A Love Letter Life.

I Googled their names (yes, I did!) and discovered that they are well known for being on the hit TV show Little People, Big World (which follows Jeremy’s family — and which he grew up being part of).

To be honest, I said their publicist could send me their book, A Love Letter Life, but I didn’t expect all that much from it and wasn’t planning to ask them to be on my show. (I’m super picky about who I will invite on the show and only invite people whose work/life has impacted me in a deep way.)

But then, the publicist sent the book, I read it, and I truly found it very valuable. In addition, I just loved their beautiful love story, their honesty, and how well-written the book was (in fact, I wondered if they had a ghost writer for it, but Audrey told me when she was at our house that they didn’t!)

You can listen to the podcast episode I did with Audrey and Jeremy here.

Verdict: 4 stars

Chase the Lion by Mark Batterson

5. Chase the Lion

You all know I’m a big Mark Batterson fan! I have loved and been inspired by so many of his books and this book was no different!

Chase the Lion is a sort of sequel to In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day — which was a book I loved. (You can read my review of In a Pit here.)

Like all of Mark’s other books, this book is brimming with inspiration and quotable statements (Mark is a master wordsmith!) I also love how he weaves so many facts and interesting tidbits and stories all throughout his books.

My only reason for not giving this book 5 stars was that I felt like some of it was pretty repetitive to what I remember In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day being. In fact, until he said otherwise in the book, I thought maybe he had just re-titled the book since the material seemed so similar.

In addition, some people could take his message to mean we need to push so hard that we completely burn ourselves out to the point of exhaustion. Mark has a crazy zest for life and, what feels like, unlimited energy. So some people could feel like they need to be doing way more than they should be doing by reading this book.

Just remember to keep in mind that we all have different capacities and callings and it’s okay to move at a slower pace so long as we are pursuing our own calling. But still, I feel like there’s so much valuable inspiration in this book and I definitely recommend it!

Verdict: 4 stars

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society

6. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society

I read this book a number of years ago and loved it. Then, not too long ago, I watched the Netflix movie they did based upon the book.

Well, after watching the movie and enjoying it, I realized I couldn’t remember enough about the book to compare the movie and the book. So, in an uncharacteristic move, I decided to read the book again.

Only this time, I listened to it (thanks to getting the audiobook for free from the Libby app). I loved that the audiobook is narrated by multiple voices. It’s so well done.

And I ultimately decided that the book is great, the movie is good, and the audiobook is very well done. So I highly recommend all three.

By the way, this novel is written entirely in the form of letters and telegrams. Considering that this book and Dear Mr. Knightley are two of my top favorite books and both are written in letter form, apparently I’m a big fan of that style of writing! (Do you know of other books written in a similar fashion? If so, I’d love to read them to see if I enjoy them as much!)

Verdict: 5 stars

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center

7. How to Walk Away

I’m still not sure what I think of this novel. On the one hand, I felt like it held a lot of richness. On the other hand, it felt like there was a lot of fluff.

It’s the story of a woman who gets badly injured in a small airplane crash and who is paralyzed and in a wheelchair as a result. I felt that there was a lot of value in getting a peek at what it would be like to go through such a horrific experience.

I love stories that help you have a little window into what it would be like to walk in someone else’s shoes… or, in the case of this book, to lose your ability to walk at all.

But on the other hand, it wasn’t from a Christian perspective and it felt like it was missing so much because of this.

However, I felt like the story was well written and believable in most regards (there were a few parts that were just a little too fictionalized to feel true) and I enjoyed it overall.

(Note: This is some language and a few sections that were more PG-13.)

Verdict: 4 stars

How Successful People Think by John Maxwell

8. How Successful People Think

I listened to this short book in less than two days. It has a lot of great nuggets of truth in it and many sections that made me stop and think. (Which was probably a good thing, right, since it’s a book about how successful people think? ;))

It helped me to process through a few situations in life and gave me some good perspective for those. It also encouraged me as a leader that I am approaching many areas of my life with thoughtfulness and intention.

One of my biggest takeaways was to prioritize thinking and spaces in our schedule for thinking. In fact, as a result of reading the book, I blocked off a part of one day each week as my “Thinking Time.”

This Thinking Time is time for me to just be quiet and think through certain areas of my life where I don’t have clarity. It is also time for me to pray, process, and write down thoughts and ideas.

I am already seeing a lot of benefit to this practice and am excited to watch how it impacts the rest of my year!

Verdict: 4 stars

If You Only Knew by Jamie Ivey

9. If You Only Knew

This book was a short read written by well known podcaster, Jamie Ivey. It’s her honest journey of letting go of shame and walking into freedom.

I found some parts so thought-provoking and well-written. Other sections felt like they sort of dragged on and were repetitive. She may have purposefully repeated herself in order to drive the message home? I’m not sure, but I personally thought that it could have been edited down more than it was.

In addition, I felt like she took a long time to get into her story and it made me wonder if she was concerned she would get backlash for choices she’s made and struggles she’s had. Honestly, because of how she set it up, I was expecting her story to be much, much worse and was kind of like, “Oh! That’s all she did?!” after she shared.

(I’m kind of embarrassed to even write that that was my thought process, but it’s true! And hey, I’m all about keeping it real and honest around here. So there ya go!)

Verdict: 3 stars

Option B by Sheryl Sandberg

10. Option B

Many of you are probably familiar with Sheryl Sandberg. She’s the COO of Facebook and the widely known author of Lean In. This book chronicles her personal journey with losing her husband suddenly and the steps she took after his death to survive and process such an unexpected and heart-wrenching tragedy.

While personally, I’m not sure that it’s a book to give to someone who has experienced such a great loss (I think the honesty she writes with could be incredibly painful to someone who is grieving deeply), I found her authenticity refreshing and insightful. Her words will help me better know how to walk with someone well who is grieving and how to be more mindful of how I talk to them and interact with them.

There is a little language in the book. I also felt like a little bit of her political agenda spilled through. There is nothing wrong with having or sharing a political agenda, but I personally felt like it detracted a little from the book.

Verdict: 4 stars

What have you been reading recently? Any books you think I really need to read soon? I’d love to know!

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The Intersection Between Skills and Luck in Your Professional Life (and Elsewhere)

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Connie writes in:

Liked your article about competence and mastery. Did you see this piece from MIT Tech Review about luck’s role in all of this? I think it would make a good follow up article.

You’re absolutely right, Connie. That article does address a lot of good points about the role of luck in terms of skill and how they combine to form your income level.

Before I dig into this, a bit of review is in order.

Last week, I published an article entitled The Value of Competence and Mastery. In it, I argued that there’s a lot of benefit, financially and otherwise, to reach a level of competence in a lot of skills, and that if you can couple it with mastery in a few skills, that’s even better. I defined “competence” as being a level of ability with a particular skill such that you have no need to pay someone else to do it for you (outside of situations of pure convenience), whereas “mastery” is a level of skill where people will pay you just to perform that one skill.

The core idea of the article is that many people make a living by combining a few competencies in a unique way that gives them a set of skills that’s really valued. If you have a lot of competencies, then you have a lot of unique mixes that may be the source of a career or at least a nice-paying job for a few years. Masteries are even better, but they require a much more intense level of investment in a single skill; often, people who can combine a mastery or two with a number of competencies set themselves up for a high level of earning in their life.

What that means in a practical sense is that you should be spending at least some of your time in self-education, but that doesn’t have to be about building a new mastery or honing one you already have; rather, there’s a lot of value in building up more competencies and figuring out how to combine competencies you have.

For example, I would describe my father as being someone with a ton of different competencies. That’s why, during his life, he started several successful side gigs in completely different areas and was always able to make some money when he needed it. I wouldn’t describe him as having mastered any particular skill, but he could grow a garden, catch fish at a commercial level, befriend almost anyone, fix a car, fix almost any small mechanical device, do basic woodworking and carpentry, handle most plumbing tasks, run and troubleshoot computer-robotics interfaces… the list goes on and on. Often, he was able to combine those competencies to do certain things incredibly well.

So, what does all of this have to do with luck? The MIT Tech Review article that Connie shared, If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich? Turns Out It’s Just Chance, makes an interesting argument. Their argument is that if you have a reasonable competence in a particular skill, the biggest factor that determines whether or not you are able to make a lot of money with that skill is luck, because opportunities essentially randomly fall on people’s laps:

And yet when it comes to the rewards for this work, some people do have billions of times more wealth than other people. What’s more, numerous studies have shown that the wealthiest people are generally not the most talented by other measures.

What factors, then, determine how individuals become wealthy? Could it be that chance plays a bigger role than anybody expected? And how can these factors, whatever they are, be exploited to make the world a better and fairer place?

Today we get an answer thanks to the work of Alessandro Pluchino at the University of Catania in Italy and a couple of colleagues. These guys have created a computer model of human talent and the way people use it to exploit opportunities in life. The model allows the team to study the role of chance in this process.

The results are something of an eye-opener. Their simulations accurately reproduce the wealth distribution in the real world. But the wealthiest individuals are not the most talented (although they must have a certain level of talent). They are the luckiest. And this has significant implications for the way societies can optimize the returns they get for investments in everything from business to science.

In other words, the study that’s being referred to here indicates that given that a person has a certain level of skill in a particular area, their success in that area is largely based on luck. If you’re competent at a skill, your success and failure has a ton to do with being in the right place at the right time, not your ability or lack thereof.

There are two ways to look at that idea.

On the one hand, it can feel depressing. You can work very hard building up some skills, only to never be able to do very much with them because you weren’t in the right place at the right time.

On the other hand, it can feel enormously motivating. Even if you’re not superbly gifted at a particular skill, you can find lucrative work with that skill if you put in the effort to be lucky.

What do I mean by be lucky? Luck is a mix of random chance and the choices you make in life. Opportunities float through the air all the time and some will, by chance, land in your lap. However, there are a lot of things you can do to make it much more likely for those opportunities to land on your lap rather than drifting away.

This is a topic I’ve written about in the past, in a more general sense. Ten Tactics for Improving Your Luck described some methods for improving your luck in your all-around life, while Designing a Lucky Life added ten more tactics to the list.

Here are those twenty tactics, for a refresher course:

1. Keep a notepad and a pen in your pocket at all times.
2. Keep a reasonable amount of cash on you at all times.
3. Don’t get into a desperate debt situation.
4. Be social.
5. Establish relationships with many people who share your interests.
6. Help others out when they need it.
7. Shop at places where extreme bargains might be found.
8. Have confidence that you can do something challenging.
9. Know the actual value of lots of items in a particular specialty.
10. When you need something significant, tap your social network instead of buying blindly.
11. Do the task in front of you as well as you can, no matter how mundane it is.
12. Never eat alone.
13. Never speak negatively of others.
14. Cultivate skills during your spare time.
15. Ask questions.
16. Get involved in the community.
17. Know your neighbors.
18. Be humble.
19. Be generous.
20. Don’t spend time or money on events of pure chance.

That’s a pretty solid list of strategies to live your daily life by, and they will definitely open you up to a lot of opportunities that might have been closed to you before.

Here, though, I’m more interest in specific tactics you can use to improve your luck in your career. If luck is at least as important as skill (above a basic skill threshold), what can you do to maximize luck in your career?

If there’s one thing I’ve done right throughout my professional life, it’s that I’ve done a lot of positive things to allow myself to be as lucky as possible in professional situations. I don’t view myself as highly skilled at anything, but I do think I’m good at finding opportunities or, more accurately, having them fall right in my lap at the right moment. Here are seven tactics that really accentuate this.

1. Always work hard on the task at hand and produce quality results, regardless of whatever it is that you’re doing.

It doesn’t matter how simple the task before you is or how complex it is. What matters is that the results you produce are of the highest quality you can produce in a reasonable timeframe.

The reason that this helps with your “luck” is simple: your quality work becomes a calling card for you. At some point, someone will look around and notice it and start looking for who is pumping out the quality work. It might happen tomorrow. It might happen in five years. It might never happen.

On the other hand, if you don’t do your best to do efficient, quality work, someone will look around and wonder who’s not doing their job very well. It might happen tomorrow. It might happen in five years. It might never happen.

Most people get comfortable doing the bare minimum to not get noticed for bad work. As a result, it is really easy for good work to stand out.

The “luck” part of this equation is someone noticing the quality work. You can’t make someone notice your quality work. All you can do is produce quality work and hope someone notices it over time.

I’ll give you an example. When I was an undergraduate, I spent years working in a public computer lab, fixing minor computer problems and helping users. A lot of the other lab workers did the absolute bare minimum to collect a paycheck. I spent a lot of my time doing things like wandering around and checking on things, cleaning up messes, helping people if I could see they were struggling, and so on. This got me no recognition at all for a good year, but then one day a professor stopped in and said that they had heard that I had went out of my way to help one of their graduate students. This wound up leading to a job, the first in a series that put me on a path to my long term career.

Sure, I spent a year working hard when I could have sloughed off, but because of that work, an opportunity fell on my lap that would have never been there otherwise.

2. Be humble about your own skills and contributions and give lots of credit to others.

If you do good work, there will eventually come moments of recognition of some kind or another. Someone will compliment your work, or you may even receive a commendation for it.

Whatever happens, remember this: the person complimenting or commending you already thinks highly of your work and your skills, so there is zero benefit in patting yourself on the back further. You only look arrogant by doing so. You don’t have to insult or minimize your own efforts, but you don’t have to talk up or embellish what they’re already impressed by.

Rather, this is an opportunity to be humble. The easiest way to practice humility, if you can, is to share credit with others. If someone is complimenting you on your work, mention the person that mentored you or taught you your job. Mention your supervisor or others who have given you good advice. Mention anyone and everyone on your team who played any role on the task. Talk up what those people contributed. This is a great thing to do any time you’re called upon to present your work – give lots of credit to others throughout and at the end.

Another good practice is to simply say something like “it was my pleasure.” Again, this avoids the trap of self-criticism as well as the trap of boasting while acknowledging the comment. This is a good route to follow when you can’t think of anyone else to acknowledge.

Remember, you’re only receiving compliments and getting opportunities because the other person already thinks highly of you. Don’t burn that by being arrogant or self-serving; rather, build upon it with some humility while also, if possible, giving a positive rub to the people who helped you get there.

3. Put yourself in lots of situations where you’re interacting with lots of people in your field.

Go to workplace meetings. Go to conferences. Go to conventions. Go to local meetups. Join professional organizations and go to their meetings. Involve yourself in social media in a purely professional context. Most importantly, be actively involved in those things. Volunteer to present your work or your company’s work. Spend every spare moment you can at these meetings getting to know people and building those relationships. You should be learning (about your field or about the people in your field) or building relationships with every spare moment at those meetings.

This requires turning on your social side more than you might otherwise be comfortable with. I know that’s true for me. Whenever I have gone to such an event, I usually find myself socially burnt out, and when I feel that way, I do retreat somewhere quiet to socially recharge and I do feel utterly spent at the end of the day. That’s okay.

The goal of such meetings for you should be to meet a lot of people, start building some relationships, and share what you’re working on and what you’re about so that others know you. If you’re willing to do that, go to as many meetings as possible and participate in professional social media in your career path.

Yes, this does include meetings at work. People often “zone out” during those meetings and avoid any sort of active participation and look for any excuse to run out the door. Don’t treat meetings that way. Treat them as an opportunity to build relationships with the people in the room – people below your professional level, at your professional level, and above your professional level. Nothing in your workplace should be treated as a full waste of time or else you’re just saying, “No, I don’t want opportunities.”

4. Jot down ideas and contact info as soon as they come into your mind, and process them regularly.

Whenever you have an idea or learn something that you want to investigate further or want to remember again in the near future, write it down immediately. Don’t hesitate.

Whenever you meet someone and you’re clicking at all with that person, jot down their information before you forget it. A first name, an email, a social media handle, and the reasons and things you might want to follow up with them about.

I keep a little notebook and a sturdy pen in my pocket at all times for just those situations. It probably accumulates 10 to 15 such notes a day. Once a day or so, I go through all of those new notes and process them one at a time, doing something meaningful with them.

If it’s a piece of contact information, I contact the person, following up on whatever I jotted down, and adding the person to my contacts and/or social media.

If it’s something I need to do, it goes on my to-do list.

If it’s an idea of some kind, it either goes into my professional idea folder or I investigate it right away.

That covers almost everything I jot down. As I deal with each one, I cross it off.

This ensures that I start the follow-up process with everyone I meet in a meaningful way, which starts building a new relationship. It also ensures good ideas, which are an opportunity in and of themselves, don’t fall through the cracks.

5. Take on new challenges constantly, especially when they allow you to build new competencies along the way.

As noted earlier, one of the surest ways to be able to have luck work in your favor is to have at least a basic level of skill in that area. Thus, if you want to have lots of luck, have lots of competence.

How does an adult build a lot of competence? They do it by taking on challenges constantly, trying to do new things for themselves rather than just letting someone else do it for them (or paying someone to do it).

Need some food? Make a meal yourself and learn the basics of short order cooking. Having some plumbing issues? Hit up Youtube and start figuring out what’s wrong. Need to write some software that’s over your head? Start with what you do know and start working toward what you don’t know. Yes, it’s probably scary, and that’s okay. Overcoming the fear is part of it. This logic is true for every challenge life throws at you. The goal is to build up new competencies, as many as possible.

Doing things this way opens the door to a lot of opportunities in your life. There are new working opportunities. There are new opportunities to build relationships. There are more opportunities to create a great impression with your skills, as someone who can just handle an unexpected event always creates a great impression. You can only do this by becoming competent in lots of things, and you can only do that by taking on challenges as a matter of routine in your life.

6. Don’t speak negatively of others unless criticism is specifically requested of you (and even then, focus the criticism well).

There is almost zero benefit to talking badly about someone and there is often negative consequence to doing so, consequences you don’t often directly see. Often, word of your negative talk gets back to the person you were criticizing, or you look like an arrogant and callous person when you do it face to face. The blowback you get, either directly or indirectly, makes negative talk almost always not worth it.

That doesn’t mean criticism isn’t something valuable that you should sometimes do. You should just choose the right context to do it.

For example, if you’re going to criticize someone, the best way to do it is in a one-on-one situation with no onlookers. Do it in a way that also reinforces what’s good about the person and what they can do to overcome what you are criticizing.

If you’re going to criticize an idea or a thing, do it in a way that isn’t personal toward anyone and, again, also point out the positives and potential good directions forward.

Never, ever do this kind of criticism behind someone’s back. It almost always hurts you in the long run.

For most people, this applies most strongly in an “office politics” situation. Don’t get involved in tearing down other people, because when you do, you create an easy invitation for others to tear you down. Don’t get involved in tearing down the work of others, either. You should only be doing this if you’re in a supervisory role and are doing it with care or you are specifically asked for criticism, and it’s done with the suggestions above.

There’s almost nothing you can do that’s more effective at making opportunity fly away from you than being a negative person who criticizes and tears things down constantly.

7. Thank people in a genuine fashion when they help you.

If someone gives you genuine help in your professional life, whether it’s an interview or some great advice or an opportunity or an exceptional helping hand or whatever, thank that person in a genuine way.

My preferred method for this is to write a simple handwritten thank you note, which simply states what it is that they did for me (showing that I actually remember it) and how that has impacted me. This doesn’t have to be long and complicated – a few sentences will do.

The reason this is so beneficial is that it holds up the “peak-end rule” in a positive fashion. Most people, when they recall an event or an interaction with someone, remember the “peak” of that event or interaction – the moment of greatest intensity – and the “end” of that event or interaction – whether it ended on a positive note or a negative one. A thank you note basically guarantees that the “end” element is a positive one. They’re going to see that note and feel good about it and it’s going to create a positive “end” for your interaction.

Get a bunch of simple thank you notes with blank insides and envelopes and give them out generously. If someone stepped up far beyond what was needed to help you with a project, thank them with a note. If someone invited you to speak, thank them with a note. If someone gave you great advice, thank them with a note. If someone gave you an opportunity, such as an interview or a job offer, thank them with a note. You’ll be adding a bunch of positivity to the “end” of your interaction with them, and that will leave them out in the world with a positive view of you, one that will often invisibly lead to them being a positive force for you in the world which will inevitably increase the chances for more opportunities to fall in your lap.

Final Thoughts

Having a lot of skills and competencies is great, but you also need to open your life as much as possible to opportunity. Opportunities come along randomly and they can often feel like pure luck, but you can do a lot of things under your own control to make it much more likely that opportunities will find their way into your lap.

Luck is a vital element in career success. Make yourself as lucky as you can.

The post The Intersection Between Skills and Luck in Your Professional Life (and Elsewhere) appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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The first thing we noticed when we moved into our new home was that the hot water was burning us.

Fortunately, I fixed it by simply adjusting the temperature setting on the hot water heater. No more burns — and using less electricity or gas to heat the water is good for the environment.

7 Ways to Go Green and Save Money

But it was also good for our bank account. I figure we’ll save $40 per year by keeping the setting lower.

You can save more, too. Here are seven habits for saving money while going green.

1. Use the Sun to Save Money

Heating and cooling costs make up nearly half your energy bill — about $1,000 a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

You don’t need expensive equipment to do a little solar heating.

Just open the curtains on the south side of the house during winter days to let the sun shine in. And open the drapes on east-facing windows in the morning (if they’re not shaded).

Of course, the opposite is true when you need to keep the house cool. Use light-blocking drapes on the sunny side to keep out sunlight.

2. Drink Tap Water

I was so happy to taste the tap water when we recently moved back to Colorado from Florida. It’s delicious!

We immediately ended our $250-per-year bottled water habit — and we’d been drinking the cheap bottled water.

Pro Tip

Don’t like the taste of your tap water? Buy a water filter pitcher for less than $20 and enjoy fresher-tasting water without wasting bottles.

What about the environmental impact? The Water Project says:

  • It takes three liters of water to package one liter of bottled water.
  • Water bottles can take 1,000 years to biodegrade, and if incinerated, they produce toxic fumes.
  • Making water bottles for U.S. demand alone takes more than 1.5 million barrels of oil.

If you can, drink from the tap. We also keep a bottle of tap water in the fridge to take with us when we drive anywhere.

3. Develop Green Laundry Habits

There are a number of ways to save money doing your laundry — and almost all of them are also environmentally friendly.

Here are some of the best green and frugal habits, along with the potential annual savings:

4. Hunt Down and Put an End to Energy Vampires

The U.S. Department of Energy says energy vampires — electronics and appliances that keep using power when turned off — can add 10% to your electrical bill.

For example, phone chargers keep sucking down power even when you’re not charging, and a digital cable box can add to your bill if you don’t unplug it between uses.

Pro Tip

Always forgetting to turn off your power strip to save on energy? Invest in smart power strips, which automatically cut the power to devices that go into standby mode.

But who wants to run around unplugging things all the time?

Instead, plug electronics into power strips that have an on/off button so you can easily cut the power to the TV and DVD player with the flip of a switch.

5. Use Alternatives Transportation to Cars

When we lived in Tucson, Arizona, my wife and I bought unlimited bus passes for $40 per month, and we went without a car for a while.

A car certainly costs more than the $80 we spent for monthly transportation.

Even if you own a car, you can save money using public transportation. Take the bus or train on longer cross-town trips that would eat up more gas, or to avoid paying for parking.

And if the store is nearby and you only need to carry a few things, just walk or bike.

All options allow you to significantly reduce your car-related expenses — and you’ll put a lot less pollution into the air.

6. Get an Energy Audit

A home energy audit can identify easy-to-correct energy waste issues in your home, and many utility companies offer them for free or a small charge.

If the cost of a professional audit or assessment is too high for you, just do it yourself. The U.S. Department of Energy has a page that walks you through the process.

7. Stop Those Water Leaks

The average household wastes nearly 10,000 gallons of water every year due to leaks, according to the EPA.

Pro Tip

If you’re going on vacation, shut off your water at the main supply before you leave the house to save money — and avoid the unwelcome surprise of a burst pipe or an overflowing toilet.

Using common household tools — and maybe a trip to the hardware store — you can fix most of these leaks without professional help (or at least with a YouTube tutorial video):

  • Worn toilet flappers
  • Dripping faucets
  • Leaking valves

Steve Gillman is the author of “101 Weird Ways to Make Money” and creator of He’s been a repo-man, walking stick carver, search engine evaluator, house flipper, tram driver, process server, mock juror, and roulette croupier, but of more than 100 ways he has made money, writing is his favorite (so far).

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

6 People Who’ve Earned a Total $3,750 Sharing Opinions Tell Us Their Secrets

Online survey sites sometimes get a bad rap. And sure, some of them are scammy. Some are shady. Some are iffy.

What about the sites that are legit, though? How can you maximize your earnings on those? How can you make the most possible money while chilling on your couch, sipping your favorite beverage and clicking away at surveys on your laptop?

To get you some insider knowledge, we spoke with six Penny Hoarder readers who consistently earn real money on three survey sites — Swagbucks, InboxDollars and MyPoints.

These people are players. They know these sites inside and out. They’ve collectively invested hundreds of hours in this, so they’ve learned the innermost secrets.

Click, click, click. Here’s what they had to say:

How 2 Women Earned a Collective $1,800 on Swagbucks

Jessica Maloy's brown Lab Winnie jumps on her shoulders while in the backyard of her Palmyra, Pa., home

Jessica Maloy and Carolinda Hendrickson call themselves Swaggernauts.

Maloy, a secretary, and Hendrickson, a day care provider, live in different parts of Pennsylvania. They know their way around the survey site Swagbucks.

Each of them sign in every day, sometimes more than once. Persistence and strategy are how they make it pay off.

Maloy looked for ways to earn extra money when her son turned 16 and she realized how much it was going to cost to send him to college. In her first seven months on the Swagbucks, she earned $600 in gift cards.

She starts about 40 surveys a day but doesn’t end up qualifying for most. Still, she just sticks with it and usually completes one or two.

She picks up tips on a Facebook group called the Swagbucks Swaggernauts. In an area on Swagbucks called “Discover,” she signs up for various offers and free trials in exchange for rewards.

“I hop on and off all day,” she said. “It really doesn’t take much to earn money that you normally wouldn’t have.”

Hendrickson scans Facebook groups for Swagbucks tips as well. She hits Swagbucks early in the morning before her job takes over her day.

She operates a day care center for special needs children in her home, where she cares for three little ones. “I sign in at 6 a.m., and I’m done by the time the kids get here,” she says.

She’s learned to do only the surveys she likes — nothing about cars or banking. Her goal is to make $25 a week. In a year, she’s earned $1,200, which she exchanges for gift cards for her grown children.

How 2 Women Earned a Collective $750 on InboxDollars

Sarah Houston, right, a Virginia Commonwealth University junior, shows an InboxDollars app to her mother, Linda Mitchell, in Richmond, Va.

Sarah Houston and Heidi Irvine have become experts on the survey site InboxDollars.

Houston, a nanny and business student in Virginia, has gotten into the habit of logging on to take surveys in the morning, then doing it again while she’s watching TV at night.

“It sounds like a lot of work,” she said, “but once you’re in a routine, it’s a mindless, easy way to earn extra money.”

She’s earned $600 in three years by constantly taking surveys that run the gamut from financial services to radio music to food to restaurants to shopping. She also referred her mom, so she gets a bonus equal to 10% of her mother’s rewards.

Based on qualifying surveys on InboxDollars, she ended up doing some product testing and focus groups that paid $50 or $100 — “Double win!” she says, because she’d also been paid just to qualify.

Irvine lives in Detroit, delivers cars around the country, and has been using InboxDollars for five years. She got into the habit of reading InboxDollars emails on her Mac for 2 cents a pop. The emails often lead her to surveys. She’s earned nearly $150 so far.

“My favorite, and fastest, go-to to earn money is simply opening the emails they send me,” she said. “Each email only pays 2 cents, but I get at least two to four emails a day that take less than a minute to open and click on the link they send me. I check my email daily, so it’s convenient.”

How 2 Women Earned a Collective $1,200 on MyPoints

Joe Dozier and Kimberly Ritze know the survey site MyPoints backwards and forwards.

Ritze, who has earned about $300 on the site over several years, notes that its home page lists ways to earn points quickly, and its Facebook page often has codes she can use to gain extra points. She can exchange points for gift cards to popular retailers — 480 points equates to a $3 Amazon gift card, for example.

Here’s how Ritze got started: “When we [she and her husband] were new homeowners with a tight budget and Christmas was on the way, I had my eye on a kids’ kitchen playset on,” she said. “As I racked up points taking surveys on Mypoints, I earned enough to purchase the playset.”

Dozier, a 70-year-old North Carolina author who uses Joe as her first name, has been a MyPoints member since 1998. She uses her points on gift cards for Christmas or on gas cards.

“I cashed in for gas cards for one whole year and never pulled a cent out of my pocket when filling my tank,” she said.

She has earned 145,628 points, which equates to more than $900.

“Since most of my points are earned reading email, I start my day by checking my email and voting in the daily poll,” she said. “I always tell newcomers not to get discouraged — five points for reading an email isn’t much, but it only takes seconds. There are usually three or more emails per day.

“You won’t get rich, but an extra $100, $200 or $300 per year is not something I would throw away.”

Mike Brassfield ( is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He’s a natural for survey sites because he has so many opinions.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.