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This Company Will Give You $100 for Opening a Free Account

Sure, many banks offer sign-up bonuses throughout the year, but they often require you to jump through hoops with minimum requirements that feel impossible to hit.

Oh, and if you don’t meet another set of requirements? You’ll get slapped with a monthly maintenance fee. Honestly, at that point? Forget the cash bonus.

Instead of getting wrapped up into that mess, we found an account that makes snagging a $100  bonus super easy.

Here’s how you can be $100 richer this summer just for opening an Aspiration Spend and Save account.

How to Get a $100 Bonus When You Open This Account

We love this account because of the perks, including up to 2.00% annual percentage yield (APY) on your savings, 0.5% cash back on purchases with your debit card and reimbursement for ATM fees.

Plus, 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, so you don’t have to worry about those sneaky fees.

Follow these simple steps to add a $100 bonus to your new account:

  1. Open your Aspiration Spend & Save Account by April 30, 2019.
  2. Set up and receive a direct deposit from your paycheck or government benefits by June 28, 2019.
  3. You’re good to go! Keep your eyes peeled for that $100, which will appear in your account by July 15, 2019.

Now, happy spending — or saving! Luckily, it’s easy to do both with your new account.

Offer Terms and Conditions:

Offer is only valid for new Aspiration customers. Account must be created directly though this link. Customer must complete the following activities: (1) Between 12:01 a.m. Pacific Time 4/22/2019 and 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time 4/30/2019, open and fund an Aspiration Spend & Save Account with a deposit of $10 or more, and (2) by 11:59 Pacific Time on 6/28/2019, set up and make an electronic direct deposit of your paycheck, pension or government benefits (such as Social Security) from your employer or the government. Allow up to July 15, 2019 for the offer credit to post to your Aspiration Spend & Save Account. Aspiration Spend & Save Account must be open and in good standing, in the sole determination of Aspiration, through the date of the credit. All applicable account terms, fees and charges are subject to change. This offer may be revoked, modified or withdrawn at any time without notice.

Carson Kohler (carson@thepennyhoarder.com) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s been happily banking with Aspiration for more than two years now.

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.

*HOT* Carter’s/OshKosh B’gosh: Up to 70% off the entire site + Free Shipping!

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

Wow! Stock up on baby and kids clothes with these HOT sales at Carter’s/OshKosh B’gosh!

Carter's Sale Free Shipping

Carter’s and OshKosh B’gosh are currently running their biggest sale of the year — up to 70% off the entire site! Plus, through tomorrow, shipping is FREE!!

Even better, you can get an extra 15% off your purchase of $20 or more when you use promo code CART5477 at checkout.

Here are some deals we spotted…

Carter's Kids Tees

Get Kids Tees as low as $2.99 shipped!

Carter's 3 Piece Sets

Get Carter’s 3-Piece Little Character Sets for only $6.60 shipped (regularly $22)!

5 Pack Bodysuits

Get Baby Girl and Baby Boy 5-Pack Bodysuits for only $7.80 shipped!

Kids Pull On Shorts

Get Kids Pull On Shorts for only $5 shipped (regularly $14)!

Valid through tomorrow, April 22, 2019.

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Have you gotten your bag of Amora coffee for just $1 shipped?!

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

Have you gotten your FREE bag of Amora coffee yet?! Jesse was so excited about this deal!

1-855-642-6672

Did you see the deal we posted to get a FREE bag of Amora Coffee (you just have to pay $1 for shipping)?

ordered this deal myself and was so impressed with what I got — and I just paid $1 total!

You can choose from nine different blends and these coffees are usually $14.95 per bag + shipping, so this is a fantastic deal!

Amora

Note: When you order the coffee for just $1, you will be signed up for automatic shipments of coffee at the regular price of $14.95 + $8.95 shipping two weeks after this order. If you no longer wish to receive regular shipments of coffee, you can call to cancel after your first order ships out so long as you do it before your next order ships.

By the way, I cancelled my order after I got the $1 bag of coffee and had no issue at all. In fact, the customer service representative on the phone was SO nice and kind and didn’t ask any questions. They processed my cancellation on the phone and I got an email within a minute saying that it had been cancelled.

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Here’s how to get this deal:

  1. Click here and pick which coffee flavor you’d like to order.
  2. Go through the order process — it should just be $1 total at checkout.
  3. Once you’ve received your coffee, if you want to cancel your subscription, call 1-855-642-6672. (You cannot cancel online, but it’s super easy to call and cancel. It took me maybe 2 minutes!)
  4. If you don’t cancel your subscription, you’ll continue to receive a bag of coffee priced at $14.95 + $8.95 shipping with each shipment.

That’s it! Let me know if you have any questions. And enjoy your $1 bag of coffee!

Bag

8 Moves to Help You Retire Early — Even If You Don’t Make Six Figures

For some of us, 30 minutes seems too long to wait (especially if it’s lunchtime). But if you’re thinking about retirement when you’re in your 30s, you could be looking at another 30 years.

That’s because at 59½, you can start withdrawing from your retirement accounts without penalty and at 62 you can start taking partial Social Security.

But those days can seem far off, especially if you’re in a job you don’t love and have too many cities unchecked on your travel bucket list.

If you’ve decided you don’t want to wait until your 60s to retire but don’t think you make enough to retire early, then keep reading.

Do You Need a Six-Figure Income to Retire Early?

TL;DR answer: No.

Long answer: The equation for early retirement isn’t just mathematical. If you can commit to learning some basic personal finance concepts, changing behaviors and putting a little extra work in now, you can retire early — even if you don’t make a lot of money.

But that doesn’t mean you can retire early on any lifestyle.

The average household pre-tax income is around $73,000 and the average American household spent around $60,000 in 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That spending includes expenses you might not have in retirement, like pension contributions, but excludes income tax — which you still have to pay on most retirement account withdrawals — so it’s a reasonable amount to base retirement calculations on.

But if you want to live off of $60,000 for 40 years, you’d have to save almost $2 million before retirement. Which, if you have 20 years to save, would require you to contribute over $2,000 a month to retirement. Feasible for some, but not for all.

8 Steps to Take Now If You Want to Retire Early

If you want to retire before 66 but your income doesn’t allow you to invest thousands of dollars a month, we’ve got eight simple — though not necessarily easy — steps you can use as a starting point to set your retirement planning up for greater success and earlier achievement.

1. Write Down Your Goals For Retirement

Before you start, figure out when and how you want to retire.

Create a projected annual budget for your first year in retirement. Make educated guesses as to how much you’ll travel, whether you’ll have a mortgage, what your healthcare could cost, and what the cost of living in your dream retirement location might be.

Then look at your current budget, and adjust your expenses to determine how much money you’ll need to withdraw that first year. It won’t be 100% accurate, but it’ll give you a goal to shoot for in your savings.

Once you’ve decided what you need every month, you can plug that into a retirement calculator to see how much you need to save every year and for how long.

2. Automate, Automate, Automate

Since you’re trying to retire early, you’ve officially committed to never missing a monthly retirement account contribution again. Congratulations!

But that means you can no longer plan your retirement contributions around what you have left at the end of the month. You have to make them a priority, and the easiest way to do that is to automate your contributions.

Because you’ve already figured out how much you need to have saved, you can figure out how much you’ll need to contribute from each paycheck and set it up as an automatic transaction.

Is that amount too big for you right now? Work up to it. Start with an amount that seems a little uncomfortable and increase it by 1% a month until you get to your goal. You’ll eventually get used to living without that money.

3. Lower Your Living Expenses

A woman stands in the doorway of her tiny home.

Depending on how you’re living, your initial calculations may have said you need upwards of a $2 million nest egg to retire. Want to know how to lower that number?

Lower the amount you’ll need to live on in retirement!

You may spend $60,000 annually now, but what if you could live on $50,000 per year, or $40,000? That would significantly decrease the amount you’d need to save to retire.

Focus on the big things first: housing, transportation, food and taxes.

Get a roommate or rent a room out on Airbnb, buy an affordable used car you can pay off in less than two years, and cook at home more. Adopting these few lifestyle changes can make a bigger difference than a lot of little cost-cutting moves combined.

Also, the more you contribute to your 401(k) — or comparable plan — and HSA (Health Savings Account) each year, the less money you owe in taxes!

You can play around with how much your savings will speed up your retirement by using the “multiply by 25” rule. The rule basically states that once you know the amount you need to live off of in retirement (including contributions to an emergency fund for unexpected costs), multiply that by 25. You’ll achieve financial independence — the ability to live off your investment dividends — once you’ve hit that number.

This rule of thumb is based on the assumption that your retirement will last 30 years, so if you want to retire at 35, you’ll need to adjust those figures if you plan to live past 65.

Using the multiply rule, if you want to withdraw $60,000 every year from your retirement fund without touching the principal, then you’ll theoretically need $60,000 x 25, which is $1.5 million.

But if you can cut your expenses to $45,000 per year, you’ll reach financial independence once you hit $1.125 million. That’s $375,000 less!

If you start cutting your expenses today, you’ll free up money to invest as well. Double win!

4. Increase Your Income Now

If you’ve cut every expense possible and you’re still struggling to increase your savings rate, you might need to increase the amount of money coming in.

If you’re working with a lower income, you can’t afford to wait for raises and promotions to gradually increase your paycheck. If you don’t focus on investing now, you’ll have to save significantly more over time to reach your goals.

Here’s an example of the total you’ll need to invest to reach roughly $113,000 by age 55, as calculated on the Securities and Exchange Commission Compound Interest Calculator.

Age Started Monthly Contribution Total Contributed at Age 55 Balance With 7% annual return
30 $150 $45,000 $113,848
35 $230 $55,200 $113,147
40 $375 $67,500 $113,080
45 $685 $82,200 $113,571

You can see from the example that someone who starts investing at 45 will have to contribute an additional $37,200 by the age of 55 to get the same return as someone who started at 30.

So if lack of income is keeping you from making your monthly contribution goals, ask for a raise or promotion, spend a year doing a side hustle or find another way to help you meet your goal as soon as possible.

5. Pay Off Debt

The market has historically returned 9 to 11% on investments. When we adjust for inflation, that becomes 6 to 8%. Alternately, a new credit card averages 17.2% interest and graduate student loans are running north of 6%.

Having debt of any kind will eat away at your returns over time, but especially any debt with interest rates of 6% or more. Focus on paying these debts off above saving for retirement

6. Optimize Your Retirement Accounts

A lot of people think they need to optimize (or set up accounts for the greatest profitability) before they start investing for retirement. Let’s debunk the myth right now: Saving comes first, optimizing comes second.

People aren’t putting off retirement because they don’t have a perfectly balanced portfolio, the fees are too high or they can’t find a good financial planner. They don’t retire because they haven’t saved enough money.

If you want to retire early, focus on saving first, then learn what will make your savings work harder for you. When you’re ready to start optimizing your portfolio, you’ll find it’s not as hard as might think.

Here are a few ways to optimize your retirement savings:

  1. Get your employer’s 401(k) match.
  2. Open a Roth or traditional IRA (or both!).
  3. Take advantage of the Roth IRA if you’re in a low tax bracket.
  4. Opt for low-cost mutual funds with fees of 1% or lower.
  5. Roll over your old 401(k)s into an IRA to consolidate accounts.
  6. Avoid taking early withdrawals or 401(k) loans.
  7. If you hire a financial advisor, make sure he or she is a Certified Financial Planner with a fiduciary responsibility, which means they are legally obligated to act in your best interest.

That’s all you need to know to build a successful retirement portfolio. If you’re interested in learning even more about investing, check out some of our favorite books on the subject.

Think about diversifying your investments beyond the stock market, too. Investing in real estate or starting your own business aren’t quite as easy as socking money away, but they’re good ways to add a safeguard to your retirement plan.

7. Start a Business

A lot of early retirees don’t think about starting a business, but doing so serves two purposes.

First, if you retire at 50 or 55, you’ve still got a good 20 years of life left, during which you’ll want to stay active mentally and physically. There are only so many cruises and golf games to keep you stimulated.

Second, a business can help you retire earlier than planned. If you do it right, you can rely on extra income from your business (instead of investments) to be your retirement income.

Many retirees will use their years of professional experience to open consulting firms, coaching businesses or other passion projects. Or you can start something totally different than your lifelong gig.

Whatever business you want to launch, start part-time while you’re still working full-time so the business has time to grow, and you can invest money into it gradually.

8. Do Your Best to Stay Healthy

A woman does planks

A major factor to consider in retirement at any age is the cost of healthcare.

Medicare isn’t available until 65, so many early retirees have to consider non-subsidized healthcare. Premiums for family coverage without a government subsidy average a whopping $1,168 per month for an average $8,803 deductible. That can derail the best-made retirement plans.

There’s no way to control the unexpected, but you can do your best to control long-term health risks. The leading causes of health-related death are heart disease, cancer and respiratory diseases. Exercising and eating healthy will go a long way in cutting down your healthcare and life insurance costs over time.

Finding additional income streams, making lifestyle changes and committing to better money habits aren’t quick fixes, but working to save those extra dollars now can help put you on the road to early retirement.

Jen Smith is a former staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She and her husband paid off $78,000 of debt in less than two years on two less-than-average salaries. She gives money saving and debt payoff tips on Instagram at @modernfrugality.

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.

$70 Budget: What we ate, how much we spent, and how we splurged

I’m currently challenging myself to stick with a $70 grocery budget for our family of five. This includes almost all of our breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and dinners + most household products (toiletries, laundry soap, etc.).

For live updates, be sure to follow my Instagram Stories. See all posts on my $70 Grocery Budget here.

Note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links and we will be compensated if you click through and sign up. Read our disclosure policy here.

Our $70 Budget

This week we didn’t eat at home as much as we usually do since we traveled to Kansas for Easter Friday through Sunday. But we did get some great deals at the grocery store — and we used our extra money from the past number of weeks that we’ve been under budget to pay for our extra dinner out this week!

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Sprouts Shopping Trip

Sprouts had some good weekend deals last weekend and Jesse ran by to pick up a few of them. He got 4 mangoes for $1 and 4 grapefruit for $1.

Total with tax: $2.14

Cuisine

Jesse also ran by Kroger for me after he dropped the kids off at school. I asked him if he could pick up any marked down lettuce/salads he saw. Well, went around and looked at markdowns throughout the entire store! And he found some great deals!

Kroger Shopping Trip #1:

  • King’s Hawaiian Hot Dog Buns — marked down to $1.99
  • Bread — marked down to $1.89
  • Pita Bread — marked down to $0.99
  • Bananas — $0.96
  • Strawberries — $2.99
  • 3 bags of potatoes — marked down to $0.99 each
  • 2 bags of avocados — marked down to $0.99 each
  • 6 packages of blackberries — $0.99 each
  • Salad bowl — marked down to $1.99
  • 1 bag of fruit — marked down to $0.99 each
  • Organic lettuce — marked down to $1.49
  • Total with tax: $25.69

Food and drink

I got some great freebies in the mail this week, including MyKroger magazine (which has great coupons in it!), a free copy of Real Simple magazine, free issues of Health magazine, plus some other great freebies!

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Kroger was having some fantastic weekend deals this week. We were supposed to leave on our trip to Kansas at 9:30 a.m. and we weren’t going to be getting back until Sunday night. Of course, the sale only ran Friday through Sunday!

I really didn’t want to miss it, so I got packed and ready early on Friday morning and then ran to the store early. I’m so glad I did, because I got some great deals!

Kroger Shopping Trip #2:

  • 5 boxes (family size) Kellogg’s cereal — $1.49 each with Friday-Sunday Digital Coupon deal
  • 5 tubs ice cream — $1.99 each with Friday-Sunday Digital Coupon deal
  • 1 10-lb bag of potatoes — $1.88
  • 4 bags of fruit — $0.99
  • 1 gallon milk — $2.69
  • Miracle Maize Corn Muffin Mix — $1.89, used $1.50/1 Kroger Digital Coupon = $0.39 (we bought this one other time when it was on sale and it was SO good)
  • Total with tax: $27.92

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Walgreens Shopping Trip

Walgreens had bags on sale Buy 1, Get 2 free — which made each box less than $1.

For some reason, we also got an additional 25% off at checkout (does anyone have any idea why? It said E25% next to the price). At any rate, they only charged us $2.09 per box and then we got 2 boxes for free!

So that meant we got six boxes for just $4.18 + tax!!

Total with tax: $4.59

What We Ate This Past Week

Note: When you see the meals below, please remember this: I buy ahead often. Which means that when I find a great deal on something I know we’ll use, I buy as much as I can afford in our budget to have on hand.

This means that you aren’t going to see all of the groceries my shopping trip that I used to make all of the meals we ate.

Please also remember that I’m putting this out there and it’s not a perfectly balanced menu. This is just really what we ate — and I hope that it encourages you to see the real-ness and lack of perfection here.

Breakfasts:

  • Cereal, Oatmeal, Scrambled Eggs

Lunches:

  • Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches, Carrots, Oranges, Salads, Leftovers, Cookies, Protein Bars, Popchips

Snacks:

  • Grapefruit, Cookies, Popcorn, Ice Cream, Crackers & Cheese, Peach Cobbler, Carrots & Hummus, Popchips

Dinners:

  • Sunday — Cheese quesadillas/snack-y dinner
  • Monday — Taco Casserole/Peas/Blackberries/Peach Cobbler
  • Tuesday — Dinner at Cracker Barrel (we had a gift card)
  • Wednesday — Leftover Taco Casserole
  • Thursday — Pork Roast/Twice Baked Potatoes/Fruit
  • Friday — Dinner out (we decided to use the extra grocery money from the last few weeks to go to this place in Wichita we love that offers really healthy meals all pre-made for you)
  • Saturday — Dinner with Jesse’s family

Total spent on groceries: $60.34

Cashback earned this week: 100 points for submitting my receipts to Fetch rewards+ $1.10 for submitting my receipt to iBotta rewards.

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Questions About Practical Gifts, Low Cost of Living Cities, Custmer Rewards, Debt Collection, and More!

What’s inside? Here are the questions answered in today’s reader mailbag, boiled down to summaries of five or fewer words. Click on the number to jump straight down to the question.
1. Car loan versus retirement savings?
2. Moving to cheaper city?
3. “Customer rewards” and work
4. Cheap pocket notebooks
5. Uses for food scraps
6. Debt collection question
7. Struggling with focus
8. Student loan forgiveness
9. Saving for retirement too slow
10. Thoughtful practical Mother’s Day gift
11. Standing desk and joint pain
12. Best recent books

One of the most interesting parts of being a parent of adolescent children is that you get to see flashes of both the young child they once were and flashes of the adult they are becoming, often in quick succession.

For us, this past weekend was full of these kinds of back to back moments.

I would see our children reveling in joy at an Easter egg hunt, then just a moment later be engaged in a sophisticated, calm, and mature conversation with a relative.

Our children sat quietly and peacefully during a full lengthy Easter morning church service, then quickly dove into boisterous play just a few moments after the service was complete.

My oldest child exhibited extreme patience and kindness and supervision with his toddler nephew for a very long time, and then got in trouble just fifteen minutes later for getting his nice clothes dirty after throwing dirt clods back and forth with his sister.

I heard deep theological questions followed by bodily humor.

It’s an interesting age that these children find themselves at, with one side of them still firmly in childhood and another side of them growing straight toward adulthood.

On with the questions.

Q1: Car loan versus retirement savings?

I have about $12K in savings to which I add $100 a week automatically. It’s an emergency fund but may be used for other things sometimes when it gets really fat. I have about $4K left on my car loan which is at 5.5% interest which I intend to drive until it fails. When it is paid off I intend to raise my 401(k) contribution rate at work. Should I dip into the $12K and pay it off early? 28, single, make $58K a year at a pretty stable job, no plans to marry or move any time soon.
– Barry

In your shoes, with that salary and that relative stability, I’d pay off the car and bump up the retirement contributions today.

If you pay off that car loan, that leaves you with about $8K in your emergency fund, which is going up $100 a week. It’s pretty clear that your monthly living expenses are $3K a month or less (you’re making $58K and are able to sock $400 a month into your emergency fund and are also contributing to retirement, so your expenses aren’t that high), which means that your emergency fund would cover at least two months of living expenses, almost definitely three months, and probably more than that.

As a single person, three months of living expenses in your emergency fund when you have a relatively stable job, a decent resume, and reasonably low expenses is a good situation to be in. You’re probably making the right choice amping up retirement savings now and getting that car paid off.

Q2: Moving to cheaper city?

I currently live in the Boston area and make about $85K. It is surprisingly hard to make ends meet because everything is so expensive here compared to where I grew up (UP Michigan). The solution that so many suggest including yourself is to move to a lower cost of living city, but I don’t see how that helps when your salary drops, too. How am I better off making $60K in Des Moines even if the cost of living is way less?
– David

Well, if you do a side-by-side comparison of Des Moines and Boston, the cost of living is about 40% less, according to several different cost of living calculators that I checked (here’s one, for example). All costs are lower, but housing is somewhere around 60-65% lower, entertainment is about 30% lower, healthcare is around 25-30% lower. Even things like transportation and food costs are 10% to 15% lower. The calculator linked above estimates that making $85K in Boston equates to the same standard of living as making $50K in Des Moines.

Most of the time, the calculators aren’t even looking at taxes. If you make $50K in Des Moines, you’re in a much lower tax bracket than if you were making $85K in Boston, which means that your tax bill is much lower for an equivalent standard of living in Des Moines. So, yes, $60K will go much further in Des Moines than $85K will in Boston because things like housing and taxes are gulping up a much smaller portion of your salary.

I’m not arguing whether one city has certain perks that the other does not, but I will say that there are enormous differences in the cost of living in different metro areas in the United States and they will make up for drastic differences in salary. You simply need a lot more salary to have an equivalent standard of living (2 bedroom apartment, decent diet, a car) in Boston or San Francisco than in Des Moines.

Q3: “Customer rewards” and work

What do you think about the ethics of keeping customer rewards perks when you spend money for work? So at my work we have a weekly working lunch for our team paid for by the company. We used to take care of ordering the food on a rotating basis but then I discovered that I could order from some restaurants and scrape up lots of customer rewards points by ordering from some places usually adding up to a free meal or two. Is this ethical to keep them? If so, I think it’s a good strategy to try to volunteer to do this more often.
– Kelly

Is it ethical? It depends on your company policy. Most companies, unless they have an account of some kind with a retailer, don’t seem to care if the individual employee doing the ordering keeps the customer rewards benefits for themselves as a perk for doing the rather … dull job of ordering meals and such. This is particularly true when it’s done in the form of reimbursements. Most companies see this as fine because you are effectively extending a small amount of credit to your employer out of your own pocket, since you’re paying for the meal out of pocket and then requesting reimbursement later. You’re basically acting as a credit card for your company out of your own pocket.

To be sure, you should talk to someone in human resources. 99% of the time, it is really not worth the effort to the company to scoop up a small number of rewards points at a restaurant for something like this. They’re just not going to care. So, you’re almost always going to get an “it’s fine” response, but it’s worth stopping in and talking to someone just so you can say you did your due diligence.

So, what I’d do in your case is stop in to talk to HR about it. I’d address it in a general sense by asking about things in addition to the restaurant purchasing, like travel rewards if you’re going on a work related trip that you book yourself, which would fall under the same category. What you’re really wanting to know is whether the company has a general policy for these kinds of rewards if the employee handles things themselves and then asks for reimbursement. As I said, it’s extremely unlikely that your company will care. If they don’t care, then you probably can score some free meals for yourself by volunteering to take over all of the meal ordering (assuming your company is very reliable in reimbursing those meals).

Q4: Cheap pocket notebooks

What do you use for cheap pocket notebooks? I like Field Notes but they’re $10 for a three pack and I can go through a notebook a week and that adds up. Do you know of any cheaper options?
– Darren

First point of advice: don’t use spiral-bound pocket notebooks if you’re going to actually carry them in a pants pocket, unless you want to get stabbed by a loose metal end on a regular basis. I started off using cheap spiral-bound pocket notebooks and quickly moved away from them after about the second stabbing. I generally only use staple-bound pocket notebooks at this point.

My usual source for pocket notebooks is buying them in stores (online and off) when I see them on sale. There are a lot of brands of pocket notebooks, like Field Notes and Scout Books and Doane and so on, and they tend to pop up on sale frequently. If I can find them below the $1.25 per notebook threshold, I’ll buy a bunch of them; if I’m low, I’ll even stock up at the $1.50 or even $2 per notebook level.

I did try making my own, but I quickly discovered that the covers I used for my own notebooks did not stand up to pocket wear. You need some good material to stand up to a few weeks of normal pocket wear and finding good enough material wasn’t something I was easily able to do and I didn’t want to deal with a cover for them.

So, my advice is to just look for sales on pocket notebooks regularly. Watch Amazon, for starters; I also sometimes find sales on the notebooks at pen retailers like Goulet Pens and from Field Notes themselves.

Q5: Uses for food scraps

Recently heard a story about how Americans waste a pound of food per person each day so we’re trying to watch our food waste. I noticed that I do throw a lot of scraps away, things like coffee grounds and banana peels and apple cores. Is there anything useful that can be done with that stuff?
– Anna

The easy answer is to compost that stuff. Take any vegetable and fruit scraps and coffee grounds and save them in a bucket until they turn into rich brown or black matter, at which point it makes amazing fertilizer for your garden. However, this isn’t something a lot of people are willing to do or are interested in doing.

Vegetable scraps can be used to make really good vegetable stock, which can be used to make soups and many casseroles and other dishes quiet flavorful. Just save the scraps in a big Ziploc bag or other container in the freezer, and then when it’s full, put all of it in a big pot or slow cooker, add some peppercorns, cover the vegetables with water (and add a couple of extra inches) and let it simmer all day long. Strain it and save the liquid.

A lot of fruit scraps have at least some other use. For example, banana peels make for a surprisingly good meat tenderizer. When you go to roast, say, a chicken breast in a skillet, put a banana peel in first, then put the meat on top of that. It keeps the meat from drying out.

Q6: Debt collection question

I have been hounded by a debt collector for the last several months. I didn’t pay for several items bought on credit at a store when my old business was struggling and when it went out of business I didn’t do anything about it and now they’re hounding me. I can afford to pay off the debt now and I would actually like to clear my name but [I don’t want to deal with the debt collector]. Should I contact a lawyer?
– Daniel

The first thing I would do is contact the business that you originally owed money to and find out if they wrote off the debt. If they still have it on the books, work it out directly with them. If they don’t have it on the books, that means they wrote off the debt and sold the debt to a debt collector.

It’s worth noting the the longer you’ve had this debt, the more likely it is that it’s been written off and sold for pennies on the dollar to a debt collector. If you haven’t had it for too long, they may be using a collections agency, which is a business that the company you were originally indebted to pays to get back money that the business was owed. If you’re in a “collections agency” situation, then contacting the business will work out; if it’s already been sold, then you’re out of luck. Your best approach in that latter situation is to negotiate, because if the business bought your debt at a steep discount, they’re likely willing to negotiate with you and get the easy smaller win rather than fighting tooth and nail for the possibility of a bigger one.

If you had a properly-formed business – not just a sole proprietorship – then it may actually be the business that’s liable here and you should contact a lawyer.

Q7: Struggling with focus

I graduated last May and got a great job where I basically spend 5-6 hours a day writing code. There are minimal meetings and it’s not very stressful at all most of the time. The problem is that I’m having a very hard time focusing. My job only has really long term deadlines and deliverables so if there isn’t something due in the next 2-3 weeks I find it really hard to do anything. There have been three big projects that when it got down to the 3 week mark I just buckled down and worked 90-100 hour weeks and got it done, but during the gaps in between those sessions I can barely get anything done. How can I focus better when there aren’t any deadlines?
– Martin

If you have a good track record of producing the work when it’s needed, you might want to talk to your boss about having a more milestone-based approach to your job. Rather than having these huge projects that are due every six months, set up some milestones that are due every week or two and have a review of those milestones when they come up.

If you’ve done good work up to this point and you tell your boss honestly that this will work better for you and not kill you close to the project deadline, it’s likely that your boss will work with you to move to this kind of milestone-based system.

My current work is very milestone-based (an article a day, basically) and I am concerned that I, too, would be fairly distracted if it were not.

Q8: Student loan forgiveness

How likely do you think it is that the current political climate will lead to a student loan forgiveness plan of some kind in the next few years, and if so, should people plan financially for that?
– Jenna

I assume that you’re talking about plans being proposed by Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders on the campaign trail for president, where they have both proposed different forms of student loan restructuring or forgiveness for most or all student loan holders.

While I think there is definitely a major problem with the cost of college right now, I don’t think that anyone should ever make financial plans based on people promising things on the campaign trail. I would not change a thing about my financial plans based upon their policy proposals, or the policy proposals of any candidate for that matter.

Your best approach with student loans is to seek out refinancing and forgiveness options to lower your debt and interest rates, then wrap them in a big debt repayment plan and pay them off as fast as possible.

Q9: Saving for retirement too slow

I am 26/F. I have worked at two different jobs since graduating, accumulating about four years of 401(k) savings. At my first job I contributed 6% of my salary and got a 6% match, earning $40K to $52K over those two and a half years. At this job I am contributing 8% with a 4% match, earning $55K at start and now $58K. My sum total of retirement savings is only $28K and my retirement calculator estimates I will be able to withdraw a whopping $78 a month. That’s in 35 years when inflation will have risen so much that I’ll be able to afford a loaf of bread with that “savings.” What’s the point?
– Caroline

First of all, what you’re not looking at is that the $28K you already have is going to go up in value somewhere around 8% a year (depending on the estimate) for the next 35 years, even if you contribute nothing more. That’s going to be $414,000 in retirement savings. That’s $1,150 a month you’ll be able to withdraw, not $78. Even if you include 2% annual inflation, that’s $575 a month.

Second, you’re not thinking about the additional amounts you’re going to contribute going forward. Your contributions are going to raise that amount significantly – if you continue to sock away 12% of your income, my back of the envelope math says that you’ll at least triple those numbers over the next 35 years.

At the same time, that money is there to supplement what you’ll get from Social Security. It’s likely that you will be receiving at least some benefits from Social Security in retirement, so that adds to your $1,150 a month.

On top of all of that, you’re also going to have many of your major life expenses paid off by that time. If you own your own home by that point, there’s almost no housing expense for you. If you have a reliable car that you no longer have to commute with that’s fully owned, there’s another big expense you don’t have to worry about.

Your picture is a lot brighter than it seems.

Q10: Thoughtful practical Mother’s Day gift

My mother is the most practical and amazing woman I’ve ever met. She managed to raise five kids on a single salary (our father died when I was 5 and she was pregnant with our youngest brother) and always managed to keep food on the table and clothes on our backs.

My siblings and I are all either college aged or early in our careers so we don’t have a ton of money but we all chipped in $50 or $100 to buy her a great Mother’s Day gift. We have $350 to spend. What is a really great practical gift in that price range?
– Amy

The first thing I would do if I were you is to just spend some time with her in the next week or two and see what she actually uses a lot and really needs. What items does she seem to use repeatedly? Out of those, which ones seem most in need of replacing with a high quality reliable version?

You might notice her blender or her knives or her coffee maker. You might notice holes in her bedsheets or in her socks. Just look for the things she uses all the time that are well worn or breaking down, and then start doing the homework.

While the gift will be really useful for her, what will really matter to her is that you noticed this issue. You took the time to see what she really needed and then took action based on that. That will matter far more to her than the specific item that you get, though it’s a great move to do that homework and get a great version of what she needs.

Q11: Standing desk and joint pain

I’m wondering how your standing desk is working out for you. A few people at work tried switching to one and they found themselves with a ton of joint pain. Any big difficulties?
– Susan

I’ve been amazed at the amount of interest in my use of a standing desk. Since I first discussed switching to one earlier this year, I haven’t had a week go by without someone asking for an update.

I have been using this standing desk for more than a month now and I haven’t noticed any joint pain related to the desk. (I had a minor knee tweak for other reasons, but it seems to have mostly healed up; it wasn’t caused by the desk and the desk didn’t seem to interfere in healing..)

I will say that I went into this knowing a few things about standing desks. One, it’s not a good idea to just stand in the same position all day long, so I intentionally move around a lot. Whenever I don’t have the next sentence in mind, I walk away from the desk and walk around a bit. I also shift frequently when standing, sometimes standing on one foot. Two, it’s a good idea to alternate periods of sitting and standing. I’ll often go upstairs and find a place to sit down when reading a book or an article; I don’t just stand in place all day. I also made sure that the desk was set up perfectly for me, with a height so that my arms are bent at a normal 90 degrees all the time, my wrists aren’t bent at odd angles when I write, and the monitor is at roughly eye level. I also stand on a soft pad that I intend to replace when it wears out.

Basically, I’ve done all I can to minimize the downsides of a standing desk so that it’s all upside, and the upside is that it’s vastly better for my cardiovascular health than sitting all day. I’ve found that standing means that I move around a ton more during the day, as I constantly walk around the room, move from foot to foot, and so on. I’ve also found that I’m more alert when I’m working at the standing desk and noticeably more productive. I think it’s a big win for me, but I’m also doing everything I can to make the standing desk’s drawbacks be as small as possible.

Q12: Best recent books

Have any suggestions for recent books on personal finance or productivity? Love your book reviews and I’m looking for some new stuff to listen to when I travel. I usually flip on an audiobook whenever I’m commuting or traveling for work.
– Andrew

In terms of books published in those categories in the last few months that I’ve read (or at least browsed and have on my to-read pile), two really stand out.

The first is Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Busy World by Cal Newport, which focuses on the value of reducing the time spent using electronics of any kind. He largely advocates using digital tools solely as an assistant to things you’re doing offline and that virtually all things you do online that aren’t directly tied to a clear offline purpose are a distraction that results in worse attention spans and lower moods. He offers a wide variety of ideas and solutions to move in a better direction with regards to digital tools.

The other is Playing with FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early): How Far Would You Go for Financial Freedom? by Scott Rieckens, which is a very readable overview of the idea of adopting a very high savings rate in order to retire before the typical retirement age or at least reach a level of financial independence where salary is no longer any factor in your career choices.

I’ve read Digital Minimalism and plan to give it a slower re-read soon, and I’ve read part of Playing with FIRE, and I can honestly recommend both of them.

Got any questions? The best way to ask is to follow me on Facebook and ask questions directly there. I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag (which, by way of full disclosure, may also get re-posted on other websites that pick up my blog). However, I do receive many, many questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

The post Questions About Practical Gifts, Low Cost of Living Cities, Custmer Rewards, Debt Collection, and More! appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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How I Plan to Withdraw from my Accounts to Fund Early Retirement

withdrawing from retirement accounts

I’ve been writing about money on MDJ for a long time – a very long time.  During this tenure, most of my pieces have been about the accumulation of money and wealth.

Articles like:

As I get older and closer to early retirement, my mind has started to shift from the accumulation of wealth to how I will spend the money and where it will come from.

This is actually a fairly recent mental shift that has gained momentum with a reader comment in a recent financial freedom update.

First great job! Let’s assume you have reached your goal and quit your job, living on your dividend streams only. How would you approach this? Would you just harvest the dividend from all the accounts? Or?

I wonder if there is a optimal way of thinking about it considering taxes, the decisions you have to make as you get to 60 yrs old (CPP, AOS, …), and associated potential clawbacks.

On the topic of where the money will come from, for us, we have built our wealth around investments in the public markets.  A significant amount in tax-efficient dividend stocks, and the rest in globally indexed ETFs.

When it comes time to withdraw from my portfolio, for us, the question is really how to most efficiently withdraw from the portfolio to not only fund our lifestyle but also to leave something to the estate.  Perhaps a large sum to charity, and of course, some to my kids and future grandkids.  Buffett puts it best along the lines of: “You should leave your children enough so they can do anything, but not enough so they can do nothing.” For others, they want to die with $0 in their bank accounts – to each their own!

Our Investment Accounts

As discussed in our financial freedom updates, we have the following accounts:

  • RRSP x 2 
  • TFSA x 2
  • Non-registered accounts x 2
  • Corporate investment account x 1
  • Small defined benefit pension accessible at age 60

Figuring out the most efficient withdrawal strategy depends on the situation and really requires financial planning software to get the optimal answer.  Here are some retirement calculators that may give you a start

Without having an advanced piece of software, or the patience to write my own Excel spreadsheet, I did some digging around the web for some solid rules of thumb.  With that, I came across a thread on The Financial Webring Forum that contains useful information about retirement accounts and withdrawals.

Within that thread, there are readers that have access to financial planning software and have run a number of common retirement scenarios leading to some general conclusions.

Some general rules of thumb for retirement account withdrawals

  • Keep tax-sheltered accounts as long as possible but watch out for the old age security (OAS) threshold which is $77,580 for 2019.  After that income, OAS will be reduced by 15% for every dollar until it’s eliminated at income $125,696.  So ideally you want to keep your retirement income under $77,580 (per spouse).  If you have a spouse, the ideal scenario is to keep both incomes just under the first tax bracket.  In Ontario that would be $43,906, and in NL that would be $37,591.  You can see tax brackets from other provinces here.  Having a tax-efficient family income of $80k would make for a comfortable retirement for most families.
  • Withdrawing from RRSPs early sometimes makes sense.  Even though the accepted rule of thumb is to keep the RRSP as long as possible (up until Dec 31 on the year you turn 71 when you are forced to convert to an RRIF), there are a number of situations that drawing down the RRSP early has merit.  For example, say your spouse has a large RRSP balance, has health issues, and unfortunately passes away early.  In that scenario, the RRSP gets transferred to you tax-free.  This is great, but when you reach 71 and forced to convert the RRSP to an RRIF, you’ll be required to withdraw 5.4% of the account balance in the first year and increasing after that.  If you have a $1M total RRSP, that would be $54,000 in the first year of RRIF withdrawals and increasing annually.  When you add CPP/OAS on top of your RRSP income, you’ll likely start seeing OAS clawback which is essentially an additional 15% tax.  Not only that, when the second spouse passes away, the large RRSP balance will likely face the highest marginal tax rate.  One strategy could be to retire a bit early, live on RRSP withdrawals, leave all other accounts intact to grow (or withdraw enough in addition to RRSP to fund lifestyle), all while delaying OAS/CPP for one or both spouses depending on health (up until 70).  This would result in drawing down the RRSP balance to reduce forced taxable withdrawals at 71 which would hopefully be enough to mitigate OAS clawbacks.  All this while letting the TFSAs continue to compound, and getting an increased CPP/OAS payout (the longer you delay CPP/OAS, the higher the payout).
  • Income split as much as possible. If you have a spouse, the goal is to keep incomes as equal as possible to maximize income and minimize taxes.  You can convert your RRSP to an RRIF as early as age 55 which will allow you to claim the pension tax credit.  However, you’ll have to wait until you turn 65 for the RRIF withdrawals to be eligible for income splitting with a spouse for tax purposes. Defined Benefit Pensions can also be split with a spouse for tax purposes – this can be a huge advantage for families where one spouse is a government employee.  Here are some additional income splitting ideas.

Funding Early Retirement

Keeping those rules of thumb in mind, they will apply to every one of you in a different way.  To some, they will have no issues with the OAS clawback threshold, to others, especially those with full defined benefit pensions or large RRSPs/non-registered accounts, taxation can potentially be reduced with some proper planning.

But how does this apply for someone who plans on retiring early? Let’s take a look at my personal example!

From our family’s perspective, it looks like my wife and I may reach financial independence in our early 40’s. We tend to keep our expenses fairly low which has been between $52k – $54k per year, all while raising two kids.  I like to think that we live a balanced albeit comfortable life, which may not sound possible on $50k/year, but having no debt payments makes all the difference.

As you may know, we plan on living off dividends – for the most part.  While our total dividends are very close to reaching the $52k-$54k mark, some of the dividends are from registered accounts.  Some of which I would rather not touch, like our TFSA’s.

Here is a summary:

March(Q1) 2019 Dividend Income Update

 Account Dividends/year Yield
SM Portfolio $7,500 3.96%
 TFSA 1 $3,500 4.54%
 TFSA 2 $3,600 5.03%
 Non-Registered $3,300 4.42%
 Corporate Portfolio $20,600 3.73%
 RRSP 1 $7,000 2.75%
 RRSP 2 $2,700 2.37%
  • Total Invested: $1,332,522
  • Total Yield: 3.62%
  • Total Dividends: $48,200/year (+4.56%)

Imagining that we had enough to retire today, how would we draw down our portfolios?  Being too young for seniors benefits (we both turn 40 this year), early retirement would have to be 100% funded by our own means. 

To fund early retirement, my strategy would be the following:

  • Use dividends from non-registered accounts and corporate portfolio first.  Using dividends would allow for tax-efficient income, especially for early retirees.  This may get to be a challenge when you approach OAS time as dividends are grossed up by 38%.  So if you make $40k in taxable eligible dividends, it will look like $55k for income testing against OAS.  Something to be mindful of if you are approaching senior status.  But being someone with 20+ years until senior status, the tax efficiency of dividends are welcome and realistically, it’s hard to predict old age security benefits 20 years from now.  
  • Use RRSP’s for the difference. While dividends from with non-registered sources are not quite enough for our expenses (at the moment), I would top-up our income by drawing down the RRSP’s. While it wouldn’t deplete the RRSPs, it would help keep it to a more manageable level when we reach forced RRIF withdrawals age. 
  • Leave TFSA’s in-tact.  Combining non-registered accounts and RRSPs for spending will give us a lot of flexibility with the TFSAs.  We could keep the TFSAs compounding over the years OR simply spend it.  It will likely be a mix of the two.  This can potentially be used as a future slush fund for luxuries such as travel, vehicles (likely one vehicle household by that point), and/or to leave to the estate/charity.  Thankfully, TFSA withdrawals are not income tested for seniors benefits (as of right now!).
  • Delay OAS and/or CPP – With enough income to live on via dividends and drawing down on our RRSPs, we may delay OAS and/or CPP.  This would depend on our health and the size of our RRSP when we reach senior status.

Realistically though, if we were to “retire” today, it would be more of a shift from full-time work to part-time (or entrepreneurial) work.  So I would likely be drawing an income from somewhere.  I imagine our family income coming from:

  • Non-registered and corporate dividends
  • Part-time (entrepreneurial) work
  • Potentially RRSPs to top up for travel and other large capital costs

Further Efficiency Needed

Going through this process has made me realize that there is an RRSP imbalance between me and the boss.  If we keep going on this path, this will result in lopsided RRSP withdrawal taxation up until the age of 65 where we will be able to split the withdrawals (must be converted to RRIF first). 

To mitigate this, I plan on opening a spousal RRSP (likely another account with Questrade) to help even out the account balances over the coming years.  After all, the goal is to balance retirement income between spouses to minimize taxes while maximizing income.

Final Thoughts

Phewf – there sure is a lot of information in this post!  There a number of factors to consider when it comes to generating retirement income.  If you have some time before your retirement years, then some planning can go a long way to reduce taxation during your golden years.  If you are lucky (or unlucky?) enough to have a spouse during that time, there are some strategies that can be employed as mentioned above.  In the big picture though, a tax problem is a nice problem to have during retirement!

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5 Best Robo-Advisors for Socially Responsible Investing

Robo-advisors are an easy and convenient way to take advantage of conscience-based investing. Here are our top five robo-advisors for socially responsible investing, in honor of Earth Day!

5 Best Robo-Advisors for Socially Responsible Investing appeared first on Money Under 30. © Moneyblogs, LLC.

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"Book It!" Kristin Cavallari Decides a Tropical Vacation Will "Spice" Up Her Marriage to Jay Cutler

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"Book It!" Kristin Cavallari Decides a Tropical Vacation Will "Spice" Up Her Marriage to Jay Cutler

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Exploring the Connections Between Your Leisure Life and Your Financial Life

This is the last entry in an eight part series exploring the connections between your finances and other areas of your life.

A few weeks ago, I started a series exploring the connections between personal finance and the other “spheres” of my life. The first entry covered the connections between one’s physical life and financial life, the second entry covered the connections between one’s mental and spiritual life and financial life, the third entry covered the connections between one’s intellectual life and financial life, the fourth entry covered the connections between one’s marital life and financial life, the fifth entry covered the connections between one’s parental life and financial life, the sixth entry covered the connections between one’s professional life and financial life, the seventh entry covered the connections between one’s social life and financial lifeand today we’re looking at one’s avocational life and financial life.

As noted in the first entry, I tend to view life as a bunch of “spheres,” or areas of focus. I really like Michael Hyatt’s list of nine such “spheres”: physical, mental/spiritual, intellectual, social, marital, parental, avocational (hobbies), vocational, and financial – they cover much of what life is all about. I’ve come to view these spheres as deeply interconnected, in that success in one sphere is usually linked in some significant ways to success in other spheres (and failures are similarly connected) and that knowing the connections can help people figure out how to succeed in both areas at once.

Today, we’re going to look at the final sphere, the avocational or leisure sphere, and how it connects to one’s financial life.

What Is “Avocational Life”?

Avocational life simply refers to the things that we engage in that aren’t intended to earn an income and that we do primarily because we personally enjoy them. They’re your hobbies, the things you do primarily for personal enjoyment and fulfillment.

Along with our social life, our avocational life is often a sphere that we allow to be molded and pushed out of the way by our other spheres. Many people take little time for their own hobbies and interests. Many others give their hobbies and interests some time, but they just allow them to fill in gaps in their life or only give them time when they’re dead tired, like watching a television program in a half-awake stupor after a long day.

Another similarity to our social life is how we’ll often wake up one day feeling that something is missing in our lives and realize that it’s the things we used to enjoy doing. Where did they go? We constantly took time away from our hobbies and interests and gave them to our career, our family, our marriage. The other spheres gobbled up our avocational sphere and we’re left feeling empty in a certain way. While losing one’s social life can bring on a state of loneliness, losing one’s avocational life can bring on a sense that our life is just one endless march of drudgery.

We’ll get into how to fix that in a moment, but it’s worth noting that there are a lot of links between one’s avocational life and one’s financial life.

Many hobbies come with some financial cost. Some hobbies can definitely have a negative impact on one’s financial life. Hobbies can be directly expensive, requiring you to pay for equipment, materials, and events. Even seemingly cost-neutral hobbies can have hidden expenses, like the cost of driving somewhere to go on a hike. When the expenses are small, this typically isn’t a big issue, particularly if you’re getting a lot of personal value out of the hobby, but an expensive hobby can simply not be worth the benefit you get from it.

Hobbies can sometimes grow into side gigs or even full time careers. For the first half-decade of my professional life, writing was a hobby that I used to fill in gaps in my time. I’ve always enjoyed writing; the process of turning ideas into words scratches a deep itch in my head. I was lucky enough to see that hobby turn into something I could earn some money from, and that gradually grew into a career switch.

Hobbies often help us build skills that are useful in other spheres of life, including our professional life. Almost all of my hobbies sharpen me in some way, usually improving my social skills, my physical health, or my mental acuity. My fitness is better. My ability to solve certain kinds of problems is improved. My ability to relate to others is better. Those things easily translate into better professional opportunities indirectly, and sometimes directly.

Hobbies are often a form of incredibly powerful de-stressing, which can have a strong positive effect on our physical and mental lives (reducing costs) and in other life areas as well. This is the big reason why I find hobbies so valuable – they’re incredibly good for de-stressing and reaching a happier state in one’s life. When I have time for my hobbies, I simply feel better about every part of my life, and that means I function better in almost every dimension. I work more efficiently. I’m more present and patient with my family. I feel better. I sleep better. I feel more social and more creative. Hobbies make a huge difference in my all-around quality of life, and that means I have less expense trying to bolster the quality of different spheres in my life.

Here are five low cost strategies I use for maintaining and improving my own leisure life.

Strategy #1 – Block Off Uninterrupted Time for Your Hobbies

This is one of the most important changes I’ve made in my adult life over the past ten years or so. Prior to this, I allowed my hobbies and interests to just “fill in the gaps” in my life. Whenever I found a few free moments, I’d dabble in an interest of some kind – maybe I’d read a few pages in a book or watch a television show. On the rare occasions when I would actually use a block of time for a hobby, I was usually sick and thus it wasn’t really high quality time anyway.

Over time, what I found was that this pattern led to a life that made me feel like I was shuffling through it like a robot, like I was on an endless march of drudgery. I figured out eventually that what was really missing from my life was big blocks of time to dive into hobbies I cared about.

I started blocking off Saturday afternoons from after lunch until shortly before dinner for hobbies, if at all possible (meaning if I didn’t have a parental responsibility, like taking a child to a soccer game or something). It was a revelation. I dove into hiking. I dove into food and home brewing experiments. I dove into tabletop games. Those were things that I didn’t really have time for before this.

(Where did I find this time? I’ll get to that in a minute.)

In a typical week these days, I have multiple multi-hour blocks marked off for hobbies. Those blocks are pretty sacrosanct – they’re incredibly important to me as a source for recharging so I can do all of the other things in my life better.

Because of those blocks, I often feel recharged and ready to take on the challenges and responsibilities in my life. I’m more efficient and energetic about all of those things because I have that hobby time, I have that “me” time. It’s vital, and it turbocharges everything else.

Strategy #2 – Give Preference to Hobbies That Induce a “Flow State”

The big reason I block off multi-hour chunks of time for hobbies is that one of my big goals with any hobby I engage in is to achieve a “flow state.” For those unfamiliar, a “flow state” is that state of mind where you’re so engaged mentally and/or physically with something you’re doing that you lose track of time and place. I’m not talking about passively losing track of time when you get into something of a dull trance when watching an unengaging television show or something; I’m talking about an active flow state, where you’re so absorbed in doing something, mentally and/or physically, that you completely lose yourself in it and become basically unaware of anything else for a while.

In his book Flow, the psychologist Michael Csikszentmihalyi describes this state as a peak human experience and a source of genuine happiness, and I strongly agree with him. One of the most profound changes I’ve ever made in my life was reorienting things into blocks of time so that I have the best chance possible to jump into flow states as frequently as possible because they feel incredible. During a flow state, I feel so engaged that nothing else matters; afterwards, my mood is elevated and my ability to focus and be social is elevated for a surprisingly long time. I use blocks of time when I’m working to try to fall into a flow state, and I do the same thing with my hobby time.

Thus, one of the key factors in figuring out whether a hobby is going to stick around in my life is whether or not it gets me into that kind of “flow state” easily, where I’m engaged and lose track of everything around me. If I can give a hobby a block of a few hours and I’m consistently falling into a state like that, then that hobby is going to stick around. If I give a hobby time and it doesn’t hook me like that, then it’s probably not worth those blocks of time.

Strategy #3 – Try Lots of Different Hobbies – Preferably Low Cost or Free Ones – Until You Discover Ones That Induce a “Flow State”

The big trick, of course, is finding hobbies that induce that flow state for me. How do I find them?

Honestly, I do it by trying lots of new things. At least a few times a month, I’ll take a block of hobby time and devote it to something that’s new to me. I’ll spend a couple of blocks trying to learn to play the banjo, or maybe I’ll spend it trying to learn how to sketch, or maybe I’ll give knitting a try, or maybe I’ll try a few free aikido lessons.

Often, those things don’t click for me. I don’t even get close to a flow state and while I might find the activity interesting enough, it just doesn’t click in a deep way. If I find myself looking at my watch, that’s probably not a great sign. (I usually set a loud alarm if I need to be somewhere or do something else at the end of a block of time, so that if I get into a flow state, I’m not missing anything important from other areas of my life.)

Sometimes, though, I’ll find something that does click and three hours will pass and I’ll just be completely amazed. That, right there, is the sign of a hobby that I should stick with, and I’ll often make room to do it a few more times, and it’ll often enter into my repertoire of hobbies.

Some things that fall into this category for me are hiking, playing tabletop games, reading books, practicing martial arts, doing yoga, meditating, writing in a journal, gardening, playing certain computer games, and making food items and beverages (think home brewing or sauerkraut making). While some of those activities bleed into other spheres of life, such as protecting and improving my mental health, they all are non-work things I do that can easily induce a “flow state” or something like it.

Strategy #4 – Cut Out “Micro-Leisure” and Turn That Into an Evening or Weekend Leisure Block

Something I used to do frequently before I started blocking off time for leisure is that I would engage in what I would call “micro-leisure.” I’d give myself fifteen minutes or so to stick my toes into a hobby of mine here and there, but never enough time to really scratch that itch.

I’d come home and it would be 4:15 and I’d have to start making supper at 4:40 so I’d decide to play a video game for 25 minutes. I’d barely get into it before I’d have to quit and start on supper.

I’d have a list of chores for a weekend afternoon and I’d decide that if I got the first four done, I could spend fifteen minutes kicking back with a book, but I’d barely get through part of a chapter before I had to head back to the tasks.

What I eventually learned is that such micro-leisure wasn’t really very fulfilling at all. All those little blocks did was delay something I didn’t want to do, and that a much more fulfilling approach is to hammer down on tasks as much as possible during those kinds of short gaps so that I would have the space in my life to spend four hours on a hobby on Sunday evening, for example.

Now, if I had 20 minutes after work, I wouldn’t play a video game. Instead, I’d start nailing things on my to-do list, the kind of floating tasks that can be done anytime like doing a load of dishes, getting a load of laundry started, making the bed, changing the battery in the laundry room smoke detector, and so on. If I have a big to-do list that I need to get done today, I start hammering that list hard and looking for ways to synergize the tasks so I can get everything done quickly – get dishes and laundry going and do tasks while they’re getting clean, for example.

I don’t really have those little blocks of time much any more and I honestly don’t miss them, either. Rather, I have a few much larger blocks of time during the week where I really dive into those hobbies I love. That time is “found” by eliminating micro-leisure. I don’t sit down and leaf through a magazine for ten minutes or channel-surf while lunch is cooking. Rather, I find something productive to fill those little gaps so that I can have the big blocks of leisure time in which I can fall into a flow state and get some really meaningful life benefits, as described earlier.

Strategy #5 – Mix Leisure with Your Social, Parental, Marital, and Even Professional Spheres

While some leisure activities are solo endeavors only, many leisure activities are wonderful group activities. Take advantage of that and mix together your leisure activities with the important people in your life.

Want to go on a hike? Call up some friends and see if any of them want to go along, too.

Want to play a board game? Set it up and see if any of your family wants to play.

Want to make a really amazing dinner because you love to cook fancy things? See if your spouse wants to join you in the kitchen.

There are many situations where I can easily reach that kind of flow state I mentioned earlier while also being engaged with other people. Many of those activities that get me there basically require other people, such as playing tabletop games, and many others are made better by having other people involved, like hiking or martial arts.

Some of the best experiences of my adult life have come as a result of doing a flow-inducing activity with people I care about and want to have around me. I remember a long nature hike with my family that was literally one of the best parts of 2017. I remember some of the most enjoyable epic board game experiences I’ve ever had, where I got sucked into some five hour long epic experience with a close group of friends where we were all seriously angling for the win and looking for ways to come out on top. I often fall into a flow state at a martial arts class and I typically wish they’d go on for longer even though I’m physically and sometimes mentally beat afterwards.

Those kinds of experiences manage to perfectly bridge multiple spheres at once; it’s wonderful to have those be a part of my life and they happen to be some of the best uses of my time in terms of personal fulfillment and quality of life.

Final Thoughts

It is incredibly easy to overlook leisure time and its value in your life, but cutting it out entirely or shoving it to the margins often results in lasting unhappiness, and that can have strong financial implications. Find space for it in your life, particularly enough space for it to induce a flow state at least occasionally, and you’ll be glad you did.

The purpose of this entire series was to show how the different areas of our lives are all interconnected, particularly how they’re all connected to our financial lives, but how the various interconnections affect other areas which are then connected to our financial lives.

The reality is that a well rounded life where you give healthy low-cost attention to all spheres in some semblance of balance is a recipe for a financially healthy life. Finances aren’t just something that sits off to the side in a bubble – they’re intimately connected to almost everything you do. Finding ways to live the best life in each sphere without throwing money at the problem is the recipe for a truly great life.

Good luck!

The post Exploring the Connections Between Your Leisure Life and Your Financial Life appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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My Completely Honest Dollar Shave Club Review

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

Looking for completely honest Dollar Shave Club reviews?

I’ve now been using Dollar Shave Club for a couple of years and below you’ll see my updated (and completely honest) thoughts! I think it’s a really great way to save on razors — especially if you don’t like to mess with in-store couponing.

My Completely Honest Dollar Shave Club Review

A funny shaving story

A couple years ago, I posted a funny post about how I had been using a disposable razor head without a handle to shave that week because I had left my razor in Dallas on a speaking trip and was too cheap to go buy a new razor when I could make do with just using a razor head until a new razor could come in from Amazon (purchased with a free gift card from Swagbucks).

So many of you commented on that post and gave hilarious suggestions and funny money-saving confessions. (You can read some of those funny comments here.) Plus, some of you left some great tips and tricks for saving on razors!

One of the suggestions that people gave over and over again was for me to sign up for Dollar Shave Club. I think almost every one of us has heard of this program. It’s a monthly subscription box service that sends you razor blades every month so you never run out of razors.

Why I was skeptical about Dollar Shave Club

I’ve been skeptical of the whole idea. I’m not really sure why? Maybe it’s because their ads are a bit quirky? Or maybe it’s because I’m spoiled from being able to get razors for FREE for so many years — either with coupons and rebates or through Amazon with gift cards I earned from Swagbucks. I didn’t see the point in paying for a program like this!

You see, for the first few years of our marriage, I always had a surplus of razors I had gotten free by pairing coupons with the drugstore rebate programs. And when the drugstore deals became a lot less abundant, I realized we were spoiled from using great disposable razors! The thought of going back to cheap ones wasn’t really appealing.

The deals at drugstores aren’t as prevalent now, but you can still occasionally find a good deal on razors by pairing a coupon with a sale and/or drugstore rebate. However, just as the deals on razors started waning, I discovered Swagbucks and, ever since then, have used the free gift cards I’ve earned there to cover the costs of razors. I usually just buy high-quality razors that are still priced well. (If I get lucky, I’ll find an e-coupon I can clip to save more!)

So I’ve never looked into Dollar Shave Club other than to think, “Wow! I guess people will pay for anything as a subscription box service! But really… who would PAY for a monthly subscription to get razors in the mail??!”

Dollar Shave Club reviews from readers

As you can probably imagine by my cynical attitude, I was super surprised that reader after reader after reader left comments with amazing Dollar Shave Club reviews! Here are just a few of those comments:

Summer said: “Have you considered Dollar Shave Club? I was so skeptical at first, but my husband and I both LOVE it. (We get the middle of the road razors and the cartridges are $6 a month for 4.) They will auto mail them out, but you can change it either from monthly to bi-monthly at any time! AND they e-mail you a few days before your shipment to remind you to make changes. (Speaking from experience!) My mom even got hooked on the program, too.”

Another reader commented and said, “I don’t know how you haven’t discovered the wonder and joy of Dollar Shave Club. I am an every day shaver. I can’t even handle it. These razors are fantastic (even the dollar blades) and you literally can’t beat the price.”

And Lindsay agreed: “We love Dollar Shave Club!! My husband and I use the same razor blades and each have our own handle and pack of blades. We share the refills and only order once every other month, so $36 a year for both of us. Frugal and I love how I never ‘run out’ of refills.”

Really?!?! Apparently I’m one of the few people who thought getting razors in the mail was just a weird idea. 😉

Why I decided to try Dollar Shave Club

In the name of wanting to investigate this out to see if it was really a good deal and also wanting to follow my own mantra of “don’t knock it until you’ve tried it”, I signed up for Dollar Shave Club. Since it was only $6 per month, I figured that if I didn’t like it, I could cancel after a month or two and not really be out much out of pocket for my experiment!

Plus, since so many of you were looking for Dollar Shave Club reviews, I had promised you all an honest review — and I figured that it was worth spending a little money out of pocket to try this for 3 months and report back to you all with my honest thoughts.

Dollar Shave Club Starter Kit

How Dollar Shave Club Works

  • Go to Dollar Shave Club and sign up for their $5 Starter Set that includes the executive razor handle, four 6-blade razor cartridges, a trial-sized shave butter, a trial-sized daily face cleanser.
  • When you take advantage of this deal, it signs you up for the Dollar Shave Club membership that will renew after the first month at the full executive razor price of $9/month.
  • After the first month, be sure to go into your membership settings and choose the razor blades you’d like to receive each month. You can opt to switch to a cheaper razor if you want to pay less per month.
  • They offer three different options: The Humble Twin — which is regularly $1 per month + $2 shipping, The 4X — which is regularly $6 per month (includes shipping), or The Executive — which is regularly $9 per month (includes shipping).
  • There are no hidden fees. You can cancel your subscription at any time. Or you can change plans at any time. When you change plans, you’ll receive a new razor handle for free.
  • Pause your subscription or change your shipment frequency at any time. You can even get blades every other month if you want!

When I first signed up, this $5 Starter Set offer wasn’t available, so I chose the $6 box. If you’re interested, you can go here to watch my unboxing video where I talked more about my first box.

Dollar Shave Club Executive Razor Blades

What Comes in a Regular Monthly Box

My initial box included a razor handle, 4 razor blade cartridges, and some extra samples/goodies. The following months, you just get a package with 4 razor blade cartridges every month + the bathroom notes (which are sometimes, sometimes a little crass). They sometimes will include a little sample, too.

Dollar Shave Club Packaging

My Overall Thoughts

I have definitely surprised myself with liking Dollar Shave Club — and I’ve found myself agreeing with all the positive Dollar Shave Club reviews! The razors have held up well for me and they give a clean shave. Plus, I think they work just as well as razors that cost more than $6 for a razor + 4 cartridges.

Because I was so impressed with my experience, I decided to upgrade to the $9 per month program to see what I thought of the more expensive razor. I definitely like it better than the $6/month razors. However, I don’t think that you need to upgrade to the $9 per month subscription — unless you just really, really want to. The $6/month razor works plenty well.

One thing I’ve found is that the blades don’t hold up as long as name-brand blades do. As you know, I shave every single day. Because I’m weird like that! 😉 And I typically would only need to replace a cartridge every 3 1/2 weeks or so.

I find myself wanting to replace my cartridge at the 2 1/2 week mark with the Dollar Shave Club razors. But here’s the thing! Since I’m the only one using Dollar Shave Club in my family, I never go through all four cartridges each month! I switched to every other month shipments and it makes it half the price I was paying!

I’ve now been using Dollar Shave Club for a couple of years and still love it!

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Some final tips

One thing I did want to note is that Kris shared this link with me and it says most of the razors from Dollar Shave Club are from Dorco and encourages people to order directly from Dorco — which I think is a great suggestion! It’s a little cheaper than Dollar Shave Club.

However, when ordering from Dorco, you have to remember to go and order blades. I think one of the major selling points of Dollar Shave Club is that you never have to remember to order razors. They just show up at your door at a lower price than you’d usually pay at the store.

Be sure to check out my post on 7 Secrets to Save Up to $100 Per Year on Razors! (And if you’re interested in other subscription services, you can also get a free Harry’s Shaving Bundle right now!)

Have you tried out Dollar Shave Club before? If so, I’d love to hear your honest Dollar Shave Club reviews in the comments and whether you feel it’s worth the price.

Dollar Shave Club

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.

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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

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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 Raise.com.

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

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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

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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:

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

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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

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.