17 Ways to Save Money When You Live in a Big City (It’s Actually Possible!)

I know I don’t have to tell you this, city dwellers: Living in a big city is expensive.

I was slapped with that cold reality when I moved to Denver. After living in two relatively rural college towns, I was used to paying a rent I could almost afford; groceries that were, well, normally priced; and a night out with friends that never remotely creeped close to $ 50.

Then there were those times I visited New York City and San Francisco for long weekends… Don’t get me started.

Anyway, kudos for making it work — but I know it’s got to get difficult sometimes. That’s why we put together a list of ways to save money when you live in a big city.

1. Save Money on Any Debt You’ve Already Accumulated  

Moving in general is expensive, but moving to a big city and adjusting to that new cost of living is difficult.

If you accumulate any credit card debt in the process that’s still lingering, consider refinancing or consolidating it to find better interest rates.

A good resource is Fiona, a search engine for financial services, which can help match you with the right personal loan to meet your needs.

Fiona searches the top online lenders to match you with a personalized loan offer in less than 60 seconds. Its platform can help you borrow up to $ 100,000 (no collateral needed) with fixed rates starting at 4.99% and terms from 24 to 84 months.

2. Get $ 3 Pantry Essentials Delivered to Your Door

Groceries tend to be more expensive in big cities. Goods in New York City are 10% higher than average U.S. prices, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The task itself also tends to be more difficult, depending on how far away you live from the closest store.

A great way to save money is to order the essentials online — where prices are more likely to be the same nationwide.

With Brandless, you can stock up on all your grocery essentials for $ 3 each. Yup — everything’s $ 3. And you’ll get $ 5 off your order when you sign up with your email address.

Better yet, Brandless carries organic, gluten-free and vegan options. You could spend hours perusing the virtual aisles, but here are a few examples:

  • An 8-ounce jar of organic, 100% pure honey: $ 3
  • Organic aged white cheddar popcorn: Two for $ 3
  • Roasted and salted almonds: $ 3
  • Organic, fair-trade, light-roast ground coffee: $ 3

You can also stock up on Brandless cleaning supplies, household essentials and clean beauty supplies.

Shipping is free when you spend $ 39 or more.

3. Claim Cash Back on Drinks and Takeout Orders

Life tends to be a bit more stressful in the big city, and it’s important to take time to unwind. Whether you prefer to do that with alcohol or takeout, claim cash back.

Traditionally, Ibotta is known for its cash-back offers on groceries, but it’s also available for restaurants, bars and food-delivery services.

For example, we’ve seen deals for:

  • 10% cash back for new DoorDash users.
  • $ 5 back on two bottles of Stella Artois.
  • $ 2 back on a glass of Cupcake Wine.

Just download the app for free, then select “Find Offers.” When you claim your first cash-back offer, you’ll pocket a $ 10 bonus.

4. Ease the Pain of Those Higher Car Insurance Rates

The good news is big cities typically have public transit systems, so sometimes you can get away with selling your car and living that car-free life.

If you still need your car, though, you’ll probably face higher car insurance rates.

Here are three options to help alleviate the pain associated with those high costs:

  • First, find a pay-per-mile insurance policy. If you live in California, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia or Washington and drive less than 200 miles a week, consider getting insurance through MetroMile, a company that lets you pay for insurance by the mile. I you only drive 5,000 miles per year, you could save $ 500, according to MetroMile’s calculations. Find out if it could help you save by snagging a free quote.
  • If you still drive quite a bit, take a few minutes to compare rates from other providers. A service called Gabi will do it for you, and you don’t even have to fill out any forms. Simply link your insurance account and provide your driver’s license number, and Gabi will go to work. Gabi says it finds an average savings of $ 720 per year for its customers.
  • Help offset big-city costs by renting your car out when you’re not using it. With the Getaround app, you can safely rent out your car to people in your community and neighborhood. The company insures your car for each trip, offers 24/7 roadside assistance and screens drivers for a safe driving record.

5. Count Your Many Steps and Turn ’Em Into Cash

Whether you walk to work or take public transit, you tend to spend more time on your feet in big cities.

Go ahead and reward your barking feet with the Achievement app.

Achievement connects to your phone’s health apps and runs in the background, so it works passively. Many users report being happily surprised when logging on and checking their progress.

Once you earn 10,000 points, you’ll score $ 10, which you can deposit directly into your bank account.

Pro tip: Achievement connects to more than 30 Android and iOS health-related apps, including MyFitnessPal and Garmin. The more apps you connect, the more earning opportunities.

6. Negotiate Your Monthly Bills (or Have This Bot Do It)

A great money-saving tactic when living in a big city is to negotiate your bills. Some may be more difficult to negotiate than others (you can even try negotiating your rent), but we suggest starting simply with a free negotiation tool.

Download TrueBill, an app that’ll negotiate your bills, cancel unwanted subscriptions and refund your bank fees.

After downloading the app, create an account and link your bank account and/or credit cards. Turn on the bill negotiation and outage protection features. Boom. TrueBill is already searching for potential refunds — it might get you a refund even when you didn’t know an outage occurred.

On average, Truebill says it helps customers save more than $ 700 a year by lowering their bills, canceling necessary subscriptions and getting refunds.

Signing up and using the service is free, though there are some paid premium services that are totally optional — but could totally be worth it.

7. Set up Your Big-City Budget

If money’s tighter than you’d like, it’s important to keep a budget.

Budgeting can be a little scary, but it doesn’t have to be. The first step is to find out how you’re doing now. Luckily, you can have a financial assistant right in your pocket to help you out.

The Empower app is a powerful budgeting tool that can help you figure out how you’re spending your money and develop a budgeting plan to keep you on track.

Link the app to your bank accounts, and it will track your spending. It will also categorize your spending so you can see exactly where you are overdoing it. That’s right: It will show you just how many times you went out for dinner because you didn’t want to do the dishes.

Set a monthly spending limit and the app will show you a graph that can tell you in one snapshot just how you’re doing for the month. Are you over the line or under it? It’s that simple to see how you’re doing so you can adjust your spending accordingly.

8. Declutter Your Space — and Earn Some Extra Cash

Affordable apartments tend to be small, so if you’re feeling a bit cluttered in your space, clean stuff out.

You can sell virtually anything on Letgo. This easy-to-use app lets you snap a photo and upload your item in less than 30 seconds. It removes a lot of the hassle of selling things online, and it’s 100% free to use.

If you’ve got old technology lingering (think: phones, CDs, DVDs or video games), download the Decluttr app, and start scanning the barcodes on your media to get immediate quotes. It’s completely free to use, you won’t pay listing or seller fees, payment is super fast and even shipping is free.

Plus, enter FREE5 at checkout to get an extra $ 5 for your trade-in order!

9. Entertain Yourself on Your Commute (and Win Cash)

While you’re swiping around on your phone and wasting time on your commute, go ahead and download the Lucky Day app

You could win up to $ 10,000 playing digital scratch-off tickets or even a whopping $ 100,000 in the daily lotto. You’ll also have a lot of chances to win gift cards to cool places like Amazon, Walmart, Dunkin and Target.

It’s all free to play, with no in-app purchases. The company has already awarded more than $ 3 million in prizes to winners since 2014.

Try to resist an embarrassing happy dance on the subway if you win money.

10. Create an In-Case-of-Emergency Fund Without Thinking

When you have to spend a lot of money just to get by day to day, the task of saving money will easily fall to the wayside.

Don’t let that happen. Digit allows you to save money without even noticing.

This innovative app automates saving for you. Simply link it to your checking account, and its algorithms will determine small (and safe!) amounts of money to withdraw into a separate, FDIC-insured savings account.

Bonus: Penny Hoarders will get an extra $ 5 just for signing up! Additionally, savers will receive a 1% bonus every three months.

Using this set-it-and-forget-it strategy, one Penny Hoarder saved $ 4,300 without noticing — read his Digit review.

If you need that money sooner than expected, you’ll always have access to it within one business day.

Digit is free to use for the first 30 days, then it’s $ 2.99 per month afterward.

11. Dress up to Big-City Standards Without Credit Card Debt

There’s something about living in a big city where there’s more pressure to dress like, well, a real human. Fashion trends are actually timely, and you want to look professional when walking into your skyscraper of an office.

But just because you have pressure to look trendy doesn’t mean you have to rack up credit card debt.

Instead of shopping online at any ol’ retailer or signing up for a clothing subscription service, check out flash-sale site Rue La La first.

It offers top brands for up to 70% off. How? When retailers have excess product, Rue La La takes it and sells it at a hefty discount — but each sale is only available for a limited time.

Just sign up for free with your email address. (It’s an exclusive site — discounts are for members only.) Then search your favorite brands, or browse the boutiques to see what’s available.

12. Protect Your Abode and Belongings With Affordable Insurance

If you’re renting, you know some cities and states require renters insurance. It might seem like a pain at the time, but it can really save you in the long run.

For example, when my boyfriend lived in Denver, a hail storm hit and destroyed his complex’s roof, causing water to flood into his apartment. After his deductible, his renters insurance paid for him to move into a hotel near his workplace for about three months. If any of his items had been damaged, it would have covered those expenses, too.

If you don’t yet have renters insurance — or want to shop around for a better rate — start by getting a free quote. We recommend the online insurance company Lemonade, through which renters insurance starts at $ 5 a month.

Beyond affordable rates, Lemonade adds a layer of transparency you don’t often see in the insurance world. Instead of profiting extra when it doesn’t have to pay out claims, the company keeps a set 20% of your premium for itself, and 80% goes into a pool for paying claims. Money left over after paying claims each year goes to a cause of your choice.

That also means Lemonade isn’t going to be super stingy about granting customers the claims they deserve — ’cause the money isn’t going into its pockets.

13. Find a Side Gig (Opportunities Abound)

Big cities are basically playgrounds for side gigs. If you’re struggling to make rent or are racking up credit card debt, consider increasing your income, even if only temporarily.

Here are some of our favorite side-gig options for folks in the big city:

  • It’s no secret big cities attract more tourists, and that’s good news for you. If you have a spare room, try earning some extra money by listing it on Airbnb. If you’re a good host with a desirable space, you could add hundreds — even thousands — of dollars to your savings account with Airbnb.
  • If you’re looking for a flexible, independent way to earn money — and you love hanging out with dogs — Rover might be your perfect gig. The online network connects dog walkers and sitters to local dog owners through its 4.9-star-rated app, so you don’t have to staple flyers on every utility pole across town. Rover says sitters can earn as much as $ 1,000 a month.
  • Need a fun, flexible way to earn money while also meeting lots of new people? Try driving with Lyft. To be eligible, you’ll need to be at least 21 years old with a year of driving experience, pass a background check and own a car made in 2007 or later.

14. Call it Quits With Your Expensive Cell Phone Provider

If you’re sick of of paying your cell phone carrier hundreds of dollars each month, look beyond the so-called Big Four and into the discount carrier Twigby.

That’s what Zak Wilson did. He’d been paying Verizon Wireless about $ 180 a month for two lines. So he tried Twigby. For both phones, he’s now paying $ 60 a month.

Plus, new customers get 25% off the first six months of service.

Pro tip: Big cities mean big Wi-Fi opportunities. Whenever you can, tap into free Wi-Fi to save on data.

15. Snag Cash Back — Even From Your Favorite Local Deli

Cash-back apps are great, but many of them don’t cater to your favorite local haunts — like that unsuspecting deli on your block or your favorite coffee pitstop on your way to work.

But don’t worry. We found an app that’ll reward you for keeping any receipt.

As seen on Shark Tank, CoinOut is a shopping rewards app. You’ll earn cash when you snap a photo of a receipt — any receipt, from any retailer, featuring any item. (Similar apps are a lot pickier.)

We put it to the test: A couple of Penny Hoarder staffers dug out receipts — a $ 5 Wendy’s order and a salad from a local sandwich shop. One collected 5 cents, the other 4 cents. The better condition your receipt is in, the more you’ll earn back, so resist crumpling it into a ball.

You can also earn cash back when you shop online with one click through the CoinOut app. Featured retailers include Walmart, Overstock and Warby Parker.

You can cash — ahem, coin — out once a week for an Amazon gift card or funnel the money right into your bank account or PayPal.

16. Don’t Let Laundry and Dry Cleaning Shrink Your Budget

Laundry’s a big expensive chore in big cities. And dry cleaning? Don’t even get us started…

You’ve probably already invested in that magical Febreze Fabric Refresher spray (if you haven’t, just trust us), but now it’s time to tackle the costs of dry cleaning.

For some fabrics, it’s totally necessary. But for others (even if the tag says dry-cleaning only), it’s not.

Dive into your guide to saving money on dry cleaning. It just might change your life (or at least your budget).

17. Find Fun (and Free!) Weekend Activities

All right. We’ve addressed all your big recurring bills, but you’ve got to have some fun, too. After all, you live in a city where there’s tons to do and explore.

Look into your neighborhood’s farmers market, check out free museum passes from your local library, take a hike (genuinely), plan a picnic or window-shop.

Get some inspiration from our list of free things to do in Orlando.

Carson Kohler (carson@thepennyhoarder.com) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.

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

The Penny Hoarder Promise: We provide accurate, reliable information. Here’s why you can trust us and how we make money.

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8 Ways You Can Get to Retirement 10 Years Earlier Than You’ve Planned

Retirement. It seems like it’s forever away, doesn’t it? With all the bills and debt you’ve already accumulated, the idea of cashing in your chips and calling it a career could be an impossible dream.

But here’s the trick: Think like an entrepreneur, and start managing your life like it’s a successful business.

Try out these 8 tips that will help you do just that. You could even find yourself rocking retirement as soon as 10 years earlier than you would otherwise. Sweet, right?

1. Pay Off Credit Card Debt, So You Won’t Be Weighed Down

When you think about how much debt you have, you might feel a little anxious.

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

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

You can borrow up to $ 100,000 (no collateral needed) and compare interest rates, which start at 4.99%. The idea is to secure a loan at a lower interest rate, potentially helping you save thousands. Repayment plans range from 24 to 84 months.

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

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

So even if you’re simply curious about what’s out there, know that checking rates on Fiona won’t hurt your credit score — and can probably save you in interest.

2. Have a Sit-Down With Your Credit Score

Dana Sitar with partner Stefan Davis spend some time reviewing credit sesame both on their phone and on personal laptop. St Petersburg, Fla.

If you want to retire early, your credit score is going to be a valuable tool. With a good credit score comes lower interest rates on loans, which means less money out of your pocket.

One of the toughest parts about paying down debt and fixing your credit score is knowing where to begin.

To create a rebuilding plan, you have to first know what you’re dealing with.

Do you have credit card debt? Is your name attached to any unpaid loans? Are you behind on medical or utility bills you didn’t know about?

Your credit report will give you this information.

You can get a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus.

If you want to keep a closer eye on your credit, get your credit score and “credit report card” for free from Credit Sesame. This website breaks down exactly what’s on your credit report in layman’s terms, how it affects your score and how you might address it.

3. Hope for the Best, but Plan for the Worst

A family tragedy can do more than just break hearts. Losing someone in your life can come with a large emotional, and even financial, burden.

You’re setting plans to retire early. Don’t let a tragedy get in the way. Make sure that you and your loved ones have life insurance policies in place. They protect those left behind so they can continue to live out their dreams.

A company like Policygenius offers an easy way for anyone to compare and buy life insurance. The search engine allows you to compare policies and get instant quotes. Once you find the right fit, you can apply right online.

If you’re young and mostly healthy, consider purchasing term life insurance online from Ethos. It partners with a major A-rated life insurance carrier to provide policies for a low price. For example, $ 30 a month could get your family $ 1 million of coverage.

It’s not fun to think about, but it’s a necessary step for your life plans.

4. Pad the Bottom Line With Passive Income

The housing market is booming in Florida, including in places like Palmetto, Fla

Passive income is awesome. It’s income that keeps rolling in without you having to do much on your end. Suh-weet.

One great way to earn passive income is to invest in real estate. We found a company that helps you do just that.

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

Through the Fundrise Starter Portfolio, your money will be split into two portfolios that support private real estate around the United States.

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

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

(But remember: Investments come with risk. While Fundrise has paid distributions every quarter since 2014, dividend and principal payments are never guaranteed.)

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

5. Bring Your Operating Costs Down

If you’re treating your life like a business, you need to keep your operating costs down, right? That means taking a hard look at your monthly bills and cutting unnecessary costs. Luckly, that’s easier to do now than ever.

Download TrueBill, an app that’ll negotiate your bills, cancel unwanted subscriptions and refund your bank fees. On average, TrueBill says it helps customers save more than $ 700 a year by lowering their bills, canceling necessary subscriptions and getting refunds.

And what about insurance on your wheels? For many, car insurance is just one of those things where we cave in and pay. Because, just like the electric bill and phone service, we need it, right?

Yes. Unfortunately, there’s no getting around car insurance,. But one way you could save money is by shopping around and comparing rates at least once a year. Less than 50% of us do that, according to this survey from The Zebra, though 81% of us report wanting lower rates.

So, just like you compare the prices of flights, shoes and laptops before purchasing, why not compare car insurance?

The Zebra, an online car insurance search engine that offers “insurance in black and white,” compares your options from 204 providers in less than 60 seconds.

When you cut out excess spending on monthly bills, you can put more in your pocket and more toward retirement. It just got a little closer.

6. Invest Like a CEO, but With as Little as $ 5

Aileen with money.

You know that you should be investing, but how? “It takes money to make money” is what they always say. Well, if you want to start investing, it doesn’t take as much money as you’d think.

If you’re like most of us and wish your money would just take care of itself, consider starting an investment account through Acorns.

You can start small and stack up change over time with its “round-up” feature. That means if you spend $ 10.23 at the grocery store, 77 cents gets dropped into your Acorns account.

Then, the app does the whole investing thing for you.

The idea is you won’t miss the digital pocket change, and the automatic savings stack up faster than you’d think. For example, we reviewed how Penny Hoarder Dana Sitar was able to save at a rate of $ 420 a year!

At that rate, you could set aside $ 1,000 in about two and a half years — without trying.

The app is $ 1 a month for balances under $ 1 million, and you’ll get a $ 5 bonus when you sign up.

You’ll be able to watch your investments grow as you get closer and closer to retirement. It’s okay. Show off your portfolio to the gang at the water cooler.

7. Give Your 401(k) a Pep Talk

For many people, a 401(k) account is their primary tool for retirement savings. That’s great. But if you want to retire early, you need to make sure it’s doing all it can for you.

If you’re saving for your retirement with a 401(k), awesome.

But when’s the last time you truly checked in on your account, adjusted your allocations, addressed any fees and all that other fun stuff?

Try using a robo-adviser to make sure your 401(k) is on track with your retirement goals. Blooom is an SEC-registered investment advisory firm that’ll optimize and monitor your 401(k) for you.

Your initial account checkup is free, and you can do it online in less than five minutes. This will help you get to know your account a little more intimately. Find out if you’re paying too many investment fees or if you have the appropriate amount of money invested in stocks versus bonds.

If you’re satisfied with the outcome of your initial checkup, great! If not, you can enroll in Blooom for $ 10 a month (Penny Hoarders get one month free). It’ll automatically adjust your 401(k) to best fit your needs all the way up to retirement.

8. Give Yourself Yearly Reviews

Now that you’ve made some smart moves to help put yourself in position to retire 10 years earlier than you otherwise could have, don’t just sit back and coast.

Like any good business, you need to review things at least once a year. Where can you cut back? Can you put a little more into your investments?

You’re the CEO of your life. Start acting like it, and watch the bottom line get bigger and better with time.

So… what will you do with an extra 10 years of free time?

Tyler Omoth is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

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

The Penny Hoarder Promise: We provide accurate, reliable information. Here’s why you can trust us and how we make money.

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9 Ways to Avoid Early Withdrawal Penalties From Your Retirement Accounts

Have you ever been in dire need of some cash but your bills are due and your bank account is low?

Then you look at your 401(k) sitting over there and think, “I could just take out a loan, problem solved.”

Wait. Before you get crazy with a loan that may not be in your best interest, you should know there are ways to get money out of retirement accounts without a loan or being subject to the 10% withdrawal penalty.

How to Get Money Out of Your Retirement Accounts Before 59 ½  

According to a TPH analysis of microdata from the Federal Reserve Board’s latest financial wellness survey, one in 10 Americans under the age of 60 borrowed money or withdrew early from one of their retirement accounts in the last year.

Once you put money into your 401(k) or IRA, if you try to access it before the age of 59 1/2 it’s typically through a 401(k) loan or paying a 10% penalty on the withdrawal in addition to any applicable taxes.  

While we advise having an emergency fund over resorting to retirement savings, sometimes life comes at you fast and you need that money. And if you’re using it for the right reasons, we think you shouldn’t be penalized for using money that’s yours to begin with.

So here are some of the ways you can get money out of those accounts without fees, penalties, or restrictive loan terms.

Contribution Withdrawals From a Roth IRA

The Roth IRA is your most flexible account in retirement because you don’t have to pay taxes on withdrawals, no matter how large your growth, and it’s the only account without required minimum distributions.  

Your Roth IRA also offers you the most flexible options when you need to pull money from retirement. You can withdraw contributions you’ve made at any time tax-free and without penalty.

This applies only to the contributions, not the earnings of your Roth IRA.

Disability Exemption

The legs of a man using a blind walking can make their way down an asphlt path.

If you become physically or mentally disabled and are unable to work, you can take distributions from any retirement account penalty-free.

Once a physician certifies that the physical or mental impairment is continuous and of long or indefinite duration, all retirement accounts become available as they would at 59 1/2 — which means even though there’s no penalty, you’re still subject to federal and state taxes.

Home Purchase

You can withdraw up to the lifetime maximum of $ 10,000 — $ 20,000 for couples — from an IRA (Roth or traditional) to buy or build a home. To qualify, you cannot have owned a home in the two years preceding the home purchase.

But because you can withdraw contributions from your Roth IRA penalty-free, those limits apply only to earnings.  

The caveat is that if the account is less than five years old and you decide to withdraw earnings, you will have to pay income taxes on those.

If you prefer to withdraw from a traditional IRA, your maximum is a straight $ 10,000. You will have to pay applicable taxes on it. If you have both and think you’ll need to dip into earnings for the withdrawal, the traditional IRA is the account to go with because it’s easier to grow the balance through 401(k) rollovers.

Health Insurance Costs

If you lose your job and collect unemployment compensation for 12 consecutive weeks, you can use your IRA to pay for health insurance for you, your spouse and your dependents.

Since you can use Roth IRA contributions for any reason, this is more notable for a traditional IRA.

Big Medical Expenses

Medical expenses not reimbursed by insurance can qualify for a penalty waiver. Those expenses would need to exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income if you’re withdrawing from an IRA and 7.5% to withdraw from a 401(k). The distribution can be used for you, your spouse or your dependents.

The distribution has to be made in the same year that the medical expense is incurred, which could be difficult if you have an accident taking down the Christmas lights on Dec. 31 — another reason to leave them up until January.

If that all sounds intimidating and vague, that’s because it is. You’ll definitely need to consult a certified public accountant and your plan provider if you decide to go this route.

A better option is contributing to a health savings account (HSA) if you have one available to you. For medical expenses, an HSA is more flexible, easier to access and more tax advantaged than any other retirement account.

Military Service

Qualified reservists can take distributions from an IRA, 401(k) or 403(b) during an active duty of more than 179 days.

This includes all Reserve and National Guard members. While other distributions put you at a loss, qualified reservist distributions (QRDs) are allowed to be paid back in full for up to two years after your active duty ends, even if those extra contributions exceed the annual limit.

College Costs

A woman in a graduation robe counts money.

If you, your spouse, child or grandchild are pursuing higher education, it can be paid for from your IRA without penalty. Qualified expenses include tuition, fees, books, supplies and — if enrolled at least half time — room and board.

While this is only a benefit of an IRA, you can also rollover a 401(k) into a traditional IRA to pay for college. But understand that withdrawals for college costs can reduce your or your student’s eligibility for financial aid.

And if you’re thinking about using your retirement account to save for college, stop right there! 529 plans were designed for just that.

Change of Employment

If you leave your job in the year you turn 55 — or any time after — you can withdraw from your 401(k). If you anticipate retiring around this age and have any old 401(k)s lying around, this would be a good reason to roll it over to your current 401(k) instead of a traditional IRA.

Bonus: If you’re a government employee with a 457(b), you can access those retirement savings penalty-free whenever you leave your job, no matter your age.

Annual Distributions

If you’re trying to retire earlier than 55, you can agree to withdraw a specific amount every year called substantially equal periodic payments (SEPPs.) You’ll basically need to agree to take consistent withdrawals, based on IRS calculations, each year for the rest of your life.

The calculations are a bit confusing, so this is another one you’ll need to consult a financial adviser for. They can also tell you if SEPPs are your best option for early retirement or if there’s something more flexible that still gets you around the 10% penalty.

In conclusion, every time you take money out of a retirement account, you lose out on the compounding interest that money could have earned you. None of these should be go-to methods for getting extra money but they are available if you need them

Jen Smith is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She maxes out her Roth IRA and gives money-saving and debt-payoff tips on Instagram at @savingwithspunk.

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.

The Penny Hoarder Promise: We provide accurate, reliable information. Here’s why you can trust us and how we make money.

The Penny Hoarder


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9 Ways to Spend Thanksgiving Alone

As a busy, single, professional, the “singles’ table” may come with all kinds of connotations. You’re no longer defined by your professional title, but your relationship status. With all of your accomplishments and talents, everyone is the same at the singles’ table.

This year, it may be time for something new. But, no need to run away to an exotic island vacation to escape. Maybe you just want to see how it is to spend Thanksgiving alone–something you have never done before.

If you decide to spend the day alone at home for other reasons, please do not stress. Do not feel the need to defend why you want to spend Thanksgiving alone. Pick at least one thing from the list below to make your Thanksgiving Day the way you want to make it, on your own terms, while remaining ever grateful and thankful for your blessings.

  1. Movies, movies, movies–something funny and lighthearted usually does the trick.  Want to binge on something smart? Check out BE’s TechConnext On-Demand videos with leaders from Slack, Facebook, Ryan Leslie, and more.
  2. Indulge in one of your favorite high calorie treats–you have permission today.
  3. Start a project, list your goals in a journal, write that book, sort through mail. It will make you feel productive.
  4. Stay off of the Internet. Do not go online to Facebook or any other social networking site. Remember, this is about your solitude today, it’s not about making yourself feel bad.
  5. Get a pile of books together that you have been meaning to read or finish.This is supposed to be relaxing, so please, put away the GMAT books.
  6. If you have neighbors, offer to babysit their dogs or walk them on Thanksgiving. However, you must like dogs; you don’t want to get rid of one stress for another.
  7. Indulge yourself  with your favorite drink or an afternoon nap.
  8. Do a “thankful” ritual for what makes you feel grateful. You may light a candle, burn incense, or whatever you like.
  9. Go to Boston Market or order from your favorite restaurant. If that’s too much trouble, buy a box of macaroni and cheese. A bowl of macaroni and cheese is the ultimate comfort food.

Spending Thanksgiving alone can hurt if it is out of your control, and you really want to be with someone. So, celebrate on your own terms. To give love to others during the holidays, you need to have some in your own life.

Parts of this article appeared on www.balleralert.com and www.alphanista.com by the author. This article originally published November 23, 2016. 




The post 9 Ways to Spend Thanksgiving Alone appeared first on Black Enterprise.

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Your New Baby Will Cost More Than You Imagined. Here are 5 Ways to Save

The parenting books tell when you can expect your baby to reach physical milestones. The parenting classes teach you the proper way to bathe an infant and change a diaper.

But new parents, who are projected to spend an average of $ 233,610 from birth through age 17, are often clueless and unprepared when it comes to how to manage their financial lives after having a baby.

Laura Adams, host of the “Money Girl” podcast, sat down with Andrea Woroch, an expert on how consumers can save money, to discuss common money mistakes new parents make. Woroch also draws advice from her experience as a mom to a 2-year-old, with another baby on the way.

5 Financial Mistakes New Parents Make

“Having a baby is certainly a joyous time, but it can also be an emotionally and financially stressful time,” Adams says.

If you’re planning a family, learn from these new-parent money blunders so you’ll start your family off on a better footing.

Mistake No. 1: Not Building Savings

Having a baby comes with a lot of responsibility — and a lot of new expenses. It’s important to build up a savings buffer.

You may lose out on earning income if you or your partner takes time away from work after the baby arrives. On top of that, there are additional costs each month, like higher health insurance premiums and all the unexpected things that crop up, like ordering takeout on those days when you’re just too exhausted to cook.

When you plan to have kids, it’s smart to stash money in a high-yield online savings account. Also look into ways to cut costs, like lowering your monthly grocery bill.

Mistake No. 2: Not Preparing for Child Care Costs

Child care tends to be one of the most expensive recurring costs parents face in the first few years. However, a recent survey conducted by The Penny Hoarder showed about 85% of parents surveyed did not save up for child care costs before having a baby.

Doing research ahead of time can help parents know what to expect. There are also ways to cut costs, like finding more affordable care options or trading free babysitting with friends who have kids.

Mistake No. 3: Not Getting Life Insurance

Celebrating a new life isn’t usually the time when you think about end-of-life preparations. But buying life insurance is a smart money move when you have a little one who depends on you.

It’s good to have coverage for at least six to eight times your annual salary, but you should have life insurance even if you’re currently a stay-at-home parent.

Mistake No 4: Overspending on Baby Gear

It’s tempting to buy all those cute little baby clothes, snuggly toys and that vibrating rocker everyone swears you’re going to need, but infants can get by without all the extras.

Save money by clearly defining your needs and wants. Utilize hand-me-downs and buy gently used gear instead of paying top dollar for new stuff your kid will outgrow in a matter of months.

Mistake No. 5: Not Saving for College Early Enough

The magic of compound interest lies in saving early. It might seem odd to save for college when your little one’s still in diapers, but it’s the best way to optimize your college savings.

A 529 college savings plan is a great vehicle to get funds together for your child’s future education. You can even ask friends and family to contribute in lieu of birthday or holiday gifts.

Listen to the podcast for more advice on handling finances as a new parent.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She is the mother of a 4-year-old and has made nearly ALL the money mistakes as a new parent.

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.

The Penny Hoarder Promise: We provide accurate, reliable information. Here’s why you can trust us and how we make money.

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3 Ways Rental Inspection Reports Can Protect Landlords

As a landlord, it’s essential that you perform rental
inspections and record everything in a Residential Inspection Report when a
tenant moves in or out. Rental inspections ensure that you and your tenant are
aware of every aspect of the rental property’s condition at the beginning and
end of a lease.

Since an inspection report documents any and all issues
related to the property, expectations are set for your tenant on what condition
you expect them to keep the property in, and it also gives you a chance to
address any last-minute problems or repairs with the property before your
tenant settles in.

In this post, we explore three ways that having a detailed Rental Inspection Report can help protect you as a landlord.

1. Records the Condition of the Property Before the Tenant Moves in

Before the tenant moves in, you should perform a
walk-through of the property together. This will give you and your tenant a
chance to make sure the property is ready for them to move into.

By recording the condition of the property before the tenant
moves in, you can help prevent disputes about damage that existed before your
tenant lived there, and what damages were caused by your tenant.

Some examples of existing damage that you could record in
the inspection report are:

  • Chipped paint, marks, holes, or scratches on
    walls or floors
  • Torn or stained carpet
  • Damage to fixtures, such as a cracked sink,
    toilet, or bathtub
  • Gouges or holes in doors or baseboards

In addition to writing a detailed description of the existing property damage in your Rental Inspection Report, you may also want to take pictures for your own reference.

2. Records the Condition of the Property Before the Tenant Moves out

When your tenant is ready to move out, you should refer to the
same Rental Inspection Report you used when your tenant moved in, as most
include a section for a move-out inspection.

The purpose of the move-out inspection is to compare any
damages that you find to what you recorded in your move-in inspection report to
see when the damages occurred. For example, if there are damages to the
property that weren’t recorded in the move-in inspection, they were likely
caused by the tenant during their rental period.

It’s important to note that regular wear and tear, such as
worn carpet, small holes in the walls from hanging pictures, or other minor
damage caused by regular use of the property is generally not considered something
that you can charge your tenant for.

Helps Prevent Disputes about Security Deposits

Keeping clear records of the condition of your property can
help prevent disputes over whether the security deposit should be returned to
the tenant or not.

For instance, if your tenant denies that they caused damage
to the property, you can show them the Rental Inspection Report that they
signed when they moved in to illustrate that you are simply comparing the
damage that was present when they moved in to the damage that exists now.

Keep in mind that each state has its own laws regarding when
and if a landlord can keep a tenant’s security deposit, so be sure to stay
up-to-date with your jurisdiction’s requirements.

Rental Inspection Report

It’s important to have a Rental Inspection report that
records the condition of your property before your tenant moves in, and when
they move out. Your Rental Inspection Report provides peace of mind for you and
your tenant, so you are both on the same page when it comes to the condition of
the rental.

The post 3 Ways Rental Inspection Reports Can Protect Landlords appeared first on LawDepot Blog.

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Jury delivers $25.5 million ‘statement’ to Aetna to change its ways

An Oklahoma jury has awarded $ 25.5 million to the family of a cancer patient denied coverage by Aetna, with jurors saying that the insurer acted “recklessly” and that the verdict was meant as a message for Aetna to change its ways.

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25 Ways Sessions and His DOJ Terrorized Communities of Color: Report

Civil rights leaders opposed Jeff Sessions’ appointment as U.S. Attorney General from the moment he was nominated by President Donald Trump last year for several glaring reasons. The former Alabama senator has a problematic history of using racist language, suppressing the votes of black and brown people, and has even praised the Ku Klux Klan. Yet, the announcement of his forced resignation on Wednesday is bittersweet. On one hand, Sessions can no longer use his power as Attorney General to oppress people of color. But, on the other hand, his abrupt removal further empowers Trump to potentially sabotage Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian election interference and reported collusion by the Trump campaign. Now that Sessions has been ousted, his acting replacement, Matthew Whitaker, who has voiced support to limit the investigation, will be in charge of the Department of Justice.

In a new scathing report, the Center of American Progress listed the policies and practices Sessions enacted to criminalize and terrorize communities of color during his short reign at the Justice Department. “After taking control of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), he pursued an aggressive and virulent policy agenda that sought to strip away every protection for people of color and other marginalized communities within the agency’s purview,” reads the report.

It goes on to list 25 ways Sessions and his DOJ hurt marginalized communities by assaulting civil rights, criminal justice, and immigration.

Civil Rights

  1. A fair and accurate U.S. census is essential for the equitable distribution of federal resources and full political representation. But as attorney general, Sessions sabotaged the 2020 census by helping Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross add a new question about immigration status. The Sessions DOJ attempted to justify this blatant effort to suppress census participation by citing its responsibility to protect against voter suppression in communities of color.
  1. Hate crimes and white nationalist extremism are a resurgent threat to communities of color. But instead of expanding resources to combat hate, Sessions asked Congress to eliminate the DOJ’s Community Relations Service, which is dedicated to addressing racial tensions and preventing hate crimes.
  1. Voter purges are a devious suppression tactic designed to keep people of color by the thousands from voting by targeting them for removal from lists of registered voters. Instead of defending American citizens’ fundamental right to vote, the Sessions DOJ urged the Supreme Court to greenlight harmful purges nationwide.
  1. Black transgender individuals face heightened levels of discrimination and a devastating 20 percent unemployment rate. But as attorney general, Sessions threatened to make matters worse by reversing Obama-era policies that sought to protect transgender workers from employment discrimination.
  1. While the national unemployment rate was less than 5 percent in 2017, it was more than 10 percent among Hispanics with disabilities and almost 14 percent among blacks with disabilities. Yet, in 2018, Sessions revoked critical employment protections for people with disabilities, finding that they were “unnecessary, inconsistent with existing law, or otherwise improper.”
  1. Hate speech is a pervasive problem on college campuses, one that undermines access to higher education for students of color. But Sessions exploited his position as attorney general to criticize and make light of universities that seek to create inclusive, hate-free learning environments.
  1. Transgender students of color face tremendous barriers to education. But under then-Attorney General Sessions, the DOJ rescinded federal protections for transgender students in K-12 schools, denying them the ability to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity.
  1. Affirmative action plays a critical role in expanding access to higher education for students of color and in closing stark racial disparities in degree attainment. But under Sessions’ leadership, the DOJ consistently sought to undermine race-conscious admissions policies.

Criminal Justice

  1. African Americans or black Americans are more than twice as likely as white Americans to be arrested for drug possession, despite using and dealing drugs at comparable rates. As attorney general, Sessions rejected the data and ordered prosecutors to pursue the harshest drug sentences possible—without regard to an individual’s role in a drug conspiracy. Sessions also ordered prosecutors to pursue the death penalty in certain nonviolent drug trafficking cases. Black Americans already face 19 percent longer sentences for the same crimes as whites and are far more likely to receive the death penalty. This DOJ policy will only exacerbate racial disparities.
  1. In his role as attorney general, Sessions pushed prosecutors to crack down on marijuana possession in states where it is legal and lobbied legislators to reverse federal protections for medical marijuana. According to a recent CAP/GBA Strategies survey, more than two-thirds—68 percent—of voters support marijuana legalization, including a majority of Democrats, Independents, Republicans, and the three largest racial and ethnic groups.
  1. Police are almost four times more likely to use force against black people than against white people. Again rejecting the data, then-Attorney General Sessions eliminated training and supervision requirements for law enforcement seeking to obtain surplus weapons and equipment from federal agencies.

Click here to read the rest of the report, titled 25 Ways Sessions and His Justice Department Criminalized and Terrorized Communities of Color.

The post 25 Ways Sessions and His DOJ Terrorized Communities of Color: Report appeared first on Black Enterprise.

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9 Ways to Use Poppies in Your Decor

While poppies are most common in November as a symbol of remembrance, poppies are also a gorgeous flower that makes a great addition your home decor all year long!

[See image gallery at canadianhometrends.com]

The post 9 Ways to Use Poppies in Your Decor appeared first on Home Trends Magazine.

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Getting to Equal: Three Ways We Can All Fight for Gender Mainstreaming in the U.S.

The U.S. needs a feminist systems reboot.

Policy-making is never gender-neutral, and policies written without considering gendered impacts from the get-go aren’t just “gender-insensitive,” but often directly harmful to women. We can’t continue to play whack-a-mole with one elected official or one policy at a time. We need to reject the institutionalization of male privilege in all its forms. I believe we can fix inequality—but we must start swinging for the fences.

If equality is the goal, what will be the strategy?

Feminist sang, chanted and rallied for gender equality in New York City during a march to mark International Women’s Day in 2015 that was organized by UN Women. The organization’s gender mainstreaming framework has become a guiding light for nations across the world interested in advancing equality. (Ryan Brown for UN Women / Creative Commons)

We can accelerate progress by looking to other nations and the gender mainstreaming (GM) framework used by UN Women and nations around the world to address gender-based policy issues since its creation in the 1980’s.

Two U.S. agencies are already implementing this work, but only one of them operates within our borders: In its nascency at the National Weather Service (NWS), gender mainstreaming allows staff to see that hurricanes are not gender or race neutral, and that how they distribute communications in a disaster could make a life-or-death difference for women and girls. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Office of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, meanwhile, brings mainstreaming to the forefront in their implementation of its Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy.

The interventions the U.S. makes for gender equality abroad, which are compulsory when distributing aid money, are important—but we also need to take a long look in the mirror and get to work solving our own problems at home.

It won’t be perfect the first time, but we need need to start performing gender equity work in every government agency and in every institution. Equality is not achieved overnight, but policy is a constitutional commitment to provide actionable measures and allocate resources. (If this idea sounds intriguing, look to Gender-Sensitive Parliaments, Guidelines for Gender Mainstreaming Academia or Climate Change Gender Action Plans to learn more on GM from experts in other countries.)

There are three things you can do to put wide-scale progress towards gender equality in motion.

#1: Speak up for a systems approach.

The GM framework at NWS was shaped by the efforts led by their global peers at the World Meterological Organization, which prioritizes gender equality. We have a lot to learn from the decades of GM implementation overseas—including the strategies that transformed Iceland into the 1 in the world for gender equality, including the employ of Gender Equality Officers within their government agencies.

One limitation of GM approaches elsewhere, however, is that much of the policy language only refers to gender as a binary (men/women), and are silent towards other gender identities and sexual orientations. Racial relations are also often poorly incorporated in GM frameworks.

GM needs an inclusive redefining, and we can do that within our borders in a way that fits our culture. While the global framework for GM may be missing language related to race and other forms of discrimination, this allows each nation to develop an approach that fits their own culture best. In order for GM to be effective within the U.S., feminists should ensure while pushing for its advancement that the needs of women of color, trans women and other women at the intersections are put first.

Ask your elected officials if they’ve heard of Gender Mainstreaming. Ask them how they review policies for impact by race and gender. Ask whether there are measurable outcomes.

#2: Consider CEDAW.

Nearly all members of the United Nations ratified the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), but the U.S. never did, and our elected officials still refuse to do so. CEDAW lays a roadmap to addressing many hot topics in the U.S.—including reproductive rights, maternity leave and affordable child care.

There is a growing groundswell of municipalities moving forward with resolutions for and ratifications of CEDAW. Help launch the next one or do all you can to push one in your community further forward. Join the grassroots movement of Cities for CEDAW and check out the resources for citizens, like these examples of tips for talking with your elected officials.

#3: Follow the funding.

As gendered inequities are better understood, we must allocate funding to implement programs that close those gaps. Our neighbors to the north are making progress on this: Earlier this year, Canada performed their first ever gender analysis of the federal budget and identified several key areas.

One of the key areas on which they are focusing has a parallel plague in the U.S.—sexual assault at universities. The data they collected provided the evidence policy-makers needed to justify funding; Status of Women Canada has now become a full federal department and was allocated $ 100 million. In addition, Statistics Canada has created a new Centre for Gender, Diversity and Inclusion Statistics so the work moving forward can be data-driven and include other forms of discrimination like indigeneity and immigrant status.

Ask your elected officials where equality fits in their list of priorities. Ask what gender-disaggregated statistics they have available. Ask what percent of their funding goes towards programs for equality.

The trifecta of actions here would move us closer to a data-driven, systems approach to gender equity that would set us on the path to equality.

And aren’t we worth it?

Barbara Clabots is an interdisciplinary researcher working at the intersection of gender equality and the environment.

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The post Getting to Equal: Three Ways We Can All Fight for Gender Mainstreaming in the U.S. appeared first on Ms. Magazine Blog.

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Clever ways to save money on traveling


Sure, many of us have dreams of seeing the world. Who doesn’t? But we’re not made of money, and it seems as though our wings are yet to sprout; we need a way to see the world that won’t cost us a small fortune. Thankfully, there are clever ways to save money on traveling that will open up the doors of opportunity to so much more of the globe than we ever believed.

Think of the time

One of the biggest reasons vacation prices will rise is all thanks to those bundles of joy people like to drag around with them – or kids as they are usually called. If you want to go traveling but don’t want to pay a fortune for the privilege, then it’s best to avoid any kind of school break. Airlines and hotels love to ramp up the prices when they know families will be flooding abroad. Not only will you avoid any extra and unnecessary charges, but you’ll also get to enjoy a more peaceful vacation and still have the chance to soak up the beautiful weather in the out-of-season months.

Book at the right time

As well as heading abroad at the right time, it’s just as important to book your tickets when the time is right. Statistics have shown that booking your flights at the weekend could save you as much as 19% on the final fare. No one knows why, but many think it’s because travel agents are typically open in the week meaning they get plenty of business workers. These are usually the ones willing to pay the extra cost for a slice of luxury – or put it all on the company’s card instead. Either one works.

Go it alone

No, we don’t mean ditch your entire family and head of on a solo adventure. Although, that would be one way to avoid paying for the extra tickets. Using travel agents can be one way to book a vacation, but it might not always be the cheapest. Looking for your own flights through price comparison websites is one way to get the best deals on your airfare. Plus, a lot of times hotels will offer up the cheapest rooms if you call them directly or head to their website. Sometimes the extra work is all worth the effort.

Follow the locals

Of course, local residents won’t necessarily want to pay through the nose for everyday things. Watching where they all head to eat is a good start to saving money while traveling as you won’t be spending any extra tourist charges in popular restaurants. Have you thought about how you will get around once you are at your destination? Hiring a vehicle might give you a little more freedom, but public transport is usually the cheapest way to explore new lands. There could be deals on tickets, and you’ll save on any parking fees.

Don’t overdo the texts

How will anyone know if you’ve gone on vacation if you don’t flood their phone with texts and phone calls about your adventures? Although it might be tempting to call home at every opportunity, all those messages could soon add up to a whopping bill at the end. Rather than waste your money, take advantage of any free wifi dotted around and use an app to message instead. There are many free apps that mean you can send all the pictures and videos you like whenever you’re connected to the internet.

Jetting off on vacation doesn’t have to cost a bomb, and neither does enjoying your time while you’re there. Thankfully, these clever ways to save money on traveling will free up more budget for all those souvenirs, and maybe even the next adventure or two.


The post Clever ways to save money on traveling appeared first on Worldation.



Four Unconventional Ways to Build Your Network

unconventional ways to build your networkWe’ve talked about the best professional organizations to join, as well as other ways to make new friends and build a book of business — but today, let’s talk about unconventional ways to build your network. Do you have sports, hobbies, volunteering, and clubs that you’ve found to be great sources of networking? Today, Rebecca Berfanger is sharing some ideas of her own, but we’d love to hear from you — what are the unconventional ways to build your network that really work? Can something as unrelated to professional life — like, say, roller derby or CrossFit — ever be a great way to make new friends, meet clients, and hear about job prospects?

As a reporter, especially for legal publications, I felt like I was always networking — looking for the next story idea, talking to potential sources on the types of articles I often covered, often attending bar association events as a non-lawyer guest before I went to law school. Even if I was there to write about that event, I was always looking ahead to my next stories and who might be a helpful resource. As a law student and now as a lawyer, I’m still attending CLEs and bar association functions where the networking aspect is sometimes more valuable than the actual educational component.unconventional ways to network

But when I was off the clock, I was still networking, just in a different, much less obvious way by volunteering for different organizations, events, and even playing a league sport. For all of those opportunities, I was able to share my skills — writing, editing, marketing — and ultimately have stayed in touch with the people I shared a common interest outside of my professional world as much or even more than those I’ve met through the local bar associations, even though that wasn’t my intent when joining.

Unconventional Way to Build Your Network #1: Hobbies

It’s no secret that if you have a hobby, even if you’re not that good, it’s a good way to take your mind off of the junk in your life to spend time not thinking about work or personal issues or family feuds or whatever happens to be going on. A hobby should make you happy, and help you to ignore everything else for a while. So consider finding a local group that also does that hobby. If you’re into crafting, check out your local yarn or fabrics store for classes that are at your level and work with your schedule. Sign up for a drawing or photography class at a local art school. Seek out a meetup in your area for other subversive cross stitchers. Essentially by doing a search for your hobby and city will likely bring up a group or class to join. (Psst: check out some of our old Hobby Wednesday series here.)

Unconventional Way to Build Your Network #2: Sports

While golf is the obvious one for networking (here’s our previous advice on what to wear to a golf-related event for work!) — just about every professional association has a golf outing at some point during the year — other athletic activities have been coming up more often. Cycling and spinning classes have been taking off as a networking activity, as well as social sports for adults like softball, kickball, bowling, soccer, you name it. For the more hardcore athletes (or those looking to be more athletic), most cities have options for adults to sign up for crossfit, martial arts, and even roller derby. Some places even offer amateur women’s football, lacrosse, and rugby teams for post-collegiate women. While you will likely need to don some kind of uniform or buy equipment for some of these options, many of these have different levels of competition ranging from I-played-this-sport-in-college-and-almost-went-pro to when-do-we-get-to-have-that-after-game beverage. If you’re not sure if it’s right for you, consider asking to observe a team of if it’s a sport that involves spectators, you can ask if they have volunteering opportunities for game days and scrimmages. Check your local parks and recreation website, YMCA, or Google the sport and your city.

Unconventional Way to Network #3: Volunteering

What better way to meet like-minded people — especially if you’re not super athletic or don’t have time or funds to develop a new hobby — than volunteering for a cause that is near and dear to you? Most organizations are often seeking high-achieving women to add to their rosters. Whether it’s at the board level, or just being available to take tickets at fundraisers or hand out water at 5Ks, or even working remotely on a research project or helping design an organization’s website or social media, chances are there is a place for you to devote as little or as much time as you have. Volunteering is also a good opportunity through a professional organization because it shows your colleagues you care, even if it’s planting trees or helping to organize a food pantry. Your local United Way will have several opportunities if you don’t already know what organization to help. Later in the year is also a good time to volunteer for any holiday drives for gifts, clothes, hygiene products, and other necessary items.

(Psst: we’ve discussed how to do strategic volunteering to bolster your resume if you’re leaning out for family reasons, as well as how to get on a board and how to help charities.)

Unconventional Way to Network #4: Start your own group

Is there a group of people you’d like to get together based on specific interests and you just can’t find them, whether it’s a book club, movie club, theater club, indoor pot gardening, stargazing, beer or wine tasting, or some other interest you want to explore, start your own group. Depending on the size of your social media network you already have, you might be surprised by putting out a call-out via Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook, or just starting a private group on social media, how many of your friends might be interested in joining something new. Ideally if you can get a couple people you know to join, they’ll invite two friends, and they’ll invite two friends, and so on. Just try to keep it geared toward your other group members and maybe get their feedback in terms of days, times, locations, at least early on.

Of course, while all of these are meant to focus on your interests that may or may not be related to your professional work, if your purpose is networking, you’ll eventually need to talk to other people. However, you already have something in common going into it, which will hopefully put you at ease and should make the next steps easy. For instance, try to get to class or meetings a little early, plan to stay a little late to talk to the people in the group, if you know a little bit about the backgrounds of others try to talk to them in a genuine way, and if you’re starting your own thing, build in a space for introductions to make sure everyone feels welcome.

While it might not seem like you’re networking when you’re just there to knit, play a sport, support your favorite cause, or just talk about a book you just read, you’ll be at ease doing something you enjoy, and down the road a classmate might know of a friend of a friend with a job opening, or suggest a client who would be a good fit for you. You also shouldn’t discard the more traditional methods of networking, but hopefully these suggestions will help if you’re looking to meet people not necessarily in your usual network based on your education or profession.

Readers, what are your favorite unconventional ways to build your network? What hobbies, sports, or volunteering do you already do — and how do you find them to compare to professional organizations in terms of networking?

Further reading:

  • Master Your ‘Mingle-Ability’: 5 Creative Ways to Network [Entrepreneur]
  • What’s The Best Sport For Networking [The Headhunters]
  • A World Of Networking Possibilities Through Sports And Hobbies [Law Crossing]
  • Execs Have A New Attitude About Networking — And It’s Killing Famous Power-Lunching Spots And Golf Courses [Business Insider]
  • Opinion: In Praise Of Mediocrity [New York Times]

(Stock photo via Stencil.)

Can joining a roller derby league or a CrossFit gym be as effective for networking as a professional organization? You might be surprised... Lawyer and journalist Rebecca Berfanger took a look at FOUR unconventional ways to build your network -- super helpful for women lawyers, bankers, and more!



Mystery Shopping Scams Are Soaring in 2018 — Here Are 5 Ways to Spot One

It seems easy enough: You get a message through Facebook or LinkedIn. Or you receive a cashier’s check in the mail out of the blue from a mystery shopping company. It instructs you to shop at your local grocery store and email a representative with pictures and details about your experience.

Then you cash the check, keep some money for yourself and send the rest to the company.

The only problem: That cashier’s check is likely a fraud.

Mystery shopping can be a legitimate way to make some cash on the side. But scammers are using the brands associated with many of those opportunities to steal money from would-be shoppers.

The Penny Hoarder analyzed the 1,000 most recent complaints about mystery shopping scams filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). We obtained the data set through a Freedom of Information Act request that took five months to fulfill.

Unfortunately, according to our analysis, the problem appears to be getting worse — much worse.

The FTC logged 557 complaints about mystery shopping scams in its Consumer Sentinel Network database through the first three months of this year. That’s nearly 150 — or 37% — more than it received for the entirety of 2017.

Meanwhile, overall consumer complaints have fallen over the last two years, according to FTC spokesman Frank Dorman.

The increase in mystery shopping complaints could be due in part to state and local agencies reporting more complaints to the FTC or the public becoming more aware.

“There’s no way for us to know why complaints rise and fall,” Dorman said.

But with 2018 on track to log more than 2,200 complaints, it’s likely scammers are also casting a wider net.

In 2017, people reported losing $ 47,333 to mystery shopping scams, according to the FTC database. In the first quarter of 2018, the FTC received complaints about $ 468,897 paid to suspected con artists — a figure on track to easily break $ 1 million this year.

And these are probably low estimates, given that many cybercrimes go unreported.

How a Mystery Shopping Scam Works

One common mystery shopping scam involves “testing” a transfer service, such as Western Union, at a Walmart or other grocery store, according to the FTC. In this scenario, you’ll get a check in the mail and might even see money appear in your account.

Then, you send some of that money through one of those wire services. Or you might be asked to buy refillable gift cards and send the card to the scammer. Either way, the bank will eventually determine the check was fraudulent.

And the worst part is: You might be on the hook for the fraudulent check.

“Your bank may take several days to weeks to determine the check or money order you deposited into your account was counterfeit, even though the funds ‘arrive’ in your account after a day or two,” wrote U.S. Postal Inspection Service spokeswoman Andrea Avery in an email to The Penny Hoarder. “You, as the account holder, are responsible for money deposited [into] and withdrawn from your account, so you may be liable when the check ultimately fails to clear.”

Most mystery shopping complaints revolve around cashing fake checks, but the FTC also reminds consumers that they should never pay a subscription fee just for the opportunity to become a mystery shopper.

5 Signs of a Mystery Shopping Scam

If you think a mystery shopping gig is too good to be true, you’re probably right. These tips can help you spot a potential scam.

  1. First of all, any time someone asks you to wire them money after depositing a check, it’s going to be a scam.
  2. Have you ever contacted this company or representative in the past? If this is an unsolicited opportunity, your scam antenna should be at attention.
  3. Does the email, letter or message look like it was written by a 6-year-old? If it’s littered with misspellings or grammatical errors, it’s probably fake, according to several narratives in the FTC data set. (Although one could say the same thing about the first draft of this article written by a data reporter.)
  4. Look at the company logo included in the letter, memo or check the supposed company has sent you. Match it with what you find on the company’s official website. One FTC complainant noted that materials sent from a firm called American Consumer Eyes bore grocery store ShopRite’s logo, but it was black and white, and out of focus.
  5. And it’s worth repeating: If you pay for a “subscription” to become a mystery shopper, you’ll likely lose whatever you pay.

There’s no telling where these scams are coming from, but the most common city that popped up was located far from the U.S. —  in the Greek isles. Larnaca, Cyprus, a city of about 144,000 with a tourism-based economy, was included 17 times.

Again, the FTC couldn’t explain the prominence of this city in the database. Nor could it explain the names of individuals supposedly representing the companies.

Brian Anthony and Alex Baker were the most frequently used names in these mystery shopping scams.

Con artists tend to use trusted brand names, according to the FTC database. Walmart and Kroger were frequently featured in fraudulent materials.

The Penny Hoarder even came up once in the 1,000 entries in this database. In fact, a complaint from a reader prompted this entire investigation. We responded to the incident in April.

The mystery shopping scams included in the database targeted victims as young as 13 and older than 80. Although millennials were actually targeted more, it was clear the elderly were the most vulnerable. People older than 59 were scammed out of a combined $ 317,645.50 since the beginning of 2017.

New Mexico had the most per-resident complaints — more than double the second-most targeted state, Texas. Again, FTC and USPS representatives couldn’t say why this is the case.

How to Report a Mystery Shopping Scam

If you were contacted through the mail, the USPS recommends reporting the fraud through its website or by calling 877-876-2455 and saying “fraud” when prompted. The FTC also urges you to file a complaint with its office, as well as your state attorney general’s office.

If you live in a city with a large population of retirees, like where I am from in Sarasota County, Florida, your local police office might have its own cybercrime unit that can make sure you file the correct paperwork with the corresponding agency.

Compile as much information as you can with the materials you believe to be a scam. What was the name of the potentially fictional representative or company that contacted you? What was the return address on the material you received?

This will help whatever agency you contact root out scams like these in the future. In turn, this will give us more data for future investigations. Win-win!

Both the FTC and USPS continue to publish information on their websites and through YouTube, and they’re even pounding the pavement across the country raising awareness about these scams.

The top piece of advice from both agencies: Always be skeptical at first for the best chance of staving off a scam. If you send money, it’s probably too late.

“If you try to get a refund from the promoters, you will be out of luck,” Dorman said. “Either the business won’t return your phone calls, or if it does, it’s to try another pitch.”

Alex Mahadevan is a data journalist at The Penny Hoarder. His dream mystery shopping gig involves record stores and skate shops.

The Penny Hoarder Promise: We provide accurate, reliable information. Here’s why you can trust us and how we make money.

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.

The Penny Hoarder


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4 Ways to Get Followers and Create a Lasting Relationship

The internet is a crowded place—and it’s only becoming more crowded. There are currently around 3.03 billion social media users. The good news is, this means there are far more opportunities to connect with people and gain followers for your brand. But on the flip side, it also means there’s much more competition. If you want to stand out you’re going to have to try harder to get followers, connect with people, and make an authentic positive, lasting impression. Fortunately, there are many ways to do this.

Four Ways to Get Followers and Create Connections: 


Create Engaging Videos

YouTube is one of the internet’s biggest, most popular platforms. It currently has just over a billion users—that’s almost one-third of total Internet users—who watch more than 500 million hours of content every single day.

Creating videos for your audience to watch is far more personal than just uploading blog posts. It allows them to see many aspects of your personality that you just can’t express through words and helps to build trust.

Some users have built their entire business by creating unique and engaging YouTube videos. Bri Hall is one beauty, fashion, and lifestyle vlogger who has amassed over 600,000 followers and over 32 million unique views on her videos since she started producing content in 2013.

get followers

Bri Hall (YouTube)


On the other side of the scale, there are YouTubers like Roberto Blake who gained popularity discussing entrepreneurship with his audience on how to market themselves. His channel has amassed over 23 million views of his videos.

get followers

Roberto Blake (YouTube)


It’s becoming increasingly clear that no matter what kind of content you create, you’re likely to find an audience if your branding is on point.

Uploading Instagram Posts and Videos Regularly

If you’re not already leveraging Instagram to connect with your followers, you probably should be. The platform now has 200 million monthly active users. Engagement rates are 15 times higher than Facebook, and 20 times higher than Twitter.

Using hashtags is also a great way to build your audience and introduce more people to your content.

Uploading an Instagram post or taking a quick 15-second video is much less effort than creating an entire YouTube video or organizing a local meetup. If you’re running low on time, it’s something you can do every single day along with to keep your audience engaged.

Also, if your followers like your Instagram content, it’s likely they’ll like your other content too. This means you can leverage Instagram to promote your YouTube videos, local meetups, or webinars to your followers

Launch a Webinar

A webinar is a middle ground between creating videos and hosting a meetup. It’s effectively the best of both worlds—you can connect with your followers in real-time without being limited by geographical location.

Platforms like ClickMeeting enable you to run custom-branded webinars and engage with followers from all over the world. You can use it for virtually anything—from sharing your day, introducing new products, to hosting questions and answering videos.

The best part about webinars is you’ll get immediate feedback from your audience-direct data that will help you understand how to improve your service or what they would like to see from you.

Host Meetups in Your Local Area

This can be quite a difficult strategy to carry out, and it first requires building a substantial audience. If your followers are based in different areas around the world, it could be a while before you raise enough interest to make a local meetup worthwhile.

However, if you’re willing to travel, or if the majority of your followers are based locally it can be a great way to connect people and will take your relationship with your followers to the next level.

There is no better way to build a lasting connection than actually meeting and talking in person.

For Best Results, Try Everything

There are virtually unlimited ways to make connections with your followers. While this means you have lots of options available, it can also feel quite overwhelming at times.

Picking one or two of these methods and sticking to them will work over time, but to really stand out and reach the widest audience possible, try out multiple methods to find out which will yield the best results.

For the best results, try to combine all of these methods and after a while go with whichever one works best for your business model.


The post 4 Ways to Get Followers and Create a Lasting Relationship appeared first on Black Enterprise.

Career | Black Enterprise


Women Supporting Other Women: 4 Simple Ways

At the United State of Women Summit earlier this year, Michelle Obama said, “So many of us have gotten ourselves at the table, but we’re still too grateful to be at the table to really shake it up. It’d be nice to have a collective of black women who are opening up spaces for each other, or making strategic moves to raise the visibility of black women within the industry, and not just who’s on the cover of the magazine but behind the scenes too. I don’t think it’s solely white people’s job to do that. There needs to be more of a push from us to stand together.” I couldn’t agree more.  Whether you’re a CEO, engineer, scientist, chef, or teacher, you have the power to support and create spaces for women of color.

Supporting other women means you’re being intentional about how you show up in life and business. Showing up means you’re mentally present while listening and speaking up for yourself as well as others. Ready to take the lead? Try the tips below.

1. Bring another woman’s projects, products, services, or accomplishments into a discussion when they’re not in the room. Here are a few examples:

  • If you realize a woman wasn’t given proper credit for an idea that she shared during a meeting, speak up for her. For example, during an interview with Politico Magazine, Wendy Sherman, former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, recalled an unspoken rule she and her female colleagues demonstrated during meetings. “When any man commented by repeating something that had been said earlier by a woman, one of the other women at the table would jump in. “I’m glad you agree with what _________just said,” or “That builds nicely on the point ______made just before.”
  • If you’re attending a high profile event like an awards show or conference, wear an outfit by an up and coming fashion brand or designer. The number of influencers and celebrities who speak about women’s empowerment, but fail to demonstrate their support for other women who are underestimated or underrepresented in an industry always amazes me. Simply put, talk less, act more, and lead by example.
  • If you’re in a meeting with someone who’s looking for a new team member, recommend another woman for a project by sharing her accomplishments or experiences.

2. Look beyond numbers. When looking to hire a speaker, business coach, or new employee, there’s still a lot of pressure to have a massive social media following. Unfortunately, follower count often equates to trust and traffic, but this misconception often leads to confusion and missed opportunity. Your number of followers don’t always equate to sales, engagement, or new customers. Instead of focusing on their number of followers on social media, assess their engagement. What’s the value they deliver to their audience? What are their perspectives on challenges and trends in the field?

3. Keep it real by sharing your setbacks, resources, and connections. Go beyond dolling out fluffy advice like “just do it, never give up, or believe in yourself.” Describe the sacrifices that helped you become successful. What are the names of the tools and resources that helped you succeed? As more women keep it real about how they worked through their challenges, it helps to uplift and equip other women with the resources they need to bridge the gender gap in leadership, business, etc.

4. Choose collaboration over competition. Regardless of your role, it starts with you. Bury your ego and insecurities about sharing the spotlight because the truth is we are stronger in numbers. Plus, no one wins in life or business solely by their own efforts.

In the workplace, you can promote an environment of collaboration by asking for another person’s viewpoints. In business, a successful leader recognizes the power of identifying the gaps in their skill set, operating in their zone of genius, and confidently hiring people who can close the gap.

The post Women Supporting Other Women: 4 Simple Ways appeared first on Black Enterprise.

Career | Black Enterprise


5 ways to get over your jet lag


Adjusting to a new time zone is never easy for your body, especially when you travel east. The difference in time zones causes a great deal of confusion in the biorhythm of your body, and this can further lead to fatigue, headache, and difficulty concentrating.

However, the good news is that you don’t have to suffer from jet lag for a long time. These tips below will help you.

Prepare in every way possible beforehand

It’s never a good idea to stay up the whole night and not get any sleep before a long flight. This only makes your jet lag worse. Instead, a smart move is to help your body adapt to the new time zone in advance. For instance, if you are traveling east, you can sleep a few hours earlier and wake up earlier than usual, and if you are heading west, try going to bed a few hours later than your usual sleeping time. This will help your body adapt easily once you are actually in your new time zone.

In addition, while booking your flight tickets, you should try to land during the afternoon or evening, rather than morning or at night, if possible. This way, it’s easier for you to stay up.

Avoid sleeping pills

You may be tempted to take some sleeping pills so that you can get a good rest, especially if your flight is during the night. Even though these pills may put you to sleep, the aftereffects can be quite unpleasant. After you land, you tend to feel extremely tired, and your jet lag will become worse.

Avoid coffee at all costs, but drink plenty of water

Make sure you do not consume any coffee or other caffeinated drinks such as energy drinks or Coca-cola. The caffeine content will have a negative influence on your body’s biorhythm and make it difficult to sleep. This further makes it harder for you to adjust to your new time zone once you land, worsening your jet lag. Instead, drink plenty of water to make sure your body is properly hydrated.

Make sure you eat as per your new time zone

It’s important to not skip any meal before and during your flight if you want to reduce the effects of jet lag. It is even a good idea to start having your meals as per the new time zone every day. For instance, having milk and cereal at 10 pm can help your body adjust better once you arrive.

Set your watch to the new time zone

Lastly, you can set your watch to your new time zone as soon as you sit on the plane. This will mentally prepare you for your arrival. However, make sure you do this only after entering the plane and not before. You don’t want to miss your flight!

Jet lag may be common and annoying, but you don’t have to let it spoil your traveling experience. Just follow these five useful tips, and your body will adjust to the new time zone in no time.


The post 5 ways to get over your jet lag appeared first on Worldation.



This Cashmere Wrap Is 50 Percent Off and Can Be Worn So Many Ways

Sweater weather is officially in full swing and if you’re like Us, then you’ve been stocking up on cozy knits. The perfect way to serve a stylishly snug look all season long, every fashionista should have a trendy design on standby. If you’re looking to upgrade your fall collection with a new piece, then you’ve come to the right place. Your pals at Shop With Us have spied a cashmere wrap that’s as sultry as it is comfy.

halogen ribbed cashmere

See It: Check out the Halogen Ribbed Cashmere Wrap at Nordstrom for only $ 94.49 (originally $ 189) to make a polished statement.

The Halogen Ribbed Cashmere Wrap will bring your cozy chic style to life. Crafted with 100 percent cashmere, this garment will take your comfort level to new heights. Its mixed ribbed textures offer a super soft feel that you’re sure to love. Combining modern detailing with clean styling, this fabulous find will give your ensembles the perfect added touch.

Versatile in nature, this wool garment can be transformed in a variety of ways. Wear as a chic cardigan, style as a comfortable wrap, or even flaunt it as an infinity scarf to complement your wardrobe. Available in four hues, including beige oatmeal dark heather, black rock heather, grey soft heather and pink rosecloud heather, there is a shade to suit your taste.

Cruising the Nordstrom racks at $ 94.49, this design is a major steal. With cashmere pieces often retailing for well over $ 100, this budget-friendly option will be good for your closet and your wallet.

Halogen Ribbed Cashmere Wrap

Ideal for keeping you warm in a chilly office or a stylish accent for your everyday looks, this piece is a fall must-have.

Its super soft build has made this wrap a fall essential with Nordstrom shoppers. Reviewers are in awe of its lightweight construction, while others appreciate its luxurious flair. Shoppers love its roomy design and appreciate how it can transition from day to night with ease. One shopper even shared that this knit is the perfect travel wrap to stay warm on cold planes.

Style this wrap with skinny jeans, a turtleneck and booties to seal the deal. You can even switch it up with trousers, mules, a blouse, midicoat and tote bag for the ultimate work-ready ensemble. Thinking of your next R&R session? Pair with leggings, a breezy tank and fluffy slippers to lounge in style.

See It: Grab the Halogen Ribbed Cashmere Wrap at Nordstrom for only $ 94.49 — down from $ 189 (at 50 percent off).


Check out more of our picks and deals here!

This post is brought to you by Us Weekly’s Shop With Us team. The Shop With Us team aims to highlight products and services our readers might find interesting and useful. Product and service selection is in no way intended to constitute an endorsement by either Us Weekly or of any celebrity mentioned in the post. 

The Shop With Us team may receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product or service is featured or recommended. Shop With Us operates independently from advertising sales team. We welcome your feedback at ShopWithUs@usmagazine.com. Happy shopping!

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