Free feed for https://free.vice.comenFri, 18 Jan 2019 18:09:52 +0000<![CDATA[Seven Places on Earth Where You Can Travel for $25 a Day or Less]]>, 18 Jan 2019 18:09:52 +0000If you want to travel but have no money, don’t settle for a staycation or a half-assed trip to some Florida beach town. You can travel the world with very little money—you just have to be smart about where you go and how you travel. Hitting up Paris over fashion week or staying in a luxe Japanese ryokan will ensure you come home broke, but a week of lodging, food, and entertainment in Guatemala can cost less than $175.

“When it comes to traveling cheap, where you go will make all the difference,” says budget travel pro Matthew Kepnes, better known as Nomadic Matt. “A budget traveler in Switzerland could get by on maybe $70 to 100 per day. However, hop over to Vietnam and you can drop that down to $20 per day—maybe even less! If you stick to the best budget destinations you'll be able to stretch your dollar much, much further than if you traveled to more expensive countries.”

While it’s true that the plane ticket to Vietnam will almost certainly be more expensive than a ticket to Switzerland, the longer you stay, the more Vietnam’s low cost of living evens things out. According to Pauline Frommer, editorial director of Frommer's, “If a traveler can amortize the cost of an airfare with a long stay in one of the places where the dollar is strong, and the cost of living low, they might end up spending less than what they would at home, on a per diem basis.”

If travel is your 2019 goal, consider countries in Southeast Asia, Central America, and Eastern Europe, where the cost of living is low and the dollar is strong. To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of destinations where you can live off of $25 a day or less. The cost of getting there isn’t included, but once your plane ticket is booked, the cost of lodging, food, and activities will be noticeably cheaper than what you pay at home.

Argentina: $18

Lodging: $11 a night
Activities: free, assuming you walk
Food: $2 for breakfast and lunch provisions, $5 for wine and dinner

If you’re looking for a European-like city without European prices, Buenos Aires is the spot. Stay in the trendy Palermo district and spend your morning walking the area, looking at street art, and loading up on breakfast and lunch provisions at Hausbrot. Take the metro (learn how here) or walk the 40 minutes to El Ateneo Grand Splendid, a giant bookstore in an old theatre. Continue by foot to the Obelisk and end your day eating a $1 choripan (chorizo sandwich) from Nuestra Parrilla and drinking a local Malbec while watching tango dancers in Plaza Dorrego.

Laos: $25

Lodging: $7.50 a night assuming you share the bungalow with a friend
Activities: $4 tuk-tuk fare, $2.50 waterfall park entrance fee, $7 massage
Food: $4 dinner

Sandwiched between the better-known (read: overtraveled) countries of Thailand and Vietnam, sits quiet, landlocked Laos. Drop your bags at your bamboo bungalow, pack a swimsuit and snacks, and hail a tuk-tuk to the Kunag Si Waterfall. You can visit the bear sanctuary and swim in one of the three cascading pools fed by the waterfall before getting a tuk-tuk back to town. Before grabbing a $4 Laoatian meal at Bouang, treat yourself to a $7 sauna and massage at Lemongrass.

Guatemala: $25

Lodging: $8 a night for a bed in a mixed dorm room, includes breakfast
Activities: $15 for a volcano hike
Food: $2 for market finds

Crash at the Yellow House Hostel in Antigua and load up on the complimentary (yet impressive) breakfast to fuel a self-led morning walking tour. Walk past the Iglesia de la Merced and get a selfie under the iconic Arco de Santa Catalina before heading to the Central Market. Load a backpack with Guatemalan staples: pupusas, empanadas, and fresh fruit to bring on your hike up the active Pacaya Volcano

. The tour leaves at 2 p.m. and you’ll catch the sunset on your descent. Bonus: They provide marshmallows to roast on the molten rocks.

Czech Republic: $25

Lodging: $7 a night assuming you share the apartment with a friend
Activities: $8 to tip your tour guide
Food: $10 for dinner and a beer

Europe is typically too expensive to do on a budget, but in Eastern Europe the prices are lower, and in Prague, the beer is cheaper than water. Stay a short six-minute walk from Wenceslas Square, pack a lunch, and start your trip with a free Sandemans walking tour to see the major sights and get a brief history of the city. Once the tour ends, walk across the Charles Bridge to the Malá Strana neighborhood for window shopping, continuing on to the Prague Castle for photos and views of Old Town.

“A visit to a real local Czech pub outside of the centre is a must for people who want to eat real hearty Czech food and hang out with locals who have been meeting their friends there since Communism. Our favorite is U Veverky in Bubenec,” says Eliza Stine an American expat who’s lived in Prague for over 10 years. From the castle, the restaurant is a 20-minute walk, and you’ll be rewarded with a beer, beef goulash, and dumplings for $10.

Nepal: $22

Lodging: $12 a night
Activities: $2.50 for two happy hour cocktails
Food: $3.50 for breakfast, $2 for market, $2 for momo dinner

Book an apartment near Thamel, the center of Kathmandu. In the morning, shop your way through the streets of Thamel, ending up at Himalayan Java for coffee and an egg breakfast. Continue to Asan Tole, the busy outdoor produce market where you’ll shop alongside locals for lunch fixings. Another 10 minutes on foot will bring you to Durbar Square, where kings once ruled and 17th century buildings still stand. From there, head to the holy Buddhist Swayambhunath Stupa, also known as the “Monkey Temple.” Explore the stupa, make an offering, take photos of the monkeys, and settle in for a picnic with a view.

Walk toward home and swing by Newa Momo Restaurant for what some claim are the best momos–steamed dumplings–ever. Cap off your night at Sam’s Bar, where you can get a local cocktail for $1.25 until happy hour ends at 7 p.m.

Mexico: $23

Lodging: $9 a night assuming you split the apartment with three friends
Activities: $6 surfboard rental
Food: $8 for tacos and beer

Pack a snorkel (or goggles) and stay within walking distance of the beach in Sayulita, a small Mexican surf village north of Puerto Vallarta. When you’re sick of eating tacos, swimming, and laying in the sun, stop by WildMex for a one-hour surfboard rental. In the evening, cruise around town eating $1 tacos and drinking cheap beer.

“The late night street tacos are not to be missed. Best tacos al pastor I've ever had. There are bars that surround the town square where beers and tequila are cheap and many have free or cheap live music,” says Ashley Story who traveled with friends to Sayulita in 2016.

Indonesia: $25

Lodging: $7 a night if you share your room with a friend
Activities: $3.50 scooter rental, $8 massage
Food: $3 lunch at Bali Buda, $3.50 dinner at Fair Warung Bale

Bali sounds exotic and expensive, but $1 goes a long way. You can cut costs even more by booking a homestay—this one in Ubud has free breakfast and a spa. In the morning, rent a scooter and cruise to the Tegalalang Rice Terrace for what will easily be photo op of the year. When hunger hits, head back to Ubud for a veggie sandwich at Bali Buda and cap off the day with a massage at your home spa and dinner at Fair Warung Bale (we recommend Nasi Goreng).

“Ryan and I always joke that as long as we stay in Bali for at least two weeks, it feels like we are being paid to be there! The cost of living in Bali is significantly cheaper than the US,” explains Danielle Visco who travels to Bali with her boyfriend, Ryan, annually. “Bali is a beautiful place, which means a lot of your activities can simply be taking in the scenery.”

Follow Evie Carrick on Instagram.

8xy4bzEvie CarrickAnita HamiltonTravelPragueguatemalamexicoLaosindonesiaNepalBali
<![CDATA[The Secret to Getting More Done When You Are Your Own Boss]]>, 17 Jan 2019 21:54:47 +0000Instead of writing this article when I had originally planned to, I folded my laptop shut and took a walk. I thought about what I wanted to say, how I wanted to say it and who I would need to contact to help me accomplish this goal. I let my mind wander and not focus on the deadline and word count looming in the not-so-distant future.

Then, I grabbed a coffee, a seat at my co-working space and listed out the micro-goals I’d want to set for the day: Email experts, start an outline, condense my jumbled thoughts and research into a document no one will ever see, which somehow lowers the stakes of the task and makes me more mentally open to writing. These micro-tasks, which I can check off my to-do list with ease, feeling accomplished and ready for the next, larger one, are my favorite tactic for staying productive.

I wouldn’t be a full-time freelance writer if I didn’t love to write, but just as in any job, the skills and tasks and projects and assignments can become overwhelming, stressful and procrastination-inducing. Staring at the same screen during all daylight hours every weekday is exhausting, especially when a batch of looming deadlines for long-term projects hover in the future.

Everyone has their own tactics for maximizing productivity. I have a friend who is a digital assistant, starting work at five or six every morning so she knows she’ll be done shortly after lunch and can reward herself with an entire afternoon doing whatever she wants. Another friend, an entrepreneur, works a full-time job, and struggles to stay on task for her budding company after official business hours. And yet, she has found small tricks to work her passion project into a reality.

So even though everyone works differently, there are a few tactics, culled both from experts on human psychology as well as my own experience as a full-time freelancer, that really will help you boost your productivity and use your time efficiently.

Pick a dedicated workspace

Your bed is not your office. Neither is your bathtub or your favorite place on the couch to watch TV. Assign a specific workspace in your home, be it an entire extra room to use as an office, a corner of your kitchen table, a small foldable desk in your bedroom or a window ledge that can double as a laptop stand (in New York, I’ve seen my share of creative home office solutions, including a bedroom closet-turned-business center).

Having a place to work puts you in the mindset to focus and work. Viola Drancoli, a clinical psychologist based in New York has seen her clients “boost productivity by creating an environment that fosters space to think and creativity.” She advises de-cluttering, organizing and cleaning your workspaces to “think about and actively create the atmosphere you spend most of your working hours in.”

Hide that smartphone

The urge to see what’s new on Instagram stories or who liked the most recent article you shared to Facebook is real— social media has been proven to boost dopamine, also known as the happy chemical, on our brains when we get an alert or notification. But that inconsequential like isn’t helping you get your work done. And the temptation is taking away from your productivity.

“Having your phone in sight while you work reduces the cognitive resources that you can dedicate to the task that you're working on, a phenomenon known as brain drain,” says Itamar Shatz, a PhD candidate at Cambridge University and author of Solving Procrastination. “Essentially, even if you're not actively using your phone, simply knowing that it's there causes you to dedicate some of your mental resources to it, which reduces your ability to focus and work on the task at hand.”

Shatz points to research suggesting that the more distance you can put between yourself and your phone, the better. Put that phone somewhere you can’t see it, like a drawer or bag. “Furthermore, the more distance you create from it the better, so if there's a complicated task that you need to focus on for a long stretch of time, you could benefit even more from putting the phone in a different room entirely.”

Tackle big tasks first

Kicking off your day by checking off all the smaller to-dos on your list? Maybe give yourself a bigger challenge once the caffeine kicks in. “Research has shown that some changes in daily routines may help us deal with this permanent source of stress,” Dr. Drancolia says. She suggests moving important decisions to the beginning of the day to avoid “decision fatigue,” that is, the tendency for the quality of our decisions to decrease the more decisions we make in a row. Prioritize your most important task of the day, complete that one and keep riding on that momentum.

Stick to a schedule

Use one calendar and be consistent about it. Drancoli recommends scheduling every task or appointment on the calendar to “free up cognitive resources to tend to the ‘live feed’, the unexpected events, emails, etc. that pop-up during the work day.

For those who are not accountable to a manager or specific business hours, set them—you’ll stay on track and know when to quit working. “Having limits and setting boundaries is extremely important when it comes to work,” says New York-based psychotherapist Lucas Saiter. “Without them, work can start seeping into personal life, which ultimately results in a huge productivity loss.” An ultimate goal, like dinner plans or movie tickets, can help prevent procrastination and keep you on track.

Take short breaks

Designating some time to not work can be the best key to actually accomplishing the work you need to do. As a freelancer, I’ll take breaks at natural stopping points to shop for groceries, drop off my dry cleaning, work out and run other errands that I typically wouldn’t look forward to, but see them as a nice reprieve in my day of solo screen staring.

Drancolia encourages her clients to set a reminder on their phone at least once a day at the same time to check in with themselves for thirty seconds. “How are you sitting and breathing? Are your jaws tight? Your shoulders raised? Do you feel tense? If so you are probably overwhelmed,” she says. “Get up, get some fresh air, stretch. After a few weeks those check-ins become a routine. Mindfulness increases productivity.”

Schedule longer breaks

A few seconds of stretching or a trip for a coffee refill may be a nice reprieve, but take some serious time to reboot after working on a longer project or if you’re just feeling stuck. “Daydreaming fosters creativity, let your associations come up with out-of-the box solutions to problems that seem overwhelming,” Drancoli says. Going for a walk or just sitting outside can free up some brain space to forge through the rest of your day.

Make time to declutter your digital office

Most of the work you do is likely on a computer, meaning you don’t have ancient file cabinets amassing clutter, but your overpacked hard drive can still stress you out and distract you. Drancoli recommends dedicating time to clearing out your desktop, e-mail box, old documents and anything else you no longer need on your computer. This tactic helps you focus on what’s relevant when it comes time to work.

“Productivity is often compromised by an overwhelming amount of external stimuli, which makes it hard to focus and feel as though we make progress, which in turn decreases motivation and increases procrastination,” she says. “As widely discussed in the neurosciences, we are bombarded by information overload and we often attempt to deal with it by multitasking, which means increasing stress and decreasing productivity.”

On Fridays, when my week wraps up, I delete anything out of my downloads folder and Google Drive I’ll no longer need, ensure my calendar invites for the upcoming week are relevant and necessary and toss out any to-do lists that are mostly checked off, carrying over any pending tasks to the next week’s calendar.

Follow Melissa Kravitz on Twitter.

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<![CDATA[How to Achieve Your Financial Goals—Even When Your Motivation Runs Low]]>, 16 Jan 2019 16:31:29 +0000If you’re like most of us, you’re walking into the new year with some goals. While I won’t pretend to know all of your goals, there’s a good chance you’re looking to win with money. You’re not alone. Most of us should set our sights on improving our finances. Last year, 1 out of 5 Americans reported that they weren’t saving a single penny. Things aren’t looking much better for the new year, with more than half of people surveyed by Bankrate late last year saying they don’t expect their finances to improve in 2019.

It’s a little early in the year to be so pessimistic though. Instead, come up with a strategy to help you achieve whatever it is you want, whether it’s getting out of debt or taking time off to travel. By setting up short- and long-term strategies, you can build a plan to find more financial success this year. And if you’re still coming up short? Don’t worry. There are fixes for that, too.

Short-term thinking can get you going

Finding ways to save more money each day is the easiest way to start. Understanding your discretionary spending can help you see what you might be able to funnel into savings instead. Short-term wins really do add up, and they’re going to keep you motivated. Don’t worry. I’m not coming for your lattes. Instead, try one of these three tricks.

Do a zero spend day. Commit to freezing your spending for one day. It’ll help you see where you normally spend. Once you know where your money disappears to, you can decide if that’s actually the right call for you or not.

Cancel one thing. Review your credit card or debit card statement from last month. How many subscriptions or automatic charges can you find? Pick one, and get rid of it. For example, if you see charges for Hulu and Netflix, cancel one and put the savings in a separate account. Cutting just $10 or $20 a month adds up to a few hundred dollars a year.

Make other small swaps. This is where a lot of money articles tell you to make your coffee at home. But if you love your lattes, cheers. Instead, keep what you value, and cut things that don’t matter as much to you. Explore other grocery stores. Decide if everything has to be brand name. Turn the heat down a few degrees. Only say yes to happy hour meet ups that you want to attend. Make sure that you stash the cash from any swap that you do make. For instance, if you normally buy lunch twice a week for $10 a day, eliminating one day will get you $40 closer to your financial goal each month. An extra $480 a year could go a long way toward your next vacation.

Channel your inner nerd to stay motivated

There’s a good chance that you’ll be able to pull at least an extra $50 toward your goal after making these short-term changes. You’ve got extra money. Finally! Now you can go out and spend it, right? Not so fast.

Once you’ve started this savings journey, you need to figure out how to hold yourself accountable and how to give yourself a pat on the back when you deserve it. Most importantly, though, you want to keep putting that money toward your goals. You can make every short-term money win in the book, but none of it matters if the money gets spent right away on something else.

Open a high-interest savings account. A separate account keeps your money out of sight, so you can keep saving without the temptation to spend. As a bonus, once your account grows, you can earn some significant interest. Currently, a high-interest savings account with $1,000 can earn $20 a year in interest. Push your nest egg to $10,000, and you’ll pull in $200 just for keeping your money out of sight.

Track your savings. Set up a spreadsheet or download an app to keep tabs on what you’re saving. Even though you’re only making small swaps, they can sting a bit until you start seeing results. Use that growing number to keep you going even when you want to quit.

Celebrate without spending (much). No, this didn’t suddenly turn into an article on how to DIY your own confetti. You can celebrate without burning through a bunch of dough. If you hit a milestone once a quarter or even once a month, treat yourself to a small splurge. Maybe it’s a pedicure or a six-pack of craft beer. Whatever you choose, pick a single celebration and then get back to saving. Think of it as a cheat meal for your dollars.

Try these pro moves for long-term savings

Once you’ve got your short-term strategy locked down, it’s time to set your sights on the big picture. Adding an extra $50 or even $100 a month is nice, but it isn’t going to get you backpacking across Europe or owning a home. Not anytime soon anyway.

That means you can either shrink your goal, expand your time horizon, or make more money. To really boost your income, you need to make some long-term changes.

Focus on the big three. The majority of our budgets go to three things: housing, transportation, and food. If your lease is coming up, reevaluate your priorities and decide if getting a roommate or just finding a cheaper place to live makes sense. Figure out if you can rideshare or take public transportation. Track your grocery spending for a month and see if you can cut back by even just $50 or $25 the next month. Anything you can do to reduce your spending in these categories is a huge win for your spending overall.

Grow your income. Maybe you can take a course or acquire new skills that will make you more valuable to your current employer. Or maybe you take the leap the most millennials will make and look for a new, better-paying job. Once you do boost your income, set all of that aside into savings. It’s tempting to inflate your lifestyle along with your paycheck, but then you’re back to square one.

Start a side hustle. It isn’t always practical to try to grow your income. For some people, finding some part-time work is a better bet. In the era of the gig economy, you can try your hand at anything from dog walking to ghostwriting. No matter how you land some extra cash, make sure that money gets saved, not spent. A good side hustle could add hundreds or even thousands of dollars to your income each month.

How I achieved a big money goal of my own

It sounds overwhelming to achieve a goal, but it is possible, especially if you give yourself enough of a timeframe. How can I say that with certainty? My husband and I put this plan to the test when we got married on two teacher salaries.

When we first got engaged, my husband and I knew we had some savings that we felt comfortable putting towards our wedding, but we also knew to build the wedding fund we really wanted, we had to save more. To come up with an extra $10,000, we each had to set aside about $250 a month for a year and a half. It turns out long engagements really do have their advantages!

One of the first things we did was scale back on the number of times we ate out for date night. We also made individual switches. I dialed down my Starbucks habit just a notch and found a better rate for my cell phone plan.

Those little switches did make a difference, but I knew wedding planning would be stressful enough without worrying about coming up short with our wedding fund. So instead of only focusing on saving, I decided to earn more money. I found ways to earn extra at work by picking up weekend work occasionally, and I also started writing on the side.

None of these switches would have made a difference, though, if I spent my new savings or earnings. Instead, I made sure to keep it carefully stashed in an account earmarked just for our big day.

Achieving a big financial goal took dreams and determination to get through the different starts and stops. Once some of the short-term switches started to work, we made some long-term adjustments to really bring in more income. In the end, we met our goal. We threw the celebration we wanted, and we didn’t take home any debt.

mbymw4Amanda BertAnita HamiltonmoneygoalsincomesavingSide Gigmoney brain
<![CDATA[How Banks and Lenders Are Helping Workers Affected by the Government Shutdown]]>, 11 Jan 2019 23:53:35 +0000Hundreds of thousands of federal employees missed their first paycheck on January 11 as the U.S government entered the fourth week of what has now become the longest shutdown in its history. All the while, the bills keep stacking up, from mortgage payments to credit card balances. Real estate site Zillow estimated that the 800,000 affected workers will owe $189 million in rent and another $249 million in mortgage payments this month.

As workers took to the streets to protest the shutdown, several banks, credit unions, and lenders have stepped up to offer financial support in the form of interest-free loans, extended payment dates, and waived fees. Most are doing so on a case-by-case basis, urging customers to contact them directly to discuss their options.

While the offers are welcome, be sure to get everything in writing so you don’t get stuck with an even bigger bill—or worse, a damaged credit score—later. “Even if your lender is willing to adjust your payment date, you may still be charged interest even though they say you don’t need to send in this month’s credit card payment. Keep up with your bills if at all possible,” says Ted Rossman, an industry analyst at

FREE has compiled a list of banks, credit unions, and lenders that are helping federal workers during the shutdown. We’ll be updating the list as we learn of more offers.

Ally Bank

An Ally Financial spokesperson told FREE that customers impacted by the shutdown should contact the bank directly to discuss their individual options. A message on its site directs customers to chat, call or email them to do so.

American Express

An Amex spokesperson told FREE it's assisting consumer, small business, and corporate card members who are affected by the shutdown by waiving late fees, return check fees, and future interest charges. Customers can call to discuss their options.

Bank of America

Spokesperson Lawrence Grayson told FREE that BofA will be helping those affected with fee refunds and waivers, repayment plans, and loan modification on a “case-by-case basis.” A message on the BofA site invites customers to call or schedule an appointment with a specialist for personalized assistance.

Bank of the West

The bank posted a message on its website asking those impacted by the shutdown to call for assistance.

Capital One Bank

“We are here to assist our customers who are experiencing financial difficulties as a result of the federal government shutdown,” a Capital One Bank spokesperson told FREE. “Assistance provided to our impacted customers could include temporarily waiving or refunding certain credit card fees, extending payment due dates on auto loans, and waiving or refunding overdraft, insufficient funds, and service fees on deposit accounts.”

Chase Bank

The bank will automatically waive the overdraft and monthly services fees for checking and savings accounts for those affected by the shutdown. “We’re also helping our mortgage, credit card and car loan customers, but they have to contact us because we generally don’t have the same level of up-to-date information as we do on checking customers,” a Chase spokesperson told FREE, via email. “We’re working on these one case at a time to do our best to protect customers from negative consequences for missing a payment, such as late fees or reporting a late payment to a credit bureau.”


Customers can get fee and interest adjustments. “With respect to mortgages, we may be able to offer short-term forbearance and repayment plans and/or loan modifications,” a Citi spokesperson told FREE, via email. The bank has also posted a message on their website advising customers affected to call for card, bank, and mortgage assistance.

Democracy Federal Credit Union

Members can get help with payment deferments as well as loan extensions for existing loan holders for up to 90 days. Current and potential customers can also apply for a short-term loan for up to six months. Contact the credit union for specific options and for free financial counseling services.


Credit card and bank customers are eligible for several forms of assistance, including skipping a payment and having late fees and interest charges reversed if they do. Discover is working with customers on a case-by-case basis, according to a spokesperson. Customers can chat with or call a representative for assistance.

First Command Financial Services

The financial company, which caters to military members and offers insurance, banking, and financial advisors, is issuing zero-interest payroll advances, offering loan assistance, penalty-free early withdrawal, and waiving cash advance fees to affected Coast Guard and federal employee clients, Scott Spiker, Chairman and CEO of First Command Financial Services, said in an email statement to FREE. Call or send a secure message for assistance.

Ford Motor Credit

A banner on the auto lender’s site encourages customers who have had a loss of income to call for payment deferral options.

General Motors Financial

GM has a message on its site asking government employees that are impacted to contact its Customer Experience team to discuss options regarding loan due dates.

Justice Federal Credit Union

This credit union is offering unsecured loans of up to $3,000 at 3.19 percent interest, loan deferment up to 30 days, and mortgage assistance to members who work at the Department of Justice or Department of Homeland Security. Members can visit a branch (open Saturdays) or call for information.

Navy Federal Credit Union

One of the more generous lenders, this credit union is providing interest-free loans of up to $6,000 to federal government workers and active duty members of the Coast Guard who are also members of the credit union. You can apply for the Government Shutdown Loan Program online. Others who are affected can call to discuss their options.

PNC Bank

“PNC is prepared to waive monthly service fees and take other appropriate actions for government employees who are experiencing financial difficulty due to the shutdown,” Marcey Zwiebel Director, Corporate Public Relations PNC Bank, told FREE. The bank is advising customers to contact them for case-by-case assistance.

Quicken Loans

“We are waiving late fees for all clients that may be in jeopardy of missing a payment due to the government shutdown, as well as providing a free 30-day rate lock extension for any clients currently in the mortgage process,” the mortgage lender told FREE in an email statement. Customers can call for assistance.

SkyOne Federal Credit Union

The credit union, which caters to air transportation employees, is offering a Crisis Co-Pilot Relief Program that promises $5,000 interest-free loans at 0% APR for first 90 days of the loan term, according to its website. Customers can apply directly online and have their loans processed within two to three days.

TD Bank

Existing customers who are federal employees, contractors, or receive federal benefits can enroll in their Payment Assistance Program, according to a statement on the bank’s website. The program will provide access to additional funds at no cost, late fee refunds on most TD Bank Visa credit cards, mortgage, home equity, auto or personal loan assistance, and flexibility on small business loans or lines of credit. These benefits will extend until those impacted start to receive their regular government pay.

The U.S. Employees Credit Union

This credit union is offering 60-day, interest-free loans for federal government employees whose direct deposit pay will be affected by the shutdown, regardless of their credit score. “Loan amounts will be calculated by rounding your last bi-weekly direct deposit down to the nearest $100.00 increment. For example, if your last government pay was $3,479.41, your loan amount will be $3,400.00,” according to a statement on the credit union’s site, where members can apply directly.

Transportation Federal Credit Union

Transportation FCU, which primarily serves federal, state, and local government employees, is providing relief for members who are not receiving paychecks due to the shutdown by offering a 4.50% APR Furlough Loan with a minimum payment of $25. The credit union will also provide two weeks of net pay for up to $3,000 and the first payment deferred up to 45 days. Members who are impacted are also able to skip up to two months of payments on consumer loans and can call or apply online.

Treasury Department Federal Credit Union

This credit union is providing 30-day loan extensions for existing members in good standing. It's also lending both existing and prospective members their net pays for up to two pay periods. Apply directly online, at a local branch, or by calling.

USAA Federal Savings Bank

“In direct support of members, USAA is offering a one-time, low interest loan to active Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Corps, Public Health Service Corps personnel whose pay is disrupted,” USAA told FREE in a email statement. The lender is also providing all eligible members affected by the shutdown with a 60-day payment deferral on consumer loans, 90-day payment deferral on credit cards, and special payment arrangements on auto and home insurance premiums. Members can call for more details.

U.S. Bank

“We’re offering a new low-rate, quick loan product for U.S. Bank customers who are federal employees impacted by the government shutdown,” a spokesperson told Free. Customers with any U.S. Bank product, including mortgage and auto loans or U.S. Bank credit cards can apply for the $100 to $6,000 loans. A message on the bank’s website invites those affected by the shutdown to call about assistance programs.

Wells Fargo

The bank will automatically reverse monthly service, overdraft or non-sufficient fund fees, and suppress late fees on credit cards for employees affected by a federal government agency and whose payroll check was direct deposited into the customer’s account in November 2018, a spokesperson told FREE. Customers can call for assistance. The bank says it is also helping customers who do not have direct deposit or are not receiving an automatic fee reversal on an individual basis.

Follow Funto Omojola on Twitter.

Updated: This story was updated on Tuesday, January 15 with additional offers of financial assistance from lenders.

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<![CDATA[I Haven’t Paid for a Flight in Three Years Thanks to Credit Card Points]]>, 11 Jan 2019 15:52:38 +0000When I was in high school, my father sat me down to teach me a very important lesson: “credit cards are evil.” I was confused; nearly every time our family of four went on vacation, at least a couple of our plane tickets were purchased with frequent flier miles. These miles were obtained not by flying frequently, but by my parents putting all of our household expenses on my dad’s trusty American Airlines credit card.

“But you get so much for free,” I protested.

“That’s how they get you," he said. "They lure you in with the promise of freebies, then bankrupt you when you don’t pay off your balance in time. Get a credit card as soon as you can to build up credit, but never carry a balance, no matter what. Never buy something you can’t afford.”

This scare tactic style of advice had some negative effects on my psyche: I struggled with severe money anxiety and became Depression-era frugal, tracking my spending down to the cent and keeping a three-ring binder of bank statements under my bed during high school. In college, I worked overnight shifts at my lousy on-campus job because it paid a dollar an hour more than during the day. Whenever I found myself in a situation where I had to unexpectedly spend—even if it was just a few bucks when out with friends—I would break out in a cold sweat, unable to focus on anything else.

But once I was out of school and in a job that finally paid me more than the minimum wage, I allowed myself to breathe and have a life changing realization: money exists to be spent, and when used responsibly, credit cards are amazing. By leaning in to credit lending industry, rather than being afraid of it, I discovered that I could earn a lot by spending very little. It’s easy to rack up points when you’re paying off a mortgage and for multiple dependents like my father, but what about the lone hand-to-mouth twentysomething? I found that with the right credit cards, my normal, daily expenses like buying groceries and gasoline could result in my traveling the world practically for free.

Jenny Hart Cards and Passport
Here are a few of my favorite credit cards.

Nearly every factor of travel can be purchased with points: flights are the most well known option, but hotel rooms, Airbnb stays, car rentals, and upgrades for all of the above are fair game, too. I know this because I’ve used points to book them all. I have a strong personal preference towards using my points for air travel, as that is often the most expensive part of a trip, so I will squirrel them away for that purpose. Thanks to my credit card points, it’s been several years since I’ve paid for anything beyond government taxes for a flight (which points do not usually cover).

I've flown everywhere from Milwaukee to Curaçao for free. In the past few months alone, I booked a round-trip flight from New York to Fort Lauderdale for 37,500 points on JetBlue (plus $11.20 in taxes, which I paid for with an airline credit I received from a past flight delay) and a round-trip flight from New York to Cancun for a mere 12,000 points on Delta (plus $85.42 in taxes, which I charged back to the same card). It was as easy—and sweet!—as pie.

Unfortunately, it may not be this easy for long—true to my father’s warnings, the credit card companies are not thrilled about our ability to make money off of them, and are brainstorming ways to curb it. If you’ve been thinking about trying your hand at credit card hacking, now is the time to do it, while you still can!

Here are some pointers to get you started:

Treat your credit card like a debit card

There’s an important truth to “don’t spend what you don’t have.” Points are only really valuable when they are earned for free, so whenever possible, I pretend that my credit card is a debit card that will shut off if the funds in my account are too low. In other words, if I don’t have the money in my checking account to cover something I would charge on a credit card, I don’t buy it. There are moments, of course, in life when having a line of credit is a lifesaver; but the second you find yourself paying interest or late fees, you’re no longer benefiting financially from using credit.


It might seem silly to swipe your card for small purchases like your morning coffee, especially when you have cash, but those purchases add up—quickly. Every dollar spent is one, two, or even three or more points towards the ultimate goal of free travel. Save your dollar bills for shopping at small businesses with credit card minimums, and charge virtually everything else.

Scope out the best sign up bonuses

The most important factor in choosing a credit card is not the interest rate (we’re not paying interest, remember?), nor even the alluring promise of cash back. A credit card’s sign up bonus is the true bread and butter in collecting free miles. Many of the travel cards you’ll see advertised offer an average of 20,000 to 30,000 points to new members once a certain amount is spent in the first few months. This may seem like a lot (and it is!) but don’t settle for it—most of these same cards will have promotions throughout the year where that number bumps up to 50,000 points or more, which is often enough to fund a round-trip international flight. Choose which card to apply for based on how good that bonus is and keep an eye out for deals. Sites like, CompareCards, NerdWallet and The Points Guy are great resources to follow to keep up on the best offers.

Plan ahead for big expenses

Part of the deal in earning a credit card’s sign up bonus is spending a certain amount of money in a certain amount of time. The standard amount you’ll see on most credit card applications is $1,000 over the course of 3 months. If you’re successful in charging the majority of your purchases (and live in a big, expensive city like me), this isn’t too difficult of a goal to hit. But oftentimes the better the sign up bonus, the steeper the required spending. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card, known pretty unanimously as one of the best travel cards out there, requires you spend $4,000 in 3 months to earn its 50,000 point bonus.

When I decided to finally apply for this card, I timed it around a period that I was going to be spending significantly more money than usual. In those 3 months, I invested in a new laptop and DSLR camera, and paid off the tuition for a class I’d recently enrolled in. I also asked my partner to let me put a few of his bigger expenses on my card, and had him Venmo me the value. By saving for a while and then making my big purchases all at once, I was able to easily hit the pricey spending requirement that I normally wouldn’t be able to afford.

Avoid paying an annual fee (or decide if it’s worth it)

In addition to interest and other fees, credit cards typically earn back the value of their free points by charging users an annual fee ($90 to 100 for most). But unless you are totally devoted to one card (I admit that I am to my Chase Sapphire Preferred), there is no need to pay this fee.

Some cards have zero fee. This is great, though they usually have small sign up bonuses. (For example, the JetBlue Card has a $0 annual fee, but you only get 10,000 points when you sign up. Meanwhile, the JetBlue Plus Card gives out 40,000 points, but costs $99.)

Out of the cards with good bonuses, you’ll see that about half of them waive the fee for the first year. Once you’re approved for a card, put a reminder in your calendar for 11.5 months from that date to cancel the card before it renews for another year and the fee hits your balance. As you’re getting ready to cancel your card, apply for a new one with a different airline and start the process again.

Depending on your situation, some annual fees are worth the points and perks. I happily paid a fee for one year of Hawaiian Airlines’ credit card, because I was awarded with 50,000 miles PLUS a one-time 50 percent off companion discount. In case you haven’t heard, flights to Hawaii are damn expensive. Scoring one and a half round-trip tickets for $99 total is a no-brainer.

Have frequent flier accounts with every airline

While many airlines preach the value of loyalty, it makes more sense for a budget traveler to cast a wide net and collect points from multiple airlines simultaneously, rather than focus on gaining “status” with one. Travel cards that are not affiliated with a specific airline (the American Express Gold Card, for example) allow you to redeem your points between multiple airlines by transferring them in 10,000 point increments, and many airlines have partnerships outside of credit cards that help you accrue points.

One example is Delta’s partnership with Lyft; when you link your Delta SkyMiles account to your Lyft app, you get 1 mile per dollar spent on rides (in addition to the points you get from the card being charged). Similarly, American Airlines has a dining program that gives you bonus AAdvantage points when you eat out at certain restaurants.

Be organized and responsible

The more credit cards and frequent flier accounts you open, the more you have to keep track of. Some airlines’ points expire, others don’t. Depending on when and where you fly, different airlines will have wildly different prices (in dollars and points alike). I keep a simple spreadsheet of all of my frequent flier account numbers and point balances, so I can easily access them when booking travel, and any time I have more than two credit cards open at once, I set up automatic payments to make sure I don’t accidentally become overdue. It’s a small hassle for a very big and rewarding result--seeing the world for cheap is beyond worth it!

Follow Jenny Hart on Instagram and Twitter .

59v7yaJenny HartAnita HamiltonTravelBudgetChasecredit cardsJetBlueLyftspendingDelta Air Lines
<![CDATA[How to Get a Job at Amazon’s HQ2 if You Really Want It]]>, 10 Jan 2019 17:00:03 +0000Like that jolly old man from the North Pole, Jeff Bezos came around this past holiday season bearing gifts. The presents from Amazon, however, were only for very specific towns, and strictly in the form of “compensation for the value you will be creating for them with your labor.” These are also known as jobs. Perhaps you’d like one!

Between their two new HQ2s in Queens, New York and Arlington, Virginia—along with the smaller Operations Center of Excellence in Nashville—Amazon will be delivering about 55,000 new jobs starting in 2019. While the corporate behemoth has been mum about the specifics—other than that they’ll begin accepting applications in early 2019–one way to get a sense of what jobs they’ll be looking to fill is by examining trends at their HQ1 in Seattle. There, according to Business Insider’s examination of self-reported salary data by employees on the job site Glassdoor, a data engineer can expect a salary around $101,000, while a business intelligence engineer or software engineer can snag $108,000 a year. Not shabby!

But Amazon won’t only be hiring software programmers. If they’re like current trends in other tech companies, they’ll be hiring almost a 50/50 split between tech and non-tech roles, for the obvious reason that once you make the technology, you still got to find a way to sell it. “Once the core technology is built, they don’t need to hire as many engineers as they grow,” Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist at GlassDoor, tells me. “Amazon’s next stage of growth [necessitates] jobs that aren’t as scalable as software engineers.” These jobs will include recruiting manager ($115,000), economist ($124,000), and finance manager ($126,000). In all, Amazon says the average wage of the new HQ2 jobs will be $150,000, about $90,000 more than the $61,000 median household income in the U.S. Maybe this is money you would want!

How to ace your application for a job at Amazon HQ2

Despite granular differences in the necessary skills to get you past the resume filtering stage of the hiring process—Amazon says they care more about how a candidate thinks or what they’ve worked on in the past, as opposed to where, or even if, they went to school—the steps to get any of their jobs is relatively straightforward. Amazon, in fact, outlines the entire thing on their website, where they even have tools to help you along the way.

“After applying, some candidates will be invited to participate in an online assessment—a set of questions that provide a sense of a candidate’s hard and soft skills, specific to the role they applied for,” said Meghan Reibstein, Amazon’s Student Programs Leader, over email. “We then typically run virtual interviews with Amazonians from a variety of roles and teams, which help students get to know Amazon better.” During these interviews, virtually or in-person, candidates are peppered with questions and scenarios to get a sense of your problem-solving skills. (Quora can be a good resource if you want a sneak preview at software engineer test problems like, “in a file there are 1 million words, find 10 most frequent words in that file,” and “find an element in a rotated array”—whatever that means.)

Amazon has a whole guide for how to get through these interviews as well. “We don’t just want to know what candidates have accomplished, we want understand how they think and what they’ve learned,” Reibstein says. In the guide, Amazon has a list of behavioral questions that they may ask, things like “describe a time when you took the lead on a project.” They also recommend that applicants answer interview questions in a STAR format, breaking down their answers by explaining the situation, describing the task they needed to accomplish, detailing the action(s) they took, and wrapping it all up with the result. It’s a storytelling tip to keep respondents on task. The guide also details the dress code (“comfortable and casual”), while mentioning that some of the offices are dog friendly, so let them know if you have allergies.

Amazon will presumably have other positions at their HQ2s, like janitorial or cafeteria workers, which will not be paid nearly as lucratively. These roles are predominantly contractors, meaning that their hiring process is outside of Amazon’s purview. However, this thread on Indeed might give a sense of how janitorial workers feel Amazon treats them at their various distribution centers throughout the country; it runs the gamut from “[t]he job was fun and had plenty of opportunities to do things” to someone claiming it was a “very violent work place and they did nothing to stop it from continuing including alot of bullying from other employees.” For folks angling for these blue-collar jobs, one tip that seems reasonable is befriending your higher-paid, white-collar co-workers, so that when it comes time to unionize, they’ll have your back as you take on a corporation that’s long fought such efforts. Just something to keep in mind!

But do you really want to work for Amazon?

This seems like a fine time to get into the thorniest question when it comes to applying for an Amazon job: Do you really want to work there?

Chris Bloomquist is head of talent acquisition at Viri Technology, a recruiting firm based a few blocks from Amazon’s HQ1 in Seattle. Bloomquist says that having Amazon on one’s resume is certainly a valuable signifier to future employers. “In the Seattle tech world, it’s like a meal ticket,” he says. “You survived for a couple of years, you’re probably doing work on tech that’s relevant, doing modern things on the cloud, doing modern things with scalability, A.I., all the relevant buzzwords.”

But this credit isn’t free. “Here’s what you’re going to have to give up: Your life for awhile,” he says. “It’s dog eat dog. If you’re highly competitive and you don’t need to be in a kumbaya environment, Amazon is great.” Maybe this is your kind of scene!

But there’s another aspect to consider before working at Amazon H2, and that’s your role in the inevitable displacement that will be taking place. “The rich get richer, the poor get poorer,” Bloomquist says. “The tech workers don’t have a problem. It’s everyone else.”

For the 25,000 jobs going to Arlington, Virginia, where the median household income is more than $100,000, the effect will perhaps be less dramatic than what the 25,000 jobs will do to the borough of Queens, New York, where it’s $62,008. For a glimpse of how those new, high-paying jobs will economically terraform the borough, give DW Gibson’s The Edge Becomes the Center and Jeremiah Moss’ Vanishing New York a read. Both are kinda like lenses you can pop on that will provide the correct context through which you will see the extraordinary gentrification that will be taking place because of the company that you maybe want to work for. “I’ve lived in Seattle for 16 years, and at first, it was in the sleepy, edge of downtown,” Bloomquist says. “Now it’s the core of it because Amazon took over.”

If enough truly affordable housing isn’t built to offset the influx of money into the region, other effects may occur. Landlords will use everyday harassment and procedural techniques to kick out poor tenants to make room for you, which could boil over into societal frustration and occasional protest actions, or maybe just eye-rolls or cold-shoulders at the bar when you tell people where you work. Fair or unfair, you’ll get the blame. “What happens is you get tons of brand new infrastructure, restaurants, nightlife. But housing prices are to the point where, how the hell can you be a barista in downtown Seattle?” says Bloomquist. “They can’t drive an hour [to work] each way.”

Another thing that will likely happen is your own dollar won’t go as far as you expected, as $15 cocktail joints and boutique grocery stores—and the landlords looking for their cut—push out the once-affordable mom-and-pops. This is because, when you arrive with your new job, the economic dynamic will change. That’s kind of the point, and why cities made such embarrassing gestures to lure Amazon in the first place. The introduction of the HQ2s will, as Bloomquist puts it, be “putting a lot of young people with stupid money in one area. It sounds great, but causes a lot of problems with inequalities.”

Ultimately, this is where you’ll have to weigh the potential of a high-paying (albeit, high-stress) job with the company’s more problematic place in today’s world.

While Jeff Bezos compensates his tech workforce reasonably well, Amazon has a troublesome track record when it comes to its blue collar staff; in 2018, The Guardian found numerous cases of warehouse workers unable to do jobs after workplace accidents who, subsequently, were left homeless. Even the way in which Amazon was awarded the sites for their various HQ2s is indicative of the power massed by the tech behemoth; the entire spectacle was essentially local governments jockeying to subsidize displacement-causing gentrification with money from their own taxpayers. And, of course, Amazon’s growing monopolistic ownership over every form of commerce will have inevitable and irrevocable negative effects for how economic competition is supposed to work. By working for the Amazon blob—that is to say, choosing to trade in your labor for their money—you’ll be adding, however subtly and granularly, to their claim on ownership over the world.

Just something to think about before sending in that C.V.!

Follow Rick Paulas on Twitter.

Correction: This story was corrected on January 15 to clarify the time period for when Amazon will be hiring employees for its HQ2s.

nepajdRick PaulasAnita HamiltonamazonNew YorkengineerGENTRIFICATIONWorkjeff bezosQueenslandjobsArlington Virginia
<![CDATA[Don’t Buy This: There's No Reason to Pay Maintenance Fees on Your Bank Account ]]>, 09 Jan 2019 12:00:00 +0000It’s no secret that banks have too many ways to make your money disappear, from $35 overdraft fees to out-of-network ATM fees. But imagine my shock when I finally realized, after three billing cycles last summer, that I was being charged a $12 monthly fee on my Bank of America Advantage Plus Banking checking account—an account I have had since I started college five years ago in 2014, without ever being charged this “service fee” before.

It may not seem like much in the short-run, but a $12 a month fee can make a big difference, especially since most checking accounts pay little to no interest. Maintenance fees alone cost Americans at least $3.5 billion in 2017. They kick in for all sorts of reasons, including if your balance falls below a certain level, you don’t have direct deposit, don’t use your debit card enough, or aren’t a student. For example, the monthly fee for a Chase Bank Total Checking Account is $12, and you can only avoid it if you have a minimum balance of $1,500 at all times, an average balance of at least $5,000, or a monthly direct deposit of $500 or more.

Getty Images trash can with money.
Paying a monthly maintenance fee on your checking account is basically throwing money away. Photo by Getty Images

If you’re a freelancer with an uneven income or just don’t like keeping a bunch of money in a low-interest account, there’s a good chance you won’t meet those minimums. “Personally I don't even keep up to $1,500 in my account through the entire month,” says Erin Lowry, a personal finance expert and author of Broke Millennial Takes on Investing. “For the average nine to five worker it might not be a problem, but there are plenty of people who are freelancers or self employed who can’t guarantee that they can always maintain a minimum amount or have direct deposits.”

Despite how easy it is to get charged for these fees, most people aren’t aware that they are losing money every month this way. “Banks know that once you sign up to do business with them, the probability of you switching banks is very low,” says Dan Schawbel, founder of the consulting firm Millennial Branding.

But that is exactly what you should do. “By switching banks you're automatically putting money back into your budget,” says Lowry. “That's a really easy way to free up $12 you could easily be putting into savings.”

Here are 10 banks that never charge monthly maintenance fees and 10 that do:

10 banks that never charge monthly maintenance fees

Many credit unions also don’t charge maintenance fees, but here are some traditional banks that don’t either:

Ally Bank
Axis Bank
Bank5 Connect High-Interest Checking Account
Capital One Bank 360 Checking
Charles Schwab Bank
Chime Spending Account
First Internet Bank Free Checking
FNBO Direct
Independent Bank

10 banks that charge monthly maintenance fees

While there are often ways around these fees without having to switch to another bank, here’s how much you’ll have to shell out each month if you don’t meet those requirements:

Bank of America: $5 to $25
BB&T Bright Banking: $5 to $30
Chase: $6 to $25
Citibank: $10 to $30
HSBC USA Bank: $3 to $50
PNC Bank: $7 to $25
SunTrust Bank: $7 to $100
TD Bank: $6 to $25
US Bank: $5 to $25
Wells Fargo: $10 to $30

Follow Funto Omojola on Twitter.

vbaw78Funto OmojolaAnita HamiltonmoneybanksspendingfeesBank Feeschecking account
<![CDATA[Set Financial Goals You Can Slay Instead of Resolutions You'll Blow Off]]>, 08 Jan 2019 17:39:40 +0000If you’ve struggled with resolutions in the past but you still want to get your money right in the new year, don’t give up. Instead of setting the same cookie-cutter resolution as everyone else, set a financial goal perfectly tailored to you.

Achieving your money goal is all about knowing yourself. Choose a realistic goal that fits your interests, your passions, and your income. Then, pick a time frame to match. Setting goals that would require a six-figure income when you’re just starting out as a teacher just won’t fly. Trust me, I tried.

Saving can be a struggle. Working toward something you really want doesn’t make it easier, but it can give you the fuel you need to work harder and make that goal happen.

These steps will help you slay your money this year.

Pick a goal

If you’re going to achieve a goal, it’s got to be something you really want. Glossy magazine covers and filtered Instagram accounts turn heads and pull in double taps. But if this goal is something that is going to be your focus for an entire year, it has to hold your attention for longer than your wait in a checkout line.

Ask yourself what you’re passionate about. Think about your interests. If you had more free time, how or where would you spend it? Once you’ve determined your focus, set a specific goal around it in dollars and cents. Here are a few ideas to get the creative juices flowing.

Get lost. Whether you have your sights set on Florida or Fiji, you need to know your numbers. Figure out an approximate amount you’re planning to spend, including airfare, accommodations and meals cost. And don’t forget excursions or activities you’ll want to try out while you travel. You don’t want to end up in your dream destination only to spend your days eating PB&J in your hotel room.

Try your hand at a dream hobby. Whether you want to raise chickens in your backyard or finally learn to play the electric guitar, it’s probably going to cost you a bit of money. Do a little research on the cost involved so you can pull it off financially. For example, learning a musical instrument involves weekly lessons at the least, along with the price of the instrument. Backyard chickens, on the other hand, involve the price of the chicken coup, feed, and the chicks themselves.

Tie the knot. Weddings mean different things to different people. You might be well above or well below the national average of $33,000. Taking on debt to say “I do” is asking for heartache. Money is mentioned often as a leading cause of fights in a marriage, with some studies suggesting early fights about money could actually be a top predictor for divorce. While creating a goal around a wedding fund doesn’t mean your marriage will be failproof, it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

Save for a house. Repeat after me: you don’t have to buy a house. If local housing markets, your job, or your lifestyle make you better suited to renting, rent as long as you’d like. But if you have your heart set on being a homeowner, it’s time think hard about what a down payment will look like. The larger the down payment you are able to make, the smaller your mortgage will be each month. That means there’s more wiggle room in your budget and less money lost to interest. If you put 20 percent down, you can also dodge private mortgage insurance.

Have enough money to sleep at night. Maybe you don’t want to travel or learn to play the oboe. Fine. Maybe you just want to get out of credit card debt or have some real savings in case you suddenly lose your job or decide to buy a new couch or a new car. Money buys freedom and having some stashed away “just in case” is as good a money goal as any. It’s smart to have three to six months living expenses saved at any given time, so maybe use that as your benchmark.

Do the math

Once you’ve picked a focus, here’s a strategy to check that your goal is actionable and achievable: First, calculate a ballpark amount for the overall cost. Second, divide that amount by 52 if you want a weekly goal or by 12 if you want a monthly goal. If that number doesn’t make sense, consider focusing on a portion of it. You might not save up an entire down payment this year, but having 25 percent of one banked is still going to feel amazing.

Suppose your goal is to spend three months on a solo travel adventure in Southeast Asia. Assuming you’ll spend about $40 per day traveling and need about $1,000 to get there (and back!), plus a few hundred dollars for emergencies, $5,000 is a good estimate of how much you’ll want. If you’re determined to meet this goal in a single year, that works out to saving about $417 a month.

Let’s say on the other hand that you’ve set your sights set on becoming a homeowner. The median sales price of a home in the US was $325,000 in the third quarter of 2018, according to Federal Reserve data. To save $65,000, enough for a traditional mortgage with 20 percent down, you’d need to set aside about $5,400 a month. Gulp.

Give your goal a reality check

A key part of making goals work is being realistic about them. Take the house example. Can you really afford to save more than $5,000 a month for a down payment on a house? For most Americans, the answer is no.

So you’ve got three choices: adjust your goal, adjust your timeframe or find a way to put more money toward your goal. For three months of extended travel, for example, you might decide to save for an extra year to cut the amount you need to save each month in half. Or you might take on a side gig to bring in more cash or move back in with your folks to save money faster.

It helps to get creative when it comes to achieving your goals. If saving $65,000 for a down payment on a home feels impossible, for example, do a little research to find out if you can qualify for low- or no down payment mortgages, such as one from the Federal Housing Administration, which requires as little as a 3.5 percent down payment, or from Veterans Affairs, which requires no down payment.

Once you done all the calculations, you're ready to get started. You’ve picked the perfect goal, and you’ve crunched the numbers. You’re excited about it because it matches your interests, plus you know it’s a good fit because you considered your income, your debt, and a timetable that matches your lifestyle.

yw78v7Amanda BertAnita HamiltonTravelhousedebtmortgageMoney Goals
<![CDATA[Suddenly Making Less Money May Increase Your Risk of Heart Disease—and Death]]>, 07 Jan 2019 22:00:13 +0000A layoff isn’t just tough on your finances. A big drop in earnings, especially in early adulthood, is also associated with dire health problems. Newly published research in the medical journal Circulation found that sudden dips in income in your twenties and early thirties are associated with an increased (nearly two-fold!) risk of cardiovascular diseases and all causes of mortality.

“There are health consequences of income volatility, [even if it’s just] once in your life, and a slew of potential issues,” lead study author Tali Elfassy, an epidemiology professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said in a phone interview.

The study recorded health and income data from 1990 to 2005 for 3,937 people ages 23 to 35 in four U.S. cities. Then it tracked their health for an additional ten years to determine outcomes using medical records and death certificates. It focused on how changes in income, rather than living within a certain income bracket, affects young people. It did not determine that income volatility actually caused the health problems, merely that they were associated with each other. What’s more, because the rate of death in this age group is much lower than it is for older people, even a doubling in mortality rates still only amounts to a fraction of a percentage point or so.

An unhealthy relationship between money and heart disease

Prior research has documented a range of health effects related to financial insecurity. A 2016 study in Psychological Science found that economic insecurity as it relates to employment actually causes physical pain, for example. And household financial debt was linked to decreased mental and physical health in a 2013 study in Social Science & Medicine. “Our findings show that reporting high financial debt relative to available assets is associated with higher perceived stress and depression, worse self-reported general health, and higher diastolic blood pressure,” researchers wrote in the abstract for the study. The mental health associations, meanwhile, range from depression to mood disorders.

This new study, published today, looks specifically at income volatility rather than being in debt or consistently in a low-income bracket. It did so by calculating the percent change in inflation-adjusted income in 1990, 1992, 1995, 2000, and 2005—when participants also received physical exams. It defined high income volatility as a change of more than 52 percent and an income drop as a decrease of 25 percent or more between exam years.

“In the past, there’s been a wealth of literature focused on low income and its negative health consequences. But in those studies, income is typically assessed only once, which is problematic. Income changes, primarily with younger individuals,” Elfassy said.

The study found that participants with the highest income volatility were more likely to have more income drops too. Women and black people were more likely to experiences these events, but they affect people across all socioeconomic backgrounds. About 34 percent of Americans experienced income volatility between 2014 and 2015, according to a survey by Pew Charitable Trusts.

Minimizing the effects of income changes

“When we think of how to maintain a healthy lifestyle, we typically think about having a good diet, not smoking and being physically active. We don’t typically think about the social stressors that can have a huge influence on these health-related behaviors,’” says Elfassy. “I would hope that this study helps build awareness to how large of an impact socioeconomic status, especially income fluctuation, can have on health in general. It needs to be taken seriously.”

Taking income volatility seriously as a health issue can be an important step in preventing an increase in cardiovascular disease and early death. “I can’t say don’t let your income drop, individuals on their own can’t necessarily control it, especially because it’s unpredictable,” Elfassy says, noting that income fluctuations are common and people who experience them should know they’re not alone.

That said, you can take steps to mitigate the effects of unpredicted income drops, like always living below your means, if possible. “If you work in an industry where it's hard to find a stable income, consider trying to set your lifestyle toward the lower end of the spectrum, so you can experience additional income as a bonus, rather than experiencing the lower levels of income as losses,” Elizabeth Dunn, author of Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending, said in an email.

“Having a stable income, even if it’s low, can lead to greater happiness, and living below your means, if possible, can help at least fake stability,” she added.

Follow Melissa Kravitz on Twitter.

zmddjyMelissa KravitzAnita HamiltonHealthmoneydeathWorkjobsincomemoney brain
<![CDATA[How to Do a Zero Dollar Day—And Why You’ll Want to Try It]]>, 04 Jan 2019 16:48:09 +0000Spending an entire day without spending a dollar is the antithesis of American consumer culture. We are so programed to spend little bits of money here and bigger chunks of money there that most of us don’t actually realize how much we spend in any given day. But if you really want to figure out why you’re spending so much—and what triggers you to splurge—there’s no better way to identify your financial weaknesses than by taking a break from spending money altogether.

It's not easy. One of the biggest obstacles to zero spend days is how automatic it is for most of us to part with our money. Whether you’re ordering lunch on Seamless or taking an Uber, it may not even seem like you’re spending money. Our money is sometimes so automated thanks to online banking and apps that you might not even touch cash or credit cards. Yet, you’re still spending.

Sure, there are things you have no choice but to spend on—like rent, transportation, and student loan bills. The class of 2016 left college with an average student loan debt of $39,400 and average monthly payments clocking in at $393. Consumer debt is at an all-time high, with people 35 and under walking around with an average of $5,088 in credit card debt.

But do you know where the rest of your money goes? If not, it’s time for a financial reset. One of the most effective ways to get a good handle on where your money goes is to do a zero dollar day, which means no spending for an entire day.

It sounds impossible if you’ve never tried it. And I can’t lie: it is challenging. But after my first zero spend day, it was obvious to me that not only did I have more money than I thought, I spent a lot more money than I realized. There were so many urges to resist. A stop at Starbucks followed by a trip to the vending machine for a soda before lunch out with a coworker. It all adds up when you cut it out. If you’re ready to see where your money actually goes, here’s how to get started with a zero spend day.

Define your zero

There’s no one way to do a zero dollar day. For some people, this might mean not spending any money. No paying bills, no grocery shopping, no nothing. There will be no transactions hitting your debit or credit card, and you won’t be spending any cash.

For others your focus will be solely on stopping your discretionary spending. If your rent is automated for the first of the month and you do your zero-spend day then, that’s fine. What you won’t do is buy coffee, grab takeout, pick up a new outfit, or stop off for a pedicure. There are no extras and no upgrades.

How to prepare for a zero dollar day

Spend time before the day thinking about your normal spending. This might mean reviewing transactions from past weeks or months, or even simply reflecting on your daily routine. Do you grab coffee each morning? Do you already brown bag your lunch? Do you have a happy hour scheduled with friends? Plan ahead to see how you are going to have to adjust your day.

As you’re thinking about each part of your day, figure out which steps you can take in advance to make it go smoother. This could be as simple as dusting off your coffee maker that hogs all your counter space, buying some cold brew the day before, or prepaying any bills that are coming up so you don’t have to worry about them. You might also want to plan a free get together with friends, whether it’s a bike ride or a clothing swap.

You’ll also want to pick an ideal day of the week. If you spend all Sunday recharging from the week and rarely leave your couch, let alone your apartment, that’s not the best day. Instead, you’ll looking for a day that challenges you to be more aware when and why you spend.

Lastly, figure out how to hold yourself accountable. That might mean recruiting a friend to do a zero spend day with you or using social media to document your day. Or it might be a simple as logging into your banking dashboard in the morning and again that evening for a little reflection. No matter how you do it, you must hold yourself accountable.

What to do on a zero dollar day

To have a successful zero spend day, you want to identify some easy alternatives for your spending habits.

Eating and drinking. Sure, there are the typical standbys. Brew your coffee at home, bring a lunch, throw some snacks in your bag for when you’re out and hunger strikes. But how about this trick? There’s a really good chance you have groceries stashed in your kitchen, no matter how small. Reach to the depths of your freezer, the back of your cabinets, the top of your pantry. You’re likely to find at least a few items that you can use up instead of buying.

Making the day fun. You’re allowed to have a life while doing a no-spend day. If you’re someone who usually spends time out and about, find out what kinds of free events your city hosts, from gallery shows to musical performances. Hit up your local library to grab books and movies, or check out some of the free events that they host. Instead of paying a pricey bar bill, invite your friends and open a bottle of wine you already have.

Get things done. When you’re not spending money, you’ve got all kinds of time to do other things, whether that’s tackling a home repair project you put off or just doing the laundry. You can also explore your local Buy Nothing group or check out Freecycle. Both groups are dedicated to helping you find new and used items that people are looking to rehome at zero cost to you. Everything from jeans and jewelry to baby items and furniture, there’s not much you can’t find in these groups.

Carry emergency money. This is a no spend day. It’s a short commitment. Of course, you could try it out for longer, but there’s no need to freeze your credit cards in a block of ice or hide all of your cash to make this single day work. In fact, you probably want to carry some money on you in case of an emergency. A real emergency. Noticing your favorite retailer is having a 50 percent off sale is not an emergency. But needing to swipe a card for a co-pay at the urgent care or some other unexpected event that needs your immediate attention is a valid reason to spend, and you want to be prepared.

What you get from a zero dollar day

A zero spend day isn’t the Frugality Olympics. The purpose of this isn’t to challenge yourself to see how uncomfortable you can be. This is not a stepping stone to a life that consists of rice and beans seasoned with condiments you pilfered from McDonald’s.

After completing a zero dollar day, you will come away with a better idea of how your individual needs and wants influence your finances. It’s true that a big chunk of your income might go toward student loans or other debt, but your love of shoes could be another budget buster. Or this day might help you realize you don’t need to reach for a pint of Ben & Jerry’s every time it goes on sale; dig to the back of your freezer instead.

Don’t get rid of all your wants. Instead, decide which wants matter most to you. After your no spend day, you’ll have an idea about where to cut back on mindless spending that doesn’t help you or make you happier. It can also help you find easy ways to cut back to reach a bigger savings goal and learn how it feels to compromise short-term pleasure for something that really matters. When you spend in the future, your purchases will start to better align with your priorities. That’s the first step in your financial reset.

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