Free feed for https://free.vice.comenThu, 15 Nov 2018 17:00:29 +0000<![CDATA[I Doubled My Public School Teacher’s Salary in 10 Years]]>, 15 Nov 2018 17:00:29 +0000When you choose a field like education, becoming a high earner can feel impossible. Nationwide, the average pay for a public school teacher was $58,353 in 2016. When I started teaching ten years ago, my salary was around $36,000. Now I make more than twice that much, but it took a big investment in time and continuing education to get there.

To make ends meet, one out of every five teachers works at least one other gig. This is sad, but it isn’t surprising. In recent years, we’ve heard the grim reality of teacher pay amid news of strikes and walkouts and huge teacher shortages. While I’m not worried about making ends meet now, because of the added expenses of starting a family and other financial obligations and goals, my husband (who is also a teacher) and I still side hustle. He coaches on the side while I do freelance writing.

If you think that teaching can only be a labor of love, think again. Sure I love what I do—as a middle school English teacher I help kids better express themselves and connect with the world—but I expect to be paid well too. Today I earn more than the state average of $65,721 in Illinois, where I teach middle school English. It didn’t happen overnight; instead here’s how I more than doubled my salary in a decade.

I went back to school

To make more money, I knew I had to spend it. Namely, I had to go back to school. While some school districts used to subsidize the cost, most teachers are on their own when it comes to continuing education now. That was certainly the case for me.

In order to max my salary schedule, I ended up completing 99 additional credit hours:

  • Spanish endorsement (12 hours - $4,000)
  • Master’s degree in Reading (36 hours - $11,000)
  • English as a Second Language program (18 hours - $6,000)
  • Master’s degree in Curriculum & Instruction (33 hours - $13,000)

Tuition combined for all these programs cost $34,000. Never mind other costs like textbooks and the colossal time commitment. As a result, I started this slow climb to better pay a decade ago, which allowed me to cash flow tuition as I went thanks to support from my husband, sticking to a tight budget, and side hustling the whole way.

If I was going to bear the costs of time and money, I wanted to make sure I optimized my plan. While I had a limited number of approved universities where I could complete my coursework, I comparison shopped costs and timeframes. I also made sure that each class I took and each program I completed addressed a real need in my profession.

By focusing my efforts on learning a second language and deepening my understanding of how to support non-native speakers, I started to develop a skill set that would serve both my specific school population and society as a whole. Additionally, my first master’s was a K-12 program, which partly overlapped with my undergraduate degree, but also unlocked opportunities at other levels. As I finished each program, I was approved for a salary lane change. Little by little, I worked my way over to the highest-paid lane.

By strategically planning my graduate work, I not only qualified for salary increases, but I learned how to better serve my students. This coursework will also offer me a competitive edge if I ever decide to pursue other employment avenues.

I took a (temporary) pay cut

In addition to shelling out a ton of money on continuing education, I also took a pay cut of over $10,000 when I switched schools. I made the decision for two reasons: I had been laid off two years in a row in what’s known as a “reduction in force” and I was thinking long term.

There’s this misconception that no one gets fired in teaching. As someone who was released twice, I can assure you that isn’t true. Even as more teachers leave the profession, there are still gaping holes in school budgets. Reducing staffing and increasing class sizes is one of the easiest—and most problematic—ways to cut costs.

My first school district was floundering financially, and they had implemented a reduction in force two years running. Though I had eventually been recalled and rehired both years, I made the decision to leave. I was young and I loved my coworkers and my students, but I could read the writing on the wall. I sensed things were going to get worse financially in that district before they truly got better.

Still, it was hard and uncertain. It is very easy to tell people to think long term. It is another thing entirely to do it yourself—especially when you are in the middle of a $11,000 graduate program. I still miss that school almost daily all these years later, but I know that I made the right decision for me.

I’m dedicated to the job

Over the past decade, I have absolutely thought long and hard about my salary. But in the end, I’m in it for my students. I make dozens of commitments—from running school-wide SEL programs to hosting holiday events for the community—that come with no pay. I continually put my students first regardless of money.

Staying dedicated keeps me in the classroom. I love the challenges that come from shaping young minds. I get to infuse technology with teaching as I put together lessons that keep kids engaged in literature, writing, and the world around them. No two students are the same, and no two days the same. The exhilaration that comes from this awesome responsibility is constant.

When I give my students my best, I get their best in return. That doesn’t mean it isn’t hard. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t days that seem impossible. But it does mean that in a field that is becoming notorious for burnout and turnovers, I can stay strong.

This article was adapted from a post that originally appeared on She Picks Up Pennies, which you can follow on Twitter and Instagram.

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<![CDATA[Black Friday Special: 11 Ways to Find Inner Calm on the Biggest Shopping Day of the Year ]]>, 14 Nov 2018 17:00:52 +0000The shift from Thanksgiving to Black Friday can be brutal. Hours after gathering with family and friends in gratitude for all that we have, we join the apocalyptic frenzy of Black Friday to battle strangers for the last Instant Pot. And it turns out bargain hunters are no joke, with 10 related deaths and 111 injuries on Black Friday since 2006.

It’s no wonder the number of online shoppers is increasing—why risk your life when you can buy that flat-screen TV from your couch? In 2017, online shoppers spent a record $5 billion on Black Friday while foot traffic to brick and mortar stores saw a slight decrease of less than one percent. This year should be no different with overall holiday shopping sales expected to increase by four percent. And that includes sales on Thanksgiving day, as retailers open their doors on what was once a family holiday in order to drive sales.

If the mass consumerism and sprawl of Black Friday makes you sick, give it the bird and spend your day doing something that doesn’t involve fighting complete strangers at Walmart or logging hours on your laptop buying stuff you don’t need. These 11 anti-Black Friday ideas allow you to make the day your own without spending a single dollar.

Try a free trial of a meditation app

Woman meditating at home Photo by Getty Images / RyanJLane
Photo by Getty Images / RyanJLane

Between office parties and an overdose of family time, the holidays can be stressful. And since Thanksgiving and Black Friday mark the beginning of the holiday season, there’s no better time to add meditation to your daily routine.

You can try a free, seven-day trial of Calm Premium or Aura, but both apps also have limited free content—from meditations to sleep aids—that you can access without being charged. Headspace also offers free meditations, but their 30-day trial will get you through the end of December so you can maintain your center in the midst of the financial and social stresses headed your way.

Get in touch with your creative self

Black Friday is the perfect time to settle in with that short story you’ve been wanting to finish or the Harmonica for Dummies book you’ve been meaning to crack. Even if you’re not artsy, there’s nothing quite like “sticking it to the man” by forgoing Black Friday to brainstorm handmade gift ideas.

Rather than dumping unneeded plastic junk on those you love, spend the day making DIY body scrubs for your friends or getting down the knitting basics in order to make a plush cat for your niece. These coasters made from tiles and scrapbook paper are perfect for new homeowners and this no-knit koozie is the no-brainer, catch-all gift, since anyone who likes coffee and/or beer will can put it to use. (Plus, it repurposes old sweaters.)

Go on a free culture binge

Rather than binging on more crap, take the opportunity to immerse yourself in culture. From the Getty Center in Los Angeles to Washington DC’s National Gallery of Art, there are hundreds of free museums and art galleries across the country. You’re almost guaranteed to experience shorter lines and fewer people as Walmart and Amazon entertain the hoards.

Meal prep using Thanksgiving leftovers

It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without leftovers, but even the biggest turkey sandwich fanatics can’t consume everything. Rather than dumping the remains, spend the day repurposing leftovers into meals you can eat all week.

This recipe for turkey vegetable soup with stuffing dumplings will use up leftover turkey (and the bones!) and make use of that congealed stuffing sitting in your fridge. These potato cakes make use of leftover mashed potatoes and those last spoonfuls of peas and Brussels sprouts.

Make a holiday budget

Consumers are expected to spend more than $1,000 over the holidays on gifts, food, decorations, flowers and greeting cards, according to the National Retail Federation. Many will end up paying off the bill well into 2019. To avoid falling into that camp, come up with a list of everyone you want to get gifts for, then tally up holiday travel costs and little things like hostess gifts. Once you’ve got an idea of how much you’ll likely spend this holiday season, give your savings account a close look to see where you stand.

If you’re going to spend more than you have in your bank account today, reevaluate the importance of that new holiday dress, consider giving homemade gifts, or make a pact with a friend to do something free and fun together like going to a tree lighting or holiday show together instead of exchanging gifts this year. If things are still tight or you need a little cash to buy hot chocolate afterward, find hidden money by finally using those rewards you’ve accumulated on your credit card.

Go look at trees

Whether it’s at a park in the middle of the city or a national park in the middle of nowhere, being in nature leads to improved physical and mental health. Spend the day hiking, walking, or running in your nearest green space. Not only is it free, but it will help you prepare for the stress-inducing, waistline-expanding nature of the holiday season.

Get rid of crap, feel like a boss

You know that to-do list you never actually have time for? Dedicate the day to checking things off the list and let the getting-shit-done high wash over you. Organize your sock drawer, put those loose photos in frames and nail them to the wall, and clean out your closet. If your home is a wreck, dedicate the day to cleaning and decluttering just one room.

Bonus points if you donate unwanted items. Not only could you make someone’s holiday brighter, but you might be entitled to a tax break.

Take a free fitness class

A yoga or Pilates class doesn’t have to cost $18. Google free classes in your city or use our guide to find free activities. Stop by a nearby gym and sign up for a free trial. Anytime Fitness, CorePower Yoga, Pure Barre, and Crunch Fitness all have free one-week trials and offer group classes.

If you can’t find a free class or gym membership in your city, try a free online class like Yoga with Adriene or challenge yourself to one of Kayla Itsine’s free Beachbody workouts.

Use your excess food and day off to do good

Not every family or individual has the good fortune of holiday excess. Rather than consuming and buying things you don’t need, donate your time to a nearby homeless shelter. If nothing else, take those unopened cans of cranberry sauce and corn to your local food bank.

Challenge yourself with a zero-dollar day

If you’re like us and love all things free, this challenge will feel more like fun than a chore. Your mission: Go out and enjoy the day with the intention of spending $0. Bundle up and take a Thanksgiving leftover picnic to the park or walk your city and take in the Black Friday madness from afar. In the evening, do a movie night with friends or hibernate at home and start a free trial of that entertainment streaming service you can’t afford but want to try. (Just remember to cancel it before your trial ends to avoid the monthly charge.)

Binge on holiday movies and music—then start decorating!

Thanksgiving kicks off the holiday season providing the perfect excuse to binge-watch those holiday movies that only feel relevant once a year (think Love Actually, Home Alone, Miracle on 34th Street). If you really want to get after it, stream cheesy holiday music on Spotify and evoke your inner elf by pulling out decorations and creating a holiday card list.

bjengvEvie CarrickAnita HamiltonMusicchristmasfamilyMeditationdebtFreeFitnessThanksgivingyoganatureshoppingmuseumcredit cardsspendingmeal prepfreebiesbudgetingfree classesfree trials
<![CDATA[Don’t Buy This: Never Pay to Check a Bag at the Airport]]>, 13 Nov 2018 19:53:35 +0000Checking bags on an airplane is for tech billionaires and overpacking chumps. Not only does checking your bag mean you have to wait in a line to drop your luggage off with the airline, but then on the other end of the flight you get to wait again. Instead of heading out into the world and starting your vacation already, you have to stand around baggage claim watching other people’s bags slowly snake around the terminal hoping that your bag didn’t get lost somewhere along the way. Between those two life-questioning events, you get to fork over your hard-earned cash to an airline that already charged you an arm and a leg and an elbow or two for your plane ticket.

If that’s not enough reason to skip checking bags, only traveling with carry-on luggage has the extra benefit of giving you flexibility and security if your flight is delayed or cancelled or you are making tight connections in that your belongings are always with you and not tucked in a cargo hold in Tallahassee.

Fees! Fees! Fees!

To add insult to injury, airlines have been steadily raising their checked baggage fees. American, United, Delta, Air Canada, Spirit, Allegiant, WestJet, and JetBlue all charge $30 for the first checked bag and even more cash for the second (most ask $40). Alaska charges $25, which sounds almost reasonable in the context. Of course on Southwest, you can check a bag for free, which is part of the reason Southwest usually ends up on top of consumer satisfaction surveys for low-cost airlines.

Why do baggage fees keep going up? According to one exec, it’s because airlines are passing along the costs of rising fuel prices to consumers. “Fuel prices are up over 33 percent this year,” JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes explained earlier this year. “You end up having to pass those on. We’re about low fares. We hate increasing fares. But we had a couple of fare increases, and then we made the decision to increase the bag fee to $30 if you don’t buy it in the fare.” While most of the airlines ensure that their loyalty members are eligible for free checked bags, if you’re not part of the club, it’s like they don’t want you to check a bag at all—and maybe you should take the hint.

How to pack a carry-on bag

The internet is full of how-to guides for effectively packing a carry-on bag. Seriously, Google it, but most of the articles boil down to this: the trick is just to be brutally realistic about your fashion needs. Outside of swimwear and shorts, if you don’t wear it at home, you’re probably not going to wear it on vacation either. Of course, some of it depends on the nature of your trip. A ski vacation requires bulkier gear, a work trip may require (ugh) suits and heels, while a casual vacation could mean four bikinis and two beach cover ups.

Remember, you never need more than seven days worth of clothing. If your trip is longer than that, just wash your clothes either in the hotel bathroom or have the hotel do it for you. A very fashionable friend went on a two-week African safari with just a carry-on bag, so anything is possible. The trick is to optimize your bag space by packing just the basics and not giving yourself any options. Four shirts, two pairs of pants, a sweater or jacket, underthings, socks, sneakers, one other pair of shoes, travel sized toiletries, and that’s it. Just wear your bulkiest items (boots, hoodies) on the plane and it can be done.

The downside to not checking a bag

The only downside to only traveling with carry-on is that you can’t bring a case of wine home with you as a souvenir. It’s strangely difficult to ship wine, beer, or other spirits, unfortunately. Thanks to some lingering effects of Prohibition, you can’t do it at all through the U.S. Postal Service. For the same reason, it’s also tricky through UPS and FedEx. According to the travel pros at Fodor’s the best way to ship wine home is by… checking a bag.

How to work the system

If you enjoy finding new ways to stick it to the man, there are ways to avoid the checked baggage fee. For starters, find a bag that is perhaps slightly too large for the overhead compartment. Less the steamer trunk your grandparents carried over from the homeland, more a roller bag that is larger than the carry-on standard of 14 x 22 inches (simply stuffing it until it bulges will usually do the trick, too). Tote the bag through security and let the gate agent get a good gander at it or wait until you’re on the plane blocking up the aisle trying to shoe-horn your too large suitcase into the compartment. Usually at that point a crew member will roll their eyes and suggest they tag your bag and leave it on the jet bridge—no charge, of course.

Similarly, as more people eschew checking bags and more people carry them on, overhead bins tend to fill up quickly. Some airlines try to nip this problem in the bud in the boarding area by offering to check bags for free. Listen for announcements in the gate area before your flight or ask the gate agent if they will let you gate check your bag. If they say no, wait to board the plane until the last minute to ensure the overhead bin space is full. Board the plane, look around for a place to stick your bag, and if you can’t find one, the flight attendant will check it for you free of charge. While you’ll still have to wait at baggage claim, you won’t have to elbow for overhead bin space, and you can save the $30 to spend on a bag of potato chips on the plane.

On the flip side, if you’re really determined not to check your carry-on bag, a writer for Inc. suggests telling the flight crew that you’re carrying something expensive and/or breakable like camera equipment or expensive electronics. Airlines won’t want to risk the cost of breaking something pricey and will usually let you keep the item as carry on.

The right bag

Domestic airlines like American, Delta, and United set the standard carry-on bag dimensions at around 22 inches tall, 14 inches wide, and 9 inches deep. Though these size restrictions are not always enforced, sometimes they are, so it’s best to be prepared.

It gets tricky though when you’re flying internationally. Many of the European airlines require checking any bag that is larger than, say, the average Cheesecake Factory salad, particularly if you buy one of the cheaper class tickets or fly a low-cost carrier. (Business and First Class passengers can put 50 pounds of gold bullion in an overhead bin and no one will blink.)

Low-cost European carriers like Ryanair set the carry on limit at 21 inches x 15 inches x 7 inches and frequently limit economy passengers to one-piece of carry on and that includes your purse or laptop bag. Other airlines also require checking bags that weigh more than 8 or 10 kgs (or 17 or 22 lbs), which requires expert level carry-on packing. That includes airlines like Norwegian, Finnair, SAS, and WOW, which means that you either need to either take a page out of this hero’s book and wear all your clothing, pack next to nothing and buy new underwear when you arrive, or just suck it up and pay to check the bag.

Follow Melissa Locker on Twitter.

d3bvkaMelissa LockerAnita Hamiltontravelwinebeeralcoholairportclothingflightbaggageunited airlinesJetBlue AirwaysspendingSouthwest AirlinesAirlineAlaska Airlines
<![CDATA[How One-Way Friendships Leave You Broke]]>, 09 Nov 2018 17:47:23 +0000Getting ahead financially is hard work. It’s even more difficult when you’re bound by the unwritten rule to “lift while you climb.” Whether you’re the first among your friends to move out of the old neighborhood or earn a high income, the expectation to “spread the love” is the same. But the line between supporting friends and enabling one-way relationships can be blurry, particularly if money is involved.

When an unfair financial burden is consistently placed on one person in a friendship, it can lead to some awkward moments and make the friend covering the cost feel taken advantage of. If you’ve ever been stuck holding a bill after a birthday dinner, felt the pressure to upgrade a travel experience for a group, or had a personal loan to a friend not be paid back because “you got it” then you know exactly what I’m talking about.

How a $250 “loan” ate way at a friendship

In one case, I had a friend who needed $250 to pay an unexpected bill, and agreed to pay me back in a few weeks. Since I was on relatively solid financial ground with a steady job, an emergency fund, and no debt, I was more than happy to swing by the ATM with him to make this problem disappear. But after a few weeks, it was clear he re-classified the loan as a gift.

To make matters worse, we continued to see one another on a regular basis, and he never thought to mention repaying me or to provide an explanation for why he wouldn’t be able to. It didn’t help that he was a flashy guy and always had a story to tell about his wild nights at clubs. While I could’ve expressed my disappointment to him, I decided to let it slide, telling myself that our friendship was worth more than $250. But while I was able to avoid the confrontation, as time passed, I couldn’t help but to feel duped. Naturally, our friendship faded and he became someone I would only hang out with in a group, but no longer part of my trusted circle.

Don’t let guilt rule your money choices

The range of these experiences vary widely from the heavy-handed friend who consistently over pours out of a shared bottle or the couch-surfing friend who consistently breaks apartment leases. As the friend that’s “doing well” if you’re not careful, the guilt of your success can cause an unhealthy sense of responsibility to clean up messes others have made. If left unchecked, this imbalance can lead to exhaustion, resentment and unnecessary stress.

That’s why it’s important to acknowledge three things when standing at the intersection of money and friendship. First, knowing that personal loans to people may never be paid back. If you can’t accept losing that money entirely, then you’re really not in a position to give. Second, casual handshake agreements and high expectations don’t mix. There’s a big difference between “I got you” and “I expect to be paid back in cash before the first of the month when my mortgage is due.” Using clear language instead of verbal shorthand sets a more serious tone and increases the likelihood of payback.

Lastly, be mindful of friends who feel entitled to your money. Behaviors like breaking promises, excessive mooching, and disregard of the damage caused by their negligence are all signs of deeper issues that are likely impacting more than just their bank account. The true value of a friendship can’t be quantified in dollars. But if you find yourself constantly spending more than your fair share to cover the cost of a friendship, it may be time to re-evaluate just how much that friendship means to you.

There is nothing wrong with showing the crew love, so long as it’s done in a way that doesn’t neglect your own needs. Besides, an integral part of a friendship is acknowledging and respecting boundaries. If you and a friend can’t come to an agreement on that fundamental principle, then maybe you two weren’t meant to be.

Follow Julien Saunders on Twitter.

9k4wgdJulien SaundersAnita HamiltonmoneyrelationshipsFRIENDSSuccessmoney brainpersonal loan
<![CDATA[Most Money Advice Is Worthless When You’re Poor]]>, 08 Nov 2018 18:07:08 +0000For the entirety of my working life, I’ve been poor. I currently make sandwiches for a living and my last job was making smoothies. Before that, it was washing dishes. Even though I went to college—following that myth that a degree is a career guarantee—some might say I was destined to be poor: I was a latchkey kid raised by a single, working-class mother who moved us all over California, jumping from apartment to apartment to trailer in the middle of the desert. My only source of nutrition was the free lunch program at school.

Now, I’m on Medicaid. Last year I worked as much as 60 hours a week split between two part-time food service jobs just to make ends meet. Alongside those jobs, I worked side gigs when I could get them. I made about $23,000. It sucks enormous chunks.

Sometime last year, I started frequently googling “why am I poor” and “how do I stop being poor.” Every result insisted the problem is I go out too much (I don’t go out, I’m too tired), I don’t have a savings account (I don’t have enough kick around cash to open a savings account), or I’m not planning my money right (I plan to pay my rent and then cry in a corner until my next paycheck, does that count?).

According to popular thinking, if you’re poor, it’s your fault and therefore your responsibility to fix things. It’s not your employer paying you less than a living wage. Or your local officials approving the building of luxury condos in your neighborhood. It’s not the skyrocketing cost of living. It’s not anti-union efforts across the country’s largest companies. No, dear sandwich maker. The reason you’re broke is because you decided to buy yourself a latte between 16-hour workdays. Shame on you.

Here’s the thing: Not only is it okay to spend on yourself, but for low-income people, it’s an entirely normal coping mechanism.

“Poor person brain” explained

If you’re among the 39.7 million Americans living in poverty or the millions more who struggle to make ends meet, the real reason you’re bad at saving or you feel you’re spending too much on non-essentials is something I call “poor person brain.”

Allow me to elaborate. “Poor person brain” is when you’re just about out of your mind stressed about how you don’t have enough to get by. Despite the fact that I currently have $45.90 in my bank account to last through next week, it’s not uncommon to treat myself to a burger after a particularly grueling week. It’s a habit that I see both as an egregious failure to save my money and as a necessary expenditure to find the will to keep grinding away.

Ne-Yo puts it best in his song “Time of Our Lives”:

I knew my rent was gon' be late bout a week ago
I worked my ass off, but I still can't pay it though
But I got just enough
To get off in this club
Have me a good time, before my time is up

Boy, those lyrics cut deep.

Why short-term thinking makes sense when you’re poor

I recently spoke with Linda Tirado, who wrote Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America, which details her experiences with (and misconceptions about) low-income life. Trying to align with the standard expectation of how to interact with your money when you’re low income, she tells me, is useless: “You are adapting to your circumstances, thinking in the short term. It would be maladaptive for a low wage worker to set even middle class financial goals. It doesn’t make sense to maintain a savings account if you can’t pay your rent.” Lots of recent research on the topic backs her viewpoint.

As Tirado explains, "if you’re working low wages, the whole concept of saving and investing goes away because you don’t have the luxury of that long term; it’s hypothetical.”

I often ask myself: how come I’m working all the time, my body is breaking down, I’ve cut and tightened every way I can think of, and despite how much I’m sacrificing, I still can’t manage to make rent? It’s at this point that poor person brain blossoms: I’m still going to struggle whether or not I buy a bag of chips, so I might as well buy the chips. As Tirado puts it, “there’s no reason to put anything off for the long term if there is no long term that will be better than today.”

Buy the chips. Have you a good time, before your time is up. The immediate necessity for psychological survival negates the bogus narrative that you just have to work harder, and it’ll get better when you know it won’t.

The way I see it, being poor is like having cancer: You can’t bootstrap your way out of having cancer. You can seek medical assistance to fight the cancer (Medicaid). You can seek spiritual guidance to give you mental fortitude to power through the cancer (Jack In the Box two for $1 tacos, a manicure, seeing a movie). You can get surgery and radiation to remove the cancer (loans). But ultimately, you have still had cancer, there’s no guarantee it won’t come back, and your efforts to fight through it have permanently altered your genetic code and brain structure.

Most financial advice is for middle class people who make bad choices

I’m just going to say it: All the financial advice out there tells us the only way to resolve our financial pressures is by following specific guidelines because all that advice is founded on a homogenized perspective that appeals predominantly to a shrinking middle class.

If you’re not low income, you have more wiggle room to be less stringent about how you use your money. Maybe you buy a new iPhone every year. Maybe you take a vacation that temporarily puts you in credit card debt. Maybe you don’t have a separate savings account because staring at all those sweet, sweet zeroes in your checking account gets you hot. And so, the financial advice is geared toward the financially stable who make bad financial choices, like investing in bitcoin this year or getting bangs after a breakup.

Meanwhile, these guidelines reinforce negative stereotypes about low-income people and inspire heaps of criticism for those who inherently can’t follow them: You’re living in poverty because you sometimes buy snacks. You’re on the verge of eviction because you, minimum wage worker, simply aren’t trying hard enough. As if trying harder is what cures cancer.

And with that, maybe the best financial advice for those struggling is none at all. You know your finances better than anyone, because you’re constantly fighting against income that’s not commensurate with how much work you do. You know what you need to do to survive until next week. And you know the difference between buying to survive and splurging to purge what could be saved.

Go ahead, buy that bag of fries

Maybe the best thing we poor person brainers can do is embrace it. Embrace your financial woes, regain the autonomy that the status quo thinks we don’t deserve, if only to spite those who think we are less than for having less than. I’m poor and I like doing face masks to cheer myself up. I’m poor and I like to eat a meal I didn’t have to make when I’m too tired to keep going. Bite me.

If you’re poor, take a day off every few months and use it to heal and recharge. If a huge bag of McDonald’s fries is what’ll give you a mental tuneup to keep going, to push back, you go to McDonald’s, buy that unhealthy, greasy fast food, and you chow down on those bad boys with pride. You know how much money you have. You know how you’re spending it. Own your need to survive. Turn it into a decision to live for right now and laugh. Laugh loudly, with your mouth full of fries, at anyone who tries to criticize you for it.

Follow Talia Jane on Twitter.

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<![CDATA[How to Find a Dentist You Can Actually Afford]]>, 07 Nov 2018 17:32:15 +0000Americans aren’t going to the dentist, and it’s not just because we hate the drills. According to a 2016 Kaiser study, a third of Americans hadn’t seen a dentist in the previous year. Two out of five said they skip regular visits due to cost, according to a 2014 Harris poll for the American Dental Association.

The need is out there, but unfortunately many Americans can’t afford it. Prices for procedures vary widely depending on where you live, with a basic adult dental cleaning averaging just $95 in Des Moines, Iowa versus $205 in New York City, according to the Fair Health cost lookup site, which estimates prices based on your zipcode. Nationwide, a filling can cost anywhere from $145 to $205, while root canals range from $765 to $1075, according to a 2018 survey of 1,688 dentists conducted by the American Dental Association.

Even if you have dental insurance, you’re likely paying $168 to $384 annually in premiums, according to data from the National Association of Dental Plans, with the annual dollar amount the insurance company will shell out capped at $1000 to $2000 before you’re on your own.

It’s a grim financial landscape, but you shouldn’t have to choose between keeping your teeth and saving your bank account. What's more, oral health is closely tied to general wellness. “As long as you have more regular dental care, you end up with less dental disease and better oral health, which contributes to better overall health,” said Dr. David Preble, Senior Vice President of the Practice Institute at the American Dental Association.

To find out how to get dental care you can actually afford, I spoke to dentists, health advocates, and patients alike. Here’s what I learned:

Max out free care with insurance

If you work for a company that provides health insurance, chances are they offer dental coverage as well. But that doesn’t mean you can just go to any dentist and expect the bill to be covered. Before making an appointment, call the dentist office and ask if they participate in your dental network, then double check with your insurer.

Biannual cleanings are typically covered at no extra charge or with a small copay. If you need a more expensive procedure, however, you may bump up against your plan’s maximum, which means you’ll have to pay out of pocket for the rest. (If you have a health savings account or flexible spending account, however, you can pay the balance using pretax dollars.) To avoid any surprise bills, never agree to a procedure until you understand exactly how much you will be billed.

If you qualify for Medicaid, most states offer emergency services and basic diagnostic and preventative services like x-rays and cleanings. You can also usually get minor restorative procedures costing under $1,000 per person annually. But only 19 states offer more extensive, non-emergency services costing more than $1,000, according to July 2018 data from the Center for Health Care Strategies.

Help a dental student earn their degree

Another great option if you're not in a rush is to seek out a dental school. "Services are performed by dental students, under the supervision of practicing dentists, for a fraction of the cost of a typical cleaning and x-rays,” says Dr. Alexander George, a dentist in San Diego.

For example, New York City College of Technology, a City University of New York school that trains dental hygienists, offers cleanings for $20. The downside is, it takes a long time, with appointments lasting for approximately three hours. At New York University’s dental clinic, an initial appointment including an examination and treatment plan will cost approximately $120 and requires a similar time investment. To find a dental school offering discounted care in your area, just search on the name of a university near you, like the University of Pittsburgh, A.T. Still University in Mesa, Arizona, or the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Laura Pisoni, a graduate student in religion who uses NYU’s Dental School clinic for crowns, says the extra time involved is worth it. Although she has dental insurance through her school, it’s not enough to cover the price of multiple crowns; the lowest quote she got from other dentists was $800 per crown, and that was after a $1,000 root canal. “I’m saving a few hundred dollars per crown,” she says. Appointments take 45 minutes to two hours, and she’s had to go four times. “There is a dental professor who oversees the work, but the student who is seeing me is extremely competent.”

Do the math on discount plans

Some dentists aim to lower costs for patients by offering membership plans that come with an annual fee ranging anywhere from $75 to $150 in exchange for discounts of 10 to 60 percent on cleanings, x-rays, root canals, crowns, fillings, and teeth whitening.

If you don’t have dental insurance or have maxed out your in-plan benefits, these plans can save you money. But before you sign up, do the math to make sure it’s the right choice for your specific dental needs. If you only go once or twice a year for a cleaning, the plans could actually wind up costing you more than paying out of pocket. For example, if you pay $100 up front and only get 10 percent off two annual cleanings worth $100 each, you’ll actually wind up paying $80 more than you would without the “discount.”

Talk to your dentist

If insurance won’t cover the cost of dental work, it’s wise to be upfront with your dentist about what you can afford and negotiate based on that. “If you max out [on insurance] my advice is to talk with the dental office and see if they are willing to do a payment plan,” said Dr. Zara Omar, a dentist in private practice in New York City. “Maybe the office is willing to barter services—you won’t know until you ask.”

You’re more likely to have success with this approach with a dentist you’ve already seen regularly: “For my own patients with whom I have a relationship, I will offer a discount or a payment plan or find some other accommodation,” said Dr. Beth Caunitz, a dentist in New York City. “I feel that this is part of the dentist-patient relationship.”

Get to know a non-profit

When all else fails, consider looking into government-funded or non-profit organizations offering free or low-cost dental care. This directory from NeedyMeds lists nearly 4,000 low-cost dental clinics across the country. Here are three other options worth checking out:

Community-based health care providers (known as federally qualified health centers) receive federal funding to provide low-cost primary care and dental care to underserved communities. You can use this directory to search by zip code.

Donated care, which you can find by contacting local dental societies, the local and state chapters of the American Dental Association, and Dental Lifeline Network, which provides donated services to seniors, disabled Americans, and others with complex medical needs.

Mission of Mercy, a non-profit organization operating in Arizona, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Texas, that offers free fillings, x-rays, and extractions. The group’s mobile clinics serve “the folks who are falling through the cracks of the healthcare system,” Executive Director Linda Ryan said.

Follow Ilana Novick on Twitter.

pa5ygzIlana NovickAnita HamiltonHealthmoneyfillingDentistteeth whiteningroot canalsdental caremedical billsMoney Goalsdental schools
<![CDATA[I Conquered My Debt to Hike the Pacific Crest Trail]]>, 06 Nov 2018 18:41:39 +0000$20,000 in debt a few years ago, I decided to walk the entire length of the United States along the Pacific Crest Trail. I hadn’t hiked longer than a weekend, I was out of breath on the uphill to my apartment, but the idea of crossing an entire country on foot captured me. I had always thought that long term travel was only possible for trust fund babies or retirees, but this idea kept pestering me, and I knew I would always regret it if I didn’t try.

I just had to find the money to do it.

The Pacific Crest Trail is a 2,650-mile hiking path that extends from the California desert near the Mexico border to the Northern Cascades of Canada, traversing all of California, Oregon and Washington along the way. The trail was made famous in the 2012 Cheryl Strayed book Wild that was later adapted into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon.

The average hiker completes this journey in five months. More than two thirds of the people who start this trail do not finish due to quitting, injury, or running out of money. It’s no walk in the park either: The elevation loss and gain is equivalent to climbing Mt Everest approximately 16 times. What’s more there are less than 90 recorded people who have hiked this trail twice, including me.

At the time I was a 25-year-old with a modest position in a boring customer service job in Wellington, New Zealand (aka the birthplace of Lord of The Rings) making around $30,000 a year. This was, admittedly, incredible money to this former cafe worker who never went to college. My days were spent in front of a computer, answering phones and being yelled at by Chardonnay drinkers who “want to speak to [my] manager.”

Thru hiking was to be my salvation from the corporate world I never felt a part of, from the never ending Dolly Parton song, from the feeling that in 30 years I’ll still be in the lunchroom hearing about Karen’s renovations to the spare room. In the 18 months leading up to the trail every single excess cent from my monthly paycheck was hurled toward debt I had racked up from an online clothing business I started that ended up costing me more than I made.

The day I realized that instead of counting down, my bank account was counting up. I screamed, I cried, and I did that thing where people cut their credit cards up, but my scissors were too blunt to work (good scissors are expensive). The symbolism didn’t matter. I was debt free.

Then I did it. I quit my job, and after three months of twice-weekly, half-hearted trail running I hiked the entire trail in four months. I relied on the kindness of strangers who picked up this filthy hitchhiker when I was desperate to get into town. I crossed South East Asia on a bicycle and walked the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. The only problem was, when I came back home a year later later I was broke, unemployed and desperate to for the chance to walk the trail again. I wanted to go back to the place that not only made me feel physically and mentally strong, but surrounded me with a community that didn't want to settle for a traditional life either.

My first hike, in 2017, cost me upwards of $6,000. I failed to track detailed expenses on that hike as to where that money all went and to be honest I was far too busy being swept away in the excitement of a thru-hike to care. The second time I made a vow to track my spending habits to better gauge how much I would need for long term travel in the future.

How I saved $10,000 in 11 months to hike the Pacific Crest Trail

I only needed $4,500 to do the hike itself, but I saved more than twice what I needed as a buffer and for extra travel around the United States afterward. I also wanted some time after trail to decompress as being thrust back into "normal" life can be very jarring. Here’s how I did it:

Live with three roommates: For $400 a month I split a room with my partner at the time in an old, tiny, shared house on the edge of the city. It was drafty, cold and damp (like most housing in this part of the country), but the cost of an extra sweater and a dehumidifier was worth the extra $500 per month I saved this way. Especially when $900 a month would only get me the most basic studio apartment here.

Cut grocery bills: Food was the biggest expense that I could save on after rent. The solution is easy: make 90 percent of meals at home from scratch, brew your own coffee and take leftovers to work so you can eat them in front of Karen while your eyes glaze over.

Stop buying garbage: I knew I wasn’t going to be thankful for buying that pricey aromatherapy diffuser while I was sleeping under the Milky Way halfway across the world. Just stop. You don’t need it. Make it even easier for yourself and just don’t go into the seductive homeware store in the first place.

Take on odd jobs: There are only so many corners you can cut before you are sidling from frugal into just being that one cheap “I left my wallet at home” friend (screw you, Tom). Side hustle income is money you haven’t accounted for yet. I used my rusty acting skills to be a “real” patient for doctors in training. Yes I had to pretend I had chlamydia, yes some of the doctors didn’t realize I was just acting, and no I didn’t get any propositions for a date after.

How I spent the $4,500 I needed for the hike itself

Thru-hiking costs on the trail were simple. I used the same minimalist gear set up as the first time. I also got better at impulse control the second time I hiked the trail. It was a little easier to know when I was actually exhausted to the point of needing something like an extra night in a hotel room or a warm meal at a restaurant vs just being tired and making bad decisions. Making it easy for the four months I spent on trail to be broken down into:

Travel and travel Insurance: $1,280
The roundtrip flight from New Zealand to Los Angeles set me back $750 and finding insurance that would cover me at 10,000 feet elevation in case of a medical emergency cost another $530. As it worked out, fate made sure that a nasty fall on trail in Northern California had me in the emergency room needing nine stitches, so no one can say I didn’t make the most of my money.

Food on trail: $1,300
Food. Commonly the most expensive part of a long distance hike and easily my favorite part of thru-hiking. I spent an average of $12 per day just on food to eat while I hiked. I chose to only send myself a few boxes along the trail to ensure that I wouldn’t get tired of what I was eating. I still gag at the sight of a Fig Newton.

Ayesha Cording care package PCT trail 2018 hike
That's me holding a care package I sent to myself. Sometimes friends sent me things too.

A few times I got lucky and received a care package from a hiker friend. A big bag of chocolate covered espresso beans, conditioner and q-tips almost had the postal clerk needing to check my pulse. It’s the simple things that get you after that long in the woods.

Gear and replacement gear: $480
This included replacement trail running sneakers (hiking boots are dead), a new inflatable sleeping pad and a water filter. Other gear I already had included a backpack, tent, sleeping bag, portable battery and trekking poles.

Town expenses (hotel rooms/food/booze/laundry): $1,200
Town is for splitting a hotel room with as many other hikers as possible, eating pints of ice-cream at 10am and staining the hotel sheets with your dirt-caked legs (even though you scrubbed them for half an hour in the shower. Each). I would stay in a hotel room around once a week and splitting it between four hikers would cost $20-30 each.

Subscriptions (music and audiobooks) and phone plan: $240
Sometimes I need club bangers to get me to the top of the hill.

What I will always remember

There are ways I could have made my hike even cheaper; such as better utilizing the network of “trail angels” —kind people who like to help out hikers—spending less time in town or eating the mystery ziplock of white powder that dominates every hiker donation box along the trail.

The reality is you won’t remember the couple of extra dollars you spend washing your clothes in town, you won’t remember when in the space of 24 hours you tripped over a rock, twisted your ankle, shit your pants and then got your period (those were dark times). But I will always remember the summer I spent walking the Pacific Crest Trail, simply living, feeling alive and experiencing a place where for once in my adult life my time could not be bought.

The trail forced me to live in that very moment instead of inside my head. It showed me that life doesn’t have to be this big heavy thing that we must navigate alone. It reminded me that the childlike hunger to explore the world around us still exists, even if the world has tried to “adult” it out of us. I felt more in the four months I was on the trail than I had in the 20-plus years that came before it—exhausted, scared, elated, courageous and finally just thankful. Thankful for every single moment, thankful for each financial sacrifice I made that brought me there and finally thankful that I had the somewhat mystical foresight to pack a spare pair of underpants.

You don’t pay for what the trail gives you. You just do what you have to do to get there.

439yyjAyesha CordingAnita HamiltontravelmoneyFOODmexicowildCaliforniaCanadaWashingtonhikingdebtOregonNEW ZEALANDCheryl StrayedReese Witherspooncustomer serviceoutdoorslife goalsPacific Crest Trailsavingtravel insurancetrail runners
<![CDATA[Five Badass Homes for $15,000 and Up for People Who Refuse to Pay Mortgages]]>, 05 Nov 2018 19:36:58 +0000If the thought of ever scraping together enough money for a down payment on a home seems out of reach, what with record high home prices and big student loan bills, you might be glad to know that you can own a piece of the American Dream for much less than the $275,000 current average list price for a traditional home. You just have to get a bit more creative with your idea of home.

From decked out RVs to minimalist tiny houses, you’ve got lots of options that come in well under $50,000. But since these are all alternatives to traditional homes, in most cases you’re on your own when it comes to figuring out where to put them. While you can hypothetically park an RV anywhere, for example, you’re going to need to rely on some kind of a power and waste hookup, which can cost an average of $1,000 a month (unless you set up solar and empty your own sewer tanks). And if you opt for a container home or yurt, you’ll need to buy a piece of land to put it on unless you have a really good friend with a giant backyard. You’ll also need to figure out your city’s zoning and building codes to make sure you can even put a yurt in the backyard.

Yurt living on the Big Island in Hawaii.
Get a yurt already. Photo by Getty Images / Greg Elms

You’ll also need to get used to living in a pretty small space. If you opt for #vanlife or a towable tiny home, for example, you’ll need to make do with around 200 square feet. Some spaces provide up to 500 square feet, but you’ll still need to either purge your book collection and outdoor gear or pay for the dreaded storage unit.

If you're committed to owning a home on the cheap without having to spend decades of your life paying a mortgage, here are five of your best bets for owning an alternative home:

Tiny houses

Average cost: $23,000 (DIY), $59,884 (pro built)
Pros: Transportable and environmentally conscious
Cons: You need a vehicle with the ability to transport the home and a trailer with adequate break

Tiny homes are typically smaller than 500 feet and have enough room for a tiny kitchen, bathroom, and a lofted queen-sized bed, but not much else. While most are on wheels, others can be built on solid ground if you can get a permit for them.

Rebecca Doll built her own tiny house on a rural piece of land owned by a friend in Ridgway, Colorado. “[It] allowed me to build something that was mine, learn carpentry, save up money in the long run, pay for a yoga teacher training course, and spend time road-tripping to see my friends all over the West,” she says. “What would have been the cost of living went toward actually living.”

With a down payment of $2,523 and a monthly payment of well under $500, you can get a basic pro built tiny home, or you can get started building your own with this newbie checklist and building course.


Average cost: $25,000
Pros: Cheap, customizable, and quick to build
Cons: You need to build a platform, which costs at least $2,000, and replace the yurt cover at least once every 15 years. You’ll also need land—either yours or a friends—with building codes that allow for yurts.

Inspired by the portable homes used by nomads in Central Asia for thousands of years, the modern-day yurt is a round, heavy-duty tent with anywhere from 115 to 700 square feet of living space. While the word “tent” may procure images of a nylon camping tent, yurts are built to withstand winds of up to 105 mph and heavy snow loads.

Yurts are completely customizable—think skylights, decks, fabric color—and can be set up in a single day. Interior walls and lofts are often added in to break up the one-room space and provide privacy for the bedroom and bathroom.

Companies like Colorado Yurt Company provide customers with everything from floor plan examples to yurt installation services, while also supplying free information for DIYers.

Container homes

Average cost: $20,000 (DIY), $45,000 (pro built)
Pros: Reuses out-of-service containers and provides an instant structure for a build time that is 30 percent faster than a conventional build
Cons: You'll be living in as little as 160 square feet, will need to put down a foundation, and figure out how to keep the metal structure from getting too hot or cold

A container home is made from one or more shipping containers, often used like building blocks to create a multi-bedroom home. On average, a shipping container costs $2,000, which is hard to beat when you consider the cost of building a similarly sized structure from the ground up. The two standard sizes are 20 feet by 8 feet (which works out to 160 square feet of living space) or 40 feet by 8 feet (or 320 square feet).

Crystal Glynn and her fiance Matt Sandoval recently built their own container home in Colorado with the hopes of selling it and using the profit to build a traditional house. “We did it because we wanted to ideally save money and not pay someone else’s mortgage,” says Glynn, who’s been living in the container home for six months. “It changed my idea of what’s valuable in my life. I’ve really cut down on spending because I don’t have anywhere to put things.”

These tips from expert container home builders will get you started while this $75 course can help fill in any gaps.

RVs and campers

Average cost: $15,000 for a used EuroVan to $58,000 for a Class A RV
Pros: Complete freedom to travel when and where you want and no utility bills
Cons: The more you drive and the larger your rig, the more you pay in gas. Overnight camping with sewer, water, and electric can be expensive while setting up your own solar and emptying your own sewage can be a pain.

From VW EuroVans to Airstreams to buses, this alternative home trend is likely the most affordable and easily the most mobile. Your home is what you make it; you can go high-end with a Class A, souped-up Winnebago or go the minimal route with a van sans bathroom.

There are no utility bills, but depending on how often you travel, your gas bill will skyrocket since RVs typically get just 10 to 20 miles per gallon. The trick with a home on wheels is finding safe, overnight parking and either a utility hookup or full-service bathrooms. KOA’s RV parks are located across the country and provide a full hookup, while Boondockers Welcome—the couch surfing of the RV community—connects travelers with locals who allow campers to park on their property.

Housing co-ops

Average cost: $150,000
Pros: You'll get more space than other alternative housing options, a large down payment isn’t always needed, and monthly payments are fixed
Cons: Finding an affordable option isn’t easy if you’re not considered low income

The setups of housing co-ops can vary, but the general idea is that instead of buying a home or apartment, you buy shares, which entitle you to a partial ownership in the organization. In co-ops, participants often share the cost of maintenance and amenities, so rather than paying rent or mortgage, members pay a monthly fee to cover their share of expenses (mortgage, property taxes, maintenance costs, insurance premiums, utilities).

While some co-ops are just as expensive as buying a house, affordable options exist and are typically referred to as limited-equity co-ops. Detroit’s Blackstone Manor Cooperative serves low-income buyers who pay as little as $3,830 to buy a share, and under $430 a month to cover carrying charges. Using a more upfront pay structure, Wild Sage Cohousing’s affordable units in Boulder, Colorado were priced as low as $157,000 for a 3-bedroom with HOA dues varying by square footage. In Washington D.C., a 1-bedroom in Capitol Manor is going for $150,000.

National Association of Housing Cooperatives has a complete list of co-ops, the 6th Principle Coalition lists only limited-equity options, and the Partnerships for Affordable Cohousing provides information on previous and upcoming cohousing projects.

mbyq4qEvie CarrickAnita HamiltonmoneyhouseRVcost of livingCooppersonal financecamperyurtMoney GoalsTiny Housecontainer home
<![CDATA[81 Stores That Are Doing Us All a Favor by Staying Closed on Thanksgiving]]>, 02 Nov 2018 14:26:23 +0000While you were enjoying your Halloween sugar high, retailers were busy gearing up for what they hope will be your holiday shopping high later this month. Black Friday isn't until Friday, November 23, but many stores just can't resist starting early. Walmart launched its "early access pass" in October on everything from Instant Pots to QLED TVs, while Sam's Club is having a pre-Black Friday sale on November 10, and Kohl's Black Friday deals start Monday, November 19.

What's more, dozens of stores open their doors on Thanksgiving—as early as 6AM at Meijer—to help juice sales over the long weekend. (Best Buy, Macy's, Old Navy, and Ulta Beauty will all be open on Thanksgiving too.) But If your idea of a good holiday doesn't involve fighting over a cheap TV or a $2 pair of socks with a stranger, you may be glad to know that at last count, according to the sites The Black Friday and Best Black Friday, more than twice as many big retailers are staying closed instead of opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day, which falls on Thursday, November 22.

That's a good thing. Because unless you are giving gifts to dozens of people this year, the smartest way to save is by making a list and setting a holiday spending budget, instead of just walking into a store and buying whatever strikes your fancy. You can also save by doing someone a favor, baking them cookies, giving them a vintage item you find at a thrift store, or inviting them over for dinner instead of getting them more stuff they'll probably wind up returning—or regifting—anyway.

Thanksgiving 2018 Stores Closed

With that in mind, here's FREE's shout out to all the big chain stores staying closed on Thanksgiving:

  • A.C. Moore
  • Abt Electronics
  • Academy Sports + Outdoors
  • Ace Hardware
  • Acme Tools
  • Allen Edmonds
  • American Girl
  • At Home
  • Barnes & Noble
  • Bed Bath & Beyond
  • Big 5 Sporting Goods
  • BJ’s Wholesale Club
  • Blain’s Farm & Fleet
  • Bob’s Discount Furniture
  • Burlington
  • Campmor
  • Christmas Tree Shops
  • Christopher & Banks
  • Cost Plus World Market
  • Costco
  • Craft Warehouse
  • Crate & Barrel
  • Dillard’s
  • DSW (Designer Shoe Warehouse)
  • El Dorado Furniture
  • Fleet Farm
  • Fred Meyer
  • Gardner-White Furniture
  • Guitar Center
  • H&M
  • Half Price Books
  • Harbor Freight Tools
  • HEB Stores
  • Hobby Lobby
  • Home Depot
  • HomeGoods
  • Homesense
  • Ikea
  • Joann
  • Jos A. Bank
  • Lamps Plus
  • La-Z-Boy
  • Lowe’s
  • Marshalls
  • Mattress Firm
  • Menards
  • Micro Center
  • Mills Fleet Farm
  • Music & Arts
  • Nebraska Furniture Mart
  • Neiman Marcus
  • Nordstrom
  • Nordstrom Rack
  • Office Depot & OfficeMax
  • Outdoor Research
  • P.C. Richard & Son
  • Patagonia
  • Pep Boys
  • Pet Supplies Plus
  • Petco
  • PetSmart
  • Pier 1 Imports
  • Publix
  • Raymour & Flanigan
  • REI
  • Sam’s Club
  • Sears Outlet
  • Sierra Trading Post
  • Sportsman’s Warehouse
  • Staples
  • Stein Mart
  • Sur La Table
  • The Container Store
  • The Original Mattress Factory
  • The Paper Store
  • TJ Maxx
  • Tractor Supply Co.
  • Trader Joe’s
  • Trollbeads
  • Von Maur
  • West Marine
  • Bravo!

    43ek4bFREE StaffAnita HamiltonmoneypatagoniaHolidaysThanksgivingblack fridayshoppingWALMARTretailpersonal financeold navyTJ MaxxBest Buyspendingkohlscrate & barrelBed Bath & Beyond
    <![CDATA[A Day in the Life of a Home Health Aide Earning $13 an Hour]]>, 01 Nov 2018 16:23:45 +0000For the past five years, Leighann Gillis has been a home care worker to Nat, a 25-year-old woman who can’t take care of herself.

    Diagnosed with a number of cognitive disorders—including autism, bipolar, and anxiety—Nat can’t shower or get dressed by herself. If left alone, sometimes she’ll hit or scratch herself, and when other people are around, sometimes she’ll try to head-butt them. Occasionally, she gets so excited while walking around outside that she tries to bolt out into the street, whether or not there’s traffic around. Now and then, she’ll scream and shout for seemingly random reasons.

    “She’s just acting out because she’s unable to speak or comprehend what’s happening to her,” says Gillis.

    Gillis, who is 31, was born and raised in southern Maine, where she now lives with her partner and their mother. She got a bachelor’s degree in visual arts, but says she got tired of working “crappy jobs” where she felt disposable. She began volunteering at Spindleworks, a non-profit art center for adults with disabilities. “I quickly realized that everything I thought I knew about developmentally and intellectually disabled folks was wrong and misinformed,” Gillis says. “I also realized that this was a community I wanted to spend time with.” She got certified as a direct support professional, and soon met Nat.

    Nat and Leighann
    Gillis, at right, spends 30 hours a week caring for Nat, who has a number of cognitive disorders.

    During their time together, Gillis has become an expert at decoding Nat. When she’s bored, Nat will chew on her purse strap. If she doesn’t want to be doing an activity, she’ll do a series of little coughs. When she’s happy, she’ll clap, hum, wiggle her head, and seek out eye contact. “That’s something she can’t handle when she’s upset or not feeling well,” Gillis says. “We spend a lot of close time together. I see her more than most adult children see their parents.”

    Gillis is one of at least 2.1 million paid home care workers in the country. Broadly speaking, these workers are hired to provide assistance and health support to older adults or people with disabilities. The wide scope of that definition is because the job itself shifts depending on the client—more granularly, those labeled personal care aides tend to help with everyday daily tasks, while home health aides and nursing assistants do that while also performing clinical tasks, like administering medicine and taking blood pressure. But the job is essentially helping someone who can’t live on their own.

    A typical day on the job

    As a direct support professional, Leighann’s morning involves brushing Nat’s teeth, showering her, getting her dried, applying deodorant, powdering her feet, putting on compression socks, dressing her, and getting her shoes on before they go out. They often take walks around the neighborhood, and end up going shopping for groceries, supplies, and clothes, allowing Nat practice making choices and picking up items. During lunch, Leighann cuts Nat’s food into manageable bits. After dinner, she gets Nat ready for bed by washing her face and armpits, reapplying deodorant, and checking her feet for blisters, sores, or cracks, before brushing her teeth once more.

    “A key part of the job is getting to know each individual and adapting services to their needs,” says Kezia Scales, director of policy research at the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute (PHI), a non-profit that works to improve how elders and those with disabilities are served. “The more of a consistent relationship you have between the home care worker and consumer, the better the outcome for that individual.”

    High turnover and low pay for a tough job

    Consistency between workers and clients is rare. Worker turnover in the industry is estimated at 67 percent a year, a staggering rate that ripples to the third of workers that are able to stick it out. To make matters worse, demand for home health aides in particular has surged due to an aging population.

    While Leighann has remained with Nat for six years, she’s only there three days a week, and so, is only one piece of the care puzzle. And for Nat’s care to be managed properly, every worker involved has to be on the same page, a tough act when seemingly everyone keeps cycling out. “Our supervisor has consistently attempted to get us back-up staff, but they keep quitting in favor of other, higher paying jobs, often before they even finish training with us,” Gillis says. “We are now on our fifth person in under two years.”

    The largest reason for such dramatic turnover is simple: the job doesn’t pay well. “You can quite literally go work at a fast food place or gas station for the same amount or more, and much less responsibility,” Gillis says, who earns $13 an hour caring for Nat three days a week, 10 hours a day—but has no paid leave or benefits. (To make ends meet, she’s had to pick up another job; when she’s not with Nat, she’s restoring, rebuilding, and repairing antique and vintage rugs.)

    Depending on how much value you put in benefits, this is roughly near average for the country. According to PHI, home care workers make $11.03 an hour, or around $15,000 a year, an unlivable wage in 2018 America. In fact, half of all home health aides rely on public assistance to make ends meet

    “No matter how much people are saints and love the job, they can’t survive,” says Bill Dombi, President of the National Association for Home Care & Hospice.

    While some families can afford a higher cost for private home care—and thus, workers that are less motivated to find other lines of work—many families rely on the cost to be at least somewhat mitigated by state-run Medicaid programs, budgets that are inherently being used as political battlegrounds.

    “State budgets are always stretched, with the money going toward education, public safety, and so on. The states just don’t believe they have the money, or somebody else has more influence than home health care companies,” Dombi says. “Rates [for home care workers] haven’t been cut so much as never increased, while costs have gone up. And you end up with workers in poverty and public assistance programs themselves.”

    One in five home care workers live below the federal poverty line, and more than half rely on some form of public assistance themselves, according to numbers provided by PHI. As you’d expect, this has led to a workforce composed of those who most desperately need jobs, meaning that it heavily leans female (87 percent vs. 13 male), and is dominated by people of color (around 60 percent of workers are POC, over one-quarter born outside of the U.S.).

    The lack of willingness to fund home care means that states are often forced to outsource aspects of their programs to outside companies. This can add stress to the gig by creating confusing logistics, for instance, when Leighann is trying to coordinate transportation for Nat. “It’s an ongoing battle just to talk to someone,” Gillis says. “And when you do, it’s not with those driving vehicles, so you’re struggling with transportation folks who aren’t picking her up on time, or bringing her home on time. I’ve even heard of times when, if a caregiver wasn’t home, they’d just leave a client by themselves.”

    Campaigning for more funding for home care workers

    All of this is why Gillis has has recently been on the campaign trail in Maine.

    On Maine’s impending midterm ballot is Question 1. If passed by voters, it would create a Universal Home Care Program through an increase of taxes on higher-income households—specifically, a 3.8 percent tax on incomes above $128,400. It’s been been estimated that the tax would generate between $180 million and $300 million a year to subsidize in-home care for elderly and disabled residents. It’s one way to close the gap between the care that the rich are able to afford, and the care that those with lower incomes have to settle for.

    On the worker side, it would mean higher wages, and therefore, trim the high turnover rate. It would also make Maine’s home care workforce state employees, which would create basic safety standards for the job, and give workers the ability to unionize if they voted to do so. “Question 1 would create a path to success, and a career, for workers,” Gillis says. Meanwhile, the “no” side has called Question 1 a “scam,” arguing that the tax would force high-earning individuals out of Maine while creating “yet another quasi-governmental board with zero oversight and no ability to remove board members for poor performance or corruption.” It’s a pretty by-the-book battle between worker-led power and “small government” ideology, and the final vote will go a long way toward seeing if the voting public has the political will to tax the rich to pay for what’s quickly becoming a growing necessity.

    Over the past decade, as long-term health service has shifted from the nursing home environment to private settings, the number of home care workers has doubled in size. An estimated 47.8 million people currently need home care, a number that’s projected to rise to 88 million in 2050. And if there isn’t a growing workforce willing to trade their time for low pay, handling the influx of baby boomers into the age spectrum that requires assistance will mean either really awful care, or the work being absorbed by untrained family members themselves. (Millennials in Maine would be wise to keep this in mind when voting.)

    But no matter how the vote goes, Gillis isn’t going anywhere. She found what she loves doing, and that’s caring for Nat. “Nat is such a sweet, happy, cheerful person. When she smiles, the whole world smiles with her,” Gillis says. “I would do this job no matter what happened. No matter what the pay was.”

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