Carson Kohler - The Penny Hoarder

The lights go down.

No stars. No sun.

The air cools. Animals quiet. People gasp — maybe cry.

“The event has an indescribable effect on observers,” Bob Berman at Wired writes about the upcoming total solar eclipse.

“Actually, seeing an almost total eclipse is no better than almost falling in love or almost visiting the Grand Canyon. Only full totality produces the astonishing and absolutely singular phenomenon that resembles nothing else in our lives, on our planet, or in the known universe.”

Everyone’s buzzin’ about this upcoming total solar eclipse, debuting across the U.S. on August 21. It’s the first time this has happened across the mainland U.S. since Feb. 26, 1979.

Grab your free glasses; make your viewer contraptions.

Then, Californians, get paid to watch the spectacle.

How the Total Solar Eclipse Will Affect California (It’s Not Great)

Solar produces 13.39% of California’s energy, making it the country’s highest solar-generating state. In context, that’s nearly 5 million solar-powered homes.

Although the state won’t get to experience the total eclipse (you’ll have to go to your neighbor Oregon for that), it will still experience over 75% coverage. (See the Los Angeles Times map to see where you fall.)

In Sacramento, for example, the eclipse starts at 9:02 a.m., peaks at 10:17 a.m. (the sun will be about 79% covered then) and ends at 11:39 a.m., according to The Sacramento Bee.

Although it helps that the eclipse is mid-morning and not, say, in the evening when people are getting home from work, California will lose out on quite a bit of energy — enough to power 600,000 homes.

Homeowners won’t experience the effects, but Steven Greenlee of California ISO told a local news organization that “it’s going to be a busy day behind the scenes.”

That’s where you can help — and get paid for doing so.

How You Can Get Paid to Experience the Total Solar Eclipse

This is where OhmConnect enters the picture.

OhmConnect rewards its users in cash and prizes when they reduce their energy consumption during specific times of the day. These are called #OhmHours.

The #OhmHours occur when the energy grid is overworking and must rely on dirty power plants to prevent a brownout or hefty fine. Those power plants aren’t really the cleanest, so that’s why it’s important to cut back. #OhmHours typically occur once or twice a week in the afternoons or evenings.

And there will definitely be a guaranteed #OhmHour August 21.

How do you know when it is?

OhmConnect users are notified via text or email when there’s an upcoming #OhmHour. That’s when they can take steps to reduce their energy usage by waiting to run the dishwasher, unplugging the Keurig, turning off the fridge or switching the A/C off.

Just for the #OhmHour.

You can also get rewarded for stepping away from the house. (Nope, you don’t have to just sit around in the dark with the A/C off.) Take the dog for a walk, set up a blanket in the park to experience the solar eclipse or settle in on your porch.

If you’re heading to Oregon, even better. You can unplug your appliances, turn off your fans and put off doing the laundry.

By participating in an #OhmHour, you can get paid. You’ll collect points based on your savings. Each time you hit 1,000 points, you’ll bank $10 — gift card or cash.

John Hastie, a San Diego resident, earned nearly $500 in June.

He’s a bit of an anomaly, though. The average household earns about $200 a year.

Do note that OhmConnect only works with specific utility companies, including California PG&E, SDG&E and SCE customers; as well as Toronto Hydro customers.

Simple Steps to Sign Up for OhmConnect

Signing up for OhmConnect is free, and it’s not like you have to sign up days and weeks before the eclipse. The whole process is pretty quick and easy.

You will need to connect your utility company to the platform, but it’s just as secure as paying those bills online.

Once on, you’ll be able to access your dashboard, which outlines your current power usage, your savings and your points. You can even move up the ranks to hit bonuses.

So why not start with the eclipse? Your state will need your help, and you might as well get paid to watch it!

Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s stoked for this once-in-a-lifetime event.

If you’re a skier or boarder, you know lift tickets can be pretty expensive.

But if you become a member of Liftopia’s team, you can support your hobby this season with a substantial hourly wage.

If you’ve ever bought lift tickets online, you might have used Liftopia. The ecommerce site is the largest seller of lift tickets and a great pricing tool for ski resorts.

The company is growing quickly, and now it's looking for a remote seasonal partner operations representative for the 2017-2018 winter season, which runs from September to April, depending on Mother Nature.

What You’ll Do as Work-From-Home Rep for Liftopia

Although Liftopia is in the business of snow, with this full-time gig, you can work shoreside in San Francisco or -- even better -- from home.

You’ll support the Partner Operations Team and manage phone and ticket queues. You’ll also handle some data: audit systems, handle ticket barcodes, reload ticket inventory, upload inventory and process resort closures -- to name a few of your tasks.

During the season, you’ll work three to five shifts a week, which run five to six hours on weekdays and four to five hours on weekends. Either way, you won’t exceed 30 hours a week. You will, however, have to work holidays and weekends.

Note: You’ll be expected to start between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. PST, so consider the time difference if you’re over here on the East Coast like us.

Liftopia Benefits -- Including Lift Ticket Deals!

First and foremost: You’ll make $17 an hour. In addition, you’ll get deals on lift tickets and receive “sweet Liftopia swag.”

If you’re based in San Francisco, great. You’ll become part of a casual, dog-friendly office environment that features Wednesday afternoon socials.

If not, you can opt to work from home in flannel pajamas in your favorite ski town.

Are You Qualified For This Work-From-Home Gig?

Liftopia seeks people who have two or more years of experience in customer service, hospitality or account management support.

You should be a strong writer and verbal communicator, and you need experience in building solid client relationships. (Tip: A sense of humor goes a long way). The company also wants you to have troubleshooting and analytical skills, which will help you roll with any glitches or changes.

So if you’re passionate about skiing, have solid customer service skills and want to work from home, check out the full job description and apply to this opportunity today -- before the snow blows in.

Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder. After recently completing graduate school, she focuses on saving money — and surviving the move back in with her parents.

Shopping for beauty products is tough.

So many colors. So many brands. So many skin conditions. So many salespeople. So many recommendations.

But I’m here to make one facet of this process easier for you.

Here’s how to save some money every single time you shop at Ulta Beauty.

1. Join “Ultamate” Rewards

Clever name, right?

When you sign up for Ultamate Rewards, you’ll gain access to:

  • A birthday freebie (though not specified) as well as double points during your birthday month
  • Points. You’ll earn points on specific purchases. For context, 100 points (or $100 spent) equates to $3 off.

You’ll also receive emails with the latest sales and deals.

Plus, if you spend $450 in a calendar year, you’ll reach platinum status, then… “see what happens.” (We’re not sure what this means, but we assume it’s good?)

Get more details from Ulta’s website.

2. Snag Free Gift Cards

Because you read The Penny Hoarder, you might have heard of Swagbucks. It’s a site that’ll pay you to take surveys, watch TV and shop online.

It can also help you earn cash back on Ulta purchases.

If you aren’t already a Swagbucks member, you can get $5 just for signing up.

Once you’re in, shop Ulta through the platform. That way you’ll earn two Swagbucks (SBs) per dollar you spend. You can exchange SBs for gift cards.

For context, 2500 SBs equate to a $25 PayPal gift card, good for all your online shopping pleasures.

Bonus: Here’s an example of how you can actually get paid to shop through Swagbucks.

3. Scan Your Receipt for Cash Back

You might think of Ibotta as a grocery rebate app, but it’s rapidly expanding to feature more retailers — including Ulta.

There aren’t a ton of cash-back offers yet, but you can earn $3 back on Nubian Heritage bath bombs and $2 back on Eva NYC Clean It Up shampoo or conditioner.

Keep an eye on the app because offers are constantly added.

Plus, when you redeem your first purchase, you’ll get a free $10 bonus.

4. Use Manufacturer Coupons

Find a coupon for your favorite Neutrogena product in the Sunday paper? Ulta will let you apply that to your in-store purchase, according to Krazy Koupon Lady.

But don’t worry about fishing through Sunday’s paper.

You can find weekly coupon stashes through an app called Retale.

Here, you don’t have to worry about clipping or organizing or remembering those suckers. Plus, you can add coupons to your rewards card that’ll be applied at checkout.

5. Don’t Forget Your Free Gift With Purchase

Peruse Ulta’s “Free Gifts With Purchase” section to see if any samplers are available.

This is a great way to try new products — for free.

Right now, for example, you can get a free 12-piece gift with any $19.50 Ulta Beauty collection make-up, brush, beauty tool or skincare purchase.

Or get a free BareMinerals lipstick with a BareMinerals purchase of $40.

Also, never forget to ask for freebies at the checkout counter when you shop in store!

6. Find the “Buy More Save More” Section

If you don’t get the Ulta mailer (also great deals in there), just scroll through its “Buy More Save More” page online.

For example, get two Paul Mitchell Salon Professional Haircare products now and snag a free one. And Ulta hand soaps are three for $10 right now.

Find all the best deals on this page.

7. Wait Until the Big Sales Hit

Twice a year, Ulta has a “21 Days of Beauty” sale.

Each week, a different selection of items are listed on sale. For example, last spring foundations, powders, face brushes and luxe bath products were only $6, according to PopSugar.

Big brands were on sale, too, including Too Faced, Clarisonic, Urban Decay and It Cosmetics.

Keep an eye on your email to find out when the next sale is happening.

8. Swipe a Rewards Credit Card

This goes for any purchase you make, but pay with your cash-back credit card to earn extra points for your Ulta purchases — so long as you responsibly pay off your balance each month.

One of our favorite cash-back cards is the Barclaycard CashForward™ World Mastercard®, which gets you 1.5% cash back on any purchase. You can also pocket a nice $200 bonus if you spend $1,000 within the first 90 days of opening it.

Advertiser Disclosure: Many of the credit card offers that appear on this site are from credit card companies from which The Penny Hoarder receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). We do not feature all available credit card offers or all credit card issuers.

Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Tweet at her with your Ulta money-saving tips.

If you want to dictate everything about your job including where you work, when you work and how much you make, we’d typically tell you good luck and send you on your way.

However, we found a work-from-home position that fills that large bill.

NexRep, an agency that sources work-from-home agents for tons of big-name companies, is looking for approximately 45 outbound sales representatives.

These representatives can set their own hours and will get paid, on average, $15 an hour.

Before we dive in with more details, know that you can live in any state except Arkansas, California, Indiana, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island or Washington. (By the way, here’s why work-from-home jobs have state restrictions.)

More Information About These Work-From-Home Sales Jobs

NexRep is contracting outbound sales agents for Tristar Products, a brand you might recognize from infomercials. It sells products like the Copper Chef pans.

As an outbound sales agent, you’ll connect with customers who have called about purchasing an advertised product, but in the end, decided not to. You’ll work to reconnect with potential customers through the phone and offer them a better deal.

NexRep says you’ll be the perfect fit for this position if you consider yourself competitive, enjoy taking risks and love playing with the latest gadget.

Here’s a list of skills and qualifications it’s looking for:

  • Persuasive
  • Persistant
  • Solid closing skills
  • Ability to upsell and cross-sell as well as promote third-party offers
  • Driven to make a high commission
  • Possess product knowledge and phone skills
  • Has high energy

You’ll also need a hard-wired internet connection; no wifi.

In order to take on these one of these work-from-home sales jobs, you’ll need to work at least 15 hours a week. However, you can set your own hours between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. EST.

As mentioned, pay is largely based on commission, which averages about $10 an hour. Plus, you’ll receive a $5/hour base pay, which is calculated by call time and wait time.

NexRep says its agents currently earn an average of $15 an hour and as much as $25 an hour.

It’s all in your hands.

If you’re interested in applying to this work-from-home job, go ahead and do so through NexRep’s secure system.

You’ll answer some questions, then wait to hear back from the company if you qualify. It’s looking for 45 agents, so the sooner you apply, the better.

If you want to peruse the full listing, that’s over here.

Good luck!

If you want more work-from-home job leads, head over to our Facebook jobs page.

Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

I enjoy hunting down coupon codes and finding rebate offers, but I’d kind of given up on saving money when I request Uber rides.

Unless I wanted to become a new customer by signing up over and over with 10 different email addresses… or invite friends to sign up, but they’re already members… so I didn’t have much hope to save.

But Ibotta, a cash-back app, is handing out $17 for Uber rides for a limited time — and it’s so easy.

How to Earn $17 Back on Uber Rides

Ibotta is classically known for its cash-back offers on grocery items, but it’s quickly expanding.

I’m learning to look for offers when I go out to eat, hit the bars and now when I take an Uber.

You can now earn up to $17 in Uber deals when you take seven rides by August 31.

The offers include:

  • A $5 ride credit after three rides
  • Another $5 ride credit after four additional rides
  • $1 back for each ride — up to seven total

Do the math… that’s $17.

I took advantage of this offer last weekend. I applied a $5 coupon on my first ride and earned $3 back on all three. (We were bar hoppin’.) I also earned a $1 mobile shopping bonus, so that totaled $9 that I saved.

To cash out these Uber deals, go ahead and sign up for Ibotta. (Use that link and you’ll get a $10 bonus when you earn your first rebate.)

Once you’re on the app, find the Uber deal. It’ll show up under featured stores as soon as you open it. Click “Shop at Uber,” and the app will open Uber for you. Go about your normal Uber-hailing business. Once your ride is complete, Ibotta automatically adds the money to your account.

If you earn a $5 ride credit, Ibotta emails you the code. Simply navigate to your Uber app, tap “Payment,” then “Add Promo/Gift Code.”

Pro tip: As the night wears on, do NOT forget to open Uber through Ibotta… I’ve learned this from experience.

Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s earned nearly $50 back on Ibotta since signing up three months ago.

We hear about the severity of student loan debt all the time.

Our country is up to its neck in it. It’s holding graduates back. It’s bad, bad, bad.

As depressing as it can be, it’s interesting to see where you stand among others. Sometimes it makes you feel better that you’re not that deep in poo — while other times, you realize you have more than the average.

Either way, it offers perspective, which the human spirit seems to appreciate.

Credit Sesame, a service that provides free credit scores and credit reports, recently tapped into its database to analyze 1 million of its accounts (with 4 million loans) to figure out which states were the best and worst for student loan debt.

The Five States With the Highest Student Loan Debt

Bad news first, right?

Here’s what Credit Sesame found after examining the the nearly 1 million accounts with student loan debt connected to its database:

  1. Washington, D.C. — $47,331
  2. Maryland — $40,473
  3. Georgia — $39,720
  4. South Carolina — $36,865
  5. Virginia — $36,828

The Five States With the Lowest Student Loan Debt

It feels weird saying “best,” because there’s nothing good about student loan debt, but these are the five “best” states, according to Credit Sesame:

  1. Wyoming — $28,303
  2. Utah — $29,158
  3. Rhode Island — $29,158
  4. Montana — $29,801
  5. Idaho — $29,935

Tools to Help You Tackle Student Loan Debt

If you’re curious about what you owe at this point — on anything — you’ll want to check your credit report.

You can snag a free credit report through Credit Sesame.

Next, you’ll want to create some type of strategy.

We, unfortunately, can’t tell you what your best route is, but we have some suggestions.

You could try refinancing through a platform like Credible. By refinancing your student loans, you could snag a lower interest rate, which could save you thousands over time.

You can also increase your income by taking on a side gig. Stash the money you earn in a separate, do-not-touch-except-for-student-loans account.

Another (easier) option is to use an app like Qoins. It rounds up all your purchases and dumps the change in about $5 increments into an account that’ll go toward repaying your student loans each month. The pennies add up quickly! It costs $1.99/month, but your first month is FREE. 

You also have the option of applying for loan deferment — but only if you absolutely need to. Read the rest of our tips for getting out of debt here before committing to that option.

Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

Many Americans aren’t good at saving money.

This information isn’t new.

Let me give you a refresher: 33% of Americans have nothing tucked into their savings accounts, according to a 2016 GoBankingRates survey. And 35% of Americans have less than $1,000 saved.

In fact, not saving early enough topped a list of our financial regrets.

But once you’re able to break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle, saving isn’t impossible.

Take note from this 19-year-old NewRetirement recently wrote about. Robyn Bri has saved more than $85,000 to date.

Granted, Bri has lived at home, but she’s also hustled hard since she was 8 years old.

“The first time I bought something with my own money, it immediately had more value to me because it was something I had to work to get, so I took better care of it,” she told me in a recent email exchange. “I think that's what motivated me to start getting jobs and saving my money for certain things.”

Here's how to save money like Bri.

1. Tackle the Art of the Side Hustle

At age 8, Bri started doing odd jobs for her neighbors.

Since then, she’s worked as a pet sitter, babysitter, housesitter and waitress. Bri estimates she works 28 to 32 hours a week and earns something between $3,000 and $4,000 each month, according to SFGATE.

I asked her how she manages to stay on top of her priorities. (In addition to her side gigs, she was also a successful student and volunteered.)

She says, “For me, I really had to stay organized and on top of my phone calls, emails, texts, etc. Writing everything down and using a calendar to stay organized was definitely crucial. With so many different things going on, if I don't write one thing down I could screw up a whole day.”

Here’s how you can save: Bri isn’t yet 21, the age you have to be to start driving for ride-sharing services. But taking on a side gig as a driver can bring in substantial bucks

We chatted with a Lyft driver who makes up to $750 a week. Perhaps the best part is that he gets to set his own schedule.

Been thinking about giving Lyft a try? Signing up is pretty painless.

If you’re not into people, consider delivering food through UberEATS. Or check out these 50 other ways to make extra money on the side.

2. Practice Frugality

NewRetirement also reports that Bri doesn’t blow her money on clothes or entertainment expenses.

“Mostly I just tell myself, ‘I don't need that; it's not a necessity — you can live without it,’” she says. “But I do allow myself to have a small budget once a month for things like transportation, going to the city for a day, etc.”

She’s sure to calculate necessities into her budget, too, like her phone bill and gas.

Here’s how you can save: Budgeting on your own might be difficult, but apps are a good way to hold yourself — and your spending habits — accountable.

Try using something like the free Clarity Money app, so you can see where your money is going (or wasted). It also helps you negotiate your bills, and you can easily tap to cancel recurring expenses you no longer need (like magazines, gym fees, etc.).

The idea is to hold yourself accountable and be able to critically think about your budget. The app is free to download — the first step to being frugal.

3. Pay With a Rewards Credit Card

What Bri does purchase, she says, she charges to a rewards credit card that she signed up for last year. That way she can earn points back. She makes sure to pay her card off each month, too.

She says she doesn’t have anything she’s saving the points for — just for something in the future.

Here’s how you can save: There are tons of rewards cards out there, but one of our favorites is the Barclaycard CashForward™ World MasterCard®.

First off, you don’t have to pay any annual fees. You also earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase you make. Then, each time you redeem those rewards, you also get a 5% bonus to use toward your next redemption.

And if you manage to (responsibly) spend $1,000 within the first 90 days, you’ll bank a $200 bonus. Just make sure you pay your bill in full each month to avoid interest.

4. Open a High-Yield Savings Account

Bri says she keeps her money in a savings account and tries to stash money in it as frequently as possible.

I asked about her strategy for determining how much goes away and when. She says she plans to automate the process one day, but for now she just does it by hand.

“I usually will tell myself, ‘Okay, you just made this much money. You have to put at least this much in savings, then budget the rest into checking and into my spending budget,’” she says.

She keeps her money for everyday expenses in a checking account.

Here’s how you can save: For a long time, I kept my money in a stagnant checking account, but I recently transferred it to Aspiration’s Summit Checking Account, where I earn up to 1% in interest without paying any fees. That’s 100 times more than a typical checking account.

I also moved a chunk of money, the money I’m trying not to touch, to a high-yield savings account.

The goal is to make your money work for you, which Bri has already learned by 19. Jealous.

5. Start Investing

Bri says she has two self-investing accounts with Merrill Edge.

One is a Roth IRA, and the other is a self-guided account. She also invested in Apple stock when she was 16.

However, she admits she’s always been a little hesitant about the process. “...It's a risky business, and the more you put in the more you can lose, but at the same time the more you can gain,” she says.

She advises people to research. She also suggests taking online quizzes to see how much risk is worth taking.

“I always make sure that I never invest all my money,” she concludes on the matter.

Here’s how you can save: If you want to start investing, but feel slightly intimidated like Bri, try using an app like Acorns or Stash.

Neither one requires more than a few dollars to start. Acorns basically takes the digital change from your debit or credit card purchases and invests it. You can also snag a $10 bonus when you make your first investment

Stash allows you to set a fixed amount to take out of your account each week. Plus you’ll get a $5 bonus when you sign up through this link.

6. Consume Tons of Personal Finance Advice

How did Bri know about all of these smart money moves? She said she read a ton of advice in books and on blogs (like The Penny Hoarder, right?).

But actually she says her all-time favorite book is “Rich Bitch.” “It's an easy read, and the best part is it's interactive, so as you read you are advised to write stuff down, start planning/getting your finances on track.”

Here’s how you can save: You can never know everything.

On personal finance matters, we have taken notes from some of our favorite “zillionaires” as well as these books and these podcasts.

Cheers to Bri, who’s headed off to George Washington University this fall on a full-ride scholarship. (Here’s where to find some.) She has an on-campus job lined up and plans to find another gig along the way.

Here’s another hearty shout out to NewRetirement, which initially shared her story.

Advertiser Disclosure: Many of the credit card offers that appear on this site are from credit card companies from which The Penny Hoarder receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). We do not feature all available credit card offers or all credit card issuers.

Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She didn’t know a single thing about money when she was 18 — except that she wanted it.

Credit cards are powerful little pieces of plastic.

You can swipe away until you hit your cap. Even then, you might already be ankle deep in debt. Then consider interest rates, which cause that debt to continue to build…

OK, enough of that. I’m getting anxiety just thinking about it.

Unfortunately, many people live with credit card debt.

Credit education website Credit Sesame was curious: Which states have the highest and lowest amounts of credit card debt?

It looked at 2 million people in its database. Of those people, it collected data from 6 million credit cards.

Here’s what it found.

6 States With the Most Credit Card Debt

Credit Sesame calculated the average debt per account for each state. These five proved to have the most debt.

  1. Indiana — $5,250
  2. Alaska — $4,348
  3. West Virginia — $3,565
  4. Arkansas — $3,386
  5. Louisiana — $3,270
  6. Mississippi — $2,949

Here’s How to Find Out How Much Credit Card Debt You Have

Want to know where you personally stand when it comes to credit card debt?

Pull a free credit report from a site like Credit Sesame. It’ll break down what you’re doing right, what you’re doing wrong, and even offer tips on how to spruce things up a bit.

If you’re having trouble getting started, take notes from these people, who collected a total of $250,000 in debt — and then paid it off.

Ready to pay off your credit card debt?

If you fall behind on your credit card debt, you may find yourself getting crushed by interest rates north of 20%. You’ll never catch up that way. You’re spending so much on interest, you’ll never pay off your balances.

It might be worth consolidating or refinancing your debt.

By refinancing an existing loan, you’re taking out a totally new loan, which comes with new terms and (ideally) a lower interest rate. Credible is an online marketplace that offers consumers personalized loan offers. Think of it like Zillow — but for personal loans.

Rates start at 5.99%, and you can check yours by entering a loan amount here ($500 to $40,000) and comparing your personalized options in under 90 seconds.

Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She didn’t start using a credit card full time until last year. Even so, she’s still paranoid about paying it off each month, but she appreciates the airline points.

Grocery shopping is one of those things you either love or hate.

And I tend to hate it.

I always have to squeeze the necessary chore into my evenings, which I’d rather spend on my couch with my cat. And I always, always forget what I went for, which requires me to return that same night or the following day.

The worst part is when I run into someone I know — or knew. It’s always when I’m the least presentable, and I just imagine them telling their family later on: “Wow. She’s really gone downhill. You wouldn't believe it.”

I was just trying to get some bread and milk. Jeeze.

29 Thoughts You’ve Probably Had While at the Grocery Store

To capture the never-ending frustration that is the grocery store, I put together a list of very real thoughts that run through my (or my co-workers’) heads while slogging through the cold aisles.

  1. Cart or basket, cart or basket? Basket. It’ll encourage me to buy less.
  1. Mmmm… that fried chicken smells so good. Nope. Focus. Vegetables.
  1. Shoot. I forgot my shopping list again. Let’s see what I can regurgitate…
  1. Why does every grocery store put the bakery next to the produce? Yes, I’ll take freshly baked carrot cake over carrots any day.
  1. I’m not a kid, nor do I have one, but can I get one of those free cookies? Please? I’ve had a rough day.
  1. Gosh, why do I always fail to eat before grocery shopping? Even that cantaloupe looks appetizing…
  1. Why didn’t I just get a cart? I always need a cart.
  1. Did I go to high school with that kid?
  1. Yup. I didn’t need anything in the aisle anyways…
  1. Oh, I love this song! *starts dancing*
  1. What ever happened to those coupon machines we played with as kids?
  1. Are rice cakes actually this expensive? They’re basically cardboard…
  1. Why in the heck am I paying $22 a gallon for goat’s milk?

(OK, let me explain that one. I polled my co-workers about thoughts they have while at the grocery store. One of our web developers confessed this one, and we’ll forever be wondering why he pays $22 a gallon for goat’s milk, too.)

  1. Ugh, seriously? Why do I see everyone I know when I don’t put on real clothes?
  1. Crap. The only two coupons I managed to cut are sitting on the kitchen counter.
  1. *Hides in vacant aisle and takes out phone* Time to search Ibotta for some cash-back offers.
  1. Hmm… I wonder how long I’m going to have to wait for someone tall to come help me reach this jar of peanut butter?
  1. Related: Why do they stock back pain medicine on the bottom shelf?
  1. How am I going to fit all these BOGO frozen pizzas in my freezer?
  1. Note to self: Remember to wear a bra the next time I venture down the frozen food aisles…
  1. Hmm… which checkout line is going to be the fastest? I’ll race this woman.
  1. Is this man in front of me really buying $800 worth of groceries? (This actually happened to me once. I had two items in my hand.)
  1. Now he’s going to argue about this expired coupon?
  1. CRAP. I forgot my reusable bags again. I’m an awful human. Please don’t judge me.
  1. Why, yes, I’d love help out to the car. In fact, can you just come home with me and put these groceries away for me, too?
  1. *Walking out the door* Crap. I forgot to get my prescription. That’s why I came here in the first place.
  1. I guess I’ll come back tomorrow.

7 Ways to Avoid These Uncomfortable Feelings

OK, I probably sound like a crazy person at this point, but honestly, the grocery store is a pretty lousy place to spend your evening.

But do you have any other choice?

You do, actually.

There are tons of ways to order your groceries and get them delivered right to your door. Plus, you can save tons of money by doing this if you use the right platform.

Let me break down a few online grocery options for you.

1. Go Organic with Thrive Market

If you opt for organic, Thrive Market might be your new best friend. You can shop through its site or through its app.

The online grocery store offers only organic, healthy products — from Justin’s almond butter to essential oils. They’re all discounted, too, so you can save a good bit of money.

If you haven’t experienced Thrive yet, you can get a 30-day free trial through this link and 20% off your first three orders. After that, you’ll pay $59.95 for a full year, which helps Thrive keep prices down and pass on the organic savings to you.

Thrive members report saving an average $200 a year — a pretty good deal for a healthier diet! If you don’t make your membership fee back in savings by the end of the year, Thrive automatically gives you the difference in Thrive Market credit after you renew.

2. Add More Items to Your Cart With Jet

This online shopping platform is fun because the more you add to your cart, the more discounts you get. You just need to know when to stop…

We put together a hypothetical cart for you here. You’ll see all the discounts you can get on essentials, including nearly $6 off Folgers coffee.

Shipping is free if your order is over $35.

3. Go Bulky With Sam’s Club

If you like to buy in bulk, look into ordering groceries from Sam’s Club.

Peruse a number of categories from fresh or organic food to barbecue must-haves. You can opt to pick the groceries up in store or have them delivered to your door via UPS or FedEx.

Remember, you’ll need to have a membership, which is $35 a year.

4. Amazon Sells Everything, Duh

It’s no surprise that Amazon is already dominating the grocery business (even before this takeover of Whole Foods).

Navigate over to Amazon Fresh, where you can search for anything and everything — even fresh produce and deli meat.

Sure, it’s convenient, but it’ll also cost you a pretty penny. You’ll have to pay for a Prime membership if you don’t have one already (pssthere’s a discount) as well as Amazon Fresh, an additional $14.99 per month. In total, that’ll be $25.98 a month.

The service is only available in select cities now, so stay tuned if you’re willing to splurge.

5. Pick Up Your Groceries from Walmart

Do your grocery shopping online through Walmart Grocery. Then, schedule your pick-up time.

Yeah, yeah… you’ll have to leave the house and go to Walmart for this option, but you don’t have to leave your car if you don’t want; someone will load the groceries for you.

Find out if Walmart Grocery is available in your area. If not, other grocery stores are adopting this practice, so just look into your regional favorite.

6. Try a Food-Delivery Kit

If groceries aren’t your thing, period, and you can’t afford to hire a personal cook, try a food-delivery kit like Hello Fresh.

You can opt in for three, four or five meals a week. You’ll get a box of the farm-fresh ingredients right to your door. Then, all you’ve got to do is whip it up. (It comes with specific directions, so don’t panic.)

You can get $35 off your first order.

Not into HelloFresh? We tried (and compared) a few other food delivery kits, too.

7. Get Your Prescriptions Delivered to Your Door

Honestly, thought No. 28 is me all the time. And there’s no way you can run to the market down the road or just get it tomorrow if your prescription ran out.

You’ve got to go back, and you’ll probably have to wait in line.

However, prescription delivery services are becoming more and more popular. Using a site like Phil allows you to not only compare prices but it also alleviates the pain of going back and forth between your pharmacy, doctor and insurance company.

Then, you’ll get your prescriptions when you need them right to your door — with free delivery.

If you want to give the service a try, you can get $20 off your first order now.

Now, you can stop worrying about running into that long lost love you’d hoped you’d never see again or getting stuck behind that guy who won’t give up on checks already…

Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Her favorite part of going to the grocery store is leaving it.

Last November, Kelsey Buxton, at 26, opened her first 401(k) through her employer.

(Fun fact: Her employer is The Penny Hoarder.)

It felt like a good first step in saving for retirement.

Occasionally, she’d check in on her balance, which ticked up slowly. But that $1.8 million a retirement calculator had once suggested she’d need for retirement felt like an impossible feat.

Rather than settle for the account’s default settings, Buxton resolved to dig into her 401(k) and better tailor it to her goals. But she wasn’t sure how to take the first step, so the mental to-do task collected dust.

After looking around online, she found an answer. It didn’t require her to do heavy research, meet with a financial advisor or wait on the phone for hours with a representative.

What Buxton Needed to Do But Didn’t Know How to Start

When Buxton opened her 401(k) back in November, she intended to research her options.

“But that’s a full-time job,” she said. “Well, that’s what a financial advisor is for.”

She understood there was the whole high-risk versus low-risk adage. When you’re younger, you’re supposed to take higher risks with your retirement account. But Buxton didn’t totally understand what that meant in terms of her 401(k)’s stocks and bonds.

Here’s a 60-second refresher to the matter:

  • Stocks carry more risk than bonds, but they have the potential to bring in more money. That’s why most advisors suggest young investors push their funds to stocks, because they have more time to earn until retirement, allowing them to ride out the ups and downs of the market.
  • Bonds are a little more of a sure thing. Bonds come with a time frame for payoff, so investors will know when they’ll get that money. (Most of the time, at least.)

On top of that, advisors talk about diversifying these assets — having a healthy mix of stocks and bonds.

Of course, it’s going to be different for everyone, and Buxton still had questions.

How do I figure out if I should have more stocks or bonds? What percentage of stocks should I have? Where can I adjust all of this?

Finally, she found some answers through an online service called Blooom.

(And, yes, that extra “o” is supposed to be in there.)

How a Website Automatically Optimized This Woman’s 401(k)

Blooom claims it’ll maximize your investments by managing your 401(k). A robo-advisor automatically rebalances your investments — so you’re getting the most bang for your buck.

That means it figures out the whole stocks versus bonds thing for you, too.

Buxton decided to give it a go. She entered her name, birthday and the age she’d like to retire.

She logged in with her 401(k) plan. (Pro tip: You’ll need that username and password, so go ahead and dig it up.)

Buxton was then able to access a free “health” report, where the robo-advisors told her the account “isn’t looking too great.” She had the wrong mix of stocks and bonds and needed better diversification. Her hidden investment fees were only about $5 a year, though, which was good.

Naturally, Blooom uses a flower to represent an account’s health. Buxton’s was wilting.

So she decided to opt in for the $10/month automated service.

Within a few hours, she received an email that her 401(k) had been rebalanced.

She was done. The once wilted flower was as fresh as a daisy.

Blooom had rebalanced her 401(k) without Buxton having to touch a thing. Since it seemed too good to be true, she confirmed with a nice representative through a live chat that she didn’t have to handle anything else.

“Once we've taken care of that rebalance, you should be all set,” the representative told her. “You won't need to do anything else within your account!”

Now, Buxton Watches Her 401(k) “Blooom”

At any time, Buxton can check her Blooom dashboard and change her investment preferences. If she’d rather not invest 100% in stocks, for example, she can cut that percentage.

“All of the funds and stuff can get overwhelming, so I like the idea of having someone manage it for me but I can still tweak it if I learn more about it,” she says.

Each time Blooom rebalances her account, Buxton will receive an update.

“It’s totally worth it as a set-it-and-forget-it tool,” she says. “If you get an actual financial advisor, it would be a lot more than $10 a month.”

In addition to 401(k)s, Blooom manages 403b, 457 and TSP accounts.

Now that Buxton has started using Blooom, she’s been able to set herself on a track to retire a lot earlier than 70, which is the age her 401(k) had previously projected.

Her next step? Open a Roth IRA account.

Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Before she signed up for Blooom, she admittedly had never checked her 401(k). Now she feels a lot better that someone else is managing it.

John Hastie is a sharp man.

He has a technology degree in operations research and is the type of person who can rattle off a math equation while solving it even faster in his head.

He’s also extremely interested in renewable energy — relying largely on solar panels to power his house. He also drives an electric car.

Combining his two passions, he’s discovered a way to get paid up to $487 a month for saving energy.

Sure, it took some time to nail down the strategy, but he was willing to share how he managed the seemingly impossible feat.

How This California Man Gets Paid to Save Energy

Hastie, a San Diego resident, came across an online service called OhmConnect. It claimed to reward consumers in cash and prizes for reducing their energy consumption during specific times, called #OhmHours.

The #OhmHours occur when the energy grid is overworking and must rely on dirty power plants to prevent a brownout. Those power plants aren’t really the cleanest, so that’s why it’s important to cut back. #OhmHours typically occur once or twice a week in the afternoons or evenings.

OhmConnect users are notified via text or email when there’s an upcoming #OhmHour. That’s when they can take steps to reduce their energy usage by waiting to run the dishwasher, unplugging the Keurig, turning off the fridge or switching the A/C off.

Just for the #OhmHour.

Aside from helping the environment by cutting back on your energy usage, OhmConnect will reward you for how much you save.

The more you save, the more points (or cash) you earn. You can also hit bonuses and earn tokens, which give you prizes.

OhmConnect’s dashboard lets you monitor your forecasted energy usage and energy savings and compares it against your actual usage during an #OhmHour.

Hastie has experimented with the tool for months now and devised a strategy that earns him the most money.

For example, he’s added smart plugs to his TV and fridge, which automatically flips them off during selected #OhmHours. He’s also connected his thermostat to OhmConnect, so it works the same way.

He treats OhmConnect like a game. Each month, he attempts to drive down his energy usage to rack up more and more points and to cash out even more money. Which appliances consume the most energy? Can he add more smart plugs? How many bonuses can he hit?

“What I like about it is I want to save as much as I can, and I try to have a new record each time,” he says.

He’s even gotten his friends to sign up, and they compare numbers each month.

Note: OhmConnect can only tap into a few utility companies to monitor your consumption. These include California PG&E, SDG&E and SCE customers; as well as Toronto Hydro customers.

Here’s Exactly How Much Money Hastie Makes Saving Energy

Hastie keeps a spreadsheet to track his usage and savings, so he rattled off some recent earnings he’s collected from OhmConnect:

  • In February, he earned $26.99.
  • In March, he earned $29.59.
  • In April, he earned $96.87.
  • In May, he earned $225.13.
  • In June, he earned $487.52.
  • In July, he earned $228.40.

In June, Hastie explains, the state of California had a 2-hour Flex Alert, a request for all consumers to conserve. OhmConnect offered to pay triple, so he banked $188 in those two hours.

You’ll notice his earnings continue to increase, too. Hastie has worked his way up the levels and has hit bonus “streaks” for participating in 42 consecutive OhmHours (as of when we chatted).

Hastie is able to cash out as soon as he hits 1,000 points, which equates to $10. He can opt for a gift card or cash. He can also donate the money or spend it in the OhmConnect store, which sells those smart plugs mentioned above.

Hasite continues to tweak his strategy month after month. He suspects he won’t hit the jackpot again like he did back in June, but he says it’s a solid way to earn extra money — and keep his energy costs low.

Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She wants to hear from California residents: How much money have you made using OhmConnect?

Find some wood.

Now knock on it.

The stock market has been doing pretty well lately.

Which is helping Americans’ retirement accounts.

(Yes, there’s finally some good news out there about our state of retirement.)

Many Americans are capitalizing on the healthy market. The average 401(k) account held $97,700, a 9.6% increase from last year, according to a recent Fidelity Investments report.

The report also discovered that employees are stashing away an average $5,850 a year in their 401(k)s and tend to opt for their company’s full match, an average of 4.5%.

In Bloomberg’s opinion, “Americans Keep Crushing It…”

How to Tell If Your 401(k) is Also “Crushing It”

Admittedly, I hadn’t checked in with my 401(k) in a while. I know, I know…

I finally looked the other day and was happy with what I saw, but I wasn’t sure if it was actually good.

Was I getting the most bang for my buck? Were my stocks and bonds properly allocated? I’m young; was I taking the appropriate amount of risk?

I’d heard about an online service called Blooom, an SEC-registered investment advisory firm that optimizes and monitors your 401(k) for you. One of its founders deemed himself a “Penny Preacher.”

I was sold.

I entered my name (Carson), my birthday (I’m 25) and the age I hope to retire by (optimistically, 60). Then I dug up my 401(k) account’s email and password (so have that ready).

Within a few minutes, I received a free health report for my 401(k).

Here’s what it revealed:

blooomI’d always heard hidden fees can screw you, so I was happy to see that part was OK. The other parts… not so much.

I decided to opt in for the $10 per month service. Within a few hours, Blooom had reconfigured my 401(k) without me having to do a single thing — except click a button. It now aggressively handles my investments so I can ideally retire (maybe?) five years early.

I still have the option to adjust my preferences as needed, so if I don’t feel so comfortable with being aggressive as I get older, then I can change it. But I trust that the platform knows what’s best, based on my needs.

Sticking to the online platform is a lot easier — and probably cheaper — than a financial advisor, which tend to charge $1,000 to $2,000 a year. It’ll update as needed and send me notifications.

Plus, it’s a lot better than diving into hours and hours of research, in my opinion.

Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s a big fan of anything and everything automated.