ScoreCard Research Kelly Anne Smith - The Penny Hoarder

More than 42 million Americans share $1.4 trillion in U.S. student loan debt, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably one of them. I am, too.

For many of us, the idea of cutting down our massive student loan debt at the snap of a finger can be an enticing idea.

“Sign up now and save BIG on repayments! We’ll help you get your student loans forgiven in as little as FIVE years! Lower your monthly payments!“

The claims are tempting, but they’re also dangerous and unrealistic. These quick-fix claims are scams, and the Federal Trade Commission has started to crack down on them big time to protect you and your money.

Operation Game of Loans: A Big Fight Against Scammers

On Oct. 13, the FTC announced its new initiative to fight student loan forgiveness scams: Operation Game of Loans. This doesn’t involve fire-breathing dragons or white walkers — I know, disappointing — but it does involve actionable steps to help you protect your money.

According to the FTC, scammers have collected over $95 million in illegal fees from those struggling with student loan debt, and now the agency is coming full speed at these crooks to try and stop them.

Composed of 36 actions, and in collaboration with 11 states and the District of Columbia, Game of Loans uses federal and state law enforcement to target illegal student loan repayment programs.

By taking these fake companies to court, the FTC has frozen accounts involved in as many as five major student loan repayment scams — and that’s just the beginning. Actions are also pending against 11 more student loan debt relief scammers.

What does this mean for us? Well, it means fewer criminals out there stealing our money — and fewer people being lured into their malicious acts, for now.

To help consumers avoid falling victim to these frauds, the FTC has updated its consumer education resources to include information on identifying and reporting scams, such as:

  • Only scammers promise fast loan forgiveness.
  • Never pay a fee up front for help.
  • Scammers can fake a government seal.
  • Don’t share your Federal Student Aid (FSA) identification with anyone.

If you think you may have fallen for a scam, you can file a complaint with the FTC online here or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357) for help.

As for the scammers... well, let’s just say winter is here.  

Kelly Anne Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter at @keywordkelly.

First responders are the backbone of our communities.

They fight blazing fires, keep crime off the streets and provide lifesaving care after tragedy hits. They don’t wear capes -- they’re regular people, just like us -- but their service is invaluable.

Taking care of society can stir up quite an appetite. To thank these hungry heroes, Romano’s Macaroni Grill will offer these individuals a free meal for the entire month of October.

How First Responders Can Eat Free at Macaroni Grill This Month

Now through Oct. 31, police officers, firefighters, EMTs, paramedics and all hospital staff can get a free meal when they dine in at Macaroni Grill.

The fast-casual Italian chain will give them a free order of Mama’s ricotta meatballs and spaghetti. This dine-in-only offer is good for lunch or dinner, and it’s only good for one meal per sitting. First responders can, however, claim this deal as many times as they want throughout the month.

To claim the deal, simply show you first-responder credentials to your server.
Here’s to you, first responders. Thank you for all you do!

Kelly Anne Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter at @keywordkelly.

While there’s been tons of clamor around the GOP’s attempts to pass a new health care bill, the latest reform bill is dead. This means the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, is still in effect and gearing up for another enrollment period.

However, the Trump administration has slashed funds for the open enrollment process, meaning big changes are on the way for those who will sign up for coverage in 2018.

No matter what end of the political spectrum you fall on, these changes will affect you if you get health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

5 Key Changes Ahead for Obamacare Enrollment

Here’s what you need to know about how Obamacare enrollment will change this year:

1. The Enrollment Period Is Shorter

This year’s open enrollment period begins Nov. 1, and runs through Dec.15, 2017, a total of 45 days, according to Obamacare enrollment website Healthcare.gov. In previous years, open enrollment lasted three months.

In the past, enrollees have often waited until the last minute to select their coverage. CNN Money reports that last year’s Dec. 15 application deadline for securing  insurance by Jan. 1, 2017, was extended by four days due to a rush of applications.

What does this mean for you? Considering the enrollment period is shorter this year — and the website crashed in 2013 after its debut — you might want to enroll sooner rather than later to avoid headaches and slow load times.

2. There Are Scheduled Shutdowns for Maintenance

The Washington Examiner reports that Healthcare.gov will be shut down for 12 hours during all but one Sunday throughout the enrollment period.

The downtime will take place from midnight to noon Eastern Standard Time every Sunday except Dec. 10.

Additionally, there will be an overnight outage on Wednesday, Nov. 1.

What does this mean for you? If you’re planning on signing up during the weekend, be sure to keep these blackouts in mind and plan accordingly.  

3. Funds Have Been Cut for Enrollment Groups

Groups known as “navigators” that assist with enrollment under Obamacare have had their funding cut by as much as 92%, according to The Washington Post.

Navigators have given a wide variety of assistance in the past, including educating individuals about the plans best suited for their needs, walking people through the enrollment process and informing communities about how to obtain coverage under the law.

According to Reuters, navigators are often the main source of information for immigrants and rural communities “who are just learning about the need for health insurance and how to use the benefits once they have them.”

What does this mean for you? Lower funds mean fewer resources. If you haven’t signed up through the system in the past, there may be fewer opportunities to get help, leaving you to figure out the details by yourself. You might also be faced with determining how to use your benefits on your own.

4. Enrollment Events in Communities Might End

In the past, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) worked with enrollment groups to develop outreach and education plans for the Latino community. This support included providing materials in Spanish.  

Luis Torres, policy director for the League of United Latin American Citizens, told Talking Points Memo that collaboration has come to a sudden halt.

Roy Mitchell, executive director of the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program, said an HHS official told him the department “wouldn’t be doing any Obamacare marketplace events in the South this year,” Vox reported.

What does this mean for you? You might be on your own when it comes to enrolling. Additionally, if you or your family don’t have strong English-speaking skills, enrolling could be difficult.

5. You’ll See Open Enrollment Advertised Less

The Trump administration announced it would cut the Obamacare advertising budget from $100 million to $10 million.

While the administration says advertising is inefficient, a study conducted by HHS found that advertising was responsible for 37% of new enrollments, HuffPost reported.

What does this mean for you? You’ll need to be diligent in educating yourself about enrollment dates, blackout dates, etc. It’s likely that the reduced funding means there will be fewer reminders for you.

Kelly Anne Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter at @keywordkelly.

Have you ever had that one friend who conveniently forgets their wallet whenever you go out to eat?

“I’ve got you next time, bro,” he says with a smile.

When next time rolls around, though, his debit card magically disappears!

We’ve all known that somebody, and according to a new study, the debt they accumulate can lead to a massive falling out between friends.

Lending Money to Friends Can Get Really Awkward

The “Friends Again” report by Bank of America surveyed 1,000 people in the U.S. ages 18 and older. The findings revealed some not-so-happy results when it comes to lending money to friends.

According to the report, 77% of Americans believe IOUs are harmful to relationships; plus, 53% have seen friendships end over outstanding debt.

Thirty-six percent of respondents said $101 to $500 is enough money to end a friendship over.

Branndon Coelho, lead developer at The Penny Hoarder, once sold a friend his original Nintendo for $100, including all of his games.

His friend never paid him, though. Coelho eventually decided to tell him to not worry about the money, but the situation had lasting effects on their friendship.

“There is a mental block anytime that I think about contacting him, though… we haven’t talked in years. I think it put a strain on our relationship and made me realize where I stood in his world,” said Coelho.

It might not strictly be just because of money owed, though. When it comes down to it, almost half the respondents say asking friends to pay them back makes them uncomfortable.

How to Avoid Losing a Friend Over Money

Coelho says he wasn’t uncomfortable asking his friend for the money — it just became clear he was never going to get it.

Either way, an IOU situation is awkward. Do we ask for the money? Do we seem rude or pushy if we do? Should we trust that our friend will pay it back?

If you have a friend who is racking up a bill when it comes to their IOU, here are a few ways you can handle it without losing the friendship along the way:

  • Write it all down. If it seems like your friend always asks you to spot them some cash, start writing down every time they do and how much. Maybe your friend doesn’t even realize just how often they ask you for money. If you’re comfortable, sit down with them and show them the list — it might change their perspective.
  • Ask them to digitally transfer you the funds. This is the best way to make sure you get your money ASAP. There are tons of free apps out there, such as PayPal or Venmo, that make transferring money to friends easy and fee-free. This works amazingly for that “forgot my debit card” moment.
  • Draft a contract. Clearly, you’re not going to go this route for splitting the dinner tab, but sometimes a friend needs a big chunk of change for their rent or other bills. If that’s the case, write up a contract that states the exact amount of time they have to pay you back and any interest they’ll owe.

Kelly Anne Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter at @keywordkelly.

Update: Wells Fargo has upgraded its ATMs again. After introducing a cardless system that allows customers to use a special code from their smartphone apps to access ATMs, Wells Fargo has started to make it even easier to use its cardless system.

Now, at 5,000 of the bank’s 13,000 ATMs, account holders who have smartphones equipped with Apple Pay, Samsung Pay or Android Pay can tap their phones to begin a transaction.

Account holders will still need to enter their PIN after tapping their smartphones. Wells Fargo expects to roll out this new technology at all 13,000 of its ATMs by 2019.

ATM skimmers may have to find a new hobby.

With the rise in funds being stolen from innocent consumers due to ATM skimming, major banks around the country are developing innovative ways to protect their customers.

While most of these new technologies are still being piloted, one major banking chain recently announced that all of its ATMs will now be better equipped to protect its customers from having their debit card information stolen.

Wells Fargo ATMs Now Offer Cardless Access

To protect customers against ATM skimming, Wells Fargo recently implemented card-free access to its ATMs.

In March, Wells Fargo mobile customers gained card-free access to all 13,000 Wells Fargo ATMs in the U.S. via an eight-digit code in addition to PINs. Customers receive the unique code via the Wells Fargo mobile banking app, giving them access to their funds and enabling them to make cash withdrawals without a debit card. The machines still accept debit cards.

After last year’s ugly scandal over bank employees creating millions of unauthorized accounts for customers, checking account openings had fallen 43% as of March. The rollout of the new cardless technology is seen as an attempt by the company to amend ties with both its current -- and potential -- customers.

How to Protect Yourself From ATM Skimming

Skimming is a booming business for thieves all around the world; from 2014 to 2015, the number of ATMs compromised by skimming practices increased 546%, according to the FICO Card Alert Service.

How it works: Hidden electronics gather information from PIN keypads or your debit card. While skimming can occur anywhere you swipe your card, 94% of security breaches stem from ATMs.

To protect yourself against compromised ATMs, here are a few warning signs:

  • Odd appearance, such as mismatched colors or graphics on the screen not being correctly aligned.
  • Loose card readers, as they can be a sign that thieves placed a fake box over the original card slot in an attempt to record account and PINs.
  • A lack of flashing lights on card readers means that a skim device may have been placed on top of the original card reader slot.

For more information on how to protect yourself from ATM skimming, check out our article here.

Kelly Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter at @keywordkelly.

On the first day of spring semester of my junior year in college, I told myself one thing:

“I will get an internship by the end of February.”

And you know what? I did, right here at The Penny Hoarder.

Little did I know, the internship would open the door to my first full-time job -- which I happened to land before I finished my undergraduate degree.

5 Tips to Help You Go From Intern to Full-Time Employee

I’m not the only person who has managed to do it; there are plenty of others out there who have, too.

If you’re looking to rock your internship and be offered a job after (or even while you’re still in school!), check out these tips.

1. Say Yes to Pretty Much Everything

[caption id="attachment_73631" align="alignnone" width="1200"]Intern to Full-Time - Say Yes to Pretty Much Everything Kristy Gaunt / The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

From my experience, saying “yes” to a wide variety of tasks at my internship did wonders for me.

Doing so brought me face-to-face with challenges I had never experienced before. It exposed me to a number of departments, to software that was new to me and more. Even if I wasn’t sure of how to go about a task, I would dive right in and try my best to figure it out. Of course, I asked for help or guidance when I needed it — but only when I was completely lost.

By the time my internship was up, I was known to be quite the multitasker — and problem solver.

By the time I got hired, I had everything from photo coordination to process development under my belt. I knew the in’s and out’s of workflows, learned the value of time management and even held the responsibility of training new employees on our task management platforms.

My supervisors trusted me because I proved I was more than capable of handling it all.

Saying yes to everything also taught me how to say no to tasks I didn’t have the bandwidth for. It’s one thing to take on tasks; it’s another to actually finish them.

2. Know What’s Expected of You as an Intern

Setting clear expectations between you and your supervisor from the start is the most important thing to do, says Valerie Sutton, director of career services at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.

You will want to discuss the days and hours you are expected to work, the best forms of communication, how often they want to be updated on projects, and what resources are available to support you in your work (laptop, desk space, knowledge network, etc.),” Sutton wrote in an email.

When you know what’s expected of you every day, you’ll be able to measure your own progress. Are you on track with your work? Have you fallen behind? Or, even better -- are you exceeding expectations?

For Kim Vogel, talent acquisition lead at The Penny Hoarder, interns who exceed expectations are the ones who make for good full-time candidates.

“Go above and beyond what your internship tasks are,” says Vogel. “Leave little to no doubt that they will not not be able to function without you.”

If a company can’t function without you, then they’ll be faced with a decision: bring you on before you graduate or risk losing you after your internship is up?

3. Stay Curious

[caption id="attachment_73633" align="alignnone" width="1200"]Intern to Full-Time - Stay Curious Kristy Gaunt / The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

Dan Green, CEO of media company Growella, assists in running the company’s internship program. While the program focuses on getting students real-world experience — as well as credits toward their degree — he and his staff also evaluate and develop interns as future company employees.

What makes Green want to bring someone on full-time?

Curiosity.

When we hire an intern who's curious, we find that they're willing to push personal boundaries to be more, and to do more,” Green wrote in an email. “They're driven to explore new ideas. They find ways around roadblocks and make excellent contributions to our team.”

So ask questions. Challenge your challenges. The end result could be you reaching areas of work that you may have never imagined — all while, again, making it hard for them to let you go.

4. Pinpoint Problems, Then Offer Solutions

James Pollard, marketing consultant at TheAdvisorCoach.com, has worked with many interns over the years. He notes one of the most valuable ways an intern can show that they’re worth hiring is to be a problem solver.

“Start asking the higher-ups in the company what they're struggling with, what their pain points are, etc.,” Pollard wrote in an email. “Take lots of notes and start doing your research on what these problems are and how you can help.”

After carefully observing and brainstorming, Pollard recommends presenting your solutions to the appropriate people. In doing so, you’re not only showing initiative, but you’re also displaying problem-solving skills.

“After all, in any career, you are getting paid to solve problems, says Pollard.

Being an active participant in offering solutions will raise your value at the company. In doing so, you could make strides toward being asked to offer solutions full-time.

5. Make the Most of It

Liz Valeri, digital marketing strategist at Coalmarch Productions, started at Coalmarch as a marketing intern. While she received constant feedback about the actual day-to-day work she was doing, there was one piece of feedback that resonated with her the most: This internship is what you make of it.

It was really up to me to determine how I wanted this internship to go — I could just come to work, keep quiet, and get my tasks done, or I could make an effort to attend company events, ask to sit in on meetings and truly get to know each and every team member,” Valeri wrote in an email.

Valeri states that immersing yourself in the company culture is something only you are in control of. After building relationships with coworkers, Valeri says you’ll soon be an employee the company doesn’t want to live without.

Ready to Get Started?

If you’re ready to dazzle employers by being a stellar intern, then now is the time to start thinking about how to make it happen.

Here are a few ways you can get started with your internship search -- and what to do after you land one.

  • Hit up your career services center at school. It’s is a great resource students can use to find internships they may be interested in.
  • Consider some of these side gigs if you end up taking an unpaid internship. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and take a really great opportunity that’s unpaid (just make sure it isn’t illegal) — but that doesn’t mean you have to be broke during it.
  • Find a mentor. Having someone to turn to when you need help navigating your internship can do wonders in the long run. They’ll be there to answer your questions, help you figure out how to approach situations, and more.

Good luck!

Kelly Anne Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter at @keywordkelly.

If you think Equifax screwed up with its data breach, you’re in for a rude awakening.

Remember back in 2016 when Yahoo announced that a 2014 data breach affected 500 million people? If not, maybe you can recall when, three months later, it informed us all of a separate 2013 breach that affected 1 billion users.

In case that didn’t sting enough -- or wasn’t sketchy enough -- how would it sound to you if 3 billion user accounts were actually compromised? Like a nightmare, right?

Well… it happened. And we’re just now finding out about it.

3 Billion Accounts? Damn, Yahoo!

Verizon, Yahoo’s new owner, has finally come clean about the severity of the situation, and it doesn’t look good.

The company announced that every single Yahoo account was affected by the initial 2013 breach. That means about 3 billion accounts had data stolen from them, according to The New York Times.

The breach allowed criminals to gain access to encrypted information, such as names, birthdates, phone numbers and passwords.

The company will alert users whose accounts were not previously reported breached, according to CNBC.

Ultrasensitive information, such as bank and credit card data, were not included in the breach, but The New York Times says the stolen data could make it easier to hack into the bank accounts of those who use the same password across multiple platforms.

So what should we — as in, those of us associated with the billions of compromised accounts — do? As always, closely monitor your personal accounts, and report any fraudulent activity to your bank.

As for changing your Yahoo password -- well, it’s safe to say it’s a little too late for that. But consider updating your passwords on other accounts, though, just to be safe.

Kelly Anne Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter at @keywordkelly.  

Here at The Penny Hoarder, we love a good showdown between grocery stores.

You may have read about when I made the switch from Winn-Dixie to Trader Joe’s after comparing my grocery list at both places. In the long run, this switch saved me big.

I’ve shopped at Trader Joe’s ever since. But with Aldi taking America by storm, it’s time for another duel: Aldi vs. Trader Joe’s.

Which one is cheaper for everyday grocery shopping? Let’s find out.

Here’s How Much I Spent at Trader Joe’s

If you’re a fan of novelty snacks like pumpkin butter and mochi rice nuggets, you may be a Trader Joe’s superfan. While Trader Joe’s snacks usually carry the labels of the store’s own brands, recent reports claim larger companies, like PepsiCo and Frito-Lay, manufacture them.

Aside from its delicious and wacky treats, the grocery chain is also known for its excellent customer service, paying its employees well (with potential 7-10% annual pay increases — woah!) and being affordable.

When it comes to a plain ol’ grocery list, though, is the Joe actually cheap?

[caption id="attachment_73370" align="alignleft" width="1200"] These bananas, coffee and bread were bought from Trader Joe's for a price comparison against Aldi. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

Below is a sample grocery list filled with everyday items based off what I normally purchase for myself every two weeks. (Prices listed for both Aldi and Trader Joe’s are for our local stores in Florida and will vary by location.)

  • Half gallon whole milk: $2.49
  • Loaf of whole-wheat bread: $2.79
  • 1 dozen eggs: $1.19
  • One tomato: 69 cents
  • 3-ounce container ground coffee: $4.99
  • 2.35 pounds organic chicken breasts: $17.60
  • Head of cauliflower: $2.49
  • White mushrooms: $1.99
  • One jumbo red onion: 99 cents
  • Four potatoes: $1.96
  • Four bananas: 76 cents
  • Light sliced provolone cheese: $4.49
  • Coffee creamer: $3.49
  • TJ’s nonfat greek yogurt: $4.99
  • Light cheese stick: $2.99
  • Frozen mixed fruit: $2.99
  • Organic frozen broccoli: $2.49
  • Butter croissants: $2.69
  • Six thinkThin protein bars: $10.74

Pretax total at Trader Joe’s: $72.81

… and Here’s What I Spent at Aldi

Aldi is best described as a no-frills grocery store. You have to bring your own bags or pay for them at the store, bag your own groceries and pay a refundable 25-cent deposit for a grocery cart. Because Aldi’s labor and supply costs are low, it can keep its prices incredibly low for consumers.

Keeping the no-frills concept in mind, Aldi doesn’t have many brand-name items (or mochi rice nuggets) to my knowledge. It does, however, claim that its products “are made of the same, or even higher, quality than national brands.”

Here’s how much it cost to buy (almost) the same items at Aldi:

  • Half gallon whole milk: $1.09
  • Loaf of whole-wheat bread: $1.29
  • 1 dozen eggs: 67 cents
  • 1 pound tomatoes: $1.59
  • Ground coffee: $3.99
  • Two packages of organic chicken breasts with rib meat: $11.25
  • Head of cauliflower: $1.99
  • White mushrooms: $1.29
  • 2 pounds jumbo red onions: $1.69
  • 5 pounds potatoes: $2.69
  • 1 pound organic bananas: $1.38
  • Sliced provolone cheese: $1.79
  • Coffee creamer: $1.89
  • Tub of nonfat Greek yogurt: $3.49
  • Light cheese sticks: $2.29
  • Frozen mixed fruit: $2.09
  • Non-organic frozen broccoli:$1.19
  • Butter croissants: $2.69
  • Six Fit & Active protein bars: $4.29

Pretax total: $48.64

Aldi vs. Trader Joe’s Verdict: Aldi Is Cheaper, but...

[caption id="attachment_73375" align="alignleft" width="1200"] This coffee from Aldi cost $3.99. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

At first glance, it’s obvious that Aldi was significantly cheaper than Trader Joe’s. However, that lower grocery bill came at a price.

For example, I couldn’t find a large package of chicken breasts to compare to the one at Trader Joe’s, so I would have to buy two of them to last me two weeks.

I also couldn’t find any cauliflower heads or white mushrooms on my first trip to Aldi. I  had to go back another day to get them.

The produce I could find, though, was a tad scary looking -- OK, REALLY scary looking. All the tomatoes were either bruised or smooshed, the bananas were already turning brown, and fruit flies were buzzing around the produce section.

Additionally, the onions and potatoes were only available in 2- and 5-pound packaging, respectively. Considering I was shopping for myself, I’m not sure if I could eat all those before they went bad.

So, who is the real winner here?

[caption id="attachment_73372" align="alignleft" width="1200"]This bread was bought from Trader Joe's. This whole wheat bread from Trader Joe's cost $2.79. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

I guess the best I can say is it depends.

Hear me out. I enjoy fresh produce, and the closest store to me doesn’t have the most ideal produce section, so Aldi may not be my first choice for fruits and veggies. But that may vary by store.

If you have a family, though, buying produce in the big bags Aldi offers would be beneficial.

There also wasn’t a light cheese option at Aldi, which is important to me. But hey, you can’t win them all.

For those who aren’t so picky about their groceries, Aldi could be the way to go. If you are picky, consider buying specific items at Trader Joe’s and the rest at Aldi.

So, what do you think? Are Aldi’s cheaper prices enough to make you switch?

Kelly Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter at @keywordkelly.

It seems like nearly every day I read an article that bashes everyone for not having enough in retirement savings.

I’m all for pushing toward my financial goals, but honestly, just how realistic is the advice out there about how much we should have tucked away for retirement?

If you’re like me and feel guilty about your savings, I’m here to tell you that you’re not alone, and you shouldn’t feel guilty.

This Retirement Savings Chart Might Ruin Your Day

According to investment company Fidelity, the amount you have in your savings should correlate with your age and annual salary. Fidelity says it determines these amounts by “a yearly savings rate, a savings factor, an income replacement rate, and a potentially sustainable withdrawal rate to help you create your retirement roadmap.”

According to Fidelity’s chart, if you started 25 years old and want to retire at age 67 with the same lifestyle, you should have at least one year’s salary tucked away for retirement by the time you’re 30. From there, you should have two times your salary saved by 35, three times at 40, four times at 45 and so on until you have a whopping 10 times your salary saved when you retire at 67.

Here’s the chart:

Do People Really Have That Much Saved?

OK, take a breath.

I’m here to tell you that if you don’t have the recommended amount saved, you shouldn’t panic -- we don’t have that much saved either.

I took a very official poll here at The Penny Hoarder HQ -- official as in I conducted it through Slack -- to see if my colleagues had as much saved as this chart recommends.

Here are the results:

 

See? You’re not alone.

Where This Financial Advice Falls Flat

It’s charts like these that make people feel really bad about themselves.

You know why? Because they make tons of assumptions.

If you read the itty-bitty fine print at the end of the post, you’ll see that this chart is based on the assumption that you would like to retire at 67 and plan to die at 92 (LOL). The numbers are also based on a 15% savings rate, which is the real doozy here.

When it comes down to it, younger generations have the odds stacked against them. They’re dealing with out-of-control housing costs and student loan debt that’s higher than ever.

In the second quarter of 2017, the median wage for full-time U.S. workers was $859 per week, which works out to $44,668 over a year. For a young worker, saving 15% of that income would be tough after making ridiculous rent and student loan payments.

So yes, let’s remember that not all of us can put away that golden 15% of our income and still afford to live.

If you’re ready to stop freaking out about retirement and get a hold of your plan, check out a few of these resources:

  • Wondering where a chunk of your paycheck is going each month? Read up on 401(k) basics and a cool strategy for how to make the most out of yours today — and maybe even retire early with it!
  • Does your employer not offer a company-backed retirement plan? Here’s everything you need to know about Roth IRAs and how to get started with one.

So don’t panic. Not all charts -- or retirement plans -- are created equal.

Kelly Anne Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter at @keywordkelly.

Housing costs are out of control, but this isn’t news. We’re all too familiar with the data sets and articles that scold us for spending more than the token 30% of our income on rent — and that also bring awareness to the fact that, yes, we are overspending on our living situations.

But how do we get around this?

Well, according to Moneyish, one “simple” way to drastically cut your housing costs is to get a roommate.

Wait... simple?

Living With Roommates Is Far From Simple

I’ll give credit to Moneyish: Yes, living with roommates in a major metropolitan can save you thousands each year. The SmartAsset study cited in the article says that splitting rent with someone can save you nearly $10,000 a year in the 10 most expensive rental markets in the U.S. — and as much as $13,000 a year in San Francisco.

I get it -- it’s simple math. Take one large number, cut it in half, and you’re left with two smaller numbers.

But simple? There is nothing simple about living with a roommate.

Sure, you’re saving on your monthly rent, but here are a few examples of the actual costs associated with having a roommate:

  • Your food. Robin Hartill, editor at The Penny Hoarder, once had a roommate who would eat her food and leave a buck or two in the empty package. “It doesn't sound like a big deal,” says Hartill. “But when you're running late for class and you find a dollar in your Pop-Tart box instead of the Pop-Tart that was the last ounce of food in the apartment, it's pretty infuriating.”
  • Hygiene. Sometimes you get really lucky and land a roommate who likes to party. You know what that means? Peeing in the pantry. Colleen Rice, email marketing specialist at The Penny Hoarder, once had a roommate who threw a party but wouldn’t let anyone use her bathroom -- I guess the pantry was the next best option.
  • Privacy. Jennifer Rothenberg, social media managing director at The Penny Hoarder, once had a roommate who crashed a dinner date... in her underwear. Nothing is sacred when you live with a roommate. Nothing. 
  • Your sanity. Please refer to the above bullet points.

How to Survive Having Roommates

OK, all jokes aside, sometimes you have no choice but to get roommates. And if that’s the case, it doesn’t always have to be a disaster.

If the thought of saving money on rent is alluring enough for you to put up with the obscenities of sharing a space with someone, I can’t say I blame you.

Here are a few ways you can make the most out of the situation:

  • Sign a month-to-month lease if possible. If it’s your first time living with someone, consider taking your new living arrangement by the month. This way, if it ends up being a disaster, you won’t have to wait until your lease is up to GTFO.
  • Don’t leave notes -- talk in person. You may have left a passive-aggressive note once or twice in your life (DO NOT TURN THE AIR DOWN TO 60!!!!). However, these tiny tidbits of rage don’t actually solve any problems. Have some beef with your roomie’s laundry all over the place? Talk about it in person. That way, you can come up with a solution together.
  • Keep it strictly business. Sure, living with a friend sounds like a good idea -- that is, until $@*! hits the fan. If it comes down to it, make sure you keep your actual friendship separate from discussions about your living situation. Business is business.

Oh, and if things start to get really weird, take care of yourself with these low-cost therapy options.

Good luck!

Kelly Anne Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter at @keywordkelly.

Have you ever purchased that overpriced but oh so convenient in-flight Wi-Fi? You know, the kind that costs anywhere from $16 to $28 per day?

Sure you have. It’s 2017, so the thought of an hour or two without communication makes you break into a cold sweat as the plane’s walls close in on you. The fact that you can’t text your BFF about how bored you are on your flight drives you insane.

Well, Delta is here to restore your sanity. Starting Oct. 1, Delta customers will have access to free in-flight messaging through iMessage, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

Yes, free!

No More Wasting Money on In-Flight Wi-Fi

There’s a special kind of shameful purchasing that comes with flying. I’m not talking about buying overpriced junk from the crusty Skymall magazine in your seatback pocket -- although a few bloody marys at 10,000 feet may make those strange garden gnomes look enticing.  

So, when airlines offer to charge you big for spotty -- if not terrible -- Wi-Fi, you whip out your American Express like it ain’t no thang and pay the hefty price to have some sort of connection to life on the ground.

That hefty price tag is why Delta’s new offer is changing the game.

To get your free messaging, download the apps prior to takeoff. Connect to the Gogo Inflight network once in-flight Wi-Fi is enabled, then navigate to airborne.gogoinflight.com and select the free messaging option from the dashboard. The free in-flight messaging works on virtually any Wi-Fi-enabled device, according to Delta’s website.

No, you can’t Snapchat about your lack of legroom, but you can stay connected to friends and family during your journey without draining your travel budget.

We’ll take it!

Kelly Anne Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter at @keywordkelly.

After years of people begging Chipotle Mexican Grill to come out with queso, the chain finally did.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all gouda with the public  -- all right, I had to fit at least one pun in here — sorry! In fact, some people are downright disappointed with it.

Are you one of them?

What’s Up With Chipotle’s Queso?

I know Chipotle is life. I’m not going to lie: I eat it three to four times a month. It’s healthier than many other dining out options and convenient, plus there are a few hacks to get the most out of your burrito on a budget.

The chain pledged to remain a healthier option by using additive-free ingredients, which kept queso off the menu. But the public pressured the chain to add the cheesy dip to its menu.

Finally, after concocting a version of queso up to its standards, Chipotle rolled it out in all of its restaurants last week, as reported by Consumerist.

People weren’t exactly satisfied, though. Search “Chipotle queso” on Twitter, and you’ll see descriptions such as “inedible,” “disappointing” and “trash” (ouch).

Chipotle says it’ll continue to work toward perfecting its recipe.

I’ll also be honest when I say that I went last week and literally no one in line ordered the queso. I took one look at it and wouldn’t have, either. It was more orange than yellow, and the workers were constantly stirring it.

Even worse? The price.

I called my local Chipotle and got the price for queso:

2 ounces on a burrito or in a bowl: $1.25

4 ounces with chips: $2.05

6 ounces with chips: $5.25

I know that when you go out to eat, you’re paying for convenience, but that’s a pretty penny for some melted cheese.

A Better-Tasting Queso Recipe for Half the Cost

If you’re looking to satisfy your queso needs on a budget -- and you want queso that tastes much, much better than Chipotle’s -- then consider making yours at home for a fraction of the cost.

Here’s our favorite recipe for queso from Serious Eats. For just under $6, this sure does blow Chipotle’s version out of the water!

  • 8 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese (or a mix of cheddar and pepper Jack — see note), grated on large holes of a box grater: $2.11
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch: 3 cents
  • 1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk: $3.28
  • 2 teaspoons Frank’s Red Hot or other hot sauce: 7 cents

The total cost for this queso recipe rings in at $5.47, but it makes six 2-ounce servings, putting the cost per serving at just 91 cents.

Note: These prices vary depending on where you live; ours are taken from our neighborhood Walmart.

Directions

Add the cheese and cornstarch to a large bowl, and toss them to combine. Transfer the mixed cheese and cornstarch to a medium saucepan, and add 1 cup of evaporated milk and the hot sauce. Cook the mixture on low heat while stirring with a whisk until the mixture is melted and thickens. For thinner cheese, add additional evaporated milk until the desired consistency is met.

Serve the queso with fries, chips, hot dogs or whatever your cheesy heart desires!

Enjoy!

Kelly Anne Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter at @keywordkelly.