Kelly Gurnett - The Penny Hoarder

It’s that time of year when an ice-cold beverage really hits the spot. And when that ice-cold beverage is free — well, then it hits your wallet quite nicely, too.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017, is 7-Eleven Day, also known as “Free Slurpee Day.” That’s because simply entering any participating 7-Eleven convenience store between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. on 7/11 (get it yet?) gets you a free small Slurpee.

If you’re a member of the 7Rewards program (buy six 7-Eleven drinks and get the seventh one free), you’ll get twice the perks because your free Slurpee counts as a “punch” on your loyalty card app, taking you one step closer to scoring yet another freebie.

But wait, there’s more!

Turn Every 7th Slurpee Into a Freebie

Free Slurpees are cool enough, but the 7Rewards app is pretty cool, too.

Just download the app on your iOS or Android device, and you’re on your way to any free self-serve drink, including Slurpees. Scan your app with every self-serve drink purchase (coffee, Slurpee, Big Gulp, Chiller Iced Coffee, etc.), and when you reach six purchases, you get the seventh for free!

Any size cup counts toward your free seventh drink. What’s more, you can choose any size you like as your freebie. So, you could buy six small Slurpees and still get the largest available size as your freebie.

If you want to maximize your free Slurpee savings on July 11, you could hit six 7-Elevens for freebies and scan your rewards app at each one, then score the free seventh Slurpee, giving you a Slurpee buzz that would make Bart Simpson jealous.

We’re not saying this is recommended on either a health or an ethical level, but, you know… you could.

Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor who runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. Follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.

You can snag some pretty awesome rewards by taking advantage of credit card signup bonuses. But are the gift cards and travel points really worth it if all that activity on your credit report winds up hurting your credit score?

It doesn’t have to, if you do it wisely. Here’s what you need to know to open and close credit cards without negatively impacting your credit score.

1. How Credit Reporting Agencies Calculate Your Score

To know what affects your credit score and what doesn’t, you need to consider what makes it up. Below are the factors that determine your score and their weight in the scoring process:

  • Payment history - Regular on-time payments will boost your score; missed or late payments will lower it. Payment history has the most impact on your score at 35%.
  • Debt-to-credit ratio - Also known as your “credit utilization ratio,” this represents how much of your available credit you’ve used. Using up all or most of your available credit will lower your score, while only using a small percentage will raise it. This makes up 30% of your credit score.
  • Length of credit history - You also get points for how long your credit accounts have been open and how long since their last activity. The older your accounts, the more responsible you look to potential lenders. This makes up 15% of your credit score.
  • Credit inquiries - When you apply for a new card, this counts as a hard credit inquiry or pull. Too many hard pulls in over a period of time can lower your score as it signals you’re trying to obtain too much credit too fast. Soft pulls happen when you (or an employer or landlord) check your credit history. These don’t affect your score because you’re not asking for new credit. The number of recent credit inquiries you’ve had accounts for 15% of your credit score.
  • Credit mix - Having a mix of revolving credit (credit cards), retail credit (store-specific cards) and and installment loans (auto loan, mortgage, etc.) works in your favor, as it shows you can be responsible with different types of credit. A good mix is nice, but because it accounts for only 10% of your score, it’s entirely possible to have a good score without it.

Armed with this info, you can better understand whether opening a new card will help or hurt your score. A new card will often have a positive impact on your score because the increased available credit reduces your debt-to-credit ratio, which has the second-largest impact on your score. Just be sure to keep the following guidelines in mind.

2. Pay on Time

Payments made within 30 days of the due date, while technically late, won’t ding your credit score. Once you reach the 30-day-overdue mark, though, the creditor may report the late payment to the credit agencies, which can lower your score. And if you reach the 60- or 90-day-overdue marks, the negative reports will hit your score even harder. The later you are, the more damage it does to your score.

Remember, payment history makes up the largest chunk of your score at 35%. So whatever new cards you open, be sure to stay on top of them when the monthly payments are due.

3. Pay Them Off Each Month (With One Exception)

Paying your balance in full each month keeps your debt-to-credit ratio low, which is good for your credit score. It also keeps you from incurring additional fees that can eat away at any monetary gains of a new card promotion.

That said, you’ll want to make sure you keep making regular small purchases on each card to avoid getting penalized for inactivity. Having a zero balance on all of your cards for an extended period of time can actually bring your score down a few points, as it signals a failure to use your available credit wisely. Charging a small item each month and paying it off the next month shows lenders you can handle your credit and builds a positive track record. As a rule, it’s best to keep your debt-to-credit ratio between 1 and 20% at all times.

4. Keep Your Oldest Account Open

Closing an old account won’t boost your credit score, but it could lower it if it affects the overall length of your credit history or increases your debt-to-credit ratio.

If you have a number of cards and closing one will only affect these two factors by a small percentage, it’s probably safe to close it. That said, there’s generally no good reason to close an old account. Having 10 accounts you’ve paid in full each month for years shows you’re quite good at managing your credit.

5. Become an Authorized User

One trick to maintain a long credit history while opening and closing cards is to have someone list you as an authorized user on their account. Once you’re an authorized user, the account will show on your credit history and impact your score. This keeps your average account age nice and long, even as you open newer, younger accounts.

6. Don’t Open Too Many Cards at Once

In general, each hard pull takes your credit score down 3-5 points. Each inquiry stays on your credit report for two years, though it only affects your credit score for one year. If your score is otherwise high, and a rewards card truly seems worth it to you, it’s your call whether you’re willing to take the short-term points hit.

Keep in mind, opening too many cards at once can be a red flag to creditors, as it looks like you’re scrambling to get your hands on cash. Everything should be all right if you don’t go overboard in any 6- to 12-month period.

Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor who runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. Follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.

Wonderful as it can be, becoming a stay-at-home parent involves plenty of challenges.

Will you be able to adjust from a 9-to-5 schedule to a naptime-to-naptime schedule? Are you prepared to ditch your business suit for 24/7 sweatpants?

Will you remember how to talk to other adults after daylong marathons of “Yo Gabba Gabba”?

But apart from asking yourself these questions (which are definitely worth asking), you also need to think about the financial aspects of this life-changing decision.

Lifehacker’s Two Cents blog looked at the financial steps you should take before you decide to stay home, like comparing income and expenses, looking into insurance and adjusting your savings strategy.

They’re all great tips, and you should definitely check them out if you’re considering staying home.

But what else do you need to know before becoming a stay-at-home mom or stay-at-home dad?

While I don't have kids of my own (of the non-furry variety, at least), I did some digging and found these great strategies other stay-at-home parents recommend online.

1. Base Your Budget on Take-Home Pay

When you’re looking at your monthly income and expenses and tweaking your budget, remember to use the working partner’s take-home pay, not their full salary.

Once taxes are deducted from those paychecks, you won’t be left with the full $50,000 (or whatever amount) the person technically earns.

That said, making less money as a household could actually wind up benefiting you, says Alden Wicker on LearnVest.

“If your plan is to quit your job and stop earning money all together, you might be pleased with the effect on your taxes,” Wicker explains.

“It’s very possible you’ll be bumped into a lower tax bracket, meaning your spouse will pay a lower percentage of income to taxes, saving you money.”

2. Remember to Subtract Work-Related Expenses

When you’re trying to think of ways to make your new budget work, remember that with one partner leaving a job to stay home, you’re actually cutting back on several job-related expenses.

In addition to not having to pay for child care (a big deciding factor for many SAH paren), that also means no more commuting costs, parking lot passes, coffees and lunches on the go, or constant peer pressure to contribute to your co-workers’ birthdays, workiversaries and fundraisers.

"I saved money at the hairdresser, for example, because after I quit my job I didn't have to get my hair done every six weeks," says Jonni McCoy of Miserly Moms on

3. Communicate Clearly About Responsibilities

This is not a discussion you want to have at the end of a long day, when you’re both exhausted and staring down a sink full of dirty dishes.

Decide before quitting your job how you’re going to divvy up household responsibilities like cooking, cleaning and running errands.

“It's much easier to talk about one another's roles while you're deciding to become a stay-at-home [parent] rather than after you're already home with the kids,” writes Apryl Duncan in’s Parenting section.

“Make a plan together beforehand so you'll know what to expect,” Duncan explains. “This will eliminate a lot of frustration that can easily enter into your relationship as you both adjust to the changes in lifestyle.”

4. Look Into Ways to Make Money From Home

Numerous companies offer remote positions, but when you’re keeping an eye on kids, you may be better off with something more flexible you can do on your own time.

Luckily, there are plenty of other ways you can make money working from home, like freelancing, part-time consulting, transcription and selling your crafts on Etsy.

These kinds of jobs can fit into your normal schedule, so you can work while your kids are asleep or playing, and most tasks don’t have to be finished in one sitting (to allow for the inevitable interruption of “Mo-ooom!” or “Da-aaad!”)

5. Sign Up for Free Diapers Early

When only one of you is working full time, budgeting and frugality are extra important.

Diapers aren’t cheap, but babies have a way of going through them like they are. So start preparing as early as possible by signing up for all these great ways to get free diapers.

Your Turn: Stay-at-home parents, what do you wish you had considered before you made the switch? If you’re about to transition to staying home with kids, what are you doing to plan for the change?

Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor who runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. Follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.

With the average cost of cable running $1,188 a year, it’s no surprise that more and more people are making the decision to cut the cord and get their TV fix elsewhere.

But can you really still watch all the shows you love without paying the price of a hefty cable package?

Yes, you can. Here’s how to watch TV without cable.

1. Major Network Websites

You can view videos or full episodes of many of your favorite TV shows for free on network websites.

Broadcast channels like ABC, CBS and NBC offer a wide range of on-demand episodes, as do premium channels like TLC, TBS and HGTV. Just head to your favorite network’s website to check out what’s available.

Cost: Free

2. Sling TV

One major complaint about alternative TV services is there typically isn’t much offered for sports fans.

Sling TV by Dish Network is one solution. It offers live access to 20 premium channels, including ESPN, Adult Swim and AMC, as well as add-on channel packages based on your interests.

That said, it’s live access; there’s no option to record a show you want to watch later.

Sling does offer a replay period during which you can view shows that aired within the past three days on certain channels. Certain channels also allow you to rewind a show you’re already watching, but ESPN is not one of them.

Cost: $20-$25/month for the basic “Best of Live TV” package; add-ons available from $5 a month (for Sports Extra, Kids Extra, etc.) to $15 a month (for HBO)

3. CBS All Access

Check out more than 6,500 episodes of CBS shows with CBS All Access live streaming. Available for your PC or mobile device, it also gives you access to live TV and special features like the Big Brother live feed.

Cost: Free one-week trial; $5.99 a month after that

4. Hulu

You can watch a variety of popular shows streaming on Hulu the day after they air, plus entire series, including past seasons of current shows like “Modern Family” and classic shows like “The Twilight Zone.”

Hulu is also making its mark in the original content game, with exclusive series like “Behind the Mask” and “Difficult People.”

The basic subscription is ad-supported, but you can upgrade to Hulu’s No Commercials plan to watch everything ad-free.

Cost: $7.99/month for limited commercials; $11.99/month for no commercials

5. Feeln

Presented by Hallmark Cards, this streaming service offers hand-picked, heartwarming and family-friendly movies and TV series.

Feeln is commercial-free and available on a wide range of devices from your iPhone to your Roku to your Xbox 360. It also offers 100 originally produced short films and programs, as well as an exclusive collection of Hallmark Hall of Fame features.

Cost: $1.99 a month

6. Netflix

Commercial-free and available on a number of platforms, Netflix has one of the largest libraries of shows and movies available for live-streaming.

It releases whole seasons of shows at once -- great for binge-watching, but not so great if you want to be up-to-date on your favorite shows so you can discuss them with your friends. You’ll have to wait for the latest season to end before you’re able to watch it on Netflix.

Netflix has also been a pioneer in original content, offering its subscribers exclusive access to hit shows like “Orange is the New Black” and “House of Cards.”

Cost: $8.99 a month (or free with this nifty trick)

7. HBO Now

If you're addicted to HBO shows like “Game of Thrones” and “Girls,” you’ll find they’re not available on other streaming services.

If you want to watch them without renting countless seasons of DVDs, you’ll want to get HBO Now. It’s available for most devices -- tablets, laptops, phones and desktops, but not video game consoles -- and offers a month-long free trial.

You can watch a whole ‘lotta GoT for free if you’re a binger!

Cost: Free 30-day trial; $14.99 a month after that.

8. Amazon Prime Instant Video

Amazon Prime’s Instant Video feature gives you streaming access to a number of popular TV series and movies.

The list is by no means exhaustive, and you’ll find it doesn't have the most recent seasons of currently running programs. You do have the option to buy a season pass for about $10-$20 or pay around $1.99-$3.99 per episode to view additional shows.

If you already buy a ton of stuff from Amazon and can benefit from the free two-day shipping that comes along with Amazon Prime, it’s certainly an option worth considering.

Cost: $99 a year (which breaks down to $8.25 a month)

9. HDTV Antenna

Go old-school and hook your TV up to an HDTV antenna to get basic broadcast channels with a high-quality picture. Add a TiVo or other DVR device, and you’ll be able to record shows to view them later.

Find out which channels are available in your area and the best antenna for your needs at AntennaWeb.

Cost: $15 and up for the equipment

10. The Library

Go really old-school by checking out the offerings at your local public library.

I searched my nearby branch and was surprised to find DVDs of everything from “I Love Lucy” and “The Brady Bunch” to “Malcolm in the Middle.”

It’s not enough to satisfy the diehard TV fanatic, but if you’re looking for a cheap way to pass a rainy day, you certainly can’t beat the price.

Cost: Free

Your Turn: Do you use any of these TV alternatives? What do you like (or dislike) about them?

Disclosure: We have a serious Taco Bell addiction around here. The affiliate links in this post help us order off the dollar menu. Thanks for your support!

Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor who runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. Follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.

Mmm… Donut…

You don’t have to be Homer Simpson to enjoy a good donut. And do you know what the best kind of donut is?

A free donut.

This Friday, June 2, is National Donut Day.

Unlike some other National [Blank] Days (really, National Cheese Souffle Day?), National Donut Day has an actual historical background. It was established in 1938 by the Salvation Army in honor of the men and women who served soldiers coffee and donuts to boost their morale during World War I.

From this noble tradition, we gained another All-American phenomenon: getting free food just for showing up at restaurants on certain days.

You may or may not have had a chance to snag some freebies on National Pretzel Day, Tax Day or National Pancake Day, but now’s your time to get on the free donut train. So make like the Simpson family patriarch and run out to these fine establishments to get your free deep-fried, drool-worthy treat.

Where to Get Free Donuts on Friday

1. Krispy Kreme

Krispy Kreme will give each customer at participating U.S. and Canada locations a free donut of their choice on June 2, no purchase necessary.

So whether you prefer powdered, glazed or filled, stop in to grab your free donut.

2. Dunkin’ Donuts

Dunkin’ Donuts will offer customers a free classic donut of their choice with the purchase of a beverage.

3. Duck Donuts

Duck Donuts will be giving out free donuts with any purchase. Additionally, the donut joy continues throughout the month because people with receipts printed on June 2 will receive an exclusive buy one, get one coupon for a half-dozen donuts redeemable Mondays through Wednesdays through Aug. 31.

4. La Mar’s Donuts

La Mar’s Donuts is giving out free donuts on June 2 with no purchase required if you show this golden ticket.

5. Cumberland Farms

This chain, which has locations in Florida and the Northeast, is handing out one free donut to anyone who purchases a hot coffee, iced coffee, Hyperfreeze beverage or fountain drink from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. Friday at participating locations.

6. Salvation Army Shops

The Salvation Army will celebrate National Donut Day with free donuts at shops across the country on Friday. Supporters are encouraged to share a photo of themselves with their donut using the hashtag #GivingIsSweet.

Don’t Forget to Go Local

Plenty of small-town bakeries are participating in this freebie bonanza, so be sure to do a search for your town plus “National Donut Day freebies” to uncover additional deals near you.

Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor who runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. Follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.

This post originally appeared in 2015. Editorial Assistant Haley Gonzalez contributed research and updated this year's deals.

I recently shared my tips for growing your freelance career enough to quit your day job. In that post, I discussed how I gradually “stepped down” from my full-time job by working one day less a week, then going part-time, until I had enough freelance income to quit altogether.

We received some questions from Penny Hoarder readers who wanted to know more about how exactly to negotiate reducing your work hours -- and understandably so. Of all the conversations you have with an employer, the “I want to work less so I can do my own thing” conversation is one of most petrifying.

So here are nine actionable tips, from my own experience and the advice of employment experts and fellow freelancers, to help you in this nerve-wracking situation.

1. Know What You Need

Before you walk into your boss’s office, you must have a solid idea of what you want to ask for. “I want to work less” won’t cut it.

Sit down with your monthly budget and your anticipated side gig income and ask yourself exactly what you’ll need from your employer.

  • How much money will help you keep your bills paid?
  • Would you rather work half-days throughout the week or work a few full days so you can take other days off?
  • Are you open to working from home on occasion, knowing you can get more done there (and hopefully spend some time on your own projects)?

While your employer is likely to offer a counter to whatever you ask, you need to know how much you’re able to budge and which items you consider deal breakers. Otherwise, you’re negotiating blind.

2. Time Your Request Right

The easiest way to kill your chances is to catch your boss on a bad day.

As the keeper of my immediate boss’s calendar, I knew which days he’d likely be stressed out due to big deadlines or a heavy meeting schedule. I also knew which days he tended to be in the best mood, like Friday afternoons right before he left for a weekend trip.

If you don’t have that sort of insider knowledge, try buddying up to another colleague who might, like your boss’s assistant.

“Wait until you've reached your recent targets,” recommends Kuba Koziej, CEO and co-founder of Uptowork. You want to make sure you approach your boss from a position of strength:

When you’re ready to talk, emphasize the need for the change to balance your life. Focus on the fact that a better work-life balance would make you happier and more productive. You think that a change in the schedule will help. Back that up with a couple of examples of goals you've achieved or targets you've met.

This sort of argument is stronger when you’re just coming off an achievement. If you’ve recently missed a goal or two, it’s better to wait until you’ve upped your performance so you have more negotiating power.

3. Think Like Your Employer

As CFO of New Eagle, Mickey Swortzel has been approached by employees asking to decrease their hours to pursue a personal project. She advises:

The key to making this a win-win for both parties is for the employee to think through the financial and workload issues from the company’s perspective.

Some of the questions that are helpful to start the conversation include: How can the work get accomplished? What is the timeline for this adjusted schedule? How is this going to work under your current employment contract?

Put yourself in your employer’s place and brainstorm what fears and concerns your proposal might inspire.

As Evan Harris, co-founder and Director of HR for SD Equity Partners, puts it, your employer “will want to make sure you are not trying to take advantage of the company. Cover your bases and try to discuss any issues that the employer may have with the transition before they bring it up to you.”

4. Emphasize the Benefits for Your Boss

Yes, you want a new arrangement because it will be better for you -- but you need to frame it in a way that shows what’s in it for your employer.

Studies have shown employees who work from home are more productive. So are employees who are more satisfied with their jobs. Be sure to emphasize how the new schedule you’re seeking will actually help you do better work.

“Keep in mind that you'll only achieve your goal if you can convince your employer that you will meet targets,” Koziej says. As he explains, you want to be able to say to your employer, “‘Here's what it looks like when I'm productive. Now, imagine I'm even happier with the schedule.'”

When I negotiated my step-down, I presented my boss with an estimate of how much time I spent doing billable, paralegal-level tasks only I could do, and how much I spent on basic administrative work.

I proposed he could hire a part-time assistant to do these less critical tasks for a much lower hourly rate than he paid me -- and he loved the idea.

The work would still get done and the company would save money. Putting my plan into these dollars-and-cents terms made it much more palatable to him.

5. Go In With a Plan…

The more specifics you can offer, the better.

Presenting a detailed plan shows you’ve really taken the time to think about your proposal and decreases your boss’s ability to generate tons of “what if?” concerns.

“Having a plan ready shows that you are committed to the company and presents the employer with a few choices,” says Harris. “Often, the employer will want to make their own solution, but by presenting an option or two, it steers the conversation into the direction you want it to go.”

Dr. Heather Rothbauer-Wanish, a professional resume writer and owner of Feather Communications, agrees:

When asking for time away to focus on a side hustle, it’s extremely important to let the company know that this will NOT affect your current work with them. For example, stating that you would be willing to work an alternate schedule to maintain the same hours will be vital.

When asking for an alternate schedule, adding a direct compliment to the company and/or manager will be a nice way to break into the conversation.

Here is an example:

“I love my position here with ABC Company. As you know, I am also working on {insert side business here} and would love to allot time to that opportunity, too. Is it possible to come in two hours late two days per week? In exchange, I would be willing to make those hours up in the afternoon or on a weekend.”

6. ...But Be Open to Alternatives

As a rule, in any negotiation, there needs to be give and take,” says Trevor Lamson of Connected Recruiting Ltd.

“What are you willing to do or give up to make this happen? Think about how this affects your employer and have ideas to adapt, work from home on that day or split schedules. Be creative; having solutions always increases success in negotiations.”

Aviva Legatt attempted to negotiate a step-down from her administrative job at the University of Pennsylvania to launch a side business and finish her doctoral dissertation. She went in with a clear request but was flexible enough to pivot when it didn’t work:

I wrote out a list of tasks, what I could do from home, and how much money seemed appropriate with the proportion of tasks versus my full-time salary. When I learned that this kind of arrangement wouldn't work for my department, I took on another role at the university as a high-performance team facilitator [for another department].

7. Consider Benefits

When asking for a reduced schedule, bear in mind many employers will balk at the thought of extending full-time benefits once you go part-time -- although they are required to offer health insurance if you work at least 30 hours per week and the company has 50 or more employees.

If you’re worried about the added cost to your bottom line, consider tweaking your offer to include a lower salary or hourly rate in exchange for retaining some of your benefits, which might also include paid vacation or a 401(k) match.

You can also consider alternative health insurance options available to you, such as joining a partner’s plan. Legatt was still a Ph.D. student at the University of Pennsylvania when she asked to work less, so she was able to switch to a student insurance plan when she was no longer able to use the staff one.

8. Offer a Trial Period

One of the best ways to ease the blow of requesting to reduce your work hours is to offer your employer a way out.

My boss asked that we have regular check-ins to touch base and make sure the new arrangement continued to work for both of us, and I was happy to agree. It reassured him and also gave me a chance to do a test run of my business’s viability.

At first, we met every couple of weeks to discuss my project load and upcoming deadlines. After a couple of check-ins, it was clear I was getting my work done and there were no complaints from the rest of the team, so we met less often.

I made sure to go into each meeting armed with a list of what I’d been working on, as well as an outline for how I’d tackle upcoming tasks, to put my boss’s mind at ease. I suspected he was also polling my colleagues to make sure my new schedule didn’t put any extra work on their shoulders, so between meetings I made sure to work my tail off to get everything done, and done well.

If your boss decides to nix your new schedule after a trial period, you’ve still bought yourself some additional time on the payroll while you decide what to do next.

9. Decide Whether to Be Transparent

How much should you reveal about why you’re asking for a different arrangement? Our sources’ opinions varied.

Lamson, the recruiter, believes that “if this is truly your desire, just be upfront. This is a difficult discussion in itself; accept the fact that asking this may lead to the employer becoming concerned. Be prepared for the repercussions.”

But Adam Hatch, a career advisor at Resume Genius, prefers a more cautious approach. He knows firsthand what it’s like to ask a boss to cut your hours so you can focus on a side business. Here’s what he recommends:

[Don’t] even mention your side business. If your boss asks why you want less time, deflect. You don't have to explain yourself, so be general. Say you have a lot on your plate, or you need to spend more time with family, or even that you have some projects you've been meaning to tackle.

But you don't need to go into too much detail. Be careful, though; you want to avoid coming across tight-lipped because it will seem like you're hiding something… you have no responsibility to inform your employer what you are up to during your off hours.”

It all depends on your personal work situation and risk tolerance. If you have a good relationship with your boss, your company has shown flexibility to employees in the past or you have a high risk tolerance, the simplest thing to do is lay all your cards on the table.

My boss knew I’d been working on my writing in my off-hours, so I saw no point in being coy about it. I was ready to accept his reaction, whatever it was, even if that meant finding a different job elsewhere.

In short: Trust your gut.

Reducing Work Hours: A Case Study

Ron Stefanski stepped down from his day job to focus on building websites like Jobs for Teens HQ. His story is a great example of many of these tips in action:

The first thing I did was tell my boss exactly what was going on. I explained to him that I had a side-business that was going well and I wanted to work on that full-time.

Then I told him that the last thing I wanted to do was "leave the company in a bad position because they had been so good to me as an employee," and I explained that I would be available for them as a consultant if they'd like. The key here was that I was ready for them to say "no," but was hopeful they would say “yes” as I needed the money.

The arrangement didn't include any paid vacation or health insurance benefits. My thought was that in order to make this happen, I'd have to become a paid consultant for them because otherwise they'd still have to provide me with benefits, which is a big ask since I was no longer a full-time employee.  

After my boss discussed the situation with the executive team, they agreed that this arrangement would work and we could have a trial period of one month. I went with an hourly consulting cost that was 20% greater than what I was making as a full-time employee because that's a good estimate of how much an employer pays over a salary for all benefits.

We limited the engagement to six months (with the option to sign another six months if needed) so that I could have an end date that would allow me to work fully on my own projects. In the beginning, I had a lot of work from them, but then they transitioned further away from me as time went on and overall, I would say the arrangement was a win-win for both of us.  

What If Your Boss Says No?

So, the biggest question of all: What if your boss flat-out denies you?

Well, at least you tried, and you’re no worse off than you were when you were working full time and wondering “if only.” Now it’s time to find another way to make your dream happen.

That might mean applying for a part-time job at another company. It might mean switching to a work-from-home job so you have more control over your hours. It might mean “slashing” together a handful of side gigs like dog sitting or selling stuff on Etsy.

There’s more than one way to make time for your freelance business, and as anyone who wants to be an entrepreneur will quickly find out, hustle is only one part of being successful -- the rest is learning to never take “no” for an answer.

Your Turn: Have you ever negotiated a new working arrangement with your company? How did you do it? Share your tips in the comments!

Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor who runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. Follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.

When searching for the best backpacks for college, cost isn’t the only thing to consider. Value is key, and that includes durability, comfort and the space to meet all your storage needs.

But how can tell you tell which, from the myriad options out there, are really the best college backpacks? We studied the options and narrowed them down to these 11 must-see bags. Whether you’re on a budget or prepared to splurge for special features, you’re sure to find something for you.

1. SwissGear Travel Gear ScanSmart TSA Laptop Backpack


This bag has plenty of space for your textbooks, binders and whatever else you may need to lug around.

Stay organized with features like an internal phone pocket and headphone port, accessory pockets, an accordion file holder, and a built-in daisy chain and carabiner to attach even more. When you have a lighter load, the condenser straps cinch the bag smaller.

The padded laptop sleeve holds laptops up to 15 inches, offers easy side access and can open and lay flat to meet TSA requirements (so if you travel a lot, you won’t have to take your computer out at security). There’s also a padded compartment for your tablet.


This backpack is made of “durable 1200D ballistic polyester.” One owner posted in the Amazon Q&A section that he’s used his bag heavily for five years and it’s just recently begun to show wear.


This bag is durable and comfortable, with ergonomically contoured and padded shoulder straps (one has a convenient glasses holder) and a padded back panel with Airflow ventilation technology.

There are no chest or waist straps to aid with weight distribution, however, so bear that in mind if you need the extra support or plan to carry heavy loads.

  • Specs: 18.5” x 15” x 8.5”, 30L of storage
  • Colors: black, black/blue, black/gray, gray heather, red
  • Price: $50.99+ (all prices were valid at the time of writing)

2. Oakley Kitchen Sink Backpack


It’s the most expensive bag on our list for good reason; you could live out of this bag for days, whether you’re attending classes, going on spring break or studying abroad.

It has plenty of compartments, including a mesh sunglasses pocket, brushed media pocket and shoe compartment, but it’s still compact and easy to carry. The padded laptop sleeve fits laptops up to 15 inches.


An abrasion-resistant bottom panel gives it extra durability (and offers added protection for your stuff) in the event of a drop. A compression-molded back, adjustable shoulder straps, and chest and waist straps ease your carrying burden, and the construction is strong and secure.


That said, some users have found the flap on the main compartment annoying to access on a regular basis, and depending on your stature and strength, this bag may be too big for you. For a smaller version, check out the Oakley Bathroom Sink Backpack.

  • Specs: 20” x 14” x 8”, 34L of storage
  • Colors: black, stealth black, herb (camo),
  • Price: $127.93+

3. Herschel Supply Co. Little America Backpack


This fun mountaineering-style bag has two faux leather buckled straps down the front for extra security (they close with easy magnetic snaps) and a classy striped fabric lining. The main compartment has an adjustable drawstring closure and internal media pocket with headphone port for your phone or MP3 player.

There’s also a front pocket with a hidden zipper and key clip and a padded laptop sleeve that holds up to a 15-inch laptop. This bag doesn’t offer a ton of compartments if you’re looking to keep your stuff separated, though.


It’s made of 100% polyester you can wipe clean with a damp cloth, and the company offers a lifetime limited warranty covering “common and everyday use for the duration of the original purchaser’s lifetime.”


Contoured padded shoulder straps and air-mesh back padding make carrying it a breeze.

  • Specs: 19” x 11.25” x 7”, 25L of storage
  • Colors: 19 colors to choose from
  • Price: $77.26+

4. High Sierra Swerve Backpack


Compartments are the name of the game for this bag. Multiple large sections, including a main one with two-way access, keep your stuff separate and easy to find.

There’s also a handy shoulder strap media pocket with a headphone port, as well as two water bottle pockets, lots of places to put things like cords and pens, and a key fob hook.


Made of long-lasting Denier Duralite material, this bag offers plenty of protection for your gear with a padded Cushion Zone laptop sleeve that fits laptops up to 15 inches, a Tech Spot tablet sleeve and a cushioned bottom panel. There’s also a lifetime limited manufacturer’s warranty against defects in material and workmanship.


It also offers protection for your back and shoulders in the form of S-shaped Suspension System shoulder straps, a padded Airflow back panel and condenser straps to adjust its overall size.

There are no additional support straps, but from customer reviews, it doesn’t sound like you really need them.

  • Specs: 19” x 13” x 7.75”, 31L of storage
  • Colors: a whopping 25 color and pattern options
  • Price: $33.48+

5. High Sierra Freewheel Wheeled Backpack


Similar to No. 4 in terms of compartments and laptop storage, this model comes on wheels for those with back problems (or those who simply prefer to pull their gear).


Two inline, corner-mounted wheels make for smooth rolling, while a kick-plate adds extra durability against bumps. This model doesn’t come with a lifetime warranty, but it does have a limited five-year manufacturer’s warranty.


The telescoping handle can be hidden away when not in use, and should you decide to carry your stuff instead, Cushion Zone sleeves and a padded back panel make the experience comfortable. (The straps can be tucked away in a pouch on the bag when not in use.)

  • Specs: 13.5” x 20.5” x 8”
  • Colors: red or black
  • Price: $52.99 for red, $69.99 for black

6. North Face Surge Backpack


This bag comes in two similar varieties: unisex and the slightly smaller, rounder women’s model. The unisex version’s fleece-lined laptop compartment holds laptops up to 15 inches, while the women’s version holds up to 17 inches.

Both styles feature a large main compartment, front pocket, and fleece-lined pockets for your tablet, phone and sunglasses. Plus, there’s a lay-flat design for easier TSA inspection.


It’s constructed of “hyper-durable ballistics nylon,” and several reviewers commented on how long it has lasted them. One even mentioned that it still looks great after she tossed it in the washing machine!


Both styles enable you to carry a large load with surprising comfort thanks to FlexVent injection-moulded shoulder straps, a removable chest strap and non-removable waist strap, and a padded air-mesh back panel with Spine Channel and PE sheet for added support.

  • Specs: 22” x 16” x 5”, 30L of storage (unisex); 21” x 16” x 5”, 26L of storage (women’s)
  • Colors: 12 to choose from for unisex; 19 for women’s
  • Price: $94.86+ for unisex; $100+ for women’s

7. Bolang Water Resistant College Laptop Backpack


If simple’s more your style, check out this lightweight, streamlined bag with a clean design and plenty of fun color options from black to bright to pastel.

The main pocket has a padded laptop sleeve that holds laptops up to 16 inches. There are also three front pockets with lots of storage features, and two mesh water bottle pockets on the sides.


Made of durable nylon with an inside liner, this bag is water-resistant to help keep your things dry as you dash between buildings in a rain shower. It’s not waterproof, however, so don’t test your luck by walking home in a downpour without an umbrella.


Padded shoulder straps, a padded back and a chest strap help you shoulder the load. Several reviewers mention how comfortable they find this pack.

  • Specs: 18.5” x 12” x 6”
  • Colors: 11 colors to choose from
  • Price: $51.89

8. KAKA Terylene Fabric Backpack for 17-Inch Laptops

We'll pause a moment to let you get out any snickers that may inevitably bubble up at the rather unfortunate name of this company. It may have a silly moniker, but this bag’s no joke.


Offering the largest storage capacity on this list in terms of sheer volume, this bag has a huge main compartment, a large secondary compartment, two smaller front compartments and two water bottle pockets.

Some customers have complained the main compartment is too deep, which can lead to smaller items having to be fished from the bottom. That said, the bag zips all the way open, and its big zippers work smoothly to make retrieval as convenient as possible.

The laptop compartment can hold laptops up to 17 inches and has a neat combination lock to deter theft.


Made of tough terylene oxford material with water-resistant lining, it’s adjustable and can even be washed if it gets too dirty.


Several reviewers describe this bag as comfortable to carry, even with a heavy load on a bike or motorcycle.

  • Specs: 12” x 22” x 7”, 35L of storage
  • Colors: black, blue, gray, red, camo
  • Price: $27.99+

9. OutdoorMaster Hiking Backpack


Whether you’re trekking the mountains or trekking across campus, this hiking backpack has plenty of great features that will keep all your gear in order.

Store your books and binders in its big main compartment or secondary pocket. Smaller stuff can fit in the slip pocket in front, which has plenty of places to organize supplies and gadgets.

There’s also a phone pocket (though the location of the headphone port isn’t terribly convenient), a sunglasses hanger, and straps underneath intended to affix a sleeping bag or tent (they work just as well for a rolled-up sweatshirt).

Laptops up to 15 inches fit in the padded laptop compartment. Add two water bottle pockets and you’ve got all your basics.


Made of lightweight and durable nylon, this backpack is meant to survive laung hauls through the great outdoors -- so chances are it’ll do just fine on your daily hikes across campus. A waterproof rain cover tucked away in one of the pockets keeps your stuff dry in all weather.


S-curved shoulder straps, adjustable waist and chest straps (the waist strap is padded), and a thick back cushion make carrying easy. The waist belt even has zippers on each side for easy access to things like cards or keys.

  • Specs: 23” x 14” x 9” inches, 50L of storage
  • Colors: seven to choose from, from vibrant hues to classic black
  • Price: $36.99

10. EcoCity Vintage Canvas Backpack


There’s a hanging pocket in the main compartment and a front pocket for smaller items, as well as side pouches.  

The laptop sleeve fits devices up to 13 inches. (If you prefer a Chromebook or tablet to a standard laptop, this compartment will be just right).


Feel like an explorer with this cool bag’s rucksack vibe. Made of eco-friendly cotton canvas, it has a top-loading main compartment that closes with a drawstring and flap secured with leather-looking straps (they’re actually magnetic). Reviewers were surprised to find this bag doesn’t sacrifice substance for style; its heavy canvas material holds up to wear and tear much better than expected for such a fashionable item.


Even without the padding other bags offer, this backpack’s thick, adjustable thick shoulder straps are comfy. While it may not be as large or offer as many complex storage options as other options on this list, for those without massive class loads, it’s a stylish and affordable option worth mentioning.

  • Specs: 11” x 16.5” x 6.3”, 19L of storage
  • Colors: black, army green, coffee, gray, khaki
  • Price: $36.99

11. AmazonBasics Laptop Backpack


When it comes to getting maximum value for minimum dollar, this bag is a great choice. It offers plenty of storage, with five main compartments, lots of smaller compartments, a tablet pouch and a padded laptop sleeve that fits devices up to 15.6 inches (17 inches for slim models).

A mesh compartment on the front of the left shoulder strap allows for easy smartphone access. It also has two water bottle pockets and an array of organizational options for accessories like pens and calculators.


This bag isn’t as heavy-duty as others on this list, but is well-made given the price point. If you tend to play rough with your stuff -- dropping your bag on the floor when you get home, shoving it into overhead compartments -- a pricier bag may be a wise investment for the peace of mind it provides.

But for daily handling and wear and tear, this bag gets the job done for a fraction of the cost.


Padded, adjustable shoulder straps are a nice feature, but this backpack is missing any added features like waist and chest straps or a reinforced back.

For the cost, it’s comfy enough, but if you need extra support or plan on carrying a super-heavy load, you may find you want something that offers a little more in terms of weight distribution.

  • Specs: 15” x 17” x 19”, 32L of storage
  • Colors: black
  • Price: $29.99

Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor who runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. Follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

So goes the frugality adage born in the 1930s or ‘40s, and it’s great wisdom to live by to this day. In a highly disposable world, making the possessions you already own last as long as possible is just plain smart.

But how far are you supposed to go when it comes to “making it do”?

I can play handywoman if something basic breaks around the house, like a doorknob or a window screen. But if my microwave goes wonky and a thorough Google search hasn’t helped me troubleshoot, I’ll be honest with you: I’m gonna replace the microwave.

For most of us, DIY dreams and YouTube videos can only take us so far when it comes to fixing our own stuff. We get discouraged, feel overwhelmed or simply decide it’s not worth the time -- and pull out our wallets instead.

Until now.

Welcome to the age of the Repair Café, a new way of putting power back in the hands of consumers, celebrating practical knowhow and doing a little good for the Earth to boot.

What is a Repair Café?

Repair Cafés are free events where local craftsmen and specialists help community members fix broken items and learn new skills. They’re typically held about once a month in places like church basements, community centers and libraries.

And they’re not just for electronics repairs. Each Repair Café workshop offers a unique mix of professionals, based on who is available in the area, and their expertise can include bicycles, sewing, jewelry, furniture, toys and more.

You don’t even need to bring something broken -- you can simply watch and learn (or help, if you want) while enjoying some free tea or coffee. There’s usually also a reading table where you can leaf through repair books on various subjects.

The inspiration for these events is simple. As the Repair Café website explains,

We throw away vast amounts of stuff. Even things with almost nothing wrong, and which could get a new lease on life after a simple repair.

The trouble is, lots of people have forgotten that they can repair things themselves or they no longer know how.

Knowing how to make repairs is a skill quickly lost. Society doesn’t always show much appreciation for the people who still have this practical knowledge, and against their will they are often left standing on the sidelines. Their experience is never used, or hardly ever.

That is, until now…

The Many Benefits of Repair Cafés

Repair Cafés serve several much-needed purposes. They help people save money by learning to fix the things they own rather than simply tossing them. They give craftspeople a chance to share their wisdom and empower average consumers.

Repair Cafés also preserve valuable memories by giving new life to sentimental items, like an heirloom locket or a vintage typewriter. They’re also fantastic for the environment.

Sustainability is a growing trend in everything from fashion to technology to coffee. It’s a mindset and a movement that focuses on standards and policies that reduce waste, conserve natural resources and support ecological balance. Repair Cafés play right into this movement, as the site notes:

People who might otherwise be sidelined are getting involved again. Valuable practical knowledge is getting passed on. Things are being used for longer and don’t have to be thrown away.

This reduces the volume of raw materials and energy needed to make new products. It cuts CO2 emissions, for example, because manufacturing new products and recycling old ones causes CO2 to be released.

Sounds to me like a “win” all around.

How to Find a Repair Café Near You

Sustainability advocate Martine Postma opened the first Repair Café location in Amsterdam in October 2009. Today, there are more than 1,200 Repair Cafés around the world. Check the map here to find one in your area.

These nonprofit, volunteer-run groups rely on donations to cover operating costs. If you’re interested in starting one yourself, you can get a starter kit here for €49 (around $52). It includes information on setting up and run a Repair Café, connecting with others in your area who are interested in starting one and promoting your event to your community.

Your Turn: Have you ever been to a Repair Café? Would you consider going to one? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor who runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. Follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.

You have insurance for your health, your car, your home… but what about your pets?

If you don’t currently have pet insurance, you’re not alone. While around 68% of U.S. households own pets, only 1% of those pets are insured, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA).

But given the price of vet care, it’s worth looking into. Petfinder estimates the annual cost of routine vet visits is $45-$200 for dogs and $50-$400 for cats depending on your pet’s age. Emergency vet visits can cost up to $2,000, and sometimes more, for dogs or cats.

And as someone who’s found herself at the animal hospital at 3 a.m., I can attest that when your beloved furbaby is pawing at you in distress and you don’t know what’s wrong, you’re willing to shell out pretty much anything to make her better again.

That’s why we’ve put together this breakdown to help you decide: Is pet insurance worth it for you and your pets?

How Does Pet Insurance Work?

[caption id="attachment_55343" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Trixy, the dog, waits to be examined at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Tampa, Fla.[/caption]

Like human health insurance, pet insurance helps alleviate some of the costs of keeping your pet healthy. You can choose from different levels of coverage, with each plan costing a monthly or annual premium based on how much coverage you choose.

Some plans cover basic scenarios like accidents and injuries, some only cover accidents, and others include accidents, injuries and genetic/hereditary conditions. The more comprehensive the coverage, the higher you can expect the cost to be.

Many plans have a deductible, a certain amount you must pay out of pocket before coverage kicks in. Depending on your policy, this could be anywhere from $0-$2,500 in a plan year. Typically, higher-deductible plans will give you a better percentage of your money back. Which leads us to the payment bit…

While human health insurance works on a copay basis (you pay a certain percentage when you see the doctor and the insurance covers the rest), pet insurance is largely a matter of reimbursement. You pay the full amount due when you take your pet in for care, then submit a claim to the insurance company afterwards. Depending on your policy, they’ll pay you back anywhere from 20-100% of covered costs.

Pet Insurance Review has a handy chart comparing the major companies’ policies side by side. Bear in mind you’ll still need to contact each company for a personalized quote, as your rates will be calculated based on your pet’s age and breed, as well as your location (vet costs are higher in some areas than others).

How Much Does Pet Insurance Cost?

[caption id="attachment_55345" align="alignnone" width="1200"] From left, Ashley Gandees, a veterinary technician, comforts Sara, the dog, as Amee Grise, a veterinary technician, gives Sara cancer treatment at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Tampa, Fla. Tina Russell / The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

While individual costs will vary based on your pet’s breed, age, health and the tier you opt for, the average cost of pet insurance for dogs is around $22 per month, while pet insurance for cats costs around $16 per month, according to Consumer Reports.

Have an exotic pet (i.e. anything other than a dog or cat)? Your options are a bit more limited, but you can still find coverage. Check out Pet Assure and Nationwide for plans for birds, rabbits, reptiles and other members of the animal kingdom.

Pros of Pet Insurance

It’s easy to compare your options. Unlike human insurance, which can be a labyrinth of plans and riders you need a pro to help decode, pet insurance is relatively straightforward. Policies are simple, tiers are easy to compare, and you can get a no-commitment quote from different companies within minutes, making price shopping a breeze.

Premiums can be low. If your pet is young or healthy, or you choose a lower tier, you can get coverage for less than the cost of a meal out each month. It’s not a huge price to pay for the security of knowing your pet can get the help it needs.

Deductibles are reasonable. Compared to the cost of one late-night animal ER visit, most plans’ deductibles are affordable. If, heaven forbid, your pet is seriously injured or ill, you could wind up paying at least the cost of the deductible anyway -- but with insurance, you can get your pet the extra care you may not have been able to afford on your own.

You get to choose your vet. There are no “out of network” provider headaches when it comes to pet insurance. As long as your vet is licensed, eligible expenses should be covered and there’s no need to worry if your vet “accepts” your plan. Since you pay for the cost out of pocket and then submit a claim to the company for reimbursement, all you need from your vet is a copy of their invoice and for them to fill out a section of the claim form.

You can do more for your pet. The NAPHIA reports owners with pet insurance are more likely to seek medical care for their pets than those without. No one wants to have to choose between a sick pet and a mountain of debt. Too many pet owners, faced with a catastrophic medical crisis they hadn’t prepared for, are forced to make the heartbreaking decision to elect for “economic euthanasia,” USA Today reports. If you invest in pet insurance, you could save yourself -- and your pet -- from ever facing such a decision.

Cons of Pet Insurance

[caption id="attachment_55344" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Molly, the cat, is examined at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Tampa, Fla.  Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

Premiums can be high. If your pet is older, has a pre-existing condition or you choose a high tier, you could be looking at premiums of $50 or more per month. You’ll want to carefully weigh whether the annual cost makes sense for you.

You still have to pay for procedures up front. Having pet insurance won’t save you from having to shell out big bucks if your pet needs a costly procedure. Whether you have coverage or not, it’s wise to have a separate savings fund for vet emergencies to ensure you can handle upfront charges until your claims are processed.

It doesn’t cover everything. On average, pet owners with insurance still pay around 20%of their pets’ medical expenses, according to a report by The New York Times. Routine wellness checkups usually aren’t covered, so you’ll still pay for those out of pocket. Certain hereditary/genetic conditions may also not be covered; be sure to check each policy’s specifics carefully.

The coverage has limitations. Many plans also limit the amount you can claim, either annually or over your pet’s lifetime. If your pet is unfortunate enough to suffer a major medical problem, you could max out your plan’s limit pretty quickly and find yourself paying the difference.

If your pet only needs routine vet care, you won’t save much. If they insure their pets, owners spend an average of $324 out of pocket on a dog and $264 out of pocket on a cat, according to the NAPHIA, compared to $251 for an uninsured dog and $146 for an uninsured cat.This is largely because, unsurprisingly, owners with pet insurance take their animals to the vet more often than those who don’t have insurance.

And these numbers don’t include the annual price of pet insurance premiums. With an average cost of $22 a month for dogs and $16 a month for cats, insuring your pet could mean your total costs hit $588 for a dog or $456 for a cat. If your pet is fortunate enough to avoid any big issues, the cost of insurance could outweigh the savings.

Should You Get Pet Insurance?

[caption id="attachment_55350" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Dr. Jen Coyle, a veterinarian, examines Molly, the dog, at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Tampa, Fla. Tina Russell / The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

So, is pet insurance worth it?

Like property insurance (car, home, etc.), you won’t necessarily “save” or “make” money in an average scenario, but in the event of a catastrophe, you may find it’s worth the investment. Unlike human insurance, pet insurance is more about peace of mind and being prepared for a potential emergency than guaranteed savings.

While you may not get the most bang for your buck with a relatively healthy pet, there’s no way to predict what illnesses or injuries might occur, and for many pet owners, knowing they have a safety net in place is value enough.

"Pet insurance can help offset routine medical expenses and can be especially helpful for the unknown," said Dr. Jennifer Welser, chief medical officer of BluePearl Veterinary partners in Tampa. "Keeping the coverage may give you the freedom to make medical decisions for your beloved pets based on quality of life, not finances."

If you do decide to get pet insurance, enroll your pet when they’re young for maximum savings. Talk to your vet to get an idea of your pet’s potential breed-specific health problems, and ask them which insurance they’d recommend. If you decide to choose catastrophic coverage (generally the best cost-to-savings option), spring for the highest deductible you can afford.

Whether or not you opt for pet insurance, start an emergency fund now for vet care to make sure you can handle unexpected out-of-pocket costs. When Fluffy is in distress in the wee hours of the morning, money is the last thing you want to worry about.

How to Get Pet Insurance

To sign up for pet insurance, you’ll need the following information for your pet:

  • Name
  • Breed
  • Age
  • Pre-existing conditions (if any)
  • Vet’s name and contact information

Have your pet seen by a vet if you haven’t done so within the past year.

Most policies have waiting periods, which means you can’t get coverage immediately following an accident or illness. (This ensures people don’t sign up for coverage only when they know they need to cover a big bill.) So if you think you’d be interested in pet insurance, apply now before you end up needing it.

Check out Pet Insurance Review’s chart of the major pet insurance companiesto get started.

Your Turn: Do you have pet insurance? Would you say it’s “worth it” or not? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor who runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. Follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.

You can discharge some debts, like credit cards, in Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and some, like auto loans, mortgages, student loans, you can’t. That’s what most financial websites and gurus will tell you.

But they’re leaving out some fine print that could save you a ton of money and grief: In certain circumstances, you can wipe out your student loan debt in bankruptcy.

Only around 0.1% of people who file for bankruptcy even attempt to include their student loans, according to an American Bankruptcy Law Journal report. Yet the study found that around 40% of those who sought to have their student loans discharged were successful in getting at least some, if not all, of the debt dismissed.

In other words, if you’re in very dire straights, it’s at least worth considering. While rare, there are limited circumstances that could qualify you for a full or partial bankruptcy student loan bankruptcy discharge. Here’s what you need to know if you think you might qualify.

The Brunner Test for Student Loan Bankruptcy

If you pass what’s known as “the Brunner test,” you may have a shot at discharging your student loans in bankruptcy. Named for a case involving debtor Marie Brunner in 1987, the Brunner test sets forth the standard by which a bankruptcy court could consider your student loan debt an “undue hardship” you can’t reasonably repay.

To meet this standard, your must fit all three of these criteria:

1. You’re Unable to Maintain a Minimum Standard of Living

The word “minimum” is key here. If your student loan obligations are preventing you from being able to pay for housing, utilities and groceries, they would be an undue hardship. If they’re preventing you from being able to pay your cable bill or keep a third car, the courts will expect you slash these budget items first because they’re unnecessary and/or frivolous.

2. Your Situation is Not Likely to Change

In other words, it’s unlikely you’d be able to bring in more income or cut your expenses any further in the foreseeable future. This takes into consideration your qualifications and responsibilities. If you’re no longer able to work due to illness or disability, you have a pretty strong argument.

Less cut and dry, but still arguable, would be if you’re a single parent and can’t reasonably take on a higher-paying position without sacrificing your ability to care for your family’s basic needs.

A lot depends on your personal circumstances, so always consult an attorney if you’re considering filing for bankruptcy.

3. Made a Good-Faith Effort to Pay Back Your Loans Up to This Point.

This includes making your payments on time and contacting your lenders to negotiate a more affordable repayment plan. If you’ve made every attempt you can to stay up to date on your payments and are still struggling, you may have a case.

2 Other Scenarios in Which Your Debt Could be Discharged

If your school closed before you could earn your degree or due to fraudulent practices, you may be eligible for a discharge. Check out this post for a breakdown of the specific requirements for each of these situations.

If you took out private student loans for a school that was not eligible for federal student aid programs, you could argue that these loans don’t fit the strict definition of “education loans” set forth in the bankruptcy code -- and as a result, they should qualify for discharge. Again, it’s best to consult an attorney, as this can get tricky.

Some borrowers have argued they should be able to discharge any portion of their student loan funds used on “non-eligible” expenses (i.e., a laptop their school did not strictly require).

This is very risky, though, because the promissory note you signed when you accepted your loan most likely contained a clause in which you agreed to only use the funds for eligible expenses. If this is the only way you think you might qualify for a discharge, you’re probably grasping at straws and are better off reading the next section.

Alternative Repayment Arrangements

If you don’t pass the Brunner test, that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. There are many student loan repayment options that could make your payments more affordable:

1. Deferment

Deferment allows you to put your payments on hold temporarily due to extenuating circumstances, like job loss or military service. The federal government pays the interest on subsidized loans during this time.

2. Forbearance

Forbearance allows you to put your payments on hold or reduce your monthly payment for up to 12 months due to unforeseen problems, including health issues and financial hardship. Interest will accrue during this period.

3. Refinancing/Consolidation

This allows you to combine several loans into one single loan, potentially lowering your interest rate, monthly payment and/or granting you more time to pay. Bear in mind, extended payment periods could increase the amount of interest you’ll pay over the lifetime of the loan.

4. Income-Based Repayment Plan

Income-based repayment plans, which are only available for federal student loans, take into account your current income. The lender calculates a new payment based on a percentage of your income, and after a set period of time (typically 20 years), the lender forgives any remaining debt. Learn more about income-based repayment plans here.

For more details and help determining which of these options is best for you, click here.

Beware of Scams

Scammers love to take advantage of people in tough situations who are desperate for a way out. Watch out for these signs a student loan company offer may not be on the up and up:

  • It promises ridiculously low payments. As the saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • It offers to work with your lenders on your behalf. No company can get you a deal better than you can get by working directly with your lenders — but many companies are happy to charge you a fee for trying.
  • It wants to change your account contact info to its own. Never agree to be cut out of the loop on your own loans.
  • It wants to charge you a fee. Federal law requires lenders to work with you to make sure your payment terms are reasonably affordable. No additional fee will give someone else the power to magically do this better than you would.
  • The name or logo looks a little too familiar. Scammers often rip off well-known companies to make themselves appear more legit. Just because a company’s name has the word “American” or “National” in it, that doesn’t mean they’re reputable. As with anything, do your research on the company before agreeing to anything.

Your Turn: What strategies have you found to ease your student loan repayment burden?

Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor who runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. Follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.

Six Flags amusement parks offer plenty of stomach-flipping action.

The fun kind happens when you go up, down and all around on gravity-defying rides.

The not-so-fun kind happens when you tally up the damage a day of thrills can do to your wallet.

From tickets to food to parking, a day at the amusement park can put a significant dent in your entertainment budget. But thanks to the following tips we gathered from money pros and savvy park visitors, you can visit Six Flags on the cheap -- so the only fear you’ll need to face is the fun kind.

1. Buy Your Tickets Ahead of Time

Never, ever buy tickets at the gate. Whether your Six Flags trip is weeks away or a spur-of-the-moment decision, purchase your tickets online. You’ll save $20 on a daily pass ($45.99 versus the $65.99 full price)!

Make sure to specify the date you plan on visiting; otherwise you’ll spend $55.99 for an any-day pass. Then, simply print the pass at home, bring it to the park, and you’re good to go.

Planning your summer fun early to beat the winter blues? “Buy your tickets before the park opens for the year, because before opening day, the tickets are less expensive,” recommends Billie Jean Bateson, manager of Amazing Wristbands.

2. Buy a Season Pass

If you plan to visit Six Flags twice or more in a year, you should definitely buy a season pass.

At $84.99 a person, the cost is less than two full-price daily tickets, and you’ll get perks like passes for your friends, in-park discounts and free admission to Fright Fest.

3. Watch for Sales

When I wrote this post, Six Flags was running a Mardi Gras sale that added even more benefits to season pass purchases. If you bought four or more season passes and picked up your ID card at the park by July 2, 2017, you’d save almost 30% off each pass. You’d also get bonus perks like free parking, free admission to Holiday in the Park and more.

4. Buddy Up with Season Pass Holders

If you know someone with a season pass, plan a park visit with them on one of Six Flags’ “Bring-a-Friend” days to get in free. Season pass holders are allowed one friend per day per pass, so if your family of five is friends with a pass-holding family of five, your whole family could get free admission!

Etiquette note: It might be nice to do something in return for the family that’s helping you go to Six Flags for free. Maybe you could offer to pack a picnic lunch for everyone? (See No. 6, below.)

5. The More, The Merrier

Groups of 15 to 74 people qualify for a group discount when they purchase their passes at least 10 business days in advance. Each person pays only $33.50 (plus tax), and for every 15 people who pre-purchase, you can get an additional ticket free.

6. Eat on the Cheap

Skip the so-called savings of park-offered meal deals and bring your own food. Not only is it way cheaper, but you can pack healthier food that will actually fuel the rest of your day rather than making you want to take a nap.

Fill a cooler with ice, sandwiches, veggies, dip and other goodies, and leave it in the trunk of your car. When mealtime hits, go back out to the parking lot to fill your stomachs, enjoy some in-car air conditioning, and take a break from the noise and crowds.

What do you do if you start to feel munchies between meals? Budget travel blogger Lia Saunders of Practical Wanderlust says it’s ok to “ignore the ‘no food and drinks policy’” to an extent.

While outside food is “not strictly allowed per se,” she says, “we can all claim a medical reason for needing a few Lara Bars (low blood sugar, hanger, etc).” When she and her husband visited a Six Flags recently, “We simply stuffed some Lara and Kind bars into an extra jacket in our day pack, and security didn't notice a thing.”

7. Drink for (Nearly) Free

Sure, you could buy a Season Drink Bottle from the park and save on refills, but that’s an amateur move, and you’re a savings pro.

Instead, bring your own reusable water bottle and refill it at the water fountains throughout the park. Plenty of sports bottles have straps on them, so you can attach them to your purse or backpack rather than holding them all day.

Prefer something to cool you down on a steamy summer day? “Buy reusable ice cubes to keep your drink cold all day,” suggests Amanda Thomas of Liaison Technologies.

Finally, if you forgot your water bottle or lose it on a ride platform, you still don’t have to pony up any money to stay hydrated. “You can always ask for a free cup of water,” Saunders reminds us. Hit up any concession stand between rides, and you’re all set.

8. Look for Six Flags Promos and Coupons

In addition to scoping out Six Flags’ own Special Offers page, there are lots of ways to knock your costs down even further.

“Plenty of Coke brand products have promo codes on their cans good for discounts,” says David Bakke of Money Crashers, “as do products from Ortega, Kraft (string cheese) and Tony's (frozen pizza). Check your local grocery store for discount coupons in the checkout line as well -- they're usually good for about $5 off admission.”

If you live in California, you can save $15-$20 off a general-admission ticket if you bring a can of Coca-Cola to the ticket booth at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom or Six Flags Magic Mountain. (Purchase your tickets online and you can save even more.)

You can also look for coupons on group deal sites like Groupon, in local entertainment books and by following Six Flags’ Twitter and Facebook accounts.

9. Don’t Forget Membership Discounts

Save even more with the cards you already have in your wallet.

“AAA members get 30% off ticket prices and 10% off merchandise at certain AAA parks,” says Mike Catania, Chief Technology Officer of PromotionCode. “But it varies by park,” he adds, so it’s best to call your park’s ticket office to double-check.

Using a credit card to buy your tickets? “At certain times of the year, you can get 5% off your Six Flags purchases by using your Discover Card,” says Bakke.

You may also be able to get discounted tickets through your employer, alumni association or for being a member of the military.

And, as always, it doesn’t hurt to use a rewards credit card to get some extra points or cash back (if, of course, you’re able to pay off the balance in full on your next statement).

10. Consider Package Deals

“You might also want to look at ticket packages if [you’re] visiting a city with a Six Flags theme park,” says Bakke. “I live in Atlanta, and I know that there is such a program where you get admission to several local attractions (including Six Flags) at a reduced overall rate.”

If you’re making an extended trip to another city to visit a Six Flags, this might be worth your while.

11. Go on Non-Peak Days

Saunders and her husband “just visited Six Flags Magic Mountain [recently] on Superbowl Sunday,” she says.

“This is the best day all year long to go to a Six Flags park if you want to save money on a Flash Pass; the park is totally empty. We rode almost everything and never had to wait in line more than 15 minutes!

12. Know What to Skip

Carnival games are rarely fair and typically overpriced, so it’s best to skip them. The same goes for park merchandise, which usually just ends up as clutter when you get home.

Skip using your credit cards by having cash on hand. If you want to do or buy something at a stand that doesn’t accept cards, or the card machine is down, you’ll be stuck using an in-park ATM, which is rarely from your card-issuing bank and can sock you with extra fees, Bateson points out.

13. Pack Light

Don’t take more than you can carry or you’ll face hefty locker rental costs.

If you plan on doing a clothing swap for the waterpark, you can always leave your stuff in your car and make a quick trip to the parking lot when you’re ready to change. Either change in your car or, if you want more privacy, in the restrooms near the entrance gates.

14. Save on Parking

Certain season pass holders can get free parking, but if that doesn’t apply to you, try making a little bit of an extra trek to save some cash.

“At Magic Mountain,” Saunders say, “you can save $20 on parking by taking a public bus to the parking lot entrance and walking the rest of the way.”

15. Save on Accommodations

My sisters and I have an annual summer tradition of visiting a big amusement park in another state for three or four days, which means we also need to find lodging.

But the thought of shelling out a large chunk of our vacation budget on a hotel feels like a waste, especially since we rarely do more than sleep and eat outside the park, anyway.

So we’ve turned our theme park outings into theme park/camping trips. We book a small campsite at a park or campground a short drive from the park, pool our camping gear (tent, cooking utensils, etc.) and have somewhere to crash at the end of each day for a fraction of the price.

If camping isn’t your style, consider other alternative accommodations like Airbnb, hostels or crashing at a friend or family member’s house.

16. Go Late

Some Six Flags parks offer discounted admission if you arrive when the bulk of visitors are leaving (typically around 4 or 5 p.m.). If you live close to a park and only want to hit up specific rides rather than experiencing everything, this could be a great way to do so.

Sally Ernst of Buffalo, New York, lives close to Six Flags Darien Lake and says going late still offers plenty of opportunity to do everything she wants. “The park is small,” she says, “so it actually is a good amount of time.”

17. Be an Early Bird

Last but not least, if you’re making a day of your Six Flags visit, be sure to max out your time.

“If you’re only visiting the park one time,” Bakke says, “be sure to get there early -- at least 30 minutes before opening -- and make sure you take advantage of all the park has to offer. This doesn't save money, but ensures you get the most bang for your buck.”

Your Turn: Do you have any additional tips for saving money at Six Flags? Share them with us in the comments!

Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor who runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. Follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.

You ask, and we respond.

We recently received a message from a Penny Hoarder reader who knew about plenty of places to make a buck off gently used women’s threads, but wondered whether there were any good place to consign men’s clothes.

Why, yes, dear reader, there are. Here’s what we found:

Online Men’s Consignment Stores

No physical location, no problem.

1. Grailed

Named as a nod to the Holy Grail -- i.e., something priceless but hard to find -- Grailed bills itself as “a curated community” where “each piece is sourced directly from the closets of like-minded fashion-conscious individuals.”

If you’re a luxury wearer, the Grailed marketplace is the place for you.

But even if you’re not, you could sell your items in its other sections: Hype (for streetwear) or Basics (for well-known mass-market and vintage clothing). The curation team reserves the right to move your items to whichever section they fit best.

Grailed offers PayPal buyer and seller protection, as well as its own appeals process for any disputed PayPal claims. It also offers a unique spin on the eBay bid site model -- in addition to setting an asking price and accepting offers from buyers, you also have the option to accept multiple offers at once and ship to whoever pays you first.

Grailed takes a 6% cut of any profits after PayPal fees -- by far the lowest commission of any other company on this list. That said, you set the price for your items, which may mean they take longer to sell than they would on a site that sets the price for you.

2. The RealReal

As its name implies, The RealReal prides itself on authenticity. While all of the sites on this list forbid replicas and knockoffs of brand-name items, The RealReal takes it one step further by employing trained professionals -- from gemologists to apparel experts -- to ensure every item it offers is the real thing.

Your item must pass a rigorous multi-point inspection before the site will list it. (If it doesn’t pass, The ReaReal reserves “the right to confiscate the item and destroy it in compliance with all laws.”) If you’re not sure whether your item will pass the test (we’ve all been taken in by bargains), TheRealReal offers videos that walk you through how to tell a fake from the real deal.

If the site accepts and sells your item, you get up to 70% of the selling price. If your item sells for less than $120, however, your take falls to 55%, so you’ll likely want to list only the highest of your high-priced items here.

3. Menswear Market

Menswear Market touts itself as “going beyond the traditional consignment store model” by “offering a personalized service to each client who supplies a collection.” It takes some of the guesswork (and legwork) out of reselling your items by offering services like garment prep, photography, copywriting, packaging and inventory management.

Menswear Market may sell your pieces on its own website or through its selling accounts on eBay, Amazon and Etsy, which means your items can reach a wider customer base.

Menswear Market offers free item pickup in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, or prepaid FedEx shipping for out-of-state sellers. You will receive 50% of the net sale price via a monthly check over your collection’s selling period, which can last up to 120 days.

4. Linda’s Stuff

Don’t let the name fool you; Linda’s Stuff isn’t just for women’s clothing and accessories. It also has a sizeable men’s section with everything from jeans to shoes (although blazers seem to be, far away, the crux of its menswear offerings).

Based on the belief that “high fashion and high quality do not have to accompany high price tags,” this company strives to sell your luxury items at a price that will net you the most money and interest the most buyers.

Listing managers set a sales price for your items based on their experience -- most items start as a seven-day auction and later transition to a set price. Linda’s Stuff pays sellers monthly and takes a sliding commission based on how much you sell: 20% of sales over $5,000, 25% of sales between $1,000 and $4,999 and 38% of sales under $1,000.

The listing managers work to relist unsold items to find just the right buyer, and the site states, “Most of our clients will see 100% of their items sell within one year.”

5. Eliot

Not sure if your items are worth consigning? Simply take photographs of each one and submit them to Eliot’s stylists with its designer name, category and condition. They’ll tell you which items they can sell and for how much, and you decide which items you want to send to the site. Eliot offers free home pickup to sellers in the New York metropolitan area and free shipping for everyone else.

Every time one of your items sells, the site deposits your cut of the proceeds (up to 70%) into your Eliot account. You can transfer these funds to your bank account as you like.

Brick-and-Mortar Men’s Consignment Stores

Prefer an in-person experience?

6. Well Suited

From the same people who brought you women’s consignment site My Sister’s Closet and home furnishings consignment site My Sister’s Attic, Well Suited has retail stores in Arizona and California, and also allows shoppers to browse items online and place orders by phone.

You can stop by a store with items you’d like to sell or follow these instructions to ship them to the company.

To qualify for resale, your items should meet the “three C’s” My Sister’s Closet originally set forth:

  1. Cute (or, one could argue, “handsome” in this case): brand-name designer items, whether classic or trendy, that retail for at least $50

  2. Clean: in like-new, ready-to-wear condition

  3. Current: stylish and no more than 4-5 years old

You can receive 45% of the item’s sale price in cash or 55% in store credit.

7. Plato’s Closet

Plato’s closet focuses on teen and young adult clothing and accessories -- for guys, this means clothing in the 28-40 waist size range in “current styles that are still in the mall.”

Check here to see if there are any locations in your area. If there are, you can stop by with your items and your ID, and a sales associate will review your stuff while you browse the store’s racks. (Plato’s Closet doesn’t have a ship-to-sell option.)

Unlike other consignment stores that pay you when your items sell and take a cut as commission, Plato’s Closet buys your items outright and stocks them for resale -- so once you receive and accept its quote, you walk out with either cold, hard cash or store credit.

According to consumer reviews, you may only get $2-$5 per accepted item, unless you have high-demand items. But if you’re looking for a quick, easy way to unload your unwanted stuff and get a few bucks, Plato’s Closet is worth checking out. Choosing store credit could get you a little bit more, too.

8. Buffalo Exchange

Like Plato’s Closet, Buffalo Exchange buys acceptable items upfront and pays you in cash or store credit. Like other companies on this list, you can either drop your items off at one of its physical locations or send them by prepaid UPS shipping.

Buffalo Exchange lists what each location is looking for here, but as a rule, it focuses on “current trends, denim, designer, everyday basics, leather, vintage and one-of-a-kind items.” You can call ahead to find out what your local store is looking for if you’re selling in person or go here to see its biggest sell-by-mail needs.

Accepted items typically net you 50% of the selling price in store credit or 30% in cash .

Your Turn: Have you found any other places to sell men’s clothing and accessories? Share them with us in the comments!

Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor who runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. Follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.