ScoreCard Research Kelly Gurnett - The Penny Hoarder

You may have already heard that Meatless Monday is good for your health and the health of the planet. The global movement, which the Center for a Livable Future and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health created, challenges people to go meat-free each Monday to reduce their risk of disease, fight obesity and reduce their carbon footprint.

But participating in Meatless Mondays can do more than trim your waist and your impact on the environment; it can also help your wallet. After all, meat can be expensive, especially compared to fruits and vegetables. Going meat-free for one day a week can teach you some great tricks to keep your grocery budget low.

Here are 10 simple swaps you can make to get started today.

*Prices are averages for my local area and could vary by region.

1. Tofu to Replace Chicken Breast

[caption id="attachment_72661" align="alignnone" width="1200"]Tofu is marinated in dill pickle juice before being fried to make tofu nuggets. Marinate tofu in dill pickle juice before frying to make tofu nuggets. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

Tofu is one of the most versatile meat substitutes. Made from condensed soy milk, it has a soft, mushy texture and not much natural taste, which means you can make it fit a ton of different recipes. Grill it, fry it, bake it, cover it in breading or top it with sauce or press it to make it denser and chewier. You can prepare tofu to mimic chicken, fish, pork and more so it fits a wide array of recipes. It’s low in calories, has zero cholesterol, and is packed with protein, iron and calcium.

Recipes to try:

Cost savings:

Tofu costs just $1.82 per pound versus chicken at $3.29 per pound for boneless breast.

2. Tempeh instead of Mahimahi

Made from cooked, fermented soybeans, tempeh has a firmer, meatier texture than tofu and can be easier to digest than other protein substitutes like legumes. It’s a good source of fiber, protein, antioxidants, calcium and iron.

With a slightly sweet, nutty taste on its own, tempeh can be baked, grilled, stir-fried and more, and will absorb whatever flavors you cook it in. When you use it wisely, it can be comparable if not slightly cheaper than other meats per pound -- and it’s healthier.

Recipes to try:

Cost savings:

Tempeh costs $3.98 per pound, whereas mahimahi costs $14.99 per pound.

3. Texturized Vegetable Protein as Bacon

Also made from soy, TVP is sold in a variety of forms, from flakes to chunks to nuggets. It’s relatively cheap and high in protein, and it can mimic everything from stewed beef to bacon bits. Since it’s dehydrated, it’s also great at absorbing whatever spices and seasonings you cook it in. About 2 cups of dried TVP crumbles is equal to about a pound of bacon or ground beef.

Recipes to try:

Cost savings:

Two cups of dry TVP costs just $1.09 per pound (Bob’s Red Mill TVP), while bacon rings in at $5.74 per pound.

4. Seitan for Pork Dishes

Seitan is made from wheat gluten, so gluten-sensitive folks should skip this option. It’s low in cholesterol, carbs and calories, and high in protein. With a savory taste and a nice meaty texture, it’s great in Asian dishes and as a pork alternative. It’s also easy to cook. Just please don’t pronounce it like the evil deity: It’s “say-TAN,” not “Satan.”

Recipes to try:

Cost savings:

Two cups of dry wheat gluten will run $1.53, but pork checks in at $2.63 per pound.

5. Lentils Instead of Ground Beef

[caption id="attachment_72666" align="alignnone" width="1200"]A bowl of vegan shepherd's pie with lentils, tomatoes, carrots, onions, celery and topped with sweet potatoes is served for dinner. Lentils are a great meat replacement for many dishes, including this lentil and sweet potato shepherd's pie. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

High in fiber, protein and magnesium, lentils are hearty, easy to cook and are a great replacement for ground beef. They also come in a wide variety of colors, texture and flavors, and work well in both cold and hot recipes. For a filling, flexible and affordable meat alternative, they’re definitely worth keeping in your pantry.

Recipes to try:

Cost savings:

Dry lentils cost just 24 cents per cup, while ground beef is $3.59 per pound.

6. Black Beans and Chickpeas for Chili

With so many varieties to choose from, we could do a whole list on beans and legumes themselves. High in protein and fiber, they work great in chili, salads, burgers and more. Check out black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, pinto beans to start, then branch out into more exotic options like adzuki beans.

Recipes to try:

Cost savings:

Dry black beans run $1.99 per pound and canned chickpeas are just 80 cents per pound. Ground beef, on the other hand, costs $3.59 per pound.

7. Walnuts for Your Burgers

Protein powerhouses, nuts can add meatiness to vegan or vegetarian burgers, loaves and more. They’re also great sources of fiber, vitamins and minerals, as well as heart-healthy fats that lower LDL (or bad) cholesterol. They can, however, be high in calories and fat, so be sure to intersperse nut-heavy recipes with those that are lower in calories and fat for a more balanced diet. Nuts can also be pricy, but these recipes actually only call for ¼  to ½ cup of nuts per serving.

Recipes to try:

Cost savings:

Chopped walnuts cost $1.85 per cup, whereas ground beef is $3.59 per pound.

8. Eggplant as Meatballs

With a rich taste and texture, eggplant makes a yummy substitute for beef. Try it to make meatballs, burgers or pasta dishes like the classic eggplant parmesan. It’s loaded with fiber and antioxidants to help your heart and brain.

Recipes to try:

Cost savings:

Eggplants cost $1.79 each, whereas a pound of ground beef will run $3.59.

9. Mushrooms Disguised as Steak

Mushrooms are a good meat substitute thanks to their earthy flavor and hearty texture. They’re nutrient rich, cheaper than processed meat alternatives and low in calories. Unfortunately, they’re not as strong a protein source as other substitutes on this list. Try them in pot pies, ground up as a salisbury steak or use a portobello as a hearty steak burger.

Recipes to try:

Cost savings:

Two portobello mushroom caps, which cost $3.69, can replace one steak priced at $6.13 per pound.

10. Cauliflower as Taco Meat

Cauliflower may not be the best source of protein, but it makes a great dish to compliment the other swaps on this list. Mash it instead of potatoes, turn it into rice or use it as a pizza dough to boost the nutritional value of your meals and cut carbs. Or get adventurous and try it in place of meat in taco recipes, stir fries or meatballs.

Recipes to try:

Cost savings:

Cauliflower runs just $2.79 per head versus $3.95 per pound for ground beef.

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.

Very little is as awesome as holding the winning number in your hot little hands, whether you’ve purchased the fateful lottery ticket or your number was just called at the deli. (Wait, am I the only person who gets excited by that? What can I say? I like to celebrate the small wins.)

However, you may be sitting on a winning number of another kind without even realizing it. What am I talking about?

Check Your Dollar Bills

Specifically, dollar bills with strange serial numbers -- ones that aren’t easy to come by. The collectors at CoolSerialNumbers.com have created a list of their most wanted serial numbers, and you might have a bill with one of these sequences on it in your wallet.

Turns out antique coins aren’t the only currency worth cash to collectors.

Check out the full list to see if you’ve got any of these rare bills, but here’s a rundown of the sort of serial numbers these collectors are looking for:

  • Seven repeating digits in a row on $1 Federal Reserve notes (i.e., 09999999, 77777776)
  • Seven of a kind on $1 Federal Reserve notes (i.e., 00010000, 99999099)
  • Super repeaters on $1 Federal Reserve notes (i.e., 67676767)
  • Double quads on $1 Federal Reserve notes (i.e., 00009999)

Can You Really Get Rich With Dollar Bills?

Just ask these collectors and experts, who estimate specific “hot” serial numbers to be worth big bucks:

  • The Boston Globe reported in 2013 that one particularly patriotic collector was interested in bills with the serial number 07041776 in honor of the date of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. He was said to be willing to pay $500 to $1,000 for $2 bills with this serial number. (Why $2 bills? Each one portrays the historic event.)
  • When the redesigned $100 bill was released in October 2013, Dustin Johnston, director of Heritage Auctions in Dallas, told The Boston Globe the very first bill (serial number 00000001) could be worth a whopping $10,000 to $15,000.

Go ahead: Take a few minutes to check your wallet, pockets and maybe those couch cushions. If you think you’ve got a serial number collectors will be interested in, here’s what to do next.

Show Them the Money

Depending on the rarity of your bill’s serial number, it could be worth a crazy amount of money -- CoolSerialNumbers.com is currently selling bills for anywhere from $35 to $5,000. Contact the site here to learn more.

And be sure to tell your grandma you want your birthday $20 in singles this year. Because, as the New York Lottery says, “Hey, you never know.”

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 your pet is sick or injured, your natural reaction is, “Money is no object!” But what do you do when your bank account balance doesn’t match the vast amount of love you have for your pet?

Pet insurance is one way to cover unexpected vet costs, but there are pros and cons to purchasing it. If you haven’t opted for insurance, and you don’t have an emergency fund set up for vet care, you could find yourself in a tough situation when facing an astronomical vet bill.

Fortunately, there are lots of options out there for people who want to give their pets the best medical care possible in the event of an emergency but simply can’t afford it.

1. Animal Welfare Organizations

The Humane Society has a great list of state-specific resources for veterinary assistance, spay/neuter assistance, pet food/litter programs, temporary foster programs and more. Checking out what your state has to offer is a good first step.

Best Friends Animal Society also has a thorough list of assistance options, from state-specific programs to resources for those with assistance dogs.

2. Veterinary Schools

Many veterinary schools run low-cost clinics for pet owners with limited financial resources. Check out the state school listings at The American Veterinary Medical Association and VeterinarySchools.com to locate schools in your area, then call those schools or visit their websites to find out if they offer such a clinic.

3. Local Animal Shelters and Rescue Groups

Local organizations such as the SPCA, county shelters and animal rescue groups may also offer low-cost clinics for everything from wellness checks and vaccinations to urgent care. Run a Google search for “low cost veterinary clinic” or “low cost pet clinic” plus the name of your city to locate options near you.

4. Grants and Funds

Like college scholarships, veterinary grants and funds help cover the cost of vet bills without any obligation to pay the money back. While a grant or fund most likely won’t cover all of your pet’s bills in a catastrophic emergency, it can certainly help. You can also apply for more than one at once to gather more funds.

Below are some top-name national resources. Be sure to read the application requirements for each program for specifics on income requirements, eligible medical expenses and other factors.

  • Brown Dog Foundation: Works with owners and vets to find the most affordable solutions to save a pet by bridging the gap between the cost of treatment and what owners can pay.
  • Dylan’s Hearts: For animals with a life-threatening injury or illness requiring a specific treatment plan.
  • Healing Haven Animal Foundation: For owners who’ve already applied for CareCredit (a credit card you can learn more about in no. 8 below), if their vet accepts it.
  • The Mosby Foundation: Helps raise funds through private donations and grants to assist with needy dogs’ medical care.
  • Paws 4 A Cure: For dogs and cats with any injury or illness regardless of age, breed, weight or diagnosis.
  • Pet Assistance Inc.: For “long time pet owners who have always responsibly cared for their pet, yet sadly find they cannot afford an exceptional problem.”
  • The Pet Fund: For “non-basic, non-urgent care” such as chronic conditions, cancer treatment or heart disease.
  • Rose’s Fund: To bridge the gap between cost of treatment, owner’s funds and CareCredit for pets with life-threatening injury or illness and a good prognosis of survival.

5. Condition-Specific Funds

[caption id="attachment_71577" align="alignnone" width="1200"]Raja, the cat, rubs his face up against a door entrance inside a home. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

There are also funds for specific conditions (most of them are for cancer, but some are for other conditions).

  • Cody’s Club: To offset costs of radiation for pets with cancer.
  • The Big Hearts Fund: For dogs and cats with heart disease. (Applications are currently frozen as they are at capacity, so check back.)

6. Breed-Specific Funds

You can contact the national club for your dog’s breed by Googling “breed + national club” to find out if they offer (or can refer you to) a veterinary assistance fund. Many breed-specific funds you’ll find online are for rescue organizations, but there are some for private owners:

7. Misc. Funds

There are also funds that cover pet owners in some specific situations:

  • Pets of the Homeless: Provides help finding free vet clinics, emergency veterinary assistance and other services to homeless pet owners.

8. Credit Cards

The following programs offer lines of credit specifically for veterinary emergencies. If you’re having trouble finding other sorts of assistance -- or you’re confident you can pay the balance off quickly -- they’re worth exploring.

  • CareCredit: For routine and emergency care for small and large animals. APRs can be high (26.99% for new accounts), but they offer options like short- and long-term financing and no-interest periods.
  • Vetary: Accepted at 99% of practices. APR starts at 6.95%

9. Crowdfunding

While there are tons of crowdfunding sites out there, these ones were consistently featured on vet care assistance lists as good places to raise money for your pet’s medical costs.

When your furbaby is injured or ill, you have enough to worry about without having to figure out how to pay for their treatment. Bookmark these options in the event of an emergency and you’ll be able to get down to the important business of giving them all the love you can during their recovery.

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.

Yelp has saved me from wasting plenty of money on what might have been terrible meals.

The review site, which allows customers to rate their experiences with area restaurants and other businesses, is great for deciding whether a place is worth checking out or not. When I’m weighing my dining options, Yelp is my go-to site to determine if a restaurant or bar will live up to its hype and prices.

What I didn’t realize, until just recently, was that Yelp can also earn you a little bit of money.

While planning birthday drinks with my sister, I came across Yelp’s cash-back program, which rolled out in December 2016. Now I can get some info on a restaurant and earn money back? I had to know more. Here’s what I learned.

How Yelp’s Cash-Back Program Works

The program, which is part of a partnership with Empyr, is easy enough to use. Simply head to the Yelp cash-back page to sign up and enter your most commonly used debit or credit card information.

Once you’ve registered your cards, you don’t have to do anything further. Every time you visit a participating restaurant using one of your linked cards you’ll automatically earn 7 -to 10% cash back. Cash back is not available for online orders or delivery.

There’s no need to activate offers the way you do with other cash-back apps, there are no special exclusions and there’s no minimum purchase required.

Yelp will credit any cash back you earn to your primary payment card by the 18th day of the following month. You can add or remove cards and switch which card is your primary at any time by logging in to your account.

Cash back is only available at food and drink establishments, like restaurants, bars and cafes. Yelp teased its intention to add other types of local businesses to its cash-back system, but there’s no ETA on that yet.

Nervous About Sharing Your Credit Card Info?

For those concerned with the security of their personal information, Yelp’s privacy policy pledges it will not disclose your information to third parties for marketing purposes without your consent. Furthermore, it states, When you submit credit card numbers, we encrypt that information using industry standard technology.”

That said, as with many things you sign up for online, joining will opt you in to Yelp’s “targeted offers.” However, it’s easy enough to click the “unsubscribe” option at the bottom of the first promo email you receive to prevent Yelp from sending you more.

Participating Restaurants

At launch, Yelp’s cash-back program had 8,000 businesses signed up nationwide. With new businesses joining regularly, that number is no doubt considerably higher by now. How many establishments participate near you depends on your location. If you’re in a large city like New York, Los Angeles or Chicago, you’ll have more options than someone in Podunk, Wisconsin.

In my area (Buffalo, New York), only 11 restaurants offer cash back through Yelp. However, switch to New York City, and you’ll find a whopping 415 establishments to choose from across all price points.

To find out if a particular restaurant participates in Yelp cash back and how much you can earn by eating there, go to the restaurant’s Yelp page and look for a box on the upper right-hand side (just under the photographs) that reads, “Dine here for X% Cash Back.”

If you’re scanning a list of possible restaurants, look under each establishment’s name for a green dollar sign in a circle with the phrase “X% Cash Back.” You can also filter your search results to show only “Cash Back” participants if you’re in a bigger city. Curiously, if you live in a smaller area, you won’t see this option in your filters list. You can, however, type “cash back” in the search field along with the area you wish to search.

Take the Savings One Step Further

There’s no limit to the number of cards you can link to your Yelp cash-back account, so get the most bang for your buck by linking your rewards credit cards to get extra savings on your purchases.

You can also use Yelp cash back in combination with existing restaurant promotions and coupons to save even more.

So, Is it Worth Joining?

When I took my sister to Rust Belt Bar and Grill for cocktails, I spent $10.57 and got 74 cents back. While that’s not a huge bonus, we planned to go to this restaurant anyway, so the cash back was a fun bonus.

You won’t get rich with Yelp cash back, but that doesn’t mean you should pass up an opportunity for free cash. Like similar cash-back programs, like Ebates, if you plan on spending the money on a meal anyway, it doesn’t hurt to get a little something in return. It’s like a restaurant loyalty program without the hassle of a punch card.

You only have to link your cards up once. After that, just run a quick Yelp search before you go out to eat. If you eat out regularly or frequent pricy places, you could rack up a decent amount in cash back each month. And if you’re not? Cash back is always a nice bonus when you do.

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.

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 BabyCenter.com.

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 About.com’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

 

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

Storage

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.

Durability

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.

Comfort

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

Storage

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.

Durability

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.

Comfort

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

Storage

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.

Durability

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.”

Comfort

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

Storage

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.

Durability

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.

Comfort

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

Storage

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).

Durability

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.

Comfort

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

Storage

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.

Durability

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!

Comfort

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

Storage

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.

Durability

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.

Comfort

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.

Storage

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.

Durability

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

Comfort

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

Storage

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.

Durability

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.

Comfort

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

Storage

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).

Durability

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.

Comfort

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

Storage

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.

Durability

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.

Comfort

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.