ScoreCard Research Laura Grace Tarpley - The Penny Hoarder

My husband Daniel is going back to school this month, this time to earn his master’s degree.

College can be insanely expensive. Thankfully, Daniel and I learned from the financial mistakes we made as undergraduate students. One of our most memorable lessons was this:

Do not buy textbooks from the campus bookstore!

During the 2016-17 school year, the average undergraduate student spent $1,250 on textbooks and supplies alone.

82% of students still buy books from their campus bookstores, despite their being notoriously expensive.

There are a few ways to avoid spending money on textbooks, but if you have to rent or buy them, here are four discount websites that offer great deals.

By way of example, I’m looking at Reflect & Relate, Edition 4, by Steven McCornack. This paperback book is listed as a required resource for my local university’s Interpersonal Communication course. It would have been a classic resource for my BA degree in Communication Studies.

I did my research in early August, 2017. On this day, Reflect & Relate cost $125 new, $93.75 used, and $62.50 to rent at my local college bookstore. But here’s how the price compares at these popular online sites.

1. Half.com

I love buying textbooks from Half.com, mainly because it’s very user-friendly. The website has a clear layout and is easy to navigate. You can filter your search by quality, and seller reviews are helpful.

At Half.com, a brand-new copy of Reflect & Relate was available for $93. An “acceptable” copy was $76.93.

Unfortunately, renting textbooks is not an option on Half.com. While I, along with 86% of college students, prefer owning textbooks, renting is a great way to save some cash!

2. Bookbyte

If you’re getting textbooks for classes related to your major, you may want to hold on to those. However, if you’re just trying to plow through some gen-ed courses, it’s a good idea to rent books instead of buying them. Renting is another great way to save you some money.

Enter Bookbyte.

While some other websites on this list offer rental options, Bookbyte is known for having super flexible rental terms.

Bookbyte’s rental page is very easy to understand and use. If you don’t want to rent a book for an entire semester, you can choose to rent for periods of 30, 60, 90 or 150 days and extend your rental time if needed.

You can mail back your rentals free of charge, and Bookbyte even offers a seven day grace period in case you’re running behind.

You can buy Reflect & Relate brand new at Bookbyte for a little cheaper than bookstore price, $117.75. (Thankfully, because the order would be over $49, you wouldn’t have to pay for shipping.) On the day of my search, renting the book for 30 days would cost me $27.95, and $31.05 for 145 days.

I like the sound of those rental prices!

3. Barnes & Noble

[caption id="attachment_71992" align="alignnone" width="1200"]People study on a university campus. Clerkenwell/Getty Images[/caption]

Generally, I think of Barnes & Noble as a bookstore as overpriced, so I actually did not expect it to be a great place to buy or rent cheap books.

But it turns out that Barnes & Noble is definitely cheaper than the campus bookstore. I found Reflect & Relate on sale for $109.11. A 60-day rental would cost me $32.35 and a 130-day rental, $38.98.

If you choose to rent your books, shipping is free when you return the items. If you choose to buy new textbooks, any order over $25 includes free shipping.

Like Bookbyte, Barnes & Noble has flexible terms for its rentals. However, there is no 30-day option.

4. Amazon

Top Ten Reviews praises Amazon for having the widest selection of textbooks available on any discount site. If you’re struggling to find the book you need on another website, you can probably find it on Amazon. And the price will probably be lower than at the bookstore!

Top Ten Reviews points out that Amazon doesn’t always offer the lowest prices. However, when it comes to Reflect & Relate, Amazon was a great deal! My search revealed a new copy of this textbook for $106.98, used for $89.95 and available to rent for only $19.98!

Hopefully, the price tag for a college education seems a little less daunting now. Don’t forget, avoiding the campus bookstore isn’t the only way to cut college costs: You can always negotiate the costs, attend a tuition-free school or choose from over 100 scholarships!

Laura Grace Tarpley is a nomad and freelance writer who runs the blog Let’s Go Tarpley!, where she shares tips about budget travel and moving abroad. Follow her on Twitter @lgtarpley.

When I was 12, I took my first trip to France. The travel bug bit and I’ve been obsessed with seeing the world ever since.

Until only recently, however, every time I began to make travel plans, an inner voice screamed, “Oh no, how much is this going to cost me?”

Although I never regretted the experiences that came with a big trip, I couldn’t help but view travel as a drain on my bank account.

But moving to China with my husband for eight months completely changed that mindset.

How Did We Move to China?

My husband, Daniel, and I got married in October 2016. We both wanted to move abroad right away before jobs, kids or a house tied us down.

Three weeks after our wedding, we packed our bags and headed to Shenzhen, China.

There are numerous agencies that can set you up with schools or programs in China. We chose Adventure Teaching because Daniel used this company when he moved to South Korea for a year right after college.

Agencies like Adventure Teaching do have a few qualifications you must meet to apply. You must be a native English speaker and have an undergraduate degree. Your degree doesn’t even have to be in English or education! I earned my BA in communication studies, and Daniel has his BS in business and public policy.

Having a Teaching English as a Foreign Language or Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages certification can help your resume stand out to Chinese schools, but it isn’t required to apply to this kind of agency.

The best part is that using these agencies costs nothing! These companies make their money from the schools seeking teachers, not from the teachers seeking schools.

How Much Was Our Salary in China?

The agency placed Daniel and me in the same primary school, which paid each of us  $1,588 per month. This would have come to $38,112 if we had stayed for a full year.

That doesn’t sound like much, but when you consider the low cost of living in China (more on that below), we lived a surprisingly comfortable lifestyle.

Each of us also had a part-time job. For an hour per week, I gave private English lessons to a small group of 10-year-olds and earned $62. Daniel worked four extra hours per week teaching English at a private learning center, earning $176 each week.

Between our full-time jobs and easy, lucrative part-time jobs, we raked in about $4,200 per month total.

What Were Our Startup Costs?

We had to pay for our flights to and from China. We used Skyscanner to find the cheapest deals possible and paid just over $3,000 for two round-trip tickets from our home in Atlanta to China.

Adventure Teaching connected Daniel and me with a Chinese company called Seadragon. Seadragon served as a liaison between us and the school we’d been placed in. The company also helped us with practical needs, such as finding an apartment and making doctors’ appointments.

While Seadragon didn’t technically reimburse us for our flights, we each received a $1,175 bonus to cover transportation costs at the end of our eight-month contracts. Thanks to that bonus, we ended up paying only around $650 for two round-trip tickets to China.

We also had to pay three months of rent upfront. Our two-bedroom apartment cost $780 per month, so that totaled $2,340. Although Seadragon paid for our housing, we had to provide that lump sum on the front end as a security measure. Because SeaDragon paid us our housing allowance, we recouped that money in the end.

There were also various little expenses, like $29 for two metro passes and $15 per month for two phone plans.

How Did We Benefit Financially?

1. Cost of Living in China Was Low

Seadragon gave us a monthly stipend of $882 for housing, meaning we had about $100 left over to use as we pleased. No money came out of our pockets to pay rent. That’s not bad, considering the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Atlanta was $1,700, as of January 2017. Yikes.

Utilities weren’t included in the rent, so the extra $100 usually went toward those bills. Essentially, we didn’t have to pay for utilities, either!

During the first semester, our school provided free lunches for teachers, but that policy changed at the beginning of the second semester. From then on, each meal cost 74 cents. Still not a bad deal for a lunch that included meat, rice and two servings of vegetables.

The kitchen in our apartment left a lot to be desired, so we didn’t cook much during those eight months. (Plus, I’m an atrocious cook.) Eating out didn’t put too much of a strain on our wallets, though, because we were usually able to purchase a large, tasty meal for less than $3 per person.

2. We Could Afford to Travel

Remember when I mentioned the anxiety I experienced just thinking about travel costs?

Too often, it seems people have an “either/or” mindset. Either I can be financially responsible, save for a home and start saving for retirement early or I can travel the world and have unforgettable experiences.

Moving to China allowed me to achieve both of these valid goals.

Yes, flying from America to Asia can be expensive, but once you’re in Asia, traveling around is pretty cheap. Daniel and I bought two round-trip tickets from Shenzhen to Bangkok for only $175. Thailand is a very affordable country, so buying those tickets was our big expense for that trip.

Over the course of our eight-month teaching stint, we had the opportunity to visit Thailand, Japan and various parts of China.

3. I Had Time for My Side Gig

I won’t lie, teaching ESL in China is a pretty easy job. Yes, I was in the office 40 hours per week, but I only spent 12 of those hours teaching and three hours planning my lessons. After I was finished, I could use my office hours however I saw fit.

As a freelance writer, I spent a lot of that time building my side gig.

When I was paid for a piece via PayPal, I immediately deposited that money into our American bank account. We used that account to pay credit card bills and Daniel’s student loans, and to make automatic electronic fund transfers into our IRAs each month.

Thanks to all my free time, I was able to make enough extra money to cover all our bills back in the U.S.

4. We Set Ourselves Up for the Future

Daniel and I weren’t as financially prepared as we would have liked when we first moved to China. We had no money in savings.

After our stay in China, we now have $5,600 in our savings account. We could have squirreled away much more, but we chose to live a balanced life and explore the world instead.

I’m also about to open a savings account solely for future travels. I’ll put in just $100 to get it started.

We each contributed an extra $500 to our IRAs in our eight months in China. This was on top of our usual monthly contributions.

We brought plenty of money home with us to deposit into our checking account. Daniel starts graduate school this month, so he only works part time. Thankfully, working in China also enabled us to build a solid emergency fund in case money is tight during his first semester of studies.

Our transition to graduate school life, not to mention life back in America, isn’t looking as financially stressful as I once expected.

Are you in a place where you can pack up all your possessions and move to China? Doing so could actually give you a financial leg up!

My husband and I had an unforgettable time meeting new people, experiencing different cultures (and very different food) and traveling around Asia. And we feel much more financially stable than we did before we set out on this grand expedition.

Laura Grace Tarpley is a nomad and freelance writer who runs the blog Let’s Go Tarpley!, where she shares tips about budget travel and moving abroad. Follow her on Twitter @lgtarpley.

When you’re a senior in college, the freedom that awaits you after graduation day is thrilling.

On the other hand, the reality of finding a “real job” is terrifying.

After all, how can you stand out on a resume? If you’ve been dedicating yourself to your studies, your work experience is probably limited.

Good news: employers look at much more than just work experience when perusing resumes. They know there are plenty of reasons to hire recent college graduates, and it’s not just because of their enthusiasm and willingness to mold to a company’s way of doing things.

As a result, one of the best ways to stand out on a resume is by listing your extracurricular activities.

Each extracurricular makes a statement about what you value and can provide insight into who you will be as an employee.

Before we get into which clubs look great on your resume, here are a few tips about how to choose the ones that are right for you.

Know What Characteristics Employers Are Looking For

The National Association of Colleges and Employers’ surveys show that employers look for candidates with leadership experience and the ability to work as part of a team.

After these two qualities, the most important characteristics are problem-solving skills, written and verbal communication skills and work ethic.

Next were the applicants’ initiative, analytical skills, adaptability and technical skills.

Consider the Soft Skills

Student Government Association doesn’t just show employers that you understand how government works. Your participation in this club also tells them a lot about the soft skills you’ve acquired.

Hard skills are the quantifiable things you learn to do in a club or job, such as creating a spreadsheet or analyzing data. Soft skills are the less tangible traits you learn in these positions, such as organization and teamwork.

In short, participating in clubs can help you develop the soft skills that employers specifically desire.

Quality, Not Quantity

[caption id="attachment_65819" align="alignnone" width="1200"]Two students listen to music as they get work done at USF in Tampa. Florida. From left, Alexa Izquierdo and Dani Patel listen to music together as they do work on their laptops inside Marshall Student Center at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

Think deep, not wide. Monster.com iterates that your resume looks more impressive if you dedicate yourself fully to two or three clubs than if you cram your schedule with eight clubs.

Enroll in clubs early on, preferably freshman year. Stick with them to show that you are passionate about certain matters and that you have invested the time and energy to hone the corresponding soft skills. If you work your way up in those clubs, all the better!

For example, I joined Inter-Religious Council my sophomore year. I started out as a class representative of the club, became secretary my junior year and served as president senior year.

Here are eight extracurriculars that stand out on resumes, both for their prestige and for the soft skills that make you valuable as an employee.

1. Newspaper

Writing for your school paper shows you can work as part of a team, which includes taking direction from your editors. (If you become the editor, that will really stand out on an application!)

By working for the paper, you can build a writing portfolio to demonstrate to potential employers that you’re a strong writer who possesses those written communication skills they seek. If employers believe you can craft well-written reports and emails, they’ll be excited to have you on their team.

2. Greek Life Leadership

Greek Life is a great place to seize a leadership opportunity. Holding a position shows that your peers entrusted you with a responsibility. If your Greek life brothers or sisters elected you to lead them, your employer may be more likely to trust you to lead, manage and gain respect from coworkers.

Leadership in Greek organizations can help you acquire a lot of the skills employers are looking for. Fraternity and sorority members often spend their time volunteering, organizing events and managing groups of their peers. Employers consider these experiences impressive!

Gallup has also conducted research revealing that graduates involved in Greek Life are often more intellectually and emotionally invested in the workplace.

It doesn’t hurt to have a national organization on your resume, either.

From my sorority experience, I must say that if you can lead a group of hundreds of college-aged girls, you can do just about anything!

3. Student Government Association

Student Government Association is the ultimate leadership club. If you join, you automatically become a leader on campus who helps makes decisions that affect others. Members care about what happens on campus and in the lives of their peers.

Just joining looks great on a resume, but if you hold an executive position, you’ll stand out as someone who goes above and beyond to make a positive difference in their environment.

4. The Arts

[caption id="attachment_65807" align="alignnone" width="1200"]College students play in the marching band. Small_World/Getty Images[/caption]

Participating in band, choir or theater puts you on stage and at the center of attention frequently. Involvement in these activities provides evidence that you can handle pressure and remain poised when all eyes are on you. They also require teamwork.

Spending time in college arts programs shows intense dedication, too. Most actors, singers and musicians adhere to strict rehearsal schedules and commit hours upon hours of their own time to practicing their crafts. Band members spend days standing in the hot sun. Actors usually learn other skills in the theater, such as lighting or set design.

Engaging in these groups is no small feat, and employers love candidates who will dedicate themselves fully to their work and their team.

5. A Club Related to Your Major

If you plan to extend your major into a career, prove your passion by joining a club related to your field of study. If you’re an English major, write for the campus literary magazine. If you’re a religious studies student, join a religious organization.

If you qualify for your major’s honors society, become active in this organization and seek out leadership roles. You will gain area expertise and experience before you even graduate.

6. Public Service

[caption id="attachment_65815" align="alignnone" width="1200"]A colleges student tutors a child. PeopleImages/Getty Images[/caption]

Volunteering always stands out on a resume! If your university has elite service programs such as the Corella & Bertram F. Bonner or Circle K International, join one of these clubs.

If you don’t have this option, your school probably has plenty of volunteering opportunities, especially on the weekends. Sign up to clean a river, tutor local children or volunteer at a nearby animal shelter.

Not only does volunteer work show you take initiative, it also can give you valuable experience similar to what a club related to your major might provide. For example, if you’re interested in going into the medical field, give your time at a local hospital.

7. Study Abroad

When employers discover that you spent an extended period of time in a different country, they see that you’re not only open-minded, but also willing to take risks and step outside your comfort zone.

If you learn a second language while studying abroad, you’ll really stand out. Being bilingual is always valuable in the business world, especially in Mandarin Chinese, German, Portuguese and Japanese.

8. Start Your Own Club

Maybe you want to join one of the clubs listed above, but your university hasn’t established it yet. Or maybe there’s a completely different extracurricular you think would benefit your campus.

Then start the club yourself!

All it takes is a little bit of paperwork and a few members, and you can start your own club.

Establishing a campus group shows that you take initiative and are a problem solver. You’ll go above and beyond in order to excel at your new job.

Do any of the extracurriculars on this list look appealing? Joining a club won’t only make your college experience more fun and interesting — doing so can have a positive impact for years to come.

Laura Grace Tarpley is a nomad and freelance writer who runs the blog Let’s Go Tarpley!, where she shares tips about budget travel and moving abroad. Follow her on Twitter @lgtarpley.

Running is one of the most affordable forms of exercise. Usually, the only big expense you have to worry about is buying a reliable pair of shoes.

Oh, and races.

Competing in races is my favorite way to stay motivated and stick to my exercise routine. I love race day! The inspirational group mentality, the crowds on the sidelines and setting a new personal record (PR) gets my blood flowing.

But races can get expensive. As a general rule, the longer the race, the higher the cost.

If you’re a fellow race lover, we’ve got some great suggestions for saving on your next event. If you’re in the beginning stages of running and have been toying with the idea of participating in a race, finances shouldn’t stop you from meeting your goal.

Whether you want to run a 5K or a marathon, here are some ways to save.

1. Run as a Group

Many races offer a discount to people who sign up as a group.

My husband and I want to run the Atlanta Halloween Half Marathon this year. The registration fee is $75 per person, which is pretty standard.

We’re trying to scrounge up a couple friends to run with us, though, because the cost is only $70 per person if we sign up in a group of four or more.

$5 might not sound like much of a difference, but it starts to add up when you’re a married couple registering for two or three races per year, as we plan to do.

Plus, since it’s a Halloween-themed race, we get to wear costumes! And costume options are just so much more fun with four people. Here’s what I’m thinking: Spongebob, Patrick, Squidward and Mr. Krabs.

2. Register Early

In many races, early birds are rewarded. For example, if you sign up the day before the OUC Orlando Half Marathon this December, you’ll pay $100 to participate. If you register online before September 30, you’ll only shell out $80.

Runners with the foresight to sign up an entire year ahead of time paid just $70!

3. Use the Same Company for Every Race

While many races are independent events, there are plenty of companies that host numerous races throughout the year. If you stick to a certain company’s races, they typically reward you for your loyalty.

One example is A Better World Running, which hosts races throughout Southern California. If you run four of their races, the fifth race is free. A free marathon? That’s my dream!

4. Volunteer

If you love race day as much as I do, have you ever considered being a race volunteer?

Putting on a successful event takes a lot of manpower, so race organizers always need folks to hand out cups of water at mile markers, distribute race packets or serve food.

Race 13.1 is a company that rewards its volunteers with “race bucks” to apply toward future Race 13.1 events. For example, if you help runners with packet pick-ups, you earn 10 race bucks per hour. If you are a course monitor, you make 20 race bucks per hour. One race buck is equivalent to one dollar.

By the end of the day, you will have enough to pay for a 5K or maybe even a longer race!

Race 13.1 hosts 5Ks, 8Ks, 10Ks and half marathons all over the country, so you can probably find one near you.

5. Get a Coupon Code

RetailMeNot offers a lot of coupons for savings on certain races. It’s easy to search for races in your area. The website offers discounts on some popular race series.

For example, earn $5 off The Color Run and $15 off the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon series.

6. Skip the Gear

Sometimes an official T-shirt is included in the price when you register for a race. However, certain races let participants choose whether they want to spend an extra $10, $15 or even $20 for the T-shirt. Skip buying the shirt to make your race more cost friendly.

7. Stay Local

My runner friends and I have a habit of searching for races in cool locations we’d love to visit. My college roommate and I traveled from our school in northern Georgia to Nashville, Asheville, Eastern Tennessee and even Washington D.C. for races.

While trips to new cities are exciting, the cost of transportation and accommodation quickly adds up. See if you can find a race close to your town.

8. Run Virtually

If you’re less interested in the excitement of race culture and more interested in reaching a goal or setting a new PR, consider running a “virtual race” in your own neighborhood.

For a virtual race, you time yourself, which some people find inconvenient. However, you don’t incur any travel expenses, and your medal is mailed to your door!

Virtual Run Events and Virtual Strides are two programs dedicated to virtual races. These companies are also good options for anyone who wants to run for a good cause, because a certain amount from each registration goes to charity!

Virtual runs are usually much cheaper than location-specific races. The Eyes of the Dragon Half Marathon only costs $29!

If one of your New Year’s resolutions for 2017 was to participate in a big race, don’t let the cost slow you down! Visit Running in the USA and find a race near your town. Then use one, or several, of these tips to make race day less financially stressful.

Laura Grace Tarpley is a nomad and freelance writer who runs the blog Let’s Go Tarpley!, where she shares tips about budget travel and moving abroad. Follow her on Twitter @lgtarpley.

I want to like spring cleaning. I go nuts for the New Year and Lent, because I’m all about self-improvement. Similarly, spring cleaning is a time to reorganize and start over in many areas.

But I despise it. I hate any cleaning, really. Folding laundry is about the only thing I do that qualifies as housework.

Lately, however, I’ve been seeing lots of posts about “financial spring cleaning.” Applying spring cleaning to money? This idea is perfect for me! I can work toward self-betterment without having to pick up a sponge.

Here are a few ways you can scrub the dirt off your finances this spring.

By the way, you don’t have to take on all nine of these goals. Actually, please don’t! When I read lists like this one, my perfectionism kicks in and I get overwhelmed by how many changes I think I should make.

Just choose one way to clean your financial home this spring. Maybe two ways, if you’re feeling adventurous. Remember, your goal is progress, not perfection.

Start with one small, measurable goal. The sense of empowerment you will experience from being successful in that area can give you the confidence to take on the next small challenge.

1. Reevaluate Your New Year’s Resolutions

Maybe you set financial New Year’s resolutions for 2017. I know I did!

But since 80% of people drop their New Year's resolutions by February, there’s a good chance you’ve let at least one of those goals fall by the wayside. For example, I’ve successfully followed the timeline I set up in January to pay off debts… but I keep ignoring my resolution to put money into savings.

If you’re also one of the 80%, resist the urge to see yourself as weak; instead, consider yourself older and wiser. Spring is the perfect time to modify resolutions that weren’t realistic.

So you didn’t make any resolutions? That’s OK. Peruse the rest of the ideas on this list and choose one or two personal spring cleaning goals that feel manageable.

2. Open an Emergency Fund

It’s a common opinion that people should have at least three months' expenses in savings at any given time. Then if you lose your job or your car breaks down, your life doesn’t suddenly fall apart.

Guess how much money I have in my emergency fund? A whopping $0. Yeah, starting an emergency fund has earned its place at the top of my spring cleaning list.

To start your emergency fund, calculate your expenses for one month. Consider the cost of rent, utilities, transportation, insurance, and debt. Don’t forget sneaky expenses such as personal hygiene products.

Then multiply that number by three. That’s how much money you should aim to have in your emergency fund.

Where should you open an account? The key is that you want your money to be accessible in case of an emergency, but not so accessible that you’re tempted to withdraw it when you want to go on a weekend trip with your friends.

I recommend opening a separate savings account with your bank, or a money market account. Money market accounts typically require a higher minimum balance, but the interest rate can be higher -- which means more money for you! Here is NerdWallet's list of money market accounts with the highest interest rates this year.

3. Keep Track of Your Debts

For six months, I was aware that I had debts to repay. I knew that I owed my in-laws money, that my husband had some vague amount to repay on his student loans, and that I had a little credit card debt (although precisely how much was on each of my three cards was a bit fuzzy).

A few weeks ago, I finally took 30 minutes to create a spreadsheet in Excel listing all our debts, including the grand total. Now I update that document every Monday.

Seeing everything in print gives me a better idea of where we are financially. And every time that grand total gets smaller, I do a little dance in my chair!

Looking at those numbers every Monday, especially the total, gives me the momentum to keep chipping away at our debt.

4. Sort Out Your Credit Cards

Everyone’s credit card situation is different.

If you have eight credit cards and little willpower, consider canceling a few of those cards. (But first, check how canceling your credit card could affect your credit score. Canceling isn’t always the best idea.)

If you have a low credit score but high willpower, maybe you should get a card and use it responsibly to establish good credit.

I (incorrectly) held the belief that credit cards were pure evil for years. But some credit cards pay you for signing up, hook you up with travel points, or give you extended warranties on certain purchases.

Do your research and find out how you can make credit cards work for you rather than against you. I recently paid off the last of my credit cards that carried a balance. Yay, me! Now I’m trying to decide on my next step.

5. Act to Improve Your Credit

First of all, if you don’t already know your credit score, get a free credit report. If you don’t like what you see, don’t freak out; there are plenty of ways to boost that number!

Simply paying off your debts and paying your bills on time can improve your score. If you’re not sure what’s keeping your credit score so low, check out Credit Sesame. The free site lays out exactly what factors are affecting your credit score and offers advice on how to change them.

A few years ago, I had good credit, but I wanted excellent credit. So I set up a loan with my bank. They gave me $2,000 to pay back over two years. I immediately put that money in a separate account, set up automatic withdrawals, and never had to worry about it. (Except when I had to take out money a couple times for emergencies. See why I’m motivated to set up an emergency fund?)

That was the easiest way I could have imagined to improve my credit score. I got it all set up in just one trip to the bank. My credit score is now 787.

6. Set Short Term Goals for Your Side Hustle

Whether you’re a freelance writer, Uber driver or Etsy shop owner, it’s always good to set clear objectives.

Setting concrete goals has helped me understand my long-term vision for my freelance writing side gig. I created a list of aims in a Word document, and that document acts as a source of accountability. I look at that list whenever I decide whether to take on a new project. I ask myself, “Is this decision in line with my goals? Is it helping me move toward my long-term vision?” Setting goals has motivated me to take action.

I also have annual income goals for my freelance business. 2016 was my first year freelance writing. Now that I have more experience, I know I can make more money. I want to earn at least three times the amount I earned last year. I’m off to a good start!

In 2016, I wrote several pieces for no pay because I wanted the exposure. Now that I have this financial goal for 2017, I feel confident only writing a piece if I will be paid for my work.

Now that I have a couple of steady gigs, I’ve started setting monthly and weekly financial goals, as well. Now I have fewer surprises, and I can plan for how much of this extra money I want to channel toward paying off my debts.

7. Contribute More to Your Retirement Account

If you’re contributing anything to your retirement account, high five!

But if the very thought of doing financial spring cleaning depresses you, make your “one thing” to bump up your 401(k) or IRA contributions a tad. If you currently contribute 4% of your income, try bumping it up to 5% or 6%. Chances are, your wallet won’t feel the difference. If you find out your budget can’t handle the financial strain, you can decrease your contribution later.

Increasing your contribution by such a small amount may not seem worth it. But don’t forget the power of compound interest!

If you haven’t opened a retirement account yet and don’t know what a 401(k) or IRA is, don’t panic. Read this simple explanation. It’s never too late to start. My mom is kicking herself for putting off contributing to a 401(k) until 10 years ago, but hey, at least she started!

8. Begin Investing

Making your first investment is daunting. Especially if you’re like me and know nothing about the subject.

I urge you to take that leap, though. When you invest, your money makes you more money. There are several ways to take your first step.

My husband and I chose to pass the torch to our financial advisor. We set up automatic withdrawals with his company to put money into our IRAs. Since we are still in the early stages of saving for retirement, once we hit a certain balance in those accounts, our advisor will start making investments from our IRA nest eggs to help the accounts grow. We won’t have to worry at all.

If you don’t want to pay an advisor, ask a family member or friend who understands investing to take you under their wing and explain their strategy.

You can also use apps to get started. Stash helps you invest just $5 in the stock market. I use Best Brokers to invest fake money in the stock market to see how I would fare in real life.

9. Consider Your Insurance Needs

My brother’s apartment recently burned down, and he lost almost everything. He’s 32, and believe it or not, the exact same thing happened when he was 20! (Neither fire was his fault, by the way.)

While upsetting, the second fire was far less financially devastating because he had renter’s insurance. The insurance company paid for food and a hotel while he looked for a new place to live and gave him $10,000 to replace items lost in the fire.

We like to think we don’t need insurance. Hopefully, we’ll never have to use it. But if you don’t have renter’s, homeowner’s, life or catastrophic insurance (for those of you whose employers don’t offer medical insurance)… seriously look into it.

Of course, not everyone needs all these types of insurance! Carefully review your needs to see which ones you should consider, and which aren’t necessary for you.

Don’t freak out if you haven’t already accomplished all nine of these tasks. That’s what spring cleaning is for! Focus on one thing this season, whether it’s purchasing renter’s insurance or bumping up your credit score.

Meanwhile, I have a date with my Wells Fargo customer service agent. We’re going to open a savings account for my brand-new emergency fund!

Your Turn: What is the one thing you can do to start your financial spring cleaning?

Laura Grace Tarpley is a freelance writer who is always looking for ways to save money. She teaches English to adorable children in Shenzhen, China.

I’ll admit it, I love a good birthday shindig. When I was a kid, I started thinking about my next party about six months ahead of time.

Now in my 20s, with more and more of my friends having children, I’m starting to realize birthday events are no simple affairs. People hire professional Disney Princesses, rent bouncy houses and order elaborate cakes. If you have three kids, throwing elaborate parties three times a year can quickly break the bank.

Of course, baking the cake yourself and finding a cheap venue can help you save money on birthday parties. But you can also set yourself up for success by choosing naturally budget-friendly party themes.

Looking back, I’ve realized my parents were under-the-radar geniuses at birthday parties. This gift may have rubbed off on my middle brother, Kyle, who organized his own surprise ninth-birthday party. When all the guests arrived, he jumped out of our garage, doused them all with his Super Soaker and yelled, “I never said it was a surprise for me!” That’s weirdly brilliant for a 9-year-old.

My parents not only organized smashing birthday parties for my two siblings and me, but they were somehow able to throw these bashes on a budget. And with three kids, their knack for frugality went a long way.

Here are some of my favorite parties they threw us in the 1990s and early 2000s, along with the estimated costs converted to 2017 prices. At the time, we had no idea they were trying to be thrifty. We were having too much fun!

1. Bicycle Birthday Party

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A few weeks before I turned 8, I mastered riding my bike without training wheels. My parents decided to throw me a bicycle birthday party to celebrate my success.

My mom and I spent Saturdays riding bikes and rollerblading in the parking lot of a business closed on weekends. We knew no one would bother us there. I invited all the girls in my second-grade class, and their parents transported them and their bikes to the parking lot. We spent a couple hours having fun and steering around obstacles my parents had set up.

The only costs my parents had to worry about were the cake and party favors.

If you want to host a party like this, here’s a tip: Communicate with the parents of everyone you invite, and make sure all the guests have access to a bike.

Initially, a few of my classmates didn’t want to come because they were embarrassed they still had to use training wheels. Once we told their parents that multiple girls had this issue, all the guests felt comfortable coming to the party. In the end, none of us cared who did or didn’t have training wheels!

Estimated costs: $50 for goodie bags, $25 to make the cake and buy cups, plates, napkins, etc.

And trust me, they easily made some of that money back when they sold my bike at a garage sale a couple years later. (Without telling me! Not that I’m bitter or anything.)

2. Backward Birthday Party

My oldest brother, Kurt, had a very simple theme for his seventh birthday party: backward day.

All the boys arrived with their clothes on backward and their shoes on the wrong feet. My parents had them sit backward in their chairs, eat the cake before the main meal and participate in backward races. The boys called each other by their backward names. (25 years later, my family still jokingly refers to one guy as “Rolyat.”.)

Seven-year-old boys are creative, so they started making things up as they went. They all decided to eat hot dogs in hamburger buns and hamburgers in hot dog buns.

Kurt recently celebrated his 32nd birthday. While reminiscing over dinner about past birthdays, he told my parents the backward birthday party was his all-time favorite.

Estimated costs: $80 for food, cake, paper goods, and party favors.

3. Super Bowl Party

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Kurt was a Jan. 30  baby, so his birthday used to always fall on the week of the Super Bowl (at least, until the NFL added more teams, pushing the game back a week.) Now this idea would be fun for any child whose birthday is in early or mid-February.

For his ninth birthday, my parents played the Super Bowl on television at our house, and guests wore the jerseys or dressed in the colors of their chosen team. My mom made a rectangular cake decorated to look like a football field. Other than making the cake, my mom only had to provide classic Super Bowl food.

Surprisingly, the weather was pretty mild in late January in Arkansas, so my dad took the boys out for some touch football!

Estimated costs: $80 for food, cake, party supplies and goodie bags. Thankfully, no one had to worry about beer costs!  

4. Nerf Gun Party

For Kyle’s eighth birthday, he had a Nerf gun party. My parents took the boys to a free park, and they got creative by holding competitions. For example, they brought G.I. Joes we already owned, lined them up on a picnic table and saw which boy could shoot down the most soldiers.

Each boy brought his own Nerf gun, so my parents’ only expenses were food and party favors.

Estimated Costs: $60 for food and party favors and supplies.

This list has me thinking… Should we just skip all this “goodie bag” nonsense? The favors took over my parents’ budget. They already gave the kids cake, for crying out loud!

5. Water Party

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Kyle’s birthday is in early May. In Arkansas, that means it’s warm enough to play outside but still too early for water parks. For his 10th birthday, he settled for a water-themed party.

You may be noticing a trend here. From around ages 7-10, kids are very easy to entertain. “What do you want? Water balloons? All right, let’s kick that up a notch and make it a theme.”

Once again, my parents took the kids to a free park. They filled up a few dozen water balloons, and each boy brought his own water gun so my parents didn’t have to supply them. Access to functioning water spigots was all the kids needed to keep the battles going all afternoon. Summer vacation was only a few weeks away, and the boys got into the summer spirit early!

Estimated costs: $60 for food, paper goods, and favors; $5 for water balloons.

6. Double Birthday Party

I have a close friend from high school whose birthday is two weeks before mine. (Which, just FYI, is April 23rd. I love books and pizza!)

We decided to have a joint birthday party at a nearby park. A party at a park is already cheap, but having a double birthday party is a great way to cut costs even more. Our families split the food costs and responsibilities, making for one of the most laid-back Sweet 16 parties ever.

The older kids get, the less they need (and truthfully, the less they want) parents entertaining them at birthday parties. It’s about being with their friends and creating memories, so don’t feel too pressured to create elaborate themes as your kids get older.

Estimated costs: $100 split between two families ($50 each). We 16-year-olds were too sophisticated for goodie bags.

(At age 24, I now jump up and down when someone hands me a bag at a company party. How the mighty have fallen.)

I don’t feel like I missed out because my parents couldn’t afford to throw me elaborate birthday parties when I was little. Those birthdays are actually some of my favorite childhood memories. My brothers and I still reminisce over these parties with our childhood friends… including Rolyat.  

Your Turn: What memorable budget-friendly birthday parties have you thrown or received?

Laura Grace Tarpley is a freelance writer who is always looking for ways to save money. She recently moved to China to teach English with her new husband.

Whether you’re a college student trying to pay tuition, a young professional working on paying down student loans or a teenager hoping to stretch your allowance, unusual side jobs can help you make a little extra cash.

When I was 14, I wanted to take dance classes, but I needed to pay for them myself.

I wanted a job I could do every once in a while, and I knew it would help to find a niche.

That’s when I decided to try trash can cleaning.

No, washing garbage cans wasn’t a glamorous job. In fact, it was a downright dirty job. But I made more than $100 in one afternoon… and I could have made even more.

Why Trash Can Cleaning is an Awesome Side Gig

I cornered this little market in high school.

Picture me: a scrawny, prissy, little blonde girl climbing into giant trash cans with a hose. (Well, OK, they were standard-size trash cans... I was just a freakishly tiny 14-year-old.)

While you can earn extra money with many classic odd jobs, I chose this one because there was no competition.

All my friends were jockeying for lawns to mow, houses to clean or dogs to walk. None of my peers had even thought about washing garbage cans.

I won’t lie: It’s a nasty job.

Most people don’t think cleaning their trash cans is necessary. They just set them out on the curb, let them bake in the sun and pretend the foul smell is coming from their neighbors’ driveways.

But let’s face it, the stink does get to everyone eventually.

So when a young, able-bodied neighbor comes along and offers to relieve them of that dirty job for a few bucks, they’ll probably jump at the chance.

How to Make Money With a Dirty Job

Here are three ways to ensure you’ll make as much money as possible doing this dirty job.

1. Target Your Customers

Technology always seems like the best way to get your information out into the universe.

Just this once, though, you may want to consider going old-school. I’m talking about flyers.

To get the word out, I taped flyers to my neighbors’ front doors with the necessary information: the job I would do for them, the amount I charged, and the day and time to drop off their cans at my house.

Distribute your flyers Friday evening and have people drop off their trash cans Sunday morning. Living with Mom and Dad meant I had access to free paper and ink, so the flyers didn’t cost me a thing.

Cleaning garbage cans is kind of a weird offer to make, so briefly explain on the flyer why you’re in the business.

While a number of people brought me their garbage cans, looking back, I could have made more money if I had mentioned on my flyers that I was a teen trying to afford dance classes.

2. Decide What to Charge

I charged $20 per trash can. My neighbors were happy to pay this price, and a few of them gave me $5 tips.

People hate performing this job so much that they would probably pay more. If you think you can do a thorough job in a timely manner, charge $25 per can.

If you have a car, advertise that you’ll make appointments to drive to people’s houses to do the job in their driveways. Since they won’t have to bother with dropping off or picking up their trash cans, charge a little extra for the convenience. (You can also do this if you have a bike or don’t mind walking.)

If you live in a neighborhood where people have garbage and recycling cans they wheel out to the street, try offering a combo deal. For example, charge $25 per can or $40 for both.

3. Be Organized!

When people leave their trash cans with you, get their names and phone numbers. Don’t forget to write everything down!

Know your time estimate for your job so you can tell them when to pick up their clean can.

Would You Try Cleaning Trash Cans?

I recommend this job to any teenager or college student who needs cash in a hurry. If my post-grad job didn’t require me to work on weekends, I would probably still try to swing this gig every once in a while!

Most people avoid cleaning their trash cans because they’re grossed out by the smell and the word “garbage.” If you can overcome these minor turnoffs, you’ll realize there are no other downsides to the job -- and it’s worth a stinky afternoon.

Your turn: Would you ever clean garbage cans to make extra money on the side?

Laura Grace Tarpley is a 23-year-old who worked multiple jobs through college to pay for school and her travels. Currently, she is working as much as possible to travel to Scandinavia with her fiancé.

I’ve always silently judged friends who go bananas on their wedding expenses.

Then, I got engaged. It took me about two days to realize I was in over my head.

My husband’s dad is a pastor, and his family wanted to invite the entire church. His side of the family is also huge. Including the congregation, our families and our wedding party, we already had over 175 people on the guest list. And there were other friends we wanted to invite, as well.

I realized this was not going to be a small, affordable event.

My wedding ended up costing around $8,000 — way more than I ever planned on dishing out. I cringe in embarrassment as I type that number.

But it had the potential to be so much more expensive. I had to get creative about ways to save money. My primary means of doing so was to shop at places I never would have considered if I hadn’t been so desperate.

Here are five things I bought from weird places, plus an invaluable strategy for saving money. Altogether, these tactics saved me thousands.

1. Flowers From Costco

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A friend once advised me: “When planning your wedding, choose one or two things that are most important to you. Be willing to splurge on those things. Scrimp on everything else.”

I was recently a bridesmaid in a wedding with the most gorgeous flower arrangements I’d ever seen. Flowers were clearly at the top of this couple’s priority list. The bride told me she’d spent $4,100 on flowers, plus $650 for bouquet deliveries.

Whoa.

According to The Knot, the average couple spends $2,141 on flowers. Even that number was daunting to me.

I quickly decided that if flowers weren’t at the top of my priority list, I couldn’t afford to spend much on them. And that was fine. We chose to splurge on the photographer instead.

I decided I wanted sunflowers. They are the happiest flowers in the world. They don’t need professional florists to make them look beautiful!

I called Costco and ordered 11 premium bouquets. The price of one bouquet was $14.99, so 11 cost me $165. We used these arrangements to make smaller bridesmaid bouquets and supplement our other decorations.

Keep in mind, Costco’s flower department is not an official florist. That means it cannot guarantee ahead of time that it will have certain flowers in stock, so it doesn’t accept orders for specific flowers in premium bouquets. You can only request certain colors. I requested yellow as my primary color and purple as my secondary color.

Upon picking up the bouquets, my mother-in-law noticed that most of the yellow flowers were not sunflowers. Since sunflowers were in season, she switched them out, and there was no issue. Don’t be afraid to tell the employees what you want when you pick up your flowers.

My mother-in-law also spent $150 from her own budget on my bouquet, the groom’s boutonniere and an extra bucket of sunflowers to support her friend’s burgeoning flower business.

Altogether, my husband and I spent a meager $315 on flowers. And you know what? The flowers were stunning. Thanks, Costco!

2. Knick-Knacks at Goodwill

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Tiny items, such as vases and candles, don’t seem like huge indulgences. They are typically pretty affordable at Target or Walmart.

Those expenses add up, though. I quickly learned from my mother-in-law, who is a thrift store fiend, that Goodwill is the place to go. Various family members stopped by Goodwill at least three times per week during our eight-month engagement.

We bought mason jars, vases, a flower girl basket, picture frames, candlesticks, linens and chalkboard signs for just a couple bucks a pop. We only ended up spending around $120 for all these items. Wedding shopping never felt so guilt-free.

3. Arch From a Yard Sale

[caption id="attachment_47211" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]budget wedding Photo courtesy R Chavez Photo[/caption]

We spent a lot of time shopping online and at thrift stores for a wedding arch. However, everything in our price range was flimsy and unimpressive.

Thankfully, while driving past a yard sale, my father-in-law noticed an arch. It was much larger and sturdier than anything we had found that was within our budget. When I searched online for an arch of similar style and quality, the cheapest I could find was one on Amazon priced at $132.83. This one was only $45.

Someone else at the yard sale wanted it, too. My father-in-law told them: “I just need this for the next two weeks. After my son’s wedding, I’ll sell it to you for the same price.”

We decorated that arch with flowers and a few huge fake sunflowers from Hobby Lobby. That $45 yard sale find made our ceremony photos amazing. After my father-in-law sold the archway, we broke even. Not a bad deal at all!

4. Wine From Walmart

[caption id="attachment_47212" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]budget wedding Photo courtesy R Chavez Photo[/caption]

When a close friend got married, the only beverages she chose to serve were water and sweet tea. Her venue’s caterer charged $20 per gallon of tea.

“Once I saw how much tea cost, I didn’t even want to ask about the price of alcohol!” she said.

I, on the other hand, love parties way too much to even consider cutting that cost.

I wasn’t one of those little girls who dreamed about her future wedding growing up. But once I started attending the weddings of numerous close friends, one of the only things I could picture about my own big day was that there would be a bar.

I settled for only serving wine and beer. Buying one keg wasn’t too pricy, but I worried that purchasing a bunch of wine would set me back financially.

Here’s the secret: boxed wine. Now, you may not want people to think you’re tacky for serving boxed wine at your wedding. I bought a couple of cute drink dispensers from Marshalls for $20 each and emptied the wine into those for the bartender to use to fill glasses. Guests never even saw the boxes.

After a painful amount of shopping around, my fiance and I discovered the cheapest boxed red wine was at Walmart. We bought 5-liter boxes for only $16 each.

Be careful, though. We used this guide to decide how much wine to buy, but we still overestimated how many of our guests would actually drink. As a result, we had several boxes of wine left over.

We didn’t find out until after our wedding that in Georgia, where we lived, stores can’t accept returned alcohol, even if it’s unopened. We could have reduced our expenses by an additional $100.

5. Wedding Bands From The Home Depot

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I even relied on my husband to save money. He was one of the few grooms I’ve known who was really involved in wedding planning!

He plays around with blacksmithing in his free time, so he made both our wedding bands out of copper pipe he bought at the Home Depot for $10. He also added some brass pipe he already had in his garage to make his ring. He silver-plated my copper band so it would match my engagement ring. He followed this simple guide.

Not bad, considering The Knot estimates one wedding band can cost anywhere from $330 to $1,100!

Added bonus: When we both ended up losing our bands less than a month into our marriage, we were much less devastated than we would have been had we spent a fortune on our rings. Now, we don’t even wear wedding bands.

6. Valuable Contributions From Friends and Family

[caption id="attachment_47216" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]budget wedding Photo courtesy R Chavez Photo[/caption]

Asking friends and family to help with your wedding can be a sticky situation. You don’t want to take advantage of anyone or make them uncomfortable.

But guess what? Most of my friends were so psyched that I’d found someone crazy enough to marry me that they were more than happy to help.

One bridesmaid is a freelance graphic designer and created our invitations and programs for free. She would have normally charged a customer $125 for that package.

A family friend, who volunteers as a day-of wedding coordinator, offered us her services. The Wedding Planner Book recommends day-of wedding planners in the South charge between $600 and $900. Hiring someone for one day would have increased my wedding expenses by around 10%. No thanks!

My husband’s friend is a baker. She made us an amazing three-tier wedding cake. Each layer was a different flavor. (I still have dreams about this cake.) She did all this for only $200, and she didn’t charge us delivery or cutting fees.

According to Bridal Guide, the average wedding cake cost $466 in 2014, not including delivery and cutting fees. The cutting fee can range from $1 to $8 per slice. We ordered a cake for 150 guests. (Confession: We had 190 guests. We were hoping not everyone would eat cake!) A cutting fee could have cost us between $150 and $1,200!

When it comes to delivery fees, Cake Boss states that many bakeries charge at least the federal reimbursement rate for mileage. That rate was 54 cents per mile in 2016. We could have spent between $650 and $1,700 on the cake and cutting and delivery fees if we had ordered from someone else!

[caption id="attachment_47217" align="aligncenter" width="1196"]budget wedding Photo courtesy R Chavez Photo[/caption]

Our generous parents were more than willing to relieve some of our stress. I called my parents back in Arkansas and said I was having trouble finding an antique typewriter to use for decoration. My dad hopped in his car and drove from antique store to antique store until he found the perfect typewriter for $85.

Don’t walk all over your loved ones, but don’t be afraid to ask for help.

If you really want an affordable wedding, my best advice is to keep it small.

But if you’re like me and that just isn’t an option, sniff around. You might find some amazing deals.

Your Turn: What weird places have you shopped at for your wedding?

Laura Grace Tarpley is a freelance writer who teaches English in China. She has awesome parents and inlaws. Her husband is OK, too.

When I decided to pursue freelance writing as a career, I knew I needed an additional source of income. Or a winning lottery ticket.

A job seemed like the better bet.

I applied to work at Starbucks because I had heard it’s an ideal place for a part-time gig. I could receive many of the same benefits as my friends who had full-time jobs, but I would only be working 25 to 30 hours per week!

The Hidden Perks of Working at Starbucks

Starbucks is known for treating its partners well. (“Partners” is what Starbucks calls its employees.)

Chances are, you’ve heard the company offers its partners retirement plans and free education through Arizona State University.

But after a few months, I began to realize that most partners at my store weren’t taking advantage of all the benefits Starbucks offered us myself included. We either didn’t know about the perks or didn’t understand them.

I decided to do some research, and it really paid off. Who knew working at Starbucks would help me listen to music for free? Or join a fancy gym for a fraction of the price?

If you are a Starbucks partner, here are a few money-savers you may not know you have at your fingertips.

1. Free Spotify Premium

My friends and family all know I’m cheap. Well, let’s say “frugal.” That sounds nicer.

While planning my wedding, I was determined to find an alternative to paying hundreds of dollars for a DJ. I figured I would just get Spotify Premium so I could play all my music without dealing with ads or the tunes being on shuffle.

Then I realized I was too… ahem, frugal, to pay $9.99 per month for Spotify Premium.

Thankfully, a co-worker told me Spotify and Starbucks have a deal that gives partners free Spotify Premium! I signed up. And in case you were wondering, my wedding reception was the bomb.

2. Free Coffee and Tea

It’s no surprise that another Starbucks benefit is free coffee.

Starbucks partners get a free pound of coffee, K-Cup box or box of tea every week. It’s easy to take this perk for granted, but a bag of coffee can cost over $15 after tax.

Did you realize you are getting that much value each week?

My first few weeks of working, I didn’t take advantage of this benefit. My now-husband also worked at Starbucks, so I didn’t see the need for both of us to get a pound of coffee every week. I mean, I’m a coffee addict, but that’s insane!

However, to those partners who don’t see the need to use the full amount every week, I fully encourage you to start. Did you know there are countless uses for your free bags of coffee? One of my co-workers volunteered with military personnel and took her free coffee to them every week. My husband gave his groomsmen bags of coffee as thank-you gifts.

3. A 5% Jolt for Your 401(k)

Please don’t skip this section because you think retirement plans are boring and too complicated to understand. I’m amazed by how many employees don’t take advantage of this benefit: If you’re a Starbucks partner, making a little extra money for your future is pretty easy to set up through a Fidelity 401(k).

Many partners don’t know that Starbucks matches 100% of their 401(k) contributions, typically up to 4 to 6% of the employee’s salary. In 2016, it matched 5%.

Here’s an elevator speech on how it works: I put 3% of my paycheck before taxes into my 401(k), and the company would also contribute 3%. If I put 5% in, it would put 5% in, as well. If I put in a whopping 10%, it would still only match 5% of my paycheck.

I set my contribution amount to 5% so I could get the maximum contribution from Starbucks. I got paid twice per month, and my average paycheck included 60 hours. A mere $27 from those paychecks went into my 401(k), and Starbucks threw in another $27.

That’s free money that is growing on its own thanks to compound interest. I never missed it because I never touched it, and the government won’t tax me on it until I withdraw it.

Set up your 401(k) plan online, and it kicks in after 90 days on the job.

4. Gym Membership Discounts

This benefit is bittersweet: Sweet because everyone loves deals. Bitter because you are about to lose your excuse to skip going to the gym.

Starbucks has partnerships with gyms that are always trying to attract new customers. For example, Starbucks is partnered with GlobalFit. Starbucks partners in New York can join any New York Fitness Club in the GlobalFit network for only $10; typically, you’d pay a $50 initiation fee. Similar deals are available for partners in Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.  

Partners all over the country can also sign up at Gold’s Gym for free instead of paying a $25 initiation fee. Anytime Fitness also waves its $50 initiation fee for Starbucks partners. Joining Curves, which typically charges a $150 initiation fee, is just $10 for Starbucks employees. These deals are only a few examples of Starbucks’ year-round discounts to various gyms.

Discounted gym memberships just for being a Starbucks employee? That’s an advantage I never expected!

Now you have a way to burn off all those free pumpkin spice lattes you drink on the job.

5. Starbucks Partner Discounts Emails

In case you haven’t noticed, Starbucks provides employees a lot of goodies. They’re hard to keep track of, and new deals are always popping up.

Guess what? You don’t have to miss out on any of them.

I signed up for weekly emails from Starbucks. Once a week, I received an email about new discounts with companies ranging from AMC Theatres to Dell to Restaurant.com. It was the most foolproof way to make sure I didn’t miss an opportunity to save a little money.

As soon as your manager assigns you an ID number, you can sign up for these emails. They highlight certain deals but also lead you to Starbuckspartnerdiscounts.com, where you can find the codes you need to access your free Spotify Premium and gym discounts. You can also browse all your options for free and discounted goodies on this website!

Your Turn: Are you a Starbucks employee? What great deals have you received as a partner?

Laura Grace Tarpley is a freelance writer who is always looking for ways to save money. She recently moved to China with her new husband to teach English.

When I held my last yard sale, I had to request a day off work. My boss agreed, but scoffed when he heard why I needed a Saturday off.

“That’s such a waste of time!” he teased. “People don’t make money at those things. You’d be better off working Saturday. You’ll probably make, like, 50 bucks.”

$700 later, I was the one teasing him.

I was one week away from moving to New Zealand for six months, and although I had been saving for a long time, I needed as much money as I could get. I was determined to make this yard sale a good one.

Many factors play into hosting a successful yard sale, such as advertising and choosing the right time of year. However, tiny details can make your day the most successful — and the least stressful.

Here are a few techniques I used to make $700 from my driveway.

1. Rock a Fanny Pack

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Not to sound like your mom, but you really should consider wearing a fanny pack.

You may find it helpful to set up a payment table, but having people stand in line gives them time to reconsider their purchases. If you walk around collecting money, shoppers can pay you on the fly and go on their merry way.

A fanny pack makes it simple to keep all your cash and change organized, making payments quick and painless!

2. Designate One Money Handler

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If you hold the sale with friends or family, choose just one lucky person to wear that stylish fanny pack and collect all the payments.

These events are chaotic, and having multiple people handling money can create confusion. Instead, choose one money handler, and let everyone else help shoppers find items or load heavy objects into their cars.

3. Welcome the Early Birds

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You’re probably getting word out about your sale through Facebook, Craigslist or your local newspaper.

If not, I seriously suggest doing so! It makes all the difference. I made around $300 from friends who read I was holding a yard sale and wanted to support me. Some of those friends came on the big day, but one stopped by a few days early and spent $40.

Once you’ve promoted the event, you’re likely to hear from a few people about coming over the night before to look at bigger, pricier items. Dealing with them may sound like a hassle, but don’t turn them down! Early birds are often the best shoppers because they’re usually willing to pay a bit more for the privilege of getting first dibs.

Thanks to this strategy, I had already made about $200 by midnight the night before my yard sale. Between accepting early birds and getting the word out on social media, I made $460!

Plus, I didn’t have to haul the couch, patio furniture or bookcase out to my yard the next morning.

And a couple of the shoppers who showed up the night before were intrigued enough to return the next day and buy even more items!

4. Hang Clothes

[caption id="attachment_41862" align="aligncenter" width="640"]How to have a successful yard sale Studio Grand Ouest / Getty Images[/caption]

First of all, I wouldn’t recommend trying to sell all your old T-shirts. I’ve tried this at every big sale I’ve held, and I don’t think I’ve ever sold one.

But go ahead and sell any nice coats or dresses you have laying around.

Presentation is everything. If you hang clothes on a rack, shoppers will see that they’re in nice condition, and they will stand out more than if you piled them on a table or stuffed them into a big box.

If you can’t find a rack, here’s a little trick: Put clothes on hangers and spread them out over a long section of fence. At my last sale, I made roughly $40 from pieces hanging on my fence.

5. Whip Out the Extension Cords

[caption id="attachment_41863" align="aligncenter" width="640"]How to have a successful yard sale XiXinXing / Getty Images[/caption]

Electronics can be some of your biggest sellers… if you can prove they work.

When you set up in the morning, connect extension cords to outlets on your home’s exterior. When shoppers check out a record player or blender, they can verify it actually works, and you’ll be much more likely to sell it.

I made around $75 from my electronics. I sold my electric keyboard for $40, and several lamps and an old-school television for $5 to $10 each. Thanks for suggesting that extension cord, Mom!

6. Make Arrangements for Leftovers

[caption id="attachment_41864" align="aligncenter" width="638"]How to have a successful yard sale Mike Mozart under Creative Commons[/caption]

Yard sales are exhausting. The last time I held one, I woke up at 4:30 a.m.and closed shop at noon. The last thing you want to do after a tiring day is find a place for things that didn’t sell.

Instead, plan ahead. Several charities would be happy to take these items off your hands. Call Goodwill, the Salvation Army or another local organization a week or two before the big day and arrange a time for them to pick up the goodies from your home.

Use Goodwill’s guide to inventory the value of your donations, and include that list with your donation receipt when you file your tax return.

After making $700 cash in one day, it was pretty great to know I would also get a tax deduction. My donation ended up being worth around $300.

I simply left everything out on my front porch after the sale, and Goodwill pulled up to the curb and carried everything away. Arranging the pickup ahead of time relieved a lot of stress, which meant more time for napping after my busy day!

7. Price and Color Code Your Items Beforehand

[caption id="attachment_41865" align="aligncenter" width="640"]How to have a successful yard sale tacojim / Getty Images[/caption]

This is a tactic I wish I had used during my last sale: Price your items beforehand (here's a guide to pricing). Because my dad is an impressive salesman, we were OK, but it would have been much easier to have everything priced in advance.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to take time to label each individual item. Use colored stickers to label smaller pieces, then make a giant sign: “Green = 50 cents; Blue = $1; Purple = $2.” It’s easy for everyone to understand.

Even though I made most of my big bucks off large and medium-size items, I still made a surprising amount of money from tiny pieces. I sold $20 in stuffed animals, as well as around $15 in books. I wonder how much I could have made had I been more strategic in advertising my prices.

Don’t underestimate your little items. Price and color code!

What’s Your Best Yard Sale Tactic?

Yard sales take a lot of time and work. You don’t want to make them more difficult than they have to be, and you don’t want to do all that work for little profit.

I can’t tell you how good it felt to walk into work the next day and say to my boss, “Guess how much money I made?”

Your turn: What yard sale strategies have you used to make a ton of cash?

Laura Grace Tarpley is a freelance writer who is always looking for ways to make some extra cash. She recently moved to China to teach English with her new husband.

If you’re like me, you dream of traveling the world.

Dreaming is one thing. But the reality is a tad daunting. Between buying plane tickets, paying for accommodations and tasting authentic local cuisine, traveling can quickly take a toll on your wallet.

Maybe that’s why so many people avoid traveling regularly. Or they save for months, even years, to afford a trip to Italy or a Caribbean cruise.

When I graduated college in 2014, I was excited to travel. My best friend from high school had moved to New Zealand a few years earlier, and her stories and photos had me itching to visit Middle Earth.

Tourists commonly rent cars and drive from one end of the country to the other. These trips usually last about a month.

However, I wanted to stay in New Zealand longer than just a month. And I knew I could find a way to afford this luxury.

Then my friend gave me the scoop. She recommended I apply for a working holiday visa.

What is a Working Holiday Visa?

A working holiday visa is a document for young people who are primarily traveling, but also plan on working while they explore a country.

Working holiday visas are well-known in New Zealand -- people from all over the world take advantage of the opportunity. In larger cities like Wellington, Auckland, Christchurch and Queenstown, companies are eager to hire enthusiastic foreigners to work in restaurants, coffee shops and clothing stores.

These visas are for foreigners ages 18-30 and are valid for one year after entering the country. You also need to be healthy and have a clean criminal record to apply.

Australia has a similar working holiday visa arrangement. Depending on where you’re from, you may be eligible for this kind of visa in other countries, too.

How a Working Holiday Visa Extended My Travel Budget

I arrived in New Zealand with around $4,000 -- just under NZ$5,500 -- which probably would have been enough for me to take the classic one-month trip across the country.

I found a room for rent on a reliable website and made arrangements to live there before I landed in the country. In the capital city of Wellington, landlords are used to young travelers coming through, so mine was more than happy to let me stay for only six months.

And thanks to my working holiday visa, I was able to get a job serving tables in Wellington before I even arrived. My friend set me up with a job through someone she knew. Due to my previous experience in customer service, the restaurant manager hired me, even though she knew it was a short-term gig.

Employers in the customer service and hospitality industries are used to foreigners with working holiday visas looking for work. They often care more that you’ll be a good worker than whether you can stay with the company for years.

Unlike the United States, where servers live off tips, New Zealand servers are paid a higher hourly wage. When I lived in the country in 2014, minimum wage was NZ$14.25, although it’s a little higher now.

I usually worked about 30 hours per week. My starting wage was NZ$15 per hour (about US$13), so I made an average of NZ$450 per week (US$395) -- easily enough to pay for housing, a phone plan and food.

My employer knew I wanted to travel and even tried to avoid scheduling me on weekends so I could have a couple of days at a time to explore the country. When I needed additional time off on short notice, she was almost always accommodating.

Thanks to my job, I was able to put aside enough money to travel around Australia for two weeks and discover New Zealand’s two main islands during my time off.

What could have been a one-month drive across New Zealand instead became a six-month exploration of one of the most beautiful countries in the world!

I didn’t come back home broke, either. In New Zealand, employers take a certain percentage of your paycheck and put it in a holiday pay budget. This budget is intended to go toward employees’ paid leave when they go on vacation.

However, I chose to take unpaid leave when I went on trips. I saved my holiday pay and requested it right before I left my job to move back to the U.S.

Saving my holiday funds made my transition back to the States much easier. When I left, the fund contained about NZ$850, or roughly US$600. I also got back my $175 apartment deposit.

How to Apply for a Working Holiday Visa

You can apply for a working holiday visa on New Zealand's immigration website. The application is free for U.S. citizens, and I received my confirmation email and visa within a week. It all seemed too good to be true!

Don’t worry, the government gives you plenty of time to get everything in order for your big move. I chose to head to New Zealand six months after I received my visa, but could’ve waited longer to save more money.

Once you get your visa, you have one year to arrive in New Zealand. For example, if you got your visa email on Oct. 1, 2016, you’d have until Oct. 1, 2017, to enter the country.

All you have to do is show your visa to officials at the airport. As long as you’ve arrived within that time frame, you’re good to go! You can then stay in New Zealand for exactly one year with your working holiday visa.

New Zealand wants applicants to have at least NZ$4,200 in the bank, or about US$3,000. The government simply wants you to have enough money to get yourself going and live comfortably while you’re in the country.

You don’t need to have the money when you apply for the visa, but you should have a printout of your bank statement to show with your visa at the airport when you arrive in the country.

Saving $3,000 may seem like a lot of money. The number intimidated me too, but I was able to save it in six months waiting tables in the States. In the end, I was grateful I had to save so much money before going to New Zealand. Being financially stable made my transition to a new country much easier.

My six months in New Zealand were the best of my life. I’m thankful I didn’t let the fear of finances stop me from extending my adventure.

Your turn: Would you get a working holiday visa to expand your travel budget?

Laura Grace Tarpley is a 24-year-old who worked multiple jobs through college to pay for school and her travels. Currently, she is working as much as possible to travel to Scandinavia with her fiancé.