Marian Schembari - The Penny Hoarder

When I got married in October 2014, I hadn’t been dreaming about my perfect dress and the perfect venue and the perfect flowers since I was old enough to read a women’s magazine, but it was still the perfect day.

My now-husband and I paid for the wedding ourselves; we opted to splurge on a honeymoon in Vietnam and save our pennies on the actual wedding day. We used tech tools to help keep our costs down and spent a grand total of $7,000.

Compared to the average U.S. wedding cost of $31,213, according to The Knot, we saved a ton of money. Here’s how we planned our wedding on a budget.

The Venue: Airbnb

My husband and I wanted a backyard wedding, but our San Francisco yard was too small. We could have rented a park, but city regulations meant we couldn’t play amplified music and would have to leave by 4 p.m.

As longtime Airbnb users, we figured we might be able to rent a house with a yard. A quick search showed us there were not only plenty of options, but many were within a short walk of our house.

To find available properties, we used the keyword “backyard” and clicked the option “suitable for events” under the “more filters” option. You can also input the maximum number of guests (16+), which will show you a ton of results that advertise as event space, for as low as $500 per weekend.

We connected with a lovely property manager whose house was only two blocks from our apartment. He was more than happy to let us get married there and even let us set up a few days early (though we threw him an extra $400 as a thank-you).

For $1,000 total, we got a two-bedroom apartment with a giant backyard. As an added bonus, we earned some of that money back by housing a few guests there!

We spent an extra $250 on a gardener to clear leaves and plant fresh flowers beforehand. Our host was more than happy to let us beautify his yard.

National average for a reception site: $14,006

Our wedding: $1,250

Money saved: $12,756 (plus another $1,901, since we hosted our ceremony there, too)

The Music: Spotify

Our afternoon barbecue wasn’t a dance party, so we decided not to drop the money on a professional DJ with expensive equipment.

We already owned two great-quality bluetooth speakers, so we just used our monthly Spotify subscription for our background music. We let our friends play DJ and ended up listening to everything from Taylor Swift to Nat King Cole.

National average for a DJ: $1,124

Our wedding: $10

Money saved: $1,024

The Invitations: Glö

Since our wedding was so small, it didn’t make sense to spring for fancy invitations.

Instead, we hunted around for a service that would send the invites, power our wedding website and manage the RSVPs. There are tons of platforms that do each of these things individually, but Glö was the only one to do all of the above.

National average for invitations: $439

Our wedding: $100

Money saved: $339

The Dress: OnceWed

I found The Perfect Dress a few months into our engagement at a fancy boutique, but I couldn’t bring myself to spend $1,300 (plus extensive alterations) for a dress I would wear only once. So I set up a Google Alert for the name and brand of dress.

A few months later I got a result from OnceWed -- part wedding blog, part used-dress classifieds -- where I found my exact dress, worn once, never altered and in my size for only $500.

I ended up talking to the seller on the phone, and we became fast Facebook friends. I love that I got to hear her wedding story, then make her dress my own. I hired a tailor on Thumbtack to add sleeves and shorten the train for an extra $300.

National average for a wedding dress: $1,357

Our wedding: $800

Money saved: $557

The Food: TaskRabbit

Feeding 40 people was surprisingly easy: We just ordered takeout!

We called our favorite San Francisco restaurant a few days before the wedding to give the staff a heads-up, and the total cost was just under $500.

The restaurant doesn’t deliver, so we hired a TaskRabbit to pick up and deliver the food to our Airbnb for an extra $30. He showed up right on time (with his mom to help!), and they walked in smiling, showering us with congratulations. Also, the food was phenomenal.

National average for food: $2,720 (based on average of $68 per person for 40 people)

Our wedding: $530

Money saved: $2,190

The Decor: Amazon

I’m blessed with a plethora of crafty friends, an addiction to Pinterest and an appreciation for outdoor beauty.

We didn’t do a ton decor-wise since the flowers and trees were plenty, but we did order a bunch of Mason jars, tissue pompoms, ribbon and chalkboards on Amazon for just under $70. One epic craft night later, we had all our decorations ready.

The day before the wedding, I stopped by our local flower stand and bought a bunch of flowers in matching hues. It cost another $70 (this included my bouquet!), and we did some quick arranging in the previously mentioned Mason jars. An artist friend led the charge the morning of the wedding to make sure everything was set up and gorgeous.

National average for flowers and decorations: $2,141

Our wedding: $140

Money saved: $2,001

The Car: Sidecar

After the official ceremony and reception, we hosted a karaoke after-party where we sang our faces off. It’s San Francisco, though and parking wasn’t an option.

Instead of taking the bus, we used Sidecar, a ride-sharing app. Sure, we could have rented something fancier, but it was only a 10-minute drive.

We even went super stingy and used the “shared rides” option, which could potentially have put us in the car with strangers. We were the only passengers both ways, but our driver was pretty excited to see us in our wedding attire.

National average for transportation: $767  

Our wedding: $10

Money saved: $757

The Officiant: Universal Life Church

We ordained my husband’s best friend on the internet through the Universal Life Church. I’d always heard this was a thing, but I had no idea how easy it was. He didn’t even need to be present; we just filled out the form online and entered his address. A few days later, he got a letter saying he was an official minister.

If you want a friend to officiate, definitely go this route -- but check the rules in your state first. The state of California allows people to get “deputized for a day,” but charges $120. Getting ordained online costs less than $20 and they can perform more ceremonies down the line should they choose.

National average for an officiant: $266

Our wedding: $18

Money saved: $248

What to Expect From a Tech-Powered Wedding on a Budget

If you go this route, you need to give up a certain idea of how your day will go. We played host instead of being fully pampered, but that type of wedding never appealed to either of us anyway.

If you’re planning a wedding on a budget, but you’re in the mood for something more traditional, choose some of these areas to save money, then spend your savings on others.

The one place we didn’t skimp was on our photographer. I figured I wouldn’t remember our centerpieces or paper plates, but I knew we’d look back on our photographs until we’re old and gray.

So we spent $4,400 on the best photographer we could find (that was his cheapest package, and we booked him a year in advance), and I’m so glad we did. The photos are gorgeous.

My wedding was the best day of my life. Sure, our decorations were a little wilty, and sometimes there was a lull in the music, but all I remember was joy: The song my best friend wrote for us. My husband’s face as he said his vows. Our friends whistling and cheering as we were pronounced husband and wife. The sinking sun in the garden as Elliot and I held hands and watched the party shimmer around us.

Your Turn: What smart strategies did you use to save money on your wedding?

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

Marian Schembari is a writer and blogger based in Düsseldorf, Germany, by way of San Francisco. She writes about travel and creativity and spends way too much time on the internet.

Even though I’d been a freelance writer for almost 10 years, I only recently committed to doing it full time.

And with my decision came the inevitable “I’ll-do-anything” mentality. I accepted every job that came my way, from $50 personal essays to $50/hour content marketing tasks.

After a year of this, I decided to move into full-time copywriting. It was the work I enjoyed most and I knew I could charge more than my smaller clients were willing to pay me.

So I stepped away from the “freelancer” label to become a business owner.

To do this, I needed an actual business -- one with a proper name, website, packages, clear rates and a marketing plan. I wanted to start yesterday, so I dedicated the entire month of April to creating all the pieces of my business.

Here’s how I built my business in 30 days on the cheap -- and have already made almost $7,000 with it. Plus, a seemingly small decision now has me completely booked for my first two months in business.

Why I Fired All My Clients to Specialize in Only One Thing

You wouldn’t pay good money to eat diner pizza, but you would wait in line for two hours and pay double for the best pizza in town.

Customers go out of their way and pay higher prices for “The Best.” And “The Best” is usually created by people who specialize.

Turns out, there’s one project I love most: About pages.

A company’s About page is the most important page on its website. But businesses ignore it because it’s hard to write and even harder to get right. Even though it’s the most popular page, it often has the highest exit rate, meaning people take one look and leave your site completely.

I wanted to turn the boring page into a sticky one to help companies convert more visitors, while also building obsession with their brand.

While many copywriters offer About pages for around $500 a pop, I couldn’t find a single copywriter who specializes in it.

I now charge triple most copywriters’ rates by offering brand strategy, customer research, one round of revisions and a professional editor as part of my flat-rate package.

How to Start a Business in 30 Days for Under $1K

I gave myself 30 days to create all the pieces I’d need to launch my business, from the name to the logo, website design and copy.

I paused all incoming client requests and gave existing clients one month’s notice I wouldn’t be able to provide certain services until after May 1.

I’ve managed website launches since 2009, so I already knew the varying pieces that go into a launch. With extra time in April, I tackled my to-do list and started building.

Step 1: Name the Business

Time: 5 minutes

Cost: Free!

I wanted a fun and quirky name with a nod to weird internet culture.

One night, as I was falling asleep, the name just popped into my head. The next morning I did a quick Google search to see if it was available. It was, and Oh Hai! Copy was born.

Step 2: Set Up a Squarespace Account

Time: 1 hour

Cost: $16/month

Because I bootstrapped my launch, I didn’t have the budget to hire a designer or developer. I wanted a clean design I could easily customize.

Choosing Squarespace was a no-brainer. Their platform is easy to use, with gorgeous templates and quick customer support.

The Squarespace Personal plan is $16/month, but you can save $4/month if you pay $144 upfront for the year.

Step 3: Purchase a Domain

Time: 10 minutes

Cost: $20/year

I had to pay separately for the domain I wanted (OhHaiCopy.com), but I could do it all through Squarespace -- without having to mess around with other domain platforms.

Step 4: Set Up a Company Email Address

Time: 10 minutes

Cost: $50/year

I’ve spent too long combining my personal email with work.

So since I was now a company, I needed a separate email to keep things neat and separate. When you register your domain through Squarespace, you can save $10 off your first year with Google Apps.

Step 5: Design a Logo

Time: 5 hours

Cost: $318

Before I could customize Squarespace to feel more like a brand and less like a template, I needed a logo.

I turned to 99Designs for help. The process was easy and I received 40 designs in four days.

I went through a fair amount of back and forth, but by the end I had a quirky logo of a llama with a yellow speech bubble that read, “Oh hai!”

With a final design to guide me, I could now make decisions on the fonts and colors on my site.

Step 6: Write All Web Copy

Time: 20 hours

Cost: Free (except for my time)

I spent about a week playing with Squarespace colors, fonts and layouts.

Because I’m a visual writer, I prefer to see my words how they’ll appear as I write. I formatted my website in tandem with writing my web copy.

This was the most fun part! Coming up with the perfect words to sell what I do was enjoyable, but also the longest part of the process. Not only was I trying to sell my services, but I was also displaying them.

I did a bunch of customer research during this time, as well. I followed the same brand exercises I use with my clients while writing my web copy.

If you’re not a copywriter and need to hire someone to do this for you, costs vary. A decent copywriter will charge at least $1,000 for a full site.

Step 7: Create an Opt-in Offer

Time: 5 hours

Cost: Free

The services I created aren’t cheap. And it’s rare for someone to stumble across a small business website, then immediately shell out over $1,000.

I needed to warm them up. To do so, I needed to get them on my email list.

The hands-down best way to get people to sign up is to create a free offer. It could be a coupon, ebook, free consult, whatever.

I created a short ebook featuring my favorite About pages -- the ones I go to for inspiration. I collated them into a PDF, used Canva (free image editing software) to knit the screenshots together and designed a pretty cover.

I uploaded the PDF to my site, created a simple page explaining the offer, then set up a MailChimp email account to automatically send the guide when new people signed up.

Step 8: Write Email Autoresponders

Time: 20 hours

Cost: $10/month

So what do I do with all those emails after people sign up?

I hit them with a secret copywriting weapon: the autoresponder.

An autoresponder is simply a series of emails new subscribers get on a regular basis. It’s not a newsletter you have to send and create each month. You create autoresponders all at once, then automatically send them to every subscriber at regular intervals.

Autoresponders “warm up” your leads. You can give them advice, answer questions, provide case studies or resources.

I chose to provide new subscribers a TON of great content about personal storytelling. I wrote eight emails containing everything from writing exercises to About page teardowns.

The ninth email is a sales pitch for my About page package (and includes a discount code for those who read the whole thing). The final email is another tip, plus a reminder to use their code before it expires.

After writing these sequences for a ton of other businesses, I knew these emails would result in the majority of my sales, so it was important I get them right.

I use MailChimp, which is $10/month to access its automation services. The price increases as your email list grows.

Step 9: Polish Website Design

Time: 2 hours

Cost: $340

The problem with Squarespace is even with customization, your website will look a little “Squarespacey.”

I didn’t have the budget to get the whole thing professionally designed, but I decided to hire a designer at her day rate to polish it up.

Once I finalized my copy, photos, forms and testimonials, my designer went in and added a splash of color, better text hierarchy and adjusted my photos.

She spent around eight hours on the whole thing, and I spent around two to hire and manage the process.

Step 10: Work With an Editor

Time: 1 hour

Cost: $150

I can’t afford not to have the best copy ever on my website.

The good news is, I’m great friends with one of the most talented editors on earth (she’s the editor I’ve partnered with on my About page package).

It only made sense to have her take a final pass through my site. She made sure the commas were in the right places and my story was clear and compelling.

Step 11: Create a Pop-up

Time: 2 hours

Cost: $29/month

Once I finalized my free ebook and set up the automation emails, I needed an effective way to capture new visitors after they arrived.

I used WisePops to create a pop-up with a catchy headline offering a free download of my About page guide. I customized the targeting options so the pop-up would only appear to visitors after they’ve scrolled through 50% of the page.

Step 12: Fix Website Bugs

Time: 15 minutes

Cost: $25

Even though Squarespace is easy to use, some of my designer’s customization required altering some code. I went onto Fiverr and spent $25 on a Squarespace developer who could help.

Step 13: Announce Website

Time: 2 hours

Cost: Free

After all the blood, sweat and tears, I was finally ready to announce my site!

I started off simply announcing it on Facebook, just in case there were any bugs or typos (I knew my friends would let me know). Once I was ready, I posted it all over social media, sent an email to my blog subscribers and wrote a post about the business launch.

Finally, I sent a personal email to old contacts and clients, which I organized into a handy spreadsheet. Here’s a template if you want to make your own.

How It’s Going So Far

My business went live on May 3, 2016. By May 15, I’d signed on three new clients, bringing in a total of $6,900 in new business.

And because I emailed my personal network (which includes journalists), my business has already been featured on The Freelancer and The Huffington Post.

I haven’t spent any money on advertising. From my personal and social media networks alone, I’m now booked up for the next two months.

Your Turn: Will you start your own online business? Would you ever do it this quickly?

Marian Schembari is a writer, blogger and founder of Oh Hai! Copy based in Düsseldorf, Germany by way of San Francisco. She writes about travel and creativity, and spends way too much time on the Internet.

When you imagine moving somewhere more affordable, you probably don’t think of Europe.

But that’s what my husband and I did in May 2015. We sold most of our stuff, ended our lease and left California for Germany.

People in Düsseldorf always ask why we would leave San Francisco for this small industrial city by the Rhine.

This is how we respond.

Why My Husband and I Moved to Germany

In San Francisco, our rent was $3,000 a month.

No, we didn’t live in a mansion in the center of town. We lived in a suburb 45 minutes outside the city in a 700-square-foot above-garage apartment on someone else’s property.

We needed two cars to get to work, and my commute cost roughly $45 per day in tolls, gas and parking. Add on the dog walker we had to hire since we were gone so many hours, and the cost of going to work climbed to $60.

The closest grocery store was Whole Foods, and we all know how that goes. A small shop for two people was at least $100.

Want dinner out with friends? That’s another $100.

Granted, we definitely weren’t poor, nor were we making a conscious effort to cut back and save more money. Our decision to move to Germany was primarily based on a desire for adventure, not because it would be easier on our pocketbooks.

But now that we’re here, it turns out this decision is better for our bank accounts than we could have imagined.

How Living Abroad Helps Us Save Money

Even though my husband and I make around half of what we did in California, our rent is a third of the price for double the space.

A nice dinner out with wine and dessert is $40 per person.

Want to head to Amsterdam for the weekend? It’s a $33 train ticket, one way. That’s cheaper than the gas, tolls, parking and dog walker combo I had to pay for when I commuted 20 miles across the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco.

Living in Germany definitely isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, of course. We don’t speak the language, the culture still confuses us a year down the line, and we miss the nature and sunshine of the Bay Area.

Plus, we want to start a family and buy a house sooner rather than later.

So we looked at our finances and did some quick math. With all this extra money in our budgets, we could save $12,000 (enough to move home, put a deposit on a rental, ship our things and take a month off work to settle in) just by putting $200 each into a joint savings account.

By the time my husband’s three-year German work contract is up, we’ll have enough money to get us resettled back home.

But wait, so you moved to Germany just so you could save the money to move home?

Don’t worry, we’ve got that covered too.

Outside of a joint savings account, my husband and I don’t share money. That means we have our own individual savings goals.

By the end of our three years in Germany, we’ll likely have an additional $10,000 each.

My husband wants to buy a car and I want to take maternity leave (something you have to plan for years in advance when you run your own business).

That’s $32,000 in savings in three years, all while living abroad in Europe.

Here are the tools we’re using to save money and organize all these moving pieces.

You Need A Budget

I track every dollar in and every dollar out using this amazing tool.

Not only does YNAB help me figure out that, no, I can’t buy my dog an extra toy if I want to drink coffee this month, it helps me allocate and grow a “buffer” on my bank account -- a must when you primarily do project work and don’t know what your income will look like each month.

YNAB also helps you manage savings goals, debt payments and “fun” money.

Capital One 360

When my husband and I got married, we each had accounts at different banks. Because we had no plans to combine our money, we needed a simple way to manage savings toward our joint goals.

Capital One 360 is all online, and we set up automatic transfers from our individual accounts every month. We use this as our joint savings account.

Charles Schwab

Because my business is based in the States, I get paid in dollars. Problem is, I spend money in Euros.

The Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking account gives me free withdrawals and doesn’t have any international fees. I found out about this amazing debit card from this couple and it’s been a lifesaver.

Venmo

When you don’t share a bank account, splitting expenses becomes a little more complicated -- especially when you’re mixing currencies.

I Venmo my husband our rent money every month and use xe.com to figure out the current exchange rate. He keeps that money in his U.S. account, since he travels back to San Francisco for work a few times per year, and pays our landlord from his German account.

Transferwise

Occasionally, I still need to transfer Euros to my German bank account to pay for things like my cell phone bill. Transferwise is an incredibly intuitive tool and it’s crazy cheap to send money abroad. Plus, it only takes a few days to arrive!

Moving Abroad Turned Out to Be a Brilliant Financial Decision for Us

Could we have saved the same amount of money by staying in the States and tightening our belts?

Probably.

But we would have had to cut way back on our general lifestyle choices, and we definitely wouldn’t be able to hop on a train and go to Amsterdam for the weekend.

So, by living here, we can have our strudel and eat it, too.

Your Turn: Would you move abroad to save on your living expenses?

Marian Schembari is a writer and blogger based in Düsseldorf, Germany by way of San Francisco. She writes about travel and creativity, and spends way too much time on the Internet.

I was recently surprised by a friend’s admission: He’s made $10,000 on Amazon this year -- selling flip-flops.

Frank (not his real name) was hunting for his favorite brand of sandals. He couldn’t find them online, and Amazon was selling them for “an outrageous price.”

“I found a company selling them in bulk,” Frank told me. “I contacted them, got an even better discount and figured I’d sell the rest online.”

Within a week of listing them on Amazon, he sold out.

Not only did he find his favorite product for cheap, he also made a decent profit -- all with very little work. Luckily, Frank’s supplier was excited about this opportunity, so he’s been able to go back multiple times and restock his store.

”Running a small Amazon store is easy,” said Frank, who uses Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) to handle the shipping, customer support and returns.

“I spend 15 minutes per day responding to customer emails, monitoring reviews and handling the occasional shipment from my supplier.”

And if you’re lucky, the business can grow.

Stephanie Madesh launched her store, Kalon Clothing, in 2006 -- “at a time when websites were just beginning to do e-commerce.” Almost a decade later, Madesh owns and operates six brands on Amazon, from activewear to packaging supplies, and runs her business from a 40,000-square-foot distribution warehouse.

But you don’t need a whole warehouse to make a little side money. If you’re just starting out, use FBA -- all you need is a good product, a supplier and some common sense.

What Should You Sell?

When it comes to selling “casually,” the key is finding a specific product without a ton of competition -- think “Bob’s Fabulous Hair Product” as opposed to hair products in general. Amazon’s known for selling everything, so I can’t promise this will be easy.

“High-quality consumer products are a good place to start,” said Frank. “People are willing to spend money, and they care about the convenience of Prime.”

He’s considering branching out from flip-flops and looking at products “that have 3.5 stars or above and at least 10 reviews or more. That means there’s sufficient turnaround” -- which means you’ll likely have buyers looking for your product.

But 2,000 reviews and a ton of different sellers means the market might already be exhausted.

To help you decide what to sell, start by considering what you think is missing from Amazon.

For example, “We started a card company because I wanted thank you cards on the cheap,” Madesh explained.

“We started a packaging supply company because we use so many packaging products, we could manufacture them for about a quarter of the price we were paying.”

Where to Find a Supplier

Your Amazon store, big or small, depends on a good supplier. Are the supplier’s products of good and consistent quality? Does the company ship on time? Is it trustworthy?

Whole books have been written about this topic, so don’t expect to learn everything in an afternoon. But if you spend the time to find a reliable supplier for just one or two core products, that’s all you’ll need.

Essentially, there are three ways to source items to sell on Amazon. I’ve listed them from easiest to most involved.

1. Buy From a Local, Individual Supplier

A little Googling, a phone call, a relationship -- this was Frank’s process in the beginning. Sometimes it’s as easy as that.

Say you want to sell dog shampoo. Poke around your neighborhood and search online. A local salon, for example, might be willing to sell wholesale, or a friendly vet might make her own dog shampoo.

This is less scientific, and more about luck and relationship-building. It’s also easier to manage long-term if you’re not looking to start a dog-shampoo conglomerate.

2. Use Retail Arbitrage

Shop at places like Target or Walmart, buy up anything on sale and then resell it. This is the strategy The Penny Hoarder founder Kyle Taylor used to make $10,000 selling toys during the holiday season last year.

However, it’s a bit more complicated because you’ll always need to be on the lookout for new sales, and there’s no relationship to rely on. You’ll also need to look up prices online before you buy.

“Run the numbers before you jump on a clearance bin,” said Ryan Grant of Online Selling Experiment. “Use an FBA calculator for an exact breakdown of fees so you know if you’ll make a profit.”

Some sellers use sites or apps like Slickdeals. However, so many people jump on the same deal that by the time you’ve purchased, received and shipped those items, the price on Amazon may have gone down.

If you want to try your hand at retail arbitrage, “opportunities are everywhere,” said Grant.

“You could be out at the grocery store and see a great item on clearance. If you have the Amazon Seller app, you can immediately look it up, then turn around and make money off it.”

3. Order on Alibaba

Alibaba is China’s biggest e-commerce company, and the site is a great source for cheap products you can sell on Amazon.

The most involved of the three selling options, this one also presents the most opportunity for consistent success.

To make this strategy work, you’ll need to talk to a lot of suppliers. Then, purchase samples of the product to make sure everything is sound.

Interested in giving it a shot? Will Mitchell of StartupBros wrote a great post on using Alibaba to stock your Amazon store.

Use Fulfillment by Amazon to Run Your Store

Frank recommends using FBA to handle the shipping, customer support and returns. He simply lists the items, packs them up and sends them to his nearest distribution center.

“If you’re selling through FBA, you’ll take a hit on your margin,” said Frank. The cost of using FBA depends on a variety of factors: what you’re selling, how much of it you’re selling and how long it’s stored at the Amazon center.

But for him, the perks outweigh the negatives: In addition to the ease of letting Amazon handle the details, “customers are more likely to buy from you,” he explained. “Amazon has a big interest in promoting their FBA sellers because they make more money off them.”

Amazon’s own stats support Frank’s experience. “71% of FBA respondents reported their unit sales increased on Amazon.com more than 20% since joining FBA,” according to a 2014 survey.

Don’t Ignore Amazon’s Rules

There’s a reason Frank’s beloved flip-flops weren’t available online: The creator of said product didn’t want them to be. Some brands have strict regulations on where you can buy their products as this can impact cost, branding efforts and quality.

Because Frank is buying from a licensed supplier, the onus is on the supplier, not Frank. That said, avoid selling products that could get anyone in trouble. This will save you a lot of hassle should you lose your supplier or get shut down by Amazon.

“Know the rules and follow them,” advised Madesh. “Amazon is a giant and they have lots of rules -- for a reason.”

“Read through their policies, review their selling guides and jump on the forums. Most likely if you have a question about something, someone else has the same question, and there is some good advice on the forums.”

Will You Start an Amazon Business?

While it’s a little more complicated than answering surveys or clipping coupons, selling products on Amazon isn’t as hard as it sounds.

“It’s enormously profitable, if you do it right,” said Grant. “You can ultimately keep it as small or grow it as big as you want.”

Your Turn: Are you interested in selling on Amazon? Have you tried it? Share your stories in the comments.

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

Marian Schembari is a writer and blogger based in Düsseldorf, Germany, by way of San Francisco. She writes about travel and creativity and spends way too much time on the internet.

Netflix’s recent parental leave announcement sparked in-depth conversations about family leave in the United States.

While this issue has been hot for a number of years, companies are taking family leave into their own hands as opposed to relying on (non-existent) government regulations.

First things first: What’s the standard? As a woman who plans to have children in the near future, I’m embarrassed I didn’t know this.

In a nutshell, the U.S. requires companies to offer 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave, but there are famous limitations to this policy. It only benefits new mothers at companies with 50 or more employees, those who have been at their jobs for more than a year. Certain states supplement these federal regulations with their own benefits, like the ability to tack on paid leave using disability insurance.

Compare that to other options worldwide. Lithuania guarantees that women receive 70 days of leave prior to labor and another 56 days after childbirth with 100% pay. Canadians receive 55% of their pay for 17 weeks of maternity leave, and either parent can take an additional 35 weeks unpaid. Swedish parents get a whopping 60 weeks at 80% of their pay.

If you’re starting to think about moving to Sweden, here are 10 companies whose policies are almost as good.

1. Netflix

The streaming service recently announced unlimited leave for up to one year after the birth or adoption of a baby. The policy applies to either parent and employees will receive full pay for the duration of that time -- no special forms required.

2. Microsoft

In another recent announcement, Microsoft plans to offer both parents 12 weeks of fully paid leave starting on November 1, 2015.

Birth mothers get an additional paid eight weeks off, plus the chance to use two weeks of paid short-term disability before their due date.

3. Adobe

Also starting November 1, Adobe will offer up to six months of paid maternity leave for birth mothers.

Primary caregivers, such as new parents through childbirth, surrogacy, adoption or foster care, will receive 16 weeks of paid time off. Birth moms get an additional 10 weeks of paid medical leave.

Adobe’s Senior VP of People & Places wrote on the company's blog,

“Now we will better support all of [our employees], across a spectrum of age, gender and experience, with a diverse mix of family needs and situations. The investment is unquestionably worth it.”

4. Google

Birth mothers receive 18 weeks of fully paid leave and primary caregivers receive 12 weeks. According to Google’s benefits page, new parents also receive “some extra spending money.”

The even better news is that when you take leave you’ll not only receive full pay, but benefits and continued vesting stock. If you’re really lucky -- and loaded -- there’s also the dream of enrolling your child in Google’s daycare or preschool programs.

5. Facebook

Another tech company offering awesome leave for both parents!

Facebook employees can take 17 weeks of parental leave, spread out or taken all at once over one year after a birth or adoption. The company also offers employees $4,000 to spend on their children, subsidized day care and egg freezing.

There’s speculation that this generous policy is due to the younger-skewing age range of tech employees, helped by the fact that Mark Zuckerberg’s wife is expecting a baby. I wonder if he’ll take the full 17 weeks off?

6. Twitter

While Twitter’s leave mostly benefits birth mothers, who receive up to 20 weeks of leave with full pay, fathers and adoptive parents receive up to 10 weeks off for "bonding time."

The company also hosts “‘New Moms and Moms-to-Be’ roundtables every quarter where women who are leaving for or returning from parental leave can get together to share questions, concerns, and best practices,” reports The Atlantic.

7. Thumbtack

This growing startup offers 16 weeks of fully paid leave to primary caregivers and six weeks to secondary caregivers.

“Employees should feel like they have the support of their employers to bond with their new child(ren) without the stress of feeling like their jobs are being jeopardized,” the company (full disclosure: my old employer) told me.

“Parental leave is essential to help parents transition back to work. Research also shows that paid leave is beneficial for all parties involved.”

8. DLA Piper

One of the few non-tech companies embracing parental leave, global law firm DLA Piper offers equal time off for both parents at 16 weeks of fully paid leave.

9. Patagonia

The outdoor clothing and gear company consistently tops lists of “best company to work for.”

Not only do all new parents receive eight weeks of paid leave (with an additional eight weeks unpaid), Patagonia also offers an on-site daycare and after-school pickup program.

10. Bank of America

After working for Bank of America for one year, all new parents have the option to take up to 12 weeks of paid maternity, paternity or adoption leave.

On the company’s Glassdoor page, employees have praised the company for this benefit with comments like “awesome” and “this is a huge plus for the company.”

Will You Have Paid Parental Leave?

“In small companies like ours, it can be challenging to balance resources and the financial impact of temporarily replacing any employee who goes on an extended leave of absence, not just parents,” Stacy Larkin, Director of Total Rewards at Thumbtack, told me.

“It can also be difficult to decide on exactly how much time is exactly right for your organization as employees' needs will vary.”

Right now, the time off you’ll receive as a new parent is solely at the discretion of your employer and generous packages are usually tied to companies with the money to offer them.

So if you plan on having children and want paid parental leave, you have two options: Move to Sweden or get a job at one of these companies. Good luck.

Your Turn: Does your company offer paid parental leave? Tell us about the policy in the comments!

Marian Schembari is a writer and blogger based in Düsseldorf, Germany by way of San Francisco. She writes about travel and creativity and spends way too much time on the Internet.

We didn’t think Netflix offered anything cooler than the chance to binge-watch Orange is the New Black or Gilmore Girls. We were wrong.

Netflix just stepped up their game with an unprecedented move to support all employees with one year of family leave.

The new policy allows new moms and dads “to take off as much time as they want during the first year after a child’s birth or adoption,” writes the company’s Chief Talent Officer, Tawni Cranz, on its blog. The employees can choose if they want to return part time or full time, or come back and then take additional time off later that year.

Even cooler, Netflix will keep paying new parents as usual -- they don’t have to deal with the hassle of switching to state or disability pay. That means no forms, no applications and no extra headaches during a time when new parents just want to spend time at home with their families.

Why Did Netflix Launch This Policy?

Remember, U.S. companies aren’t required to give paid parental leave. So why do it?

Aside from the nice press boost and a lot of talk about a work culture that emphasizes “freedom and responsibility,” Cranz explains:

Experience shows people perform better at work when they’re not worrying about home. This new policy, combined with our unlimited time off, allows employees to be supported during the changes in their lives and return to work more focused and dedicated.

It’s also likely to help them retain employees who might otherwise jump ship to companies with more flexible policies.

How Does Netflix Stack Up?

Facebook gives both parents “four months paid leave, plus $4,000 in ‘baby cash,’ while at Google Inc. it’s up to 18 weeks,” according to Bloomberg.

Microsoft just extended their paid leave to 12 weeks, and Adobe announced new moms will get 26 weeks of paid time off, while “primary caregivers and new parents will get 16 weeks,” reports Reuters.

As tech companies compete for talent with major perks and referral bonuses, Netflix’s announcement is sure to give them a head start in the recruiting race.

But this is also a huge move in the right direction, period. The United States notoriously offers one of the world’s worst parental leave policies, as the only developed nation without mandated paid maternity leave. Let’s hope other companies start to follow Netflix’s lead.

Eager to work for Netflix? Check out their job openings.

Your Turn: What do you think of these new announcements? Do they make you want to work for Netflix or another one of these companies?

Marian Schembari is a writer and blogger based in Düsseldorf, Germany by way of San Francisco. She writes about travel and creativity and spends way too much time on the internet.

Often cheaper (and definitely more unique) than hotels, Airbnb has long been a fantastic way to travel. I’ve rented everything from a tiny room in Barcelona to an entire California home for my backyard wedding.

And if you’re willing to list your own home on Airbnb, you can make a serious amount of cash. I made just over $2,000 last year by renting out my San Francisco studio on the weekends my husband and I went camping.

The site is no longer just for personal travel, either. Businesses have started using it for conference travel and employee relocation, and Airbnb just released a new tool to make things easier: Airbnb for Business.

What does that mean for you as a host? If you’re strategic with your listing, you can make even more money from these business travelers.

How Airbnb for Business Helps You Make Money

The new tool, which helps companies better track bookings for their employees, means more businesses may start using Airbnb, rather than hotels -- meaning more demand for your listing. Whether you have a spare room, a pull-out couch or a full house, visitors traveling to your area for business may want to rent your space.

My husband and I earned more than $2,000 last year renting out our apartment for a total of 15 days. Every time we opened up an available weekend on the Airbnb calendar, our apartment would be booked within hours. Overall, our experience was amazing. Airbnb’s security measures are top-notch, our guests were lovely and I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.

“Business travelers are the best guests,” says Christine, a host in Fairfield County, Connecticut who preferred not to use her last name due to the constant regulations controversy.

“They pay through Airbnb and don't ask to go outside of the site (because they need receipts). They’re gone during the day and are, for the most part, more mature and therefore respectful of the fact that they are in someone's home, not a hotel.”

Strategies for Targeting Business Renters

Christine says around half of her guests are on work trips.

“One regular guest has a consulting gig in town and is required to be here for one week at a time four to five times a year. I think he enjoys having more space than a hotel room and a semblance of home life. He eats at our kitchen table (or sometimes standing at the counter while I cook) and watches television in the family room.”

“Business travelers are already very aware of Airbnb,” adds Christine, “so the key is not so much attracting them but making one’s listing stand out from the others as more business-friendly.

So how do you craft a business-friendly listing? Here are a few tricks to attract the right guests.

Offer a Monthly Discount

If you have a guest room or a second home, consider renting it for longer stints than a few nights. Your earnings will be more consistent, with less turnover -- and therefore less work.

To attract longer-staying guests, consider offering a discount. A “relocation package” with a discounted monthly rate will be a lot more appealing to an HR rep than a standard per-night cost.

Research the going rates for furnished apartments in your city on Craigslist, then drop your price accordingly.

Highlight Business Perks

First and foremost, provide a fantastic WiFi connection, especially in the room you’re renting out. Then throw in work-specific items like a bedroom desk or printer.

“I've been miserable at some Airbnbs because I was confined to doing all my activities, including eating, on the bed or the floor,” says Christine.

While every guest is different, give them the option for complete privacy so they don’t feel forced to interact in common areas or have trouble concentrating on their work.

Also highlight location-related perks, like “walking distance from the conference center” or “Google shuttle right outside the door.” These tidbits will be a big selling point for any business traveler.

Review Your Calendar

Make your space available during peak business times, like your city’s annual boat-engine trade show or makeup conference.

Many attendees will have a hard time finding accommodation during those times, and if you have a pull-out couch for half the price of a jacked-up hotel room, you could find yourself making some decent money.

Build Up Your Reviews

This step is so important. Before charging full price for your place, collect ton of positive reviews.

To do this, check the average price of similar rentals in your neighborhood, then lower yours while you gain experience. Once you’re a comfortable and experienced host (and have the reviews to prove it), increase your price.

Tips for Stress-Free and Successful Airbnb Hosting

If you’re serious about hosting travelers on Airbnb, these tips will make every transaction smoother for both you and your guests:

Hire a Housecleaner

Guests deserve a spotless stay, and most of us aren’t huge fans of deep-cleaning. Hiring a cleaner will make it way easier on you.

Make a Welcome Packet

Guests will ask you for tips on places to visit, restaurants to check out or where to do their dry cleaning.

Make a big list, complete with map, and laminate that bad boy so you don’t have to keep reprinting it. I also found it helpful to create little note cards explaining how to use the Vitamix, not to run two appliances at once in the kitchen and where we keep the extra sheets.

Also, put the WiFi password somewhere obvious. No one wants to have to hunt around to get online.

Have a Buddy

If you’re renting out a whole house and will be away, you need someone nearby for emergencies. Ask a neighbor to hold onto a spare key or a landlord to help if a fuse blows.

Provide Amenities

Don’t be the host who refuses to provide basic amenities like towels, cooking utensils and hand soap.

Some hosts go above and beyond with a little tea cart, electric kettle and toiletry basket. Be one of those hosts.

I now live in Düsseldorf -- the “trade show capital of the world” -- and I’m thinking of listing my new apartment on Airbnb. I don’t have a spare room, but I do have an air mattress and my husband and I travel a lot. It might be worth it -- especially for business travelers.

Your Turn: Would you rent your place to business travelers through Airbnb? Have you tried it already? We’d love to hear about your experience!

Marian Schembari is a writer and blogger based in Düsseldorf, Germany by way of San Francisco. She writes about travel, creativity and spends way too much time on the internet.

Sure, we all want to be millionaires by the time we’re 35. Or, you know, ever. But how many of us do it? How many of us do it while starting off $186,000 in debt?

FrugalTrader did it.

The anonymous Canadian engineer and his wife paid off their debt and now have a net worth of $1m, all in eight years. They shared an inside look at their strategies with Forbes. Here’s how they did it.

Invest

Since he was 16, FrugalTrader has been investing, inspired by his stock-obsessed father. At the beginning he was only investing $20 or $50 each month, but those little bits helped and started to add up. He learned a lot during this process, but overall it taught him to risk big. “I believe in the long-term growth of the market,” he told Forbes.

Today, he uses both dividend stocks and index funds, “which he likes because they are cheap, easy, and beat active funds after fees. His tolerance for risk is high, though: Some 95% of his entire portfolio is in stocks, with just 5% in bonds,” writes Lauren Gensler at Forbes.

Live Like a Student

“Aggressive saving” was a huge part of the family’s road to millions, having regularly put 15-20% of their income into savings. Any raises, bonuses or tax refunds went straight into savings or debt payments. FrugralTrader told Forbes that unlike their friends, he and his wife “banked” their raises instead of extending their means.

Frugal habits didn’t hurt either, as the family resorted to typical student habits of bringing brown-bagged lunches to work and getting books for free at the local library.

Don’t Just Rely on Your Day Job

Both FrugralTrader and his wife work full time, bringing in a combined income of $105,000. But they didn’t stop there. By working overtime and taking on side jobs like consulting, the couple got out of debt faster than they would have otherwise. Now that they’re out, FrugalTrader is no longer working 80 hours per week and is spending more time with his family.

Within the next five years, FrugalTrader hopes to achieve complete financial freedom. At this rate, there’s no doubt he can do it. Can you?

For more ideas, read the full story at Forbes.

Your Turn: What do you think of the strategies this couple is using? Do you do something similar?

Marian Schembari is a writer and traveler based in Germany by way of San Francisco.

Have you tried Swagbucks?

It’s a fantastic destination for online rewards, combining everything we love about making money online. You can earn a huge variety of rewards for your online shopping, searching, watching videos and more. 

Reward sites can be hit or miss, with many feeling like scams. Don’t worry -- Swagbucks is legitimate and if you’re willing to put in some time, you can earn great gift cards to retailers like Amazon and Target.

In about 30 minutes of actual work over the course of a week, I earned 430 Swag Bucks (SB), the site’s “currency,” which roughly adds up to a $4 Amazon gift card (works out to about $8/hour). I only used a couple of the features, though -- you might be able to do much better.

Ready to get started? Here’s how to use Swagbucks to start earning rewards.

How to Sign Up

Signing up is easy. Just head to Swagbucks and enter your email address or sign in with Facebook to create your account. If you sign up through this link, you’ll even get a $5 bonus when you take your first action!

After creating an account, earn some quick and easy SBs by filling out your profile, installing the “SwagButton” browser extension and making Swagbucks your default search engine (more on those later). Even if you’re not super tech-savvy, the user-friendly website will walk you through the process.

Earning Rewards on Swagbucks

Once you’re set up, it’s time to start earning money. Different tasks will earn different amounts of SBs, and each SB is worth roughly one cent. Here are the most popular ways to rack up SBs:

Online Shopping

Similar to cash back sites like Ebates, Swagbucks gives you rewards for shopping through their links, clicking through Swagbucks before heading to, say, Amazon. Like in any affiliate program, Amazon pays Swagbucks a commission. Unlike with most affiliate programs, Swagbucks shares a piece of that commission to you. Since you pay the same price either way, why not earn a little back from your purchases?

For instance, Amazon pays up to 4 SBs for every dollar you spend on certain item categories. That’s roughly 4% cash back on any purchase you make. And if you’re anything like me (i.e. everything you buy, you buy on Amazon), that adds up to a good chunk of change every year!

Amazon is just the beginning; Swagbucks also partners with major brands like Gap, Target and Walmart. Just add the Swagbucks Shop page to your bookmarks, and use it every time you plan on buying something online. If you’ve installed the SwagButton, this is easy -- it’ll alert you anytime you’re visiting a site where you can earn SBs.

Searching

Make Swagbucks your default search engine and you’ll earn between 25 and 50 SBs per day, with the occasional bonus thrown in.

This is my favorite way to earn with Swagbucks as it’s a set-it-and-forget-it situation. Once you set it up, you won’t even realize you’re using it and it takes no time at all -- you’re essentially making money doing something you’d be doing anyway, which is the best way to make money.

If you really want to maximize your rewards, you can start by signing up for Bing Rewards instead of using Swagbucks search. Once you get 500 credits, you can convert them into SBs. Bing requires you to have a Live or Hotmail account (shudder), but is more consistent about giving rewards, while Swagbucks offers them randomly. Personally, the hassle of a second account doesn’t appeal to me, plus you can only do this once per Swagbucks account, but it’s worth looking into if you already have one of the required email accounts.

Note from Kyle: You can earn up to $15/month searching the internet with Swagbucks.

Surveys

The most lucrative way to earn rewards is through paid surveys, with some paying up to 300 SBs each. While you have to qualify for surveys before you take them, Swagbucks does try to match you so you waste less time. Each survey takes about 20 minutes.

Note from Kyle: You're not going to get rich with the surveys, but I'm usually able to pocket an extra $10-$20/month

Videos

Yup, Swagbucks pays you to watch videos! You won’t earn a lot (up to 150 SBs per day), but the videos are in all sorts of categories -- entertainment, home, travel -- so you’re likely to find something that appeals to you. Or, try my trick: I just turn off the sound on my computer, open up a new tab and keep the videos going in the background while I work.

You can also download the Swagbucks TV app, which plays videos back-to-back on your phone. Again, just plug in your phone, make sure you’re connected to Wifi and set it aside to play videos -- and earn rewards -- while you do something else.

Note from Kyle: It's actually possible to earn up to $90/month using the video channel.

Coupons

Swagbucks offers coupons to help you save money at the store while also rewarding you with SBs when you use those coupons. Double win! You’ll earn 10SBs for every coupon you use, which translates to an extra 10¢ cash back. I’m sure we don’t need to say this, but just in case: Only use coupons on stuff you would have bought anyway!

How to Earn Even More Rewards

If you really want to get serious about Swagbucks, you can explore entire blogs and forums dedicated to earning and redemption strategies. We’re really just exploring the tip of the iceberg -- and it’s a big iceberg.

But without completely overwhelming you, here are a few tricks to maximize your Swagbucks experience so you can earn more rewards for less work.

SwagButton

The SwagButton is a browser extension for Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer. Keeping it installed earns you 1 SB a day, but it also helps you earn you extra SBs in a couple of ways. The SwagButton lets you know if the site you’re on offers SBs for online shopping, shows videos in the corner of your screen (so you can multitask) and lets you redeem Swag Codes right from your browser. What are Swag Codes?

Swag Codes

Swag Codes are short combinations of words and numbers that earn you instant SBs (usually between one and five) and expire after a few hours or days. You’ll find them “hidden” around the site and social media, and if you’re using the SwagButton or the Android or iOS apps, you’ll be notified every time there’s a new code.

Or, if you’re lazy, my favorite way to do this is by visiting a site like sbcodez.com, which collects all these codes in one place. Check a few times every day for the latest offers.

To enter the code, just click on the little safe icon at the top of the page when you’re in your Swagbucks account. Enter the code, and voila! You can also enter your codes through the SwagButton if you prefer.

LastPass

I already use LastPass to keep my passwords secure, but this system also does an amazing job of filling out forms. If you’re going to be doing a lot of surveys on Swagbucks (or anywhere, really), LastPass is the way you’re going to stay sane answering the same address/birthday/race questions over and over.

Use LastPass to save all your information, and you’ll be able to fill out those surveys much more quickly -- helping you earn those rewards more quickly.

Referral Program

Want to share Swagbucks with your friends? Referrals are  fantastic way to make a lot of SBs as once. Whether you share a link on Facebook, email your friends or put a banner on your blog, once a friend signs up for Swagbucks through your link, you earn 10% of the SBs your referral earns -- for life.

How to Cash Out on Swagbucks

Swagbucks pays in gift cards to retailers like Amazon (most popular), Target, Walmart and iTunes. My favorite option is to get PayPal gift cards -- it’s basically like earning cash, because I can spend it anywhere.

You can usually expect to get roughly $1 on a gift card for every 100 SBs you redeem, and the redemption rate is the same across the board, so 500 SBs will get you a $5 Amazon gift card or $5 on PayPal. Keep an eye on their Rewards page, as sometimes certain gift cards go “on sale” and you can get larger denominations for fewer SBs.

Redeeming your SBs for gift cards is easy, but please, please, please cash out early and often. I’ve read horror stories on forums about Swagbucks randomly deactivating accounts (the site is super sensitive, as it should be, to folks gaming the system) and it can hurt like hell to lose thousands of SBs at once. Plus, there’s no reason to wait as there aren’t any discounts for saving more SBs and there’s no minimum redemption amount. Once you’ve earned enough SBs for the reward you want, redeem them!

You can redeem two rewards each day. Unless you’re super keen to earn a ton of SBs, you’re probably going to be well within this limit.

When you redeem your SBs for a reward, you don’t actually get your gift card right away. It can take up to 10 days before you get an email from the site notifying you that your card is ready. Just click on the link in that email and log into your account, and you’ll see your gift card. Depending on the type of card, either print it out or use the code to add it to your account with that retailer, just in case your account gets deactivated. If you’re redeeming for PayPal rewards, make sure you’ve used the same email address for both accounts and verified your PayPal account. The transfer can take 10 to 14 days.

Don’t fall into the trap of “gambling” your SBs. Swagbucks offers sweepstakes for higher value gift cards (i.e. $100 on Amazon) and the entry fee is only a couple of SBs. But these contests are hard to win, and since the SBs are pretty hard to accumulate as it is, you’ll probably want to hold onto them for guaranteed rewards.

Make the Most of Your Rewards

If you’re going to put in the effort to earn those rewards, you’re going to want to get the biggest bang for your buck.

While it’s not super impressive to think about a $3 gift card here, a $10 PayPal transfer there, thinking strategically about how you can use your rewards helps make those benefits more exciting.

Earn Toward a Specific Purpose

The Swagbucks Rewards Store has an insane number of options with gift cards to places like Amazon, Lowes, even many gas stations. You’re definitely going to find something you like, but why not focus on a specific goal?

For example, you might start now and plan to use your rewards for your Christmas shopping. By the time the holiday season rolls around, you might have a couple hundred dollars on Amazon! Or if you’re planning a summer road trip, focus on earning gift cards to cover some of your gas for the trip.

Reward Yourself

Don’t have a lot of wiggle room in your monthly budget? Use your rewards to pay for a small treat for yourself or your family, maybe a dinner out or a movie night.

Invest

You don’t need a ton of money to start investing. Set up an investment account through a tool like Acorns or Betterment. Link that account to your PayPal account, then transfer your rewards straight through to your new investment account. It might start out small, but it’ll grow!

Should You Sell Your Gift Cards?

You might want to consider selling your gift cards online, but seeing as you won’t get the full face value, this is probably not your best option. Plus, with so many rewards to choose from, you’ll be able to find a card you actually want to use.

All in all, here at The Penny Hoarder we love Swagbucks. It’s perfect for earning a little extra cash for stuff you’re already doing. Should you sit in front of your computer all day answering surveys? Probably not.

But if you can set up Swagbucks to be automatic (playing videos in the background, using it as search, doing a few surveys every day when you’re bored), your rewards will add up and help you earn extra cash to put toward your goals.

 

Marian Schembari is a writer, traveler and community manager based in San Francisco.

How many stories have you heard about people saving up enormous amounts of money and setting off for epic adventures?

Logically, you know they didn’t inherit the cash or sell a company to pay for those dream trips, so technically you could do the same thing. But you also have no idea how to build up that kind of account balance yourself. I’m with you -- I’ve always wanted to save up for a trip around the world, but wasn’t sure how to get started. Luckily, we don’t have to figure it out on our own.

Mark and Britnee Johnston of One World One Year, who saved $40,000 in two years so they could quit their jobs and travel the world, have plenty of advice to share. I picked their collective brain to learn just how they managed to put away that kind of cash and prepare for their trip.

Ready to follow their lead and start saving for the adventure of a lifetime?

Before You Go: Savings Tips

If you’re just starting out, look at what you earn each month, and figure out how to put some of that money toward your trip. As you have more free cash, bump up the amount you’re adding to your vacation account and watch the total grow.

This is possible even if you’re not bringing home a ridiculously high salary. Before they left on their trip, Britnee worked as the communications manager at Thanksgiving Point, a nonprofit farm, garden and museum complex in Lehi, Utah. Mark worked as the Photo Editor at the Daily Herald in Provo, Utah.

Pay Off Debt First

“The first big step was to pay off all of our debt,” said Britnee. The couple pulled from their savings to eliminate two car loans and some credit card debt. “It hurt to see our savings of several thousand dollars disappear so quickly, but doing so freed up $500 [a] month. The money saved from paying those bills then transferred directly into our savings account.”

To pay it off faster, y0u may want to think about consolidating you debt (here's how to do that). Instead of drowning in 20%+ credit card interest, you'll save a ton of money if you move your debt to a personal loan (where interest rates are as low as 5%).

Make More Money

If your monthly expenses are pretty set in stone, boost your savings by earning more money.

One great option is to look for freelance work related to your skills. On top of her day job in communications, Britnee found clients to hire her for social media and writing projects. “Even though it meant a lot of evenings and weekends were spent working from my dining room table,” she said, “it was worth it knowing it would finance my dream of traveling.”

Pare Down

Eat out less, stay in more. We’ve heard this a million times, but what does it look like day in, day out?

For Mark and Britnee, it meant tuna sandwiches for lunch and cooking extra food for dinner so they could take leftovers to work the next day. It meant watching Netflix instead of going to the movies. It meant inviting friends over for dinner instead of heading to a bar.

“Thankfully,” Mark said, “we’re lovers of the outdoors -- hiking, climbing, mountain biking and camping -- and those activities were already free or affordable.”

Keep Your Finances Separate

Unlike many married couples, Mark and Britnee decided to manage their savings goals separately. Doing so made them responsible for every penny they each saved and spent. Britnee said this required “us both to keep up with each other, working toward saving $20,000 each.”

The result was less nagging and greater fiscal responsibility. “We agreed to put at least half of our paychecks into travel savings each month and then divided bills and grocery costs between us. Whatever we had left, we spent as we chose,” she explained.

Change Your Outlook

Mark and Britnee used a cool mindset trick to motivate themselves to save. We all know you can save money by swapping your daily $4 Starbucks for brew-at-home coffee, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to make the switch.

To increase their incentive to save, they thought about what certain amounts of money would represent on their trip. “Each time we were tempted with a purchase -- say a $40 shirt -- we would consider what that money would buy us on our travels -- four nights in a hostel in Nepal,” the couple told Adventure Journal. “Then it all got much easier.”

On the Road: Make Your Money Last

Heading off on your adventure? Use these tricks to stretch your savings further.

Find a Better Bank or Credit Card

The last thing you want to do is waste your hard-earned money on bank fees and exchange rates. Call your bank or credit card provider and ask about how your card benefits travelers. If it doesn’t, shop around. Here are some of the best credit and debit cards for travel.

“I can’t stress enough how beneficial the Charles Schwab high yield investor checking card has been to us on this trip,” said Mark. “It refunds all ATM fees and doesn’t charge for foreign transactions. I can’t imagine how much money we would have spent this year on fees alone without it.”

Move Less

Not only do you have to pay for food and accommodation while traveling, but you’ve got to cover the costs of physically getting from place to place -- and they add up quickly.

When Mark and Britnee arrived in Europe, they cut some of their original destinations so they could spend more time (and less money) in fewer places. This decision also meant they could better experience each of the cities they visited, since they had more time to explore.

Offset Your Costs

Once Mark and Britnee realized properly experiencing some destinations, like Paris, would require significantly more money, they offset those higher costs with six months of an affordable lifestyle in Nepal and Southeast Asia.

“For example,” Britnee told me, “we spent only $36 total on a month's worth of accommodation while trekking in Nepal's Annapurna region.” That said, she added, “Don’t let your budget keep you from enjoying the vacation you worked so hard for.”

Returning Home: Save a Little Extra Money

Unless you’re planning on making money on the road (or never plan on coming home), you’ll need some cash to kickstart your life again once you return from your travels. Mark and Britnee saved a little extra on top of the $40,000 for their trip, enough to cover living expenses for at least three months when they return to Utah. “We hope to have full-time jobs, but it’s comforting to know there’s something there just in case,” said Mark.

What Are You Waiting For?

As Mark and Britnee’s story shows, it is possible to save up a enough cash to travel the world. It’s not a short road, but the good news is saving for a big trip like this will create strong money-management habits and give you a better sense of control over your cash.

“Saving for this trip and carefully managing a budget while traveling has instilled a habit we’ll continue back home, whether it’s for the next vacation or buying a house,” said Britnee. “It’s hard to say what life will be like when we return, but we’ll be grateful to be surrounded by family and friends again and will look back fondly on this year of adventure.”

Your Turn: Do you think you could save this much money to travel or toward another big goal?

Marian Schembari is a writer, blogger and community manager based in San Francisco.

How does a beehive -- yes, an actual beehive, that’s not the name of yet another San Francisco tech startup (or is it?) -- raise $70,000 in 477 seconds? Apparently all you needed was a tap.

The Indiegogo campaign to bring the Flow Hive to honey enthusiasts around the world raised a whopping $12 million before it closed on April 19.

The concept comes from a family of bee harvesters, Cedar Anderson and his father Stuart. These inventors have been working on the hive for the better part of 10 years.

How the Hive Works

On the company’s campaign page they say, "Flow is the most significant innovation in beekeeping since 1852. Flow is a revolutionary beehive invention, allowing you to harvest honey without opening the hive and with minimal disturbance to the bees.”

Since Flow doesn’t disturb the bees, reports CNN Money, it’s “great for beginners -- there's no need to wear protective gear, smoke the bees to sleep or take apart the hive to harvest the honey. It's all done by flipping a switch, which activates a mechanism inside the hive, and fresh honey pours out of the tap.”

Stirring Up Controversy

But as with many big advancements, traditionalists have popped up to argue the case for the old ways. Andrew Cote, founder of the New York City Beekeepers Association, explained that it’s not quite that simple. "One does need to do hive inspections, check for disease, check for virility of the queen, and make sure that things are going well in the hive," he told CNN. Cote’s family has been beekeeping for generations, and he uses the traditional method that dates back 150 years.

Cedar Anderson responded by recommending that even though the Flow Hive can make the hobby more accessible, buyers should still “link up with local beekeeping groups to learn how to properly care for their bees.” A great place to start is through Bee Culture.

What’s Next for Flow

Now that the Flow team has raised its capital, the company’s focus is now on getting the company up and running as well as actually manufacturing and delivering the thousands of hives and frames campaign backers ordered. In case you’d like a Flow Hive of your very own, it sounds like they’re working on setting up an online store.

Your Turn: Can you believe how much money this crowdfunding campaign earned? Would you want one of these beehives?

Marian Schembari is a writer, blogger and community manager based in San Francisco.

When anyone makes six figures on YouTube, you might feel a little jealous. But when it’s an 8-year-old? And it’s six figures per month? That’s when we all question our life choices.

Charli has been starring in YouTube videos since she was six, creating short videos with baking tips and tutorials on her channel CharlisCraftyKitchen. Her five-year-old sister, Ashlee, also features in the videos as her helper and professional taste tester. To date, their most popular video shows kids how to make “Frozen”-themed jello popsicles, but you can find tutorials on everything from Easter cake pops to chili. The girls do all their baking without the help of an adult.

And people love it: Charli’s channel generates around $127,777 per month in ad revenue, according to data compiled by Outrigger Media. I guess this is unsurprising, given the channel has more than 100 videos and almost 300 million views. Yes, that’s three hundred. Million.

And it doesn’t look like these girls are slowing down anytime soon. "I want to make videos until I'm about 100,” writes Charli on the show’s website.

How They Started

Turns out YouTube is a family business. The girls’ Auntie Elise runs the popular channel, My Cupcake Addiction, and even Grandma has a channel called Cooking for Dogs. Under circumstances like these, it would be surprising had the girls not gotten involved in culinary media.

Inspired to start making videos of their own, Charli, then 6, and Ashlee, 3, created their first-ever tutorial, Easy Halloween Witch’s Hats, an adorable combination of Hershey’s kisses, orange buttercream icing and chocolate cookies. All it took to get them started was a little help from their aunt and a borrowed room to film a few videos.

Charli had always been creative, but Ashlee was the sister most passionate about food. Combining their two loves, Charli’s Crafty Kitchen was born, though their mom, Simonne, said they should change the name to Charli & Ashlee’s Kitchen given Ashlee’s the one who truly loves to bake.

“Motivation is easy when the girls want to make videos all the time,” said Simonne. “I’ve had times where we have just filmed and they’re still running around chanting ‘We want another tutorial!’ so we do another one. I’ve even had times where I felt really unmotivated and Charli says to me ‘Come on mum, lets get this done!’”

How They Found an Audience

Charli’s Crafty Kitchen was the first kids-only baking show on YouTube, and with great novelty comes great virality. However, the girls started off with humble, less tech-savvy marketing strategies: “I can remember the girls taking little printed cards to the shopping centre and giving them to anyone who would take them,” said Simonne. “They were so excited and they wanted the world to know!”

The channel grew quickly. The girls partnered with Auntie Elise for a collaboration, which led to partnerships with other popular channels like Bounce Patrol Kids and Elly Awesome.

Eager friends and family watched and shared with their friends and families, creating a hit channel in months. While they launched as the first "kids-only" YouTube baking show, the girls now boast the world’s largest show of its kind.

How YouTube Changed Their Lives

“Our lives revolve around YouTube now!” Simonne told me. Given the fact that the channel provides the family’s income, it’s understandable that everyone would take part.

Mom and dad are responsible for filming, editing, media, negotiating brand deals, photography, social media and general business tasks. “We have three generations of women on YouTube in our family,” said Simmone, “so every time we get together we are all talking YouTube.”

This sentiment echoes the one shared by the family behind EvanTubeHD, another YouTube channel where a nine-year-old earns millions reviewing toys. “We work as a tight family unit. Everyone contributes and has their special roles,” they said.

Outside of the fact that YouTube is the family’s business, being on camera has made the girls more confident and creative. Charli said, “I feel much more confident to go up on stage now I have the channel” and Ashlee’s reply was “I really do like eating and the taste test!”

Ready to start your own channel?

Starting a YouTube channel is completely free and anyone can make money off their videos by joining the YouTube Partner Program and setting up Google AdSense.

Whether your expertise is in payroll or puppets, make sure you’re creating content about something you absolutely love. “That passion will keep you motivated during slower times,” said Simonne. And if you’re not passionate, it will show through in your videos.

And of course, the most important thing for any channel is to create good content. “No matter how many people you collaborate with or tell about your channel, you have to have interesting videos so people stick around and subscribe.” It’s obvious Charli and Ashlee have mastered this part.

Your Turn: Have you started a YouTube channel? How did you market and monetize it?

Marian Schembari is a writer, blogger and community manager based in San Francisco.