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Here at The Penny Hoarder, it’s no secret one of our favorite cash-back apps is Ibotta. (People all around the office are obsessed with it.)

Because the app offers rebates at so many of your favorite stores, you’re automatically getting cash back on stuff you were going to buy anyway. It’s the closest thing to free money we’ve ever seen.

Also, the Ibotta deals keep expanding. This month, it’s adding more than 30 online retailers to its lineup.

If you already use Ibotta, just scroll to the section titled “New retailers.”

If you’re not familiar with the app, it’s available for Apple and Android phones and tablets. Ibotta allows shoppers to get cash back on mobile or in-store purchases, either through its shopping portal or by scanning receipts afterward.

Here are some of the newest places you can get Ibotta deals, along with examples of the kinds of rebates it’s offering for any purchase you make on your phone through Ibotta’s shopping portal:

  • Abercrombie & Fitch: 6% cash back
  • Barnes & Noble: 1% cash back
  • Foot Locker: 6%
  • Gap: 5%
  • Hollister: 6%
  • Kohl’s: 2%
  • Lane Bryant: 5%
  • PetSmart: 5%
  • Sears: 5%
  • Target: 1%
  • Walgreens: 3%

In addition, if you’ve been thinking about trying out the online shopping service Stitch Fix, Ibotta is now offering $15 cash back on your first purchase.

What Else Can You Do With Ibotta?

Ibotta is best known for its cash-back offers on grocery items, but it’s been rapidly expanding.

We’ve learned to look for offers when we go out to eat, hit the bars and even when we take an Uber.

When you sign up for Amazon Prime through Ibotta, you’ll even score a $20 Amazon gift card.

Signing up for Ibotta is easy. Plus, when you sign up through this link you’ll get a $10 welcome bonus.

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He likes getting cash back.

In their drive to earn extra money, Sam and Susen Meteer divide the night and day between them.

At any hour on the clock, one or the other is probably driving.

It’s how the Meteers make ends meet. This married couple has five children, four living at home in Sacramento, California.

Sam is an elementary school teacher by day who gets behind the wheel on nights and weekends.

Susen is a full-time mom to their kids -- ages 9, 11, 13 and 15 -- with the couple’s oldest child now married and out of the house. On weekday mornings, Susen drops her kids at school and keeps on driving.

If one of us is driving, the other one is usually home with the kids,” Susen says of their life. “It’s a little more sane that way.”

(Lyft, by the way, is expanding in a big way this year.)

Tag-Teaming Life and a Side Gig

That’s how they tag-team it -- they both drive with Lyft.

The ride-sharing company’s flexible hours allow them to raise their children while also earning enough to support them. The couple drives whenever they can, within reason.

“I normally drive at night. I drive on weekends and maybe a weeknight or two during the school year,” says Sam, who teaches sixth grade. “On holidays and summers and special events, I hit it hard. I drive a lot.”

He earns anywhere from $300 to $1,000 a week through Lyft, depending on how much he drives. That top range -- $1,000 a week -- is rare for him and he only hits that during times like the Christmas holidays, when school’s out and he’s not teaching. Otherwise, he’s usually driving 20 to 30 hours a week.

“The money ebbs and flows,” he says. “Sometimes you’re busy, and sometimes there’s not a lot of action. It’s the law of averages. There are nights when I’ve exceeded my take-home pay from teaching.”

As for Susen, once she drops her kids at school and starts driving for Lyft, she sets herself a simple goal: Earn $100 that day.

“If I start at 8 or 9 a.m., I might make that by 10. Or it might be 2 p.m.,” she said. “I go wherever it takes me throughout the day.”

If she works consistently, she can bring in $500 a week that way.

“It keeps milk on the table,” Sam says. Together, they can pull in $800 to $1,500 a week, although that top end is rare.

How much do Lyft drivers typically make? Earnings are largely based on how much they work and how they manage their time. Drivers who post screencaps of their earnings online often show they’re earning $18 to $40 per hour, with many earning around $25 per hour.

For example, this guy who lost his job now earns about $750 driving 45 to 50 hours a week with Lyft in Philadelphia.

Driving for Lyft Means No More Waiting Tables

Sam, 47, had always waited tables to supplement his teaching salary. He did that for 15 years and got awfully tired of it. He was ready for a change.

But it was Susen, 43, who first discovered Lyft. She downloaded and used the app while out with friends one weekend. Then she started experimenting with driving for Lyft when the kids were at school.

Her advice for rookie Lyft drivers: “It was a little scary for me at first. They need to do what’s comfortable for them.”

Before long, Sam got jealous of his wife’s sweet Lyft gig. He quit his restaurant job and joined her.

That was two years ago.

Lyft is Coming to Your Town

Lyft is expanding like crazy this year to compete with its rival, Uber.

It’s looking for drivers in 100 more cities. Expansion areas include the Southwest, the Southeast, the Carolinas, the Rockies, the Midwest, New England and Central California.

If you’re curious to see what you’d make, Lyft has an earnings calculator. Type in how many hours you’d want to work and your city.

Here’s what you should know before driving for Lyft or Uber.

‘It’s An Adventure for Us’

Today the Meteers switch off Lyft shifts in their 2012 Honda Odyssey van and their 2011 Dodge Ram Laramie truck, bright pink with a Lyft emblem painted on the side.

Splitting up the day and night between them, they drive for different crowds.

During the daylight hours, Susen gets the buttoned-up business crowd mixed with a few college students. She keeps the van spotless. The whole thing is low-stress.

“Pretty much everyone is pretty cool,” she says.

Sam gets the night crowd. The party crowd. The bar crowd.

“People who have been out having a good time,” he says cheerfully.

These passengers can be pretty boisterous. Sam keeps water bottles and has cleaned up a couple of messes, but hasn’t had to deal with any uncomfortable incidents.

“I try to be as friendly as possible,” he said.

Friends always ask the couple, What was your wildest ride? What was your worst ride?

But in two years, the Meteers have yet to have an unpleasant experience driving with Lyft.

“It’s an adventure for us,” Susen says. “It’s fun.”

“I pick up people that I would normally wouldn’t talk to during the day,” Sam says, “and we end up having amazing conversations.”

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He could use a lift, thanks for asking.

One of the eye-opening things you quickly learn as a parent is how expensive child car seats are.

Spoiler alert for the childless: Car seats are super-expensive. Also, your growing child will cycle through various car seat stages. Take it from me, a father of two.

These days, the average convertible car seat price is roughly $175 -- although it ranges from $75 to $400 or more, depending on your needs, taste and budget.

One way to save money here is to take advantage of car seat trade-ins. Babies R Us, Toys R Us and Target have these in-store events every once in awhile.

Just in time for National Baby Safety Month, it’s Target’s turn. Target is holding a nationwide car seat trade-in event through Sept. 23.

That means you still have a 10-day window to bring in your old car seat and get a coupon for 20% off a new car seat, booster, base or travel system. You can use the coupon in stores or online until Oct. 7.

What happens to the car seats that Target collects? It has teamed up with recycling company TerraCycle to have them recycled. Target and TerraCycle expect to keep 700,000 pounds of car seat materials out of landfills.

Once or twice a year, Toys R Us and Babies R Us do the same thing, and they usually offer a 25% discount.

If you’re a Penny Hoarder like I am, you’re always looking for ways to save money. Saving on car seats is no exception as long as my child’s safety is not compromised.

The Car Seat Cycle of Life

These car seat trade-ins are especially useful because there will come a time when your child outgrows their current car seat or it expires.

The federal government offers car seat guidelines based on age and weight. Here are some useful guidelines:

  • Infant seats: Newborn to 2 years, or 30-plus pounds.
  • All-in-one seats: Newborn to 12 years, or 120 pounds.
  • Convertible seats: Newborn to 6 years, or 65 pounds.
  • Booster seats: 6 to 12 years, or 120 pounds.

Consumer Reports has a few good tips on when to trade in your car seat:

  • When your baby is a year old.
  • When your baby gets too big for their infant seat.
  • It’s simply time for the next step.
  • When your car seat expires. Yes, car seats have expiration dates. Check your car seat’s manufacturing label. They’re typically good for six years. After that, you can’t resell them on Craigslist or at a consignment store.
  • The car seat has been involved in a crash.
  • The car seat is damaged.

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He has two little kids, and just writing this story is making his wallet bleed.

Tyler Omoth, a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder, also contributed to this post.

At long last, football season is back, and you know what that means.

It’s time for some tailgating.

Time to throw down in the stadium parking lot. Time to play some sweet tunes and grill some meats. Time to enjoy an adult beverage or two. Or three. Or six. Hey, we don’t judge.

Now, it would be nice to tailgate like a king. Grill up some T-bone steaks and lobster tails, and wash it all down with Dom Perignon, barrel-aged bourbon, or some Belgian craft beer that’s brewed with truffles and juniper berries.

But we’re not going to do that. Because we’re broke.

This is The Penny Hoarder, so we’re going to tailgate on a budget.

Through extensive and exhaustive research in the field -- going to many, many tailgates -- we’ve learned how to do it without breaking the bank. Yes, these are the kinds of sacrifices we make for our beloved readers.

Tailgating Like a Cheapskate -- But in Style

Our secret strategy is this: Make sure to get cash back when you buy food and alcohol.

Use the cash-back app Ibotta to earn rebates on groceries. Search the app for rebates as you make your shopping list, then use the app to scan your receipt once you get home with the goods. The average user earns $30 per month, according to the company.

With tailgating, where Ibotta really comes in handy is with alcohol. The app has a ton of rebate offers for beer, wine and liquor, ranging from $5 back on a case of Bud Light to $3 back on a bottle of Jim Beam.

Here are a few other tips we learned from asking an expert, Joe Cahn, who bills himself as “The Commissioner of Tailgating.”

  • One key to keeping tailgating costs reasonable is to invite your friends, then get them to chip in.  
  • Pro tip: Park one car at the stadium and have everyone else in your group park farther away, where it’s free. Then carpool, walk, or take the bus or a game-day shuttle.

Your Big-Ticket Item: The Grill

Sure, slow cookers are nice. But in order to tailgate like a real live red-blooded American, you need a grill. How else are you going to grill meat, I ask you?

Even if you buy a relatively affordable grill, it’s still a significant purchase. And like any significant purchase, you should figure out how to get the best possible deal.

Here’s something to try. Step by step:

  1. Go look at grills at Lowe’s or Home Depot. Check ‘em out.
  1. Join Swagbucks, a site that pays you to take surveys, watch TV and shop online. It can get you cash back on purchases. You get $5 just for signing up.
  1. Once you’re in, shop online for the grill you want at Lowe’s or Home Depot. Swagbucks has partnerships with both. You’ll earn one Swagbuck for every dollar you spend.
  1. On a significant purchase like a grill, that can add up to a lot of Swagbucks. The average propane gas grill costs $100-$400, with higher-end stainless steel ones going for $500-$1,500.
  1. You can exchange Swagbucks for gift cards. For context, 2,500 Swagbucks will get you a $25 PayPal gift card. Basically, you’re earning 1% cash back on your new grill.

We’ll leave you with more words of wisdom from Joe Cahn, the Commissioner of Tailgating:

Ultimately, tailgating is not about the food. It’s about the people, the atmosphere and the experience.

“Being around your friends, food tastes better with friends no matter what food it is,” he said. “Sharing hot dogs or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with friends is a far better time than a 10-course meal with people you really don’t like.”

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He likes to tailgate before attending a game because his favorite football team is so incredibly aggravating.

Susan Gibbons doesn’t drive much. She works from home. Sometimes she’ll swing by the supermarket or the doctor’s office, but that’s about it.

“All my driving is around my neighborhood,” says Gibbons, 55, of Philadelphia. “A few miles here, a few miles there.”

Being such an infrequent driver, she got tired of spending so much money on auto insurance.

“I was paying State Farm $1,100 a year so I could look at my car in my driveway,” she explains.

She got to thinking: What if, instead of paying a lump sum for car insurance, you could pay by the mile?

After all, the less you drive, the lower your odds of getting in an accident, right?

It made no sense to Gibbons that someone like her, who easily drives less than five miles a day, should pay the same rate as someone who drives 50 miles a day. But the way car insurance works, we all get lumped into the same broad category.

That’s why she Googled “pay-per-mile car insurance.” And that’s how she found Metromile.

Hey, Let’s Disrupt the Auto Insurance Industry’s Business Model!

Metromile is a San Francisco-based startup trying to revolutionize the auto insurance industry. It’s offering low-mileage drivers a unique new option: Pay-as-you-go insurance coverage.

You pay by the mile.

Customers typically pay a flat fee of $35 per month, plus 5 cents per mile -- although it varies depending on factors like your location and how long you’ve been driving.

Gibbons figures her car insurance bill has plummeted by $720 a year.

“It’s a huge savings,” she says. “It’s just money that I’m not spending every month. I’m a saver, and any time you can cut a bill, it helps you save.”

A Little Doodad that Plugs Into Your Car

How does Metromile know how many miles you drive?

It tracks your mileage through a device you plug into your car’s diagnostic system. This gizmo transmits your mileage to Metromile via a wireless network.

It’s been compared to Fitbit for your car.

Now, because we’re all flinty independent Americans who are wary of Big Brother, some potential customers might have privacy concerns about this system.

Gibbons isn’t worried about it. It’s not like anyone at Metromile is watching her. She knows the device installed in her 2007 Toyota Corolla simply tracks the number of miles driven for billing purposes.

“I understand that some people would never plug anything into their car to give someone access to their data, but it doesn’t bother me,” she says. “This is the 21st century. The younger generation, they’re all walking around with their location on their phone, and every app knows where they are.”

She’s also discovered side benefits to the device that’s plugged into her Corolla’s diagnostic system: It can connect with the app on her phone to remind her where her car is parked. And when her dashboard’s “check engine” light went on, she got a text message from Metromile telling her why.

A Customized Product, Like Cord-Cutting for Your Car

She used to drive more. But Gibbons, who works in finance for the federal government, can now do most of her work at home. And she lives within walking distance of plenty of shops and restaurants.

Before she switched insurers in 2015, Gibbons had been a State Farm customer since 1985. Yes, 30 years. Three decades.

But State Farm couldn’t give her the kind of discount she was looking for, and that’s what prompted her to look for alternatives.

She’s the kind of customer Metromile is built for -- low-mileage drivers like urban dwellers, retirees and those who work from home.

Founded in 2011, the insurer is also betting millennials will be tempted by cheaper, customized car insurance -- the same way they’re increasingly cutting the cord, ditching cable subscriptions and a million channels they don’t need.

Metromile’s pay-per-mile car insurance is currently available in California, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington. Next, the company plans to expand into Florida, New York and Texas.

“I signed up on the waiting list before it was even available in my state,” says Gibbons, a Pennsylvania resident. “It’s a great deal for me.”

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He’s clearly paying too much for car insurance.

Update: This post has been updated to reflect the latest findings in Wells Fargo’s review of fraudulent accounts, including up to an additional 1.4 million fake accounts.

Wells Fargo got in hot water last year for secretly opening millions of unauthorized bank and credit card accounts without its customers’ knowledge.

If you were one of those customers, you’re in line to get some money.

Wells Fargo agreed to a $142 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit in April.

The money will reimburse customers for “out-of-pocket losses, such as fees incurred due to unauthorized account openings,” according to Wells Fargo’s news release.

In addition to the repayment of fees, the settlement will include “millions of dollars of additional monetary relief,” according to a lawyer in the case.

Who Gets Paid?

The settlement covers anyone who had a Wells Fargo account opened without their consent from Jan. 1, 2009, through whatever date the courts officially execute the settlement.

In August 2017, an additional review that went back to January 2009 found an additional 1.4 million potentially fake bank and credit card accounts, CNN reported. Around 190,000 of those accounts faced unnecessary fees, according to Wells Fargo, which will result in an additional $2.8 million in fee refunds to customers.

These refunds are on top of the $3.3 million in fee refunds Wells Fargo has already paid customers for 130,000 unauthorized accounts. Wells Fargo told CNN that most customers who already got a remediation check are still eligible to take part in the $142 million settlement.

The March 2017 settlement has been approved, but it may take until early 2018 before affected customers are notified.  

Wells Fargo’s Very Bad Year

The deal follows a rough 2016 for Wells Fargo.

Its CEO resigned due to the scandal. The bank got slapped with a $185 million fine for the unauthorized accounts. And by the end of the year, it acknowledged that business was suffering, with noticeably fewer new customers opening accounts.

For its part, Wells Fargo says it has changed its ways. Among other steps, it fired 5,300 employees and overhauled the employee compensation plan that fueled the opening of unauthorized accounts.

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. The name “Wells Fargo” always makes him think of stagecoaches.

If you’re going to invest some money, be smart and prudent about it.

On the other hand, don’t be a chicken, either. Don’t be afraid of the stock market.

That’s the message we got when we asked a panel of eight financial advisors to name the investing mistakes they most frequently encounter.

We had previously asked these financial planners about common money mistakes millennials make, and they had a lot to say about that.

So that got us wondering: What do these financial experts see people doing wrong when it comes to investing money?

Here’s how they answered the question: What’s the most common mistake that investors make?

Financial Advisers Sound Off on Investing Mistakes

On Waiting Too Long

The number one mistake I think young investors make is, they wait to save and invest, because they think they have low wages and high expenses and have plenty of time to save.

Young investors need to understand that even if their wages will rise, their expenses will rise more as they acquire houses, children, etc. Even more important is the impact of compounding returns over a long period of time. In essence, the most valuable money they will ever save is the FIRST money they save, as it has 30-40 years to compound!

-- Karen Lee, president, Karen Lee & Associates, Atlanta, Georgia

Penny Hoarder tip: One way to start investing early is to use an app like Acorns. Once you connect it to a debit or credit card, it rounds your purchases up to the nearest dollar and funnels your digital change into a savings or investment account. Because the money comes out in increments of less than $1, you’re less likely to feel an impact in your bank account.

On Not Getting Started

The most common mistake is not starting. Many people wait until the “perfect” time, trying to time the market before investing.

These people should take comfort in the fact that, over the long term it's time in the market that matters, not “timing the market.”

Another mistake is “Get Rich Thinking” -- taking a very large position in one stock in an attempt to get rich quickly. It takes time for the magic of compounding to work.

-- Ben Westerman, senior vice president, HM Capital Management, St. Louis

Penny Hoarder tip: It does take time for compounding interest to make its magic. You’ll see this happen in your 401(k) account, if you have one. An online robo-advisor like Blooom can help manage and optimize your 401(k) for you because, chances are, it can probably be doing more for your retirement.

On Waiting Until the Stock Market is Supposedly “Safe”

Don’t wait until you think the market is “safe.” If you're a novice investor, you can't possibly have the time, resources or ability to know when the market is safe. Entire departments of full-time workers in the finance world are dedicated to predicting when the market is “safe” and when it's “not safe.” They are often wrong.

You just can't afford to miss out on upswings in the market. Want proof? Missing the 10 best days in the stock market from 1993 to 2013 would take your return down from 9.2% to 5.4%. That means it’s possible, in two decades of time in the stock market, for over 40% of the growth to happen on 0.28% of the days the market is open. Are you really going to risk being on the sidelines because you’re waiting for it to be “safe”?

Another mistake is not knowing the expenses of your investment. Beginning investors can be prone to going to their bank or a commissions-based financial advisor, where they are likely to be sold mutual funds and brokerage products with a hefty commission upfront.

-- Justin Chidester, owner of Wealth Mode Financial Planning in Logan, Utah

On Investing Only in Companies They Know and Like

Mistakes beginning investors make:

  • Holding too much cash relative to their net worth vs. investing in the financial markets
  • Investing only in companies that they know and/or like -- i.e., Apple, Google, Whole Foods, Nike, etc.
  • Investing too heavily in employer's company stock -- failing to understand the risk of concentration in a single company and the additional risk of being employed there

-- James M. Matthews, managing director of Blueprint, a financial planning firm in Charlotte, N.C.

On Investing in Individual Stocks

Investing in individual stocks as opposed to buying a mutual fund or exchange traded fund (ETF). The average beginning investor does not generally have a deep knowledge of financial markets and rarely conducts in-depth research into the company stock being purchased. Relying upon news stories or anecdotes from friends to make buying decisions is often a recipe for failure -- or certainly under-performance.

Funds -- whether mutual funds or ETFs -- enable a beginning investor to own a well-diversified portfolio of stocks. ETFs are particularly useful as an investor can begin buying shares at a very low initial investment.

-- Kevin Gahagan, chief investment officer, Mosaic Financial Partners, San Francisco

Penny Hoarder tip: Stash, a super basic investing app, automatically pulls a few bucks from your checking account each week. It invests your money in a set of portfolios reflecting your beliefs, interests and goals. Most of Stash’s investments are in ETFs.

On Taking Stock Tips

We don’t recommend taking stock tips. First, why would you think the person giving the tip really knows more than you do? If they’ve done original research and believe they have a special insight, that’s one thing. But if they’re repeating something they heard elsewhere, that’s much less valuable.

As we say around the office, “How likely is it that someone in the middle of the country knows something that people on Wall Street don’t?’”

Also, why would the person with the tip want to share it? Maybe they’re just naturally generous but maybe there’s something a bit more sinister going on. Maybe they already own the stock and want to build a market so there’ll be more interested buyers when they want to sell.

-- Warren A. Ward, WWA Planning & Investments, Columbus, Indiana

More on Taking Stock Tips

Taking a hot stock tip is a lot like playing the lottery. Instinctively, we know it’s not a good idea and we probably won’t win. But the exciting potential of a big payout is often hard to overcome, so we do it anyway. Everything is fine in moderation as long as you don’t bet the farm on a possibility.

-- Andy Yadro, financial planner with Googins Advisors in Madison, Wisconsin

On Following the Crowd

The largest mistake retail investors make is following the crowd. They always get in late, after all the hype. Their entry point is poorly timed, and they give little thought to how the investment actually fits into their long-term financial plan.

-- Joshua Scheinker, executive vice president of Scheinker Wealth Advisors of Janney Montgomery Scott, Baltimore, Maryland

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He is an expert at making mistakes.

What am I doing wrong? That’s what I always want to know.

Sure, I like positive reinforcement, too: Don’t worry, you’re doing a great job as an employee/spouse/parent/human being.

But, good vibes aside, I need to know what I’m doing wrong. What do I stink at?

This also applies to managing my money. What could I be doing better? What am I not thinking of? What are my blind spots?

No one tells us this stuff, you know? Especially when we’re young and just starting out.

We need money advice!

That’s why The Penny Hoarder asked a panel of eight whiz-bang financial advisors this question:

What is a common financial mistake that beginners make?

On Retirement Plans

“Failing to take advantage of company retirement plans is a common mistake that younger people make. Many plans will offer matching contributions when an employee contributes to a 401(k) retirement plan. For those who participate, this is an immediate and substantial return on their savings investment.”

-- Kevin Gahagan, chief investment officer, Mosaic Financial Partners, San Francisco

On Not Cashing Out Retirement Funds

Common financial mistakes young people make:

  • Leasing cars vs. buying more affordable used cars
  • Overspending on lifestyle without paying yourself first
  • Using credit cards to make purchases you can’t afford
  • Taking on too much student loan debt relative to starting salary of future occupation
  • Not taking full advantage of employee benefits like 401(k), HSA, FSA, tuition reimbursement, matching charitable donations, etc.
  • Buying a home based on what the bank pre-qualifies you for, not what your budget allows
  • Borrowing from retirement accounts for purposes other than retirement
  • Cashing out old retirement plans with small balances when changing jobs vs. rolling them over

-- James M. Matthews, managing director of Blueprint, a financial planning firm in Charlotte, N.C.

Penny Hoarder tip: Always, always roll over that 401(k) from your last job! That stuff is gold! Never cash it out. An online robo-advisor like Blooom can help manage your 401(k) for you because, chances are, it can probably be doing more for your retirement.

On Investing Early

“Beginning investors are presented with literally a once in a lifetime offer. They can start their investing early and allow the benefits of compounded growth to work for them.”

“We speak with people every week who say that they want to invest in such a way as to avoid risk, so they’re thinking a CD or U.S. savings bond. We like to point out that taking moderate risk at the beginning … is likely to be the least risky approach over their entire lifetime.”

-- Warren A. Ward, WWA Planning & Investments, Columbus, Indiana

Penny Hoarder tip: One way to start investing early is to use an app like Acorns. Once you connect it to a debit or credit card, it rounds your purchases up to the nearest dollar and funnels your digital change into a savings or investment account. Because the money comes out in increments of less than $1, you’re less likely to feel an impact in your bank account.

On Credit Cards

“Accruing credit card debt is by far the biggest financial mistake young people will make. They have grown up with credit cards as a norm, and don’t understand the concept of the interest and the need to pay those bills off monthly.”

-- Karen Lee, president, Karen Lee & Associates, Atlanta, Georgia

Penny Hoarder tip: Pay off your credit card balance religiously every month to avoid falling behind and getting swamped by interest charges. Plus, with a cash-back rewards card, you can get paid for every dollar you spend. We recommend checking out the Barclaycard CashForward World MasterCard. You’ll earn 1.5% cash back, plus a $200 bonus for signing up.

On Saving Enough

They don’t save enough. They should work on hitting at a minimum of 15% of their GROSS income. I suspect the millennials are going to live longer than any other generation to date. This is going to require them to work longer and save more.”

-- Brett Anderson, president, St. Croix Advisors in Hudson, Wisconsin

Penny Hoarder tip: Not all of us are in a position to save 15% of our gross annual income. But most of us could probably be saving more.

On Procrastinating

“Procrastinating saving for retirement even when they know they need to start early. I've noticed that millennials are a generation comfortable with digesting large amounts of content online. When we have a question, we Google it. We’re used to finding our own answers and tend to hold a ‘do-it-yourself’ attitude.”

“With financial and investment decision-making, however, this can become a crutch -- there is so much information to wrap your head around that it's easy to suffer from ‘analysis paralysis’ and keep putting off investing because you want to do it perfectly.”

-- Justin Chidester, owner of Wealth Mode Financial Planning in Logan, Utah

Penny Hoarder tip: Keep it simple. Stash, a super basic investing app, automatically pulls a few bucks from your checking account each week. It invests your money in a set of portfolios reflecting your beliefs, interests and goals. It does everything for you. No paralysis from analysis.

On Being Duped by Insurance Salesmen

The biggest mistake I see millennials making is being duped by insurance salesmen. Everyone needs insurance, but a very small subset of young people need the insurance that is sold by most ‘financial advisors.’”

“ALWAYS get a second opinion from someone that does not focus on life insurance before moving forward with any recommendation.”

-- Andy Yadro, financial planner with Googins Advisors in Madison, Wisconsin

Penny Hoarder tip: You might still consider a basic life insurance policy, which could be useful for paying off your funeral, mortgage or car loans. Companies like PolicyGenius offer streamlined ways to get it. Unlike traditional providers, this online-only platform provides instant decisions on coverage applications. 

On Not Getting Started

The biggest mistakes young people make are:

  • Not taking full advantage of a company 401(k) match, as many are giving up free money!
  • Not starting with investing. My suggestion is to start by investing in a target-date age based fund, which corresponds to the year of retirement (or age 65).

-- Ben Westerman, senior vice president, HM Capital Management, St. Louis

There. Now you know everything you’re doing wrong. Enjoy your free money advice.

Time for some positive reinforcement: You made it to the end of the article! You’re obviously very smart and focused and have a bright financial future ahead of you!

Mountains and forests. Rivers, lakes and waterfalls. The Grand Canyon. All for free.

This year, the National Park Service is offering 10 “free days.” Those are the dates when all national parks, monuments and historical sites offer free admission.

The first free day of 2017 was in January, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The next one is on Friday, Aug. 25, for the National Park Service Birthday.

Conveniently, all of these free-admission days fall on or around a weekend, which is super-handy for planning a three-day trip. Here’s this year’s list:

  • Monday, Jan. 16: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • Monday, Feb. 20: Presidents Day
  • Saturday and Sunday, April 15-16, and April 22-23: Weekends of National Park Week
  • Friday, Aug. 25: National Park Service Birthday
  • Saturday, Sept. 30: National Public Lands Day
  • Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 11-12: Veterans Day Weekend

Of the National Park Service’s 400 sites, more than 120 typically charge anywhere from $3 to $30 a day for admission. The big, legendary parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite cost the most money. Here’s a list of these parks, sorted by state.

Again, all entrance fees are waived on these free days. During your visit, you’ll still have to pay for things like concessions, tours and campsite reservations.

Your Other Options for Exploring National Parks

This is one of those cases where you’ll have to make a time-versus-money decision. It’s possible that some of these national parks may be a bit more crowded on free-admission days, and you’d have the park more to yourself on a different day.

Then again, the biggest driver of national park attendance is the time of year, with summer being by far the busiest time for many of the major parks.

Here are some options to consider:

  • If you’re planning on hitting lots of national parks this year, you should go ahead and spring for an $80 annual pass.
  • For more information, Travel and Leisure has a good primer on how to use a national park pass.

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He has yet to get to Yosemite National Park, but it’s a goal.

Zarinah Francois hated going to the pharmacy. Hated it. She had to go all the time, and it was a nightmare every time.

The 37-year-old California mother of five had to go to the drugstore a lot to pick up medications for herself and her adopted 6-year-old daughter. Zarinah has lupus, and her adopted daughter has cerebral palsy.

Zarinah takes eight medications a month to manage her lupus nephritis, a painful and troublesome kidney inflammation. Her daughter Isabella is on six medications for her own symptoms.

Fortunately, Zarinah’s husband is a fire department captain, so the family has health insurance. And California’s Medicaid program pays for Isabella’s cerebral palsy drugs.

Still, a family of seven with 14 prescriptions meant a lot of trips to the drugstore. Zarinah remembers them well.

I spent most of my time at the pharmacy!”

Flashbacks to the Pharmacy

[caption id="attachment_65076" align="alignnone" width="1200"]Zarina's adopted daughter, Isabella. Zarina's adopted daughter Isabella, 6. Photo courtesy of Zarinah Francois[/caption]

“I would have to shop around to see who carried each medication,” she recalls. “All this running around, calling around, picking up medications, sometimes actually having to go inside the store to wait in long lines. Then you find out it’s not in stock, or it hasn’t been approved yet. You have to come back tomorrow and wait in line again.”

“It was such a pain in the neck.”

She ended up frequenting two different pharmacies, Rite Aid and Walgreens.

Sometimes Rite Aid because they had medications that Walgreens didn't. Sometimes Walgreen’s because they were better at billing Medicaid.

This harried mother of five remembers other problems that used to delay her at the drugstore:

“Labs not being open. Waiting for the senior pharmacist to be available for approval of a medical prescription. Long waits on the phone to hear there are four calls ahead of you just to see if your prescription is ready for pickup.”

Here’s how much of a hassle it was:

“This process would be so lengthy, often I would just would go without meds due to the pharmacy delays.”

When It’s Just Too Much of a Hassle

She’s far from alone.

Nearly half of all Americans -- some 119 million people -- are taking prescription pills, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Consumers are forced to manage the hassles of multiple prescriptions all by themselves. Because of the difficulties, as many as 20% of consumers aren’t consistently filling their prescriptions.

People not taking their pills causes $100-$300 billion in totally extra, totally unnecessary medical costs every year.

All of those struggles led Zarinah to try something different.

Doing the Heavy Lifting Like a Boss

[caption id="attachment_65077" align="alignnone" width="1200"]Zarinah Francois and her daughter Isabella Photo courtesy of Zarinah Francois[/caption]

That was a year and a half ago.

Today she uses Phil, an online prescription delivery service that’s trying to change the way people get their medications -- by making it way easier.

The bottom line: Zarinah uses Phil’s app to schedule automatic refills for her family’s 14 prescriptions. They arrive in her mailbox, just like that. Boom boom boom.

Best of all: Phil takes on the hassles of coordinating with her pharmacies, doctors and insurance providers. It does the heavy lifting, even filling out paperwork.

“Most of my stress with prescription medications is dealing with insurance companies,” Zarinah says. “Phil does all of the legwork.”

She especially appreciates the way Phil jumps through all the bureaucratic hoops required by California Children's Services, a state program for severely disabled or sick children, which pays for Isabella’s cerebral palsy medications.

“Usually, the other pharmacies tell me it can’t be done. It gets really stressful,” she says. “With Phil, they do everything.”

The Nuts and Bolts

Here’s what else she had to say about Phil:

  • Her prescriptions are mailed in discreet, padded packages.
  • It's basically free. She pays nothing more than her usual copays, and delivery is free.
  • Prescription refills arrive a week or two before she runs out.
  • She’s able to chat with Phil staff online when she needs to. “Customer service appears to be 24/7,” she says. “They almost always respond right away via the app.”
  • She figures she’s saving $30 to $100 a month by not spending money on items she doesn't need at drugstores.

So, what advice would this veteran of the drugstore wars give to others considering making this switch?

“If Phil is offered in your area, use it,” she says. “It will save you gas, money, time and stress.

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. The more senior he gets, the more prescriptions he has.

Call them the geographically blessed.

For the lucky 12 million Americans who live directly in the path of the upcoming total solar eclipse, Aug. 21 will bring a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical show.

If you’re one of them, your home is a potential gold mine. Got a spare room? Rent it out. The opportunities to cash in are simply out of this world. But you have to hop to it, because time is running out.

Tens of millions of people will be travelling and renting rooms in the solar eclipse path. They’ll flood hotels, campgrounds and Airbnbs listings. All for a rare taste of moonshadow.

Airbnb, the popular home-sharing listing platform, is seeing a huge spike in the number of people listing their spare rooms and entire homes on the eve of the eclipse.

You could be one of them. It’s not too late, if you follow our instructions.

Darkness in the Middle of the Day

First, let’s back up and get our facts straight.

As you’ve no doubt heard by now, a total solar eclipse happens when the moon passes directly between the Earth and the sun, blocking all solar light.

They’re super rare. This will be the first one on the U.S. mainland in nearly 40 years.

On Aug. 21, the solar eclipse path will cut a diagonal 60- or 70-mile-wide swath across the country from Oregon to South Carolina over an hour and a half.

NASA has a useful video here, illustrating what will happen. Here’s another video showing the path in greater detail.

Everyone in North America will be able to see a partial solar eclipse. But those in the path of the total eclipse will experience total darkness for two long and amazing minutes.

Precious Real Estate for a Three-Day Weekend

Thousands of people who have a little real estate along the path of the eclipse are cashing in, with some parking spots going for upwards of $100. In Oregon, 30 campsites were recently auctioned off for a total of $60,000, or $2,000 per campsite.

“More than 40,000 guest arrivals have turned to Airbnb to book homes along the path of totality, and there’s still time to book,” Airbnb recently said. “From Oregon to South Carolina, we have nearly 3,800 homes available along the path of totality.”

Some of the most expensive Airbnb listings near the start of the eclipse in Madras, Oregon, have been priced at up to $3,000 per night. Someone’s spare room in a small town in Oregon was going for $500 a night.

A couple more points:

  • The Aug. 21 eclipse happens mid-morning on a Monday, so many eclipse travelers are making a three-day weekend of it.

Aside from the 12 million Americans who live in the path of the total eclipse, another 75 million people live within 200 miles of it, according to U.S Census data.

Even if you just live near the total eclipse, and not directly in its path, you could still try to cash in. The biggest crowds are expected in South Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri and Oregon, based on driving models.

Here’s What You Need to Do

Clearly, time is running out. But you can still do this.

Sign up here to be an Airbnb host. This doesn’t cost anything. Airbnb takes a 3% cut of what you earn when you list your home or spare room.

Once you create an account, Airbnb has tools to guide you through the process.

You’ll write a listing for your property, with an appealing but honest description of the place. Upload a few photos of it.

Then, you’ll set a price. Airbnb has tools for that, too. To get an idea of what other Airbnb hosts in your area are charging, Google “eclipse” and “Airbnb,” plus the name of your city.

A few other tips:

  • Be a good host, and make sure your place is stocked with the toiletries you’d expect at a hotel — toilet paper, soap and towels.
  • Be personable. A lot of travelers turn to Airbnb for the personal touch they won’t find at commercial properties.
  • Airbnb handles payments, so you don’t have to deal with money directly.
  • Hosting laws vary from city to city. Understand the rules and regulations applicable to your city and listing.
  • Airbnb offers a “host guarantee” that covers damage to your property.

The Sky Snapped Over the Sun Like a Lens Cover’

The total eclipse will pass over or near Salem, Oregon; Idaho Falls, Idaho; Casper, Wyoming; Omaha, Nebraska; Kansas City; St. Louis; Nashville; and Columbia and Charleston, S.C.

I’m told it’s amazing.

Here’s what author Annie Dillard had to say about it in her classic essay, “Total Eclipse.”

I had seen a partial eclipse in 1970. A partial eclipse is very interesting. It bears almost no relation to a total eclipse. Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him, or as flying in an airplane does to falling out of an airplane. Although the one experience precedes the other, it in no way prepares you for it.”

And then:

“At once this disk of sky slid over the sun like a lid. The sky snapped over the sun like a lens cover. The hatch in the brain slammed. Abruptly it was dark night, on the land and in the sky. In the night sky was a tiny ring of light. The hole where the sun belongs is very small. A thin ring of light marked its place.”

Act now, time is running out.

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He’s thinking it’s time for a road trip.

 

It’s an unhappy fact of life: Sooner or later, the economy’s going to take another dive.

Sorry, but another recession is bound to happen in the next few years. And when it does, your future self is going to thank you for thinking ahead and getting ready for it.

Oh, wait, you haven’t done that? You’re totally unprepared for the next recession?

Well, don’t feel bad. Two-thirds of Americans are in the same boat, according to a new GOBankingRates survey. It found that most Americans’ finances are woefully unprepared to withstand another recession.

In the last U.S. recession, millions of Americans lost their homes, jobs or businesses. With that in mind, we’re here with six steps you can take to protect yourself from a recession and mitigate the damage it can cause you.

Recessions: Like a Bad Penny, They Keep Coming Back

Like we said, economic downturns are simply a fact of life.

Technically, a recession is when the economy declines for at least six months in a row. That typically leads to serious job losses. Our most recent downturn was called the Great Recession because it was the worst one since the Great Depression.

The Great Recession ended in 2009 -- eight years ago.

Historical data shows the U.S. averages a recession every six to seven years.

So we’re probably due for another one in the next few years. Nobody knows when.

And it doesn’t matter who’s in the White House. None of this is intended to be a political statement of any kind. The fact is, these same truths would apply whether Donald Trump or Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton were president.

Here’s how to prepare for a recession:

1. Start Hoarding Your Pennies

Could you live off your savings for six months? For a year? Don’t feel bad -- I know I couldn’t.

Start socking away a little cash to give yourself a financial cushion, an emergency fund in case you get laid off. Once you have an emergency fund goal in mind, figure out how much of each paycheck you’ll need to set aside to reach your goal in three months, six months, a year.

Stash and Acorns are two popular apps that offer easy, automatic ways to start saving and investing. They’re really useful for tricking your brain into saving more. You’ll invest without even realizing you’re doing it.

Stash sets up automatic stock market investments for you. It lets you invest as little as $5 into a set of simple portfolios reflecting your goals and your tolerance for risk. You can set it up to pull a specific sum of money from your bank account at regular intervals.

Once you connect the Acorns app to a debit or credit card, it rounds up your purchases to the nearest dollar and funnels your digital change into an investment account. You can have it automatically round up all your purchases, or only the transactions you choose.

2. Get a Side Gig

Losing your job would be a painful blow to your bank account unless you’re able to find new employment quickly.

That’s why it’s best to diversify your income if possible. The simplest way to do that is by starting a side gig.

You can hustle up extra money driving with Uber or Lyft on your own schedule.

Thanks to the growing gig economy, there are other ways to scratch up some extra cash nowadays. Craigslist is an easy place to sell your services under the “Gigs” section. And if you don’t trust Craigslist, check out TaskRabbit or Fiverr -- to name just a few.

3. Pay Down Your Debts

Here’s why credit card balances are the devil: If you don’t pay off your balance every month, interest charges will keep eating away at your income.

Paying off your credit cards now will free up money in the future -- money that will get you through hard times.

The average interest rate on credit cards these days is nearly 13%, or 16% for travel rewards cards. Instead of burning your money paying interest, take out a debt consolidation loan at a lower interest rate. An easy place to start is Even Financial, which can help you borrow up to $35,000.

If you have student loans, consider refinancing them through an online marketplace like Credible, where you can shop around for the best interest rates. That way, you can be confident the lower interest rate is worth the refinancing cost.

4. Adjust Your 401(k) or Your Investment Portfolio

When the last recession caused the stock market to plunge, Americans’ retirement savings took a beating. The nation’s 401(k)s and IRAs lost nearly $2.5 trillion in the last half of 2008 alone.

Take a look at your own 401(k) account. Are you too heavily invested in stocks? Consider your age, too. If you’re nearing retirement, put more of those funds into bonds.

Just don’t get carried away with that strategy. Before making any changes to your 401(k), keep in mind how many years you have until retirement. If you have decades of working ahead of you, keep your retirement funds in stocks so you don’t miss out on the market’s long-term growth.

To get more out of your 401(k) account, consider using an online robo-advisor like Blooom to help manage it for you.

5. Be a Superhero at Work

If a recession forces your employer to cut back, how can you position yourself to keep your job?

Non-essential employees get laid off first, so focus on making yourself indispensable. Don’t sleep on opportunities to acquire new skills or more responsibility.

6. Stay in the Hunt

Do you like your current job? Cool.

Just don’t get lulled into complacency. Be ready to look for a new job if you have to. Start with this:

  • Update your resume and your LinkedIn page.
  • Keep networking. Start networking before you need a job.

The upshot of all this: No one wants to see an economic downturn, but it’s inevitable that another one will come along. If you take these steps, you might be able to sail through the next recession in style.

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He’s still recovering from the last recession.