Mike Brassfield - The Penny Hoarder

Like everyone else, David Edwards has a cell phone. And like everyone else, cell phone bills were bleeding him dry.

“I was with Verizon for many years. I got tired of paying $185 a month for three lines, and I didn’t even have a smartphone,” said Edwards, a 55-year-old marine science technician who lives in Tampa Bay, Florida.

Then his 27-year-old son told him about Twigby. Edwards made the switch and started saving a ton on his phone bill.

Now, he’s paying $24 a month for his single line. He can hardly believe it.

“So far, so good,” Edwards says, wrapping up his third month with Twigby. “I’m really happy with it.”

What is Twigby, exactly?

It’s a discount wireless carrier that’s making a splash in the incredibly competitive world of low-cost, no-contract cell phone service.

If you’re a company intent on surviving in that ultra-competitive business environment, your product has to be affordable -- really, really affordable. That’s job one.

“We keep the prices as low as possible,” says Twigby representative Chris Alarcon. “Price point is a big thing that we’re always monitoring.”

Beyond the Big Four

In the United States, just about every John and Jane with a cell phone uses one of the “Big Four” wireless carriers.

Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T and Sprint have more than 412 million wireless subscribers collectively. These are big-time, mega-corporations with Super Bowl ads, celebrity spokespeople, storefront locations, and vast networks of cellular towers sprawling across this great land.

Then there’s everyone else -- a slew of independent providers, all competing for a small corner of the cell phone market.

“Maybe 95% of people are with one of the big carriers, and 5% are okay with more budget-friendly brands,” Alarcon says. “We’re in a hyper-competitive industry, with a lot of companies fighting over that 5% of the American population.”

And that brings us back to David Edwards, a guy who grew weary of paying through the nose to use his cell phone.

Making the Break from the Big Carriers

Like many other customers looking to leave the Big Four behind, Edwards had nagging questions about signing on with a discount carrier: Will my phone even work? Will I be dropping calls? Is this a legit business? How’s the coverage? Will customer service be there when I need it?

Edwards had tried a number of different discount wireless providers before, with mixed results. It didn’t always work out

He’s awfully pleased with Twigby, though

[caption id="attachment_58751" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Edwards' bill with Twigby is $24 for a single line compared to the $185 monthly bill he previously paid for Verizon. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

“The pricing structure is good. I’ve never had an issue with coverage,” Edwards says. “The customer support is simple to use. I’ve used it online a couple of times. Almost immediately someone was online with me, so I didn’t have to wait and wait and wait.”

Spoken like a man who’s previously had to wait for ages for customer service to get back to him.

When it comes to pricing, here’s the lowdown on what Edwards pays: It’s $21 per month (before tax) for unlimited minutes, unlimited texting, and 500 megabytes of data. That’s for one phone.

Last month Edwards paid $25 (before tax) because he ended up using more than 500MB of data. So he got bumped up to Twigby’s 1-gigabyte plan, which is $4 extra.

“If you go over, you can choose to have it automatically bump you up to the next level,” he explains. “You only pay for what you use. That’s very attractive.”

For more info, here’s Twigby’s pricing structure for voice minutes and data.

With Twigby, Edwards is paying $24 a month for one smartphone.

Just to be clear, back when he was with Verizon, he was paying $185 a month for three lines -- a smartphone for his son, and flip phones for Edwards and his mother.

At different times in the past, he had cell phone service through Verizon or Sprint. He also tried discount carriers like Page Plus Cellular and then RingPlus, which went out of business earlier this year.

“RingPlus was pretty horrible,” he recalls with a rueful chuckle.

His phone, a Motorola Moto G5 Plus Android smartphone, works fine on Twigby’s network. Twigby sells a large assortment of phones (17 at our press time). You can also use this online tool to see if your current phone is compatible with Twigby’s service.

Customer Service a Key Selling Point

Twigby launched in late 2015 and has been gaining momentum ever since, company officials say.

It’s an MVNO, a Mobile Virtual Network Operator. There are dozens of these companies that buy connection wholesale from the big wireless carriers and resell it to customers.

WhistleOut, a website that compares wireless plans, explains how this business model works: “Essentially, all of the MVNOs buy service in bulk at wholesale prices, then resell that same service on to us. But because they have lower overheads, smaller advertising budgets and many don’t stock handsets, they can offer the same products as the big networks but at much cheaper rates.”

Twigby is on Sprint’s cellular network for voice calls, texting and data, and uses Verizon’s network as a backup for calls and texting

A number of these smaller wireless providers have been criticized for poor customer service -- too slow, haphazard and difficult to understand.

Edwards recalls: “When I was with RingPlus, for their customer service you had to fill out a service ticket, and it would take days to get a problem solved.”

Well aware of these kinds of criticisms, Twigby has taken pains to make sure its customer service is prompt, efficient and helpful. Instead of a call center for customer service, the carrier has an online chat feature.

“Our chat team replies super quickly to any questions,” Alarcon said.To compete, we’re differentiating ourselves based on how accessible we are to our subscribers -- how easy it is to get in touch with us.”

As for Edwards, he’s been easing into semi-retirement and is pleased to have found an affordable, reliable cell phone service

Although some Twigby subscribers are retirees, many are on the other end of the age spectrum. They’re children and young teens whose parents are getting them bargain cell phone plans.

“I used to pay an arm and a leg for the exact same service,” Edwards said. “I’m really happy with (Twigby).”

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

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m better at spending than I am at saving.

I’ve got bills to pay and places to be, and that makes it hard for me to save up a nice little nest egg.

It’s like I have to trick myself into doing it. I have to outsmart the primitive lizard brain inside me that’s ready to burn through all my cash.

That’s why saving for retirement with an automated 401(k) plan works for me. Those 401(k) contributions get taken out before I ever see my paycheck. I never see that money, so I’m never tempted to spend it.

But what about saving money outside your retirement fund? What about socking something away for an emergency? How about saving for a car or a wedding or a down payment on a house or an amazing vacation, or for whatever else you want?

Me, I’ve gotta trick myself. If I really want to save that money, then I’ve got to put it somewhere other than my wallet, where I guarantee it will get spent.

Just like with my 401(k) contributions, I have to automate it.

Tricking Yourself Through the Miracle of Automation

There are easy ways to set up automatic withdrawals from your checking account into your savings or retirement accounts (or, even better, both!).

One way to do this is to push 10% of your paycheck into a separate, hands-off account with Chime Bank, which helps you automatically save every time you get paid.

The FDIC-insured account comes with more than 24,000 fee-free ATMs, zero overdraft fees and doesn’t require a minimum or monthly payment.

Plus, when a slice of your paycheck gets automatically funneled into your secret stash, well… what you don’t see, you won’t miss, right?

Chime also has a feature that helps you save when you spend. It rounds up your purchases to the next dollar and puts the difference into your savings account.

Not only that, but it also rewards you with a 10% bonus on round-ups every week. You get your bonus on Friday, right before the weekend. You can earn up to $500 in bonuses per year.

Really, this is about taking financial control away from your primitive lizard brain and its yearning for shiny, shiny things.

This is about letting your brain’s frontal lobe use its higher cognitive functions to formulate and execute a successful, long-term savings strategy.

In other words, it’s a wicked sneaky ninja move against the lizard brain.

It’s a Jedi mind trick you use against yourself.

I’m not even kidding here, people. This kind of thing is all that works for me.

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. His lizard brain is mighty.

Attention, parents! Do you have a child between the ages of 3 and 8?

Can your child speak?

(If your child is anything like mine, your child speaks a lot.)

If so, here’s an opportunity for you. It’s from a rapidly growing international company that you’ve probably never heard of.

Appen, a language technology firm that works with tech giants, is looking for American kids to do paid voiceover work. You can apply here.

Kids chosen for the gig will do voiceover recordings of 100 to 500 short phrases. They must be U.S. residents and native speakers of American-style English.

(You know, American English as opposed to British English. It’s the difference between saying “apartment” or “flat.” “French fries” or “chips.” “Line” or “queue.”)

The Australia-based company will pay participants $10AUD to $50AUD, depending on the total number of recordings they do. Based on the current exchange rate, that’s between $7.50 and $37.50 in American dollars.

Appen is looking for 1,000 kids in the 3-5 age group, and 500 kids in the 6-8 age group. You must have a PayPal or Skrill account to be compensated. (Skrill is like a British version of PayPal.)

Once a parent signs their child up, they’ll receive an email with instructions. The voiceover work can be done in a quiet room at home -- all in one sitting, or over several shorter periods over three weeks.

Appen prefers that it be done on an Android phone or tablet, or a laptop.

What’s This For, Exactly?

You might wonder what your child’s beautiful, crystal-clear voiceovers will be used for, and that’s a good question!

You see, Appen works on speech recognition systems for high-tech products like Apple's virtual assistant Siri, or Amazon's virtual assistant Alexa.

These voice-based assistants must be able to answer your questions or obey your commands. (Think: “Siri, call Mom.”) To do that, they must be able to understand tone, regional accents and local idioms.

That’s where Appen comes in.

Founded by an Australian linguist, Appen works on speech recognition technology for the top global tech giants. Basically, it's training machines to understand human speech to help powers technology like the voice control features in your car, or voice controlled personal assistants on your smartphone.

To do its job, Appen compiles a massive amount of voice data from a network of hundreds of thousands of freelancers.

Now that network of freelancers could include your kids -- if you apply here.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. May we all be a bit richer today.

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. His kids are chatty.

Like nearly everyone else my age, I was raised on a television diet. Protein, carbohydrates and television.

My father always gave good advice, but I also vividly remember the lessons I learned from a succession of wise and witty TV dads, ranging from Ward Cleaver to Al Bundy.

Now that I’m a father myself, those TV dads seem wiser than ever to me.

To celebrate Father’s Day, here’s the best financial advice I ever got from them.

Mike Brady, “The Brady Bunch”

On used cars: “Them who don't look, sometimes get took.”

He was telling one of the Brady kids how to shop for used cars without getting hustled. You definitely have to be careful there. For tips on buying a used car, go here or here or here.

Still, used cars are often a better deal than new ones. Consumer Reports recommends buying a car that’s two or three years old.

Homer Simpson, “The Simpsons”

“Son, if you really want something in this life, you have to work for it. Now quiet! They're about to announce the lottery numbers.”

Okay, so Homer’s not an ideal financial role model. You probably have a better chance of being struck by lightning than winning the lottery.

Instead of buying lottery tickets every week, you should funnel that money into something like Stash. Just link this app to your checking account and ask it to automatically pull a few bucks from your account each week. It’ll invest your savings in the stock market -- giving you a far better return than all those used lottery tickets will.

If you sign up for Stash here, you’ll get an extra $5 to invest when you open your account.

Tony Soprano, “The Sopranos”

My favorite TV mobster dad had so many tough lessons to dish out, he actually inspired a business book: “Leadership Sopranos Style: How to Become a More Effective Boss.”

But instead of how Tony’s example relates to corporate strategic goals, I’m thinking of some actual financial advice he once gave to his son: “Buy land, A.J., ’cause God ain’t making any more of it.”

Buying a house is a solid lifelong investment. Here are our tips for first-time homebuyers.

However, to get a good mortgage rate and save yourself buckets of money, you need a good credit score.

For that, a free service like Credit Sesame can come in handy. This tool shows your credit score, balance on any unpaid bills, credit cards or loans. It also offers personalized tips on raising your credit score.

Danny Tanner, “Full House”

Where would I be without Danny Tanner’s weekly words of wisdom on “Full House?” Lost, I tell you. Lost.

Here’s one of his best-known pieces of advice: “You have to move on in life.”

It’s true. There's no sense dwelling on the past. Out with the old and in with the new, yada yada.

To move on from your old unwanted stuff, you can use the Decluttr app to sell your old CDs, DVDs, Blu-Rays, cell phones, tablets, video games and gaming consoles. Scan your media with your phone and Decluttr will provide a free shipping label.

Pro tip: Use the code PENNY10 at checkout for an extra 10% back on your old stuff.

Ward Cleaver/Carl Winslow

“Leave It to Beaver” had the original wisdom-dispensing suburban dad, Ward Cleaver. I’m telling you, Mr. Cleaver was the prototype.

“When you make a mistake, admit it. If you don't, you only make matters worse,” he once told the Beav.

Itt’s such a timeless bit of advice that it was repeated decades later on “Family Matters.”

The dad on that show, Carl Winslow, had this to say: “Don’t you know when you make a mistake, you fess up to it? Trying to cover it up would only make it worse.”

You might be making a mistake by paying too much for your bills.

Luckily, a free app like Clarity Money can automatically negotiate your bills down on your behalf. If Clarity successfully negotiates a bill for you, it charges you 33% of that savings -- but only once, and only after those savings have gone into effect.

Louis C.K., “Louie”

Once again, Louis C.K.’s character in “Louie” is not your traditional spotless TV dad. But he tries to be an example for his daughters. I’ll always remember the time he admonished one of them with this:

The only time you look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbor's bowl to make sure you have as much as them.”

It’s important to give back, even if you don’t have a lot to give. These eight tools can help you donate to charity without spending an extra cent.

Philip Banks, “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”

“Uncle Phil” was the stern (but caring) father figure that Will Smith’s character needed on the show.

He could be a little gruff, like he was here: “Being a joker’s what’s gotten you into trouble. You may think it’s cool to be on the streets when you’re 17, but when you’re my age, it’s a waste.”

Adulting. He’s talking about adulting.

Part of adulting is saving money for a rainy day. Start an emergency fund. A good option is online bank Aspiration’s Summit Checking account. It has no fees, no minimum balance, and pays up to 100 times more interest than an average checking account.

Ned Stark, “Game of Thrones”

When it comes to Eddard Stark quotes, I’m partial to “The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword,” but I’m not sure that has a clear financial application.

Here’s Lord Eddard’s advice on the importance of family: “Winter is coming. In the winter, we must protect ourselves, look after one another.”

One way to look after your family: Consider a life insurance policy, which could be useful for paying off your funeral, mortgage or car loans if you suddenly find yourself on the wrong end of a “Red Wedding” situation.

Companies like Haven Life offer streamlined ways to get life insurance. Unlike traditional providers, this online-only platform provides instant decisions on coverage applications.

Some qualified, healthy applicants up to the age of 45 may even get to skip the medical exam most providers require.

After all: Winter is coming.

Walter White, “Breaking Bad”

On second thought, maybe Walter White’s not the guy you go to for legit financial advice.

How about a different TV dad also played by Bryan Cranston? Here’s “Malcolm in the Middle’s” Hal Wilkerson giving his sons some advice about hard work:

“You can have anything you want if you’re willing to work for it. Just reach for the stars and never let go. I should’ve told you that a long time ago. And when you write an angry letter, hold on to it for a day. You might not feel the same in the morning. And never invest in a friend’s restaurant. Never.”

For many of us, hard work includes having a side hustle. Like, for instance, driving with Uber.

As an Uber contractor, you set your own schedule and work when you want. Your pay is calculated on a base fare, plus time and distance traveled for each pickup. Uber charges a service fee of 20% to 35%, depending on your city.

If you want to give it a try, you must:

  • Be at least 21 years old
  • Have three years’ driving experience
  • Have an in-state driver’s license and a clean driving record
  • Be able to pass a criminal background check
  • Have a four-door car

Don Draper, “Mad Men”

Another super perfect TV dad! Alcoholic, philandering and distant, Don had three kids but gave most of his advice to his advertising clients: Happiness is the smell of a new car, etc.

Still, here’s a bit of wisdom from Don Draper that resonates: “Change is neither good or bad, it simply is.”

To be ready for change, any good dad will advise you to sock some money away. You’ve got to find a way to do it, whether it’s through Stash, Aspiration, an actual sock in your sock drawer, or a free app like Acorns.

Once you connect Acorns 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.

Honorable mention:

  • Al Bundy, “Married With Children”
  • Hank Hill, “King of the Hill”
  • Red Forman, “That 70s Show”
  • Steven Douglas, “My Three Sons”
  • J.R. Ewing, “Dallas”
  • Andy Taylor, “The Andy Griffith Show”
  • Eric Taylor, “Friday Night Lights”
  • Cliff Huxtable, “The Cosby Show” (too soon?)
  • Frank Costanza, “Seinfeld”
  • Jack Pearson, “This is Us”
  • Gomez Addams, “The Addams Family”
  • Fred Flintstone, “The Flintstones”

Thanks, Dad.

Disclosure: We don’t hesitate to pick pennies off the sidewalk when we spot them. But the affiliate links in this post help our earnings grow even quicker. Plus, it’s a lot cleaner than sidewalk money.

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He somehow couldn’t find a suitable Al Bundy quote for this story.

The evidence is in. It’s clear that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is basically a god walking among us mortals.

He’s 6-foot-4-inches tall and 270 pounds of muscle. He’s a hugely bankable Hollywood star. He’s talking about running for president. In last year’s animated film “Moana,” he even plays a god, the demigod Maui.

Time to ask yourself that vital question: How can I be more like The Rock?

For starters: What would it cost to eat like "The Rock"? And is there an affordable way to do the Dwayne Johnson diet?

Do you smell what "The Rock" is cooking? We really wanted to know the answer! So we did some research. And all we can say is, Whoa.

Oh My Cod

Johnson’s dietary regimen is astounding. To eat like him, you must be prepared to consume a jaw-dropping amount of protein on a daily basis.

This guy gets up at 4 a.m. just for his first meal. He eats 10 pounds of food a day -- more than 5,000 calories spread over seven meals.

(For comparison, the average man burns 1,900 to 2,500 calories a day.)

For years, a stunning amount of this food is cod, a fish rich in protein. The rest has always been eggs, steak, chicken, veggies and potatoes.

"The Rock" consumes so much cod -- more than two pounds a day, about 70 pounds a month. Cod for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner. All the cod in the North Sea.

“In one year, 'The Rock' consumes more than one-third of a ton of cod alone,” noted the website FiveThirtyEight. It also estimates that Johnson spends $1,400 a year just on fish, assuming he buys in bulk.

However, last year he tweeted he had stopped eating cod because stocks of cod are dwindling. No word on what has replaced it in "The Rock’s" diet, although it’s undoubtedly some other low-fat, protein-rich fish.

Before dropping cod, good ole’ Dwayne detailed his diet for Muscle & Fitness magazine in 2015, shortly after playing Hercules in a movie.

Here are the deets:

  • Meal 1: 10 ounces cod, 2 whole eggs, 2 cups oatmeal
  • Meal 2: 8 ounces cod, 12 ounces sweet potato, 1 cup veggies
  • Meal 3: 8 ounces chicken, 2 cups white rice, 1 cup veggies
  • Meal 4: 8 ounces cod, 2 cups rice, 1 cup veggies, 1 tablespoon fish oil
  • Meal 5: 8 ounces steak, 12 ounces baked potato, spinach salad
  • Meal 6: 10 ounces cod, 2 cups rice, salad
  • Meal 7: 30 grams casein protein, 10-egg white omelet, 1 cup veggies (onions, peppers, mushrooms), 1 tablespoon omega-3 fish oil

What Happens When Regular Humans Try the Dwayne Johnson Diet

Let’s go ahead and stipulate that this diet is not for everyone. (Thank you, Captain Obvious.)

For one thing, "The Rock" is HUGE. This diet is what’s required to maintain his massive physique. And when he’s not stuffing his face with fish, he’s also powering his way through grueling workout routines.

Nevertheless, after reading about "The Rock’s" diet, two lesser mortals tried it out for themselves.

A blogger for Complex, facing what he described as “a steady onslaught of grilled meats and steamed veggies,” couldn’t manage it for even a day. (Big problem: He hated cod.)

Another guy, a self-employed dude named Mark Webster, tried it and tracked his progress online.

“I feel fantastic,” he told FiveThirtyEight after a month.

But over that month, he spent $1,262 on food -- about $42 per day, including $18 just on cod.

Can You Smell What 'The Rock' Is Spending?

That’s the other challenge here: Most of us can’t even afford to eat like Johnson, even if we wanted to.

All that protein can put you in the poorhouse. At the grocery store closest to my home, fresh cod is $12.99 a pound, and frozen cod is $6.99 a pound. Other kinds of fish are comparable.

In any case, people who aren’t named Dwayne Johnson still dine on fish, chicken, eggs, steak, vegetables, rice and potatoes.

Whether you’re trying to eat like "The Rock" or just trying to eat well, here are seven ways to save money on groceries.

1. Take a Picture of Your Receipts

You can get cash back on your groceries just for photographing your receipt. Here's how it works:

  • Sign up for Ibotta. (You just need a name and email address to start.)
  • Browse through the cash-back offers in your area, and take note the next time you go to the store — the offers change every week.
  • Scan the item’s barcode and submit a photo of your receipt to the app, and you’ll see the cash in your Ibotta account soon.
  • Once you’ve reached at least $20 in earnings, you can request payment via Paypal or Venmo.

2. Get Farm-Fresh Meat at Way Below Retail Price

This company doesn’t do cod, but they have lots of other quality protein in stock.

Zaycon Fresh supplies meats like steak, chicken, beef, turkey, pork and shrimp in bulk at prices well below what you’ll usually find at your grocery store.

For example, we found boneless, skinless chicken breasts for $1.69 per pound -- about a third of what we pay at our local supermarket!

You’ll buy it by the case, and a 40-pound case of chicken breasts costs $67.60. So you’ll want to clear space in your freezer, but it’s worth it: That’s more than $150 in savings.

The company’s founders applied their grocery industry experience and a unique model to directly supply food to consumers and cut out the middleman.

By hosting sales events at more than 1,200 locations nationwide, Zaycon Fresh is able to provide farm-fresh meats without charging specialty-store prices.

Here’s how it works:

  • Register for a free account here.
  • On the day of your local Zaycon sales event, bring your order confirmation to a designated location a short drive from your home, and you get your fresh, delicious, nutritious food.

3. Buy Online

Fish, veggies and more fish -- "The Rock" eats healthy. To save on organic food, consider shopping at Thrive Market. You can buy food at up to 50% off retail price, and the stuff it tends to stock is usually healthier than what you’ll find in the store.

You can get a 30-day free trial through this link, plus 20% off your first purchase. Thrive members report saving an average $200 per year.

You probably won’t find any of "The Rock’s" precious cod there. But a search on Thrive’s website for “rice” turns up 143 results.

4. Upgrade Your Rewards Card

If you qualify, we recommend signing up for a cash-back rewards card like the Barclaycard CashForward World MasterCard.

You’ll get unlimited 1.5% cash back with each purchase, whether it’s gas or groceries.

Or cod.

Now that we know what Dwayne Johnson eats to maintain his humongous muscles, I can definitely smell what "The Rock" is cooking.

And let me tell you, it smells fishy.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. May we all be a bit richer today.

Advertiser Disclosure: Many of the credit card offers that appear on this site are from credit card companies from which ThePennyHoarder.com receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). We do not feature all available credit card offers or all credit card issuers.

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He’ll always think of The Rock as “The People’s Champion.”

What do you have in common with Clint Eastwood, Marilyn Monroe, Prince, Venus Williams and JFK?

If your birthday is between May 21 and June 20, it’s that you were born under the sign of the Twins. You’re a Gemini.

People with the zodiac sign Gemini are regarded as independent, flexible and expressive. You’re known as a strong communicator. You’re the life of the party.

These are good traits to have in life -- and in Penny Hoarding.

Here are some ways to use your Gemini traits to save money or make some extra cash.

1. Communicative: You’re a Good Talker and Listener

As a Gemini, you’re sociable, expressive and quick-witted. You love to talk. Consider capitalizing on this trait by driving with Uber, the popular ride-sharing app.

Take notes from Naif Bartlett, who has a big personality and earns an extra $300 per week driving with Uber in his college town. He’s even made fast friends with his passengers.

As an Uber contractor, you set your own schedule and work when you want. Your pay is calculated on a base fare, plus time and distance traveled for each pickup. Uber charges a service fee of 20% to 35%, depending on your city.

If you want to give it a try, you must:

  • Be at least 21 years old
  • Have three years’ driving experience
  • Have an in-state driver’s license and a clean driving record
  • Be able to pass a criminal background check

Here’s a link to drive with Uber.

2. Impulsive: You’re Not Afraid of Risk

You might welcome risk … a little too much. There’s such a thing as being too spontaneous with your money.

This trait can wreak havoc if you decide to invest in the stock market.

To invest your money without paying someone to make sure you don’t go nuts, try Stash.

This app lets you start investing with as little as $5 for just a $1 monthly fee (but your first month’s free). Stash leaves the complicated stuff out of investing and lets you choose where to put your money based on your beliefs, interests and goals.

If you sign up for Stash here, you’ll get an extra $5 to invest when you open your account.

If you’re looking to make better financial choices, Clarity Money is a free iOS app that helps you see, organize and control all your accounts in one place.

Here’s how it works: You download the app, connect your existing accounts, and get ready to learn more about where your money’s going.

3. Independent: You Set Your Own Course

You may decide you don’t need all the extra stuff cluttering your home and your life. However, you’re also naturally independent -- so why not sell it yourself

Without depending on anyone, you can get rid of your clutter with these free apps:

Decluttr: Clear out your old DVDs, Blu-rays, CDs and video games with this app. Scan the barcode with your phone, and Decluttr will make you an offer. It’ll send you a shipping label, so you can ship everything free. Plus, enter PENNY10 at checkout to get an extra 10% for your trade-ins!

Letgo: You can sell nearly anything through this app. Just snap a photo of your item, and set up a listing in about 30 seconds.

Bookscouter: Hoarding old textbooks? Someone will probably pay you for them! Just search the book’s ISBN on Bookscouter, and the site will connect you with more than 25 of the best-paying and most reputable online buyback companies.

4. Energetic: You’re Full of Life

Geminis are known to be energetic. When you set your mind to something, you have enough “go-and-get-it” to achieve your goal.

Did you know you can get paid to get in shape? A company called HealthyWage lets you actually bet on your own weight loss.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Sign up with HealthyWage.
  1. Define a goal weight and how much time you’ll give yourself to achieve it. Place a monetary bet on yourself ranging from $20 to $500 a month.
  1. Meet your goals, and you get paid. Fail, and you lose the money you bet (but it goes toward funding other people’s weight-loss goals.)

5. Clever: You Think Outside the Box

It’s tough to nail your entrepreneurial spirit down to a day job. You like autonomy, and you want to work on something you care about.

But before you say “take this job and shove it,” channel your passion into a side gig.

Use your free morning, evening and/or weekend hours to work part time on your own business. It’s a smart way to earn extra money and a safe way to test the waters of self-employment.

Here are a few simple ways to get started:

Start a bookkeeping business. Want to help other business owners tackle problems and succeed? Read our interview with CPA Ben Robinson, who teaches others to become virtual bookkeepers, and learn how you could earn up to $60 an hour doing this work.

Be a proofreader. If you’ve got a knack for grammar and a good eye for detail, this side gig could easily grow into substantial income. Proofread Anywhere can help you learn the skills you need to become a first-class proofreader, and to get clients and make money.

Deliver food. Sign up with DoorDash to make money helping deliver food to hungry people around your city..

6. Flexible: You Can Adapt to Circumstances

Using a Gemini’s flexibility and adaptability, you can go on secret agent missions.

The survey site QuickThoughts uses your location to send you on top-secret “missions, and turns your cell phone into private-eye technology.

Was that CVS you just visited clean? How do the lines look at the McDonald’s where you’ve stopped for lunch?

QuickThoughts Missions relies on your input -- and sneakily-taken cellphone photography -- to give businesses important feedback. And like any respectable secret agent, you get paid for your investigative footwork.

Using your phone’s GPS technology, the app will prompt you for information from places you’ve visited in the past few weeks, as well as places it detects you’re visiting right now.

It also has missions you can accept. For instance, it might prompt you to go to your local Walgreens and snap a photo of the seasonal display. And you’ll earn gift cards for Amazon and iTunes while you’re at it.

7. Persuasive: You Can Bring Others Around to Your Way of Thinking

Use your persuasive Gemini voodoo to try to make the world a better place. There’s no better way to incite political change than to write to members of Congress.

You can actually make money doing this -- around $12 to $15 an hour. Before committing to an issue, you’ll be able to brush up on it to see if it aligns with your own views.

Before you start, just make sure you have the appropriate computer gear: a PC running Windows 7 or above, or a Mac running Mavericks or above; a USB headset; and high-speed, wired internet.

8. Objective: You Just Want the Facts, Ma’am

Here’s a fun way to make money harnessing a Gemini’s innate objectivity: Join a mock jury!

Serve as an in-person or online mock juror to help lawyers prepare for real cases. You can earn $10 to $60 for about an hour of your time.

In person, you’ll probably sit through a mini version of a court case, listening to opening and closing arguments from each side. Online, you’ll simply review evidence from one side, including documents, videos and photos.

Like a real juror, once you’ve heard the case, you get to weigh in. In person, you’ll even deliberate with other jurors.

Just remember another Gemini trait is that you’re persuasive.

As a Gemini, you have the gift of gab. You’re an excellent communicator -- independent, clever and persuasive.

You have the necessary traits to take control of your career and your life.

All you have to do is harness your sign’s spirit.

Disclosure: We don’t hesitate to pick pennies off the sidewalk when we spot them. But the affiliate links in this post help our earnings grow even quicker. Plus, it’s a lot cleaner than sidewalk money.

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Ladies, he’s a Virgo.

Maybe you’re looking for a lucrative place to invest your money.

Or maybe you’re looking for a loan to help you pay down high-interest credit cards, start your own business, or dig a swimming pool in your backyard.

Either way, it’s high time for you to check out the world of peer-to-peer lending, a financial phenomenon that’s been spreading like wildfire.

Peer-to-peer lending platforms like Lending Club and Prosper allow people to apply for credit from the general public.

Borrowers can access small or large amounts of money ($1,000 to $40,000) from groups of people who each invest a little bit -- as little as $25 -- into their loan. (This is also known as “social lending.”)

These rapidly growing companies offer investors another way to diversify their portfolios and earn monthly interest, while helping borrowers get better interest rates than they’d get from a traditional financial institution.

Lending Club and Prosper pretty much dominate this market. As of this writing in mid-2017, the companies have loaned out $26 billion and $9 billion, respectively.

Here’s our rundown of how each company works for borrowers and for investors.

How Peer-to-Peer Lending Works

Before we delve into the details, let’s talk a bit more about social lending.

By directly connecting individual lenders and borrowers through online marketplaces, peer-to-peer lending (P2P) effectively cuts out the middleman of the traditional lending process. Of course, the “traditional” way is for financial institutions take a hefty cut as they manage the transfer of money from lenders to borrowers.

The P2P process is more streamlined and efficient, eliminating the need to maintain hundreds of physical buildings like your local First National Federal Trust Capital CitiBank of America does. For borrowers and investors, P2P can be a win-win because it reduces costs and hassle for both parties.

Prosper and Lending Club are pioneers in this field, having been founded in 2006 and 2007, respectively.

“Think of them as eBays for money,” says Consumer Reports. “Just as eBay brings buyers and sellers together, peer-to-peer platforms bring borrowers in need of loans … together with investors who want to earn better returns than those offered by banks.”

What kind of loans do they offer? According to the Federal Reserve, more than half of all P2P loans are debt consolidation loans, followed by credit card payoffs (17%), home improvement (8%), and small business loans (3.5%).

Lending Club vs. Prosper: How These Companies are for Borrowers

If you’re looking for a P2P loan, which company should you choose?

For starters, I suggest checking your interest rate at both Lending Club and Prosper to see which offers you the lowest rate. That’s a good starting point, but you shouldn’t stop there.

No matter which way you go, know that these two websites are a lot alike in important ways.

Applying: You’ll fill out an online loan application, answering the usual questions about your age, employment, income, etc. Each will check your credit score, but this won’t affect your credit rating the way it does when you apply for a typical loan. (This credit check is a “soft inquiry.”)

The basics: Both sites offer 3- to 5-year loans, both have similar loan amounts. Lending Club has loans from $1,000 to $40,000, while Prosper has loans from $2,000 to $35,000.

Interest rates: Like any lender, your chosen P2P platform will assign you an interest rate based on your credit score, income and payment history. Lending Club’s rates range from 5.99% to 35.89%, while Prosper’s rates range from 5.99% to 36%, pretty much identical.

The process: Your loan will get posted on the company’s website. Individual investors browsing through lists of loans will be able to choose your loan for their portfolios. They’ll decide how much of it they’d like to fund, starting with as little as $25. This fraction is called a “note.”

Are P2P loans safe for borrowers? Once your loan attracts enough investors and is fully funded (this happens quickly), Lending Club or Prosper transfer the total to your bank account. As you make payments each month, that money gets funneled back into your investors’ accounts.

Fees: Both companies charge you a fee for taking out a loan. Lending Club’s fees range from 1% to 6%, while Prosper’s fees ranges from 1% to 5%. Once again, they’re pretty comparable.

For most loans, the fee will be 5% of the loan amount. Borrowers with great credit pay lower fees.

For Borrowers: How Your Choices Differ

Now that we’ve laid the groundwork, let’s help you make your decision.

The first thing you need to know: What’s your credit score? One way to get that number is to sign up with a free service like Credit Sesame.

This might make your decision for you: Lending Club’s minimum credit score for a loan is 660. However, Prosper will make loans to people with scores as low as 640.

If you’re still trying to choose between the two, get out your calculator and a scratch pad. Here’s the complicated part. It involves math.

Lending Club may have lower rates for you. A number of reviewers comparing the two websites have found that Lending Club offered them a better interest rate than Prosper.

(I’d tell you what rates I was offered, but to be honest my credit is currently too lousy to qualify for a loan from either site.)

However, your results might be different. The YMMV rule applies here: Your Mileage May Vary. Just keep in mind that a difference of only 1% or 2% could cost you a tidy sum over a 3- or 5-year loan.

Prosper may have lower fees for you. If you have really excellent, awesome credit -- unlike me -- Prosper might offer to charge you a fee of just 0.5% instead of its usual 1% to 5%. For a big loan, that could save you hundreds of dollars.

By the Way, What State Do You Live In?

Lending Club and Prosper each are regulated by the feds -- specifically, by those super fun kids at the SEC, the Securities and Exchange Commission. But it’s still up to individual states to decide whether to let them operate in each state.

In most states, you’re good to go.

However, you can’t borrow from Lending Club if you live in Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Nebraska or North Dakota. You can’t borrow from Prosper if you live in Iowa, Maine, North Dakota or Pennsylvania.

You can’t invest in Lending Club if you live in Alaska, Maryland, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio or Pennsylvania. You can’t invest in Prosper if you live in Iowa, Maine, North Dakota, Pennsylvania or Vermont.

Man, North Dakota is tough.

For Investors: How These Two Choices are Alike

Hey, did you just hear that noise? Kind of a cranking sound?

That’s the sound of this story suddenly shifting into a higher income bracket.

Fair warning: You need a pile of money to read this part.

To qualify to invest with Lending Club, you must earn at least $70,000 in annual gross income and have a net worth of at least $70,000 (not counting your house or car). Or you must have a net worth of at least $250,000. Prosper has the exact same requirements.

Despite those requirements, Lending Club and Prosper keep attracting growing numbers of investors. That’s because they typically offer better returns than, say, investing in a CD.

Lending Club boasts historical returns of 5% to 7%. Prosper boasts average returns of 8%. Each has a detailed prospectus online, and the entire loan history for each is available for download. This independent analysis found annual returns of 4.9% to 9.9%.

Kyle Taylor, founder and CEO of The Penny Hoarder, invested in P2P lending and found it rewarding. He initially deposited $5,000 in a Roth IRA with Lending Club, and found himself “earning a crazy good 14% interest rate on my deposit.”

While Lending Club or Prosper shouldn’t be your only investment, either or both can be a solid, diversifying addition to your portfolio.

As with most investments, you should enter into the P2P lending sphere with a long-term wealth building mindset. If you employ a day-trader-type strategy -- buying and selling stocks frequently -- then a service like Lending Club or Prosper might not be for you.

Worried about borrowers defaulting on their loans? Each company evaluates borrowers’ credit scores and assigns them a grade. To avoid defaults, only choose the highest-graded, lowest-risk loans -- as long as you understand that you’ll be earning less interest on those.

Diversify, diversify, diversify. Both companies make it easy to diversify your investments. By loaning, say, $25 to 50 different borrowers instead of funneling that same $1,250 to just one borrower, you spread out the risk of loan defaults.

Automated Investing: On either website, investors who want a piece of a wide cross-section of loans can spread around their nest egg with just a few clicks.

For Investors: How Your P2P Options Are Different

Simon Cunningham is the founder of LendingMemo, a financial advice website that focuses on the P2P lending industry. He’s been watching this industry for years.

Here’s his advice:Let me say from the outset: Most new investors will probably want to open their first account with Lending Club. However, there are some honest reasons someone might choose Prosper instead.”

For investors, here are the biggest differences between the two companies:

Their websites. Both websites have evolved over the years, but some beginners still say they find Lending Club’s website simpler to navigate.

Lending Club has more loans. It generally has far more loans to choose from than Prosper does. At Lending Club, investors say they typically find it easier and faster to spread around their money by investing in dozens of loans at a time.

Prosper has a greater percentage of high-risk loans. Prosper has more risky, high-interest loans because it loans to borrowers with credit scores as low as 640, while Lending Club cuts it off at 660. For investors willing to assume some risk, those loans can be a lucrative investment.

Prosper offers better returns. Larry Ludwig, founder of the financial advice website Investor Junkie, analyzed both companies’ investment returns from 2009 to 2014. He found that Prosper’s annual returns ranged from 6.6% to 9.9%, while Lending Club ranged from 4.9% to 8.8%.

“Prosper edged out Lending Club for five of six years and tied with it the other year,” Ludwig says.

Minimum Investment Flexibility: Both sites will let you invest in any particular loan starting with a minimum of $25.

Here’s the difference: With Lending Club, you have to invest in multiples of $25 -- like $50, $75, $100, and so on. But Prosper allows you to invest any sum of at least $25 or more. You could invest $26 or $30 or $40 in a loan if you wanted to.

Seeing For Yourself

Cunningham offers the following advice:

“Because of their easier website and longer list of available loans, most investors will probably want to open their first account with Lending Club. Elements of their site, such as their simple and powerful automated investing tool, successfully make peer-to-peer lending an easy and rewarding experience for almost anybody who wants it.”

“In contrast, Prosper will appeal to people who want precisely filtered loans … or those who want higher potential returns/risk.”

No matter which way you go, many market analysts say you’ll be in good shape.

Marc Prosser, founder of financial news website Learn Bonds, wrote this on Forbes.com: “I believe the business fundamentals of Lending Club, Prosper, and other peer-to-peer lenders are strong.”

However, Ludwig won’t make a recommendation between Lending Club or Prosper.

Instead, his advice is simple: “I encourage every peer-to-peer investor to research each company, take a look at their platforms, and get a feel for which one you prefer.”

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. May we all be a bit richer today.

Disclaimer: This article contains general information and explains options you may have, but it is not intended to be investment advice or a personal recommendation. We can't personalize articles for our readers, so your situation may vary from the one discussed here. Please seek a licensed professional for tax advice, legal advice, financial planning advice or investment advice.

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He’s working on improving his credit rating.

Life comes at you fast. There’s not always time to clip coupons -- even if you do it digitally.

Now you don’t have to.

Do you use a Visa card to pay for your groceries (or at restaurants)? If so, there’s a tool that’ll automatically find and apply coupons for you -- for free.

It’s called Trim, and it’s a bot that works through Facebook Messenger.

Here’s how it works

Getting started with Trim is pretty straightforward, but takes a few steps.

First things first, sign up and connect your Messenger account (make sure you're using the latest version).

Once you connect your account, Trim will send you a message via Facebook Messenger.

While Trim syncs up with your bank account, it'll give you some options you can choose from in the meantime, including Trim Savings.

Sign in with your Facebook account or email and you'll be able to link your Visa card. Sorry, MasterCard and Amex don’t work with this app.

Within a day, you'll be sent an offer in Facebook Messenger. Trim boasts that new users are eligible for up to $30 in cash-back deals as soon as they sign up.

When Penny Hoarder editor Matt Wiley signed up, he was immediately presented with offers for $1 back on any $5 grocery purchase (useable 10 times), a $1 statement credit for spending $5 at any U.S. restaurant, as well as $10 back for spending $20 at any U.S. movie theater.

Not bad, eh?

How do you get paid with Trim?

Once you’ve activated an offer, you’ll get a credit on your Visa card in the next 5-7 days. 

The next time you make a qualifying purchase with your Visa card, that credit will go toward the cost of your purchase.

The debit card question.

I know what you’re thinking: What if I use a Visa debit card to buy my groceries?

It’ll still work. If you’re swiping a Visa debit card, just select “credit” instead of “debit” at the checkout counter. Also, you must not use a Personal Identification Number (PIN).

It’s that easy.

Trim says you can expect to get a free money-saving offer about once a week.

Did we mention there’s no fee for this? Because there’s no fee for this.

Trim's Other Free Services

In addition to saving you money on groceries, Trim is basically a free financial assistant.

Once you're connected, you'll be able to access a dashboard within your Facebook Messenger thread with Trim. You'll see options to negotiate your Comcast bill down to a lower price, sift through your subscription services and cancel ones you forgot about or don't need.

Trim also shows you your account balance and recent transactions. Want to know how much you spent at Starbucks last month so you can budget better? Just ask the bot -- you'll get an answer almost immediately.

Sponsorship Disclosure: A huge thanks to Trim for working with us to bring you this content. It's rare that we have the opportunity to share something so awesome and get paid for it!

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. With two kids to feed, he’s a heavy user of grocery coupons.

Editor’s Note: Amazon has released new information on how to receive your refund. If you’re eligible for a refund, you should have received a direct email from Amazon on May 26, 2017. You can also log into your Amazon account and access information about requesting a refund under the “Important Messages” tab. This post originally ran April 5, 2017.

Here’s a move that’s straight out of the Overwhelmed Parent 101 playbook. Your kid is having a fit. A full-blown tantrum. You don’t have time for this. You hand your unruly child a tablet to play with. Problem solved -- at least in the short term.

Hey, I’m not criticizing. I’ve done this way too many times myself.

Your tablet will come back smudged with fingerprints -- and possibly loaded up with in-app purchases that your click-happy kid agreed to.

Now, Amazon has agreed to refund up to $70 million worth of in-app purchases children made without their parents’ consent.

That’s right, Junior! I’m getting back all that cash you spent on upgrades for Tiny Monsters on my Kindle Fire!

Last year, a federal court found that Amazon had billed consumers for unauthorized in-app charges incurred by children using mobile apps, such as online games downloaded through Amazon’s app store.

The court found that Amazon didn’t clearly inform parents that free apps could include in-app purchases, and it didn’t provide enough notice or password requirements to prevent kids’ unapproved purchases.

Amazon initially appealed the ruling, but later dropped the appeal, paving the way for the refunds.

If Amazon charged you for an in-app purchase your kids made between 2011 and 2016, you could be eligible for a refund.

It’s unclear exactly how Amazon will reimburse customers. The courts rejected its request to issue refunds via gift cards, so it’s expected to issue refunds directly to customers’ debit or credit cards, or with checks.

In a similar case from 2014, Apple emailed and sent postcards to every customer who might have been affected. Apple issued refunds to 37,000 customers.

If you think you might be in line for a refund, be on the lookout for a message from Amazon.

Apple and Google Have Run Into the Same Problem

“This case demonstrates what should be a bedrock principle for all companies -- you must get customers’ consent before you charge them,” said Thomas B. Pahl, acting director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Consumers affected by Amazon’s practices can now be compensated for charges they didn’t expect or authorize.”

Amazon isn’t the only app provider to get hit with a case like this.

In 2014, Apple and Google settled similar cases with the FTC over unauthorized in-app purchases for $32.5 million and $19 million, respectively.

Amazon’s app store comes pre-installed on some Kindle tablets and Android device owners can download it.

Parents complained that it was too easy for their kids to make digital purchases on Amazon apps without permission.

At first, Amazon didn’t warn customers about the existence of in-app purchases at all. Eventually, it presented smaller notices and occasionally required a password, but the FTC said that wasn’t enough. Later, Amazon started presenting a pop-up requiring authorization when making an in-app purchase, satisfying the FTC’s authorization requirements.

Your Turn: Have your kids ever made in-app purchases without your permission?

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. His two children LOVE in-app purchases.

Nothing’s better than free food.

You know that feeling you get when you’re hungry, you walk through the food court at the mall and an employee hands you a yummy morsel of chicken on a toothpick? SO GOOD.

On the theme of free food, Ibotta has a yummy deal going this summer. It’s offering $3 cash back for any appetizer from any restaurant.

OK, so it’s not totally free. But if you play your cards right, it’s close to free. And it makes us want all the appetizers -- all the crab cakes, all the potato skins, all the coconut shrimp.

Ibotta, by the way, is an app that gives you cash back on purchases from your favorite stores and restaurants.

To get the biggest bang for your buck from this offer, try deal stacking it with half-price appetizers.

Picture it: You stop at Applebee’s for an appetizer during half-price app happy hour. (That’s 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the bar and after 10 p.m. in the rest of the restaurant.)

Order the mozzarella sticks or the spinach-artichoke dip, which are each $7.99. Half of that is $4. A $3 rebate from Ibotta makes it $1.

Presto: $1 appetizers.

Music to Our Ears: No Other Purchase Necessary

Even if you’re not stacking this offer with some kind of half-price apps deal, this new Ibotta offer is worth noting.

Not only do you get $3 off an appetizer, but you can use it at any restaurant, and no other purchases are necessary. That's fairly rare.

The biggest catch: The offer’s only valid in 11 states — Alabama, Hawaii, Indiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Virginia and West Virginia.

The offer ends Sept. 5.

How to Stack the Deals

Again, deal stacking is your friend here.

To be a Jedi-level Penny Hoarder, look for a good deal on appetizers, then stack Ibotta’s $3 cash back offer on top of that deal.

Beyond Applebee’s, there are a whole lot of appetizer deals out there. The casual dining industry is struggling, so chains are waging price wars for customers. That extends to appetizers.

Check out these deals:

  • Buffalo Wild Wings offers $3 appetizers as happy hour specials, usually from 2 to 7 p.m. That includes mini corn dogs, garlic mushrooms and chili con queso dip. Again, that $3 price basically equals free food.
  • Ruby Tuesday has $5 appetizer specials from 3 to 6 p.m. Yes, that includes the Key West coconut shrimp.
  • TGI Friday’s has endless appetizers for $10 — or for $7, if you include the $3 you’ll get back from Ibotta.
  • Chili’s has appetizer specials at the bar during happy hour, 10 starters are priced at $3, $4 or $5.
  • Odds are good your local Bennigan’s, Bonefish Grill, Carrabba’s, Outback Steakhouse, Red Lobster or Texas Roadhouse has some kind of deal on appetizers.

The best part about these happy hour specials is you don’t even have to order a cocktail if you don’t want to. These are polite, law-abiding chain restaurants. If you don’t order a martini with your appetizer, they’re not going to throw you out the door like you’re in some Old West saloon.

(One caveat: In Virginia, the price of the appetizer must be at least $6 -- twice the value of Ibotta’s $3 rebate.)

Super Easy to Use

With Ibotta, you’re earning money on something you’d be doing anyway -- buying food.

Here's how it works:

  1. Sign up for Ibotta here. (You just need a name and email address to start.)
  1. Browse through the cash back offers in your area, and take note the next time you go to the store — the offers change every week.
  1. Ibotta’s new app is easier than ever to use. It takes half the time to earn rebates, you can save your favorite stores, and the navigation bar is better organized.

Sponsorship Disclosure: A huge thanks to Ibotta for working with us to bring you this content. It's rare that we have the opportunity to share something so awesome and get paid for it!

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He’s suddenly craving some boneless wings.

We’ve all been there.

You’re cruising smoothly through life when suddenly, BAM -- something big breaks. Something expensive.

Your transmission needs replacing. Your home’s air conditioner breaks down. You break an ankle and get a pile of medical bills. Your faithful dog Rusty has this weird bumpy thing that might be a tumor or something. And then your phone dies -- or you drop it in the toilet.

You get the idea.

This is one of those How am I going to pay for this? kind of expenses. You wonder if you’ll even have enough cash and/or credit available to cover the cost. Your life slips out of cruise control and starts to drift toward the breakdown lane.

At times like this, you’ll need to use your wits. One way or another, you’ll be paying bills, possibly by drumming up some extra cash.

Here are 10 unexpected expenses we’ve all encountered and strategies for dealing with them.

1. Car Repairs

Your car starts making a funny noise: Ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-CHUNK, ka-chunk, ka-CHUNK…

It’ll happen: Sooner or later, your muffler or brakes or transmission will break down.

Or your mechanic will squint at you and say, “It’s your ignition coil and your manifold and your catalytic converter,” and like we all do, you’ll nod like you know exactly what he’s talking about.

Fact: 1 in 3 U.S. drivers can't pay for an unexpected auto repair without going into debt. The average car repair cost is $500 to $600, and major engine or transmission repairs cost a lot more.

What to do: Start an emergency fund, preferably one you can’t touch. A good option is opening an account with Aspiration Summit checking account. Sure, it’s not a traditional “savings” account, but this online-only bank has no fees, no minimum balance, and pays up to 100 times more interest than an average checking account.

2. Home Repairs

I own a house. As a homeowner, one thing I can testify to is this: Just when you think you’re starting to get a little bit ahead financially, something big breaks, whether it’s the roof or a random water pipe.

I live in Florida, and just last week my house’s 18-year-old central air conditioning system finally wheezed its last breath and gave up the ghost. At the beginning of summer. IN FLORIDA. IN SUMMER. It was like living inside a microwave oven inside a sauna inside a jungle. That A/C had to be replaced pronto.   

No wonder homeowners typically spend between 1% and 4% of the value of their home on annual maintenance and repairs.

You can save by doing some repairs on your own. But you also know when it’s time to hire a pro.

How to afford that on short notice? Sometimes you can’t just throw it on a credit card (which probably isn’t the best idea, anyway).

Credible is an online marketplace that offers consumers personalized loan offers. Think of it like Zillow -- but for personal loans. Rates start at 5.99%, and you can check yours by entering a loan amount here ($500 to $40,000) and comparing your personalized options in under 90 seconds.

Odds are you’ll get a better interest rate than you’d get from a credit card.

3. Weddings and Other Unexpected Trips

It’s wedding season! Hurray!

Your best friend/cousin/college roommate is getting hitched. Hurray!

You’re in the wedding party, and you’ll have to fly across the country for this. Hurr-ouch!

Weddings are expensive, and this one will involve vacation days, airfare and hotel rooms. If it involves a lengthy trek, use these tips to save money flying.

Not to mention, you’re also in the wedding party. Now you’re probably on the hook for whatever the bride/groom wants everyone to wear.

And don’t forget the destination bachelor(ette) party...

What to Do: Start an emergency fund with Stash.

The app saves your money without you lifting a finger. Just link it to your checking account and ask the app to automatically pull a few bucks from your account each week. It’ll invest your savings into dozens of different stock options.

And if you sign up for Stash here, you’ll get an extra $5 to invest when you open your account.

You won’t have a fortune overnight, but every bit helps.

4. Pricy Prescriptions

You have a cough. Ehh, you’ll be fine.

A week later, you can’t stop coughing. You can barely get a word in. You need strong medicine.

But you need to take time off work to go to the doctor. And depending on your insurance, you might have to pay for that visit. And you’re going to need that strong medicine -- which definitely isn’t free.

Prescription drugs can be expensive -- and the prices keep increasing. Plus, the high cost of insurance can put them out of reach for many adults.

What to do: Use an app like GoodRX to shop around for the best prescription price.

The app quickly compares prices across pharmacies to see where your meds are cheapest. It also provides coupons, some of which could save you up to 80%. You can either print them out or just show them to the pharmacist on your phone.

5. Medical Bills

Remember that cough? Maybe it develops into something worse. (Hope not…) Or, heaven forbid, you’re running late for work and take a weird step off a curb.

Congratulations! You now have a broken ankle and need an X-ray, cast and crutches (and probably a ride for a few weeks).

Medical bills pile up fast. Americans pay more for medical care than almost any other industrialized nation -- about $10,000 a year per capita, in fact.

Here are 10 ways to save money on your medical bills, including negotiating them. Still, when you see those crazy-high bills, the bottom line can seem insurmountable.

With medical expenses, you can often work out a payment plan with your medical provider. Then you could use a steady source of extra income. Shoot for earning enough extra cash to cover your payment plan.

What to do: List your home or extra room on Airbnb.

Have a spare room? Might as well use Airbnb to make some money by renting it out.

If you’re a good host with a desirable space, you could add hundreds -- even thousands -- of dollars to your savings account with Airbnb.

Taking a few simple steps can make the difference between a great experience and a less-than-satisfactory one.

Here are a few tips:

  • Make your space available during high-demand times in your area. Think: concerts, conventions and sporting events in your area.
  • 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.

Here’s the link to sign up as an Airbnb host.

(Hosting laws vary from city to city. Please understand the rules and regulations applicable to your city and listing.)

6. Veterinary Bills

Dogs have this weird idea that they need to put everything in their mouth. It probably tastes good, right?

Nope, it might cause vomiting, and lethargy, and all the other warning signs that mean you’re about to frantically rush to the vet.

Here are 21 ways to save money on pet care, including this key tip: Call the vet before you need one.

The worst time to find an affordable vet is when you have a medical emergency (stupid dog). If you love your pets, you'll pay whatever it costs in the moment. To lower the cost of routine and emergency pet care, choose an affordable vet before you need one.

Use websites like VetRatingz.com to avoid bad vets. Call the acceptable ones and ask what they charge for a basic checkup, vaccinations, teeth cleaning or other procedures.

No matter what, a sudden vet bill may leave you short of cash.

What to do: Drive with Uber.

Uber is all on your own time. Got a few hours to spare? Drive around and make some money.

As an Uber contractor, you set your own schedule and work when you want. Your pay is calculated on a base fare, plus time and distance traveled for each pickup. Uber charges a service fee of 20% to 35%, depending on your city.

If you want to give it a try, you must:

  • Be at least 21 years old
  • Have three years’ driving experience
  • Have an in-state driver’s license and a clean driving record
  • Be able to pass a criminal background check
  • Have a four-door car

Here’s a link to apply with Uber. And here’s our story comparing the basics for drivers with Uber and Lyft, another valid option.

7. Your Phone Bites the Big One

You drop your phone in the toilet. PLUNK. Tell me this isn’t happening, you think.

At least the water is clean.

We live and die by our phones. Let’s face it: At this point, our phones are basically an extension of our bodies. In another decade or so, we’ll all be cyborgs. Bank on it.

Exhibit A: When our smartphones suddenly stop working, we don’t say, “Oh, my phone broke,” or “My phone is busted.”

Instead we say, “My phone died.”

The average new smartphone costs more than $500, while the cost of used ones is all over the map. How can you come up with extra cash fast?

Sell all that extraneous stuff that’s cluttering up your home.

What to do: Use apps to quickly unload all that extraneous stuff that’s cluttering up your home.

Decluttr: This app buys your old CDs, DVDs, Blu-rays and video games, plus tech like cell phones, tablets, game consoles and iPods. Scan the barcode with your phone, and Decluttr will make you an offer. It’ll also send you a shipping label, so you can ship everything free. Plus, enter PENNY10 at checkout to get an extra 10% for your trade-ins.

Letgo: You can sell nearly anything through this app. Just snap a photo of your item, and set up a listing in about 30 seconds. Letgo is 80% free to use.

Bookscouter: Hoarding old textbooks? Someone will probably pay you for them. Just search the book’s ISBN on Bookscouter, and the site will connect you with more than 25 of the best-paying and most reputable online buyback companies.

8. A Death in the Family

The worst emergency of all. We’d trade for any other emergency on this list to avoid this one.

You may have to travel suddenly for a loved one’s funeral. And if it turns out to be your funeral this time, here’s how to plan an affordable one so your family isn’t buried in debt.

No matter what, there will still be expenses.

What to do: Consider a life insurance policy, which could be useful for paying off your funeral, mortgage or car loans. It’s about making sure your loved ones will be okay if you unexpectedly leave them behind.

Companies like Haven Life offer streamlined ways to get life insurance. Unlike traditional life insurance providers, this online-only platform provides instant decisions on applications for coverage.

Some qualified, healthy applicants up to the age of 45 may even get to skip the medical exam that most providers require.

9. Identity Theft

Who’d really want to be you, right? Probably more people than you think.

That’s why they open accounts in your name -- and spend money just like they’re you. Only they buy lots of way cooler, more expensive stuff than you do. But they do this with shiny new credit cards -- with YOUR name on them.

The best part? You don’t even know about it. Until the collections agencies start calling you.

This is definitely an unexpected emergency, and it happens more often than you might think -- nearly 3 million times a year.

When fraudsters hijack your identity for their own purposes, they can grab up lines of credit and rack up significant debt in your name with shocking ease.

A free service like Credit Sesame helps you avoid this situation by keeping a watchful eye your finances. It lets you check your credit score, but you also get $50,000 in identity theft insurance, plus fraud resolution assistance - for free.

10. Traffic and Parking Tickets

There’s nothing worse than watching the meter maid put a fresh parking ticket on your windshield from across a busy intersection.

These days I don’t get as many speeding tickets as I did when I was a kid with a Camaro. I spend a lot of time in our local downtown, though, so I still get parking tickets.

These things are getting expensive. The average cost of a speeding ticket is about $150 these days. Parking tickets can run you $10 to $50.

You may need to drum up some extra cash here.

What to Do: There are a number of sites on the web that will pay you to read advertisers’ emails, sign up for offers, and take surveys. We’ve tried many of them, but there are only a few we'd recommend. One is Survey Junkie.

The surveys are relatively quick to complete, and reward you with points. Once you earn 1,000 points -- or $10 -- you can cash in. Some surveys offers up to 300 points.

Sign up for this at the beginning of the month and promise yourself you’ll log in a few times each week. You’ll have no trouble earning an extra $30 this month.

Another (free) option? Stop getting traffic tickets, dork.

Disclosure: You wouldn’t believe how much coffee The Penny Hoarder team goes through. This post contains affiliate links so we can keep the grinds stocked!

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. His whole life is one long unexpected expense.

The year 2008 called. You remember 2008, right? The year right before the Great Recession?

Well, it called, and it wants its household debt record back.

It’s official: Americans have regained their appetite for debt. We’ve crossed a threshold, because we are now borrowing more money than we did at the peak of the U.S. housing bubble in 2008.

You remember what happened after that, right? Yes, that’s when the entire global financial system collapsed.

Relax. It might not be that bad this time, but you’ll still need to play your cards right. We’ll talk about ways to do that.

First, the news: Total U.S. household debt climbed to $12.73 trillion in early 2017, pushing today’s debt level higher than the $12.68 trillion peak in 2008, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Key differences exist between now and 2008, reducing the likelihood of another financial meltdown. The main thing: More of today’s debt is held by older, more creditworthy borrowers compared to 2008, according to the Fed.

“The growing debt level shows that many of the millions of Americans who struggled during the recession have sufficiently repaired their credit to qualify for loans,” The New York Times reports. “It also suggests a rising optimism about economic growth among banks and other lenders.”

While people in 2017 are handling their mortgages and auto loans better -- with fewer foreclosures and defaults -- the fact is that student loans are fueling the rise in debt.

There’s a fear that rising student loan debt could lead to a wave of defaults like the one from 2008’s financial debacle.

“This is not a marker we should be super excited to get back to,” Heather Boushey, director of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, told the Times. “In the abstract, more debt signals optimism. But in reality, families are using debt as a mechanism to pay for things their incomes don’t support.”

Here’s how to not run afoul of our increasing appetite for debt:

1. Figure Out What You’re Dealing With

Map out exactly what kind of debt you have.

For example, which companies do you owe money to? Are any of your debts in collections? What are your minimum monthly payments on each credit card or loan?

An easy way to do this is to sign up with a free service like Credit Sesame. This tool shows your balance on any unpaid bills, credit cards or loans. It also offers tips on reducing your debt and raising your credit score.

2. Consolidate Your Debt

If you fall behind on your credit card debt, you may find yourself getting crushed by interest rates north of 20%. You’ll never catch up that way. You’re spending so much on interest, you’ll never pay off your balances.

It might be worth consolidating or refinancing your debt.

By refinancing an existing loan, you’re taking out a totally new loan, which comes with new terms and (ideally) a lower interest rate. Credible is an online marketplace that offers consumers personalized loan offers. Think of it like Zillow -- but for personal loans.

Rates start at 5.99%, and you can check yours by entering a loan amount here ($500 to $40,000) and comparing your personalized options in under 90 seconds.

The bottom line: It’s best to have a strategy when we’re talking about household debt levels surpassing those of 2008.

The experts insist 2017’s household debt really is different. For one thing, consumers are currently delinquent on less than 5% of total debt, compared to nearly 12% of debt that was more than a month late in 2009.

Fewer of us are falling behind.

Let’s keep that trend going.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. May we all be a bit richer today.

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He remembers 2008 all too well.