A toaster. A set of plates. Some bath towels.
If you’re attending the wedding of close friends or family members, chances are you don’t want to get them some impersonal household item.
But you also don’t want to spend a ton of money OR give a gift that doesn’t have meaning.
So, the obvious answer: Make something.
And the tough question that follows: But what?
To answer that, we scoured Pinterest to find 10 affordable, handmade wedding gifts.
Not only will these options keep your budget under control, they’ll be something the couple will cherish for their whole marriage -- which, hopefully, is a long time!
These photo collage letters from House on the Way are super easy to make. You could use the first letter of the couple’s new last name, or the first letters of their first names plus an ampersand.
All you need are wooden letters, Mod Podge, scissors, a paintbrush and photos. (Personally, I love the black and white!)
If the hearts are a little much, you could simply cut the maps into squares or circles instead.
As Savvy Eats says, a personalized recipe book really is “one of the best gifts you’ll ever give.”
Instead of just including your favorite recipes, you should request them from the couple’s friends and family as well. Ask them to type up their favorites, plus a note to the couple, then compile them into a cute book.
Trust me, it’s worth the effort!
These photo coasters from The Frugal Girls are another project I’ve completed successfully. They’re simpler than they sound, and are also quite affordable.
Use high-quality photos of the couple or maps of meaningful spots, and you’ll have a beautiful (and useful!) gift.
This year-of-firsts basket from Spool and Spoon is perfect for the couple who loves wine.
Buy a bunch of their favorite bottles and label each with a “first” they’ll have during the next year: beach trip, dinner party, anniversary, etc.
If you know the couple’s wedding song (and have legible handwriting), this song-lyric canvas from Swiish would make a stunning gift.
That’s one thing I’d hang on my wall for sure!
Who doesn’t want a shabby chic photo display in their home?
Though Heels in the Mud doesn’t go through each step, it looks pretty easy to figure out -- especially if you bring a photo of the project into your local hardware store.
To make it more wedding-y, you could paint the couple’s names and wedding date onto one of the boards.
Did you know Sharpies are magic? So magic, in fact, you can create personalized plates like these ones from Orthodox Mom.
You could make them into “giving plates” like she did, or decorate a few with your favorite recipes.
This personalized cutting board from The Neeley Grange requires a wood-burning tool (around $20), so it’s a bit more expensive than the other projects.
But it looks so beautiful (and professional) that I had to include it!
In contrast to the prior project, this rustic photo display from Shanty 2 Chic only costs $3 to make.
At that price, you could make several for the couple -- perhaps with their names, or with different quotes about love and marriage.
After discovering all these projects, I’m confident I’ll have beautiful gifts for all the weddings I’m attending this summer.
Now, I guess it’s time to start making ‘em!
Your Turn: Which of these handmade wedding gifts is your favorite?
Susan Shain is always seeking adventure on a budget. Visit her blog at susanshain.com, or say hi on Twitter @susan_shain.
Editor's note: The job listing for the tour bus driver/tech is no longer open.
Can you hear that?
It’s the sound of my coworkers crying, as they realize their wildest dreams have finally come true: You can get paid to travel the country with a crew of kitties.
The Acro-Cats, a troupe of former orphan and stray cats, travels from city to city performing live shows to “sold-out audiences.” (Yes, we’ve written about them before.)
And right now, they’re hiring both a tour assistant and a bus driver/tech.
Does that sound like your cup of catnip? Then keep reading.
The Acro-Cats show is “devoted to promoting cat-training awareness and supporting feline adoption and rescue,” so it travels across the country in -- what else? -- a custom cat bus, fostering and finding homes for its animals.
As well as performing what sounds like an intriguing show…
First off, it features an “all-cat band” called the Rock Cats. (Wut.)
[caption id="attachment_36406" align="aligncenter" width="600"] via circuscats.com[/caption]
Second, the cats do tricks with hoops, skateboards and other props. (I’ve never met a cat that would do what its owner said if its life depended on it, so this is a MUST-see.)
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the show involves something called a “cat vs. chicken bowling show-down.” (I can’t begin to fathom what that is, which means it alone is worth the price of admission.)
Here’s how to get your paw in the door.
The company is looking for a tour assistant whose responsibilities would include “cat wrangling,” moving props, selling tour merchandise, caring for “Rock Star cats” and coordinating volunteers for all performances. It’s a bonus if you can drive a 45’ bus.
The listing states pay is “commensurate with qualifications and experience” -- and I’m assuming it means experience with tours, and not cats. Because no amount of experience with cats prepares you for everything that is cats.
In this position, you’d be responsible for driving and maintaining the cat tour bus, which is actually a 45’ bus that tows a 14’ car.
The other portion of your job would be doing sounds and lights for the show. You must be able to lift and carry 50 pounds, as you’ll have to load equipment in and out of the vehicles.
No pay is listed; rather, the company states it’s “taking bids/offers for this position.” A resume, plus a check of your background and driving record, are required.
Not into cats? Then check our open positions here at The Penny Hoarder.
I have a feeling we’re going to lose more than one staff member to this traveling troupe of tabbies…
(H/T to DNAInfo for finding this fun gig.)
Your Turn: Do you want to join the cat circus?
Susan Shain, senior writer for The Penny Hoarder, is always seeking adventure on a budget. Visit her blog at susanshain.com, or say hi on Twitter @susan_shain.
Miranda Stamps and her husband Jay Albany had great jobs. They had healthy 4-year-old twin boys. Some might say they had it all.
But they weren’t fulfilled.
“We were doing what we thought we should be doing for an unknown payoff, and it felt stressful and not free,” explained Albany. “I don't want to say we weren't happy, but we didn't feel like we were in touch with what we really wanted.”
So, unlike many people in their situation, they took the time to think about what they wanted -- and then they made it happen.
Stamps and Albany decided to travel the world with their kids, and they’ve now been on the road for more than two years, supporting themselves and teaching their twin boys about the world. Although their lifestyle certainly isn’t attainable for everyone, their outlook might be…
[caption id="attachment_55247" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] Photo from milesfrombrooklyn.com[/caption]
They lived in New York City, and like many people, Stamps and Albany had talked about leaving for a while.
“In New York, with the exception of sitting in a wonderful but busy park, you're always involved in commerce,” explained Stamps. “You're always either shopping or sitting at a restaurant, or buying something.”
That wasn’t a life they wanted for their sons.
“We wanted to be in a place where they got to be outside without us wondering what might be going on in the woods, whether it was a good idea to let them be climbing and exploring.”
Both 37 years old, they’d been saving for a house since getting married 12 years earlier.
They had good jobs -- Albany worked in finance and startups, Stamps in education and technology -- and together, had managed to save $100,000.
They considered moving to different suburbs, but couldn’t settle on a place… so they started thinking bigger.
A decade earlier, they’d fallen in love with Australia. And once that idea entered their minds, it never went away.
“It was easier to make the decision to go to Australia than to choose which New York suburb we wanted to move to,” said Stamps.
“Yeah, it was Australia or New Jersey,” quipped Albany.
Although confident in their decision now, this initial step -- the leaving, the letting go -- was the the hardest thing they faced in their entire journey, Stamps recalled.
[caption id="attachment_55249" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] Photo from milesfrombrooklyn.com[/caption]
Their upfront monetary costs were huge, as well. Here’s a breakdown:
They say they probably could’ve found the car and camper for cheaper, but they wanted new, reliable vehicles that would serve them well while off-roading. And because their research showed both vehicles had a high resale value, they felt comfortable with the massive investment.
Stamps and Albany left with enough savings to travel for six months -- but now, two-and-a-half years later, they’re still on the road. That’s thanks to Albany’s ability to earn money remotely.
Drawing on his years of experience in startups and finance, he works as a business consultant for young, growing companies -- both for new clients he’s met while traveling (mostly in co-working spaces), and for former colleagues.
He started out working only a few hours a week, but quickly realized if he found more business -- enough to work half time -- it would cover the family’s living expenses, which were significantly lower than in New York.
“That was really an epiphany moment for us,” said Stamps.
Albany soon attained those hours, and more. He now works full time, which even allows the family to put some money in the bank.
[caption id="attachment_55254" align="aligncenter" width="1188"] Photo from milesfrombrooklyn.com[/caption]
Although few of the leave-it-all-behind-to-travel stories we hear involve kids, Stamps and Albany have met “tons” of families on the road. And they’ve found their own experience to be quite rewarding.
“It's not the same as a trip you do without kids, but it's wonderful to experience the world the way they're interested in exploring it,” said Stamps. “Their excitement in going to new places and trying new things is really inspirational for us.”
“It also really allows you to move more slowly and engage more thoroughly, because with kids you need to make sure you're eating enough meals and finding playgrounds and taking life at a reasonable pace,” she continued.
As for tantrums or other issues, Stamps made a valid point: “To the extent that kids are challenging, they're challenging at home or on the road.”
And even though they’re not in school, the boys are learning.
“My goal for our first year was to make sure they learned to read, because that's what they would’ve been exposed to in school,” said Stamps, who has a background in education.
The twins quickly became avid readers, and since then, their curriculum has followed their curiosity. “As they expressed interest in something, we gave them more opportunities to explore it,” explained Stamps.
They’ve investigated everything from addition, subtraction, division and square roots to Greek myths and Native American history. Stamps encourages their continual learning by providing books, conversation, documentaries and real-world learning opportunities.
“It definitely is untraditional,” she admitted. “And had I not seen it happening for myself, I never would’ve believed it [worked].”
For Stamps and Albany, the twins’ thirst for knowledge has been the biggest surprise of the entire adventure.
“It's been really wonderful to see how travel has helped them unfold as human beings, and how different things they've been exposed to have triggered their curiosity to learn more,” said Stamps.
“I always pictured learning being about school. I knew they’d get life experience from travel, but I didn't really imagine the way it would create the passion for learning academically that we've seen.”
[caption id="attachment_55248" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] Photo from milesfrombrooklyn.com[/caption]
After traveling for more than two years, Stamps and Albany were eager to share some of their best budget travel tips:
First, set a monthly budget; then, open two bank accounts.
Keep your savings and paychecks in one account, and set up a monthly transfer (in the amount of your budget) into the other. That’s all the money you’re allowed to spend that month -- once it’s gone, it’s gone.
“A lot of travelers have set a monthly budget,” explained Stamps, “but they don't have tools in place to prevent themselves from overspending.”
Taking this step forced their family to be disciplined -- and even if they return to a traditional life, Stamps predicted they’ll stick with the practice.
While traveling in Australia, Stamps said they rarely went out to eat. Instead, they cooked most of their meals in their camp kitchen.
That way, she explained, “we could buyer nicer ingredients and have treats -- without going out to a mediocre meal and spending $100 of a $400 monthly budget.”
To spice things up, she also learned to cook other cuisines -- like Korean, Japanese and Indian -- by downloading lots of cookbooks.
“It was a fun project on my own, but also allowed us to eat a really wide variety of things without paying someone else to cook it,” she said.
Although it might seem counterintuitive, Stamps suggests paying upfront for high-quality clothes.
“Buying better quality clothes that can go through terrible washing machines a million times is much more cost-effective,” she says. “The clothing we brought that wasn't as high quality, we ended up having to replace more frequently.”
She recommends end-of-season sales from brands like Patagonia, Boden and Hanna Andersson.
[caption id="attachment_55255" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] Photo from milesfrombrooklyn.com[/caption]
The family has since left Australia and traveled in Asia and Canada, and Albany said: “What our future plans look like is always a question.”
They’re hesitant to put too much value on the future -- and instead deliberately choose to focus on what’s happening right now.
“The good thing is we don't have to decide, because we're in a situation right now where we can continue to do what’s working for us as a family,” explained Stamps, “and when that stops working, we'll do something different.”
For a couple whose lives used to revolve around planning, the shift in perspective has paid off.
“By keeping ourselves open… we've had so many opportunities to go places, to meet people, to do things that we couldn't have imagined,” said Stamps. “When you have plans all the time, you miss opportunities you might not have considered as a possibility.”
“It's been so much more fulfilling to live our life without being focused exclusively on what happens next.”
You can follow along with their adventures through their blog Miles From Brooklyn.
Susan Shain is a freelance writer and digital nomad. She covers travel, food and personal finance (basically, how to save money so you can travel more and eat more). Visit her blog at susanshain.com, or say hi on Twitter @susan_shain.
While planning their wedding, Kacey Yates and her fiance discussed what would make it the “perfect day.” Since they were on a budget, they needed to determine their priorities -- and cut costs everywhere else.
The first thing that came to mind? The invitations.
Yates thought about how she felt when she received a wedding invitation: “Did I keep it? Did it shape my opinion of the couple? Did it shape my opinion of the day?”
Since the answers were all “no,” Yates and her fiance determined that wedding invitations weren’t high on their priority list and were a prime place to cut costs.
So she decided to make DIY wedding invitations. Not only did she save a significant amount of money -- spending 50 cents per invitation, as opposed to the $2.50 she’d seen online -- she felt like her invites were “very personal.”
If you’d like to save money on your wedding with DIY invitations, keep reading. From template options to paper choices, here’s everything you need to know.
When it comes to DIY wedding invitations, there are two basic levels of DIY.
The first is purchasing a template (more on those below) that you fill in, print and embellish yourself.
The other is doing everything from scratch: You create the design, then print, cut and package the invitations yourself.
When Katie Nathey couldn’t find invitations she liked within her budget, she decided to go this route and handcraft her own rustic wedding invitations.
Although she spent $150 on supplies for her 50 invitations, she used the leftover materials to create drink tags, wedding wands and s’more kits.
“This amount was around $100-$150 less than purchasing pre-made invitations, and those didn’t include any embellishments,” she says. “Designing our invitations was one of the best decisions I could have made.”
Before deciding how DIY you want to go with your invites, do your research and think about your preferences (your true preferences -- not the preferences of the Pinterest princess you wish you were).
Do you enjoy crafting? Or are you just trying to save a little money? How much time can you devote to the project? Would you rather spend time on your invites, or, say, custom centerpieces?
Ready to take the plunge? Here are your options for DIY wedding invitations.
[caption id="attachment_55193" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Katie Nathey/mountainmodernlife.com[/caption]
As mentioned above, one of the easiest options is to use print-yourself DIY wedding invitation templates.
They’re plentiful online -- and many are even free. You simply add your details, download the template (usually as a PDF) and then print the invitations at home or a copy shop.
Here are some places to start your search:
Nathey, whom you met earlier, found that her rustic DIY wedding invitations were so popular, she created a free template for readers to download.
“The good news is you don’t have to design your own invitations to save money,” she says. “There are more printable options available online, making it easier to customize your invitations on even the tiniest of budgets.”
Besides templates, another option is to order a customized wedding stamp with all the pertinent details on it. Rather than printing out the invitation, you simply stamp the info onto a piece of paper.
Want to see what they look like? Here’s an Etsy store that sells partially hand-lettered wedding invitation stamps for $80 and up.
[caption id="attachment_55189" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Alexandra Vincent/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]
If you enjoy art, graphic design or calligraphy, then you might want to take it a step beyond the template and design your own wedding invitations.
First things first: The words are the most important part, so make sure you get a second pair of eyes to proofread!
Then, to create the basic layout of your invitation, you can use a free trial of Adobe InDesign, Photoshop or Illustrator; a free online program like Canva or PicMonkey; or a word-processing tool like Word or Pages.
Important design elements to consider include fonts, line spacing, alignment, colors and theme.
Yates, for example, added an image of a golden snitch to allude to her Harry Potter-themed engagement, while Nathey went rustic to match her cabin wedding.
As a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t mix more than three fonts and should stay consistent throughout the invitation suite (including other inserts like RSVP cards or maps).
[caption id="attachment_55188" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Alexandra Vincent/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]
Although it might seem unimportant, don’t skimp on the paper -- it can make or break your invitation.
You should try to buy cardstock that’s at least 65-pound, though 80-pound is even better.
“I would recommend printing on the heaviest cardstock paper you can find and afford,” writes Nathey. “The thicker the invitation, the better it will look and feel.” For her invitations, she used 110-pound heavy cardstock, which resists both bending and bleeding.
If you’re printing from home (more on that in the next section), she says you should make sure your printer can handle whatever cardstock you choose. You can find this information in your printer’s manual, or by searching online for your printer’s “max paper weight.”
You can also choose different finishes for your paper; for wedding invitations, popular finishes include cotton or linen, which are beautiful but more expensive.
For her golden snitch invites, Yates used premium linen cardstock. She felt it “really added that something special to the wedding invitations, making them look elegant and sophisticated as opposed to normal card paper.”
Alternatively, recycled paper is also a popular option -- especially for rustic or boho invites.
Other options worth considering? Pocketfold invitations, which you can order online from sites like Cards and Pockets, or DIY wedding invitation kits, which include paper for the invitations and RSVP cards, and envelopes for both.
That being said, one easy way to keep costs down is to forgo the RSVP card. (Less paper and fewer stamps!)
Instead, ask your guests to RSVP on your wedding website. If you have relatives who don’t use the internet, you can include a small card asking them to RSVP by phone.
Lastly, don’t forget: You need one invitation per address -- not per guest. So don’t make the mistake of ordering double the paper you need!
[caption id="attachment_55196" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Meagan Hearne/meaganhearne.com[/caption]
Whether you’re using a DIY wedding invitation template or designing the whole thing yourself, you’re going to need to print it somehow.
The most penny-hoarding option? Print your invitations at home. As long as you have a decent printer -- and use nice paper -- this will probably work fine.
Both inkjet and laser printers are up to the job; just be sure to select the highest-quality print setting. (Here’s an example of a woman who printed her invitations using an HP Officejet Printer.)
To save money, use black ink only; if you want a splash of color, use colored paper.
When it comes to cutting out your invitations, try to get the most out of each sheet. If you’re using 12-by-12-inch paper to print 5-by-7-inch invitations, here’s one bride’s strategy:
[caption id="attachment_53889" align="aligncenter" width="360"] Caption: Image courtesy of Craftaholics Anonymous[/caption]
Alternatively, you can get your invitations printed at a local copy shop or office-supply store. It’ll be more expensive, but it might be worth it for the time you’ll save, as they can also cut the invitations for you.
Lauren Lanker, for example, got 200 invitations printed and cut at Kinko’s for $32, which seems like a pretty good deal. Just be sure to do a test run, so you don’t end up with smudgy invitations like she did!
[caption id="attachment_55187" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Alexandra Vincent/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]
If you can believe it, so far we’ve only covered the basics of DIY wedding invitations. Once you’ve designed and printed them, there are countless ways to make your invites shine.
You could add embellishments like:
For example, Nathey used a combination of hole punches, buttons, lace, ribbon and twine to embellish her rustic wedding invitations.
“We spent roughly $150 on our wedding invitations, with a big chunk of our budget going towards the craft supplies to create the embellishments,” she says. (But don’t forget: She used the leftover supplies to make other wedding goodies.)
The sky’s the limit here. Don’t be afraid to browse the internet for inspiration and let your imagination run wild.
[caption id="attachment_55330" align="alignnone" width="1200"] boho-weddings.com[/caption]
One final way to make your invitations stand out? Killer envelopes.
Envelope liners are a popular option. If purchased from a site like Minted, they’d run you a whopping 76 cents per liner -- but you can make them yourself with fabric, pretty paper, an engagement photo or even a pencil eraser (though I don’t want to think about how long that would take!).
As for the addresses, you can hire a calligrapher, but that’ll cost you a whopping $2-$5 per envelope. It’s much more affordable to enlist your friends to help you, or just print pretty labels like these.
Don’t forget to include your return address, using a label or stamp.
[caption id="attachment_55336" align="alignnone" width="1200"] stacey_newman/Getty Images[/caption]
Next, it’s time to visit the post office to weigh your entire invitation and see how much postage it’ll require. (Note: Square envelopes cost more to mail, so unless you’re really attached to that shape, rectangular is the way to go.)
As for postage stamps, you can purchase custom versions with your face on them -- but it’ll cost you more than $1 per stamp. Instead, here’s how to save money on Forever stamps.
When it comes time to finally -- blissfully!!! -- mail out your invites, it’s a good idea to physically bring them to the post office.
That way, you can ask the postal worker to “hand cancel” them (rather than put them through the machine and potentially damage the envelopes). Some post offices will do this for free, while others charge up to 20 cents per envelope.
[caption id="attachment_55191" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Invitationsbydawn/Facebook[/caption]
If, after reading all this, it turns out you’re not as crafty (or don’t have as much time) as you thought, remember there are still ways to get creative with your wedding invitations -- even if you don’t go the DIY route.
But, unlike with DIY invites, the company takes care of the rest. (Minted will even address the envelopes for you.)
“I filled out information as to what I was looking for in terms of look, style, theme, etc,” she says. “They then sent me a folder full of sample paper, color palettes, text samples and so on.”
Once she’d chosen the perfect combo, she ordered it from the site. It arrived as a single sheet she folded up to mail.
Gagnon “loved” her invitations, which cost about $1.50 each. “My hand touched every part of them,” she says. “And then these two little hands went out in a snow storm on Valentine's Day to send them out because it was cute, darnit.”
That’s it! Now you know how to craft your DIY wedding invitations. Now all that’s left to worry about is the band, the food, the cake, the dress, the honeymoon…
Ready for a glass of wine? I certainly am!
Your Turn: Did you make your own wedding invitations? Was it worth it?
Susan Shain is a freelance writer and digital nomad. She covers travel, food and personal finance (basically, how to save money so you can travel more and eat more). Visit her blog at susanshain.com, or say hi on Twitter @susan_shain.
Happy Cinco de Mayo!
Though -- contrary to common belief -- today is not Mexico’s Independence Day, it’s still an excuse to celebrate.
And here at The Penny Hoarder, you know how we celebrate: with deals.
So here are 10 of the best Cinco de Mayo specials we could find… Vamos!
Get your drink on with $5 handcrafted classic margaritas at the Bahama Breeze nearest you. If you’re planning ahead, this deal is valid May 1-5.
This quick-service Tex-Mex chain is offering $5 burritos all day at select locations -- and if you’re one of the first customers of the day, you might even get a free T-shirt!
Get three days of $2 deals on Cinco de Mayo weekend. Grab $2 Mexican drafts on Friday, May 5. “Recover” on Saturday May 6 and Sunday, May 7 with $2 drafts, plus $2 churros, tacos and chips and salsa.
Drink specials abound, with margaritas on special for $5 each. To get the fiesta started, many locations will also have live music!
Grab the pub’s Cinco de Mayo deal — two tacos with chips and salsa for $5.99 — on Friday. Tax and gratuity not included.
Head to the bar all week long for $4 Coronas and $5 margaritas.
Austin, Texas-based Tex-Mex chain Chuy’s starts the celebration early. Stop by May 4 for a $1 floater (a half-ounce of your favorite liquor poured over your beverage) or $1 off Corona beer. On May 5, enjoy all-day happy hour specials, plus the previous day’s drink offers. On Saturday, May 6, Chuy’s will serve $5 bloody marys.
Head over to this chicken joint’s coupon page to print out deals you can use all weekend. Choose a $5 chicken tostada combo, a $5 two-piece leg and thigh combo, or $5 off a 12-piece family meal. Looking for catering deals? Take $10 off a 24-piece catering meal or $20 off a 48-piece catering meal. Talk about a party! You can show these coupons on your mobile phone, too.
Stop by Marie Callender’s all weekend for $4 house margaritas and $6 “ultimate” margaritas. Home-style dishes and marg specials? Heck yes.
Stop by before 4 p.m. on May 5 for $5 house margaritas and $5 all-you-can-eat nachos. Select locations will have live bands or DJs, along with giveaways and other entertainment.
Be sure to check out your local restaurants to find more deals for Cinco de Mayo!
Your Turn: Where will you celebrate Cinco de Mayo this year?
Susan Shain is always seeking adventure on a budget. Visit her blog at susanshain.com, or say hi on Twitter @susan_shain.
As a high school or early college student, it’s tough to figure out what you’re going to do with the rest of your life.
Not only is it annoying -- because everyone keeps asking -- it’s important. College is a big investment, so you don’t want to end up with loans for a degree you never use.
If you’re stumped, you’re not alone: 24% of high school seniors have “no idea” what career they want to pursue, according to a recent CareerBuilder study.
Of those who do know, 23% said they made their choice based on “something they saw in TV or in a movie.”
Choosing a career because it looked cool in a movie? Definitely not something we’d advise.
Instead, check out a site called Find Your Calling, released by CareerBuilder. It’s a unique resource that combines a personality test with up-to-date career information and real-time labor market data.
We haven’t seen anything like it before, so we think all young Penny Hoarders (and their parents) should know about it.
After answering a simple six-question personality test, the platform populates with relevant jobs, which you further narrow by state and career category.
What makes the site particularly useful is the fact that each job is accompanied by hard data: average salary, projected growth, required education and daily tasks.
We love that Find Your Calling presents all of this information in one clean and appealing interface. Though we’re bummed it wasn’t around when we were in high school, we hope it helps some of you (or your kids!) make smart choices about your education and career.
Your Turn: Do you know what career you want to pursue? Do you think this site will help?
Susan Shain is a freelance writer and digital nomad. She covers travel, food and personal finance (basically, how to save money so you can travel more and eat more). Visit her blog at susanshain.com, or say hi on Twitter @susan_shain.
Sixty-seven percent of Americans aren’t saving for retirement. That’s two-thirds of our friends, family and neighbors who are ignoring the inevitability that they won’t be able to work forever.
I’m not judging; I used to be one of them. And I really regret the years of saving that passed me by.
Why? Because Social Security’s not enough. And because the earlier you start investing, the less you have to invest.
The numbers are quite astounding, actually.
It’s all because of a little thing called compounding, which in this situation, means reinvesting your earnings each year -- and, over time, getting exponential returns.
Don’t believe me? Take this example from Get Rich Slowly.
Let’s say you’re 20 years old and put $5,000 into a retirement account that earns an 8% annual average return. Even if you never put another penny into that account, it’ll grow to $180,000 by the time you retire at 65.
Or, put another way, let’s assume you want to retire at age 65 with $2 million (and again, earn an 8% average annual return).
According to GRS, here’s how much you’d need to invest:
OK, you say, those numbers are crazy. I’m convinced I should invest in my retirement. But what exactly does that mean? Where do I put that money?
Well, I’m here to help. One of the best places to invest your money is in a Roth IRA -- and in this post, you’ll learn:
Feel free to click to a section you’d like to learn more about, or if you want to start from the beginning, let’s not waste any time…
Want to have money in retirement? Then you’ve got to start investing… NOW.
And one of the best ways to do so is with an IRA (Individual Retirement Account). IRAs aren’t investments themselves; rather, they’re houses for your investment, kind of like a checking account.
But, unlike money in a checking account, the money within an IRA can be invested in the stock market -- and over time, can earn exponentially bigger returns.
Roth IRAs are similar to traditional IRAs, with a few key differences. The biggest one? Roth IRAs are funded with after-tax dollars.
Traditional IRAs and 401(k)s are funded with pre-tax dollars. That means you don’t pay taxes on the money now -- but will when you withdraw it.
Although that might sound appealing (who doesn’t want to save money now?!), think about this: You’ll hopefully earn more money as you age, which means you might be in a higher tax bracket by the time you retire.
Not to mention, who knows what the tax rate will be in, say, 40 years.
That’s where the beauty of the Roth IRA becomes apparent: Because you already paid taxes on the money, you’ll get to withdraw it tax-free.
And when I say “it,” I mean everything: both your contributions and the dividends you’ve earned.
So if you’re young and in a low tax bracket (15%-25%), many professionals say Roth IRAs are the way to go.
“If you’re maxing out your Roth IRA every year, you can have a million dollars in retirement that’s tax-free,” explains Sophia Bera, founder of Gen Y Planning and creator of Smart & Easy Retirement Planning for Millennials. “That’s pretty exciting.”
Even better, you might be able to get a tax credit just for investing. How? The Saver’s Credit, which rewards you with free money when you save for retirement.
Depending on your income (AGI), the IRS will give you a tax credit (either 10%, 20% or 50%) on the amount of money (up to $2,000) you invest into a retirement plan.
Want to see if you qualify? Here’s the full chart from the IRS:
I know that’s a little confusing, so here’s an example.
Let’s say you’re a single parent (head of household) whose AGI is $26,000 per year. If you manage to invest $2,000 in a retirement account, the government will give you a tax credit for 50% of your contribution -- meaning you’ll receive $1,000 off your tax bill.
What if you’re lucky enough to have a 401(k) plan at work? Do you really need a Roth IRA, too?
I’d say it’s a good idea, because having both will offer you a diverse income when you retire.
Remember you’ll have to pay taxes on your 401(k) withdrawals in retirement -- whereas your Roth IRA withdrawals will be tax-free.
So what should you do now? Invest in both.
If your employer offers a 3% match, for example, you should devote 3% of your paycheck to your 401(k) to get the full match, then try to max out your Roth IRA ($5,500 per year). If you magically have money left over after that, return to your 401(k).
Here are a few more differences between 401(k)s and Roth IRAs (if you don’t know what all the terms mean, don’t worry; we’ll be reviewing them later in the post)...
401(k) vs. Roth IRA
Funded with pre-tax dollars / Funded with after-tax dollars
Pay taxes on withdrawals / Pay no taxes on withdrawals
Comes out of your paycheck automatically / Must make your own investments
Can contribute $18,000 per year / Can contribute $5,500 per year
No income limits / Must earn under $118,000 to be eligible
Lowers your taxable income / Lowers taxes in retirement
Can’t withdraw money early / Can withdraw contributions at any time
Required minimum distributions / No required minimum distributions
Limited control over your investments / Complete control over your investments
Anyone who’s earned income in the United States can contribute to a Roth IRA -- you don’t need to be a citizen.
The most common reason you wouldn’t be able to contribute to a Roth IRA is you earn too much money (boy do I look forward to that day!).
Wondering if that might be you? Here’s the IRS on who can contribute to Roth IRAs:
[caption id="attachment_53902" align="aligncenter" width="733"] Image from the IRS[/caption]
Basically, if you earn less than $118,000 -- or you and your spouse earn less than $186,000 combined -- you can contribute to a Roth IRA. (Note that eligibility is based on your modified adjusted gross income, which is slightly different than your AGI.)
If you have a super profitable year and go above the income limit, you won’t be able to contribute -- but your Roth IRA won’t go anywhere. If, wonderfully, your income remains too high to contribute, you can look into a strategy called backdoor Roth IRAs.
The Roth IRA also doesn’t have age limits; unlike with traditional IRAs, you can contribute as long as you’re still working.
Although contribution limits are based on inflation -- and thus subject to change -- current rules state you can contribute up to $5,500 per year to your Roth IRA account.
If you’re 50 or older (and need to “catch up”), that amount increases to $6,500 per year.
No matter what, though, you can’t contribute more than you earn. So if you’re a student who only earned $1,500 last year, that’s the maximum you could contribute to your Roth IRA.
What counts as income? Wages, salaries, commissions, bonuses, etc -- but not income from, say, a rental property.
One exception to this rule is for spouses who don’t work. If you’re married and filing jointly, you can create a spousal Roth IRA and contribute up to $5,500 per year to theirs and yours.
In order for your contributions to be counted for a certain tax year, you must make your contributions by April 15 of the following year. So if, for example, you want to max out your Roth IRA contributions for the 2016 tax year, the money must be in your account by April 15, 2017.
One of the coolest things about the Roth IRA? Since you already paid taxes on your contributions, the IRS will let you take it out at any time -- for any reason.
“Roth IRAs are a lot more flexible than other accounts,” explains Bera. “You can access your contributions before retirement -- so it’s like a backup backup emergency fund.”
Note we’re talking only about your contributions -- not any dividends you’ve earned.
Let’s say you contributed $15,000 to your Roth IRA, and have earned $1,000 on your investment so far. You can take that $15,000 out at any time; no questions asked.
But if you want to pull that $1,000 of earnings -- without taxes or a 10% penalty -- it’ll need to be for a “qualified distribution.”
What makes it a qualified distribution? First, you must’ve opened the Roth IRA at least five years ago, and second, you must meet one of the following conditions:
If one of the above conditions applies, but your Roth is less than five years old, you’ll be able to avoid the early-withdrawal penalty -- but might need to pay taxes on the earnings.
Although it’s wise to keep your Roth IRA earmarked for retirement, this flexibility is an attractive feature to many investors.
“People are using Roth IRAs to fund their kids’ college because it doesn’t get factored into the FAFSA,” explains Bera. And if your kids end up getting scholarships or not attending college, you can let the money continue growing.
That’s because, unlike with traditional IRAs and 401(k)s, Roth IRAs have no required minimum distributions.
Translation? You can let the money sit in the account for as long as you like. If you end up not needing the money in retirement, you can even pass your Roth IRA on to your children. And because you already paid taxes on it, they won’t have to!
Though Roth IRAs have many advantages, they aren’t perfect. Here are the pros and cons of these retirement vehicles:
Still wondering if a Roth IRA or traditional IRA is a better fit for you?
This recent study from NerdWallet found that “Savers who make maximum annual contributions to an individual retirement account will net more after-tax retirement dollars -- in some cases, well over $100,000 more -- if they use a Roth IRA instead of a traditional IRA.”
Play around with this chart to see some examples:
Ready to set up your Roth IRA? I was hoping you’d say that.
Whether you go with an established broker or a robo-adviser, be sure to find a firm with low maintenance fees and low minimums.
Or, just go with one of our suggestions:
Not only is Vanguard an established and respected brokerage firm, it’s also known for its low fees.
My Roth IRA is with Vanguard, and I’ve had a great experience. Bera’s also a fan of the firm -- as is The Penny Hoarder CEO Kyle Taylor!
To open a Roth IRA with Vanguard, follow these steps:
1. Visit Vanguard
2. Complete the online application, and fund your account with at least $1,000
3. A few days later, log into Vanguard and allocate that money (you can choose a “target-date fund,” which automatically invests in different index funds based on when you plan to retire)
If you get confused along the way, simply give Vanguard a call. I’ve found its customer service to be really helpful. (And if you need a way to save $1,000, here’s a strategy that worked for me.)
One of the most popular robo-advisers, Betterment is a good option for people who want to be as hands-off as possible (and are willing to pay an administrative fee of .25% for that convenience).
“Betterment makes it easy to start and invest,” says Bera. “It’s worth the fee -- especially if it makes you start investing sooner.”
The best part is there’s no minimum deposit needed. So you could start investing with just $50 or $100.
The important thing isn’t where you open the account; it’s getting started, and then continuing to fund it.
To stay on track, I recommend setting up an automatic weekly or monthly withdrawal.
When I first started saving for retirement, I had Vanguard automatically withdraw $25 per week. It was painless, and over the years, it’s added up.
Now I have an automatic investment of $105 per week (the amount needed to max out my Roth IRA). When times get tough, I simply turn it off for a few weeks or months.
Bera did something similar: “I used to set up a monthly contribution for $200 a month,” she says. “Then I’d see if I could use bonus income or tax return to make a one-time contribution and hit the max.”
If you need inspiration, think back to those stunning examples of compounding in the introduction. And remember to pay yourself first.
Investing in retirement isn’t as scary as it seems -- and is so, so necessary.
As Bera says: “One of the best gifts you can give your kids is having enough money in retirement so they don’t have to take care of you.”
The sooner you start, the more rewarding it’ll be.
“You really have time on your side,” she says. “If you save $100 a week over 40 years, for example, and earn an 8% return, you’ll have a million bucks.”
Even if $100 per week sounds impossible to you right now, try for $100 per month.
“It’s about building good habits,” says Bera. “As you pay down debt, as you build up savings, move that money over to retirement. If you pay off a loan that was $200 a month, start a Roth IRA with that money.”
“When people are mindful about it, they can make some huge strides in their overall financial situation very quickly. If they aren’t, that money gets eaten up by normal cash flow.”
So be mindful. And start investing today.
Your Turn: Do you have a Roth IRA? Are you going to set one up now?
Right about now, the high school seniors in your life are probably more excited than ever before to check their mailboxes.
Although the fat envelopes contain exciting news -- you, yes you, are going to college! -- they can sometimes yield disappointment, too.
That’s all I received in financial aid? It’s going to cost me HOW much?
If you plan to attend college in the next few years, keep reading.
Here are five expert tips for reducing the cost of college before -- and after -- you’re accepted.
Few of these techniques will work if you have low test scores and a low GPA. As with any type of negotiation, you need to have something the other party wants: in this case, a high-achieving student.
Craig McMahon knew this long before his daughter filled out her application forms.
Not only did he ensure she attended a high school with a “vibe of achievement in academics,” he and his wife also refrained from watching TV and using social media on weeknights to create a “perfect homework environment.”
His daughter ended up graduating from high school with a 4.25 GPA. When she applied to Arizona State University, she was invited to the honors college, which is reserved for the top 5% of students.
“That’s when the scholarships came to her,” McMahon explains. She received a full ride, and McMahon now teaches a course on his family’s strategy.
(For more on scholarships, check out this article to find out how this woman helped her son win $100,000.)
Didn’t receive the aid you were expecting? Want to play hardball with your college’s financial aid office?
“Financial aid offices report to me that only one in 100 families knows how [to negotiate],” says Hanson. “It’s not calling up and complaining about costs; rather, it’s knowing their numbers and using them.”
The key number you need to know? The college’s “percentage of need met,” which you can find with a simple search at College Data.
Here’s why that number’s so important: When you fill out the FAFSA, the government determines your expected family contribution (EFC). The difference between that number and a college’s cost is your “demonstrated need.” And each college promises to fulfill a certain percentage of that.
It’s complicated, I know, but stick with me -- this example from Hanson will help illustrate the point.
Since College XYZ says it meets 75% of demonstrated need, you should expect an award of $15,000.
“If your award is less than $15,000,” Hanson says, “then you can appeal based on your award being less than the college's stated percentage of need-met. You appeal to get your fair share.”
Smart, right? So don’t just call up the financial aid office and complain about the cost; it’s heard that before. Arm yourself with information, and you’ve got a much better shot at receiving additional aid.
At the financial aid office, you can only negotiate need-based aid; you can’t request a bigger merit scholarship.
The place to do that? Admissions.
After receiving an acceptance, Hanson suggests telling the admissions office what it’ll take to get you enrolled.
“The admissions office has a job to do -- and that's to convert your acceptance into an enrollment,” explains Hanson. To incentivize you, it has one tool at its disposal: merit scholarships.
When negotiating with the admissions office, the number to know is the college’s conversion rate, or the percentage of accepted students who enroll. (These are available on College Data.)
“The lower the college's conversion rate, the more it needs to use merit awards to incentivize families to enroll,” explains Hanson.
As an example, he highlights two schools comparable in cost, quality, location and culture: Marist College and Quinnipiac University.
Because “it needs to offer higher scholarships [to get] its desired level of enrolled students,” Hanson says the average scholarship from Quinnipiac is double that from Marist.
But, of course, the school will never tell you that.
“If parents aren’t savvy to this, they’ll pay extra to the college’s delight,” says Hanson. “It’s just the fact.”
Another strategy to use at the admissions office involves some healthy competition.
Did you get a bigger scholarship from a comparable school? Use it as leverage. Just note this is a formal appeal process, and you’ll need to show documentation of the higher offer(s).
Recently, Hanson says one of his clients received a $14,000 scholarship from their number-one college, and a $25,000 scholarship from a comparable one.
“Upon submitting an appeal with an attached scholarship of $25,000 from the other college, the preferred college increased their scholarship to $21,000,” he says.
“After letting them know it’d take a bit more to enroll, the admission office added $1,100 to the award.”
Over four years, that additional scholarship money adds up to $32,400 -- not to mention, the student was able to attend their first-choice school!
If, once you’ve arrived on campus, you realize some of your AP classes haven’t been counted, don’t just lament about it on social media. Head straight to your dean’s office.
That’s what David Greenberg, president of Parliament Tutors, did. He convinced his dean that his previous college classes and AP credits should exempt him from some intro classes.
Because of that, he ended up graduating a semester early -- and saving nearly $20,000. He’s not sure if this approach would work everywhere, but as he sagely explains: “The answer is ‘no’ to 100% of the questions you don't ask.”
Your Turn: Did you know it was possible to haggle the cost of college? Will you try it?
Micki Krimmel never thought of herself as an athlete. Growing up, she always had her nose in a book.
Then 10 years ago, a friend took her to a roller derby match, and she became hooked — on roller derby and on fitness. She didn’t get hooked on fitness as a way to get thin, but as a way to build self-confidence and strength.
Eventually, she launched a line of workout clothes for women based on her newfound passion and beliefs. In one year, it brought in $200,000.
Here’s her story.
Over the past decade, Krimmel’s life changed dramatically. She not only joined that roller derby team -- Angel City, which ranks fourth in the world -- but she became a trainer and started doing Crossfit.
Fitness “has been so transformative for me in just improving my confidence and making me the person I am,” she says.
So when the serial entrepreneur needed a new project in 2015, she knew it’d be in fitness.
“The messaging around fitness [for women] is almost universally about losing weight and being smaller and taking up less space,” she explains. “I wanted to build a company that talks about the positive side of fitness. That sort of turned that messaging around and made it more about empowering women.”
After some research, Krimmel soon discovered a huge gap in the market: None of the major fitness brands offered performance-oriented clothing above a size 12.
“I just felt like that was insane,” she explains, “because the average American woman is bigger than that.”
“They're literally excluding the average American woman from fitness.”
[caption id="attachment_53847" align="aligncenter" width="821"] Superfit Hero/Facebook[/caption]
Determined to change that, Krimmel dove into the world of high-performance athletic gear.
“I just asked everyone I knew, in a huge range of sizes, ‘What do you want in a pair of leggings?’ ‘Which are your favorite?’ ‘Which are your least favorites, and why?’” she says.
Then, after creating a list of requirements, she started working with factories in her hometown of Los Angeles.
Luckily, her lack of experience in the fashion industry didn’t matter: “As long as you have an idea and you know what you're looking for, they’ll translate that into patterns for you,” she explains.
Her background in tech actually proved to be quite useful: Throughout the design process, she asked athletes in a range of sizes to try the samples in real life. This constant feedback model, which tech firms often use, is rare in fashion -- because “they're not thinking about the performance,” according to Krimmel.
Her athletes tested the leggings during Crossfit, roller derby, weightlifting, yoga, running and even medieval combat training.
“My real test was like OK, if the leggings don't fall down when women of all sizes are running, then I feel like I've nailed it,” she explains.
But all that testing didn’t come cheap or easy.
It took four months and $20,000 of savings Krimmel had earned from the 2013 sale of her first company, NeighborGoods.net -- a platform for borrowing, renting and sharing household items with your neighbors.
She also raised $50,000 from friends and family, which covered all her other business expenses like legal fees and marketing.
Yes, these numbers sound huge and unattainable for most of us, but that doesn’t detract from the main point: Krimmel saw a problem -- a problem she was passionate about solving -- and created a company that provided an answer.
When she finally felt like her leggings were ready for the general public, she launched a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign. It raised $55,000, which was enough to fund the first round of production for Superfit Hero.
In the year since, the company has grossed approximately $200,000. Krimmel still hasn’t paid herself a salary, but now that she’s finally found reliable production partners in LA, she believes she will soon.
“I'm going to get on a more regular schedule where I'm putting out small batches of new styles, every other month or so,” she says. “That's going to get me on a much more regular, more predictable income.”
[caption id="attachment_53848" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] Micki Krimmel, a member of the roller derby team, Angel City, holds a pair of her skates. Photo by Samantha Dunscombe/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]
Looking forward, Krimmel’s next goal is to expand her line of workout clothes for women beyond the small (but supportive) roller derby community. She appeared on Project Runway’s “Fashion Startup” and has been advertising online through Google and Facebook.
By creating athletic apparel in sizes for everyone, Krimmel wants to show “everybody has an athlete in there… and you don't have to look a certain way or be competitive to gain access to those benefits.”
Everyone who tries Superfit Hero leggings falls in love, says Krimmel. “They're like, ‘I'm never going back; I don't want to wear any of my other leggings anymore.’”
And not only do they love the leggings, but perhaps, the leggings make them love themselves a little more.
“Body positivity is really just about loving and respecting your own body and yourself for what it can do -- and how it looks right now,” she explains. “You're not constantly trying to change it.”
“It's time to normalize what the female body looks like.”
Your Turn: What does body positivity mean to you? Do you like the look of Superfit Hero’s athletic apparel?
… Not if you don’t have a license.
Whether you’d like to try fishing for the first time, or you’re an experienced angler who wants to take a friend or family member out on the water, you’ll be happy to learn free fishing days will soon be upon us!
National Fishing and Boating Week is June 3-11.
And in conjunction, many states will host free fishing days.
On these days, you can go fishing on any public body of water -- without having to purchase a license.
Here’s a state-by-state list for 2017, courtesy of Take Me Fishing:
If you live in any of these states, then there’s no excuse not to go and catch your dinner.
If you don’t have your own tackle, ask local outfitters about renting it -- or go with an experienced fisher-friend.
You should also check your neighborhood newspaper or boating-supply store for fun events celebrating the week.
Or, just head to Walmart.
Whatever you do, just get out there -- because, trust me, there’s nothing better than the feeling of yelling “Fish on!”
Your Turn: Will you take advantage of free fishing days in your state?
“At Social Media High, Facebook is the all-star quarterback, Twitter is the school paper’s editor in chief and Snapchat is the mysterious, Harley-riding transfer student.”
“That makes LinkedIn the nerd who skips prom for the mathlympics. Yet, like in every great John Hughes movie, the underdog actually belongs in the in-crowd.”
That’s Joanna Stern’s brilliant introduction in her recent Wall Street Journal article encouraging professional adults to use LinkedIn more.
“Using insights from LinkedIn’s database of over 400 million professionals, the brand new app helps you discover jobs that are a best fit for graduates with your major, companies that tend to hire from your school and the careers paths of recent alumni with similar degrees,” explains Ada Yu in a company blog post.
Are you panicking daily, wondering, “What career is right for me?” You might want to try this app.
“Think of it as your personal job exploration guide, providing tailored jobs related recommendations [sic] based on real data from the career paths of hundreds of millions of successful professionals,” Yu continues.
Because the job search process can often seem overwhelming, LinkedIn designed its app to be used in manageable, daily chunks.
I already have an awesome job (you can work at The Penny Hoarder, too!), but I still decided to give it a spin.
If you already have a LinkedIn profile, signing up is easy: Just confirm your university, major and expected graduation date.
The interface then presents you with a set of five screens -- each with a different piece of career advice on it -- which you have to swipe through. (How millennial of you, LinkedIn!)
The first has a relevant career, complete with a brief description, median salary and several alumni in the role.
It’s followed by a recommended LinkedIn blog post, a company often recruiting at your school, a selection of alumni with your major (so you can presumably examine their career paths), as well as a specific job opening you might want to consider.
To me, it seemed like swiping through the set of five screens is supposed to be your daily career exercise.
Some of the ideas were repetitive, and not all of the information was relevant, but it did seem like a painless way for college students to kickstart their career searches.
And like LinkedIn says, it’s a smart way to “chip away at your job search checklist in any of your in-between moments -- walking between classes, waiting in line at the coffee shop or taking a study break.”
You’re already on your phone all the time anyway -- you might as well give your career a boost while you’re at it!
Your Turn: Will you download the LinkedIn Students app?
Nearly every kid dreams of going to Disney World…
And nearly every parent dreams of a magic fairy who will help them pay for it all.
Because whether you’re planning to hit up Disney, Universal or some other theme park this summer, it’s not going to be cheap.
So I was psyched to discover an easy way to save hundreds of dollars on your trip -- no matter which park you visit.
If you’re a smart Penny Hoarder, you’re probably already staying at a vacation rental with a kitchen.
And you’ve probably opted not to rent a car, and instead take advantage of the park’s free transportation.
So here’s one more trick: Get groceries delivered.
Not only is it convenient, but it’ll save you tons of money over expensive theme park food.
Christine McCarroll, co-owner of McCarroll’s The Village Butcher in Delmar, New York, tried this strategy on a recent family vacation to Disney World.
The trip was “really, really expensive,” she says, so they were looking for any ways to save money.
“I paid for 12 bags, plus a percentage and a tip,” she says. “I don’t feel the prices were unreasonable… I had no car, no way to get there. It was a great deal.”
Cheap, convenient and healthy -- what’s not to like?!
Your Turn: Have you ever considered grocery delivery on vacation before?