4216969109_6476b128bd.jpgWhen it comes to gift giving, they say it's the thought that counts. But what happens when the oh-so-generous folks in your life just happen to have the worst imaginable taste? It's an unfortunate fact that sometimes bad holiday gifts happen to good people -- and by "bad," we're talking everything from ugly sweaters to gaudy, kitschy fruit bowls that pain you to look at them. And then there are those gifts that aren't terrible per se, but just unneeded or impractical -- like that royal blue coffee mug that doesn't match anything else in your kitchen, or that gift card to your local steakhouse that would be awesome if you didn't happen to just turn vegetarian.

If you're coming away from the holiday season with a load of things you don't want or need, don't despair. Here are some options to consider:

Sell Your Stuff
Don't need that new selfie stick or high-speed food processor? Sell it for cash. You can try your luck with Craigslist, where it's free to post an ad. Or, for a safer bet, list your unwanted items on eBay. You'll pay a small fee, but on the plus side, you won't have to worry about some sketchy stranger showing up at your door wanting to buy your stuff, or just creeping you out. You can even try listing the items you're looking to unload on your Facebook page and seeing if your friends are interested in a swap -- but if you do, make sure the people who gave you said gifts don't have Facebook accounts. Otherwise you're as good as busted.

Re-gift What You Can
Maybe that cashmere scarf or fancy bottle of perfume isn't your taste, but that doesn't mean you can't put it to good use. Rather than throw it away or deal with selling it, see if you can re-gift it to someone who might appreciate it. As long as the item in question is of reasonably good quality, there's no shame in giving it to someone who's more likely to use it than you are.

Donate Items to Those in Need
If you're stuck with gifts you can't stand or don't want, why not take the opportunity to help someone less fortunate? You can donate your unwanted gifts to your local Goodwill or Salvation Army, where they'll either be sold or given to someone in need. You can also see if your local place of worship has put out a collection box. As an added bonus, you may even receive a receipt for your donation, which you can potentially count as tax deductible when tax season approaches.

Get Cash for Your Gift Cards
Many people enjoy receiving gift cards to spend as they please. But what if you're given a gift card to a store you don't like or a restaurant whose cuisine you don't happen to enjoy? Rather than let your unwanted gift cards sit around collecting dust, you can sell them online. Sites like GiftCards.com and Gift Card Granny allow you to get cash in exchange for your gift cards. Though you'll lose a percentage of your gift cards' total value by selling them this way, $30 in cash, for example, is better than having an unwanted $50 gift card taking up space in your wallet.

Of course, you can also take steps to avoid winding up with useless gifts in the first place. The next time someone asks what you want for the holidays, just be honest. With any luck, your friends and loved ones will actually listen and oblige.

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3671034436_69ae70e570.jpgI recently had the opportunity to backpack through Europe with my best friend from college. In an effort to prove my worried family wrong (we may have watched "Taken" too many times), I compiled a list of everything we would need for our trip overseas, from our passport to an extra hair dryer.

If it's your first time traveling abroad, don't worry. Follow these tips and you'll be ready for anything.

Order your passport early. You'll need it to get out of the country. If you don't have one already, be sure to order it at least a month or two before your trip. According to the U.S. Passports & International Travel website, it can take up to three weeks to get your passport.

Make a travel itinerary. It doesn't have to be fancy. Our itinerary listed train schedules, flight times and which cities we planned on visiting. Beneath each day was a list of restaurants recommended by Trip Advisor and the other things we wanted to do. Having a plan of what you'd like to see or eat that day will allow you to save time and make the most of your trip.

Bring a suitcase that's easy to carry. Be prepared to take your luggage with you wherever you go. Having a suitcase that either doubles as a backpack or has some sort of strap is going to save your back a lot of pain.

Consider purchasing an international phone plan. This isn't a necessity, but having unlimited texting and enough data to use our mobile maps when we were lost sure came in handy. We would have wasted so much time if we hadn't been able to navigate to our must-see sites. Depending on your phone carrier, international plans can range from a flat fee of $30 to various per-minute prices.

Pack Comfortable shoes. A lot of European cities have gorgeous cobblestone streets, but it was the death of my feet. Pack shoes that you can walk around in for a few days without getting blisters, and don't forget socks!

Download a language translator app. It could really come in handy if you ever get lost, or even if it's just to look up how to say "thank you" in the country's native language. Check out this list of the best translator apps for smartphones.

Keep track of currency exchanges. If you're traveling to a country that uses a different currency system than the Euro, make some notes on your itinerary of what $20 and $100 is equal to wherever you're going.

Essential Items to Pack

  • A universal adapter and converter. You'll need one for your cellphone, laptop and even hair styling products. For hair products, be sure to use the right voltage setting on your adapter/converter because you can burn your hair off if the voltage is too high, which happened to me.
  • A travel belt. It sounds geeky, but better to be safe than sorry. Buy it, bring it and use it. You never know when a pick-pocketing Pete might be lurking around.
  • Body spray or some type of fabric refresher. After a few days without a laundromat, you'll be thankful you brought some along to spritz your clothes with.
  • As for clothing, I was able to get away with 3 pairs of pants, two pairs of leggings, one dress and some shirts. If you're backpacking, you're going to have to repeat outfits.

Like traveling anywhere, you have to be safe, ask questions and listen to your gut. If you plan ahead, get ready for a (hopefully) stress-free vacation!

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8043672330_e8d5f94b61.jpgMany high school students spend the first part of their senior year taking or retaking SATs, writing essays and filling out college applications galore. Those same students then spend the better part of their final high school semester eagerly eyeing their mailboxes, stressing out over acceptances and rejections and wracking their brains to figure out which college to attend.

But then there are those high school seniors who go through the motions of applying to college only to come to the eventual realization that college just isn't the right move. For some, it's a matter of money. After all, college is expensive. For the 2015-2016 school year, tuition at a four-year public in-state college will cost an average of $9,410 per year. A public four-year out-of-state school, meanwhile, will cost $23,893, while a private nonprofit four-year college will cost an almost shocking $32,405. Oh yeah, and those prices are just for tuition and fees—they don't even include room and board.

Deciding to skip college could boil down to a numbers game. If you don't think you'll be able to recoup the costs of college in a reasonable timeframe during your working years, or you feel that a higher education just isn't worth the price tag, then it makes sense to draw the conclusion that college simply isn't for you. And if that's the case, rest assured that your future is far from doomed. There are plenty of viable alternatives to college that you can pursue, including:

Starting Your Own Business
Perhaps you've got a great idea for a new product or service. Or maybe you've always dreamed of opening up your own bakery, bookstore or pet grooming salon. If you're intent on starting your own business, college might not make much financial sense. Instead of spending all that money on tuition, you may be better off using it to fund your business venture.

Joining the Family Business
If you grew up watching your parents manage the family store, then it may not seem so far-fetched to think that one day you'll be in charge. If you're serious about joining and perhaps eventually taking over the family business, then your time may be better spent observing its inner workings and gaining experience in the field. College could end up setting you back and costing you lots of money for no good reason.

Going to Trade School
Whether you're naturally handy or passionate about a particular trade, vocational or trade school may be a more financially sound option than attending a traditional four-year college. Trade school degrees cost about $33,000 on average, which is less than the estimated average cost of attending an in-state four-year college. But more importantly, trade school usually only takes two years to complete, which means you'll get a jumpstart on earning a salary and repaying whatever debt you incur to become certified to work. Furthermore, you might make more money using a trade school degree than you would with a traditional college degree. For example, these days, a marketing assistant earns an average salary of $35,099 per year, whereas the average salary for an electrician is $54,500 per year.

If you've done some long, hard thinking and have come to the conclusion that college isn't the right move for you, you may want to defer enrollment for at least a year to pursue a different option. Remember, you can always pursue an education down the line, but don't make the mistake of choosing college by default. Doing so could easily mean throwing a whole lot of money down the drain for no good reason.

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1375685165_0026af5223.jpgWarning: The average U.S. college student takes 21 years to pay off a bachelor's degree. Resist the urge to scream. Here's how to make sure debt doesn't bury you.

Exhibit A
We all know outside scholarships, work-study and other programs can help keep costs down once you're in the thick of college life. But what you do when you're still in high school can really make a difference.

While I worked hard to pay off my student loans in the year after graduating from the University of Montana, I got most of the work done in high school. Taking advanced-placement and dual-credit classes allowed me to start college as a sophomore, and working since I was 14 helped pad my savings account with tuition money. Most importantly, the college I chose offered me a deal to pay in-state tuition plus half.

Walk This Way
Certified financial planner and founder of College Funding Resource Felicia Gopaul suggests applying for colleges where you'll be the best in class, so you'll be more likely to receive financial aid. Look for the average high school GPA and Admission test scores students have at a particular college on its website. And remember, all the extracurricular activities and advanced courses you're able to participate in will help with your ranking, too.

"Every college is trying to increase and change the demographic," Gopaul explains. "One of the ways they can change the demographic is they reward high-achieving students financially to come to their school."

Big Earner
Make the most of your work earnings now by stashing your money in an account called a Roth individual retirement arrangement (ask your parents to set up one for you if you're under 18). Often used for retirement savings, a Roth IRA can help you build a war chest for school without having to pay taxes on it.

The account can fund things like books, tuition and room and board. Keep in mind you'll have to pay a fee if you want to take money out for non-educational purposes (unless you hold out until retirement at age 65).

You can also just deposit your money into a savings account.

A Glimmer of Hope
Don't fret if you've gotten a late start on to preparing to pay for college. Eastern Oregon University graduate Jake Olsen was a high-C student during high school who didn't qualify for any scholarships but managed to graduate with his bachelor's degree debt-free.

"Our high school never prepped us for the crippling debt thing that college can do. The discussion of taking out loans and having to pay it back really never came up," says the now 25-year-old office assistant at an Alaska probation office. "It was all about, 'You gotta get into a college,' but they never really discussed the price."

At 19, Olsen looked at the price of EOU and figured he could manage without taking out any loans at all. At the time, the university offered in-state tuition to all its students (you can find similar programs here if you're thinking of going out of state). With help from his parents, and 80-hour workweeks during the summer and other school breaks, he paid for everything upfront.

"Do I regret it?" Olsen wonders. "At that point in time, sitting at that cash register at 1:30 pm, I was hating life, but right now, being out of college, having zero debt to my name, it's actually really nice."

In short, it can be done. You just may have to start earlier than you thought.

Photo by wohnai via cc.

3166085824_d93fe8c5c5.jpgTired of all those New Year's resolutions you can never seem to keep? Don't set yourself up for failure. Here are five money moves that are actually attainable.

Create a Budget
It's kind of like joining a gym -- you've talked about creating a budget, but time after time, laziness has gotten the better of you. It's time to stop the madness and get serious about keeping track of your spending. Create a budget and set up a year's worth of calendar notifications reminding you to check your spending against it each month. Following a budget will help you see where you're overspending and identify more opportunities to save.

Pay Off Holiday Debt
So you racked up a huge credit card bill in your attempt to shower friends and loved ones with holiday cheer. You wouldn't be the first. But don't make the mistake of letting that debt linger all the way into 2017. Instead, commit to paying it off as early as possible. Cut corners, go out less or get a second job for a few months if need be. Do whatever it takes to get the freshest possible financial start to the new year.

Save Your Raise
If you're among the lucky folks getting a raise to welcome the new year, you may be tempted to spend that money on things like electronics, clothing or entertainment. Saving it, however, is a much smarter move. The average employee can expect to receive a three percent raise in the coming year. That figure accounts for rising cost-of-living expenses, but if your company dishes out performance-based pay increases as well, you could be looking at a much higher bump. Unless your rent or another major recurring bill happens to go up at that exact same time, you can capitalize on your pay increase by setting it up to automatically land in your savings account month after month. After all, if you're currently able to live without that extra money, there's a good chance you can continue to do so.

Learn to Cook
Eating at restaurants is fun, and ordering in is easy and convenient. But while both habits are okay as an occasional indulgence, they're less than stellar as a way of life. First of all, restaurant and takeout meals are always going to be more expensive than making food yourself. Plus, when you let somebody else control the ingredients, you're likely to consume more calories than you'd otherwise intend. Here's a better idea: Why not learn to cook some of your favorite meals? You'll save money and feel good about the fact that you're actually using your kitchen for something other than storage. Plus, when you prepare your own food, you can control your portions, which means your new habit will not only be better for your wallet, but for your waistline as well.

Take Care of Your Health
Being healthy isn't just good for your body; it's also good for your bank account. By staying in shape and scheduling your preventative care appointments, you'll be less likely to lose money in the form of medical bills from getting sick and missed work due to illness. You don't need to start training for a marathon or commit to five gym visits per week; even little changes can make a big difference. Walk the half-mile to work instead of riding the bus, or pledge to skip the elevator and take the stairs. You can tone up, lose those extra holiday pounds and save some money to boot.

What money-related resolutions are you hoping to keep this year?

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22962086803_d490ac2470.jpgAfter graduating college it became pretty clear that the "real world" is an expensive place to be (especially if you have student loans to pay back). Even with a job this realization hit me hard. I was quickly forced to do some critical thinking about how I was spending my money and what my budget needed to look like.

So, I decided to give up driving -- or at least avoid it as much as possible. Doing so has made a surprising impact on my budget and has afforded me the ability to pursue new hobbies and experiences that have greatly enriched my life. Here's how it went down:

The Commute
My biking commute ended up being about 7 miles (35 minutes) each direction as opposed to 9 miles (20 minutes) by car. I calculated that I was saving nearly $15 a week in gas and other car-related expenses, like parking, just by riding my bike to work. Although this doesn't sound like much initially, it really started to add up. For instance, having that extra $60 a month in my pocket was enough to pay my portion of the internet bill.

In the U.S., the average personal-vehicle commute is about 11.8 miles and 25 minutes. Depending on the car's gas mileage, the savings accumulated by biking can be really substantial. Furthermore, biking instead of driving has positive impacts on air quality, lowers the number of fatal car accidents and promotes public safety within a city by lowering crime rates.

Bike Life
What many people may not realize is that when you become a bike commuter, you become a part of a community. Most bikers take the same route around the same time every morning, which means you tend to see the same faces over of over. After my first week biking, I constantly received smiles and waves from resident dog-walkers and other locals. While these relationships tend not to develop past that point, that positive interaction can set the tone for the rest of the day.

Plus, at biking speeds you're really able to see a lot more of your city in a completely different way. Biking gives you the time see a new neighborhood or notice small restaurants and businesses that are worth exploring. And multiple economic studies have even linked bikers and bike friendly neighborhoods to significant economic growth and development. Bikes really are good for small businesses.

Other Perks
Choosing to bike also provides a number of amazing monetary benefits outside of cutting down your gas bill. For example: Biking a minimum of 14 miles every day reduced my need to pay for a gym membership. Since I was getting my daily exercise while commuting, I no longer had to take additional time out of my day to exercise, which made getting up earlier much easier.

Additionally, getting regular exercise has been linked to improved mental health including reduced stress and increased productivity. Even when I biked during the winter, I found that my immune system was stronger and I was sick less frequently than my coworkers. That early morning endorphin kick from my commute also made it easier to jump straight into a project without waiting for any caffeine to kick in.

For many people (myself included), biking regularly started out as a chore and a challenge. But after a couple of weeks it became a thoroughly enjoyable part of my day. The added benefit of saving a substantial sum of money on car-related expenses, gym memberships and healthcare made choosing to bike an easy decision and a long-term life goal.

Photo by Richard Masoner via cc.

6848822477_11c5a7dfab.jpgBetween classes, coursework and other school-related responsibilities, finding the time for a part-time job can be difficult. But when you add in the extra expenses for textbooks, rent, groceries and other items you'll need to survive while taking classes, you'll probably need one.

Even if you're already working part-time but find your funds constantly wearing thin, there are ways to maximize your paycheck so you'll have money to pay the bills plus a few extras. Sure, you'll be tired from the lack of hours in your day, but your wallet will thank you. Here's how to get stared.

Open a Checking Account
If you still don't have one, get one. Checking accounts make it easy to see how much money you actually have. You better open a savings account while you're at it. Put away a small chunk of your paycheck and don't touch it. Seriously. If you put just $10 into savings each week, after one year you'll have saved more than $500. That cash could come in handy, especially when the holidays roll around.

Utilize On-Campus Resources
From workout facilities to discounted concerts, the resources available on campus will save you money you'd have to fork out otherwise. Take advantage of on-campus entertainment, including speakers, shows and concerts. Tickets might not be free, but it'll be cheaper than what you would normally pay. And why pay for a tutor when you can work with one for free? Writing and math resource centers and tutors for all subjects are there to help you ace your classes.

Become a pro in the Kitchen
I hate to break it to you, but you're going to have to learn how to cook. And college is the time to experiment, right? Making a sandwich for lunch is much more cost effective than ordering out, and it's healthier. Try buying in bulk and freezing individual servings of your favorite meals. That way, you'll always have food available and won't be as tempted to dine out as often.

Strategize Your Job Hunt
It's inevitable you need to work, but try to find a job where you can get some extra benefits plus a paycheck. Working at a residential restaurant on campus or at another restaurant could get you a free meal once in a while, or at least some sort of discount. A job at your university's bookstore could mean cheaper clothing and textbooks, and working in a retail store could get you discounts on a variety of items.

Every Cent Counts
Remember that piggy bank you used as a kid? Time to bring it out of retirement. Saving loose change and small bills will add up over time, and saving that money regularly could give you a nice financial cushion when you really need it.

Needs vs. Wants
Yes, you need food, but you need money to pay your bills each month, too. Do you really need to eat out twice a week? Or buy a coffee on your way to class each morning? By reevaluating the expenses in your life, you can see where you can cut back and your paycheck will last longer. You don't need to eliminate all of your wants, but reducing how often you indulge will make that extra coffee feel like more of a treat (without the added guilt).

So instead of counting down the days until your next payday, try some of these tips to finance your life like a pro while you're still in school. You might even end up with a little extra to store away -- or spend -- we aren't here to judge.

Photo by 401(K) 2012 via cc

3424691075_ca09d7c57f.jpg

If you're lucky, your wedding was a magical day filled with fine food, festive dancing and lots of generous gifts.

Marrying the love of your life is great and all, but let's be real: There's nothing like the feeling of going through piles of envelopes and tallying up all that dough.

If you're in the enviable position of having accumulated a fair chunk of wedding day change, here are some ways to make the most of it:

Pay Off Wedding Debt
In 2013, the average cost of a wedding was nearly $30,000. If you helped foot the bill for your affair, get ready for those vendor invoices to start rolling in once your wedding is over. Rather than racking up a huge balance on your credit card -- one with unfavorable interest rates that'll cost you more over time -- use your gift money to pay off those expenses.

Put a Down Payment on a Home
Thinking about buying a place? You'll need a decent amount of savings to swing it. In 2014, the average down payment on a home was roughly 14 percent, or $32,000. If you and your spouse are ready to take on the responsibility of homeownership, consider using your wedding gift money to fund what will possibly be the single largest purchase you’ll ever make.

Furnish Your Place
Whether you're looking to buy a home, rent a new apartment or stay where you are, the need for some new furniture will likely come up -- especially if your next place is larger than your current one. These days, even a basic, put-it-together-yourself furniture set can set you back many hundreds of dollars, and unless you're willing to resign yourself to a lifetime of IKEA-style fiberboard, you'll probably want to upgrade some of your existing pieces. You can use your wedding gift money to buy a new bed, replace your beat-up futon with a functional sofa and trade those folding snack tables for a real dining room set.

Buy a Car
Unless you and your spouse are city-bound, you'll probably need a car to get around. But cars are expensive, and financing one means adding a payment to your list of monthly bills. If you've got enough money to work with, consider using that wedding dough to purchase a new car outright. Otherwise, use some of that cash to cover a down payment.

Pay Off Student Loans
Tired of looking at those monthly student loan statements and counting the days (or years) till you'll finally be free of that nagging debt? You can use some of your wedding gift money to knock out a chunk of what you owe. Even if you can't pay off your debt in its entirety, you may be able to shorten the lifespan of your loan so that it goes away sooner rather than later.

Take a Fabulous Honeymoon
Your honeymoon is (hopefully) a once-in-a-lifetime event, so treat yourself to something exceptional. If you're tired of staying in budget motels and booking multi-connection flights to keep costs down, use that gift money to get a taste of the good life. Indulge in a five-star hotel and order room service as you please. Take a direct flight, and if you can't swing first class, at least try upgrading your seats for some added legroom.

No matter what you ultimately choose, before you spend your wedding gift money, sit down with your spouse and discuss how to allocate it. After all, that money is yours to share, and you should use it in a way that makes both of you happy.

Photo by Julian Wylegly via cc.

2312565579_27ea634cf2.jpgAfter I graduated from college, all I wanted to do was travel to Europe. Unlike several of my friends, I didn't study abroad and I unfortunately didn't have family living overseas to help pad some of the travel costs. If I wanted to travel outside of the U.S., it would have to be on my own dime.

So once I got my first job, and after I paid off my student loans, I started planning my trip with one rule -- it had to be cheap. My goal was to spend no more than $2,500 for the whole trip. I knew I would have to make sacrifices, but it be worth it in order to see more of the world without accumulating debt in the process. Here's how you can do it, too.

Find Airfare-Inclusive Packages
Flying internationally doesn't come cheap. In my experience, the cheaper and more convenient option was to utilize a travel agency that offered packaged deals that included round-trip flights. For my travels, I found a great deal for $1,900 that included 14 days, five cities, airfare and Eurail tickets. With those major expenses out of the way, I figured $600 would be plenty for out-of-pocket expenses. Websites like Groupon and LivingSocial usually offer affordable packaged deals for thrifty travelers. Also, it helps to travel during the offseason as cities tend to be less crowded and vacation packages are usually cheaper.

Track What You Spend
Luckily for me, my travel partner was also all about saving money, so it wasn't hard for us to agree on keeping things cheap. We brought snacks from back home, which turned out to be a huge money saver. I recommend bringing granola bars and a sturdy water bottle, especially on days when you'll be doing a lot of walking past tempting bakeries and cafes. I was able to get by using my credit card, but there were definitely times when I spent more than I expected to and then had less to spend in the next city. Personally, I think having more cash on hand would have helped to keep my budget on track since I'd be able to physically see how much I was spending instead of mindless swiping.

Ditch the Euro
We decided to add Hungary and the Czech Republic to our itinerary. Since both countries don't use the euro, but instead use the Hungarian forint and Czech Koruna, this helped our budget tremendously. What we spent on drinks, food and taxi rides was only a fraction of what it cost in other European cities. These were the countries where we bought the most clothing and ate the best food.

The Daily Budget
Before my trip, I had read a blog that suggested budgeting $100 per day for a vacation in Europe. In my opinion, that's overdoing it. For some people, looking at a monument and snapping a picture is satisfying enough. Others don't mind spending the extra dough to hear about the history of the landmark they're visiting (or you know, you could look it up on your phone). Just keep in mind that if you're sticking to a strict budget like we were, you're going to have to make some sacrifices. We gave up touring through the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, but we had two days in Paris and wanted to spend our time seeing other, more wallet-friendly sites. If you're only paying for yourself, then $50 a day is certainly doable. 

Bottom line: If someone tells you Europe is too expensive, just remember that with careful planning and budgeting, it's more than possible to take that dream trip.

Photo by kokorowa shinjin via cc

13903388778_5b429faf5c.jpgThere's something fun and magical about the holiday season that serves as a welcome break from the usual grind. The downside, however, is that once the holidays are over, it's back to reality. That means hitting the gym again, rethinking your budget and, if you're looking for work, embarking on an aggressive job search.

While hiring tends to slow down significantly during the holiday season, once the new year kicks in, companies tend to start looking for new employees. In fact, January is one of the biggest hiring months across major businesses and industries.

The reason is simple: Many companies' hiring budgets refresh once the new year kicks in. That, coupled with new projects and initiatives, means January is a great time to capitalize on job opportunities. Here's how:

Have your resume and cover letters ready to go by the start of the new year. You may prefer to focus more on the festivities than tweaking your resume and writing cover letters, but the key is to be ready to go come the start of January so that you can jump on those new job postings. While you'll probably have to tailor your cover letters to the specific opportunities you're applying for, you can start by putting together some strong basic letters and adjusting their contents accordingly as you go.

Update your LinkedIn profile. If you don't have a LinkedIn profile, create one immediately. And if you do have one, make sure it's as up-to-date as your resume. According to a 2014 study by Jobvite, LinkedIn is the top social network used by recruiters to find job candidates, so be sure to take advantage by keeping your profile current.

Look for jobs daily. January is when the hiring frenzy tends to get into full swing, which means you're likely to see new jobs posted every single day. If you're serious about snagging one, commit to searching on a constant basis. This means checking general career sites like Indeed.com and Monster.com, plus reviewing the career pages for the companies you're most interested in working for.

Network like crazy. Many companies encourage employees to refer qualified candidates for open roles. If you're serious about landing a new job, now's the time to reach out to your contacts and put the word out that you're available for hire. Don't be afraid to exhaust your social and professional networks, as the more people you communicate with, the more opportunities you're likely to find.

Check in with recruiters. Remember that headhunter you met with a couple of months ago? Now's the perfect time to touch base. Most recruiters are eager to start the year off on a strong note, which means getting candidates placed right off the bat.

Read up on your dream companies. You know that company you always dreamed of working at? Now's the time to research it thoroughly. After all, you never know when a job might get posted, and you'll increase your chances of getting hired if you approach the interview process already prepared.

Of course, just because January tends to bring more job openings doesn't mean you'll find one right away, so don't get discouraged if you're still looking come month's end. Remember, too, that companies need time to review and respond to all the resumes they get, so while it's best to be prepared, you may be looking at one of those "hurry up and wait" situations. You may need to strike that ideal balance between being patient and persistent, but with any luck, you'll land the perfect job early on to start 2016 off right.

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