Content marketing is the most effective way to attract people to your brand. If you're just starting out, you're in for a lot of fun. At first, it may seem insurmountable, but before you know it, you'll achieve the glory of successful content marketing.

Marketing techniques, such as content marketing, can take time and dedication to be successful. It's a long-term strategy! To add content marketing as a strategy for your business, you'll want to start with some basic steps, and then scale them as you get more comfortable and advanced.

You'll Need to Come up With Goals and a Mission Statement
Skill Level: Beginner

The Content Marketing Institute reports that the two most essential parts of getting started with this form of advertising is to:

  • Identify your goals
  • Come up with a mission statement

Be as specific as possible. Your goals and mission statement should be measurable, so you can know when your content marketing is working for you. Think about how much of an increase in traffic you want, how much more revenue, etc. You won't know you've succeeded if you don't know where success is.

Tip: This is the fun part, because you are defining your vision! The goals are simply what you want to achieve for your business and the mission statement should be a compilation of what you want and what you want to give your readers.

Plan the Content for a Week, Month, or Longer
Skill Level: Beginner to Moderate

Once you've got your ideas down, it's time to take action. An editorial calendar  can help you plan for holidays, connect topics and organize. While you may find this to be time consuming at first, you'll be in love with it after a couple of months because you'll find that it keeps you moving forward without wasting time trying to think what you're going to write about next.

You can create a simple editorial calendar on Word or Excel. For a more advanced option, you might consider downloading one of the many templates available online.

Tip: Set aside time at the beginning of each month to organize your content. If you're setting up an editorial calendar for the year, you may want to devote an entire afternoon to it. A year-long calendar will be good for bigger items, but give yourself some flexibility, as the industry and your ideas may change over time.

Learn How to Write an Effective Article
Skill Level: Moderate

You may have your goals and editorial calendar, but they won't matter if your content isn't effective.
There are six types of blog posts you should learn how to write:

  • How-To posts. Can be incredibly helpful to readers, especially if you are providing troubleshooting for issues they may be having with your products.
  • List-Based Posts. Give readers several options they can consider when trying to make a decision.
  • Curated Posts. Taking ideas from several different websites, which can be highly valuable to readers since they don't have to visit many sites to find what they need.
  • SlideShare Presentations. For the visual learners out there.
  • Newsjacking Posts. Write about search trends. People are searching for topics, and you're giving them the information they need.
  • Longform Posts. These posts are much longer and more informational than other types. They can be as long as 1,500 words, or even over 2,000 words, depending on your topic.

As you can see in this longform example, the format includes subheadings, bullets, short paragraphs and related images. This helps readers scan the information and then focus in on what's important. Not only do search engines love this type of content because it has a lot of information for their Internet users, readers love it because they get valuable information in one place.

Tip: Writing high quality content takes time. Shorter articles may take you 60 minutes, while longer ones can take as long as two hours or more, including research. As you get better at writing, you'll get faster, but never sacrifice quality for quantity.

Share the Gift of Content
Skill Level: Beginner to Advanced

Treat your content like a gift to be shared and do so on all your social networks. It's also important to make sharing easy for your readers. Many of them will likely want to put it on their feeds, and you can make it easier for them by having social media sharing icons next to your posts.

This has such a wide range of skill level because sharing a link is easy, but knowing what to do on social media to improve your brand can be more challenging. Just start with posting the links and trying to engage with your audience. Through experience, you'll learn what you need to do to get noticed.

Tip: The more time you put in, the more results you'll see.

Repeat for as Long as You're in Business
Skill Level: Advanced

According to SocialTimes, "Unique content is essential for a site's natural Google ranking. Ninety-four percent of search engine users click on organic results compared to six percent on PPC."

It's essential to continue publishing high quality content on your website and sharing it on social media. The more unique the content, the more traffic and brand awareness you'll receive. Each month, you'll have to create an editorial calendar, continue to write effective articles, and give the gift of content.

Tip: At least an hour a day should be devoted to writing and marketing your content on social media.

Remember, content marketing is anything but soft. You need to work hard. The harder you work, the better the rewards. You may not see results in the beginning, but if you keep going, your small business will see the fruits of your labor.

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I spent my first two years of college living in a dorm, and I loved it. It was great having 30 people down the hall to hang out with, study with or enlist as partners in procrastination. And living in a dorm was super convenient. I could roll out of bed and walk to classes (often in my pajamas), and when I was hungry, I'd simply stroll on over to the dining hall, swipe my card and indulge in whatever slop du jour they were dishing out.

Yes, dorm life was good. But it was also expensive, and in many ways not so conducive to learning how to function like an adult. So after doing the dorm thing for a couple of years, my friends and I decided to give living off campus a try, and I'm really glad we did. Here are some of the perks:

It Can Be Cheaper
If you attend college in a place like New York City where $2,000 a month won't buy you more than the equivalent of an insulated cardboard box, dorming may be more cost-effective. But if you go to college out in the sticks, there's a good chance you'll save money by renting a house or apartment and splitting it with friends. These days, you can expect to spend close to $10,000 per year on room and board, but some schools charge $15,000 a year or more. Find a place that accommodates multiple housemates, and you can cut your costs by splitting the rent and utilities.

You Can Make Your Own Rules
Living in a dorm is fun and all, but it does come with certain restrictions. When you rent your own place off campus, you don't have to worry about quiet hours, nor do you have to feel guilty when you'd rather curl up in bed rather than participate in your living hall's weekly social event. You can go crazy turning on halogen lamps and plugging in hot plates, and there won’t be a soul around to write you up for it.

You Get More Living Space
Dorm rooms don't give you much space. Rent a house off campus, on the other hand, and you may wind up with more square footage at your disposal. Another benefit of off campus living is the possibility of snagging your own bedroom, or even your own bathroom--options that usually aren't available in a dorm.

You Have More Food Choices
It may be nice not having to cook, but dining hall food isn't exactly known to be high in quality. And chances are your meal plan isn't all that economical, as you're paying for the convenience of having someone else prepare your food. When you live off campus, you can show off your gastronomic prowess and expand your culinary horizons (well, to an extent--if you're on a budget, you're probably limited to fast food and pizza, but it's far better than dining hall meatloaf).

You'll Be More Prepared for the Real World
Living off campus means doing adult-style things like paying individual utility bills and going grocery shopping. Sure, that stuff can be time-consuming, but it's a good way to get ready for life outside your college campus.

While I highly recommend off campus living, I do suggest waiting till your sophomore or junior year before bidding dorm life adieu. You can always rent a house or apartment with roommates once you enter the working world, but unless you're a student, you won't get a chance to live in a dorm and experience the fun and craziness that comes along with it.

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Ah, summer--the warm weather, longer days and general freewheeling feeling you get, no matter how old you are, that school is most definitely out for the season. There's something fun and refreshing about summertime that makes you want to just soak it all in. But if you're low on funds, summer can feel like a taunting beast--because while your friends are all out there dining at rooftop restaurants and road-tripping their way through the country, you're spending your weekends stuck on the couch, nursing your boredom with an endless stream of bad television reruns.

Yep, it's hard to take advantage of all summer has to offer when you barely have enough money to buy groceries. But worry not. Even if you only have a disturbingly minute amount of wiggle room in your budget, you can still enjoy your fair share of summertime activities. Here are a few that won't set you back financially:

Even if you're not particularly outdoorsy, hiking is an easy way to get out there when the pleasant weather beckons. In case you've never done it before, hiking is basically walking, only with trees around you instead of buildings. Find a trail, pack some water and snacks and spend a few hours in nature. You'll get some exercise while achieving the ever-important goal of getting off the couch and out of the house. Oh, and the best part? It doesn't have to cost you a dime.

If you don't mind roughing it a bit, round up some friends, load up your backpacks and set off for a weekend camping trip. You'll have fun roasting marshmallows, building a bonfire and spending as much time as you like gazing up at the stars. Not up for a trek deep into the woods? Try car camping, which basically involves driving up to a campsite, paying a nominal fee and setting up shop for the night. It's not as authentic as pitching a tent in the middle of the woods, but really, no one's judging.

Minor League Ballgames
For some folks, summer and baseball go hand in hand, but unless you're making serious bucks, you may have to settle for watching your favorite team on TV. These days, the average Major League Baseball ticket price hovers around the $29-mark, and if you live in or near a big city like New York or Boston, that average is more like $50. If you can't swing it, try catching some minor league games instead. Tickets are a fraction of the going MLB rates, and food, drinks and parking also tend to be considerably cheaper. Be on the lookout for promotions courtesy of your local team, from $1 admission to free t-shirt giveaways.

Local Fairs and Festivals
Need something to do on a Saturday afternoon? Check out the festivals happening in your town. You can search online to find local events, from car shows to craft fairs. Most festivals charge little or no money to get in and often feature live music and other free entertainment.

Movies in the Park
Sure, you could pop a movie in your DVD player and grumble about it. Or, you could gather some friends, pack a picnic basket and make a night of it with a free movie outdoors. It won't be a new release, but you may discover an old classic you never knew existed.

Remember, you can have fun this summer even if you're on an extremely tight budget. And with the right company, even the simplest activity, like walking on the beach, can make for a memorable experience.

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You've seen the commercials or driven past one of many car lots in town and there it is: that shiney, new car you want. You imagine yourself in it, how cool you'll look driving it and how you'll be the envy (and chauffeur) of all of your friends. Yes, having a car is all about independence, freedom and access, but acquiring a car is not only about looking cool. You have to take into consideration necessities like gas, maintenance and insurance.

My first car, a black 2002 Dodge Avenger coupe, was being sold at a local auction, and I was hoping for a good deal. The sticker price was $5000. However, I was able to negotiate the price to around $3800 including all fees. I put down $1000 and financed the rest over a 3-year period. Here's how I did it.

Price/Maintenance (and additional fees) - The car's price can help you to budget for maintenance costs. The more expensive the car, the more expensive its parts (i.e. Mercedes vs. Nissan). Before I purchased my car, I factored my expenses into my monthly budget: car payment, gas, insurance, savings, rent, etc., which helped me determine what I could afford. I also did my research using websites like, which tells you the car's value, based on mileage and other factors, as well as price comparisons on to ensure I would pay a fair price.

Insurance - You need it before you can drive the car off the lot. The amount of insurance you will pay depends on factors such as age, the type of car and its price and repair costs.

You shouldn't choose an insurance company based on the lowest premium, but on what the policy covers should something happen to you, your passengers and/or the car. I was under 25 at the time (rates for drivers under 25 are high because they're at a higher risk for accidents), and my grandparents offered to put me on their policy. To help with costs, I also took a six hour defensive driving course which took ten percent off my grandparent's insurance premium.

Gas/MPG - The MPG is the number of highway miles you can drive on one gallon of gas. This is important when factoring in gas, which you may need to fill up on regularly (depending on how often you drive).

Safety - How safe is this car? How well did it match up amongst other vehicles in its class? Does it have all the safety features that you need to feel secure?

Credit Score - To be able to finance 100 percent ($0 down) or one percent, with a low interest rate, your credit score should be at least 650 or higher.

Job Stability - Remember, If you lose your job you are still responsible for your monthly car payment.

Down Payment -You want to make sure that your down payment is at least a $1000 or ten percent of the asking price. Anything less won't make a dent in your monthly payments. For every $1,000 that is financed, you pay $17 to $29 toward your monthly payment.

The Purchase - Utilize resources that can help you with bargaining, auto loan terminology, numbers and getting the best deal possible.

I loved this car! I kept it for one year then traded it in for something newer. It got me from A to Z and everywhere in between. I traveled up and down the East Coast and enjoyed every minute of it. May your new purchase take you places and give you experiences that you will remember for a lifetime.

Happy Shopping and travel safely!

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Well, you did it. You've graduated and been accepted to your dream college. So now what? Even though you have the whole summer ahead of you to get ready for this next chapter, getting ready to go away for school does require some planning ahead.

For me, living in a dorm was sort of like one awesome extended sleepover. Unfortunately, it also costs a heck of a lot more than I expected just to move into my dorm room in the first place. If you're heading off to college for the first time, make sure to plan accordingly. You'll need a bunch of new stuff, and it's going to cost you some money.

Thinking of raiding your parents' linen closet instead of buying new bedding? Think again. Most college dorm beds require extra-long sheets--the type your folks aren't likely to have. Taking stuff like pillows and blankets from home isn't a great idea either. If you haul it all away to college, it won’t be there when you come home to visit, and lugging a comforter back and forth just isn't going to work. Your best bet is to buy new bedding, and you can expect to spend at least $75 for a basic set.

Sure, you'll probably spend a fair amount of time studying and going out with friends, but you'll still want some basic entertainment in the comfort of your dorm room. This means there's a good chance you'll need to buy a TV, and probably a DVD player to go along with it. These days, you can score a DVD player for as little as $30-40, but a decent TV might cost you $400 or more.

Your room and board fees should cover a basic meal plan, but what happens when you get hungry at 3:00 in the morning during an all-night study session? Midnight (or post-midnight) munchies are common among college students, and to indulge your craving, you'll need to invest in a mini fridge. Some schools have these available for rent, but that might cost you almost as much as buying your own. Most models start around $65. Throw in a microwave, and you're looking at over $100 to ensure a steady supply of food and snacks.

A New Laptop
The laptop you used throughout high school--you know, the one whose battery dies after 12 minutes--probably isn't going to cut it once you get to college. You're going to have notes to type up during class and papers to write, so you'll need a reliable laptop from the start. While you can go cheaper, the average laptop will run you about $600. Throw in a printer, and you're looking at another $100.

New Clothing
You'll need to invest in a new wardrobe if you're going away to school in a different area of the country. If you're headed for a warmer climate, you'll need to stock up on shorts and, if you're lucky, beachwear. On the other hand, if your school is known for its harsh (or in my case, extended) winters, you'll need to purchase snow boots, warm clothing and a serious supply of gloves.

A Car
Some colleges don't allow freshmen to have cars on campus, but if yours does, and there's no public transportation in town, you may be tempted to buy one. Even a used vehicle can cost several thousand dollars, so be sure to have a decent chunk of money on hand before you go car shopping.

Preparing for college can be stressful on many levels, but try not to let the cost of everything wreck what should otherwise be an exciting summer. Budget accordingly, and with any luck, you'll get all the stuff you need to start off on the right foot.

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Even in situations where you sort of expect it, getting laid off can be a major sucker punch right to the gut. In fact, some people say getting laid off is worse than getting fired for cause -- because while getting sacked for poor performance isn't great for one's career, at least it sort of makes the whole dismissal thing justifiable. A layoff, however, is a totally different beast, and a cruel one at that. Getting laid off can hurt even more because you didn't do anything to deserve it, and in those first few jobless weeks, adjusting to your new reality can be a tricky mental process. Here are some tips to get you through it.


  • File for unemployment benefits immediately
  • Review your severance agreement, and make sure you understand its terms
  • Consult an attorney if circumstances surrounding your layoff seem shady or if the terms of your severance agreement seem ambiguous or unfairly skewed in your company's favor
  • Get dressed every day, even if you're not planning to leave the house
  • Leave the house (fresh air will do you good)
  • Reach out to contacts both recent and old
  • Tell your friends what happened (they'll want to offer moral support)
  • Dust off your résumé and put it out there
  • Drown your sorrows in ice cream if that's what you need to make it through
  • Get away for a few days if you can afford to because a change of scenery will help clear your head


  • Take it personally (sometimes layoffs happen to good, hard-working people)
  • Sign your severance agreement without fully understanding its terms
  • Underestimate the power of staying positive
  • Ignore former coworkers who reach out
  • Keep the news to yourself; you never know who may know of a job opportunity
  • Badmouth your old company on social media
  • Lie about what happened during interviews
  • Pretend your bills don't exist (calculate your severance and unemployment benefits and rework your budget accordingly)
  • Spend your days doing nothing but watching TV; use this time productively
  • Stop showering

While getting laid off is a tough blow on many levels, it could also be a great opportunity to start fresh with a new company. Use your time off to research job openings on search engines specifically designed for open positions like and Take the time to utilize other free, online options to help boost your resume or online portfolio; it will only help you to put your best foot forward once you find a job you're qualified for.

Before you know it, you'll be gainfully employed once again, and your layoff will be nothing but a distant, albeit unpleasant, memory.

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You can't put your finger on it, but things in the workplace just don't seem right. Rumors are flying, and several of your coworkers have hinted that they're worried about their jobs. Is a layoff in your future? If so, you're not alone. Between 2009 and 2014, about 20 percent of the workforce was laid off--almost 30 million people in total.

Getting laid off doesn't mean you're doing a bad job, or that your boss doesn't consider you valuable. Sometimes even top performers find themselves on the unwanted end of a dismissal letter, and often, it's a matter of finances and logistics more so than anything else.

If you're concerned that a layoff may be in your future, here are some signs to look out for:

Big projects are being paused or scrapped. Whether it's your project or that of another team, if your company is suddenly putting the brakes on major initiatives, it could mean that layoffs are imminent.

Your budget has been cut. It's one thing if you're being asked to be more mindful of project costs. But if your budget is suddenly slashed, it could indicate that your company is looking to make some unwanted changes.

Your responsibilities are being shifted to other employees. It could be that teams are changing, or that your boss is trying to free up your time to allow you to focus on new initiatives. But if it seems like you're systematically being stripped of your usual tasks, it could mean that your position is on its way to being eliminated.

Your meeting calendar has suddenly lightened up. You used to dread all those weekly meetings, but suddenly your schedule is suspiciously wide open. It could be a sign that you're on your way out.

You're asked to write up a job description and/or train coworkers on what you do. It could be that your boss knows how much you do and wants backup in case you're unexpectedly out sick or decide to go on vacation. But it could also signal an impending layoff.

Your manager is being distant and evasive. You used to be able to speak openly with your boss, but suddenly he or she can't seem to look you in the eye or give you a straight answer about anything pertaining to scheduling or long-term projects. It could mean that your manager knows something you don't (and feels bad about it too).

Of course, just because some--or all--of these things are happening at your workplace doesn't mean you're about to be let go. Budget cuts or halted projects, for example, could be a simple matter of shifting priorities within your organization. But if you're worried about a layoff, take these steps:

  • Provided that it's legal to do so, save copies of company files or documents you've worked on so that you have a record of your accomplishments.
  • Get personal contact information for colleagues with whom you'd like to stay in touch.
  • Request a copy of your most recent performance review for your records.
  • Update your resume so that it's ready in case you need to start sending it out.
  • Refresh your LinkedIn profile. If you don't have a LinkedIn profile, create one. Yesterday.

Remember, getting laid off is by no means the same thing as getting fired. While it's hard not to take it personally, if it does happen, try to leave on the best possible terms. You never know who might be willing to help you land a new job or serve as a reference, so be sure to exit gracefully and respectfully.

Stay tuned for the dos and don'ts if you get the ax.

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You worked your tail off, clocking in long hours and answering more 2 a.m. emails than you'd like to remember. Your last performance review was outstanding, and coworkers are constantly singing your praises. But when a higher position opened up--one for which you were most certainly in the running--your company opted to offer it to someone else. Now you're bitter about it, and understandably so.

Being passed over for a promotion you thought you deserved is a tough thing to shake off. And while slacking off or taking some retaliatory sick days following the announcement may seem like appropriate actions to take, your best bet is to remain professional in the face of disappointment.

Here are a few specific things you should do:

Express Your Displeasure, but Do so Respectfully
If you have a good relationship with your boss, request a meeting to discuss the situation at hand. Be honest and explain why you felt you deserved that promotion. Don't be accusatory or confrontational, as that will only put your boss on the defensive. Instead, ask for specific reasons why you ultimately weren't chosen for the role so that you can work to address them and perhaps come out ahead the next time a higher position opens up.

Seek Advice From Trusted Coworkers
Being passed over for a promotion can be a real blow to your confidence. Talk it out with colleagues you trust and ask for their input. While your boss is probably in the best position to provide insight as to what went on behind the scenes, it never hurts to solicit your coworkers' opinions on the matter. Even if you can't do much with the information, it may help you feel better about the situation. Don't, however, badmouth the person who got the role you wanted. You never know who might spill the beans.

Improve Your Skills
The decision to promote a colleague in your place could be an annoying matter of office politics. Or, it could mean that the coworker in question really is better qualified. To increase your chances of getting promoted the next time an opportunity arises, work on your skills--all of them. Keep in mind that as you climb the ladder, interpersonal relationships become all the more important. So if you work in IT and are an expert coder but have a reputation of being blunt and unfriendly, take steps to communicate better with those around you.

Support the Person Who Did Get the Job
It's not easy being a gracious loser, but it's the right thing to do in a professional environment. The last thing you want to do is get on the bad side of a person higher up than you on the chain. Offer your congratulations after the announcement is made, and reaffirm your ongoing commitment to your team, even if you're secretly plotting your exit strategy.

Update Your Resume
Just because your company opted not to promote you doesn't mean you can't score a similar position in another organization. If you truly feel that your company's decision was completely unfair and unjustifiable, start shopping around for a better opportunity. But if you do land an interview, don't point to your lack of promotion as your primary reason for leaving. You'll come off as resentful and possibly immature.

Losing out on a promotion can be a real blow to your ego, but try not to let it get you down. Keep doing the great job you've been doing, and with any luck, the next time around the stars will align in your favor.

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The stock market is complicated. Most people only invest through their 401k or IRA retirement plans. It takes a person obsessed with money, or at least numbers, to truly enjoy watching the stock market. From afar it's just a bunch of meaningless graphs and charts, but there's a lot more to it than that.

What Is Wall Street?
A stock exchange is a marketplace for companies to sell shares of their stock to investors who wish to buy it. This is why it's called the stock market. When you purchase a stock, you're investing money in them with the expectation that they will turn a profit with the money you gave them. The two largest stock exchanges (the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ) are located on a street in New York City called Wall Street, which has become a ubiquitous term to describe any stock market.

The NYSE and NASDAQ stock exchanges are basically the Wal-Mart or Amazon of stocks. Indices such as the Dow Jones Industrial Average or Standard & Poor's 500 are tracking certain industry segments within those exchanges. Investing in these companies is typically the smart long-term investment strategy, though investment firms like Fidelity often further segment these companies to provide simple investments.

Penny Stocks Are the Minor Leagues of Wall Street
Companies not listed on the major stock exchanges can still be publically traded. There's nothing to stop me or you from investing in any company we wish--we just have to accept the higher risk associated with these stocks. It's called a penny stock because it can be purchased for under $5 a share as opposed to a company like Apple, which ended trading at $129 at the time of this writing.

Apple is valued at $129 per share because they have a market value of approximately $700 billion. You can invest in the company resting assured it won't just disappear with your money. We mostly know what to expect from Apple's leadership, as they make decisions under intense media scrutiny. A penny stock company, however, is an unknown business that can easily disappear tomorrow, leaving investors empty handed.

Why Choose Penny Stocks
There are two groups of people who typically invest in penny stocks. Some people are speculative traders who love moving investments around multiple times per day to take advantage of second-by-second market fluctuations for a quick profit.

When guessed correctly, a penny stock pump-and-dump investment can multiply 100 times (meaning your initial $1 investment is now worth $100). Losses can happen at any given moment, however, so speculative traders often spend days sifting through numbers and looking for patterns. Speculative trading is tightly regulated due to the risk of fraud.

The others are the naïve investors who get fast-talked by high pressure financial advisors. This is the basis of the movie The Wolf of Wall Street. Teams of phone salesmen were fed a script and pressured people to move their retirement investments from the safe stock exchanges of Diagon Alley to the shady penny-stock markets of Knockturn Alley.

Understanding the risk of penny stocks, if you still want to take the risk, drop the penny stock terminology and start searching for Over-the-Counter markets. OTC markets like the OTC Bulletin Board offer a wide variety of these risky stock investments. Like any other form of gambling, the possibility exists to either make a huge profit or lose your shirt. Just learn from Jordan Belfort’s mistake and don’t get greedy, or the Feds will come knocking.

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The great thing about traveling on your own or with friends is that you don't have to worry about your parents calling the shots. When you go away without your folks, you won't have to deal with mandatory sibling bonding or countless dorky family photo shoots along the way. Instead, you'll be able to kick back, relax and stick to your own agenda.

On the other hand, there's a major benefit to traveling with your parents: not having to pay. Vacationing on your own means covering all the costs involved, and if this is the first trip you're funding without outside help, you'll need to plan accordingly. Here's what your first vacation budget should include:

Will you be flying? Driving? Renting a car? Transportation may be your single biggest expense, so you'll need to account for every aspect of getting around. If, for example, you're flying to another city where you don't need a car to see the sights, you'll still need a way to get to and from the airport. And if you're driving to your destination, you'll need to budget for gas, tolls and parking fees.

Whether you'll be staying at a nice resort or an inexpensive motel, your lodging costs may not be limited to the nightly rate you're quoted at booking. Most hotels charge for things like Internet and laundry service. Also keep in mind that it's customary to tip hotel staff, especially housekeeping and bellhops, so include a line item in your budget for gratuities.

Entertainment and Activities
You're not going on vacation just to sit around and do nothing. As you create your budget, think about the specific activities you want to do while you're away. If you're visiting a city, be sure to include things like museum visits and theater tickets. If your trip is more adventure-based, factor in the cost of activities like zip lining and river rafting. Even if you're planning a beach vacation that's purely relaxing in nature, you may incur fees for water sports or lounge chair rentals.

Even if you stick to fast food and diners, the cost of eating while on vacation can be considerable. This especially holds true if you're heading for a "foodie destination," where eating at local restaurants is an integral part of the experience.

Travel Insurance
Though you can technically do without it, travel insurance offers protection against unexpected hiccups, from flight delays to medical care while you're away. Travel insurance typically costs about four to 10 percent of your prepaid expenses (such as flight and hotel) but can save you a considerable amount of money in the event of a missed connection or stolen luggage.

Stuff You'll Need for Your Trip
You may need to stock up on supplies depending on the type of trip you're taking. If you'll be skiing for a week and don't have heavy-duty gloves and a face mask, you'll need to purchase some gear to avoid frostbite. Headed someplace tropical? You'll need plenty of sunscreen, and perhaps some additional beachwear. And don't forget to buy a suitcase that's easy to maneuver. You don't want to be lugging a beat-up duffel bag through airport security.

You deserve a memento from your travels. Though small souvenirs like t-shirts and key chains aren't particularly pricey, if you're buying stuff to give out back home, the cost can really add up.

Planning and saving for your first parent-free vacation takes work. The reward? Getting to travel on your own terms and knowing that this time around, you really earned it.

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