HuffPost Live recently featured a segment on living a fulfilling life alone, which included a neuroscientist illustrating the positive impacts of breaks and vacations have on our brains. Luckily, our twenties are a time in our lives when we're free. We're freshly graduated and facing the world with a clean slate (student loans aside). But we're also facing pressure from family and peers to work hard and climb the ladder.
Instead of falling in line to join the rat race, however, I recommend taking a year off to travel and discover yourself. Exposing ourselves to different cultures is an important part of maturing, and we don't even have to leave the country. Take an extended road trip through different cultures; Just pack up your car and hit the road.
The American melting pot
Accents and regional slang aside, we all speak the same language, and since we share a POTUS, it's easy to assume everyone's experience is just like yours. When we take the time to experience travel beyond hotel swimming pools in another city, however, we begin to appreciate how different we all truly are. Someone growing up in Moab, Utah has a very different experience than someone growing up in Compton, Calif. Have you ever even seen Idaho or New York? Have you seen the wide array of landscapes within our borders? A year of traveling America offers a valuable insights into socioeconomics, culture, tolerance, and diversity.
If you've never left the town or state you grew up in aside from a weekend, you've never had time to discover who you truly are. Part of discovering ourselves is facing the world completely alone. When we remain stagnant, we begin to rest on the laurels of our reputations. Traveling to a new place resets our reputation. We begin to be judged by our present actions alone.
Seize the day while you're in your prime
As a young person, we are essentially at the peak of your existences, even if we reach the singularity. It's the time when we're at our prime physical conditions. There's no denying, everything gets physically harder after that as your body and mind deteriorate. Life is a gift, and time rolls on, despite what you do with it. At the end of our lives, do we think we'll most regret not keep up with the Kardashians or that we only ever saw planet earth on Blu-ray?
The economy is tough, and pressure is building on the younger generations to get a job and help hold everything up. Every job market is competitive, though, and we'll make ourselves more marketable by spending that year traveling instead of in a cubicle. We'll have time for responsibility later.
Decorating your first apartment can be a challenge. You just spent a ton of money on deposits and other fees, which doesn't leave you with much cash to furnish the place. Fortunately, second-hand stores are a treasure trove of potential. But even if you get all your furniture and home decor at a thrift store, your apartment doesn't have to look like one. Here are some tips on how to score the best deals that will make it look like an adult actually lives in your place.
Start with a theme. Think about the style that suits you or a color scheme you like. If you have a general idea of what you're looking for, it'll be easier weed out the good from the bad. Shopping with these ideas in mind will help your new place look a little more put together in the end.
Patience is the key to success. You don't need to rush out and buy the first couch or dining table you see. Take some time looking for pieces of furniture that you actually like and see yourself using for a long time. Look for quality items - couches with good springs, tables without wobbly feet, dishes that aren't chipped or cracked, and so on. Make sure to pay attention to colored-tag sales too, for an extra bargain. By taking your time and looking at all your available options, you avoid putting a large dent in your checking account over things you might not want later on and will slowly acquire things you actually find attractive.
An open mind brings creativity. Don't fret if you can't find exactly what you want. If you're crafty and don't mind a little do-it-yourself, why not make over something with a little potential by painting, staining, or reupholstering it? You could also make your own art for the walls so they're more welcoming and not so bare.
The lowly knick knack. Little details go a long way toward making any residence feel homier and lived in. Plus, they add a ton of personality. Classics like vases or candles are always a nice touch, but don't underestimate the power of a bizarre sculpture to really make a statement. Thrift stores are excellent places to look for trinkets because there's usually a wide variety and it's all fairly inexpensive.
It's good to remember that you don't have to stick solely to second-hand stores - look also at yard sales, estate sales, flea markets, Craigslist, or FreeCycle. Decorating from scratch while on a budget takes time and patience, but the end result is something you can take pride in. Not to mention, you'll be excited to show off your cool new pad to all your friends.
Airbnb, a community marketplace for shared housing, is the tip of the iceberg for renters turning the renter's conundrum on its head.
No, you aren't a homeowner yet. And no, you haven't yet squirreled away the funds necessary to close on the condo of your dreams. You rue the idea of renting with nothing to show for it. So what do you do? Subletting can be a profitable option for those who travel, live with their significant other, or are interested in supporting the sharing economy.
Know the law
If you decide to sublet a property, know the law. No matter where you reside, it is illegal if the owner does not give you permission to sublet the property. Simple as that. But there are other instances where it is illegal regardless of if you secure the owner's permission. In New York, for example, you can't lease the property for more than the legal rent plus 10% additional fee if the property is furnished, even with the permission from the owner. Sure, that may put a damper on your dreams of big profits, but rent it all the same with furnishings and 10% profit is yours. It is also technically illegal to rent a property in New York City for less than 30 days.
In the United Kingdom, however, subletting is a slippery slope. A litany of cases have sprang up where people have sublet council houses (government subsidized estates) at the taxpayer's expense. Subletting property normally reserved for low-income families is a crime that even has embroiled the likes of Madonna. Some tenants have made a profit of nearly 1000£ a week ($1669.15) subletting council estates.
How to sublet your apartment
The Internet is a gold mine of resources for subletters. Popular resources include Craigslist, Airbnb, and sublet.com. You can forgo the red tape and legal babble of drafting a drawn out renter's agreement and simply announce your "property" online. The steps are easy:
• Register and sign up on the subletting site.
• Post at least three good photos of the property.
• Describe the size in square feet or meters and how the apartment is equipped (full bath, bedroom, kitchen, etc).
• Specify the duration of availability for renting.
• Include the rental and deposit fees.
Another great place to advertise your space is at local colleges and universities. Some schools keep lists of off-campus housing and have resources for student renters.
To keep everything above board, create a sublet agreement form. Avoid other unnecessary hassles by requesting all rental payments via bank transfer: You'll have bank records of all transactions between you and the tenant. Paying in cash is great until you realize no infallible record of payments really exists between you and the tenant.
Some offline steps to cover your bases include notifying the owner of the agreement via certified mail. If a tenant trashes your flat, you're fully armed to prosecute in a court of law with your sublet agreement and documented correspondence with the flat owner. Your bank records will also serve as proof of tenancy or negligence to pay on the part of the tenant.
Subletting can be a great way to cash in on an empty apartment. Be smart, and know your options.
Years ago, before the housing bubble burst in the ugliest of fashions, it wasn't uncommon for unmarried individuals in their mid-to-late 20s to purchase homes on their own. Today, however, buying a home on one income is much less feasible. Securing a home loan isn't as easy as it used to be. Lenders are now imposing stricter requirements and scrutinizing credit histories like never before. Furthermore, in today's wishy-washy economy, job security can be pretty dang illusive, and many young people are undesirable loan candidates if they've moved from company to company.
Millennials are taking a new approach to home ownership: Instead of attempting (and quite possibly failing) to purchase property on their own, they're rounding up friends to serve as investment partners. In some cases, two friends purchase homes jointly and either live there together or rent it out; in other cases, groups of three or more pool their resources to buy.
Buying a home with friends can be a wise move financially and logistically, but be aware of the drawbacks.
Coming up with the down payment
If you can't swing 20% down on your own, enlisting friends a good alternative—because if you don't come up with that 20%, you can get hit with PMI (private mortgage insurance), which translates into a costly premium on top of your monthly mortgage payment.
Sharing the financial and logistical responsibilities
Owning a home with friends means you'll have more resources to cover maintenance costs and perform general upkeep. If your home has a lawn that needs to be mowed weekly and the sole homeowner, you'll need to either a hire a service (which can be expensive) or carve out several hours each week to get the work done. Co-owners, however, can divvy up the work.
Peace of mind
Even the most seemingly stable work situations can sometimes fall apart. If you suddenly find yourself out of work and you're the only one responsible for paying the mortgage, you can quickly run into trouble. But if you have at least one other partner in ownership, you'll have someone who's invested in helping to cover your share until you're back on your feet financially.
Counting on others
Sure, it's nice to have co-owners to fall back when you encounter a financial hiccup, but that cuts both way. When the roles are reversed, it'll be your own personal resources getting drained in an attempt to avoid delinquent payments or foreclosure.
The more parties involved with a home purchase, the more cumbersome the paperwork will be. This could make the closing process more stressful and time-consuming, and you may incur additional legal costs to have added documents drawn up.
Having to vacate your home down the line
When you buy a home on your own, it's yours. Period. If you buy a home with friends, however, mine becomes ours. Well, what happens when you decide to get married? If you all have an equal stake in the home, chances are you'll have no choice but to move. And if you need your friends to buy you out in order to do so, you could wind up losing money if you've yet to build up equity i and the market is weak.
The bottom line
If you do decide to buy jointly with others, be smart about choosing your co-owners. The more reliable and financially secure they are, the less likely you are to regret your decision down the line.
Long before TLC’s “Extreme Couponing” got everyone hyped up on saving money by clipping coupons and building a big grocery stockpile, many people were already reaping the benefits of saving money with coupons or online saving tools. I've watched the shows, I still have questions: Do I need all of those items? Do I have space for them?
While the shows or websites about extreme couponing may inspire us to join the coupon band wagon, we don’t need to go overboard and fill our pantries and cabinets with items that we may have to learn to love or don’t need. Instead of bowing to the Gods of extreme couponing, here are some ways to avoid becoming an “over-the-top” couponer and save both time and space for items you need:
- Don’t carry reward or store cards on a key ring or a compartment in your vehicle. Retailers have made it easy by offering a phone app. You can also organize the so you won’t have to go thumbing through the phone or search for your favorite store.
- Check sale advertisements for the items you need and then search to find any coupons or deals. By searching only for the products or items you need, you can avoid wasting time going through papers or circulars that don’t have what you are looking for.
- Save time and money by printing the coupons you need for one shopping trip. Online websites such as Coupons.com, Grocerycoupons.com, Redplum.com, and Couponmom.com are great resources to print coupons that can be used at the checkout. Also, signing up on retailer websites can provide discounts and coupons for products and items to buy in the store or online.
- Why pay more at the gas pump when trying to cut the fat off your food budget? The time and gas you use to go down the road to another store with better deals is more cost-saving and friendly to your bottom line.
- Knowing the shopping lingo will equal monster savings. You don’t need to have a sharp extreme-coupon eye to know the words that take you to savings heaven. Just know the difference between a store coupon (one generated from the register or the blinkies at the store) or a manufacturer coupon (one that comes from the newspaper or online shopping sites).
- Score big with clearance items. Stores will have a huge markdown on items that are getting ready to expire or may have not sold. Non-extreme couponers can capitalize on the savings on buying items that have been marked down. Also, coupons can be used for items that have been put on clearance.
City living can be notoriously expensive, especially in major metro areas. In recent years, staggering rent prices have tempted many to flock to the suburbs for wide-open spaces and cheaper housing. But before you pack up your apartment, consider that while housing itself may be cheaper outside city limits, suburban living overall can be just as expensive as city living.
The cost of housing in the suburbs will often be cheaper than its nearby city counterpart, and as a bonus, you’ll probably score a lot more space. In Manhattan, the average apartment costs $3,300 a month to rent, while Brooklyn apartments costing $2,800 a month. But in nearby New Jersey, you can snag a two-bedroom rental for $1,400. Even owning can be cheaper on the basis of a mortgage and property tax payment alone. The average monthly mortgage payment in NJ is about $1,200 per month, and Jersey homeowners pay an average of $525 monthly in taxes. Whether you rent or own, you can save a good $1,300 on housing – but housing is only part of the equation.
Many people who live in cities also work in cities. Keeping your once you move to the ‘burbs, however, might cost you. In NYC, a monthly, unlimited MetroCard costs $112, whereas a monthly transit pass from NJ to NYC costs more than $300 on average. On top of that, count on needing a car, which could cost an extra $250-$500 a month for your loan payment, $150 a month for insurance, and $50-$100 a month for maintenance. All in, your transportation costs can increase by $650-$950 per month by moving to the suburbs, and that doesn’t even include gas, parking, and tolls.
If you buy a suburban home, expect your maintenance and utility costs to go up significantly. It’s cheaper to heat and cool a small city apartment than a large house. Property maintenance is also spendy: Lawn care can cost almost $100 per month, and gutter cleaning, at an average of $185 a pop. And if you move to a place where sewer usage and trash pickup are your responsibility, your expenses will go up even more. Insurance costs also increase: renters insurance costs $15-25 a month on average, but homeowners insurance costs $75.
There's less activity and hubs of entertainment in the suburbs, which means one of two things: You'll either be doing less painting of the town and saving money or you'll be trekking to the city more and spending cash on transportation. Ordering food in the suburbs is also more expensive because many places charge delivery fees, which is not a common practice in most cities. Over the course of a year, these luxuries can add up.
The bottom line
Moving to the suburbs may save you on housing costs, but factor in increased transportation, maintenance, and entertainment costs before you make the big move.
Free to post job listings and free to search, Craigslist is often the first stop for any jobseeker. Luckily, there's usually no shortage of options: Craigslist receives more than 1 million new job listings each month.
The question is how to intelligently navigate Craigslist.
Craigslist can be a great way to discover companies, but it's also a free posting board for individuals. Freelancers and private contractors who respond to those ads are most at risk for scams, dangerous meetups, and risky payment plans.
How to protect yourself.
You shoot your résumé and samples to the anonymous Craigslist email URL, and they want to hire you? Hold on, tiger. Don't buy it.
Since Craigslist is unregulated and free for all, Craigslist scams run amok. Be smart and follow these tips.
- Ask questions, and feel out if you're a victim of a scam. If your contact ignores your questions but responds with vague wording and immediate instructions, it's probably a robot programmed for identity theft.
- Research the employer's name. If your contact claims to run local businesses or be an active community member but doesn't have a shred of online presence or media coverage, get out. Follow your instincts, and never proceed with anything unless you're 100% confident the employer is legit.
- Watch out for ridiculously high wages, easy labor, telecommuting, and employers who are "currently out of the country" and can't meet or talk on the phone.
- Above all, don't give out personal information (especially bank account or social security information) or unpublished samples; only include your email and phone number on your résumé. Don't ever send money for training kits or pay for background or credit checks.
- A good rule of thumb is don't agree to anything or begin a project before you meet.
Arrange a safe meeting.
Follow these safety precautions when meeting a contact from Craigslist.
- Have a phone conversation prior to meeting. Get a feel for the person's personality, and record your observations. Male or female? Young or old? Make sure the individual you meet matches your phone contact.
- Tell several people about the meeting: where you'll be and when you plan to be home. Arrange to have someone check in with you.
- Meet your contact in a public place and bring a friend if possible.
- If you feel uncomfortable, don't feel pressured to sign anything or complete hiring information.
- It's never too late to say, "No thanks" and get the heck out of there. Take that coffee to go, and have an exit strategy.
- Lastly, don't ever get in a car with a stranger. Your mom was right.
Ensure an enforceable payment plan.
Freelancers and private contractors working with individuals have no legal recourse to collect payment for their services without a contract, so make sure to cover your bases.
- Draft a payment agreement with specific terms and clear project expectations for both parties (including method of payment and deadlines). Have it notarized. After all, this contract is your main source of employee protection as a freelancer or private contractor. Don't compromise.
- Use secure payment methods like PayPal, and don't accept checks.
- Agree to collect payments frequently if paid by the hour, and don't complete the next week's work until you receive payment for the previous week (include that in your contract); if you're getting a flat project payment, remember the third-third-third rule: require a third of the payment up front as a deposit of good faith; a third when it's halfway completed; and a third upon completion.
- Keep records of everything: meetings, contacts, payments, hours, projects, etc.
There's nothing more stressful than job-hunting. Most of us need steady paychecks to pay our bills, and we panic when we don't know how to make ends meet. But landing a job isn't an easy feat with a high population, qualified work force, and applicant tracking systems. Worse yet, it's usually about who you know that gets you the job, and that means a job search can stretch into a few lean months or years.
Enter staffing agencies, often the jobseeker's last resource. The staffing industry is big business, raking in $122 billion in 2013 with 35,000 offices nationwide, according to the American Staffing Association.
But how do staffing agencies work?
Companies wanting to skip the dirty work of sifting through applicants hire employment agencies to do it for them. Usually the agencies run the background checks, screen applications, hold preliminary interviews, and administer testing. Since job agencies receive payment from successful placements, they try to place the best employees for those positions.
While ads for specific jobs can be posted on Craigslist or job posting sites and direct jobseekers to the staffing agencies, most jobseekers appeal to employment agencies to help find them any job. After you fill out a general application with your job history, references, and availability (usually online), a representative usually contacts you and lets you know if your skills and availability match any current openings. Some smaller agencies conduct an interview right away to screen applicants and make notes in your file, and some will have you complete certain testing if you're skilled in a certain area, like clerical work.
The premise is a good one: Since finding a job is often about who you know, staffing agents serve as representatives who can vouch for you. According to the American Staffing Association, staffing firms placed 11 million employees in 2013, which means they must be doing something right.
An equally great benefit of staffing agencies is 90% of companies provide free training. 51% of human resource managers said they couldn't find qualified candidates for open positions in 2013, so free job training is a valuable service.
What are the cons?
Some staffing agencies can be big, and you can get lost as a number. And trust me: Even a staffing agency can neglect to call you back. Choose smaller agencies, which are better at meeting with you in person and taking an interest in your skill set.
The biggest con, however, is some agencies take a chunk of your paycheck. How? Usually companies pay the agency and the agency handles payroll. To pay the agency for its services, the company pays a percentage on top of your salary to the agency. However, if the agency keeps the employee wage a secret or if it gets the employee to agree to a lower wage, it keeps the difference. Make sure you understand the agency's pay system, and try to work with a firm that doesn't toy with the poor man's dollar.
What happens when you've found someone you really like, but you're more than a quick commute apart? Dating someone long-distance can be not only frustrating for your relationship, but frustrating financially. In these circumstances, it's important that you budget well and plan ahead. Start with these tips on what to budget for and how to save money with your honey.
Plan your way to romance
The first step is planning. This means budgeting on top of your already small budget, which is annoying, I know. However, long-distance relationships (LDRs) can be totally frustrating when you don’t know when you'll see the other person again. If you set a goal of how many times you'd like to see each other in X amount of time, it will give you an idea of how much you need to save. You don't want to go into debt if you can help it.
Care to compromise?
If you and your significant other (S.O.) only live a few hours away, compromise is always an option. Try meeting each other halfway for lunch or for a weekend. This can be a good way to cut down costs a bit. And it may seem obvious, but take turns visiting each other to give each other's checking accounts a break.
If you and your S.O. live farther away, planning meet-ups becomes more difficult and costly. Melanie Figueroa, a graduate student in Portland, Ore., whose boyfriend lives in California, has spent roughly $1,400 on airfare in the past 10 months--not including money spent on dates when they do see each other--but says they can only justify spending the money when it's a holiday or a special occasion. If you're in a similar situation, keep a lookout for cheap flights; use a website such as Skyscanner to help you look at all your options in advance. And don't forget to send letters or care packages in the meantime.
Budgeting for a LDR also means planning cheap dates for when you do see each other. Think walks in the park, going for a hike, or attending a free event at your local library or campus. Or, budget (even more) in advance to have the money to do activities you've had your eye on. Keep a running list of things you want to do together or meals you want to cook/eat, so you'll know how much cash you'll need to stash.
Figueroa says this can be tough, since she tries not to spend much money on nights out with friends, but still needs to have a social life, so she tries to find inexpensive or free activities to do with friends. One of her tips is to use Gofobo, a website that helps people find free movie screenings in their area, so she can still go out to movies with friends or her boyfriend.
Try the tech trend
Take advantage of technology. Use programs like Skype to "see" each other or have virtual dates. Snapchat is also a great way to share snapshots of your day with someone, and even silly things like playing a rousing game of Words With Friends on your smartphone throughout the day can make you feel a little closer. Texting is an obvious way to stay connected, but can be expensive depending on your plan. Smart phone users can use Google Hangouts, Google Voice, or Kik to communicate by text, rather than use up precious texts.
Long distance relationships can drain your wallet but if you do it right, it doesn't have to be too extreme. Being frugal won't always help you see your honey when you want, but knowing some of the tips and tricks will make the distance a little more bearable.
There's a lot of information on the web about preparing for an interview, but I find most of it unhelpful. Here are some real-life, tried and true tips for rocking an interview.
Plan your outfit accordingly.
1. Wearing neutral colors is okay, but not if you want to stand out.
2. I wore a red, button-up blouse to my last two job interviews and landed both jobs. Red is an appealing color to both genders, which makes it a good color.
3. Red not for you? Wear colors that suit your skin/eyes/hair. This improves your overall appearance, and knowing you look good can make you feel confident.
4. Use minimal makeup and a neutral nail color. It's a job interview, not a night club.
5. Keep your hair out of your face. Avoid other accessories that might cause you to fidget with them, which makes you look nervous and distracted.
Psych yourself up.
6. Research the company beforehand and consider ways that your knowledge and skills can be applied to this particular company/industry. This will be important later.
7. Use the travel time to your interview to do what centers you and/or pumps you up, whether it's singing in your car to your favorite song, listening to calming music, or dancing around.
8. Remind yourself that you know what you’re doing, and you have no reason to be nervous.
9. Compare the interview to something much harder. For example, my personal comparison is, "This is nothing compared to jumping out of a plane attached to someone I just met."
Use nonverbal body language.
10. Never dead-fish anyone. When shaking hands, use a firm, confident grip. (Applies to men and women.)
11. Steepling your fingers together while answering a question makes you appear more confident and shows you feel strongly about what you're saying.
12. Maintain polite eye contact and avoid darting your eyes around the room nervously.
13. Keep your limbs to your sides (such as on arm rests), and keep your torso open. It makes you look like a more open, friendly person.
14. If you are hand-talker, keep your palms up to convey openness. Palms down conveys dominance and should be avoided.
Talk up the company, not yourself.
15. Companies don't care about what you want, they want to know what you can do for them.
16. Now is the time to use your ideas and apply them to the company. Talk about the ideas and build off other ideas that might be brought up.
17. Using real-life examples helps to show your critical thinking skills and proves you know how to apply your skills to real-life situations.
18. Managers are interested in people who will fit in with the rest of the employees. While you should always be yourself, you can still gauge the interviewers to determine which parts of your personality you should make shine, such as your creativity, your work ethic, your humor, etc.
19. Don't lie. Just… don't. Any well-seasoned human will see right through it.