Category Archives: Ways to Save Money

5 Ways to Save Money & The Environment

This post is brought to you and contributed by an outside writer.

Now, more than ever, we see the desire to step up and do our bit for the environment. But with jobs being hard to come by these days and for those of us working, wages are not keeping up with inflation. It can seem too costly to live a green life.

It doesn’t have to be this way, though; here are five great ways to be kinder to the environment and save yourself some money at the same time.

Not Using the Car

Not using the car will save you money by using less gas, but it’s not just the miles you are not driving; it’s the type of miles.

Short trips are the most polluting, because they use more fuel, due to a cold engine requiring more energy. This logically will result in higher costs. There is also the added benefit of the exercise you would have otherwise missed out on.

Renewable Energy

If we can get our electricity from a sustainable energy provider such as solar, hydro or wind, then we are doing better for the green cause.

You can easily get solar panels on the roof of your home or install a small wind turbine if space allows. If you rent, you can pick a green energy generator through your local electric delivery company.

Electric Vehicles

How effective are electric vehicles compared to those that run on traditional gas? This is a debate that has been going on for years, you can read some great discussion on the subject at Fossil Fuel.

An electric vehicle is environmentally-friendly and can be cheaper to run, but that all depends on where your electricity comes from. If it is from a coal-powered plant, then you are only moving the point of where the pollution enters the atmosphere.

Still, as energy production moves more towards renewables, then the benefits of electric will increase.

Ditch Throw-Away Fashion

We all want to look good, and in recent years cheap, throw-away fashion has become a real trend. Due to the number of synthetic materials in affordable clothing, it’s not a good idea for the environment. 

Actually, with how long these garments last, quality clothing is a good investment in comparison.

Grow Your Own Food & Cook 

There has been a real appeal in growing your own food recently. This is a great hobby to get your hands dirty and really reconnect with the earth. It’s also a fantastically healthy way to eat.

If you grow your own garden, you are cutting down on food miles, how far your food travels and are avoiding highly salty and fatty foods as you control the ingredients. It’s easier to know precisely what you are eating when it’s not pre-prepared by a food company.

How to Negotiate Your Rent

There’s this super cute meme that makes rounds every once in a while.

It has a different woman looking all tough in the background every time it makes an appearance, but it has the same words almost verbatim every time:

You’re asking if I can negotiate my fees? Yeah, sure, honey, let me just go see if my landlord will negotiate my rent.

I get the point – on a month-to-month basis in the middle of a twelve-month contract, you can’t negotiate the rent with your landlord. And you need to pay your bills so you shouldn’t give discounts to everyone who asks for them when you’re a service-based business.

BUT

I always walk away from that meme asking myself,

How do people not know they can negotiate their rent?

Because here’s the thing: Rent is totally negotiable.

You just have to know when and how to do it.

Know Your Landlord

The type of landlord you have determines what kind of negotiations you can expect to be successful. Whether you’re negotiating one-on-one with a landlord who owns a couple properties or with a large complex, there are ways to pursue the biggest bang for your buck through negotiation.

You can usually negotiate directly with individual landlords or property managers.

Negotiating your rent is going to be easiest with an individual landlord. Though you may also have success with a property manager who takes care of the rental for an individual landlord.

In these negotiations, you’re most likely to be able to reduce the dollars you pay in rent every month.

You can ask for discounts and insights from office staff at larger rental complexes.

If you are dealing with a landlord at a larger rental complex, it doesn’t hurt to try to negotiate the actual rent. But you are less likely to have success.

Instead, talk to someone in the main office. See if there are any discounts available. For example, a certain credit score might get your security deposit reduced. If you move in during a specific month you might get your first month for free. If you have a larger blended family and they want you in the door, maybe you could get more guests added to your pool pass.

You’re more likely to be able to negotiate perks and amenities with larger complexes than the actual rent. It’s going to be more about making friends at the front office and getting them to let you in on the discounts and hacks that already exist within the system they have established for their new tenants.

By all means attempt to respectfully negotiate rent. Especially if you’re negotiating at your lease renewal. But do expect a lower ratio of success than if you try to negotiate monthly payments with an individual landlord.

Know What You Can Afford

Before you go into negotiations, you need to know how much you can afford. Traditionally, it is recommended that your rent and housing expenses take up no more than 25%-30% of your monthly budget.

However, given the housing crisis which continues to afflict this country and the stagnation of wages in America over the past several decades, there’s rarely a way for the average American household to stay within the 25%-30% range and still have safe and healthy housing – especially in urban areas.

Because traditional advice is so broken and incongruent with our lived realities, you’re going to have to figure out what you can afford on your own. If you don’t yet have a budget, you can get a free month of budgeting software for an assist.

You’re probably going to have a hard time sticking within the 25%-30% rule, but you do need to figure out the absolute max you can afford to pay every month and still keep on top of your other bills.

You need this number because when you begin rent negotiations, you need to know where your ceiling is.

When you find it, you’ll need to walk away.

Know What You Want

What you can afford and what you want will be two different things. You want to pay less than you can afford, because that gives you more wiggle room in your budget. Believe it or not, this can actually make you a better tenant because you won’t be stressing as hard about making rent every month. If you manage your money right, it can make you more financially stable.

Maybe you can afford to pay $50 less per month than the asking price, but ideally you’d want to pay $100 less per month. If this is the case, you’d want to ask for more than $100 off per month as you start the negotiations, then work your way to your goal. Maybe you can afford $50 less per month, but they offer you $75 because you started with the goal of $100.

If the landlord refuses to take at least $50 off per month by the end of your negotiations, you can’t move in. Full-stop. You can’t afford it, and if you pretend you can, it’s not going to end well for you or the landlord.

Know why the landlord should negotiate with you.

You do need some leverage in order to be successful in negotiations. Here are some things that will make it easier to successfully negotiate your rent:

  • Are you a good tenant? If you are negotiating with a new landlord, your credit score or history may be important. Landlords want to see you regularly pay the bills on time – including your rent. If you have recommendations from past landlords, this can help you, too.
  • Do you have somewhere else to go? If this is the apartment that’s going to keep you from being homeless, you inherently have less room to negotiate. You can still delicately try, but the inability to walk away means the power dynamics are not in your favor.
  • Time of year. It’s easier to find tenants in the summer. Tenants negotiating winter leases have more leverage. Usually a landlord would rather have someone in the property paying a little less than their asking price every month than have the property sit empty for months at a time.
  • State laws. State laws can affect negotiations, too. For example, if you’re moving in March, but are trying to get a lower rate on your rent, you may offer to extend your lease to 15 months instead of 12 so that your renewal will be in the more desirable summer months for your landlord. However, maximum lease length varies depending on your state’s laws.

Don’t forget the amenities!

If you can’t get the landlord to come down on rent, see if you can negotiate additional amenities. Here are some of the top areas to consider for negotiation:

  • Pet policies. If the property is pet-friendly but you don’t have a pet, see if you can get a discount on your security deposit. Your risk for damage is lower than what they’ve built into their pricing structure, and they may be willing to work with you.
  • Laundry credit. If you’re running on coin-op laundry offered by the landlord, see if you can negotiate a laundry credit into your contract.
  • Storage. If extra storage is a need, can you secure an extra or larger storage unit than what they’re already offering with the property?
  • Parking. You may be able to negotiate any parking fees that are associated with the property. Even if one free spot comes with the property, is there a way to get an additional pass for guests?
  • Upgrades. In larger complexes, renovations usually happen in phases. If the unit you’re looking at isn’t up to the same standards as others going for the same price, you may be able to negotiate lower monthly rent payments or demand those upgrades are made to your apartment before you move in.

Know When You’ll Walk Away

Before you start negotiations, you need to know when you’ll walk away. If you can only afford the rent with a $50/month deduction, be prepared to walk away if they come at you with a rent deduction of only $25/month.

If you cannot walk away, that’s good information to know walking into negotiations, too. It gives you a lot less leverage. But lying to yourself about the power dynamics is not going to make the situation better.

Know When to Make Your Ask

Calling up your landlord to negotiate rent when you’re already under contract is not going to work.

There are two times when you should consider negotiating your rent, though: Before you move in and when your lease expires.

Before you move in.

This is when you have the most leverage – depending on how many other people are showing serious interest in the property.

Before you move in, you’re going to have the most success negotiating a deduction in rent – especially with individual landlords. This is also the time when you’ll be able to negotiate the most amenities and perks into your contract.

This initial contract is likely to be the best deal you get from your landlord. Everything else moving forward will be negotiated with it in mind.

When your lease expires.

If you are a good tenant who has had few to zero complaints and has made on-time rent payments every month, you will have leverage when your lease expires. The negotiations will likely happen in the months before the expiration as your landlord either offers you a lease for the upcoming year – or doesn’t.

If they do and the terms are the same, you might not want to nickel-and-dime them to pay less.

Right or wrong, there’s a general expectation that property values go up over time – especially as safe and healthy housing becomes a scarcer resource. There’s also a general expectation that the landlord will raise the rent, even if the property value and/or taxes haven’t actually increased.

I know.

Fun.

But it’s also the reality we live in.

If your landlord does up the rent or the cost of other amenities like laundry, tenants with a good history may want to negotiate.

Bear in mind that you have a little less leverage than when you moved in. Moving takes kinetic energy, and moving is the only real bargaining chip you have to force the landlord’s hand. If you threaten to walk away at the rent increase, you have to be prepared to actually do it.

Consider what’s currently on the market before you walk away.

You’ll also want to bear in mind what’s currently available on the market. I once lived in an apartment for almost a decade. By the time I moved out, rent had exploded in the market around me, almost doubling. I chose to stay in the same property for many years even though the rent nudged up higher as time went on.

Not because I was completely happy.

But because I could no longer afford to move and stay in the same area of the city where my family had built a life.

However, if you are willing and able to move at the expiration of your lease, you do have a lot of power. A good tenant can be hard to find, and the prospect of not finding any tenant can be scary for a landlord. In these situations, you may be able to negotiate rent increases to a minimum, especially if you’re already paying close to market value.

And remember: After you’ve made a deal, make sure to get every last thing in writing.

Money Hacks in a Time of Social Distancing

Alright, guys.

The other day I promised I’d share my answers as I found them. That’s what I’m doing today.

If you’re struggling with money right now, as so many are, here are some new, relevant ideas on where you can get more money to get through this as best you can.

Emergency Bills and Social Media

Before we get started, note that there has been stuff moving through Congress that could help you right now. As of this writing, the stuff that has actually passed is a patchwork that leaves a lot of people out. But there is still more in the pipes. Stay up-to-date with this iHeartBudgets resource.

You can also look to social media. Individuals and companies are giving away money in their @s.

This is inspiring to see, and is helping a lot of people. It’s happened to my own family members, and for that I don’t know if I can express the well of gratitude that’s now permanently lodged in my heart. It’s gone a long way to restore my wavering faith in humanity.

It is not a replacement for the safety nets our society so desperately needs, though, and I’m not going to tell you to hang out on social media all day hoping someone will mention free cash.

But while you’re scrolling through your feed anyways, keeping an eye out doesn’t hurt. <3

File Your Taxes from Years Past

If you are low-income and have not filed income taxes for the past few years, one of the best ways to come up with a big chunk of cash is going to be to file your tax returns from the past three years — if you haven’t already.

Here’s the thing: I know so many people who don’t file because they know the amount taken out of their paycheck covers them.

They’re not going to owe money. And while they might want a refund, the anxiety of taking their finances to some stranger at H&R Block who is also their Kmart cashier — aging myself, I know — is just not worth the amount they think they will get back.

But here’s the other thing: When you’re low- to lower-middle-income, there are so many tax credits that can put money back in your pocket. We’re talking about thousands of dollars in some cases on a single credit.

And another thing: You have three years to file your return.

Depending on what you qualify for, you could potentially file a return that would provide you with months’ worth of income to cover basic expenses. And if you haven’t filed for multiple years, you could potentially multiply that over the course of several more months.

There’s also a potential you would get nothing back, depending on your life and employment circumstances over the past three years. I also don’t know how long it would currently take the IRS to deliver your refund.

But it’s one of the biggest potential wins I can think of. If you haven’t filed because you know you didn’t owe, file now because our government likely owes you.

Report Your Lack of Commute to Your Auto Insurer

Sometimes one of the best ways to free up some room in your budget is to cut your expenses. I’ve been keeping an eye out for new ways to do this in 2020 over the past few weeks, and came across a really good idea I hadn’t considered, likely because my own commute hasn’t changed aside from a few cancelled in-person networking events:

When you have to live close to the margin, you know that $21 can be the difference between making a bill or not. And what I loved about this tip was that not only will she save $21 this month, but she’ll be freeing up $21 more in April, May and every month until she returns to her regular commute.

It’s a small amount. But those small amounts add up.

UPDATE: My commute changed enough over time that I did this myself and saved $17/month!

That’s in addition to the blanket discount my insurer is issuing to all its customers. This discount is being applied because with less accidents on the road, there’s less claims for the insurer to pay out.

Make sure to call your insurer and ask about both types of discounts — lowering you mileage and any changes to their actuarial tables/claims payouts during this time!

Earn Free Gift Cards

There are always platforms like Swagbucks that help you earn points for free gift cards. You can then use these gift cards to shop at stores like Walmart where you’re probably already spending money.

The time-to-money ratio is no replacement for even a part-time job. But if you find yourself mindlessly playing cell phone games and scrolling through video feeds anyways, Swagbucks rewards you for it.

Call Your Lenders

Things are real right now. If you’re worried about priorities like keeping food on the table and a roof over your head, debt payments may have to be put on hold. Reluctantly. Out of pure necessity.

That does not make you an irresponsible person.

I’ve actually seen a lot of banks actively recognizing this. Some are even taking initiative and reaching out to some of their most vulnerable debtors to make sure this doesn’t send them into a tailspin from which they can’t recover.

I’m not here to tell you all the banks are suddenly looking out for your best interests with a pure heart, though. Many of them will make more money off of you over the long-term with these new arrangements.

But also you need to buy groceries today, and might not have income from a job anymore. Paying more over a longer period of time may be the only option.

If you find yourself in this situation, call up your lenders. See if you can restructure your debt or defer payments, and ask about the following before making any commitments to a new arrangement:

  • Will this extend my loan term? This might not necessarily be a deal breaker given everything you’re dealing with right now, but it’s still a good piece of information to know.
  • Will extra interest continue to accumulate, even if you’re telling me I don’t have to make my payment this month? At what rate?
  • Will this create a balloon payment at the end of my loan? How do I avoid that at all costs?
  • If you have a secured loan, like an auto loan, at what point do you have to worry about repossession? You’re obviously going to do everything you can to avoid getting to that point, but even the banks are acknowledging right now that this is not your fault. Ask all the questions so you can learn all your options and make the most informed decisions possible.

Take Advantage of Special Enrollment Periods

If you’ve lost your job and live in a Medicaid expansion state, losing your job qualifies you for a Special Enrollment Period. You can apply for Medicaid, regardless of the time of year.

Medicaid is free in most states, though premiums may be prorated or require copays in others.

This is much more beneficial than a COBRA plan that may or may not cover everything you need. COBRA can also cost you a ton out-of-pocket while you’re dealing with a serious cash flow situation.

If you live in a Medicaid expansion state, you can apply for Medicaid at Healthcare.gov.

During this time when domestic violence is more than likely to be on the rise, it’s also important for victims to know that leaving an abusive situation qualifies you for a Special Enrollment Period, as well. That does not remove the need to be extremely careful as you do so, and to create a 1:1 safety plan with an expert in the field before attempting to make any departure.

If you’re struggling with mental health during this time, maintaining or obtaining benefits will be important, too. Turn to sources like www.betterhelp.com for professional help, even while we’re still at home.

Have more tips on making or saving money during the pandemic?

If you have any new savings tips for this brave new world we’re living in, I’d love to hear them! Leave them in the comments, @ me on social media or shoot me an email. I’ll continue sharing what’s working for readers throughout the pandemic!

How to Stay in Top 2020 Destinations for Free

If you want to head some of the top 2020 travel destinations, but don’t have the money to shell out for hotels, I’ve got good news.

You might be able to score FREE accommodations while you were in town.

Stay in Top 2020 Destinations for Free

It’s true! You can travel to many of this year’s most popular destinations without paying for an expensive hotel.

The catch is there’s labor involved.

The beautiful thing is that the labor involves cuddling adorable animals.

TrustedHousesitters

If you’re a pet lover, traveling just got a whole lot cheaper for you.

That’s because if you’re willing to pet sit while you’re in town, you can use sites like TrustedHousesitters to score free accommodations.

Your host will be out of town while you’re in town, so you’ll have the place to yourself — and the pets. Remember, in exchange for free digs, they’re trusting you with the love and care of their furry family members.

How do I get a pet sitting gig?

Just because a job is available on TrustedHousesitters doesn’t mean it’s there for you to claim.

It’s there for you to apply to. It’s the homeowner who ultimately designates who they let into their home.

You can up your odds, though, by making your profile more attractive. You can do this by adding quality photos to your profile, along with completing an array of verification options.

Where can I get a pet sitting gig?

Without further ado, here are the top 2020 travel destinations where you can stay for free via a TrustedHousesitters gig.

Dubai

That’s the Museum of the Future being built!
  • Country: United Arab Emirates (UAE)
  • Number of petsitting jobs available at time of writing: 16
  • Why is Dubai on the list? The World Expo, the opening of Museum of the Future, indoor skiing.
  • Know before you go: The UAE’s drinking laws are strict. Be sure to stay abreast of the most recent legal and cultural norms for the region in which you’re staying.

Find current pet sitting jobs in Dubai.

Courtenay, BC

  • Country: Canada
  • Number of petsitting jobs available at time of writing: 1
  • Why is Courtenay on the list? Ecotourism, for all its problematic trends, is on the rise. Airbnb saw a 114% increase in year-over-year bookings for Courtenay in particular. Your stay is likely to be a bit less problematic as you’re presumably lending a hand to a local.
  • Know before you go: You’re going to need to take a plane or a ferry to get to the island.

Find current pet sitting jobs in Courtenay.

Aberdeen

  • Country: Scotland
  • Number of petsitting jobs available at time of writing: 7
  • Why is Aberdeen on the list? Known for its biodiversity, including dolphin sightings on the regular! You’ll also want to visit the Medieval Crossing and soak in the city’s legendary architecture.
  • Know before you go: You don’t just drive on the left side of the road in the UK; you also want to make sure you keep to the left as a pedestrian.

Find current pet sitting jobs in Aberdeen.

Eugene, Oregon

  • Country: United States of America
  • Number of petsitting jobs available at time of writing: 6
  • Why is Eugene on the list? This city is going carbon neutral in 2020! It’s also nestled in a natural wonderland, and is a foodie paradise.
  • Know before you go: Pack a light rain jacket. You may need it on-the-go when you’re least expecting it, so make sure it’s compact and easy to carry with you.

Find current pet sitting jobs in Eugene.

Romania

  • Number of petsitting jobs available at time of writing: 1
  • Why is Romania on the list? It’s beautiful. It’s affordable for and welcoming to tourists. Dracula castles. Prince Charles has been obsessed.
  • Know before you go: The peak of Ceausescu’s madness happened before most of us millennials can remember. Steadily but slowly, Romania has been healing the wounds that era left behind. It’s a work in progress — but one people are increasingly looking towards with hope.

Find current pet sitting jobs in Romania.

Copenhagen

  • Country: Denmark
  • Number of petsitting jobs available at time of writing: 2
  • Why is Copenhagen on the list? Copenhagen has been under major infrastructure construction for the past several years, but in 2020, it will be back open for business! The Museum of Copenhagen also reopened a couple weeks ago after relocating.
  • Know before you go: Denmark is one of the happiest countries on Earth. But if you want to catch Copenhagen while the sun is shining, traveling in June is your safest bet.

Find current pet sitting jobs in Copenhagen.

Galway

  • Country: Ireland
  • Number of petsitting jobs available at time of writing: 1
  • Why is Galway on the list? Galway was named a European Capital of Culture for 2020. As a result, there are a ton of innovative and thought-provoking experiences to be had across all the arts on Ireland’s west coast this year.
  • Know before you go: If you’re into nearly any given music scene, July could be an ideal time to visit this year.

Find current pet sitting jobs in Galway.

Where would you look for a pet sitting job? Let us know in the comments!

Pittsburgh Boutique Warehouse Sale Alert!

This post is in collaboration with Nakturnal.

In the past few years, I’ve come to an appreciation of all the boutique shops that have been popping up in the hills of Pittsburgh.

Many of these shops design and create their own products, while others feature unique items made by locals alongside other trendy gifts. Wildcard and few other local shops even stocked The Feminist Financial Handbook, making it available locally even prior to being picked up by Barnes & Noble.

Pittsburgh Boutique Warehouse Sale

On March 6 & 7, 2020, a conglomeration of Pittsburgh-area boutique shops will be putting the third annual Warehouse Sale at The Village of Eastside next to Staples. There will be free parking available in the same shopping center as Trader Joe’s.

Be careful as the hours do vary from Friday to Saturday:

  • March 6, 2020. 9a-5p
  • March 7, 2020. 9a-3p

The sales are deep — each shop owner will be bringing their bargain basement finds. Check out each shop before you go!

The Picket Fence

The Picket Fence is a boutique store in Shadyside selling primarily clothing for women, kids and infants. You’ll also find housewares here, along with some jewelry options and adorable, Burgh-themed gifts.

Pavement

If you’re looking for clothing made in the USA, you’re going to have a lot of luck at Pavement in Lawrenceville. Here you’ll find women’s fashion from indie, sustainable and even local designers, and you’ll also find some bigger national brands like Three Dots and Stateside.

Emy Mack

Emy Mack is a local shoe designer with a gorgeous boutique open in Shadyside. Mack works with a team from Italy to turn the designs into finished products.

Kelly Lane Design

If you’re looking for handmade-to-order, organic, sustainable clothing for yourself or for the kiddos, Kelly Lane Design is for you. Everything happens here in Pittsburgh, and in the recent past, Kelly has added a home goods line.

Hippie & French

Medical marijuana is legal in Pennsylvania, but you need a patient ID card to purchase. You must have a diagnosed, qualifying medical condition to get that card.

You don’t need a patient ID card to purchase CBD products, though. These are legal everywhere, but are unregulated where medical marijuana is.

Hippie & French started as a CBD oil boutique in Lawrenceville, and that is still their primary product. But today you can purchase flower there, too. CBD flower — no THC.

Hippie & French also markets its products to pet owners.

Von Walter & Funk

Also located in Lawrenceville, Von Walter and Funk is boutique selling fun and unique housewares for your kitchen, bar, and living room. You’ll also find all the essential oils along with a one-of-a-kind jewelry line.

Cheeks

Cheeks is a lingerie and sleepwear shop in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood. If you shop in person, they’ve also expanded with an apparel line. You’ll be able to check out their best deals at the Warehouse Sale!

Piebird

Pies to die for! Make sure to leave some budget for these good eats. They’ll be served up at the Warehouse Sale for hungry shoppers.