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My daughter recently celebrated her fifth birthday, so it’s safe to say my husband and I are pretty far removed from all of that baby human stuff.

Between a couple of moves and several attempts to clean out our garage, only one item remained from my daughter's infancy: the stroller.

So when I found out I was pregnant with my second child, I did what any newly expectant mother would do: I panicked.

Those first-year essentials really do add up.

With our impending bundle of joy fast-approaching, I’ve made it my mission to buy eco-friendly, BPA-free, phthalate-free, non-toxic products at price points that won’t break the bank.

But unlike with my first child, when I loaded up my registry and hoped friends and family would cover costs, I’ve learned a handful of baby products are better to buy used.

To find cheap baby stuff and save nearly $800 on brand name products like Stokke and Baby Bjorn, I turned to second-hand sites like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and even the return section of Buy Buy Baby.

In total, I spent $310 thrifting my way on must-haves for baby No. 2 — pennies in the bucket compared to the $1,122 I could’ve spent buying everything at full price.

My Big Craigslist Find

Stokke Tripp Trapp Highchair, retail value: $249

Purchase Price: $50

Murphy purchased the Stokke Tripp Trapp highchair on Craigslist for $50. Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

The Stokke Tripp Trapp high chair was at the top of my list. It’s European design caught my eye, but I balked at its hefty retail price. A few weeks into my highchair hunt, I stumbled across a nearby Craigslist post asking $200.

The price felt a bit steep but this was one I was willing to splurge on. I offered $160 but the seller wouldn’t go lower than $190 so I begrudgingly walked away. Fortunately, the key to a good deal is patience.

On a recent trip to Sarasota to visit family about two-hours from my hometown of Orlando, I bought the Stokke Tripp Trapp highchair from a mom on Craigslist for $50.

Score! That’s a savings of $200.

Essentials on Facebook Marketplace

Baby Bjorn Balance Bouncer, retail value: $168.99

Purchase price: $40 (Bonus: includes the Googly Eye Toy Bar, retail value: $59.99)

Purchased through the Facebook Marketplace, this Baby Bjorn Balance Bouncer is gently-used and included the Googly Eye Toy Bar attachment for $60. Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

With my first, we had an electric baby swing. I didn’t want to spend $150 or more on a bulky item I’m only going to be using for a few months, so this was my cost-saving, minimalist solution.

I found a gently-used version selling for $60 on Facebook Marketplace. Plus the listing included the Googly Eye Toy Bar attachment. I could see the item was listed a while ago, so assuming she didn’t have other offers, I again decided to go lower than the asking price.

My $40 offer was accepted. It never hurts to try for a better deal than what’s being offered!

Baby Bjorn Carrier Original in Dark Blue, retail value: $79.99
Purchase Price: $10

Murphy shows off the Baby Bjorn carrier purchased for just $10 on the Facebook Market place. Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

This find was a straight-up steal. I purchased this item for $10 on Facebook Marketplace. No stains, no tears, and in excellent working condition.

That’s a savings of roughly $70. Talk about a bargain!

Primo Infant Bath Tub, retail value: $24.99

Purchase price: $10

The Primo Infant Bath Tub goes for a retail value of $24.99. Murphy was able to find it used for $10. Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

Bathtubs are another great item to buy used. I found a like-new tub for $15 on Facebook Marketplace, but my $10 offer was accepted. It never hurts to ask for a better price.

Ubbi Diaper Pail in White, $69.99

This Ubbi diaper pail retails for $69.99. Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

Purchase price: $25

A mom from the Cocoa Beach area was selling the Ubbi Diaper Pail on Facebook Marketplace. She just so happened to be passing through Orlando so we met up in a Whole Foods parking lot off of Interstate 4 to make the exchange. I like this item because it is made of steel so, in theory, it shouldn't absorb stinky diaper smells like a plastic diaper pail. It also keeps in line with my goal of staying plastic-free/no BPA products.

Baby Bjorn Cradle, retail value: $349

Purchase price: $80

Murphy saved $269 on this gently-used Baby Bjorn cradle by purchasing it through the Facebook Marketplace. Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

My biggest deal was yet to come. Between constant feedings and changes, having a bassinet by our bedside is a must.

I first went to buy this item in like-new condition for $200 on Facebook Marketplace. At $150 off the retail price, it was a good deal but not a great deal. Since it was the only one available in my area, I arranged the pick-up for the next morning but diligently kept searching for a better price.

That evening, I found another seller asking $80. For anyone keeping track, a few extra searches saved me $289. Persistence is key!

Scoring in The Return Section

The return, sale and clearance sections at children’s stores (think Target, Walmart, and other similar retailers) can be a gold mine for a good deal. At the Buy Buy Baby I visited, the return section was right up front.

Skip Hop Explore & More Activity Center, retail value: $119.99

Purchase price: $95

Murphy puts the pieces together for the Skip Hop explore & more activity center she purchased in the return section of Buy Buy Baby. Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

Aside from online deal hunting, I also perused the return section of my local Buy Buy Baby, where I saved $25 on this open-box item.

While these sections vary from store-to-store, check with a retail associate to find out exactly where it’s located. Just be sure you’re only buying cheap baby stuff you need, and not tempted to spend money on an item just because of the discount!

Not Every Deal is a Good Deal

Cautionary tale: I purchased a used Ubbi diaper pail from Mercari.com, but when the item arrived it was not as described by the seller and didn’t match the picture on the site. Mercari sent me a return shipping label and promptly refunded my money.

There’s no getting around it: Preparing for a new baby isn’t cheap. But my time investment — a few hours of online searches and in-store shopping — leaves me with an extra $788 to spend on diapers and wipes. I’ll take it!

Rachel Murphy is a former network TV news producer turned freelance writer. She lives in Orlando with her husband, two English bulldogs, curly-haired little girl, and is deal-hunting her way to prepare for baby No. 2.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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Sometimes we wonder how people managed their money way back when…

You had to put pen to paper to draw up a budget? You had to actually walk into a bank to get a loan? Or read a newspaper to keep tabs on your stocks?

And you couldn’t automatically save money; you had to intentionally deposit $50 into your savings each week?

Count us out.

OK, we’re being a bit flippant here, but in reality iPhones and their apps have made managing money incredibly simple.

“People are finding that the apps take away the pain and mystique of dealing with our finances and replace it with processes that are as easy as buying a shirt online or swiping right on Bumble,” Fast Future Publishing founder and CEO Rohit Talwar writes in an email.

The Best iPhone Apps for Money Management

If personal finances intimidate you, we get it. But financial apps can really help make managing money simple.

Talwar says these tools are breaking down the barriers of complicated financial jargon and are making it easier than ever for folks to make smart financial moves.

So, iPhone users, open the App Store and start downloading these recommended apps.

1. Credit Sesame: Keep an Eye on Your Credit Score Carmen Mandato/The Penny Hoarder

It’s easy to push your credit score to the back of your mind.

After all, how do you even check it? What’s it really matter? But then you go to take out a mortgage, buy a car or apply for a rewards credit card… shoot.

Take care of your financial health by keeping tabs on your credit score. One of our favorite free credit-monitoring tools is Credit Sesame.

You can sign up online or through its app, and you’ll gain access to your credit score as well as your credit report card. It’ll also offer tips on how to increase your score for when it matters.

Take Jerry Morgan, for example. He and his family have had a difficult 10 years financially.

When Morgan signed up for Credit Sesame back in September 2017, his score was at about 500. In six months, he was able to increase his score 120 points — thanks, in part, to the platform’s recommendations.

Keep your credit score in your back pocket by downloading the Credit Sesame app.

2. WinWin: Save Money

Picture this: It’s payday, and you immediately head to the bank to cash your check and move $50 of it over to a separate savings account.

Yeah, right.

OK, if you have a lot of willpower, maybe this was the case, but saving money proves difficult. So why not turn it into a bit of a game? Try using an app called WinWin.

First, download the app, and WinWin will walk you through how it all works. Here’s the gist: You’ll automate your savings, plus play games for chances to win more money to boost your savings.

You can earn instant prizes by playing the daily games (think: classics like pinball and breakout). The more often you play, the more chances you have to win daily prizes — which include free plays (i.e. another chance to win) and cash prizes between 10 cents and $5 that go into your WinWin savings account.

So you’re saving money — and playing for a chance to win even more. Fun, right?

The app is free to download and costs $2 a month after that.

3. Acorns: Invest in Stocks Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

Honestly, old-school investing just conjures images of Wall Street trading room chaos, so we’ll stop while we’re ahead.

Investing isn’t nearly as intimidating nowadays with microinvesting apps. Yes — these apps allow you to invest in smaller groupings of stocks, called exchange-traded funds.

Acorns is a stellar example. Download the app, and turn on the round-up mode. Each time you make a purchase with a connected debt or credit card, it’ll round your total up to the nearest dollar. Once your round-ups hit $5, Acorns will invest the spare change for you.

Jeremy Kolodziej, for example, uses the app as a way to help him save. In less than two years, he’s managed to save $2,087 — without thinking.

“So many people use plastic and debit cards,” he explains. “Not a lot of people carry cash, where you can have a coin jar at home. It’s a virtual coin jar. You don’t even think about it.”

The app is free to download, then you’ll pay $1 a month for balances under $1 million. If you sign up through The Penny Hoarder, you’ll bank a $5 bonus to give you a boost.

4. Varo Money: Put Your Savings to Work

Varo Money has combined traditional banking tools with modern technology to help its customers become financially healthy. Its big selling points include:

  • All-in-one: In addition to a  bank account, you can open a Varo Savings Account, earning 1.25% Annual Percentage Yield — nearly 20 times the average savings account.
  • No fees: With Varo, as long as you use one of its 55,000 ATMs across the world, you’ll never pay fees. Additionally, you’ll pay no monthly service fees, no minimum balance fees, no foreign transaction fees and no cash replacement fees. You’ll just pay out-of-network ATM fees and cash deposit fees if you deposit cash in-store through Green Dot.
  • Early access to your paycheck: Get paid up to two days before your check is typically posted when you set up direct deposit with Varo.
  • Varo Forecast: Varo keeps tabs on how much you spend across all your accounts so you can better analyze and project your cash flow. It also allows you to set spending caps.

To sign up for Varo, you’ll have to download its free iOS app.

5. Stash: Invest in Real Estate Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

We’re familiar with the old-school way of investing in real estate — buy a house, apartment, duplex, warehouse, land, whatever it is. But that calls for a big chunk of change and commitment.

If you don’t have that kind of time or money, you may want to look into real estate investment trusts (REITs). These are funds pooled together from thousands of investors to invest in one property, like a mutual fund.

There are several ways you can invest in REITs, but perhaps the easiest is through an app called Stash. You might have heard of it. It helps folks invest and save small amounts of change. It also helps us invest small amounts into real estate.

If you don’t already use Stash, sign up here.

When you invest your first $5, you’ll get another $5 bonus to invest — on us. Now, you’ll have access to all of Stash’s tools, including its real estate investments. The app costs $1 a month.

If you already have Stash, great. Go ahead and explore the REIT feature through your existing account.

Just a friendly reminder: As with any investing, there’s risk, though investing in REITs is less risky than investing in an entire shopping mall on your own.

6. Chime: Bank From Anywhere Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

We try to avoid using “literally” around here, but you can literally do anything through an app these days — including all of your banking. I mean, can you imagine having to set foot into a bank?!

Chime is a great example of an online-only bank. It offers some unique features that many traditional banks haven’t caught on to yet.

For example, you can do just about everything from its app, which boasts more than 2,000 five-star reviews in the iTunes store. You’ll be able to:

  • Open a checking account — which Chime calls a “spending” account. While you’re at it, set up direct deposit. Then, Chime will allow you to get paid up to two days early — as soon as your paycheck is posted. No delay.
  • Enroll in Chime’s automated Saving account, where you can automatically squirrel money into a separate, hands-off account.
  • Avoid bank fees. We’re talkin’ no overdraft fees, monthly maintenance fees, foreign transaction fees or minimum balance fees.

Last year, we chatted with Samuel Demeny, who opened a spending and savings account with Chime. He switched so he could avoid Well Fargo’s daily spending limits. He’s also been able to save about $800 in nine months with the automatic savings option.

Demeny also loves that he gets his paycheck two days early, which he says helps him budget before the weekend rolls around.

Start managing all your money from your phone by opening a free account with Chime.

7. Google Sheets: Create a Budget Rawpixel/Getty Images

We’re going to be totally honest on this one. We haven’t quite found a budgeting app we’re in love with yet. (Seriously, email us any suggestions. We’re all ears!)

That’s why we’ve largely stuck with the old-school spreadsheet. Gasp. We know, but once you get it set up in Google Drive, download the Google Sheets app (or the less popular Numbers) to keep it mobile.

Start off easy by using it to simply track your income and expenses. Break down your expenses by categories that are most relevant to you: groceries, restaurants, utilities, rent, transportation… It’s all totally customizable. Sum up the categories for a total. Then, subtract your income from your expenses. Bam.

Set a personal goal for how much you want to see leftover each month. You’ll have to play with these a bit, but that’s the joy of the spreadsheet: You can adjust it whenever you want.

Carson Kohler (carson@thepennyhoarder.com) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She wants to know: Which iPhone apps do you use to manager your money? Shoot her an email, and let her know!

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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Over the last few years, we’ve seen a new trend arise that involves free tuition at various colleges across the United States.

It’s a trend we’ve been loving, as we’re excited to see higher education become more accessible to more people, especially with the ever-rising cost of college and the ever-growing trillion-dollar student loan epidemic.

But while one year of free tuition helps with recruitment and getting students started at these colleges, the new problem these schools are facing is retention. Plenty of students will take advantage of these free first year (or two) of tuition offers, but many end up not staying around to finish their degrees.

So, when columnist Matt Reed, who writes Inside Higher Ed’s “Confessions of a Community College Dean,” suggested making the second year of college free instead of the first, a technical college in Ohio was all ears.

BOGO Tuition at Ohio’s Marion Technical College

In an effort to encourage students to stick around and see their college education through, Marion Technical College is offering students a year of free tuition after they successfully complete one year as a full-time student.

That’s right — it’s buy one, get one on college tuition.

The school was trying to figure out a way to not only attract students, but to retain them beyond that enticing first free year.

By making the second year free and including the stipulation that students must first complete a self-paid year of full-time classes (meaning at least 30 hours of coursework over two semesters), the school hopes to not only bring in students who are excited to learn, but also give them incentive to stick around and excel.

The old model, which included a free first year, Reed noted in his original proposal, “imposes a significant cost increase just as students are entering the home stretch,” making it more likely for them to walk away.

The new model would make it an easier decision to see the degree through because students would have already invested their own money in their education during the first year.

This method, Reed writes, “answers the cultural desire for ‘skin in the game’ by having students work for it.”

Marion Tech’s president, Ryan McCall, had been searching for a way to make the free tuition promise he had been seeing pop up around the country work for his own students. McCall says he had been looking into ways to make summer coursework free for some students and also trying to figure out how to encourage them to continue.

After reading Reed’s article on Inside Higher Ed, McCall posed the question: “Do we stick with the summer idea or do we try to go further and expand it to the idea of providing students with a second year free after they've proven they want to do the work and be here?”

The school decided to go further and run with Reed’s idea.

How “Second Year Free” Tuition Will Work

BOGO tuition at Marion Tech, a system now known as the “Get to Next Scholars” Program, will provide incoming students with a second year of up to 35 credit hours for free.

To earn the year of free tuition, students must complete one year of full-time work — at least 30 hours of college-level courses — with at least a 2.5 grade point average.

Students will also receive a $100 stipend toward books each semester for both years, along with access to a dedicated adviser who will help them choose their education path.

In the end, the scholarship program’s goal is to increase Marion Tech’s completion rate.

Amy Adams, Marion Tech's vice president of planning and advancement, says incoming students in the program will be supported every step of the way in an effort to ensure they feel financially and emotionally secure in their education.

“We want to make sure they have the right support group, so we're looking at these students as a cohort coming in,” Adams says. “They'll be assigned an academic adviser so they're all on the right pathways and taking the appropriate classes, not falling behind, not feeling overwhelmed, and meeting as a group.”

Since the Get to Next Scholars program is still in the pilot stage, it will be a little while before the school sees exactly how the BOGO tuition is affecting retention and completion rates.

“Primarily,” McCall says, “this is about helping students get their degree in a shorter time frame and for less of the cost.”

Grace Schweizer is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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If you’re eager to buy a new home, now may not be the time to make the biggest purchase of your life.

That’s because the average interest rate has spiked to 4.61%, according to The Wall Street Journal. That’s up from 3.99% in January and the highest average since 2011.

Of course, a higher interest rate could translate to paying a few hundred dollars extra every month and thousands more added to the total cost of your home over the 30-year span of your mortgage.

For example, if you bought a $200,000 home back in January at the 3.99% interest rate, your monthly payment would be $954. If you bought the same house today at 4.61% interest, your monthly payment would jump to $1,026.

That $72 may sound insignificant if you’ve got the flexible income to cover it each month. But over the life of your 30-year mortgage, the 4.61% interest rate will mean paying $25,920 more for the same house.

Should You Buy That New House Now or Stay Put?

Whether you’re a first-time buyer or looking to move from your starter house to a bigger home, you’re going to have to do some pretty important math before you take the leap.

One of our Penny Hoarding freelance writers, Steve Gillman, has already shown how a few quick calculations can make easy work of the rent vs. own debate. In fact, Gillman and his wife saved more than $5,000 a year by renting a small home instead of buying at the top of the market back in 2006.

Gillman even put together a checklist to calculate the costs of a new home to help you decide if you should buy or keep renting.

According to Gillman — he’s been a homeowner six times over as of 2016, so we trust his judgment — you should be able to say yes to all these points.

  • You have enough money for a down payment.
  • You have enough money for closing and moving costs.
  • You know what it really costs to have a home.
  • You can handle the big surprises that come with owning a home.
  • You are ready for the time and work of caring for a home.

Check out Gillman’s story to learn even more if you still can’t decide if you should buy or stay put.

Desiree Stennett (@desi_stennett) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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Dear Celery,

I meant well. I swear I did. I bought you with the best of intentions from the produce section and even cut you up for snacking. That was the last we saw of each other, until I found you again weeks later, white and sad.

You’ve probably seen the television ad where the lady puts her strawberries in the fridge, eats a few and then forgets all about them. (Don’t get me started on their use of the “Married Life” song from Disney-Pixar’s “Up.” Carl lost Ellie — spoiler alert! — during that song, not some berries.)

It’s a common tale. We’re taught to shop the outside aisles of the grocery store, because fresh products are healthier than their alternatives.

It now seems that concept is slightly flawed, and more of us are catching on by shopping for produce in the freezer aisle.

Why Frozen Fruits and Vegetables Are Our Friends

A study by RBC Capital Markets shows that people are buying more frozen produce. Why?

Simply put, frozen produce retains almost all of the health benefits of fresh produce, but with far less waste.

Most fresh produce has a refrigerator life of a few days at best. For frozen produce, that window can be extended up to one year, with little to no significant difference in nutritional value.

For fans of The Penny Hoarder, this shouldn't be big news. We’ve been promoting the frozen food aisle as a great way to reduce waste in your kitchen. Less wasted food means less wasted money, right?

One study, published by the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, found that peas, carrots and corn actually had higher levels of vitamin E than their fresh counterparts.

This is great news for savvy shoppers. You can eat healthily, save money and waste less food. Just keep your eyes on the frozen produce section, and avoid turning toward those beckoning frozen pizzas and ice-cream treats closeby.

Tyler Omoth is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder who loves soaking up the sun and finding creative ways to help others. Catch him on Twitter at @Tyomoth.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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Good news for the the cap-and-gown crowd: You could get a pay raise before you even start your first job.

According to a recent survey by The Harris Poll, 74% of employers say they are willing to negotiate salary when extending job offers to recent college graduates.

And with the U.S. unemployment rate falling below 4% this month, that gives college grads even more reason to feel a bit more buoyant as they wade into the job market.

Even more good news for your pomp and circumstance: Grads heading into that first interview have a better chance of receiving a better initial offer, as 47% of employers say they intend to offer higher pay than they did last year, with a third of them saying they’ll offer $50,000 or more, according to a survey conducted on behalf of CareerBuilder.

But before demanding that a new employer needs to show you the money, career coach Loren Margolis, CEO of Training & Leadership Success in New York, has some advice that may sound familiar: Do your homework.

“You have to do your research,” Margolis says. “Know what the job that you’re interviewing for pays in other parts of the industry… and definitely do your research on competitors of that organization.”

When researching those numbers, grads should look inward — to their colleges, Margolis suggests.

You have a built-in network to tap into, so talk to your classmates, definitely talk to your professors and student clubs and of course your career-development or career-services office,” Margolis says. “And hopefully you will have already reached out to the alumni that are working at that company.”

Although alums may not want to reveal their specific salaries, asking about the industry and the company in general can give you a better idea of how your salary offer compares, Margolis says.

“The question could be like, ‘For my own edification, what would you say is the range for what a starting position in our industry would be?’” Margolis says. “And from what you’re seeing… is that a competitive salary?”

Check out even more scientifically proven strategies and tips for negotiating your salary.

Still a bit scared to ask for that salary bump before you start your first day? Consider delayed gratification, Margolis says.

“One of the things that you might want to negotiate instead of an end-of-year review is a six-month review,” Margolis says. “So instead of waiting 12 months to get a raise or to get your performance review, negotiate for it to happen in half the time.”

Maybe that tassel was worth the hassle after all.

Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She negotiates for additional cheese.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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If you’re eager to buy a new home, now may not be the time to make the biggest purchase of your life.

That’s because the average interest rate has spiked to 4.61%, according to The Wall Street Journal. That’s up from 3.99% in January and the highest average since 2011.

Of course, a higher interest rate could translate to paying a few hundred dollars extra every month and thousands more added to the total cost of your home over the 30-year span of your mortgage.

For example, if you bought a $200,000 home back in January at the 3.99% interest rate, your monthly payment would be $954. If you bought the same house today at 4.61% interest, your monthly payment would jump to $1,026.

That $72 may sound insignificant if you’ve got the flexible income to cover it each month. But over the life of your 30-year mortgage, the 4.61% interest rate will mean paying $25,920 more for the same house.

Should You Buy That New House Now or Stay Put?

Whether you’re a first-time buyer or looking to move from your starter house to a bigger home, you’re going to have to do some pretty important math before you take the leap.

One of our Penny Hoarding freelance writers, Steve Gillman, has already shown how a few quick calculations can make easy work of the rent vs. own debate. In fact, Gillman and his wife saved more than $5,000 a year by renting a small home instead of buying at the top of the market back in 2006.

Gillman even put together a checklist to calculate the costs of a new home to help you decide if you should buy or keep renting.

According to Gillman — he’s been a homeowner six times over as of 2016, so we trust his judgment — you should be able to say yes to all these points.

  • You have enough money for a down payment.
  • You have enough money for closing and moving costs.
  • You know what it really costs to have a home.
  • You can handle the big surprises that come with owning a home.
  • You are ready for the time and work of caring for a home.

Check out Gillman’s story to learn even more if you still can’t decide if you should buy or stay put.

Desiree Stennett (@desi_stennett) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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Matt Hoffman was frustrated with his bank.

Super frustrated. Dissatisfied. Unhappy.

A self-employed biotech engineering consultant, Hoffman travels all over the globe to work with clients. At one point, he was doing some work for a company in the United Kingdom and was getting paid through international wire transfers that were moving through a third-party intermediary bank.

But his checking account at Citizens Bank, a big national U.S. bank, simply couldn’t handle it. The money wouldn’t appear in his account.

With Radius Bank, Matt Hoffman has used ATMs in Indonesia, Panama and Mexico without incurring fees. Peggy Peattie for The Penny Hoarder

“I had an issue, and I couldn’t get it resolved,” says Hoffman, 34, who lives in San Diego. “I kept getting the runaround. When you talk on the phone with someone from one of these big banks, you can tell when they’re reading from a protocol or a script and they’re not even really listening to you.”

Scouting around for better options, he opened an account with an outfit called Radius Bank. He was attracted to the higher-than-average interest rates it pays on its savings accounts.

And his problem with the international wire transfers?

“Radius was able to just handle that with no issues,” he says.

That was nearly a decade ago. Hoffman stayed with his new bank and never looked back.

A Digital Evolution Hoffman hasn't stepped foot in a physical bank since moving to California. Peggy Peattie for The Penny Hoarder

Originally a small community bank based in Boston, Radius has remade itself into a virtual bank with a worldwide network of free ATMs.

“Our transformation to a state-of-the-art online bank was driven by the consumer, as their preference shifted the last few years from visiting traditional brick-and-mortar stores to demanding a digital banking experience that allowed them access to their accounts from anywhere,” said Chris Tremont, Radius’ executive vice president of virtual banking.

Keeping his money in a digital bank makes sense for Hoffman, who does most of his banking from his phone.

Existing mostly online, Radius has exactly one physical bank branch — at its headquarters in Boston.

Hoffman lived in Boston when he first started banking with Radius. Later, he moved across the country to San Diego, but he found it didn’t matter.

“There are no branches here, but I can do everything online,” he says. “I haven’t had to step foot in a bank since I left Boston.”

Radius is part of the NYCE ATM network, which is connected to 500,000 ATMs worldwide. Hoffman can withdraw cash or make a deposit at those without paying those annoying ATM usage fees. And if he has to pay an ATM fee anywhere, he gets reimbursed for it. No muss, no fuss, no problem.

“I travel around the world quite a bit,” says Hoffman. “I’ve used ATMs in Indonesia, Panama and Mexico, and I’ve never had a problem.”

If he needs to send someone a check, that’s easy, too. He does it online, on his checking account’s “Bill Pay” function. He types in who the check is for, the amount of money and the date. Radius mails a certified check to the recipient.  

A Healthy Savings Hoffman is an avid surfer, and banking online frees up more of his time for the hobbies he loves. Peggy Peattie for The Penny Hoarder

Online convenience aside, what originally attracted Hoffman to Radius were the interest rates it pays out. Here are its annual percentage yield rates:

  • 1.30% on savings accounts with balances more than $2,500. Compare that to the average savings account, which has an interest rate of a measly 0.06%, according to CNN Money.
  • 0.85% on checking accounts with balances more than $2,500.

The savings account is especially appealing to Hoffman, because he’s an independent contractor.

Because he’s a freelance consultant, income taxes aren’t withheld from his paychecks. Instead, clients just pay him and send him 1099 tax forms showing how much they paid him. Then he sends his income taxes to Uncle Sam in a lump-sum payment once a year.

To pay his taxes, he sets aside money from his earnings in a high-yield savings account at Radius.

“I keep it in savings and earn interest on it all year,” he said. “I pay taxes at the end of the year, but by then I’ve earned interest from the money being in my account.”

If you’re interested in online convenience and earning more money from your savings account, it’s worth checking out Radius Bank to see if it’s right for you, too.

As for Hoffman, he finds that customer service is readily available via a phone call or online chat if he ever needs help with anything.

He’s never going back to getting the runaround again.

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He should probably switch banks like this guy.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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When I rescued my first dog, Greyson, he came with every health problem in the book. My vet and I knew each other on a first-name basis in just a couple months solely because of Greyson’s ear infections.

When you rescue a dog, you are inviting joy and laughter into your home. You’re also inviting increased costs and potential heartache as you watch your dog battle illnesses on a timeline that is roughly seven times faster than our own.

To ensure your dog lives a long and healthy life—and to avoid costly vet bills—it is crucial that you take your dog’s health seriously via preventative measures. While there are associated costs with prevention, it is much more affordable than treating an illness down the road. More importantly, it ensures a better quality of life for the new member of your family.

Here is a look at the most common dog health problems, how can you prevent them and the potential costs if you don’t offer preventative care.

Canine Ear Infections

Let’s start with the ailment I encountered most frequently with Greyson.

To prevent frequent ear infections, dry your dog’s ears after swimming and clean them out regularly, especially after outdoor play.

You can get a liquid cleaner that you pour into the ears, though I much prefer ear wipes. I get wipes for both my dogs on Amazon for about $17, and they last about six to nine months.

Without regular maintenance, you can expect frequent ear infections. At Alpha Veterinary Clinic, in Beavercreek, Ohio, I spent $50 for each office visit, plus another $20 for an ear cytology. After diagnosis, Greyson was usually prescribed multiple medicines that totaled $34.25.

If you skip preventative care, your vet cost per vet visit for an ear infection could reach my total of $104.25 or more.

Skin Issues

When I rescued Greyson, he was 3 years old and already balding on his head and back, with flaky skin. Things grew progressively worse, so I finally took him to the vet.

The vet told me exactly what I did not want to hear. There was no easy way to determine what was causing his skin problems. We started considering food allergies, (which account for 10% of all allergy problems in canines, and used an elimination diet to determine the source. Eventually, we discovered a poultry allergy was contributing to the issue.

That means I have to buy a pricier food for Greyson (a salmon and sweet potato diet), but it is cheaper than regular $50 vet visits, and the ingredients are much better for him overall.

However, Greyson was still having a problem with hair loss. Our vet eventually tested his thyroid levels and determined he has hypothyroidism. He is now on regular pills to help, as hypothyroidism leads to more than just hair loss: Other symptoms include lethargy, generalized weakness and regular skin infections.

So, what can you do to keep your dog’s skin and coat healthy? Feed them a high-quality food, bathe your pet regularly with a shampoo that treats the skin and take your dog to the vet to discuss any skin issues because they could point to a bigger and more costly problem that needs correction down the road.

If you skip preventative care for skin conditions, your total vet cost per incident will vary—but it won’t be cheap. I spent hundreds before discovering I just needed to switch up the food and manage Greyson’s thyroid levels.

Urinary Tract Infections

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are also among the most common dog health issues. Greyson, of course, suffered from these frequently in the months following his adoption, sometimes with blood in his urine — an alarming site.

Because he had a UTI quite a few times, my vet eventually did a number of tests, including a urinalysis and bacterial culture. That, combined with medications and general vet fees, set me back $231.58.

Preventing UTIs is possible. But if your dog still gets them despite your best efforts, it could point to larger issues such as Cushing’s disease, hypothyroidism, kidney infections and neurological problems.

Easy ways to prevent UTIs include frequent cleaning around the exterior of the urethra, providing ample water to drink and a regular potty schedule that doesn’t leave your dog holding its bladder for more than a few hours.

I have kept up with this preventative care, and Greyson has not had to visit the vet for a UTI since.

Dental Issues

Proper dental hygiene for your dog is both important and difficult to maintain. Not only is poor dental hygiene bad for your dog’s teeth and gums, but it can also lead to issues with the heart, kidneys and liver.

Greyson has had two dental cleanings in his 5 1/2 years with my family. During the first, he had to have a few teeth extracted because his dental health was so poor. That required a pre-cleaning analysis (including sedation) that cost $143.35, and the follow-up surgery cost $317.10, making the total cost $460.45.

After that, I took Greyson’s dental health more seriously, with regular brushing, better food and toys that cleaned his teeth, like Nylabones and rope toys.

Because of this better preventative care (at a cost of maybe $20 a year), his next dental cleaning, which is important regardless of how well you maintain your dog’s teeth, came in at just $369.42 at Carothers Parkway Veterinary Clinic in Brentwood, Tennessee. This time around, he did not need initial analysis or teeth extractions.

Worms and Fleas

Dogs are adorable, but they attract the most disgusting pests. When I rescued Greyson, he had worms in his stool, for which I had to seek immediate treatment. He also managed to come home with fleas before we were able to administer his first dose of flea medication.

Preventing worms is as easy as keeping your dog away from other dogs’ stool (or grass that may be contaminated with stool) and feeding it a healthy diet. When Greyson had worms, the cost of the vet visit, fecal flotation and dewormer reached $90 at Alpha Veterinary Clinic.

Flea prevention is even easier with a regular flea medication taken once a month. Note, even with the flea meds, it is possible for your dog to catch fleas. Treating the fleas — and thoroughly cleaning your house — can be expensive. Fleas can also lead to more serious (and expensive) conditions for your dog, including Lyme disease and anemia.

Also remember that your dog should be on a heartworm preventative. Heartworm disease can be fatal, so prevention is not optional.

If you skip preventative care for fleas, you likely won’t need to take your dog to the vet, but you will invest a fair amount in products to get rid of the insects and to thoroughly clean your carpets, bedding and clothes.

Vomiting and Diarrhea

Though vomiting and diarrhea are not immediate causes for concern, you will need to take your dog to the vet if they persist. More often than not, your dog probably ate something that upset its stomach.

My other dog, Clyde, suffered from frequent diarrhea. The solution, according to the vet, was an elimination diet to determine the right food. As I did with Greyson when he was losing hair, I began to try out foods with Clyde until his stools became firmer.

Of course, Clyde got off easy. These stomach issues could have also been signs of parvovirus, stress or parasites, which would have been more expensive to treat.

My takeaway from this experience? Start your dog early on a high-quality food to avoid ever needing to go to the vet for this issue.

If you skip preventative care, your total vet cost per diarrhea or vomiting incident could reach at least $50.

Dogs, like people, can get sick regularly. As their guardian, it is your responsibility to do everything within your power to keep them healthy. And by spending some money now on preventative care, you’ll be saving plenty in the long term.

Does your dog get sick frequently? I wholeheartedly recommend pet insurance for financial help and peace of mind.

If asked what his number-one job is, Timothy Moore would likely say, “Doggy daddy.” But when he’s not caring for his dogs or taking them for hikes with his partner, Tim is usually writing, reading, editing or enjoying a good beer with friends.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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Dear Penny,

I was lucky enough to escape college unscathed without any student loan debt thanks to my parents taking the initiative to save when I was young. However, my boyfriend wasn't so lucky.

We've been together for a while now, and he had to take out a few student loans to pay for his last few semesters of junior college. It's nothing big — the total is less than $5,000 — but he doesn't see the point of paying them all down.

He's going back for his bachelor’s soon and thinks that because he's going back, he should continue only paying the minimum, since he's going to get more debt added onto his loan amount. I think he needs to work on paying off his balances in full so he doesn't have that debt at all.

The worst part is, he could easily afford paying more than the minimum payment each month. How do I get him to see how important paying off student loans are?

Sincerely,

Debt-Free Evangelist

Dear Debt-Free Evangelist,

He’s not messing up, but you think he could do better. You mean well, but conversations like the ones you’ve had can easily turn from offers of advice to never-ending, naggy guilt trips.

I understand his mindset. When I started graduate school, I was working full time and planning to take — and pay upfront for — one class each semester. It was a solid plan until I got laid off and found myself with little cash and a lot of free time.

“I have a great idea,” I explained breathlessly to my mother over the phone one day. “Why don’t I enjoy this time, do a little freelance work and go to school half time so I can get financial aid?” I would take out student loans to pay for school and defer my undergraduate loans.

Why she did not stop me right there and kick my butt back into reality, I do not know. But I had already convinced myself of this plan. By the time I graduated with a shiny new diploma, I’d have a shiny new job to take care of those pesky loans. Right?

Not right. You don’t waltz out of a liberal arts degree and into a six-figure job. It just does. Not. Happen.

($14,738.96 to go!)

Anyway, back to you two.

The tricky thing about paying the minimum or deferring your student loans is that interest continues to accrue.

It’s like lingering at a restaurant after you’ve paid the bill. But instead of dirty looks from the waitstaff, you get charged a dollar for each extra minute you stay at the table. You don’t have to gulp your drink down immediately and run out the door, but you do want to make a timely exit before those dollars add up too much.

It’s the same for student loans. Interest rate calculators make it easy to see the long-term impact of paying just the minimum.

I tested this out for you. Say your boyfriend has a $5,000 Direct Subsidized Loan with a 5% fixed interest rate. If he makes the minimum monthly payment over 10 years, he’ll really pay $6,364 for that loan. Add more loans on top of that in the coming years, and that’s more extra money he’ll have to pay back later.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to pay an extra $1,364 for anything.

So show him the math. But then it’s up to him. Would he rather have more cash in his pocket now and pay an extra few grand later for the convenience? Or is he willing to make sacrifices now for greater peace of mind later on?

He may also have money plans he’s not sharing with you, for the simple fact that it’s not easy to talk about money. For example, maybe he’s trying to save for an emergency fund (always a good idea).

Unexpected costs crop up all over the place during your college years, and credit card interest rates tend to be way higher than the interest he’ll pay on his student loans. If he’s working on building up a cash stash, it’s fine to hold off on student loan repayment.

Ultimately, this is his decision. You can talk over the numbers, his motivations and your joint goals, but he’s the one who’s paying the bill each month.

But keep talking about this! It’s not something you can only discuss once and then have to put in a box and pop onto the top shelf of your closet. Continue to approach money discussions as a point of collaboration, and it’ll be easier to face whatever inevitable challenges lie ahead for you as a couple.

Have an awkward money dilemma? Send it to dearpenny@thepennyhoarder.com.

Disclaimer: Chosen questions and featured answers will appear in The Penny Hoarder’s “Dear Penny” column. I won’t be able to answer every single letter (I can only type so fast!). We reserve the right to edit and publish your questions. Don’t worry — your identity will remain anonymous. I don’t have a psychology, accounting, finance or legal degree, so my advice is for informational purposes only. I do, however, promise to give you honest advice based on my own insights and real-life experiences.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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