8 Financial Choices You’ll Regret in 5 Years

Financial success will come easier if you can avoid these common mistakes.

If your goal is getting ahead financially, the formula for success is simple: Maximize tax-advantaged retirement accounts early, boost your savings with a Roth or traditional individual retirement account, choose investments you feel comfortable with and avoid debt like the plague. If you do those four things, you’re bound to enjoy less stress and more wealth over time.

But is it always that easy? Absolutely not. As you move through the various stages of life, you’ll encounter myriad pitfalls and temptations that can knock you off track – some of which can seem like a smart idea at the time.

Speeding toward financial independence is easier when you know which financial choices can slow you down. I spoke to a handful of top financial advisers to get their takes on the most common financial choices their clients live to regret. Here’s what they said.

1. ‘Investing’ in a New Car

“At first blush, buying the latest and greatest version of the ultimate driving machine may seem like a value worthy of your hard-earned money,” says California financial advisor Anthony M. Montenegro of Blackmont Advisors.

Unfortunately, new cars depreciate the moment they leave the lot, and continue dropping in value until they’re worth almost nothing. If you finance the average new car priced at more than $30,000 for five years, you’ll pay out the nose for a hunk of metal worth a small percentage of what you paid. (Remember, a good credit score can qualify you for lower interest rates on your auto loan. You can see two of your scores for free on Credit.com)

Pro tip: Buy a used car and let someone else take the upfront depreciation, then drive it until the wheels fall off. Once five years has passed, you won’t regret all the money you never spent.

2. Not Watching Your Everyday Purchases

While big purchases like a new car can eat away at your wealth, the little purchases we make every day can also do damage, says Maryland fee-only financial adviser Martin A. Smith. If you’re spending $10 per day on anything — your favorite coffee or lunch out with friends — your seemingly small purchases can add up in a big way. (If you must feed a coffee habit, the right credit card can help make it more worthwhile.)

Keep in mind that $10 per day is $300 per month, $3,600 in a year and $18,000 after five years. While you may not regret your daily indulgences, you may regret the savings you could have had.

3. Not Refinancing Your Mortgage While Rates Are Low

While refinancing your mortgage is anything but fun, now may be the perfect time to dive in. That’s because interest rates are still teetering near lows, says Colorado financial adviser Matthew Jackson of Solid Wealth Advisors LLC.

Even one percentage point can cost you – or save you – tens of thousands of dollars in interest over the years. Since rates will eventually go up, you “don’t want to miss the opportunity now,” says Jackson.

4. Buying Too Much House

Buying the ideal home may seem like a smart idea, but does your dream home jive with your financial goals?

Unfortunately, buying more house than you need can lead to regret and financial stress, says Vancouver, Washington financial planner Alex Whitehouse.

“Too much income going to housing payments makes it difficult to fully furnish rooms, keep up with rising taxes, and often leads to struggles with maintenance and utility costs,” notes Whitehouse.

Banks may be willing to lend you more than you can reasonably afford. If you want to avoid becoming house-poor, ignore the bank’s numbers and come up with your own.

5. Borrowing Against Your Retirement Account

While you can borrow against your 401K plan with reasonable terms, that doesn’t mean you should. If you do, you may regret it for decades.

“Millennials often ask if it’s okay to access their 401K or IRA early (before age 59 ½) to buy a home, travel or pay off debt,” says Minnesota financial adviser Jamie Pomeroy of FinancialGusto.com.

However, there are numerous reasons to avoid doing so.

Not only do you normally have to pay a penalty to access retirement funds early, but you’ll pay taxes too. Most important, however, is the fact you’re robbing your future self. You will regret the lost savings (and lost compound interest) when you check your retirement account in five years.

6. Not Using a Budget

While many people buy the notion that budgets are restrictive, the reality is different. If used properly, budgets are financial tools you can use to afford what you really want in life.

“I would suggest that you create a budget that you stick to,” says financial planner David G. Niggel of Key Wealth Partners in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. “At the end of the year, you have the chance to evaluate your spending habits and make some serious changes if necessary.”

If you don’t, your finances could suffer from death by a thousand cuts.

7. Not Saving as Much as You Can

While it’s easy to think of your disposable income as “fun money,” this is a decision you could live to regret in five years.

The more money you have saved later in life, the more flexibility you’ll have, notes fee-only San Diego financial adviser Taylor Schulte. And if you don’t get serious about saving now, you could easily regret it in the future.

According to Schulte, you should strive to “play it safe” when it comes to your savings.

“I’ve never heard anyone regret having too much money,” says Schulte. “But, I’d be willing to bet we have all heard far too many people complain about not saving enough or not starting earlier.”

8. Not Buying Life Insurance When You’re Young

If you are married, own a home, or have children, you need life insurance coverage. Unfortunately, this is one purchase that becomes more difficult – and more expensive – as you age.

If you don’t buy life insurance when you’re 25, you can expect to pay a lot more for coverage when you’re 30, 35, 40 and so on. And if you wait long enough, you may not even be able to buy it at all, says New York financial planner Joseph Carbone of Focus Planning Group.

As Carbone notes, if you develop a chronic health condition before you apply for life insurance coverage, you could easily become uninsurable. To avoid regretting inaction in five or 10 years, most people would benefit from applying for an inexpensive, term life insurance policy as soon as they can.

Image: Ridofranz

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17 Ways to Save at Sephora

Because beauty doesn't come cheap.

Product lovers know that Sephora is the place to go for all things beauty-related, but shopping there can be a bit of a hazard, financially speaking, even when you do so with a list of needs in hand. After all, Sephora has everything you never knew you desperately needed.

If you’re likely to be tempted by all the sights and smells of Sephora, try using some of these tactics to save on your next haul. Here are 17 ways to save at the beauty chain.

1. Shop the Sales Section

Check out all the awesome beauty bargains available in the Sephora sales section online before you do anything else. From makeup, skincare and fragrance products to hair, beauty tools and bath items, you may just find everything you need for your date night look right there.

2. Check Out Weekly Specials

Unlike the sales section, weekly specials show up for a limited time and include things like bonus offers, limited-time markdowns, and freebie items, among other things.

3. Sign Up for Sephora Newsletters

Scroll all the way to the bottom of the Sephora homepage and enter your email to get Sephora newsletters. You’ll have access to all the current promotions, coupon codes and more.

4. Join the Beauty Insider Program

Register for free for Sephora’s Beauty Insider program and every dollar you spend earns you a point that gets you closer to free beauty products. (You can actually find out how many points you need for certain products on Sephora’s website.) You’ll also get a free birthday gift, access to free beauty classes, and for $10 a year, you can receive flash two-day shipping on all your orders online. Here are a few other awesome retailer loyalty programs to consider.

5. Upgrade to the VIB Level

If your Sephora obsession is serious, it might be worth the $350 per year to upgrade to the VIB level program. You’ll still earn points toward free products, get a free birthday gift, free beauty classes and have access to flash two-day shipping on all online orders for an additional $10 per year, but you’ll also get additional seasonal savings, handpicked gifts and one free custom makeover annually.

6. Go All Out with the VIB Rouge Program

Only if you really, truly spend a ton at Sephora will this program be worth it, but for $1,000 a year, the VIB Rouge program will give you access to everything the regular VIB program does, plus you’ll have unlimited free customer makeover access and free flash two-day shipping on all online orders. Plus, you’ll have access to a private hotline and you’ll receive invitations to exclusive events.

7. Create a Sephora Loves List to Share Widely

The next time someone asks you what you want for your birthday, Christmas or Hanukkah, point them in the direction of your carefully curated Loves list in your Sephora Beauty Bag. Simply sign in, click the heart icon next to any beauty items you must have, then print or share via email with your loved ones.

8. Make the Most of Complimentary Services

If you’re already spending money at Sephora, be sure to get the most out of your purchases. For example, 45-minute full-face makeovers are complimentary with a $50 minimum purchase or $50 gift card redemption, and a 90-minute customized skin care, fragrance, and beauty makeover is free with purchases of $125 or more. Both services are free to VIB Rouge members, as well.

Mini-makeovers in the form of 15-minute sessions with Sephora Beauty and Skincare advisers are free in all stores, as well, so be sure to inquire.

9. Don’t Forget Your Free Samples

Before plunking down full price to try out a brand new product, check and see if what you’re looking for is available as a free sample. Each online purchase comes with three free samples, and if you can try it out before buying it, you might save some wasted cash on products that weren’t what you were expecting. You’re also allowed up to three take-home samples per department in store, so ask about those options and details.

10. Apply for the JCPenney Card

Sephora now accepts a JCPenney credit card (full review here) for purchases at Sephora.com, so you can use your Sephora purchases to help you earn rewards on your JCPenney purchases as well.

Just be sure to pay your balances off in full. The card carries a lofty variable 26.99% annual percentage rate. Plus, high credit card balances can hurt you credit. (You can see two of your scores for free on Credit.com.)

11. Use a Rewards Credit Card

You can get a little kickback on your beauty purchases by using a solid rewards credit card. Again, just be sure to pay your balances off in full. Otherwise, any points, miles or cash back you earn will just get eaten by interest.

12. Follow Sephora on Social Media

The beauty store often shares discount, contest and giveaway information on its Facebook and Twitter sites. Be sure to follow them so you don’t miss out.

13. Search Online for Discount Codes

Try sites like Retail Me Not and Coupon.com for promo codes to use online.

14. Buy Discount Gift Cards

Check out sites like Gift Card Granny to purchase Sephora gift certificates at less than face value.

15. Get a Student Discount

Search for them online. For instance, you can earn 10% cash back on Sephora purchases at student discount site studentrate.com.

16. Splurge on Makeup Palettes, Not Single Items

Even if you don’t think you’ll use every single color in that lipstick palette, picking up the palette instead of individual lipstick colors you like is bound to save you some cash, as individual items tend to cost an arm and a leg.

17. Wait for the Sales

Beauty Insiders get early access on offers of up to 15% off products twice a year, but sales can be worth the wait in savings even if you haven’t signed up for the Beauty Insider rewards program.

Want more brand hacks? You’re in luck, because we’ve got plenty. For starters, you can find 14 ways to save at Overstock.com right here. Or you can check out these 12 ways to save at The Container Store if you need new bins to put all those beauty products in. Plus, if there’s a particular retail chain you’d like to see us cover, shout it out in the comments section below. 

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

Image: MilanMarkovic

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Forget Coffee & Toast. Here Are 18 Smart Ways to Use an Avocado

use_an_avocado

Avocados have been a thing for awhile now, but thanks to avocado toast-shaming and something called the avolatte (it is exactly as it sounds), the fruit has gone viral. And while the question of whether avo-everything is keeping millennials from the American Dream remains up for debate, there’s one thing that can’t be disputed. All fruits considered, avocados are expensive.

But fear not millennial (or beyond), there are some ways you keep your avocado cravings from breaking the bank — or, dare we say, costing you the house. Whether you’re looking to repurpose overly ripe skins or hoping to utilize peel to nut, here are 15 smart ways to use an avocado.

1. Deep Treat Your Hair

Skip the expensive salon treatments and DIY your own deep conditioner by mixing a mashed avocado and an egg yolk. It sounds unappealing, but all the protein, vitamins and nutrients can have major benefits for your scalp. Detailed recipes are available on Pinterest.

2. Soothe a Sunburn …

An avocado’s nutrients can ease the pain of sun-ravaged skin, so feel free to slather some on if you over-do it at the beach this summer. Add some aloe vera to expedite the healing process.

3. … or Some Serious Razor Burn

Getting red bumps when you shave? Mix avocado with coconut oil and shea butter to quell the burn.

4. Exfoliate

Say goodbye to rough feet (and pricey foot scrubs) by grinding up a dried avocado pit and mixing it with sea salt. You can also use the inside of an avocado peel to tackle particularly rough patches. Again, there are plenty of detailed DIY recipes on Pinterest. (Don’t want to bother? Maybe you’d prefer to shell out for these eight ridiculously expensive hotel spa treatments.)

5. Make Jewelry

Crafters can get some extra bang for their avocado buck by repurposing those perfectly round pits into the raw materials for some distinctive accessories. Simply wash the pits and let them dry for a few days until they shrink, then cut and paint as you please.

6. Dye Some Fabric

When used correctly, avocado pits can create gorgeous au naturel pink or russet red hues. You can find a full recipe for avocado dye on CUESA.org.

7. Make a Delicious Mousse …

If you have a sweet tooth but want to eat healthy, avocados are your go-to ingredient. Blending an avocado with melted chocolate, sugar and a few other ingredients makes a decadent dessert that everyone will love, even people who don’t care for avocado. There are dozens of recipes available online.

8. … or Tasty Truffles

While you’re at it, scour the internet for chocolate truffle recipes that swap avocados for heavy cream. They’re (somewhat) healthier, so you can feel less guilty about shoveling them into your mouth while watching TV. Bonus: Overly ripe avocados blend right in with chocolate.

9. Lose the Butter

Paula Deen may recoil in horror at this one, but, as many vegans know, an avocado’s buttery texture makes the perfect substitute for butter in many baking recipes.

10. Thicken Your Smoothies

An avocado’s signature creamy texture can also add some je ne sais quoi to your morning smoothie. Plus, juicing at home is just one way breakfast can fix your money problems. (You can track your financial goals by viewing your free credit report snapshot each month on Credit.com.)

11. Have a Quick Bite

Halve and pit your avocado, drizzle some Worcestershire sauce in the middle and voila! You’re ready to snack.

12. Put an Egg on It

After you’ve cranked the oven to 450, slice and pit an avocado and set the halves in a baking dish. Sprinkle with hot sauce and crack an egg into each half. Bake for 12 minutes.

13. Upgrade Your BLT

Ever heard of a BLAT? We haven’t either, but avocados really do go with everything.

14. Make Avocado Fries …

Sure, they may not be as satisfying as the real deal, but these little treats are delicious. Plus, no deep frier required — slice them up, dip them in egg and then breadcrumbs, bake and enjoy!

15. … or Just Go With Good Old-Fashioned Guacamole

Why mess with a good thing, you know?

16. Have an Avo-Cocktail In

Specialty drinks at a swanky restaurant are a quick way to run up the bill — especially if you’re opting for an alcoholic beverage. Satiate your inner foodie by blending an avo-cocktail at home. Most recipes are simple and only require a little bit of avocado puree, agave syrup, vodka, lemon and ice.

17. Throw Them in the Garbage

Well, not literally. When you’re finished eating an avocado or it’s gone bad, add the leftovers to your compost bin. The skin and peel, particularly, can facilitate some fertile and fabulous soil. Consider that a win-win, since avocados are expensive and gardening can help save a ton of money on produce.

18. Plant an Avocado Tree

Speaking of gardening, you can grow an avocado tree from an avocado pit. It’ll take some time, a lot of legwork and a little bit of luck, but if you’ve got a green thumb (and an insatiable thirst for guacamole), the project could wind up paying for itself. There are plenty of tutorials on YouTube to help you get growing.

Image: domoyega

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Americans Are Traveling (& Spending) More Than Ever This Memorial Day

memorial-day-travel

This year, Americans want to spend their Memorial Day weekend away from home, despite reports that gas prices are going to be the highest they’ve been in more than a decade.

This is according to a recent report from AAA, which used economic variables to forecast domestic travel volumes, as well as data from research firm IHS Markit. The study — which qualified Memorial Day travel as going 50 or more miles away from home during Thursday, May 25 and Monday, May 29 — predicts that 39.3 million travelers will be hitting the road this year for the long weekend, which is up 2.7% (roughly one million) from 2016, making this the highest volume of Memorial Day weekend travel since 2005.

And as the amount of travelers increase, so do gas prices. The gas prices averaged at around $2.74 in 2015, dropped to $2.32 in 2016 but are predicted to rise to the highest gas prices since 2005, AAA reported. This is unfortunate news for the 34.6 million Americans (88.1% of travelers) who reportedly plan to drive to their destinations.

“The expected spike in Memorial Day travel mirrors the positive growth seen throughout the travel industry this year,” said Bill Sutherland, AAA senior vice president, Travel and Publishing. “Higher confidence has led to more consumer spending, and many Americans are choosing to allocate their extra money on travel this Memorial Day.”

What You’ll Pay to Get Away

Although the survey reports travelers intend to drive despite high gas prices, this isn’t the only thing they’ll need to consider as they get behind the wheel. According to last year’s accident and traffic data from Waze, a community-based mapping app, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York were the busiest metro areas over Memorial Day weekend, especially on Thursday and Friday. An extra precaution should be taken for most drivers especially because the number of car rentals are increasing this year as well. AAA’s car rental bookings are 19% higher than last Memorial Day and the cost has risen to an average of $66 per day, 7% more than last year.

The 2.9 million Americans choosing to fly to their destinations are also seeing a cost increase. AAA reports airfare rates are higher than last Memorial Day, saying the average airfare for the top 40 domestic flight routes will be 9% higher. If you do plan on flying anywhere this Memorial Day weekend, you may want to read up on the best credit cards to use at every major airport in America to help ensure you get the best bang for your buck when you’re there. Just remember, these travel cards tend to require you have an excellent credit score to qualify. So, if you’re looking to apply for one, it’s a good idea to check out your credit ahead of time. You can see two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.

While driving and flying dominate the survey, AAA projects travel by other modes (including trains, buses and cruises) will rise to 1.75 million this year, the highest level since 2009. The cost for transportation isn’t the only thing on the rise — hotels costs are also going up. The average AAA Three Diamond Rated Hotel for this Memorial Day weekend costs an average $215 each night, 18% more than last year.

Whether or not you’re traveling this holiday weekend, you will want to check out these 50 ways to honor the true meaning of Memorial Day

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15 Ways to Get Fit Without Breaking Your Budget

Skip the expensive gear and supplements. Use these tips to focus on getting strong.

Getting physically fit can be overwhelming in a number of ways. But the one thing it should never overwhelm is your wallet. With fitness marketing experts mandating the purchase of this, that and the other thing, it’s easy to think you have to spend half your yearly salary to achieve your goals. You don’t, of course.

Keep in mind that there are many ways to cut back on your monthly expenses, and not just when it comes to your fitness. You can save money on your food budget, for example. And if your credit is in tip-top shape, you’ll be saving the most when it comes to interest rates on your credit cards, auto loans and even mortgage. (Want to know where your credit stands? You can check your credit scores, absolutely free, right here on Credit.com.)

Here are 15 ways to spend little to no money on your fitness endeavors.

1. Join a Gym

Most gyms currently operate on the idea of quantity over cost. In the current economic climate, signing up lots of members at a low membership fee is more tenable than is few members at a high one. This means that it is now cheaper than ever to join a gym and have access to quality exercise equipment.

2. Make Your Own Meals

If it’s true that you are what you eat, don’t be a number six on a value menu. Doing your own meal prep will allow you to be conscious of your food choices as well as the cost of food.

3. Walk

If you can get there on foot, leave your car at home. It’s more cost-efficient to burn calories as fuel than it is gasoline.

4. Skip the Supplements

Supplements offer the promise of better health, but they do so at a high cost. It’s not uncommon for people to spend hundreds, even thousands, of dollars a year on products of dubious efficacy. It can become a compulsion. If you don’t have a vitamin deficiency or a doctor’s note, you can do without supplementation.

5. Use Household Items as Weights

Do you have a gallon water jug lying around? How about a closed bag of cat litter? There are plenty of household items that can be used as resistance training tools. Want to do bicep curls, but you don’t have dumbbells? Use tomato cans.

6. Join a Club

While generally more expensive than traditional gyms, alternative gyms, like martial arts schools, can offer the benefit of group activity, motivation and warmth of atmosphere. All these are things that may keep you active. An unused gym membership is money thrown away.

7. Use the Stairs

Stair-climbing machines can cost thousands of dollars. There are five flights of stairs in my apartment building that are included in my rent.

8. Use Resistance Bands

Making a small investment in a set of resistance bands can be like buying yourself a home gym. There are a great number of exercises you can do with them in your own home and they take virtually zero space.

9. Stream Exercise Programs

Motivation abounds on the good old boob-tube. If you’ve got a cable box, the internet or any streaming device, you’ve got access to near endless instructional content.

10. Find a Buddy

The financial incentive for having a workout partner is that you can do more body weight exercises than you could otherwise do alone, making a gym membership unnecessary. And if you like the gym, a buddy will serve as motivation to suck every last penny out of your $20-plus monthly membership fee.

11. Avoid Fad Diets

The market is flooded with specialized diets that have a great number of products associated with them. These products are made to seem necessary to your fitness success, but, in many cases, their only real function is to lighten your coin purse. Spend your money on healthy food, not fads.

12. Consult Your Doctor

No amount of advice will help you if you’ve got an underlying medical condition. The best way to save money in regard to fitness is to ensure you’re healthy enough to exercise. It’s better to have high grocery bills than hospital bills.

13. Take Care of Your Gear

Cheap or expensive, the best way to save money on fitness apparel and gear is by not having to replace it. Treat your workout stuff kindly and wash as instructed.

14. Buy Gear on Clearance

How much money should you spend on clothing you intend to sweat in? If you live for fashion, by all means, spend as much as you like, but really, why are you reading this? For everyone else, you don’t have to wear rags, of course, but you also don’t have to spend a ton on gym clothes that will wear well. Clearance items are a large part of the fitness apparel market. Every fitness outfitter, particularly those online, have a modest selection of overstock and underselling products just waiting to be purchased for pennies.

15. Make Use of Your Lunch Break

Two birds, one stone. Weather permitting, take a walk during your lunch break. It costs you nothing, and you don’t have to feel bad about not having the energy to exercise when you get home. Bonus: You’ll have more energy to power through your afternoon at the office.

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How to Really Budget for a Staycation

Just because you're staying at or near home doesn't mean you won't accidentally overspend. Here's how to avoid digging a fiscal hole.

Whether you’re dreaming of an hour-long massage or lazy days lounging under the summer sun, you’ll want to budget wisely for your staycation. After all, you’ve worked hard for this well-deserved treat, and the last thing you want is for your savings account to plummet just when you’ve begun to relax. (Overspending can also tank your credit. You can see how your spending is impacting your credit by viewing two of your scores for free on Credit.com.)

To avoid a staggering credit card bill, here’s how to budget for your staycation, no matter what you’ve got in mind.

Be Realistic 

A whimsical tour through New York City, with stops on Broadway, in SoHo and at Bloomingdale’s, probably isn’t in the cards on a waiter’s budget. Be realistic and do your research so you have a solid idea of what you can afford.

Draft a Budget

Just because you’re staying home doesn’t mean you won’t spend money. So it’s a good idea to figure out how much you can comfortably set aside after you’ve covered your monthly expenses. Is it $500? $1,000? More? Whatever it is, remember monthly payments like rent and utilities are a necessity, while your staycation budget isn’t.

Make a Plan 

More than anything, the secret to drafting a great budget is knowing what it will cover. If you’re planning to play tourist, checking out concerts and staying nearby, research those individual costs and factor them into your budget. Go online, see what’s exciting and make a list of what you’d like to do. Once you’ve narrowed it down, you can decide what makes the most sense based on your budget.

Set a Daily Cash Allowance 

Once you’ve narrowed down how much money you can spend, it can be helpful to set a daily allowance for meals, snacks and planned-out activities. Experts recommend inflating the number just a bit to account for unforeseen costs like impulse purchases and emergencies. As your staycation draws closer and your plans change, rework your budget accordingly. (As an aside, now might be a good time to see how you’re doing on the emergency savings front. Here are some ways to build a bigger cash cushion now.)

Get Creative 

Sometimes, meeting your vacation goals takes a bit of creativity. To that end, find ways to cut back your regular spending, even if you haven’t given it much thought before. Holding off on those lattes or 3 p.m. snacks may just be the thing that allows you to visit the fancy restaurant you’ve been dying to try.

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50 Ways to Honor the True Meaning of Memorial Day

It's more than hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill. Here's how you can celebrate the lives of the men and women who died serving their country.

If you’ve had a loved one die in military service, you especially understand the importance of Memorial Day, which honors the fallen men and women who served the United States. Whether you’ve lost a loved one or not, doing something to recognize the sacrifices of our fallen heroes this year can be a wonderful way to say thank you. We’ve rounded up a list of 50 ways you can honor the true spirit of Memorial Day.

1. Volunteer to Raise & Lower Cemetery Flags …

It may seem like a simple thing, but reaching out to your local cemetery, especially a veterans cemetery, can make a big difference, particularly in rural areas where there may be fewer family members of the men and women buried there living nearby and available to volunteer.

2. … Or to Help Maintain Cemetery Grounds

The same goes for cemetery maintenance. Helping to maintain the final resting place of fallen troops by volunteering to prune trees, mend cemetery flags, repair cemetery benches or pull weeds can make a big difference to visiting family members.

3. … Or to Greet Cemetery Visitors

The Department of Veterans Affairs suggests one way to make a difference this Memorial Day is to volunteer to greet families at special services at veterans cemeteries. Your thanks for their sacrifice can go a long way.

4. … Or to Play Taps

If you’re a bugler, you can also volunteer to play taps live for Memorial Day or even at veterans’ funerals throughout the year. Congress passed a law in 2000 to allow a recorded version of taps to be played at these funerals since there are more veterans funerals than buglers the military can provide. But many families prefer a live bugler, so there is still significant demand for your talents.

5. … Or to Clean Up a Grave Site

You’ve seen them — the untended graves of fallen veterans who have no family remaining. You can volunteer to keep these grave sites free of weeds and the headstones cleaned of dirt and debris. You can also volunteer to …

6. Place Flowers & Flags on Graves

Sure, there are veterans groups and others who do this, but you can always help them or make this simple gesture on your own.

7. Adopt a Grave Site

You can also make maintenance of a specific grave site official through the Adopt a Grave program. Volunteers take care of the graves of the fallen soldiers, keeping them debris-free and decorating them with flowers. Check with your local cemetery to see if they support the program.

8. Share Your Story

Whether it’s a post on social media, a letter to the editor of your local newspaper or a piece you wish to publish in a magazine or on a website, sharing your personal story of loss and remembrance is a wonderful way to memorialize your fallen veteran.

9. Share a Veteran’s Story

Likewise, telling another person’s story can be a wonderful way to recognize their sacrifice. Did your grandfather die in combat? A friend? A member of your community? Telling their story, especially when you can include photographs, can be a lovely reminder of what Memorial Day is all about.

10. Make a Recording for NPR’s StoryCorps

If your story is especially compelling, you may want to consider recording it. NPR’s StoryCorps stories are stored in the Library of Congress. You can learn more about StoryCorps here.

11. Join the Memorial Day Facebook Page

You can share stories and photos of your fallen hero here, plus see the posts of other military family members.

12. Donate Your Time …

There are literally dozens of volunteer opportunities to help veterans and military families. Check your local organizations today to see what you can do in your community.

13. … Or Your Money

The same goes for monetary donations. There are many worthy organizations. As you research which is right for you, you may come across some organizations which which you are unfamiliar. The site Charity Navigator provides information on how much of your donation will benefit that organization’s particular cause, rather than administrative costs, so you can be sure your money is making an impact.

14. … Or Your Blood

Your donation could be the difference in a family remembering their service member on Memorial Day, or thanking them personally on Veterans Day.

15. Make a Memorial Donation

If you have a fallen loved one, you can make your donation in their name.

16. Help a Surviving Family

If you’d like to help by providing support for families of the fallen, both the USO and the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors offer financial and emotional support to bereaved spouses and children of troops who have died serving their country.

17. Send Flowers

If you live in the New York metro area, you may want to consider sending a thank-you bouquet through the National Memorial Day Foundation, which will be placed at the New York City war memorials.

18. Help Out Living Service Members

Donating time or resources to a veterans organization, like the Wounded Warrior Project, can make a huge difference in the lives of surviving service members wounded during duty.

19. Write a Letter to an Active Duty Service Member

Writing letters to active duty military members is a time-honored tradition. It can mean a lot to the men and women far from their homes and families. There are several resources online to help you get your letter to service member.

20. Invite a Service Member Over for Your Cookout

Want to thank a service member in person? Why not have him or her over for your Memorial Day barbecue?

21. Observe a Moment of Silence

There’s an official National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day, but you can take a moment from your weekend activities whenever the time is right for you to reflect on the sacrifices of our fallen heroes.

22. Say a Prayer

If you’re religious, take time to say thanks for our fallen veterans.

23. Carry the Load

The Dallas Memorial March by “Carry the Load” is the organization’s flagship event, occurring over two days and honoring service members and their families for the sacrifices they make. Participants join in the Memorial March at any time during the two days and walk, even for just a few minutes.

24. Fly Your Flag – But Do So Properly

Proper flag etiquette prescribes that the Stars and Stripes be raised at half staff from sunrise until noon on Memorial Day, and then raised to full staff for the rest of the day.

25. Watch the National Memorial Day Concert …

This annual concert will be televised live on PBS from the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol Sunday, May 28 at 8 p.m. EDT.

26. … Or Find a Concert Near You

Lots of cities and towns have their own musical remembrance for Memorial Day. Check your local listings to find what’s available in your area.

27. Join the Parade

Attend the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, D.C., or find a local parade nearer to you.

28. Join the Rolling Thunder ‘Ride For Freedom’

If you love motorcycles, you may want to consider joining this giant biker brigade honoring our fallen veterans.

29. Attend a Memorial Day Service …

Check your local listings for services in your area.

30. … Or the National Service at Flanders Field

If you live in the D.C. metro area, you may wish to attend the national Memorial Day service.

31. … Or a Memorial Day Service Overseas

If you’re overseas, you don’t have to skip honoring our fallen veterans. There are dozens of American cemeteries around the world where fallen military members have been laid to rest. Many of these have Memorial Day services that are free and open to the public.

32. Buy a Buddy Poppy

Call your nearest Veterans of Foreign Wars post to find out where to purchase their handmade poppies. Your purchase provides compensation to the veterans who assemble the poppies, provides financial assistance in maintaining state and national veterans’ rehabilitation and service programs and partially supports the VFW National Home For Children.

33. Make a Patriotic Playlist

Don’t overlook your Memorial Day soundtrack. Here are several ideas to get you started:

  • America the Beautiful
  • Anchors Aweigh
  • The Army Goes Rolling Along
  • Battle Hymn of the Republic
  • Columbia the Gem of the Ocean
  • Fanfare for the Common Man
  • God Bless America
  • Hail Columbia
  • Library of Congress March
  • Marines’ Hymn

34. Watch a Military Movie

Why not watch a movie this Memorial Day that symbolizes exactly what the day is about — duty, sacrifice and grief. There are lots of recommendation lists online, but some of our favorites include Hamburger Hill, Saving Private Ryan, Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July.

35. Make Some Red, White & Blue Food

Just because you’re honoring the dead doesn’t mean you can’t have some tasty food as well. Check out Foodie Crush’s roundup of 50 patriotic treats that will be sure to make your guests remember the day’s focus.

36. Buy American

Do your part to support American businesses (many small businesses are owned by veterans) and buy American, especially on Memorial Day.

37. Get Active in Local Politics

Honoring the men and women who died for this country is wonderful, but civic responsibility helps ensure their sacrifice wasn’t in vain. Get involved in your local city or town council by running for office or attending open meetings. But don’t stop there. Do the same at the county or parish and even state levels.

38. Read About the History of Memorial Day

Sure, you know it’s about honoring our fallen veterans, but do you know the history of Memorial Day?

39. Read Aloud Logan’s General Order No. 11

If you want to make your Memorial Day moment of silence especially poignant, try reading the original order to recognize the dead afterward.

40. Teach Your Children About the Meaning of Memorial Day

Reminding your children of what the day is all about can help them appreciate the sacrifices made by our fallen veterans.

41. Read Memorial Day Speeches, Poems & More …

There are some amazing words written about our fallen heroes. If you want a few somber moments to reflect on their sacrifice, some of these pieces can help you do just that.

42. … Or Write Your Own

If you have any articles, essays, lyrics, poems, prayers or speeches relating to Memorial Day, consider donating a copy to be posted on usmemorialday.org.

43. Visit a National Military Park

Is there a historic battle site near you? Consider making a day trip to learn more about the battle and the sacrifices made there.

44. Visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

If you’re near Washington, D.C., you could consider visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

45. Visit the Alamo

The site of one of the most famous battles on American soil is a true testament to sacrifice.

46. Visit Pearl Harbor

If you’re in Hawaii, pay your respects at the Pearl Harbor Memorial.

47. Visit Military Memorials in Washington, D.C.

A day at these somber sites is a wonderful way to reflect on the sacrifices of our fallen veterans.

48. Visit the Flight 93 Memorial

The passengers on Flight 93 weren’t members of the military, but these ordinary citizens and crew members joined together in an extraordinary act of selflessness, giving their lives for their country and saving potentially thousands of others on Sept. 11. If you’re near the site in Pennsylvania, it can be a wonderful way to reflect on self-sacrifice for the greater good.

49. Visit Nearby Historical Markers

If you can’t make it to a battleground, monument or other historic site, consider a simple road trip to read some of the historical markers in your area. Many of them are about battles lost and won right here on American soil.

50. Join the Military

If service to your country is important to you, consider enlisting in one of the four main branches of the military, in the Coast Guard or joining the Army National Guard.

Image: gjohnstonphoto

The post 50 Ways to Honor the True Meaning of Memorial Day appeared first on Credit.com.

How to Save Money to Start Your Own Business

When saving up to make the self-employment switch, don't sell yourself short.

Starting a business almost always takes money. When saving up to make the self-employment switch, financial expert Edward Kohlhepp, CFP from Doylestown, Pennsylvania, recommends that you don’t sell yourself short.

“Don’t stop when you have enough to just buy the business,” he says. “You’ll need money for operating expenses such as taxes, rent and payroll, plus you should have six-to-12 months of personal living expenses saved to tide you over until the business begins generating reliable income.”

Here is a four-step plan to help you start cutting costs and save money so you can get your business up and running as soon as possible.

1. Start Budgeting

Budgeting is an important part of any business, so if you haven’t started a budget yet, this is the time. There are several ways you can do this, from an old-school pen and paper system to using budgeting software that lets you manage your household costs in addition to your business finances, so you can keep tabs on your various sources of income all in one place. (Disclosure: I write for Quicken, who produces these types of products.) You can also use a combination of the two or other methods that work for you, so long as you start a budget and stick with it. Remember: Budgets can be fluid, so feel free to adjust as you go.

2. Focus on the Essentials

As you create a personal budget, keep a record of your daily expenses. If an expense isn’t essential, cut it. For example, it may be part of your morning routine to grab a coffee for the commute. But bringing your own java in a travel mug compared to buying a latte every day will save you serious cash after several work weeks. Review your monthly expenses and eliminate those you don’t really need. Some other considerations:

  • Will a Netflix or Hulu subscription allow you to cancel your premium cable service?
  • Do you use your gym membership often enough to justify the cost?
  • How much can you save by buying staple items in bulk?
  • Would using public transportation, cabs or services like Uber be cheaper than owning two cars?

If you find that your excess expenses most often happen while you’re on the road, take your budget with you. Budgeting apps can help you track personal and business expenses on the go from wherever you are.

3. Negotiate for Savings

Only half of all consumers bargain over prices when making a purchase. Yet 89% of those who did were able to get a deal at least once in the past year, according to the Consumer Reports National Research Center.

Even if you find a great price online, services like Amazon and eBay often allow you to negotiate on the price with some sellers.
When shopping for items in person, always keep an eye out for a way to get a deal. Negotiating often works best when you can see the person face-to-face. Here are some strategies:

  • Ask if there is a discount when you pay with cash.
  • Point out a flaw or defect in an item you want, like a loose button on a jacket, then ask if there could be a discount because of it.
  • Ask for a discount when buying in bulk.

4. Eliminate High-Interest Debt

Carrying high-interest debt is an extra financial burden you don’t need when you’re ready to start your business. Calculate how much loan interest is costing you each year and compare that to the interest you’re earning on any investments you may have. If the difference is substantial, it may be wise to pay off those debts immediately. High-interest debt can also impact your credit. You can see how by viewing two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.

When saving for your business, always consider what your needs may be in the future. For example, if you don’t cancel your credit cards after paying them off, you will have available credit to fall back on should your business suffer a setback.

Image: JohnnyGreig

The post How to Save Money to Start Your Own Business appeared first on Credit.com.

How to Avoid the Hidden Struggles of a Flexible Work Schedule

Managing a flexible schedule can pose surprising difficulties. These tips should help any freelancer enjoy working from home while avoiding those pitfalls.

When I first became a freelance writer I couldn’t have been happier with the decision. The ability to be my own boss (to a certain extent), work with multiple clients and set my own schedule, was immensely appealing.

I discovered quickly, however, that if I wasn’t careful, the flexibility of my new career course could be my downfall. While it was tempting to take every friend up on their offer to join their vacation, or to take a half day to hit the beach or binge-watch Netflix, if I did that every time I felt the urge, I’d have no income.

Many employees dealing with a flexible schedule for the first time struggle with this type of work. Here’s what I’ve learned in my almost five years of freelancing that just might be able to help you.

1. Pretend You’re Still Going Into an Office

When I first started working from home I never got dressed. “Why bother?” I thought, as I pulled my computer into bed with me the moment my eyes opened in the morning. Things are different these days. I’ve learned that getting dressed (at least in jeans and a sweatshirt) each day and sitting at an actual desk helps motivate me to feel — and more importantly act — like a professional. Besides, when an editor asks for a last-second Skype call to discuss a story, I want to be prepared.

2. Find a Spot That’s Just for Work

Not everyone has enough space in their home for a dedicated office, but you can find a nook in a room that’s just for work. Resist the temptation to do anything else personal here. Pay bills, shop online and book social engagements elsewhere. The more you can separate your work life from your home life (even when you work in your home), the better off you’ll be. If you’re struggling, see if any co-work spaces are available in your area.

3. Have ‘Office Hours’

Depending on how your flexible schedule works, this might not be an option. If you work for a company and have a boss to report to each day, you’ll need to be available during her work hours. However, if you set up your own schedule and meetings and calls, I recommend trying to stick to office hours. Flexible work is fantastic, but it can become easy to start scheduling night or weekend meetings and calls to meet others’ schedules. Create the flexible work hours that work best for you — within reason, of course — and do your best to stick with them.

4. Try Every Resource Until You Find What Works for You

I’ve never struggled much with distractions, but I know plenty of freelance friends who have. Try out different forms of distraction management until you find what works. Perhaps you’d benefit from a website blocker during your work hours. StayFocusd for Google Chrome, for example, allows you to block distracting websites while you’re working. You could try working in a room that doesn’t have a television. Scheduling time for breaks will help you concentrate on the work at hand, too, since you’ll know you can stop for a bit and relax. (For reference, these are the biggest workplace productivity killers.)

5. Make the Occasional In-Person Meeting

If you work from home solely, it can be lonely. Even those of us whose jobs require constant computer interaction may miss the face-to-face stuff from time to time. As such, I’d recommend putting some personal interaction on your calendar when possible. Make meetings to catch up with old colleagues or current clients, or set up coffee meetings with people you’ve been meaning to approach about new projects. Attending networking events is also a great way to stay social while also doing something good for your career.

Still looking for flexible work? Make use of our guide to getting a better job. And, if you’re on the hunt for a full-time, be sure to check your free credit report snapshot on Credit.com before applying. Many employers will pull a version of your credit report as part of the hiring process.

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

Image: jacoblund

The post How to Avoid the Hidden Struggles of a Flexible Work Schedule appeared first on Credit.com.

How to Have Fun After College Without Going Broke

You don't have to spend a lot of money to have fun.

If money’s tight, you may think it’s hurting your social life, especially if you’re turning down invitations because you can’t seem to make ends meet.

This scenario is all-too-prevalent among recent college grads, and no wonder. Student loan repayments, rent, car payments, a wardrobe for work and other bills can add up. (Here are tips on how to pinch those pennies without feeling deprived.) But that doesn’t mean you can’t still have fun.

While you may not be able to drop serious cash every weekend going out to clubs, or even to the movies for that matter, your tight finances don’t mean nights alone on the sofa binging the latest Netflix series.

Here are some ideas for you and your friends to enjoy time together without going broke.

Throw a Viewing Party

When it’s time for the latest season of your favorite series, invite your friends over to watch. Ask everyone to bring a snack or beverages, and you’ve got a full-on party in the works.

Have a Potluck Dinner …

You don’t have to put together a four-course meal for your friends just to have them over. Instead, provide the main dish and ask everyone to bring sides. It’s cheaper on everyone and just as fun. You can even make it a supper club, rotating each month to everyone’s place, if you’re so inclined.

… Or a Potluck Picnic

If the weather’s beautiful, take it outside. Have everyone bring the yummies, plus Frisbees, kites and whatever will keep the fun going, and enjoy your day outdoors together.

Start a Book Club

Love to read? Have friends who love to read? No further explanation needed. Just add wine and cheese.

Find the Free …

Summer especially is great for free events, so check your local listings for what’s going on in your community. There’s lots to do …

… Like Concerts

Many cities offer free music events, particularly in public spaces like parks.

… & Movies

Likewise, there are lots of cities, and even apartment complexes, bars and restaurants, that offer free viewings of older movies. Just remember to arrive early, as these things are often crowded.

… & Lectures

Universities, museums and other entities often hold free lecture series where the famous and not-so-famous offer insights on a broad array of topics.

… & Classes

Same goes for extended learning. Want to learn to throw pottery? Write a screenplay? Repair a bicycle? Gather your friends and do it together.

Buy a Groupon Together

You can make it cheaper by buying a Groupon or similar discount together. Learn to ski or go to the spa without paying full price.

Hit Restaurant Week

Most major cities have a week or two every year when higher end restaurants offer a deeply discounted prix fixe menu. It’s a great opportunity to check out swanky spots without dropping a wad of cash.

Hit Happy Hour

Many bars and restaurants offer not just discount drinks but also food. Sometimes, there are even free nibbles, so do your research and find the place that can give you the best bang for your buck.

Go Backpacking or Hiking

If you already have the gear, this is a no-brainer. But even if you don’t, outfitters like REI offer inexpensive gear rentals on things like backpacks, tents and camping stoves that make getting out of town and on the trail easy.

Join an Interest Group

Many churches, synagogues, temples and mosques have young adult groups that provide free or inexpensive gatherings and outings for members. There are also groups for non-religious interests like running and cycling, chess, kickball and ultimate Frisbee. Find your people and get out there.

Become a Volunteer 

If you love giving back, joining a volunteer organization is a great way to spend your free time in a positive way. It’s also an opportunity to meet people with similar interests. Best of all, it’s free.

Remember, if you’re a recent college grad, it’s probably going to take you a few years to find your financial footing, and saving money is important in making that happen. Stay focused on setting aside for retirement (here are 50 ways you can start saving for retirement right now) but also saving for that inevitable rainy day. And make sure you’re keeping track of your credit. A solid credit score can save you a ton of money over your lifetime. You can check your credit scores regularly using Credit.com’s completely free Credit Report Summary.

Image: oneinchpunch

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