How To Support A Cause You Believe In

We’re not shy about the importance we place on volunteering our time and donating our money at SheSpends. We are, after all, one of the many organizations that sprang up in the wake of the 2016 election: an attempt at being the change we wanted to see in the world. 

By the looks of it, the She Spends community is really into giving as well. We have a charity section on our How She Spends survey, and all of you picked such vital organizations to give money to! The National Eating Disorder AssociationPlanned Parenthood and the ACLU are among some of your favorites to donate money to. 

We want to help you take that awesome citizenship to the next level. So we’re asking that this week you consider doing at least one thing that gives back to your community. You can donate your time, things you already own or some money - it all counts.

Almost anyone has some extra time to share with a local organization. Volunteering not only helps your local community, but it also helps you get ahead. You can develop a new skill, meet new people in your area, fill in resume gaps if you’re unemployed and come away feeling warm and fuzzy, which is always nice. 

How do you get involved? You can use websites like VolunteerMatch or apps like DEED to find volunteer opportunities in your area. You can also look for specific causes. If, for instance, you are interested in working with a group that benefits lupus research, you can work with a local chapter of the Lupus Foundation of America

We understand that you may not have a ton of time in the next week to volunteer for a new organization. Perhaps consider donating extra menstrual products to a local homeless shelter; they often don’t receive enough donations, but they’re a necessity for many homeless folks. You can also offer up canned goods to a local food bank or clothes to a thrift shop like Housing Works. Old books can go to your local library, while computers can be donated via TechSoup

Another route to consider is donating your money to a cause you really care about. Cash is king for many nonprofits; they can use it to pay employees and further the cause you really care about. They are, after all, experts in the space. Use Charity Navigator to make sure your money is going to the best use. 

What’s great about making a charitable donation is that it’s tax deductible. Translation: You don’t have to pay taxes on the money you donate to charitable organizations. That’s a win for you and a win for whatever nonprofit you’re giving to.

You have to make sure you get some paperwork in order when you make a donation, though. You must have a canceled check, credit card statement, bank statement or a written acknowledgment from the charity on file to prove to the IRS that you have made said donation. Most charities provide you with a receipt once you make a donation, so save that in a specific folder on your computer that you’ll break out when tax season comes. 

You must itemize each of these on your tax deduction form (it is Form 1040, Schedule A if you want to really nerd out here). This means that you have to list each charitable donation you made, sort of like you would list each transaction on your budget.

Share with us on Twitter or Instagram how you donated money, items or time this week! We’ll be retweeting and sharing some of our favorites throughout the week.

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #20

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How to Check Up On Your Company's Performance Using Public Filings

Do you ever wonder how the company you work for is really doing? It can be difficult to see through those company update emails that management sends every once in awhile. You know the ones. They use vague language and always assure that your company is performing well. Sometimes that might be true, but for others, it’s far from the case. 

There are, though, many ways to check up on how your company is performing.

If you work at a publicly traded company, you have easy access to their financial records. Not sure if your company is public? Search its name on Yahoo! Finance - if a chart comes up, you’re in business. 

If you can’t find it on Yahoo! Finance, double check that your company doesn’t have a parent company. If it does, you may be able to find that parent company’s filings, and then search for your own company’s performance within their public filings. 

Your employer may also be owned by a private entity, like a private-equity firm. Though their performance isn’t public, you can sometimes get an idea of their strategy by looking at the information they post online.

But for those who work for publicly traded companies, here’s a quick guide.

  1. Go to Edgar, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s company search page. Type in either the company’s name in the left box, or the symbol you found on Yahoo! Finance (called a ticker in the finance world) into the right box. 
  2. Once you find your company, look for the most recent filing labeled either 10-K (a yearly report) or 10-Q (a quarterly report). Open that file. Sometimes a list of documents will pop up -- click the one labeled 10-K or 10-Q. 
  3. You’re now looking at an earnings statement. This shows where a company’s money is being spent, how much debt and assets they have and some information on the company’s strategy. 
  4. Embrace using CNTRL + F. This will allow you to quickly find what you want to see in the report.
  5. Start by searching for assets or liabilities. Assets include all of the property your company owns. Liabilities involve any sort of debt your company is holding. What you find will look like the image below. I pulled the latest 10-Q for the Gap, which is the parent company of Gap, Old Navy and J. Crew, and trades under the ticker GPS.
  6. You can use this information to determine whether a company is deeply in debt (their liabilities column far exceeds their assets column). While that doesn’t necessarily mean anything bad, companies do have to pay off debt at some point.
  7. Consider searching for the term “employee” next. Here is where you’ll be able to find information that directly impacts you. By searching “employee” in the Gap earnings statement, I found that Gap is working to improve its employee share-based payments. Translation: the company is trying to pay their employees who own stock in the company.
  8. Other interesting things to search could be “strategic alternatives” or “strategic options.” These terms indicate that a company is exploring selling itself to another company or even an investor.
  9. Want to dig in more? Investopedia has a useful guide to really getting into an earnings statement. You can also simply listen into your company’s quarterly earnings calls (the schedule for these will be listed on your company’s Investor Relations page on its website).

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #19

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Celebrating Labor Day by Honoring Union Members

Happy Labor Day! It’s going to be so nice to have a day off from work on Monday, right? But do you know why we actually celebrate Labor Day? 

It’s a holiday that honors the American labor movement, which began back in the late-19th century. It celebrates that Americans were able to unionize and push their companies for rights, such as paid time off, a 40-hour work week and minimum work ages.

We thought it would be appropriate to spend some time talking about the importance of unions in the United States today. We’ve previously highlighted workers’ rights in our piece on side gigs here, and we featured a reporter who works in a union in one of our money diaries here. 

So what exactly is a union? It’s an organized group of workers who come together to protect their rights. A union works like a democracy - its members vote on the issues important to them and elect leaders democratically. 

While unions are generally recognized as an important piece of the functioning of capitalism in the United States, that doesn’t mean that companies love them. In fact, most unions face roadblocks like employers discouraging their formation. 

Forming a union is really difficult today. Most companies offer a “right to work” program, which means employees have the "right to work" as a non-union worker in a unionized field, thus corroding the collective bargaining power of the union fighting for the benefits that employees reap. 

Some industries, like the teaching industry, are super unionized. But others, like tech, are far from it. 

Slowly but surely, minimum wage jobs are becoming more unionized. 

The Fight for 15 movement is a major union working on behalf of minimum wage workers in the United States today. The national minimum wage continues to sit at $7.25 per hour, which means that if someone works 40 hours a week for one year at minimum wage, they'll make roughly $15,080. The 2017 federal poverty level is at $16,240 for a household of two people. As a result, Fight for 15 is working to advocate for a $15 per hour minimum wage. 

So, what can you do to support unions? You should join one. Here’s a list of labor unions in the United States at this point. If one doesn’t exist, get together with your fellow workers and get organized. Collective bargaining is really powerful if we use it correctly.

Beyond this, contribute monetarily or physically (show up to support strikes!) to local labor movements. Support teachers, transit workers and construction workers who have already unionized. 

Even if you can't join a union, or one doesn't exist for your industry, you can still learn from unions. Share your pay with coworkers you trust. Negotiate - you're worth it. Stand up for your colleagues and have their back. 

Vote for pro-union candidates when you can. Unions are often the boogey-man, and blamed for jobs leaving the United States, even when they’re really just trying to help U.S. workers get ahead. A government that supports unions is generally one that supports workers.

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #18

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She Spends Guide to Getting That Raise: Part Three, Popping the Question

Welcome to part three of our guide to getting that raise! This week we're discussing the actual ask, and what to do afterward. We'd love for you to share how you do it on social media - tag us on Instagram or Twitter, or use the hashtag #howshesaves. If you’ve missed previous newsletters, check out part one and part two

The execution of an ask - and subsequent negotiation - are vital steps in the process of getting a raise. While you may feel nervous ahead of your meeting with your boss, it’s vital that you portray an aura of calm in the meeting. Take a few deep breaths before you enter the meeting room, and maybe even give yourself a little pep talk. You got this!

Once inside, make sure to display positive and open body language. Feel free to chit chat with your boss - check in with how they’re doing and what they’ve been working on. Showing genuine interest is key!

Then, the actual ask. You have a loose script prepared, so this part should come easy, 

"I wanted to meet with you to talk about my compensation. I've been with the company for x amount of time, and in that time period, I achieved the following." Then, you list a few very specific examples of the ways you went above and beyond at your company. Follow with the ask. "I want to ask for x amount of money. I did research on the current market rate for this sort of position. Based on that research, I think it's a reasonable ask."

Be sure to share how much you enjoy working at your company. Perhaps even pivot to the future by saying, “Looking ahead, I’d like to do x for the company,” implying that a raise could help you to get there. 

What happens next depends on how your boss responds. If they say yes immediately, be sure to thank them and follow up with a thank you email that lays out the terms of your agreement in writing. Then, celebrate!

If they ask for some time to think on it, accept that response. Again, follow up with a quick thank you via email and be sure to follow up once the allotted time has passed. 

If they complain that budget constraints limit the amount of money they can offer you, it’s time to go to your backup asks. Ask for more time off, a title change or education programs, all while displaying how these will cost them less money overall. Again, follow up with a thank you note via email that includes the terms of your agreement. It’s important to have this all in writing!

If they respond with a flat out “no,” there are a few things you should do. First, ask for genuine feedback. If that feedback is legitimate, take it to heart and work over the following months to correct some of the problems your boss sees in you. 

You can also request a review in a few months. If you’re meeting pre-defined goals by then, your boss may be more open to offering you a raise. 

If the feedback is less-than-helpful, it may be time to consider looking for a new job. Taking on a new job at a new company is often the fastest - and most effective - way to increase your earning power. 

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #17

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She Spends Guide To Getting That Raise: Part Two, Prep

Welcome to part two of our three-part guide to getting that raise! This week we're discussing how to prepare for the ask once you've got your research down. We'd love for you to share how you do it on social media - tag us on Instagram and Twitter, or use the hashtag #howshesaves. We'll highlight some of our successful readers in the coming weeks. 

Once you've gathered information on what you're asking for, you need to schedule a time to actually ask for a raise. Does your company have an official system in place to ask for money? If it does, go with the flow and ask for money when it's time. But if your company is like most, it may not have an official review process in place. This is what your human resources department is for! Make time to ask an HR representative about how exactly you'd go about asking for a raise. They'll be able to tell you who exactly to ask, and whether your company has an official process in place for it. And if your company doesn't have an HR department? Ask a few trusted co-workers or go to your direct boss. 

Once you've determined who you need to ask, send them an email about scheduling a time to talk. If you have a stronger rapport with your boss, you can also ask them in person to schedule a meeting. 

Once you have a meeting scheduled, you may want to practice your "elevator pitch" to make your case for getting a raise. A sample script could go like this: "I wanted to meet with you to talk about my compensation. I've been with the company for x amount of time, and in that time period, I achieved the following." Then, you list a few very specific examples of the ways you went above and beyond at your company. Follow with the ask. "I want to ask for x amount of money. I did research on the current market rate for this sort of position. Based on that research, I think it's a reasonable ask." Have that research ready to go in case your boss or manager asks for it. 

Once you have practiced your pitch once or twice, you're ready to go! Pick out an outfit that you feel confident in, strike a few power poses and get ready to get what's yours! 

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #16

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She Spends' Guide to Getting That Raise: Part 1, Research

One of the biggest requests we've gotten from our readers is a guide to asking for a raise. We hear you! And we've got your back. Over the next three weeks, we'll be providing you with helpful tools for getting more money at work. We'd love for you to share how you do it on social media - tag us on Instagram and Twitter, or use the hashtag #howshesaves. We'll highlight some of our successful readers in the coming weeks. 

First and foremost, we need to arm ourselves with a ton of information. It's important to know your own history. Did you ever ask for a raise before? What benefits do you receive? Did your boss ever promise a raise, but forgot about it? It's also important to make a list of your achievements at your job. Bosses love to see your performance in numbers - if you increased a website's traffic, for example, figure out by what percentage and bring that to the negotiation table. 

Check out information about your company's average salaries, as well as its payment practices. Glassdoor can be a helpful tool for this, as can Fairy GodBoss. These sites can give you an idea of what your company has historically paid people in your role. If you want more of an idea of appropriate salary ranges, as well as how negotiations go, consider asking your peers at the office. This is a tactic you should approach with trepidation, because not everyone at work may be as empowered as you are in taking this step. Beyond these tools, find out what people in your industry make. Find three job listings you could easily fill and see what the salary ranges are. This gives you some leverage with your company because you can mention that at another employer, you could be making $x. 

Many companies have a protocol in place for asking for a raise. You may only be able to do it at your yearly review, which is fine. That more official process allows you and your boss to have time to discuss expectations. If you're not sure what the process is, ask your human resources department. They can help you figure out who to ask, and how exactly to ask them for more.

It's important to remember that a 5% to 10% raise is normal for most companies. If you want to see a big jump in what you get paid, consider heading to another company; it's the big job switches that guarantee big income boosts. 

With all of this in mind, create a list of things you plan to ask for. While you may settle on that 5% to 10% range, ask for extra money because your employer will likely negotiate it down. Some say to ask for as much as you can without laughing out loud. I like that advice, but I think a measured, research-backed approach, as outlined above, keeps me grounded when asking for more money. 

Beyond money, consider what benefits you could ask for. Sometimes a company cannot offer more money, but they can offer more paid time off, or to cover more benefits. You may want to consider asking to be allowed to work from home once a week or to have a longer lunch break. You could even ask for a new title. Tweaks like these allow your employer to give you something in exchange for performing well, even if they don't have the money to show it. 

Next week we'll cover scheduling the ask and how to prep in the days beforehand. But report back to us in the meantime with your research findings. Did you come across information that you're seriously underpaid? Or perhaps you have a new appreciation for your employer? Let us know by using the hashtag #howshesaves!

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #15

How Can We Take Control of the Gig Economy?

Do you have a side hustle? About 45% of our readers who responded to our money diary survey said they do. And according to this CNN report  more than 44 million Americans have a side gig. 

I’m not surprised. At one time, I had four side hustles going in addition to my regular job. I worked in a yoga studio, I wrote freelance articles, I walked dogs using the Wag app and I sold clothes online. 

Yes, these jobs helped me to cut back on life expenses and pad my bank account a little bit, but they were never that glamorous “hustle-filled” life advertised by companies like Fiverr.

I think we all know how to get a side job going. You can sign up for Lyft or AirBnB or Rover or some other app that facilitates jobs for you. You can also offer freelance work like design or writing for existing companies. Selling stuff on eBay is another route, as is selling services online like coaching or nutrition counseling. 

What I don’t think we talk about enough, though, are some of the major structural problems with our side hustle-focused culture. 

First and foremost, that so many Americans feel the need to take on a side job signifies that our pay structure has a serious problem. Our minimum wage on a federal level is $7.25 per hour, and it rarely gets raised. 

This is far too little to live on, so many of us take on a side job on the side. The problem is, though, that for companies like Uber or Lyft or Wag or Rover or AirBnB, we’re contract workers. Translation: we have far fewer rights than do workers at traditional establishments. 

Sure, we get flexibility, but we lose any access to benefits. We also take on a ton of risk. If we get into a car accident on the job as an Uber worker, the responsibility is ours. What’s worse, if that car needs to go to the shop for a few days, we don’t make any money during that time. 

I often wonder what would happen if a modern day version of The Jungle was written about the gig economy. A little background: The Jungle, published in 1906, detailed the struggles of workers in slaughterhouses, who were paid little and had fewer workplace rights. The novel revolutionized the workplace in America, forcing companies to make laws about who can work, how much they work for and how long they work. 

I believe workers in America need something like this book about the gig economy. Large corporations, with literally billions of dollars in their pockets, take advantage of struggling workers who just need a few extra bucks to make rent. 

I think that raising the minimum wage across the board will help aid in these struggles. Making sure people get paid enough money to make rent will ensure that those who actually use the gig economy want to be using it. 

Do you have ideas? How can we advocate for a more fair economy for all, while allowing those who want to pursue passion projects as side jobs can? 

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #14

How Your Boutique Fitness Class Impacts Your Community

Do you feel like you’re suddenly spending a ton of cash on fitness classes? Or maybe you’re paying high monthly fees for a luxury fitness studio just to stay fit? 

You’re not alone. Prices for boutique fitness classes like SoulCycle, services like ClassPass and even membership to gyms like Equinox have steadily been rising over the years, and our spending is keeping up. According to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, in 2016, Americans collectively spent $83.1 million on the industry. 

Corinne Wainer, co-founder of Brooklyn barre and yoga studio Shaktibarre attributes the rising prices of fitness classes to increasing real estate prices. 

“Socially speaking, the politics of the times are experiencing a re-oppression where financial resources are ripped from many and given to few, making fitness class costs go up as they include only a tiny, elite market (for example, 44% of yogis in New York make over $75,000 annually),” she said. 

As Corinne pointed out, the problem with the high cost of boutique fitness is a systemic one. As Goop has exploded in popularity, health has become this commoditized product that’s tied to our finance in a frustrating way.  

Fitness studios themselves can work within communities to keep prices accessible for clients, though. According to Corinne, they can create multiple revenue streams to stay afloat while keeping class prices low. 

“These hybrid models allow for a natural ebb and flow in seasonal attendance as well as a lower per-class cost, such as adding a cafe or non-profit within the space itself,” she said. 

Shaktibarre, for example, has partnered with YoGirls, which offers yoga to low income young women in the community. The space also offers a cafe. 

Clients, too, can advocate for lower prices by supporting studios that may not have every amenity, but that are doing good work in their community. 

You can also look for ways to cut back on fitness spending, by offering to work a shift at a local studio in exchange for free classes. Beyond that, apps like FitnessBlenderMapMyRun and Blogilates are all low-cost or free options that allow you to avoid high gym fees. 

Check out more options for saving money on fitness classes here

Tweet at us @she_spends your favorite low cost fitness options in your area. We’d love to feature studios and spaces outside of New York that are doing work similar to that of Shaktibarre. 
 

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #13

How To Majorly Save on Monthly Expenses and Bills

Last week we discussed saving money by slowing down on shopping (and identifying the emotional triggers behind buying). This week’s advice will likely be a bit more practical. We’re discussing ways you can save on your monthly bills. This encompasses anything from your internet bill to a Hulu subscription to a gym membership. There are ways to save on each. 

  1. To start, gather your recent bank statements and any outstanding bills. You want to make an itemized list of each monthly expenditure that includes the service, how much you’re spending and when you pay your bill. You can make a spreadsheet or just stick to a traditional list, whatever suits you.
  2. Now it’s time to edit. What can you go without? Do you really need a 10-class ClassPass, or could you do with five classes per month? Can you cut back on one television subscription per month? Do you actually use your professional organization membership or is it draining money from your bank account every month? 
  3. Next, figure out what subscription services and bills you could be sharing. Most TV subscription services allow more than one person to use the same account, so ask a bestie if you can split the cost and share an account. A community-supported agriculture (CSA) subscription is another great service you can easily split. If you don’t like whatever produce you receive, maybe your friend does. Split the cost and use only the veggies that you truly love. Another place you may be able to cut back is on your phone bill. A lot of millennials already remain on their family’s plan because it’s cheaper for everyone involved. If you’re close with your parents, talk to them, or maybe even a significant other, about going halfsies on a phone plan. 
  4. Now it’s time to reduce. Turn off your air conditioner during the day. Unplug EVERYTHING when you aren’t using it. Take shorter showers. Trawling your favorite frugal blog will likely yield a number of suggestions on how to save on monthly bills by cutting back on how much you use. 
  5. Put on your fake smile because it’s time to schmooze. If you see a cheaper rate on your cable, internet, cell phone or energy bill advertised (even if it’s for a first time user) you can talk with the company to negotiate a lower price on your bill. It may involve in an uncomfortable call in which you have to ~gasp~ ask for something, but to save a few bucks it’s certainly worth it.
  6. Finally, pay your bills on time. You can often incur interest or late fees if you forget to pay, which makes bills higher than they need to be. One way to make sure you pay on time is to set up autopay, which automatically draws money from your checking account to pay for bills. It makes your life easier and you never have to worry about late fees again. In the case of student loans, setting up autopay will reduce your interest rate. 
  7. Want more? Jean Chatzky has a really helpful guide on making major cuts to your energy bill. Check it out here. 

- Alicia McElhany / She Spends Issue #12

What To Do When You Can't Stop Shopping

So over the next few weeks, we're going to discuss ways to increase savings and cut back on spending - a step that can be taken before increasing earning power. It's deceptively hard to find ways to slow down on shopping. Sure, we know that organic groceries or a Hulu subscription or new shoes are luxuries. But we don't just spend money on these things without reason. While saving on bills is something we can do with a few easy steps, cutting back on shopping proves much more difficult for people, myself included.

I often feel like a shopaholic. When I get stressed at work, I browse Poshmark or TheRealReal. When I have a fight with my boyfriend, I go to the drugstore to buy a face mask. Someone yells at me on the subway? No big deal, I'll just swing by Sephora on my way to happy hour. I'm sure some of you can relate, right?

There's certainly not a one size fits all solution to this problem. Some people may need therapy to really delve into the issues at the root of a shopping addiction. But if you're not in need of clinical attention, and instead just want to cut back on the money you spend on buying things, there are a few things you can do.

To start, it's important to identify why you shop. Do you do it when you're bored? Is it more when you're feeling stressed out? Does it make you happy to have more things? These questions can help you to start shifting how you view shopping.

For instance, if you find that you shop out of boredom, it's time to - in the words of Bethenny Frankel - get a hobby. It sounds simple, but picking up something like knitting or origami or yoga or cooking or running leaves you with less time to shop. If you're finding that you shop while stressed, consider signing up for meditation app Headspace (it's free!) or turn on some background rain while you work. 

Once you get these details down pat, you can find ways to save when you actually do shop, beyond traditional sales. I personally started writing down what I wanted to buy every time I had an urge. It made me realize that most of the things I wanted in the moment were just whims. The things that I wanted weeks later then made it into my budget, which was a safer way to spend. 

Do you ever find that shopping becomes a point of stress for you? Have you gone into debt for a pair of cute new shoes? Tweet us @she_spends.

- Alicia McElhany / She Spends Issue #11

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How We're Investing Using Popular Apps

Remember a few weeks ago when we discussed getting the most out of your savings account? One of the most important takeaways from that piece was that our savings accounts aren’t growing like they used to.

This is why it’s now more important than ever to consider putting at least some of your money into the stock market. I think the safest way to go about it is to have a nicely-sized nest egg in a regular savings account. That way, if you need to access cash quickly, you can. 

Your longer term savings accounts can go multiple places. Of course, you’ll want to be saving for retirement through a 401K or a Roth IRA. Beyond that, though, you can look to invest in equities, bonds, fixed income or derivatives, all of which give your money a greater chance to grow. 

Holy shit, that’s complex, right? We’ll get to all of those types of investment vehicles (and even alternative assets) in future newsletters. For now, though, we have suggestions for easier ways to get started.

Many apps and websites are charging small fees to allow you to invest in ETFs, or exchange traded funds.  I, along with our designer and a She Spends reader, have three common investment tools. Here’s what we think!

Stash
I started using Stash, an investment app, over a month ago. I put just a little bit of cash into different types of ETFs, including one that focuses on young entrepreneurs that seems to be growing at the fastest pace. 

I like that the app draws money directly from my savings account every two weeks. You can set it up to draw as frequently as you like. I also love the different types of ETFs I can invest in. The risk profiles are clear, which makes me feel less nervous about taking the plunge.

What I don’t like is that the withdrawal process is unclear. I reached out to Stash to get a clarification of how it works: “There is no set amount that must be in the account before you are able to withdraw; you’d first need to sell a portion or all of your shares which we trade in our trading windows from 9:30am and 4:00pm EST.” Then you have to transfer the amount you sell to your bank account.

What’s more is that there is a fee for using the app to invest. Read up on why Stash may not be your best option for trading here.

Acorns
Our designer Jemma has been testing out Acorns for just a few months now. The app rounds up the money you spend to full dollar amounts, then invests the spare change into ETFs. 

It’s an easy way to get started investing on the stock market, in a very low risk way. 

“I think my favorite thing is the roundup feature,” she wrote. “I’m thinking of it as basically a savings account.”

An important note! Acorns does charge a small fee for investing.The fees are $1 per month for all accounts with a balance under $5,000 and .25% of the balance per year on accounts over $5,000.

Ellevest
We love the mission of Ellevest, an online investing platform founded by Sallie Krawcheck, who worked on Wall Street before founding the startup. It's a passive investing platform for women, addressing our specific challenges on the stock market. 

One She Spends reader has been investing with Ellevest for about a year now. 

"I initially deposited $800 -- most of the money I received as college graduation gifts -- and invested it into the "Yes Me" account," she wrote in a message to She Spends. "Ellevest breaks down different goals (short-term goals like planning for a vacation and long-term goals like building wealth) with a different bond-stock ratio. Recently, I added another goal -- saving money for an apartment down payment."

The fees, according to our reader, hover around 0.2% of an investment. Since the market is good and the platform pays dividends, our reader has had success with the platform, she wrote. 

Betterment
A separate She Spends reader has been using Betterment for a few months and has seen some success. 

“I really like it! I wasn't investing before and it felt like it gave me the tools to just dive in,” shewrote in a note to She Spends. 

Betterment allows users to choose a risk profile that fits their needs, and then acts as a robo-investing tool that follows the chosen risk profile. You can invest either manually or have it deduct funds each month. 

There is a low fee, which is waived for the first six months if you have a promo code. What’s even better is that our reader has seen real returns of roughly 3.4%. Definitely better than a savings account!

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #10

How To Save Money on Your Healthcare Costs, From Prescriptions to Annual Doctor's Visits

As the Senate puts off its vote on the Affordable Care Act's replacement until after the July 4th recess, it’s necessary to discuss options to keep healthcare prices low going forward. 

At She Spends, we’re fully in favor of a healthcare system that is single payer. We believe that this option is best for people who identify as women, as well as non-binary people. For both of these groups, healthcare costs can often be higher. We will support every candidate who advocates for this, and in the meantime, we advocate for donating to groups like Planned Parenthood. We also suggest you call your Senators about the bill. 

That’s what we can do on a macro level to drive healthcare costs down. But in the interim, there are smaller things we can do to keep the costs of healthcare down for ourselves.

To save on doctor’s office visits, consider planning ahead and scheduling at a sliding scale clinic in your area. Some clinics offer appointments on weekends from doctors who are offering services pro bono, which can keep costs down for you, especially if you’re uninsured. Dental clinics are also often offered this way, especially in underserved areas. 

If you do have insurance, make sure you see a physician who is in network. It’s totally normal (and recommended!) that you call your doctor to make sure they’re covered before you show up. Insurance websites are often clunky, but don’t let that get in the way of getting cheaper healthcare. Don’t forget to use ZocDoc to keep track of appointments and check out doctor reviews! 

You can also consider using a service like Maven Clinic. It’s a telemedicine clinic for people who identify as women. The clinic offers appointments with general practitioners, nutritionists, physical therapists, mental health counselors, prenatal, postnatal and pediatric caregivers. The best part? If you use code 5VYFT, you can get your first appointment for free. I have used Maven Clinic before to refill an ongoing prescription at the last minute, which was great. If you think you’ll need ongoing care, you can pay for a subscription, rather than a one-time appointment. 

If you have to go to the emergency room, the last thing you’ll be thinking about is cost. But there are a few things to consider. Ambulance rides are typically hefty in price. If you can, have someone drive you to the ER, especially if it’s a broken bone or something that doesn’t require in-transit medical assistance. You can also consider taking a Lyft to the hospital to cut back on costs. Neither of these methods is recommended, but do know that you will incur a charge if you take an ambulance.

Once you’re there, ask if your doctor or a procedure are covered by your insurer BEFORE you receive care. A recent phenomenon called surprise billing has cropped up in hospitals. You, as a patient, could be told that your insurer covers a procedure. Sometimes, though, an insurer doesn’t offer coverage of all types of doctors or services they perform. Months later, you may receive charges in the thousands of dollars for care that you didn’t agree to. 

If you’re receiving care at a hospital or doctor’s office, make sure you check how much the services will cost with your specific insurance, as well as through a self-pay option. Sometimes, when you have insurance, the cost of the service is way higher, because insurance companies agree to the costs and will actually pay them. The problem is that the burden of payment can fall on you if you have a high deductible plan. You could actually pay less in these situations if you go with a self-pay option rather than insurance. 

Once you have a procedure and receive a bill, you can negotiate with the hospital to get costs down. Some offer payment plans, but it’s important to first push for discounts, then a payment plan, so the cost is at its lowest. This is not something out of the ordinary for hospital companies - they negotiate all the time. So when you get your bill, view it as a starting point, rather than a number set in stone. 

When it comes to prescriptions, you can save money a few ways. You may want to opt into the mail order pharmacy plan offered by your insurer. However, be warned that these come in the mail in marked packages. If your postal carrier leaves packages outside or in your building’s lobby, it could be an easy target for people to steal. 

Be sure to research whatever drug you’ve been prescribed online. Often you’ll find two things. The first is potential information on a generic offering of the drug. These are often lower priced than branded drugs. In some states, pharmacies can swap these drugs out, no biggie. But in others, they need doctor permission, so you’ll have to give your doctor a call to let them know you want the generic version of a drug. You’ll also likely find discount coupons from the drug manufacturer. USE. THESE. For me, they drove down the price of a $350 drug to $4 for a thirty day supply. 

Do you have other tips? Tweet us! We're @she_spends.
 

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #9

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How To Boost Your Credit Score

When I talk to people about credit cards, I usually find that they have one of two reactions. One group is terrified of credit cards because they are petrified of going into debt. Others often don’t understand the risks involved with deferring debt payments, ending up with a mountain of credit card debt.

Credit cards do play an important role in our lives. They help us build up credit, which is basically a good reputation for paying bills on time. Credit is necessary for anything from renting an apartment to buying a house to sometimes even buying a cell phone or a car. 
 
So why do we literally NEVER learn about this? 
 
I don’t know the answer to THAT question, but I do know some ways you can check up on and improve your credit.
 
So first, go to Credit Karma. Input all your info and check out your credit score. They have a handy dandy barometer that shows how good (or, let’s be real, how bad) your credit score is. If you have no student loans taken out in your name, and if you have no credit cards, your credit will literally be zero. (this happened to me!)
 
If you have late credit card or student payments, your score may be lower than you want it to be. If you just have one credit card or loan, it will also likely be low. Additionally, if you have a low credit card limit and use more than 1/3 of the limit each month, your score will be low. 

So how can you boost your score? If you have no credit, the first thing you can do is apply for a credit card. I recommend using NerdWallet to find cards that typically are issued to people with the same credit score that you have. With zero credit, these can be harder to find, so you may need to apply for a secured credit card, which means you actually pay the credit card company a bit of money up front, and in return, you get the chance to build credit. 
 
If you already have a credit card or student loans, check out what Credit Karma says is driving down your score. For example, if it’s that you’re using more than ⅓ of your credit limit per month (but paying off your balance in full monthly), consider calling your credit card company to ask if they will raise your limit. Chances are they will. 
 
If you’ve gotten dinged for paying bills late or just paying the minimum balance, you have to have a serious chat with yourself about finding ways to no longer rely on your credit card. Sometimes it’s hard, especially if you’re living paycheck to paycheck, or if you have a mountain of debt to pay off. 
 
Small things, like automating monthly payments with your credit card company, can pay off. I also suggest that you talk to your credit card issuer about the debt - they sometimes have wiggle room on when you pay it off. For example, I recently rented out an apartment in New York that required a security deposit, one month’s rent and large broker’s fee up front. It was due in the middle of the month, rather than the end, which is when I was used to paying my monthly rent bill. I had enough money to do it, but I had to wait until my next paycheck to pay off my credit card bill, which would have made my bill payment a few days late. I messaged my credit card company about this problem, and let them know clearly when I would pay the bill. As a result, they waived the late fee. 
 
If you already have decent credit, you can likely apply for a second credit card. This one can be an incentive card, which can offer cash back or travel points. Poke around on NerdWallet to compare deals, but having a solid rewards card that you pay in full every month is a nice way to get deals on items you’re already buying. 

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #7

A Primer On Bad Debt: Credit Cards & Auto Loans

Welcome to the third and final week of our three-part series on debt. It’s a complex issue, and finding a way to repay debt is even more difficult, which is why we’re devoting so much time to it. We hope that the past weeks have served as a helpful primer on debt. We plan to continue to discuss issues like student loans, mortgages and more, so if you have more questions, send them over to shespends@gmail.com, or tweet them at us @she_spends. 

For the final part of our series on debt, we're discussing what's known as "bad debt." This, as previously discussed, includes credit card debt and car loans. These are included in the "bad debt" category because they involved money loaned on assets that tend to lose their value the moment they are purchased. 

Auto loans are tougher to navigate, because in most areas of the United States, you need a car to function. Because cars are so expensive, it's often necessary to take out a loan to pay for the car. There is a benefit to car loans. That is, paying your loan on time will increase your credit score. The only problem with these loans is that cars tend to lose their value over time. Once you pay off your loan, and potentially consider selling your car, it won't, like a house, garner you more money than you originally paid. Like with all loans, make sure you pay attention to the interest rate and how long you're expected to take to pay off the loan. For those interested in more, Credit Karma has an interesting page on car loans. And CNBC just posted an article on the subprime auto loan market (which should remind you just a little bit of the subprime home loan crisis in 2008).  

Credit cards, meanwhile, are an even more necessary evil. Using credit cards for purchases each month is a good way to build credit - as long as you pay your bill on time. However, if you don't, you'll quickly sink into credit card debt, which dings your credit score and comes with a high price tag. Interest rates on credit cards can be over 20% your bill, meaning if you don't pay it off each month, your credit card company will add an extra 20% or more onto the following month's bill. It's easy to see, then, why credit card debt can add up so quickly. 

One of the best ways to repay credit card debt is David Ramsey's snowball method. Basically, you start with your smallest debt and pay it off first. You get a nice hit of serotonin for accomplishing something, and some extra confidence to move to your second smallest piece of debt, and so on and so forth. It's important to prioritizing debt repayment after building a small emergency fund and before investing in stocks, which Ramsey highlights as a part of his debt repayment plan.

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #6

"Good Debt": Student Loans, Mortgages & Small Business Loans

Welcome to week two of our three-part series on debt. It’s a complex issue, and finding a way to repay debt is even more difficult, which is why we’re devoting so much time to it. We’ll tackle it all over the coming weeks: student loans, mortgages, repayments plans, bankruptcy and credit cards. If you’ve got a question you’d like to see answered, please shoot an email to shespends@gmail.com. We want to tailor this space to fit your needs, so the more questions we get, the better.

Today we're tackling "good debt" aka student loans, mortgages and small business loans. These debts are seen as good because they are supposed to increase your net worth as a person.

When you take out one of these loans, you are usually put on a standard repayment plan. This means that you agree to pay back the loan within a certain number of years. For student loans, the standard for a four-year degree is 10 years, while a mortgage hovers around 30 years. Small business loans are variable and depend on your area and type of business. 

Students are able to take out public loans from the federal government, or private loans from companies set up to lend money. Be careful with private loan providers! They can carry variable interest rates (higher than federal loans' typical 4-6%). Students are expected to begin paying for loans six months after graduating from college. If you’re struggling to make payments, reach out to your loan provider to determine whether you’re eligible for income-based loan repayment programs. If you don't pay a student loan for nine months, you can go into default, which can destroy your credit score, among other major issues. For more information, we recommend you listen to Gaby Dunn's podcast episode on student loans. Also check out this New York Times link on how to avoid major repayment traps.  

Buying property is considered a major financial achievement by most, because it's an asset that appreciates - or gains value - over time. Most people, though, take out a mortgage to make this happen. It's a long-term loan that either has a fixed rate of interest (this is a fixed-rate mortgage) or that has variable interest. Fixed-rate mortgages are preferred because they're easier to understand. But a variable mortgage can be a good option if you're buying a house when prices are high. This gives your interest rate some space to fall. As always, consult with a financial planner to make the right decision for you. Mortgages are complex loans, so we suggest checking out a few resources for further education. Check out Investopedia's mortgage basicshere or Ellevest's advice on getting a better mortgage here. 

Finally, small business loans are an important piece of a local economy puzzle. Taking one out can help you chase a dream, which is super exciting. But you have to be careful to choose an option that is low interest and that has a realistic repayment schedule. Check out NerdWallet's small business loan finder or the U.S. Small Business Administration for more.  

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #5

Debt: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

For the next three weeks at She Spends, we’ll be discussing debt. It’s a complex issue, and finding a way to repay debt is even more difficult, which is why we’re devoting so much time to it. We’ll tackle it all over the coming weeks: student loans, mortgages, repayments plans, bankruptcy and credit cards. If you’ve got a question you’d like to see answered, please shoot an email to shespends@gmail.com. We want to tailor this space to fit your needs, so the more questions we get, the better. 
 
For week one of our series on debt, we’re just going to talk about the basics. To start, what exactly is debt? Debt is a promise you make as a consumer to pay a person or a corporation back. In turn, they lend you money. 
 
Most of us have experience with debt - it can be anything from credit card debt to student loans to mortgages. According to NerdWallet, the average American household has $134,643 in debt.YIKES.

For millennials, this debt is especially daunting - as college costs rise, we’re taking out more loans than ever before. In fact, Consumer Reports found that Americans are about $1.3 TRILLION in debt thanks to ever-rising student loans. As a result, some financial experts believe the next recession - or even financial crisis - will be caused by student loans. 
 
It’s important to note, though, that there is good debt and there is bad debt. Basically, anything that will help you increase your net worth falls into the good debt category. This includes student loans and mortgages. When you take these out, you have a set repayment plan that helps keep you on track. Another type of good debt is a small business loan. Sometimes you have to take out a loan to rent a space for your business, or to set up a website. However, the loan issuer only allows you to take out that loan if they believe your business plan has a feasible way to repay the costs. Interest rates on these types of loans vary. Student loan interest is in the 3-6% territory on a federal level, for instance, while mortgage interest rates are slightly lower. 
 
We don’t want to condescend, but we do want to make sure our readers have a clear understanding of how interest works. Interest is an extra fee loan issuers tack onto payments so they can make more money on their loans. If you fail to make payments, interest grows. The one exception is on most student loans. Students do not accrue interest on loans while they are in school. Once they graduate, students often have a set grace period before having to worry about paying interest. Meanwhile, mortgages start to accrue interest right away. We advise that if you take out a loan on ANYTHING you check out how you will be expected to pay those pesky interest fees. 
 
Phew, that’s a lot. We do need to delve just a bit into bad debt. Bad debt is a moniker for loans used to pay for cars and for credit cards. Cars are included in this category because their value decreases from the moment you buy them. Thus, if you’re taking out a loan to pay for a car, you likely won’t see a return on your investment. Similarly, credit cards fall into bad debt because they typically aren’t seen as a way to pay for things that increase your net worth. True, credit cards are important because they act as a way to boost your credit score. But these loans carry interest rates north of 20%. If you fail to make a monthly payment, the next month you’ll have to not only pay for the items you bought with the card, but at a 20% price increase thanks to interest. 

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #4

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Your Employer is Giving Away a Master's Degree, Free Therapy & A Gym Membership. Why Aren't You Using It?

Editor's Note: This week, one of my good friends (and an employee benefits expert), Amanda Eisenberg, is offering tips for how to take advantage of your benefits at work. Eisenberg is an associate editor at Employee Benefit News.  Enjoy!
 

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Employers widely consider benefits to be the differentiator between their company and the competition. Yes, pay is important, but benefits are designed to keep you financially, mentally and physically healthy. To figure out what's in your benefits package, tinker through the HR portal. It's generally the place where you request time off or log your hours. The marketplace section acts like Amazon, where you can buy discounted movie tickets, book hotels, flights and car services, and sign up for discounted gym classes.

You should also reach out to your HR contact to walk you through your benefits if you don't know what your company offers. Some popular benefits include:

  • Free therapy (among other counseling services): Feeling stressed about the election? You can use your employee assistance program (EAP) to find a therapist or counselor and book three to five free appointments. The EAP is the most underutilized employee benefit, yet more than 92% of employers offer it. Counseling sessions can be made per incident, whether it's domestic abuse, anxiety or financial problems.
  • Commuter benefits: A debit card that will let you buy anything from standard Metro, bus or train travel to Uber rides to the office. It's a tax-free benefit, meaning it comes out of your pre-tax salary (the number your company gave you when you were hired, not what you see in your bank account each month).
  • Health savings account (HSA): If you are in a high deductible health plan, your employer will offer an HSA. These accounts offer triple tax relief: you can save pre-tax dollars and it will grow tax-free; if you need to withdraw money to pay for medical expenses, you won't be taxed on that either. With the growing concern about how Americans will finance their healthcare under the AHCA, an HSA can help when unexpected medical bills hit.
  • Flexible spending account (FSA): If you are in a preferred provider organization (PPO), your employer will offer an FSA. You can save pre-tax dollars to pay for that $30 dermatologist co-pay, for example. However, the money you put in an FSA won't roll over to next year, so it's important to use up everything in your FSA by the end of the calendar year. The website FSAStore.com is a great place to spend any leftover pre-tax dollars.
  • Gym or boutique fitness classes: Your employer is likely to offer discounted or free gym membership through a wellness program. Some employers might have an on-site gym you can use for free or an agreement with local gyms for cheap, year-long membership. Your company might also offer reimbursements for boutique classes. 
  • Student loan assistance: With student loans totaling more than $1.4 trillion in the U.S., employers are increasingly offering student loan aid to their millennial employees. The most popular offering is refinancing, which allows employees to transition existing student loans to a new servicer, typically at a lower interest rate. Some employers are offering eligible employees up to $200 a month (with a lifetime employee cap) to help pay off student loans faster.
  • A master's degree: Thinking about taking classes to better improve your skills? Your employer is likely to cover it. Some employers will offer tuition reimbursement to take classes that directly coincide with your work.
  • Everyday discounts: Need a flight, hotel and car service? What about tickets to Disney or Six Flags? Your HR platform likely has a marketplace where you can find and redeem discounts for things you already buy at full price.

Amanda Eisenberg / She Spends Issue #3

Saving for Retirement

Have you thought about saving for retirement yet? I know it may seem early, especially if you’re fresh out of college and just starting a new job. But the truth is that investing in your retirement is more important than you may think. With just 51% of our readers investing in a 401K (YIKES!), I thought it would be important to discuss what exactly a retirement savings account looks like, why women should be contributing and how we can best manage these accounts.

What, exactly, is a 401K? A 401K is an investment fund that you put pre-tax dollars into to save for retirement. Since it's an investment rather than a traditional savings account, it has much more potential to grow, especially because we are currently in a low-interest rate environment. Think of it this way: your savings account sees a growth of about 1% per year due to interest, right? And with inflation, that growth is nearly negated. Meanwhile, the S&P 500, a good benchmark for the stock market, has grown 12% just since the election. Your money works for you better when it’s invested in the stock market. It also keeps up with inflation.  

Why should I be invested in a 401K or Roth IRA? We know that social security is currently underfunded, healthcare costs are rising and pension funds pretty much no longer exist. The fact is that to continue living as you would on a $50,000 per year salary, you’d need to save $1.9 million for retirement. That is BONKERS. What’s more is that women live longer than men, yet are put on investment plans designed for men. And if women decide to take time off to have children, their retirement savings options become limited. For these reasons, a 401K or Roth IRA is a smart choice.

How is it different than a Roth IRA? When investing in retirement, you have two options: you can go with a traditional 401k or you can choose a Roth IRA. The difference is in how the money is taxed. A 401k is taxed when you pull the money out of savings (likely in several years). A Roth is instead taxed at the time you put the money in. 

Which is a better option? Since taxes go up and your money is growing in an investment, a Roth IRA is a better option to save in the long run. 

How should I be allocating my assets? Diversification is key! That means having some money in stocks (which are the riskiest investment), some in bonds (medium risk) and some in cash (lowest risk). Investing in small, mid-size and large companies, as well as in different geographic areas is important. You can change your investment preferences by talking with an advisor at your 401k or Roth IRA provider. To reach them, either log in to your company's benefits website or reach out to HR at your company. 

What about employer matching? Some employers match your 401K investments up to a certain percentage. So, for instance, if you put 6% of your income into your investment, your employer would put up the same amount of cash. Financial pros recommend contributing the highest percentage matched by your employer, so you can fully take advantage of your benefits. 

I just checked up on my investments...why are they up higher than expected? A 401K and Roth IRA ebb and flow with the stock market. We’re currently in a bull market, which means that stock prices are on the rise. Your investments may be outperforming expected returns as a result of the current bull environment.

-Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #2

Beyond the Index Card

There's an idea floating around out there that everything you need to know about personal finance can fit on an index card. It's a super smart concept, because personal finance isn't actually that difficult. There are ten steps that revolve around saving money, paying off debt, using your 401K, buying insurance and all the other financially responsible jazz you're supposed to do. If you haven't read Helaine Olen's book (linked above) on the index card, I recommend you do. It's a helpful look at how to handle money and it makes personal finance seem way more manageable. 

While this newsletter will certainly hit on those ten steps, we'll also focus on actionable ways to make more money at work, hone a side hustle, pay off student loans and think about using and earning money in a different way. 

The first step to all of this, though, is making sure you know exactly how your money is working for you. This week, your goal is to face something in your financial life that scares you. That can be taking a look at your bank account for the first time in months, opening bills that have been haunting you, checking up on how much you've saved in your 401K or Roth IRA, talking to your financial adviser about saving options or talking with others at your workplace about how much money they make. We'd love to hear how this goes -- share on our Instagram or on my personal Twitter, or just respond to this email!

For whatever reason, money is still crazy taboo in our culture. We as women are encouraged to divulge details of our sex lives, but still can't share with each other how much we make at work. And that holds us back! I recently talked with a co-worker about how much we were earning. We both were in the same position at the same company for nearly the same amount of time. We also had the same experience (just out of college), yet she was making less that I was. Um, WTF? 

I know it may gross you out to discuss your finances with your co-workers. So consider starting smaller. Share how much you make with your best friend, or discuss concerns about the workplace with your women's group. The only way we can bridge the wage gap is by staying informed. 

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #1