She Spends Guide to the Holidays

The holidays are hard. We get it. So we put together a guide on some of the most common problems that arise in the office, among families and with ourselves during the holiday season. Be sure to check in on our Facebook group as the holidays approach - there’s a lot of advice given and received there.

 

Office Politics

 

My office is having a holiday party. Can I get drunk?

We recommend having one or two drinks, but staying relatively sober. All workplaces are different, but things get messy when people drink a lot. You don’t want to bring that into the office.

 

What happens if my coworker or boss gets handsy at a holiday soiree?

This is unacceptable. We know it happens, though, and we wrote an entire guide on how to deal with unwanted attention in the workplace. In short: Tell your coworker to stop immediately, so there’s not even a question of whether you consented. If possible, tell a close coworker what happened or address it to anyone who witnessed the behavior. Document the incident and take it to HR as soon as you can.

 

Should I get my boss or coworkers gifts?

This one is iffy. We say avoid gifts unless it’s well-known that your office does an exchange. Keep things work appropriate: Travel mugs make for great gifts, as do mini desk heaters if your workplace is particularly freezing.

 

They want me to make Christmas cookies… what do I do?

Unless baking is truly one of your favorite hobbies, don’t give in. Offer to bring paper plates or napkins to a potluck. There’s no reason to continue giving into gender norms.


 

Family Ties

 

I’m heading to a party hosted by someone outside of my family. Should I get them a gift?

Yes! Host or hostess gifts are a super classy tradition. Keep the cost low by bringing a bottle of wine from Trader Joe’s. If your host or hostess doesn’t drink, bring flowers already in a vase or a book you think they’ll enjoy. Don’t bring a gift that adds to their work in the moment.

 

My family is crazy, what do I do?

Every family has their issues. If you plan to go home for the holidays, there are a ton of steps you can take ahead of time to keep things sane. Definitely consider your options. Do you need to stay at your parent’s house every night when you’re there? Could you stay in a hotel, Airbnb or at a friend’s house to keep things calmer? Plan for some time alone each day. Don’t think you’ll need it? You will, trust us. This guide from GQ includes some helpful strategies.

 

They won’t stop asking me about marriage.

If a wedding isn’t in your cards yet (or children, or a significant other, or whatever they keep pestering you about), start with a polite “not yet.” If the questioning continues, it’s acceptable to redirect by saying, “What a strange thing for you to keep worrying about.” Change the subject to your passion project and remember, everybody’s timeline for these things is different.

 

What about politics?

Decide beforehand whether you plan to engage. If you don’t, no big deal (unless someone at your table is saying something legitimately racist or sexist. Then you say something). If you want to, consider preparing with the Nevertheless Project’s guides to talking politics at the holidays. If all else fails, maybe change the subject to Bitcoin? Everyone has something to say, and President Donald Trump hasn’t tweeted about it yet, so you should be in safe territory.

 

What if they comment on how I look?

For some reason, family members LOVE to talk about the way their kin looks. If your grandma asks about the size of your butt (happened to me once!) or your uncle remarks that you’re eating too much, we have a simple phrase for you to use: “What a strange thing to say.” This shuts it down quickly and lets the person know that you’re not interested in their commentary on your body.


 

Personal Problems

 

I just spent a million dollars on gifts. What now?

Take a deep breath! This isn’t the end of the world, but if you went into debt to do this, you’re going to have to do some hard work in January. Check out our guide on credit card debt and pick a way to pay it off. The world isn’t ending, but you need to make sure you work hard to get back on track.

 

I’m drinking a lot of alcohol. How can I say no?

Seltzer and lime are your best friends. Have one in your hand at all times at parties; no one will ask to refill your drink, and it looks very similar to a gin and tonic. Plan ahead of time that you’re not going to drink at certain parties, which can help you strike a balance.

 

How can I fit in time for myself?

Set aside a little time each day for the rest of the month to just focus on yourself. Read a book, work on your knitting project, meditate or hit the gym. Ten minutes is better than nothing. This month is stressful but you can handle it.

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #32

 

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How To Take Care Of Your Finances This Holiday Season

As we kick off the holiday season, it's easy to get wrapped up in spending more, or even going into debt, without really noticing. For our hygge month, we’re sharing some ideas for financial self-care that you can do right now. These ideas will help you feel in control of your money while also helping you to make positive long-term changes.

Check your credit score. Checking up on your credit is one of the easiest financial check-ins you can do, which can be as easy as signing onto a website like Credit Karmato see your score. Want to take this to the next level? Check out our guide to boosting your credit score by making small tweaks to the way you pay bills. 

Transfer $50 to savings. It’s so easy to get distracted from saving money. New shoes, a movie ticket and a meal out are often far more exciting than an extra $50 in the bank. But having a safety net (especially in a high yield savings account) is so important. Making that first step is a signal to yourself that you are serious about saving.

Set up an investment account. This is sort of the ~advanced~ version of transferring a small amount of money to savings. If you already have a nice emergency fund going, you should consider investing some of your money. Doing so will grow your cash over time. We have a partnership with robo-advisor Ellevest. They are among the many options for opening an investment account.

Have a no-spend week (or day). Taking time to scale back spending by making coffee and meals at home or making do with what you have -- whether that’s a day or an entire week -- can be helpful when it comes to refocusing your spending. Not to mention, it helps you to save some money!

Donate $20 to charity. At She Spends, we talk about being good stewards of our finances. We think it’s important to give back to our communities in whatever small ways you can. This includes donating small sums of money when you have the ability to do so. May we suggest donating to our December fundraiser for Bottomless Closet? Check out more details here. 

Set up auto pay for your bills. Not only does setting up auto pay keep you from accidentally forgetting about a payment, but it also can keep your credit score high. Just be sure that your accounts are set up to have the same amount of money pulled from them at the same time each month. You don’t want to risk an accidental overdraft fee. 

Set up auto transfer from your checking to your savings account. Similar to auto paying your bills, auto-transferring money from your checking to your savings account each month can keep you on track for your savings goals. Nothing will be forgotten during December, a typically busy month for many. 

Talk with your significant other about your money goals. It’s important to check in on a regular basis with your partner about how you both view money. Do you have similar goals long term? How can you both tweak spending together so it fits in with your plans? Set up a time this month to talk to your partner. It will certainly be worth it.

-Alicia McElhaney, She Spends Issue 31

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Why You Should Buy From Local Businesses (And A Few Ideas on How to Do It)

November is unofficially “Conscientious Consumerism” month at She Spends. We’ve talked about thrifting a work wardrobe and investing in ESG strategies, along with questioning who benefits from #girlboss merch. As we raise our consciousness as consumers this month, we’re going to discuss buying locally.

Buying from small businesses is important to supporting your local economy, keeping tax dollars in your community, lowering fuel expenditures and creating jobs. There’s research to back it up, too. 

Wage ratios at small businesses, or the difference between the employees that make the most money and those that make the least, are far smaller, a 2015 study by professors from New York University, the University of North Carolina and the University of British Columbia shows. What’s more is that the money spent at local businesses — rather than big-box chains — has a much greater effect on the local economy, likely because the revenue stays in the community. 

Goods don’t have to travel nearly as far when they’re made or grown locally, meaning that fuel expenditures are far lower than products coming from China, Taiwan or other countries. Finally, the taxes that a local business pays remain in the community; rather, those taxes will support the area where a big-box retailer is based. 

So how can you actually support these local businesses? 

Start by checking out your community’s small business administration. That website will likely include links to local companies that offer everything from locally grown food to accounting services. 

A fantastic first step is making a concerted effort to shop at these businesses rather than the Targets and Walmarts of the world. If you’re not big on libraries, consider supporting local bookstores. My favorites in New York include McNally Jackson, Books are Magic, and Word, among others. Same goes for home-grown fitness studios, hairdressers, financial planners and clothing boutiques.

Swapping out local restaurants for chains like Olive Garden or Chili’s is another easy, and tasty, switch.

One way to ensure that you support local businesses is to shop for your food at farmer’s markets. The food is grown on local land by a farmer who will directly profit from your purchase. Plus, the food tastes better. For more on buying local food, I recommend reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. The book truly changed the way I think about food and where it comes from.

You can also start buying gifts for family and friends from local companies. Not only will the gifts be unique, but they’ll also be a vehicle for spreading the word about your favorite spots. 

Finally, if the opportunity arises through Kickstarter or IndieGoGo, consider supporting entrepreneurs with big ideas in your area. You search the sites based on location, which allows you to find cool local projects to invest in.

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #29

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Your Investment Portfolio Can Change the World. Here's How

We talk a lot at She Spends about spending money in ways that align with our values. From values-based budgeting to making time for volunteer work, we know our readers care about the world around them. 

There may be a blind spot, though, where your finances don’t align with your values -- to no fault of your own. Your investment accounts, like a 401(k), may profit off private prisons or fracking. Rather than shrugging it off, millennials are increasingly moving toward socially responsible investments or ESG (environmental, social and governance) investing.

Here’s how it works: You put your money into an index fund or individual investment that not only will give you a financial return but will also do some good for the universe. This can include things like investments targeting climate change solutions like green bonds, or it can mean avoiding certain investments, like companies that make guns. 

Initially, ESG investing was seen by many as something that sounded nice but didn’t garner the returns other types of investments did. That has changed in recent years, as returns on these investments are starting to achieve parity with traditional investments. 

There are tons of ways to invest in socially responsible funds. Betterment, for instance, has a Socially Responsible Investing Platform, where you can invest in a portfolio of U.S. large-cap stocks (read: major companies based in the United States). It’s important to note that this portfolio isn’t incredibly diversified, as it only includes large companies. However, it could be a good place to put at least some of your money. 

Beyond that, Stash, an investing app, offers an index investment called “Do the Right Thing,” which allows investors to park some cash in companies that “make positive impacts on society and the environment.” The index Stash invests your cash in is actually iShares MSCI USA ESG Select Fund, which includes large and mid-size companies. It excludes any tobacco companies and has returned roughly 17% this year. This is compared to the S&P 500, a benchmark for stock performance, which rose 16% during that same time period.

WealthSimple, a robo-advisor that operates in a similar manner to Betterment, also has socially responsible offerings. WealthSimple’s ESG offerings are some of the most diversified, as the firm offers six different indexes for its investors. These include municipal bonds (aka local debt, used to grow small communities), mortgage-backed securities for affordable housing and global stocks with a low carbon footprint. 

One more option is Ellevest, which is sort of a unique pick for socially responsible investing. The firm is dedicated to investing on behalf of women and focuses on women’s specific needs for retirement and other milestones in life. While Ellevest doesn’t offer a specific ESG index, it is a woman-owned and operated company, which we know is important to our readers. Female portfolio managers are a rarity in finance, so putting your cash toward a firm focused on women is a unique way to get at that ESG angle. 

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #28

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How To Make Women's Voices Heard At Work (Including Your Own)

I was talking with a friend the other day about a meeting she led at her company recently. Unfortunately, though, the meeting didn’t go as smoothly as she had hoped. Several of her co-workers (all men) interrupted her for the entirety of the meeting. 

Sound familiar? Yep, it does for me too (even if I don’t lead meetings… yet!). 

However, one of her male co-workers stepped in to help. Each time she wasn’t being heard, he interrupted and said, “Hey, I wanted to hear what she was saying.”

This tactic is one the women who worked in the Obama administration used to make sure women’s voices were being heard. It’s called amplification, and it can be a huge help for women at work. 

Here’s how it works: When a woman or non-binary person is speaking up at the office, make sure their voice is being heard. Start by listening, of course. That part isn’t difficult. 

What makes amplification a bit more difficult is what comes next. 

If that person speaking isn’t being heard, you need to speak up. Say, “I want to echo what [their name] just said.” Repeat what they said while also giving them credit for the work they’ve already done. 

Other ways you can say that include “Like Ellen said…” or “Sarah suggested that…” or “As Lucy pointed out earlier…” 

The need is to have another woman credit the originator of the idea. Men typically reiterate these ideas, consciously or not, and don't credit the originator. They take it as their own and are more likely to be credited with that idea.

In some workplaces, it makes sense discuss this practice with others. It can be extra helpful to have one or two allies in a meeting with you who you know will make your voice heard. 

Speaking up, especially over other people, may feel weird at first. As you start doing it, however, you’ll find that it becomes easier. And hey! Maybe one day you’ll be the one who needs to be reminded not to interrupt.

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #27

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How To Identify An MLM (And How to Avoid Joining One)

It’s 3 p.m. on a Wednesday and you’re wildly bored at work. You log into Facebook, maybe to take a peek at what’s happening in the She Spends group. A chat pops up. It’s a woman you tangentially knew in high school that you haven’t cared to ax from your friends list. The calming playlist you curated for work breaks like these suddenly gives way to horror movie music. You open the message.

“Hey girl!! So… long time no talk, but I wanted to reach out because I know you have a passion for working out like me! I just became a Beachbody consultant and I wanted to share their AMAZING product with you!”

The three little dots continue to blink. She’s still typing. You know the pitch for Shakeology is coming, but you don’t know how to escape. You dash off a message: “Hey girl! Sorry, I’m not interested in diets. But thanks!” You close the browser, pull out your earbuds and take a deep breath. There’s sage in your desk drawer. Is it insane to light it at work?

This isn’t a Halloween horror movie playing out, but it sounds like one, right?

Programs like Beachbody, Herbalife, LipSense, LuLaRoe and other multi-level marketing companies are preying on women’s relationships to sell products, while sending their own employees - ahem, consultants - deep into debt.

From a marketing perspective, it makes sense. Women rely on their peers’ advice on products. Get the women to sell the product to their friends and suddenly you’ve got a beauty empire like Avon or Mary Kay.

Here’s the catch, though. These companies require that their consultants buy product before ever selling it, and most make it extremely difficult for their consultants to recuperate the initial cash they put into the business.

For most of these companies, profit margins on sales go up for consultants when they sign up “downlines” -- a group of women who are managed by one consultant and sell products. Part of a downline’s profits go to the person who signed them up to sell the product, hence the “multi-level” part of the name.

Sometimes when our friends pitch us these products, though, the spooky horror music doesn’t play through our headphones. There are other red flags you can watch out for to avoid getting sucked into an MLM.

Here are a few:

  1. Make sure the company is selling an actual product, rather than simply focusing on finding more “downlines.” 
  2. Research whether the company has been sued for deceptive business practices.
  3. Look at the compensation structure. Do you get more money as you take in downlines?
  4. Evaluate the cost of buying the product and project how much time it will take to make back that initial investment (and then to profit). Be realistic!
  5. Ask yourself if it’s an opportunity that sounds too good to be true. MLMs often promise ample free time, huge returns on investment and incredible extra rewards.

Want to learn more? This John Oliver piece on multi-level marketing at Herbalife is awesome. I also recommend this blog from a former Younique consultant.

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #26

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The Weight Loss Industry Is Exploiting Women. Here's How We Can Change That

How many times have you decided to go on a diet? For me, it’s certainly been too many times to count. Eventually, my diet and severe food allergies led to an eating disorder, which is a story so many women can tell. 

Of course, the issue is systemic. Our desire to lose weight comes from many sources. We can choose to blame magazines, our mothers, the scale or mean boys on the playground, but we should also take a look at the way the weight-loss industry, one that has been steeped in sexism for years, is taking advantage of one of our greatest insecurities.

Take, for example, Weight Watchers. The company has created a program based on denying yourself a basic need - food - and profits as your dress size drops. To be sure, the program works, and it’s safer than many other cleanses and supplements on the market. But make no mistake, the company profits from your choice to remain in the program. 

When you leave after reaching your achieved goal, Weight Watchers isn’t so worried. Why? It’s basic science - most diet programs, including Weight Watchers, cause you to gain the weight (and more) back when you stop using them. And so, a diet empire now worth $3.06 billion is born. 

What makes it worse is that the Weight Watchers’ board is dominated by men; of the 11-person board, just three members are women.

Of course, this is only one in a sea of companies and programs urging us to lose weight. 

Taffy Brodesser-Akner wrote a moving piece in The New York Times this August about how frequently women “fail” with these programs and the problems with the science around why people gain weight. She also touched upon the language companies use to sell their programs to us over time and how it has changed to focus on wellness. 

Lean Cuisine, peddler of frozen meals with calories counts inappropriate for most adults, has declared itself an “ally for women’s wellness.” Special K has declared that “women are strong,” while selling a Special K challenge that involves replacing two meals out of your day with its own products.

The truth is that these companies are selling us something that we truly don’t need: different bodies than our own. 

There are ways we can fight back against this nonsense. Choosing to see a body positive nutritionist about what you put on your plate is a positive first step. Maven is a great service for nutrition appointments at a low cost. Beyond that, looking into Health at Every Size and intuitive eating are major ways you can shift your thinking about food and weight. 

From a money perspective, take a look at how you are spending your monthly grocery budget. Is it supporting companies like these? Can you consider shifting your spending around to focus on vegetables and fruits that you love, with occasional treats? 

If all of these suggestions are things you already do, take a look at your portfolio. Does it invest in companies like Weight Watchers, Herbalife or other major weight-loss programs? You can shift that money around. 

Finally, there’s a ton of resources out there to help you get started. Some of my favorites include Beauty Redefined, the She’s All Fat Podcast and Project HEAL. Most importantly, be kind to yourself.

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #25

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How To Create A Values-Based Budget

The Feminist Financier is on a mission to help women build wealth and own their financial independence, by improving financial literacy and taking the mystery out of money. Ms. Financier is also a shoe addict, travel fanatic and wine enthusiast. She shared her budgeting philosophy with She Spends - check it out! 

Ever sit down to start a budget, but not know where to start? Values-based budgeting, or the process of spending and saving based on how you want to live, can be a unique way to manage your budget. 

The first step is to clearly define your values. Most of us haven’t taken the time to record and prioritize what we hold dear. Financial guru David Bach says, “When your values are clear your financial decisions become easy.” I couldn’t agree more. Your values provide the foundation to your money goals. If you’re struggling with this step, watch David Bach and Marie Forleo have a candid discussion about this philosophy.

For example, I value security and exploration very highly. Security includes a sense of personal well-being as well as being protected against life’s negative unexpected twists. Exploration includes adventures, local hiking and kayaking and travel. What are your top five life values?

It’s a big question, so I suggest two things to help you determine yours.

Reflect and record: Take some time to reflect on the times where you were happiest and most satisfied. This may be individually, or in discussion with friends and loved ones that know you best. Ask, “What am I doing, what am I experiencing, when I feel wonderful?”

This reflection helped me realize that exploration is tremendously important to me. I’m happiest when I’m experiencing new things, going to new places and learning about different cultures.

Similarly, briefly explore what you’d like less of in your life or what you’d like to avoid. What are the situations you find stressful or difficult? This may be long stretches of time away from family or being in deep student loan debt.

Mine was debt: I had credit card debt and a large mortgage, and from this I realized that security is a critical value of mine. When I felt financially insecure because of debt, it caused deep stress and aggravation for me.

Reflecting on these two questions may result in a long list of potential values. If you’re looking for common terms for values, the Rokeach Value Survey includes more 30 common value labels.

The next step is to rank your values. Here, let your gut instinct lead the way. I did this with index cards with potential values written on them and laid them out on my kitchen table from most to least important. When I was stuck, I’d go with my gut. This helped me get to my top five personal values.

Once you’ve defined your values, reflect how your money supports (or works in conflict) with your most important values. For example, if you value family relationships, but aren’t spending enough time with your family because you live in another state, you could work to adjust your budget to save for more frequent trips home. For me, I wasn’t spending enough on debt repayment given my need for security; changing that behavior helped me feel more satisfied.

Set defined money goals that support your values. Instead of “spend more on debt repayment,” record a specific smart goal, such as: “Pay $100 extra toward my credit card each month in order to pay the balance off by January.” 

Define at least three financial goals in support of your values. I recommend identifying at least one goal with a short timeline (within the next six months). Record your financial goals, discuss them and celebrate the progress you make with the women in your life. When you achieve a goal, replace it with a new objective to continue your momentum.

Finally, share your values and goals. Opening up to your closest friends about your life goals and values is a fascinating and rewarding conversation. This discussion can allow us to bridge the cultural taboo of talking about money, and therefore, allow us to share more financial information, questions and ideas. Personally, we’ll be more fulfilled as we apply more of our hard-earned money toward the things that truly matter to each of us.

I speak from experience; I even started a blog to share my passion for personal finance! More importantly, I’ve more consistently aligned my money with my values. As a result, I’m a happier person. Defining my value of exploration helped me prioritize my travel budget; I now automatically save for at least one significant vacation each year. Since making this adjustment, I’ve visited amazing spaces around the world that have brought me so much joy. In support of exploration, I have also significantly increased donations to nonprofits that support conservation and preserve the beautiful spaces I enjoy exploring.

- The Feminist Financier / She Spends Issue #24
 

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How To Network (It's Not As Bad As You Think!)

Does the word “networking” make you want to cringe? Are you one of those people who hide in the bathroom to avoid awkward conversation? We get it. We are too. 

But that doesn’t mean we can’t, or don’t, make connections that are important to growing She Spendsor our own careers. Networking for millennials, especially young women, looks different than it used to. Check out our tips and tricks to making connections without cringing below. 

  1. It’s helpful to have a specific project or thing you’re working on to bring up when you make connections. Whether that’s a pottery website, a photography side hustle, a dog walking business or a new spreadsheet system for your day job, it doesn’t matter. It gives you something to dig into with your new connections and helps them to feel open to sharing their own projects. 
  2. You can network anywhere, but it’s best done where you’re most comfortable. I’ve met women at my barre studio, for instance. I’m there every week and it’s super focused on community, so it was easy to open up and share with others what I do in my day job. Gyms and fitness studios are great places to meet people, but so are language or ceramics classes. Got a dog? You can probably meet someone new at your local dog park. Volunteer groups, like the New York Junior League (which Amanda is a part of!), are also a great place to meet potential connections. There are, of course, many online communities you can get involved with, including my personal favorite, Ladies Get Paid. I’ve met so many cool women through that Slack group. 
  3. Be a connector. When you meet someone whose work doesn’t really relate to yours, all is not lost. Think of friends or family who may benefit from making a connection with this person. Offering to pass their information on is not only something kind to do, but it also puts the connector - and the person you connect them with - in a similar frame of mind. If you need help, you can ask if they know anyone who could assist you. 
  4. Don’t be afraid to talk to competitors. This is a lesson I learned early in my career. I followed a woman who wrote healthcare articles for a competing company on Twitter, and she followed me back. Months later, we met at a conference and became fast friends. Being able to talk to her about similar gripes on our beat was invaluable. She also helped me to realize that I needed a raise, and gave me that extra nudge to finally ask. While she and I no longer cover the same subject, we swap books and grab drinks from time to time. When going into a networking situation, it’s helpful to not only be open to professional connections, but also friendships. 
  5. When someone gives you their business card information, be sure to input it into a spreadsheet. This system ensures you have all of their contact information without keeping the card. I also like to put a little note in my spreadsheet about our conversation. When I call the person in the future, I sound thoughtful and the ask sounds more genuine. 
  6. If you’re asking for a one-on-one meeting, keep in mind that many industry folks don’t have a ton of time. Offer to take them out for coffee or a drink, which might compel the potential connection to meet up with you. 
  7. What are your favorite ways to network? What’s your most surprising connection? Share with us on Instagram or Twitter by using the hashtag #shespends. 

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #23

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How to Consolidate or Refinance Your Student Loans

Ever wonder if you could find an easier way to pay off your student loans? There are actually a few ways you can simplify the process, including refinancing and consolidation. We spoke with Bustle this week about refinancing. We’re also going to break down the two processes for you and help you decide whether it’s right for you. 

What is refinancing? 
Refinancing is the process of combining your private and public student loans through a private lender, who pays off those loans. You then pay off that private lender, who issues new loan terms. It can decrease your interest rate or lower your monthly payments, or both. 

What is consolidation? 
Consolidation is a process similar to refinancing, but it does not include new loan terms. You will have only one monthly payment, rather than several, but your interest rate and monthly payments will not change. Instead, the interest rate is calculated by taking a weighted average of all of your loans. 

Should I do it? 
Like all things personal finance-related, refinancing and consolidating your student loans depends on several things, including your credit score, the size of your loans and your lenders. There are two major things to consider when deciding whether to refinance or consolidate: your APR and the tax status of the new loan. Use a calculator like this one to find what your new interest rate (or APR) will be. It could be lower than your current rate, but it could also be higher, even though your monthly payments end up lower. Following that, determine whether your new loan would be considered a student loan. It depends on the lender, so check with them. If it isn’t considered a student loan, you cannot claim it on your taxes, which could eventually mean less cash for you. 

How can I get started? 
Start by calculating that APR and make sure you know the terms of the potential new loan. Some have a fixed APR, while others have a variable one that changes year to year. Student Loan Here has a fantastic list of some of the best lenders for refinancing here. You can compare everything from interest rates to whether they do a credit check on the website. The signup process shouldn’t take long, maybe 20 minutes, but make sure the choice is right for you before you do it. 

What now? 
Keep paying off those loans! If you’re excited by the process of paying your loans off more quickly, begin looking for ways to cut other expenses or start looking into a side hustle.

On a more macro scale, we need to understand that higher education should not cost as much as it does. Support candidates who run on platforms that alter the tax treatment of student loan aid, and if you have extra cash on hand, consider contributing to a scholarship fund for low-income students. 

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #22

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How To Handle Sexual Harassment At Work

Have you ever been sexually harassed at work? You’re not alone. One third of women who responded to a Cosmo poll said they had been sexually harassed at work, while 60% of women working in the tech industry said they have been sexually harassed.

In the hopes of arming you with the tools you need to handle sexual harassment at work, we’ve created a guide. 

  1. What exactly is sexual harassment? Sexual harassment is any sort of unwanted physical contact (hugging, touching, kissing or grabbing, for example), requests for sexual contact or obscene comments. Anything from a lewd story about sex your coworker tells in the lunchroom to emails displaying pornography are sexual harassment. Beyond that, questions about sexual history, sexual orientation or gender identity can be sexual harassment. 

    There are two basic types of sexual harassment in the workplace. The first is “quid pro quo,” which means that a coworker asks for a sexual favor in return for a promotion, a raise or a piece of information that could help you get ahead at work. The second is “hostile work environment” harassment. This refers to the “hostile” work environment created when coworkers or managers engage in the conduct described above.
     
  2. What should I do if it happens to me? First and foremost, tell your coworker or manager to stop. While it certainly is their fault that the harassment is taking place, they need to know it’s a problem. Once you’ve told your manager or coworker to stop, be sure to document the incident by writing down the date and time and what happened, in case it continues to occur.
     
  3. What if they don’t stop? Continue to tell them to stop in a firm voice. Additionally, send an email to that coworker or manager, telling them to stop once again. Write down each incident. Once this all has occurred, bring the complaint to the human resources department. Most companies have a strict no sexual harassment policy and the human resources department will be able to take action. 
     
  4. What if my office doesn’t have a human resources department? Sometimes a company has an outsourced HR department. If that’s the case, send a complaint their way via email or give them a call. If not, take it to your manager. If it’s your manager perpetrating the harassment, take it to their manager.
     
  5. What if I’m a freelancer or a contractor? As a freelancer, it can be difficult to handle unwanted advances from clients. Definitely continue to tell the person “no” in a firm voice. Do your best to stay away from one-on-one situations and document every incident. If you have a manager, take the complaint to them. Beyond that, though, be OK with walking away from the situation. Some clients, unfortunately, are not worth the trouble.
     
  6. How can I tackle this from a legal perspective? You can file a charge of discrimination! Thanks to Title VII, you can not be discriminated against based on your sex. You must file a complaint within 180 days of the incident occurring, so make sure to act relatively quickly. If you do file a complaint, you may have to go through mediation, where you and your harasser have to sit down to discuss the incident. Here is where you can file a complaint.
     
  7. Where can I find support? We love He Said Whaaat? as a place to air our grievances against the shitty people in our workplaces. 

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #21

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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