This New Program Gives New York City Residents Free Entry to 33 Museums

New York has joined a growing list of other U.S. cities with libraries that offer free passes to museums and botanical gardens.

The passes are a particular bargain in a city where adult tickets have soared to $25 at several of the most popular museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

If you’re a resident of one of the five boroughs and you have a library card, you can soak up all that culture for free under a new program called Culture Pass — which will grant access to 33 cultural institutions in the city.

The New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library and Queens Library announced this week that the passes can be reserved online — and were promptly deluged by requests, causing the Culture Pass website to crash, said Queens Library spokeswoman Elisabeth de Bourbon.

The site was up and running again after the first day, and people have since been snatching up reservations to the historical, cultural and art museums and gardens on the list. They span all five boroughs and include diverse offerings such as the New York Transit Museum, the Children’s Museum of Manhattan and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

The program’s cultural destinations are donating 58,000 passes a year, and the libraries have a grant from three foundations to administer the program.

A new batch of about 5,000 passes will be released on the first of every month, said Fritzi Bodenheimer, a spokeswoman for the Brooklyn Public Library. So reserving early seems to be a better strategy than waiting.

Just enter your library card barcode number and pin on the Culture Pass website and either print the passes on your computer or show them on your cellphone when you get to the museum or garden.

Patrons 13 and older can call dibs through the website up to two months in advance, and each one-day pass will admit two to four people, depending on the institution.

If your favorite museum or garden isn’t on the list, check back in the next few months because the program intends to add more. Libraries across the country offer similar passes to museums in their areas, so check with your branch for the local rules.

A welcome side effect of Culture Pass is that the libraries have seen an increase in applications for new library cards. Queens, which has about 800,000 cardholders, had more than 400 sign-ups on Monday — the first day for Culture Pass — a 37% increase compared with the previous Monday, de Bourbon said. The New York Public Library, with 2 million cardholders, received more than 2,000 new card applications online Monday — seven times more than usual, spokeswoman Nora Lyons said.

“We’re thrilled that so many people are taking advantage of the passes and… becoming cardholders,” de Bourbon said. “It’s a great entry point to New York City’s libraries and to their cultural institutions.”

Susan Jacobson is an editor at The Penny Hoarder.

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

If You Drive Uber, You Could Be Getting a Hefty Check (Average Is $222.96)

Some Uber drivers may get extra cash soon, but it won’t come from taking on extra fares.

Last year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) settled a complaint against Uber for allegedly exaggerating the income drivers could make as independent contractors for the ride-sharing service.

Uber agreed to pay $20 million to settle the complaint, and this week the FTC announced that more than 88,000 drivers will receive refund checks. The FTC said in a release that the average refund amount is $222.96, based in part on driver location and Uber earnings.

Refunds will be mailed by an administrator, Epiq, and checks hit the mail starting July 16. You must cash your check within 60 days.

How Uber Got in Trouble With the FTC

The FTC alleged that Uber routinely advertised gigs with the company by stating how much UberX drivers could earn. But those amounts were often inflated. For example, Uber’s website claimed that the median earnings for drivers in New York was more than $90,000 per year, the complaint states.

On Craigslist, Uber would advertise for drivers with statements like “Make $25/hour” for a post in Philadelphia. In 14 cities, the FTC found that fewer than 30% of drivers averaged the earnings rate that Uber promised; in Philadelphia, for example, fewer than 10% of drivers earned the advertised $25 per hour.

“In many instances, drivers have not made the promised amounts even when factoring in non-hourly earnings, such as payments for time-limited promotions or other incentives,” the complaint said. “These promotions and incentives often have been contingent on working specific late-night hours, accepting a minimum percentage of trip requests, completing a set number of trip requests within a limited time period, driving in a certain geographic area or fulfilling other requirements.”

The complaint also said Uber’s advertised costs of leasing vehicles through the company differed from the real costs of participating in its Vehicle Solutions program.

When The Penny Hoarder’s Alex Mahadevan examined Census Bureau data of driver earnings, he found that even in the top cities to drive for Uber or Lyft, annual earnings tend to cap out below $38,000 per year.

Lisa Rowan (@lisatella) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

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

The Kids Can Now Play Unlimited Games at Chuck E. Cheese

Being a parent is expensive. And exhausting.

You’d think taking the little ones to a pizza and games place like Chuck E. Cheese would bring some distraction-induced reprieve. But alas, they’re coming at you every five minutes for more tokens.

Not today, children.

Behold the new All You Can Play game option (aka the savior of parental sanity), now at participating Chuck E. Cheese locations nationwide.

How Chuck E. Cheese All You Can Play Works

For one flat fee, kiddos can play unlimited games without exception for a selected amount of time.  

Currently, unlimited game time comes in 30-minute increments starting at $9 with any Chuck E. Cheese deals purchase and is good any day of the week.

Watch that ticket pile grow as your kids’ hearts swell, because there’s no game too big or small for their young ambitions.

They can play the same game over and over, or try every single one and rack up enough tickets to trade in for their dream prize.

Need a potty or pizza break? No problem. You get the option to pause play twice during the unlimited window. Once the time is up, you can purchase additional 30-minute windows of time as needed.

They might just wear themselves out for less than $20. Might.

Check that All You Can Play is available at your Chuck E. Cheese location before you go.

Since you’re already there, stretch those savings with a free pizza, because why should the kids have all the fun?

Stephanie Bolling is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She really misses Munch’s Make Believe Band.

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

How One Florida Woman Lost 23 Pounds — and Gained $1,200 With a Free App

When Missy Novak stepped on the scale and realized she’d lost 8 pounds, she felt alarmed. In her words, she’s “a woman of a certain age,” so unexpectedly losing weight isn’t always good.

Then she realized the culprit: Shopkick.

Thanks to the shopping rewards app, she’d kicked her sedentary lifestyle and had become more active. It pays its users to complete certain tasks, like walking into a retailer or scanning an item’s barcode. Users then exchange these points for gift cards.

Since Novak started using Shopkick less than two years ago, she’s made more than $1,200 and has lost about 23 pounds.

How? She walks. And walks, and walks, and walks. Shopkick is like a scavenger hunt, taking her from retailer to retailer, aisle to aisle.

“I might be a little addicted to it,” Novak admits.

How Shopkick Works

First, download the Shopkick app through iTunes or Google Play.

Then, start earning “kicks” when you complete certain tasks, which include:

  • Walking into an affiliated retailer, including Walmart, Target, TJMaxx and more.
  • Scanning barcodes on Shopkick-listed products.
  • Taking a photo of your receipt that includes qualifying items.
  • Purchasing particular items with a connected credit or debit card.
  • Shopping online.

Don’t make the mistake of buying things you don’t need — just for kicks. And remember you can earn kicks without even making a purchase.

Once you accumulate enough kicks, exchange them for a gift card. For example, 500 kicks will score you a $5 Target or Walmart gift card.

And hey, you just might drop a few pounds, too.

Carson Kohler (carson@thepennyhoarder.com) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She uses Shopkick on occasion, though it doesn’t seem to cancel out all the desserts she eats.

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

Ever Wonder How a Class Action Works? We Talked to an Expert to Find Out

The numbers are always striking.

Honest Co. agreed to pay out more than $7 million after a dispute over ingredients.

Another $11.2 million is coming from adultery website Ashley Madison after a massively embarrassing security breach revealed customer data.

And a judge ordered that Dish Network pay a whopping $61 million for telemarketing calls a contractor made on behalf of the company to people on the National Do Not Call Registry.

If you qualify for even one of these class-action lawsuits, seeing settlement agreements in the millions can make you feel like you’ve won the lottery, at least in the beginning. But if you’ve ever received a payout, you know that in most cases, by the time your check arrives in the mail, your cut of the pie can feel pretty insignificant.

To understand why, you need to understand a bit more about the life cycle of a class-action lawsuit, and the difference between how we use some terms colloquially and what they really mean to legal professionals.

First, let’s start with the phrase “class-action lawsuit.”

A lawsuit is classified as a class action when a group of people sue the same company, accusing it of the same wrongdoing. In a traditional lawsuit, a single person or company sues another person or company.

The phrase “class-action lawsuit” is often used in newspapers, on TV and even by us at The Penny Hoarder from the moment a lawsuit is filed against a company. But the lawsuit isn’t technically a class action that early in the process, according to corporate attorney Jeff Lieser.

“You’re basically just putting the defendants on notice that you will be seeking to have a class certified,” he said. “Just because I decide I want to file a class-action lawsuit and I entitle the complaint a class-action complaint against John Doe for ripping off consumers, that does not make it a class action. It’s up to the judge.”

(Disclosure: Lieser works for the Lieser Skaff Alexander law firm, which handles legal issues for The Penny Hoarder.)

When Is a Class Action Really a Class Action?

Female judge discussing paperwork
PeopleImages/Getty Images

In some cases, class certification comes in the early months of a lawsuit. In other cases, that can take years, if it comes at all.

In the Ashley Madison case, class certification happened during the settlement process.

According to Lieser, pretty much every one of those scenarios can be considered normal. When it happens is less important, but the class certification is necessary if anyone other than the person or group handling the legal battle is going to get paid.

And getting a judge to certify a class can be tough.

The prerequisites for a class action in federal court are laid out in Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Most states have rules modeled after Rule 23 to govern class-action lawsuits filed in state courts.

Here’s what Rule 23(a) says must be in place before a lawsuit can be certified as class action:

  1. There have to be enough members in the class for it to be impractical for each to file individual lawsuits.
  2. The law has to apply in the same way to each member of the class.
  3. The claims of individuals in the class must be similar, and the company’s defense against each class member must be similar as well.
  4. The class representative — this is the person whose name is usually on the lawsuit as the plaintiff — and their attorney have to be willing to protect the interests of the class.

If all four prerequisites are met, the court moves on to Rule 23(b).

Here, only one of three items must exist for the lawsuit to move forward as a class action. The most common is the final item, Lieser said: The class members’ similarities should be greater than their difference to show that what happened to each person is a common practice of the company being sued.

Of course, if you are considering being the class representative for a class-action lawsuit, you’d have a lawyer to make sure these requirements are met. For most of us, though, we’d be among the unnamed participants waiting to see if it ends in a win at trial or an out-of-court settlement followed by a check.

Why Do Companies Settle and Say They Did Nothing Wrong?

Statue of justice
belenox/Getty Images

If you’ve ever read even one article about a lawsuit that’s been settled, you have probably read that despite a multimillion-dollar settlement and the promise to change business practices, the company still “denies all wrongdoing.”

If you think this seems contradictory, you’re not alone. But Lieser said the laws governing class-action lawsuits make it so companies can right wrongs without admitting guilt.

“If you’re changing your business practices, people are going to assume that they need to be changed because they were screwed up before or you did something wrong,” Lieser said.

But legally, agreeing to settle and change practices without conceding guilt is allowed.

“That is because courts want to be an agent of change, and they don’t want there to be a disincentive to remedying those things that are out there that can cause harm,” Lieser said. “They don’t want something used against you… The courts want companies to do the right thing.”

That’s why the apparent inconsistency is allowed: The courts don’t want a change in practice or a large settlement to eventually lead to more lawsuits against a company that has just admitted guilt.

OK, There Was a Settlement. When Do You Get Paid?

Close up of hands
MangoStar_Studio/Getty Images

Like just about every other question we had about class-action lawsuits, the answer is: “It depends.”

“It’s always going to be years,” Lieser said. “It’s just a matter of how many years. It’s a safe bet that it’s going to be anywhere from two years to 10 years or more in some cases.”

Then, when a case is finally over, the large cash settlements cover much more than consumer payouts.

The money must also cover attorney’s fees, which Lieser said normally hovers around one-third of the settlement, and the cost of informing members of the class that they’re owed money.

That means the bare-bones websites that go up so people can file electronic claims; any ad space purchased in newspapers, online or on TV; the pay for people on hand to answer questions from those trying to see if they qualify for a payout. All of that could come out of the settlement.

“Class actions often get a bad rap for this,” Lieser added.

And depending on the size of the class and the settlement, it could mean just a few dollars, like the Red Bull settlement a few years back, or more than $1,000, like the Dish Network case.

The deadline to file a claim is usually stated in the settlement agreement, but in some cases, that can be extended. In the Wells Fargo fake account settlement, for example, the deadline to file was extended to July 7 after the bank failed to properly notify consumers about the settlement.

No matter how long it takes, if you’ve been promised a settlement and you can prove that you qualify, you’ll likely get paid eventually — even if it’s just a few bucks.

Desiree Stennett (@desi_stennett) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She writes about how government and court actions impact your wallet.

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

TruTV Game Show ‘Paid Off’ Tells the Sick, Sad Truth About Student Loans

America’s dystopian future is now, and it’s manifesting itself in the form of a game show about the crushing weight of our collective student loan debt.

“Paid Off With Michael Torpey” debuted on TruTV this week, billing itself as a fast-paced game show giving three overeducated, underemployed saps the chance to win money toward their student loans.

Actor Michael Torpey hosts the show, which he co-created with production company Cowboy Bear Ninja. In a series of trivia rounds, low-scoring contestants are eliminated. The one left standing is challenged to a lightning round to win cash toward a percentage of their student loan debt.

“Paid Off” is not as fast-paced as it promises, and the canned laughs can be cringeworthy. But we’re only one episode into the show. Have you ever seen the first episode of “Wheel of Fortune”? I didn’t think so.

But while the game show is basic in premise, it underscores the haunting reality of student loan debt.

Better Call Congress

TruTV, the TBS spinoff station known for marathons of “Impractical Jokers” and the first weekend of the NCAA basketball tournament, is not where you typically turn for a hard-hitting look at the student loan debt crisis.

But here we are in 2018, 10 years removed from the crippling financial crisis of 2008, still Twitter-shrugging about the sorry health of Americans’ finances. Our collective student loan debt is up to $1.4 trillion, in case you lost count. And defaults on those loans are rising at a dramatic rate.

Host Torpey sets up the first episode by confessing that booking an underwear commercial helped him pay off his student loans. Then he makes each contestant admit how far in the hole they are. They are all freshly scrubbed twentysomethings with student loan debt as high as $41,000. They each call out the names of their alma maters in a series of sick burns to tuition rates.

It’s awkward on purpose. Executive producer Michael Melamedoff said that it’s easy to ignore financial hardship like student debt as someone else’s problem. But, “these are real people with real names who went to real schools and are carrying real debt,” he said.

As soon as someone gets booted after the first round of trivia, the game leans fully into the gallows humor. Torpey tells the contestant he’ll get $1,000 as a consolation prize, then instructs him to walk over to a red phone in the middle of the audience and call Congress to tell representatives to do something about student loans. It’s not even a particular Congress member. It’s just a call to the body as a whole. “Hello, Congress?” the sweating contestant mews into the phone.

Expecting a second “call” to Congress after the next round? Nah. This time, the exiled contestant is instructed to pass a giant greeting card around the audience. It says “Keep it up!” on the front, and Torpey explains it’s for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who helped found the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and does not like student loan debt.

Those vignettes are symbolic, Melamedoff explained, reminders of the show’s overarching call to action.

“The game show is an absurd response and maybe the worst response to this crisis,” he said. “I don’t take it lightly that we’re making a game show about a real crisis.”

Whether you laugh at the jokes or are outraged at the fact that the show even exists, Melamedoff hopes that “Paid Off” encourages viewers to start talking about the ways that student debt has impacted our lives.

“We want to allow people to laugh against the grain of a very sobering message,” Melamedoff said.

‘Paid Off’: Where the Consolation Prizes Are Still Prizes

Even after the first episode’s top winner walks off with $24,000 toward her loans, host Torpey provides a depressing fact of the week (hint: it’s about student loan debt) and challenges an audience member to a bonus set of trivia questions for the chance to win some cash. The audience member takes home $1,000.

A grand may not seem like much of a dent in some student loan tabs, but Melamedoff is proud that every one of the show’s 64 first-season contestants has gone home with a cash award. He said that the show gave out close to $500,000 over the season’s 16 episodes.

Before the episode ends, Torpey sends one last plea to the audience at home: “Call your representatives right now, and tell them we need a better solution to student loan debt than this game show.”

It’s Melamedoff’s takeaway behind the scenes, too.

“Whether people love our show or are angry it exists, I hope it motivates people to pick up the phone and call their representatives,” he said.

You used to try out for a game show hoping to win a nice vacation, or at least a rice cooker. Now, like a jaded teenager making a Christmas list, we’re just asking for cash. This is how far down we are, how desperate we are. Please just give us the cash. Compounding interest has made us weary.

Half a million down, $1,399,999,500,000 to go.

Lisa Rowan (@lisatella) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

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

13 Places You Can Get Delicious Deals on French Fries This Friday

Mmm… fries. There are so many versions of this magical food: shoestring fries, crinkle-cut fries, steak fries, waffle fries, curly fries, straight-cut fries, home fries — just like shrimp, the list goes on and on.

There are also many ways to enjoy fries, including dipping them in more traditional condiments like ketchup or more creative dipping sauces like ranch dressing, mayochup, nacho cheese or even milkshakes. (Don’t knock it until you try it.)

You can also top them off with a combination of bacon, chili and cheese with a little bit of sour cream. (I’m so hungry.) You can even put chicken Parmesan on top of french fries instead of pasta, like they do in Australia.

With so many ways to enjoy them, it’s no wonder they have their own special day: National French Fry Day!

Celebrate National French Fry Day With These Freebies and Deals

No matter how you choose to eat your french fries, here are some places you can enjoy them for cheap (or even free) this Friday, July 13.

1. Arby’s

Last year, Arby’s celebrated National French Fry Day by giving away free curly fries and a drink with the purchase of a brown sugar bacon sandwich. Now, we do know that some places like to keep their deals and freebies a secret until the day of (plus we have not received a response from Arby’s yet to confirm the deal).

So, if you really want to celebrate National French Fry Day with some Arby’s curly fries, I suggest keeping an eye on their social media channels. I could be wrong, but I think this Facebook post might be a hint of something to come.

2. Bite Squad

This food delivery service is celebrating National French Fry Day by offering $5 off orders of $20 or more with the promo code FRYDAY. This service is available across several locations in the U.S. To see if the squad is in your area, enter your city and state here.

3. BurgerFi

This fast-casual burger joint prides itself on serving fresh, natural ingredients and 100% Angus beef free — and this Friday, you can enjoy a free order of BurgerFi’s fresh, hand-cut french fries with any purchase.

4. Checkers and Rally’s

If you’re a sucker for the seasoned fries of Checkers and Rally’s — and apparently most people are, because they took the No. 1 spot on “The 10 Most Craveable Chain Fries” last year — then sign up for the Flavorhood email club and you’ll receive a coupon for free large fries with any purchase. The coupon is good for two weeks after receiving the email.

P.S. These are the ones to dip in milkshakes. I know what you’re thinking, because it’s the same thing I thought: “Seasoned fries dipped in a milkshake? Yuck!” But really, just try it.

P.P.S. They now have funnel cake fries on their menu, so I’m thinking about making an order of these my purchase to get the coupon for free large fries… Too many fries? Not on National French Fry Day.

5. Dunkin’ Donuts

Dunkin’ Donuts recently released a different spin on french fries: donut fries. And on Friday, July 13, Dunkin’ will be giving them away for free. According to a Dunkin’ Donuts press release, “Donut Fries feature individual pieces of delicious, buttery croissant-style donut dough that are tossed in cinnamon sugar and served warm.”

Mmm, 🍩 fries.

Just be warned: This freebie is only available to the first 100 guests at 25 participating restaurants between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. So if you live near Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City or Tennessee, put on your magic shoes and make a run for one of the Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants on this list.

6. Farmer Boys

If you live in California or Nevada, stop by your local Farmer Boys for an order of free fries with any burger purchase. And if you’re a Very Important Farmer member, you can double that offer. Simply scan the receipt from your purchase on National French Fry Day and another offer for free french fries will be loaded into your account.

7. IHOP

IHOP may have faked a name change to promote its burger menu — and joked about it on Instagram — but you can still celebrate National French Fry Day at the International House of Pancakes.

And if you order from the new Ultimate Steakburger menu, you can chow down on unlimited fries and wash it all down with a drink, which are included in the steakburger combos starting at $6.99.

8. McDonald’s

If you have the McDonald’s app, you can get free medium fries with any $1 purchase — simply claim the deal through the app this Friday, July 13. What’s even better is that McDonald’s has turned every Friday into Fryday for the rest of the year as this offer is good through Dec. 30, 2018.

Pssst… here’s a little secret: If you like dipping your fries in that McDonald’s Szechuan sauce people went crazy for last year, try this recipe.

9. Sonny’s BBQ

Sonny’s is celebrating Fryday with a “Sidekick-sized” serving of crinkle-cut fries for just 50 cents. This offer is available for dine-in only and is limited to one per guest.

And if you love french fries so much that you’re willing to splurge a little, you can try the limited-time loaded BBQ Fries – that’s crinkle fries topped with creamy queso, fried onion straws and sweet barbecue sauce, along with your choice of chopped brisket, pulled pork or chicken. Did I mention I’m hungry?

10. Taco Bell

This deal may not be specific to National French Fry Day, but Taco Bell is bringing back its Nacho Fries just in time for the occasion.

Rumor has it an order of Nacho Fries will cost a little over $1, and additional Nacho Fries menu items will include Nacho Fries Supreme, Nacho Fries Bell Grande and a $5 cravings box featuring an order of Nacho Fries, a Beefy 5-Layer Burrito, a Doritos Locos Taco and a medium drink.

11. Wayback Burgers

If you want to celebrate National French Fry Day by eating as many fries as you possibly can, head to your nearest Wayback Burgers location to indulge in free bottomless fries with the purchase of any burger or sandwich.

12. Wingstop

This also isn’t a National French Fry Day deal, but you can still get some free fries from Wingstop this Fryday — or any other day that ends in “-day” — when you sign up for The Club.

To become part of The Club, enter your name, birthday and email address here and you’ll instantly receive a coupon for a regular order of fresh-cut, seasoned fries (which is valid for two weeks after receiving the email).

13. Zinburger Wine & Burger Bar

If you live near one of these East Coast burger bars and are a member of the VIP Club, stop in for a free order of hand-cut fries with any purchase. This offer is limited to one per table.

Jessica Gray is an editorial assistant at The Penny Hoarder. She plans on incorporating french fries into every meal this Friday, including dessert. Yes, she is a fan of french fries dipped in milkshakes.

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

This Cowgirl Shaman Earns $90/Hour Reading the Minds of Horses

Nearly three decades ago, Terri Jay was leading a horse therapy program at an elementary school in her home state of Nevada.

As she helped a little boy with cerebral palsy into the saddle, she heard him say: “Ouch, there’s a cramp in my hip.”

After she adjusted him, she heard him ask: “You can hear me?”

Not thinking much of it, she replied affirmatively before leading him around the field. They chatted about homework, friends and the school play. When it was over, one of the volunteers pointed out that Jay’s conversation had been one-sided — the boy was completely non-verbal.

“It didn’t dawn on me at the time that he wasn’t talking out loud,” Jay says.  

Deeply confused, Jay went to the boy’s classroom, where she says he’d typed up “horse lady can hear me” on his communication device. His teacher was in disbelief, according to Jay, as was she.

“I was just in shock,” she says. “I’d never had anything like this happen to me before.”

From Skeptic to Believer

Though Jay didn’t understand how, she knew she’d heard that boy speak.

“My first thought was it’s a bunch of BS,” she says. “I’m very down-to-earth and pragmatic; to think about hearing thoughts was way out of my realm of possibility.”

But she figured if she could hear a non-verbal child, she could also hear horses — and make her equine therapy program safer.

At the time, Jay was married to a horse trainer who often dealt with problem horses. As she practiced listening to their thoughts, she discovered most of them had pain issues — and was able to make a big difference in their lives, as well as their owners’ lives.  

“It just sort of all segued together,” she says.

Psychic Jobs: The Business of a Real-Life Horse Whisperer

Word of Jay’s ability spread throughout the horse community, and people began asking her to help them figure out what was wrong with their horses.

Her growing business reached new heights when she built a website, and was then again buoyed by the release of “The Horse Whisperer” book and movie in 1995 and 1998.

Further technological advances — like accepting payments through Paypal, marketing through Facebook and attracting visitors through search engines — allowed her to offer her services throughout the country and even overseas.

She now works full time, or as she says, “seven days a week and holidays.” Most of her readings are one-on-one, over the phone; she usually does three in the morning and three in the afternoon.

Jay charges $50 for a 30-minute session and $90 for an hour. Customers rarely ask for refunds, and when they do, Jay says the clients often apologize later because they realize she’d been right.

She’s also expanded her services over the years.

When a horse client mentioned that her daughter had recently passed away, Jay asked the client if she’d like to speak to her.

Jay revealed that the client had been looking through her daughter’s jewelry for a bracelet the day before — and was correct.

“So that’s when I found out I was a medium,” she says.

Today, 40% of her income comes from work as a horse psychic, and 30% comes from work as a medium.

The rest comes from her books, online training and other services, which include:

  • Finding lost pets by telling owners what their pets are seeing, smelling and hearing
  • Determining the location of gold by feeling for its energy on the map
  • Remotely inspecting homes for people buying a house site unseen
  • Communicating with non-verbal people who are in comas or have severe autism or dementia

How Jay’s Readings Work

To understand how she does what she does, Jay recommends a movie called “What the Bleep Do We Know?!” about quantum physics. She says its release was “a big turning point” in her life.

“It helped me a lot because I realized there’s no woo-woo to this stuff,” she says. “It’s just physics — I’m just a big cell phone tower that picks up on vibrations that people are missing.

“That [movie] made me feel so much better because I’m a down-to-earth cowgirl and things have to be grounded and rooted for me to accept them.”

When she communicates with another animal or person, Jay says she doesn’t receive words or sentences. Rather, she receives “pulses of information”; whatever tastes, sights, sounds and feelings the other person or animal is experiencing.  

“Any time you’re talking to a dog or cat or horse, it’s almost like the first thing you get are smells,” she says. “You have to have no preconceived notions.”

As an example, Jay says a client asked if her dead mother-in-law had seen what they’d done for her. Jay responded the family had planted a tree in her honor. The daughter-in-law asked what it looked like, and Jay said it had tiny pink flowers.

“And then of course I hear dead silence,” she says. “Because I was right.”

The Highs and Lows of Life As a Cowgirl Shaman

Jay admits her work can be draining, and has learned over the years she can’t do too many readings in a day.

“You do things with visualization and intention to protect yourself and stay plugged in,” she says. “You also need a lot of protein; it’s like you burn extra protein when you do this work.”

Because “everything has a vibration and frequency,” Jay is constantly being “bombarded” with information. She can’t listen to music, and also says shopping is difficult.

“I’m on all the time,” she says. “I don’t have an off switch.”

But, even though it’s tiring, she loves her work and finds it extremely rewarding.

“When people are grieving and they get a reading, they’re not the same when they’re done,” she says. “You’re helping people feel better. It truly is healing work.”

Do You Believe It?

Jay says she’s not a magician — just someone who’s learned to tune in better.

“I believe anybody can do this, I really do,” she says. “It’s picking up things without conscious thought.”

We’re all born with 10 senses, Jay explains: the five traditional ones, plus intuition, clairvoyance, clairsentience, clairaudience and claircognizance.

To develop her skills, she read books like “Kinship With All Life” and “Talking With Horses” — but says the most important factors were healing herself and finding happiness.

“You’ve got to get out of your own way,” she says. “Learn to feel instead of think.”

As for the skeptics, she gets it.

“I’m even still skeptical if that makes any sense,” she says. “But I always say I can’t make this [stuff] up — it ends up being too specific.

“It’s not my job to convince people. My job is to relay information; what they choose to do with it is up to them. I joke and say I’m just a messenger.”

Susan Shain is a freelance writer and digital nomad. She covers travel, food and personal finance (basically, how to save money so you can travel more and eat more). Visit her blog at susanshain.com, or say hi on Twitter @susan_shain.

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

This Is Why It’s So Crucial to Have Short-Term AND Long-Term Savings

You hear a lot about saving for retirement and having an emergency fund. What you don’t hear as much about is saving for things in between, like a car, replacing broken appliances or supplementing your income if you become unable to work.

There are things you already know you need to save for, and others that you’ll wish you’d been saving for when it’s too late.

If you want to avoid taking out payday loans, personal loans or going into credit card debt, you need short-term and long-term savings.

Short-Term vs. Long-Term Savings

For the purposes of this article, a short-term savings account is for money that will only stay in the account for a short time, and a long-term savings account is for money that will sit for a long time.

Still with me?

The definitions of long and short are relative, but short-term savings is typically money you’ll spend six months to three years out, and long-term savings is usually money you won’t touch for more than three years.

You can (and should) include saving for both long-term and short-term expenses every month in your budget. You never know when you’ll need your savings, and having money set aside can determine whether a situation is a crisis or just an inconvenience.

A Guide to Your Short-Term Savings Account

This account is where you sink funds for things like vacations, biannual auto insurance payments and holiday gifts. It can include money for goals like a buying a new laptop or a down payment on a house. It’s also for occasional unplanned expenses like repairs, replacements or low-cost medical emergencies and procedures.

A short-term savings account should be easily accessible. That means you should be able to withdraw cash from it or instantly transfer it to your checking account online.

You can estimate how much some things, like vacations and gifts, will cost so you’ll know exactly how much to save. In case of emergencies, it’s recommended that you have three months of expenses saved.

You can use the savings component of your checking account, but I find the more you see the money, the easier it is to spend it. To limit that temptation — and earn a little interest — you can put it in a high-yield savings account.

High-yield savings accounts can return up to 2%, which isn’t much, but it’s better than the 0.06% most banks give, and your money will still be easy to access.

How to Use Your Long-Term Savings Account

Long-term goals can include saving for a car, home repairs or retirement goals that require savings beyond tax-sheltered account limits. It can also include your emergency fund for large medical bills, expensive procedures or savings in case of a job loss.

Like short-term expenses, some long-term expenses can be budgeted for and some can’t. You’ll want to have three months of your regular expenses saved in this account, too, in addition to whatever other goals you’re saving for.

You actually don’t need to have a second account for long-term savings, but if you want to maximize your savings, you can keep this fund in a taxable investment account.

This is just a regular ol’ investment account, minus the tax benefits of 401(k)s and IRAs. What this account lacks in tax benefits, it makes up for in flexibility. You can open one with any brokerage company and withdraw from it at any age, for any purpose, with no penalties.

The reason it’s a good place for your long-term savings: You’ll be able to access the money within three days, which makes it a little hard to “accidentally” spend, and it earns whatever your investments earn. (Stocks produce an average real return around 6.8% annually, although any investment has risks.)

Companies like Vanguard, Fidelity and Schwab offer taxable accounts you can save in. In this type of account, you’ll want to withdraw as infrequently as possible so that interest can compound and hopefully make you more money.

That said, if you expect to need the money anytime soon, save it in your short-term savings account.

If you’re concerned about losing money, consider a certificate of deposit, or CD. Like checking accounts, CDs are insured by the FDIC. Interest rates are typically higher than what you’d earn from a savings accounts, but lower than what you’d earn from investments. The drawback is you typically have to stay vested in the CD for anywhere from three months to five years before you can touch your money.

And if saving for your kid’s college is one of your long-term savings goals, look into a 529 college savings plan. These plans allow you to choose investments for your child’s future tuition, and contributions are exempt from federal income tax.

How to Prioritize Your Short- vs. Long-Term Savings

Ideally, you’d add to your retirement AND both your long- and short-term savings accounts every month, but that’s not possible for everyone.

A simple emergency fund of at least three months’ worth of your bare minimum expenses is where you need to start. Then you can start saving for the rest of your goals and building out your emergency fund to six months of expenses.

Jen Smith is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She gives money saving and debt payoff tips on Instagram at @savingwithspunk.

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

How to Save for a Home, Even When It Feels Like You’ll Be Renting Forever

Monopoly made it seem so easy. But in real life, there’s no advancing to payday, and rent does not cost $16 in New York.

In fact, the median cost of a two-bedroom apartment rental in the U.S. is $1,178. That’s 35% of median take-home pay when you subtract taxes from the median household income.

And in the way of all medians, this means half of us are stretched even thinner than the middle-of-the-road median American family. (Let’s call them the Joneses.) Add in our collective $1.4 trillion in student loan debt in the U.S., and the thought of saving for a home sounds comical.

Yet repeatedly, surveys show that homeownership is still a staple of American financial ambition. One study from 2017 found that 68% of millennial homeowners plan to own multiple homes throughout their lives.

Here’s where to start if you’re one of the millions trying to save for a home.

Figure Out How Much You Need for a Down Payment

The first step is knowing how much you need to save. And how much you need for a down payment can depend, in part, on what kind of loan you’re seeking.

You’ve likely heard the traditional wisdom that says you should put down 20% of the home’s value so you won’t need mortgage insurance, but that doesn’t mean it’s your only (or best) option.

In 1934, the National Housing Act established the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and, as a consequence, FHA loans. The idea is that the FHA insures loans from approved lenders, which limits the lenders’ risk. That means friendly terms for consumers, which look something like this:

If you have a credit score of at least 580, you could qualify for an FHA loan with a down payment of 3.5%. These loans also allow for a larger debt-to-income ratio than traditional mortgages and allow gifts to be used as down payments.

If your credit score is between 500 and 579, you’ll have a more difficult time being approved, but you could still qualify for an FHA loan with 10% down. If this is you, there are steps you can take to try to get to the 580 mark.

Other options with low down payments include what are conventional 97 mortgages, which require just 3% down. For veterans, there are VA loans that require nothing down.

Interest rates on FHA loans range from 4.2% to 4.75%.

As you compare mortgage lenders, you’ll be asked to provide information on your assets, expenses and household income to get prequalification. This will give you a general idea of how much you’ll need to have saved to move forward. The key here is patience. It’s important to compare lenders to be sure you’re getting the best terms you qualify for.

Once you select a lender, you’ll work with a mortgage professional to be formally preapproved for specific terms before you can make any offers.

What about that median family, you ask? Our median family, the Joneses, have credit scores in the 680s, which means they would hit the 3.5% qualification. They’d be looking for a home that costs about $216,000, according to Zillow. That means they’d need to save $7,560 for a down payment.

But that’s not all the Joneses have to consider. On average, closing costs run between 2% and 5% of the home’s value, which means the Joneses could face as much as $10,000 in additional fees — $3,700 is the national average for buyers — to finalize the purchase. These fees can be rolled into an FHA loan if the Joneses choose, but that means 30 years of interest payments on those closing costs.

Assuming they pay for closing costs upfront, the Joneses’ savings target would be just over $11,000.   

How to Plan for Additional Costs of Homeownership

It happens to the best of us: One minute, you decide to crunch numbers on a mortgage calculator; the next, you’ve realized your current rent covers the monthly cost of a private island.

But you should know that there’s much more to the story.

Your mortgage payment will be only a part of what you pay each month as a homeowner. You’ll also take on property taxes, homeowners insurance, mortgage insurance, possible homeowner association fees and maintenance costs.

Do your homework on the tax rate (also called millage) in your area. Get specific with potential lenders so you don’t run into unexpected fees. Once you find a home you’re interested in, you’ll need to have it inspected by professionals to get an estimate on the kind of repairs you may face in the near future.

According to The Balance, $177 of the median monthly mortgage payment goes toward taxes and insurance. What’s more, you should budget 1% of the home’s value annually for maintenance costs. Taking the Joneses’ $216,000 home as an example, expenses above the loan payment and principal would come to an extra $360 a month.

That Part About How to Save for a House

Once you define what your savings goal is, the real work will begin.

If you’re a first-time homebuyer, you may qualify for an assistance program in your state. But regardless of whether you qualify, having a plan for how to save for a house is a must.

You’ll want to familiarize yourself with budgeting methods to see what will work for you. What’s important is knowing exactly where your money goes and being able to justify each expense. The zero-based budget, for example, requires you to account for every cent.

Ask yourself of all nonessential spending: Is this worth putting off buying a home?

Think about how to save on your big expenses.

Would it make sense to move into a smaller house or apartment while you save, for instance? According to USA Today, the cost difference between two-bedroom and one-bedroom apartments can be as much as 30%.

But don’t ignore the smaller details of your finances.

As you begin to put money away, consider whether you’re gathering as much interest as possible, for example. Some accounts gather upward of 1% interest. It may not sound like much, but it can make a difference over time.

Every dollar counts.

Jake Bateman is an editor at The Penny Hoarder.

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