These 3 Surprising Tips Can Help You Invest in Real Estate — For Under $500

The job title “real estate tycoon” has weaseled its way into popular conversation in the last couple of years… no need to delve into why.

It makes you wonder about buying property to rent out or sell for profit. Judging by how much we all pay for rent and how little our landlords seem to do, it looks like a pretty sweet gig, right?

(That’s a joke, my dear landlord. Please don’t change my locks.)

This kind of investment comes with one little, er, major obstacle, though: You need a lot of money to get started. Houses or land can costs thousands — or hundreds of thousands — of dollars.

Unless you get creative.

Here are three unusual ways we’ve discovered to get started in real estate investing when you only have a few hundred bucks to spare.

1. Invest in Real Estate Around the Country for Just $500

Want to try real-estate investing without playing landlord? We found a company that helps you do just that.

Oh, and you don’t have to have hundreds of thousands of dollars, either. You can get started with a minimum investment of just $500. A company called Fundrise does all the heavy lifting for you.

Through the Fundrise Starter Portfolio, your money will be split into two portfolios that support private real estate around the United States.

This isn’t an obscure investment, though. You can see exactly which properties are included in your portfolios — like a set of townhomes in Snoqualmie, Washington, or an apartment building in Charlotte, North Carolina.

You can earn money through quarterly dividend payments and potential appreciation in the value of your shares, just like a stock. Cash flow typically comes from interest payments and property income (e.g. rent).

(But remember: Investments come with risk. While Fundrise has paid distributions every quarter since at least Q2 2016, dividend and principal payments are never guaranteed.)

You’ll pay a 0.85% annual asset management fee and a 0.15% annual investment advisory fee — but the latter is being waived through Dec. 31.

Interested? Get started with Fundrise here.

2. Buy Land on eBay for $100

Ebay has long been a place for people to sell their weird and outlandish goods, so we’re not surprised to see users selling land for mere pennies.

Most of these thrifty plots probably aren’t worth much — now. But if you choose wisely and hang onto it long enough, a new mall or Walmart might move into town one day and need that little vacant strip.

Set your budget and search on eBay for something like “vacant residential lot” or “vacant commercial lot” to find your next investment.

Don’t forget to factor in additional costs, like title-transfer fees and annual property taxes when you’re thinking about how much this land could be worth over time.

3. Try Virtual Real Estate Investing for Free

Have you heard of the online world, Second Life? It’s a virtual world (not a game, the company asserts) that lets you have a virtual family, own a virtual home, buy virtual goods and even get a virtual job.

It became massively popular at the turn of the century, and — even if you haven’t heard about it in a while — it’s still a thing.

The world runs on Linden Dollars, which you can earn through virtual jobs or by selling your virtual possessions and creations. Or you can buy them directly with your real money.

You can also purchase virtual real estate to sell or rent out.

Ailin Graef (known by her SL avatar Anshe Chung) became the virtual world’s first millionaire flipping real estate. She’d invest real money — which goes a lot further in the virtual world than the real one — and earn real money in return when other users bought or rented her properties.

The world is free to join, and you start with a free starter pack of clothing and useful items. If you want to earn money through a virtual business, you’ll need to build up your Linden Dollars and start investing.

It’d be tough, but if you work hard in the virtual world, you could even build your riches without spending any real money upfront!

The publicly filed offering circulars of the issuers sponsored by Rise Companies Corp., not all of which may be currently qualified by the Securities and Exchange Commission, may be found at www.fundrise.com/oc.

Dana Sitar (dana@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer/newsletter editor at The Penny Hoarder. Say hi and tell her a good joke on Twitter @danasitar.

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.

5 Cheap Trader Joe’s Snacks Any Kid Will Adore (and So Will Busy Parents)

Erin O’Neill is the people and culture manager at The Penny Hoarder. It’s a full-time gig that means she takes care of the employees here as our HR go-to woman. First and foremost though, she’s a wife and a mother, which means this lady is busy.

Since she and her husband both work full time, there’s not much time to prepare dinner during the day. So once her family walks through the door, she and her husband are faced with the challenges of juggling dinner prep and concocting a snack for their two daughters, 6-year-old Emerson and 10-year-old Lily.

And according to O’Neill, there’s nothing worse than hungry children –– except ones who are hungry and picky. And like any kids, hers can be both!

Thankfully, though, O’Neill has her go-to before-dinner snacks that are low maintenance, delicious and come from one of her favorite cost-effective grocery stores: Trader Joe’s.  

Check out five of her favorite ways to tame her kids’ appetites without breaking a sweat –– or her budget.

Keep in mind: Prices may vary by store!

1. Apples With Caramel Sauce

A sliced apple is dipped into a caramel sauce.

A sliced apple is dipped into a caramel sauce. A 2-pound bag costs $2.99 and the caramel sauce costs $3 at Trader Joe’s. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

O’Neill says the organic apples at Trader Joe’s are the perfect size, and a 2-pound bag costs $2.99 — much less than the ones at her regional grocer, Publix.

She loves to pair slices of apples with a scoop of a little something extra: “I don’t know if you’ve ever had [Trader Joe’s’] caramel sauce,” she says. “But it’s amazing.”

The caramel sauce runs about $3. I’m not a parent, but I’m pretty sure from a kid’s perspective, this is more of a treat than a snack. But hey, when it comes to taming pre-dinner hunger, who says it can’t be fun?

2. Pretzel Dip

A child holds a bowl of seasoned sour cream with pretzels.

Pretzels dipped into a bowl of seasoned sour cream is an inexpensive, kid-friendly treat you can get at Trader Joe’s. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

You’ve likely heard of Trader Joe’s Everything but the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend. If you haven’t, you’re about to –– and for less than $2, it’ll change your life.

Need a quick alternative to chips and dip? O’Neill dumps this killer seasoning into a bowl of sour cream and serves it with pumpernickel pretzel sticks, which are only $1.69.

O’Neill calls this one the “perfect insta-dip,” and her kids love it.

Does the idea of feeding your kids pumpernickel pretzels sound like an impossible feat? Try serving it with sliced veggies, like cucumbers or baby carrots.

Delicious and (somewhat) healthy!

3. Veggie Birds Nests

Try these $3 Trader Joe's vegetable bird's nests for a cheap, kid-friendly snack.

Try these $3 Trader Joe’s vegetable bird’s nests for a cheap, kid-friendly snack. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

For whatever reason, O’Neill’s daughters will turn their noses up at a homemade recipe, but they will wolf down the same exact one if it comes out of box.

What exactly is a bird nest, you ask? Shredded veggies piled together to form a crispy, perfectly seasoned bundle of joy.

She loves grabbing Trader Joe’s version from the frozen section. After you pop them in the oven, they come out perfectly crispy and delicious, she says.

“If I tried to make that, everyone would laugh at me,” says O’Neill. “They would literally hold their noses and not eat it.”

The best part? Her daughters scarf them down. Oh, and a box of these only costs $3.

4. Cereal

A bowl of Trader Joe's Gorilla Munch cereal only costs $2.99.

A bowl of Trader Joe’s Gorilla Munch cereal only costs $2.99. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

O’Neill loves using Trader Joe’s cereal as a quick snack that even her girls can put together. It has a long shelf life, and you get more than just a few servings out of it, making this arguably the easiest snack on our list.

She also says that TJ’s is the only place she and her husband will buy cereal for their family since it’s free of genetically modified organisms. One of their favorites? Gorilla Munch –– and it costs $2.99.

Is there anything easier to make in the kitchen than a bowl of cereal? Seriously, even I can make that –– and I’m the person who still burns toast at twentysomething years old.

Cereal: It’s quick, easy and it won’t kill your children while they’re making or eating it.

5. Wildcard! Hit Up the Sample Section

Lily O'Neil, 10, and Emerson O'Neil, 6, try to throw pieces of Trader Joe's Gorilla Munch cereal into each other's mouths

Lily O’Neill, 10, and Emerson O’Neill, 6, try to throw pieces of Trader Joe’s Gorilla Munch cereal into each other’s mouths. The snack costs $2.99. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

One of the best tricks O’Neill keeps up her sleeve is letting her daughters try items in the sample section.

This not only gives them a quick bite of food while they pick out that night’s ingredients for dinner, but if the girls like what they try, she purchases the full-size version for tomorrow’s snack.

During one trip to the Joe, her daughter Lily tried a Gorgonzola flatbread and fell in love. O’Neill did, too –– it cost less than $4 for her to buy it for the next night and was as effortless as preheating the oven and throwing it in.

OK, maybe I lied when I said cereal was the easiest snack on this list.

Kelly Anne Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter at @keywordkelly.

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 Internet Prices Keep Rising — And How to Cut Your Bill Down

If you haven’t had the pleasure of signing up for internet service lately, let me tell you about it.

I recently moved (out of my parents’ home). And although I’ve paid my fair share of utility bills in the past, I was shocked when I found out how much internet and a simple cable package would cost.

It would be about $140 per month, the nice representative told me.

*Insert my audible gasp and an “Are you serious?” here.*

I asked about just internet. I’d been talking about joining the horde of other households that have cut the cord anyways. After all, I have Netflix and Amazon Prime, and I’ve been wanting to sign up for Hulu. Those streaming services total about $27 per month.

“Just internet?” the nice representative repeats, likely rolling her eyes, because she’s already heard this question 100 times today. That’ll be  $69.99 a month.

Still? I breathed into the phone.

Why is Internet So Dang Expensive?

I need internet like I need electricity and water. I work from home once a week, and even if I’m going to cut the cord and opt for streaming services, well, I still need internet. I could opt to spend all my free time reading, but what about “The Real Housewives”?

I asked folks around the office, my friends, my family: Has internet always been this expensive? Because I don’t remember ever paying that much. Or maybe it’s because I always split the bill with roomies.

No one seemed super shocked. But I received one sign of validation when Consumerist recently reported that, yes, internet prices are increasing.

The Consumerist article cited a Morgan Stanley survey, which found that cable companies have increased internet prices by an average of 12% this past year.

For some concrete context, internet-only customers now pay an average of $66 per month for the service, whereas those who have a broadband and cable package pay $49 per month for internet.

What’s up, guys?

Well, like I’d considered, more and more of us are cutting the cord, which is leaving cable providers with no choice but to hike prices to make up for lost revenue.

And prices will keep on keepin’ on, analysts predict.

“Despite the double-digit cost increases, analysts believe the new prices might not be enough,” Consumerist writes. “Instead, companies would need to set their broadband-only prices to $80/month in order to offset the lost revenue from cord-cutters.”

What’s one to do?

How to Lower Your Internet Bill

Honestly, I felt defeated when I heard the innocent representative give me those price points.

I decided to go with the whole bundle — internet and cable and, yes, even a landline, because apparently not getting one increases your bill by about $30.

Now I’m going to pay an initial bill of $162 (install fees, of course) and subsequent bills of $140.

But there are a few options that’ll help you cut down (or attempt to) your monthly bill.

1. Straight Up, Ask For a Discount

Anyone who knows me knows I’m perhaps the most passive person ever, so the thought of this intimidates me a little.
But it’s worth a shot.
Plus, Penny Hoarder contributor Chris Ronzio outlined five easy steps to get the job done. And, no, none of them include yelling at — or crying to — your provider.

2. Get a Chatbot to Haggle For You

Ah, this sounds less stressful. Also, at this point, I’ve spent half my life on hold with my internet provider, and I’m so over it.

That’s why I’m going to follow my fellow Penny Hoarder’s lead and try using Trim. It’s a little bot that lives in Facebook Messenger or your text messages, and it’ll negotiate your cable or internet bills down for you.

It works with Comcast, Time Warner, Charter and other providers.

You can sign up simply with Facebook. Then, upload a PDF of your most recent bill, and Trim’s AI-powered system gets to work.

If at first it doesn’t succeed, it’ll keep negotiating until it can save you some money.

Also, if you have any outages, Trim believes you deserve a credit, and it’ll handle that for you.
Trim takes 25% of the savings tab.
This past weekend, I submitted my first bill. Trim is haggling with Spectrum at the moment. But I wanted evidence it works, so like all things I want proven, I turned to Twitter to see what people were saying. Here’s what I found:

 

 

 

I’m kind of pumped see what Trim can do for me!

Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder. While waiting for her first internet bill, she’s started using Trim to patrol her Amazon purchases. When an item’s price drops, she receives the difference!

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 Get Your Money Under Control When You’re Absolutely Terrible With It

I have a confession you don’t often hear from a personal-finance writer: I’m terrible with money.

Or, at least, I was.

I’ve gotten a lot better since knowing a thing or two about money literally became my job, but I used to be terrible all around — making money, saving money, knowing what in the world I was spending money on or where my next paycheck was coming from.

Now I know I could have been doing a lot of simple little things over the years to keep my finances in better shape — even when I was dead broke.

If you’ve been having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad time with money, too, here are a few things I’ve discovered that could help you get your spending, earning and debt under control.

Bonus: None of these will take a lot of time or effort. I know exactly how little you want to think about money if you can help it.

1. Figure out Where You Owe Money

One of the worst effects of not paying attention to your finances is burying yourself under a giant mountain of debt.

From student loans to credit cards to pre-Obamacare medical costs, I covered my ears and eyes and let debt slowly grow around me.

Thanks to caller ID, I stopped answering the phone — if I don’t hear the debt collectors, are they really there?

All this la-la-la-ing of my debt situation was a huge problem when I finally wanted to fix it. I had no idea who held my debts. Now that I was ready to send a check, I had no idea where to send it.

Credit Sesame was a lifesaver.

The app gives you a free credit report card — including a credit score — and provides you with recommendations and financial education resources.

The bad news: I found out my credit score was a meager 528. Yikes.

The good news: Credit Sesame showed me a quick view of my total debt, plus all the factors contributing to my low score: credit usage, credit age, inquiries, account mix and payment history. And it listed the creditors and collection agencies that wanted my money.

Plus, Credit Sesame offered concrete steps, based on my situation, to help me work on my credit score.

You can sign up and download the app here.

2. Start Paying Someone — Anyone — Back

OK, the hard part. You have to start actually paying off those debts. But when the list is long, you might not know where to begin.

Keep one thing in mind: When it comes to paying off debt, the most important thing is that you begin. Anywhere.

When you sit on unpaid debt, it likely accrues interest and fees. The longer you wait to repay, the more you’ll pay in the long run.

To decide which debtor to make your first check out to, consider these two popular schools of thought:

  • The debt snowball method, which Dave Ramsey pioneered, suggests you pay off one credit card (or loan) at a time, starting with the lowest balance. Checking it off your list will satisfy your need for instant gratification.
  • The debt avalanche method, a response from personal finance experts, suggests you pay the debt with the highest interest first, regardless of balance. That’ll help you avoid accruing tons of interest and save you money in the long run.

The snowball method is sort of made for folks like you and me.

We don’t get too excited about making the most perfect financial decisions, but achieving a few simple goals is enough to motivate us to keep working.

3. Figure Out Where All Your Money Is Going

To keep tabs on my spending habits, I use Trim, a Facebook messenger or text bot that helps you hold yourself accountable. It’s like a personal financial assistant that lives in your phone.

It lets me see where my money is going (or being wasted) by showing me recent transactions anytime I ask. It’ll also show me how much I’ve spent on Amazon recently, so I can see whether my impulsive ebook purchases are getting out of control.

The best part about Trim by far is it’ll help you negotiate bills with companies like Comcast, Time Warner, Charter and other major providers. And it helps you cancel recurring expenses you no longer need (like magazines, gym fees, etc.).

Because it’s a bot and doesn’t have a ton of important stuff to do all day like you do, Trim will keep negotiating until it succeeds at saving you money. It’s free to use and just keeps 25% of whatever it saves you.

To get this little bot in your life, sign up with Facebook or your email address.

4. Create a Super-Simple Budget (No Spreadsheet Required)

By this point, you won’t be surprised to learn I hate budgeting.

My tastes and plans change quickly, so I can never predict exactly how much I’ll spend on, say, groceries, clothes or gas in a month. In March, I might be super into kale salads, but by June I’ll probably be back to my mostly-macaroni-and-cheese diet.

But one of our writers discovered a budget I can get behind. It’s from an unexpected source: a 2006 book by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and her daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi.

The budget follows the 50/20/30 rule:

  • 50% of your monthly income is the max for essentials: housing, food, utilities and minimum credit card payments.
  • 20% goes toward financial goals: retirement and other investments, debt repayment, and saving for emergencies and that yacht you’ve had your eye on.
  • 30% goes to personal spending — i.e. having a life. Dining out, drinks with the gals, vacations and Netflix should cost no more than a third of your budget.

The simple spending caps make it easy for me to keep my spending in some sort of order without obsessing over spreadsheets and pie charts. (Ooo! I should grab a pie on my next grocery run…)

5. Start Investing Just a Teeny Bit of Money

Investing might seem intimidating, but why not try out the micro version?

Stash makes it easy to start investing — and snag a $5 sign-up bonus. You don’t have to have an MBA or even make it all the way through “The Big Short” to understand how to invest with this app.

You just link your bank account, and Stash does the rest by pulling a set amount and investing it in the stock market based on your interests.

To get the $5 bonus:

  1. Download the Stash app.
  2. Link your bank account, and decide how much you want to automatically invest each week.
  3. It probably won’t save you enough to retire on, but it’s a great way to become familiar with investing.

6. Turn All Your Confusing Debts Into One Simpler Debt

One big obstacle to repaying debt on time? So many monthly payments to manage.

Consolidating your debt could simplify the whole process and substantially lower your monthly payments.

A lot of us are being crushed by credit card interest rates north of 20%. If you’re in the same boat, it might be worth seeing if you can consolidate and refinance your debt.

A good resource is consumer financial technology platform Even Financial, which can help match you with the right personal loan for your situation.

The site searches lenders to match you with a personalized loan offer in three steps. Its platform can help you borrow up to $100,000 (no collateral needed) with fixed interest rates starting at 4.99% and terms from 24 to 84 months.

7. Tackle Your Student Loan Debt (Yeah, We Have to Address This)

Student loan debt is a unique beast.

It entangles you in this strange affair with your alma mater, the government, some private company you’re barely aware of, banks and sometimes debt collectors. Not a fun party.

To make things a little simpler, one of my first steps after college was to update my federal loan repayment plan (because a financial-aid advisor kept calling me, and this is what she advised when I finally answered).

I couldn’t afford the standard monthly payments, so I applied for a direct-consolidation loan, which combined my multiple loans into one with an average weighted interest rate and longer repayment period.

Then I applied for an income-driven repayment plan to cap my monthly payments based on my income.

If you have private loans or don’t like the repayment terms you get with a direct-consolidation loan, consider student loan refinancing. It works a lot like direct-consolidation loans, except you do it through a private lender instead of the federal government.

Through a marketplace like Credible, you can refinance federal and private student loans.

Credible connects you with a lender to replace your multiple loans with a single loan, potentially with a lower interest rate and/or lower monthly payment, which could help you save money now and long-term.

It might seem like a small difference, but a lower interest rate can mean a lot of savings over time. It’s helping grad Ashley Williams save more than $18,000 in interest over the life of her loan!


Enter your info at Credible to find out what your new interest rate could be.

8. Remember That 401(k) You Started That One Time

Got a 401(k)? You’re on the right track. Just don’t neglect it.

Yeah, I know. That’s exactly what you’d prefer to do, because it’s boring and complicated.

But you need to make sure your account is doing what you need it to. I know tapping into that account and deciphering the information — or lack thereof — can be hard.

There’s a robo-advisor for that. Blooom, an SEC-registered investment advisory firm, will optimize and monitor your 401(k) for you.

A few of us Penny Hoarders use the service. It gives you an initial 401(k) checkup for free, and you’ll get to know your account a little more intimately. Find out if you’re paying too many hidden fees, have the appropriate amount invested in stocks versus bonds, that kind of fun stuff.

After that, the tool is $10 a month to continue to monitor your retirement account. Let Blooom know your target retirement age, and its advisors can help you get there by investing more and less aggressively.

9. Sell All the Stuff You Never Needed in the First Place

Lucky for me, throughout my 20s, when I was the worst at managing money, I didn’t have much of it.

That means I didn’t do much impulse shopping or binging — because I just didn’t have the cash. Make no mistake: If I’d had a stable income, my closets would be stuffed with tiny hand-crafted pillows from indie arts fairs.

If you’re blessed with disposable income and lack of impulse control, you’ve probably got a few regrettable decisions stashed in your closets, garage and dresser drawers.

Decluttr will buy all your old CDs, DVDs and Blurays, as well as video games, game consoles, smartphones and tablets. Scan your items with your phone and Decluttr emails you a shipping label. Throw it in a box, send it off and your money shows up in your account in a few days. (Plus enter code FREE5 for an extra $5 at checkout.)

You can sell virtually anything else on letgo. This intuitive app lets you snap a photo and list your item in less than 30 seconds. It removes the hassle of selling things online, and it’s 100% free to use.

10. Earn Back Money From Your Impulse Buys

Can’t hold off on that purchase for a big sale? Do the next best thing: Buy it now and get a refund next time the price drops.

Your secret weapon here is an app called Earny. It scans your emails for receipts, looking for online purchases from participating retailers like Amazon and Target. Then it tracks the competitor prices for items you purchased and gets you money back when it finds a better price there — or even where you bought them.

Earny takes advantage of retailers’ price-match policies to negotiate a refund on your behalf. So you don’t have to do anything — just wait for a notification that you’ve earned cash back.

You’ll get a refund via your original payment method, store credit or a check in the mail. Earny keeps a 25% “success fee,” but only when it saves you money.

11. Open a Bank Account That Understands You

What’s your bank account done for you lately? If you’re not working with a lot of funds, you might not think much about it. Who cares about an APY if you never have any money in there?

But you should care about other factors, including:

  • Minimum required balance
  • Minimum required monthly deposit
  • Monthly fees
  • ATM fees
  • Overdraft policy

Considering these factors when you choose your bank account could save you a lot of money.

For example, “Overdraft protection” sounds like a helpful feature, but it can actually be dangerous. You might be embarrassed when the cashier rejects your card in the grocery check-out line. But at least you won’t spend beyond your means and incur ridiculous fees.

If you never thought of it that way, don’t worry. Neither had I. Here are some more surprising tips to help you choose a bank account when you’re broke.

Dana Sitar (dana@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer/newsletter editor at The Penny Hoarder. Say hi and tell her a good joke on Twitter @danasitar.

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.

It’s All in the Stars: This Woman’s Astrology Calendar Makes Her Extra Cash

A self-described entrepreneur and business consultant in Central Florida, Julie Wilder began using her spare time in 2012 to start studying time, or, more specifically, how the modern day Gregorian calendar tracks time differently than the calendars that existed before it.

“You could say I was almost obsessed by this idea,” she says.

The impetus for her obsession began when her then 3-year-old daughter Maya started learning the days of the week at Montessori school.

Wanting to extend the beautiful period in childhood when days are marked more by playing, snuggling and reading bedtime stories rather than than the crossing of days off the monthly calendar, Wilder created a “wheel of the week” that was color coded like a rainbow. With it, she could demonstrate to her child that time wasn’t just a linear path but a natural cyclical affair that repeats like the seasons do, over and over again.

A close up photo of Wilder's Spectrum Cosmic Calendar.

Wilder made $15,000 last year with her Spectrum Cosmic Calendar. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

This rainbow wheel of the week would eventually evolve into Wilder’s Spiral Spectrum Cosmic Calendar, an 18-by-24-inch poster that features moon phases, seasons, retrograde periods for all the planets and a version of her original circular calendar set in the middle.

Now, Maya is 8 and Wilder’s shop has gone from something that “wasn’t even on her Linkedin” to a substantial side hustle that brought in $15,000 last year.

“It’s taken me years to get here,” Wilder says.

How a Busy Mom Balances her Time and Money

As a hardworking professional with a child, Wilder schedules time for her Etsy shop by finding 20 minutes here and there. Using her self-taught graphic design skills, Wilder builds the yearly poster during her daughter’s spring break.

“I send my daughter to a best friend’s house and I just build the calendar for the next year,” she says. “And that’s a pretty intense week or two.”

November and December are prime calendar selling months, so Wilder says she works about 20 hours a week handling shipping, fulfillment and marketing. But the rest of the year, she only dedicates about 10 hours a week to maintaining her shop.

“It’s all stuff I can do in my spare time after my kid has gone to bed,” she says.

A woman watches as her child helps get packages together for shipping.

Julie Wilder watches as Maya Wilder, her daughter, helps her get the Spectrum Cosmic Calendars ready for shipping inside their home. Julie Wilder has been able to pay her mortgage with the money she makes from selling the calendars. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

The shop is an example of what Wilder calls a “slow and lean startup,” something that busy parents and people with full-time jobs can do without having a lot of money to invest.

“I’m a single mom,” Wilder says. “I’m like down to the penny at my house.”

Wilder, who has a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Central Florida, is aware of what an expensive endeavor it can be to launch a small business. She co-founded a vegetarian cafe in Orlando, Florida, in 2006 and was a co-owner of the establishment for about 10 years.

Wilder is so adamant that a slow and lean startup is the best idea for most people because not everyone has access to the capital and the resources needed to start a small storefront-based business. And, with an online shop, people are granted more flexibility and freedom.

“You can set the pace of the schedule and you’re not tied to traditional business norms,” Wilder says.

Advice for Other Creative Side Hustlers

A mother and daughter roll out the larger poster version of their Spectrum Cosmic Calendar.

Julie Wilder and Maya Wilder roll out a larger version of the Spectrum Cosmic Calendar they received in the mail outside their home. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Think about entrepreneurism as a gardener would, Wilder tells newcomers to online selling.

“Your project that you’re trying to bring into the marketplace is an experiment just like a garden is an experiment,” she says. “So you have to be one part scientist and one part artist.”

A few other tidbits of advice she gives to those just starting out:

Your product doesn’t have to be perfect before you launch it. “Sometimes I joke that perfection is the enemy of done unless you’re a heart surgeon,” she says. “But in entrepreneurism, you’re really creating prototypes until you have a finished product.”

Find a mentor. “They just know things that you wouldn’t even think of because you don’t know what you don’t know,” she says.

Figure out how to live a lean lifestyle. “You can’t have a high overhead,” she says.

Future Plans For When the Stars Align

A child and mother dance in their home in Deland, Fla.

Maya Wilder and Julie Wilder dance to music inside their home after packaging up sold Spectrum Cosmic Calendars. Seeing Julie’s entrepreneur skills has inspired Maya to open her own Etsy store, and she’s already sold some items. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

“I really want this side hustle to become my basic income so I can take a risk on a place-based business,” Wilder says.

In 2014, Wilder made about $1,000 from her Spiral Spectrum Calendars. In 2015, she made about $5,000 and in 2016 she made about $15,000. So, she’s hoping she can continue to grow her business until it becomes a mostly passive revenue stream.

In the meantime, she keeps busy leading workshops for other aspiring creative entrepreneurs and mentoring fellow small business owners. And she was recently quoted in Real Simple magazine for an article about side hustles.

She has also taken on a new mentee: her daughter who begged her enterprising mama to let her open her own Etsy shop.

“She’s gotten two sales,” Wilder says. “So, she’s officially moved from apprentice to entrepreneur. My mini-preneur.”

Brittany Ann Morrisey is a freelance writer and copy editor based in Orlando, Florida.

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.

These Money Robots Help People Start Investing for a Fraction of the Price

I’ve heard of RoboCop. He’s been in a bunch of movies.

I’ve heard of robocalls. That’s when telemarketers or politicians call your number with annoying recorded messages.

I’ve even heard of “Robopocalypse,” a popular sci-fi novel — mainly because Steven Spielberg almost made a movie out of it.

But I had never heard of robo-advisers.

What the heck are robo-advisers? And can I trust them with my money?

I’m not alone here. Less than one in four millennials use robo-advisers to manage and invest their money, according to a recent LendEDU survey. Of those who don’t use them, 62% said it’s because they’ve never heard of a robo-adviser.

But if you haven’t heard of them yet, you will. Because they’re growing more popular by the year.

Robo-Investing 101: What You Need to Know

Consider this a beginner’s guide.

Robo-advisers (or robo-investors, if you prefer) are apps that automate your savings and investments. These online financial companies use sophisticated software instead of human stockbrokers to manage your money. That way, they keep fees low.

They’ve actually existed for nearly a decade.

Launched in 2008, Betterment is considered the pioneer of robo-investing. Its main competitor, Wealthfront, moved into robo-investing in 2011.

The two companies are competing fiercely for market share. Betterment is based in New York, Wealthfront in Silicon Valley.

They have the same basic business model, designed for long-term investors who want a professionally managed portfolio at a low price. Here’s our primer on how the two apps are different.

Each company’s website asks you about your age, when you hope to retire, and your tolerance for risk.

Both companies use software robots — proprietary programs that act as automated advisers — to steer your investments and cheaply do things that stockbrokers and money managers would charge you higher fees to do.

Our Favorite Robo-Advisers

Robo-advisors have come a long way in a decade. Today there are more than 100 of them.

Here are some of our favorites:

  • Blooom: This robo-adviser helps optimize and manage your 401(k). Cost: $10/month, but you can get a free account checkup before signing up.
  • Betterment: Considered the pioneer of robo-investing, this app invests your money into a portfolio of low-cost index funds. You can start with a minimum $100. Cost: 0.25%/year
  • Acorns: This app connects to your debit and credit cards and automatically rounds up your purchases, investing the spare digital change in a simple portfolio based on your risk tolerance. You can use the account to automate your savings and withdraw anytime. Cost: $1 + 0.5%/month (no fee for a zero-balance account)
  • Stash: Choose a portfolio based on your beliefs and interests. It’ll pull an amount you set from your bank account at regular intervals, and you can start with as little as $5. Plus, you’ll get a $5 bonus when you sign up through this link. Cost: $1/month (first month free)
  • Clink: This app lets you invest a set amount per day, week or month — a minimum of $1 a day — automatically drawn from your bank account. Cost: $1/month (plus a $5 signup bonus)

Pros and Cons

Can you trust them?

Well, these companies have a pretty straightforward business plan. They simply funnel your investment money into a portfolio of low-cost index funds that track the stock market as a whole.

It’s not brain surgery. Their actual investment strategy isn’t revolutionary or avant-garde or anything. Their trick is, they make it easy and cheap for you to invest. And a portfolio of low-cost index funds gives you an 80% to 90% chance of outperforming anything else.

It’s working. Betterment is now managing $9.5 billion in assets. Wealthfront is managing $5 billion.

Let’s talk pros and cons. Is there a downside?

Sure. It’s not the same as having a full-service financial planner. Ideally, a real, live human financial adviser gets to know you personally and uses every tool available to help you meet your goals.

The upside?

It’s cheap. You’re getting expert help instead of doing it all yourself. You have a professionally managed investment portfolio at a rock-bottom price.

It just happens to be a robot.

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He likes RoboCop but thinks the first movie was better than the sequels.

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.

Traveling for the Winter? Here’s How to Earn Money With Your Empty House

I’m from Wisconsin, and I live in Florida now, so I’m quite familiar with the term “snowbird.”

If you’re not, it’s simple: A snowbird is someone who leaves a cold, snowy place — like Wisconsin — for the winter to travel to a warm, sunny place — like Florida.

In Wisconsin, we use the term with affection: “Grandma’s turning into a snowbird!” I’ve learned in Florida, not so much affection. It’s usually more like, “When will these snowbirds learn how to drive?!”

Regardless, the snowbirds make the trek every year, keeping Southern economies alive — and leaving Northern homes vacant for months on end.

Folks in the warm, sunny tourist spots have figured out how to cash in on these recreational migrants. But have you considered making money with that home you leave empty in the frozen North?

How Snowbirds Can Make Money With Airbnb

If you travel with the seasons each year, you might already be familiar with Airbnb. It’s a peer-to-peer app that connects travelers with people who have spare rooms or other available space.

When you’re a traveler, the app can help you save money on lodging, because you can often find a room through Airbnb cheaper than a hotel.

For hosts, it’s a pretty cool way to earn extra money.

Think about that space you leave behind when you travel every winter. Say you’re out of town from mid-December through mid-March — that’s three months you could potentially earn money for almost no work!

True, unless you live near a ski hill, your area probably isn’t the most popular destination this time of year. That’s why you’re leaving, right? But you can still cash in.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Offer your space by the month for short-term renters who need a temporary place to live.
  • Offer it by the night or week for people visiting family for the holidays.
  • If you live near a college, offer the space for visiting faculty or other campus guests who are visiting outside of the typical semester schedule.
  • Similarly, offer your space for students or faculty who are staying in town past the fall semester or coming early for the spring semester, to cover gaps in common apartment leases.

Bonus: Your house won’t sit empty, so you won’t have to ask your neighbor to stop by to water the plants and run the faucets every week.

How to List Your Space on Airbnb

If you don’t already have an account, here’s how to get started:

  1. Sign up as a host with Airbnb here.
  1. List your space when you’re going to be out of town (or when you have a spare room available).
  1. Be a good host, and make sure your place is stocked with the toiletries you’d expect at a hotel — toilet paper, soap and towels.
  1. If you have a desireable space, you could earn hundreds (or thousands!) of dollars a month. (Hosting laws vary from city to city. Please understand the rules and regulations applicable to your city and listing.)

Because you’re going to be out of town, consider hiring someone nearby (a neighbor, friend, family member or assistant) as a point person for your guests.

That will help you ensure good, prompt service if the guests have any concerns. That person can also pop in to clean and check on the space between guests. Offer to pay per hour or a percentage of what you earn.

Or, Airbnb has a feature called co-hosting that can help. Basically, you get to choose an experienced Airbnb host to handle the logistics of getting people into and out of your space and making sure they have a good experience. You can be as involved as you like.

How Much Money Can You Make?

Rates for Airbnb vary based on location, space and time of year. Like any other lodging, the greater the demand in your area, the more you’ll be able to charge for your space.

Browse other Airbnb listings around you to find out how much others charge. You can also check their ratings and reviews to find out what other hosts offer that make guests willing to pay their prices.

Ready to check it out? Here’s the link to sign up with Airbnb.

Dana Sitar (dana@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer/newsletter editor at The Penny Hoarder. Say hi and tell her a good joke on Twitter @danasitar.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, one of the largest personal finance websites. We help millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. In 2016, Inc. 500 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the No. 1 fastest-growing private media company in the U.S.

This is How to Save Money on Everything You Buy Online This Holiday Season

Boy, did Home Depot serve me with a jolt of reality recently.

I was minding my own business and reviewing my shopping list for my latest DIY attempt. I strolled through the store’s automatic doors and soaked up that swoosh of cold air.

Then, bam.

Inflatable Christmas-themed yard decorations.

From the top industrial shelf, nearly touching the warehouse-style ceiling, they peered down at me.

Looming.

The waving Santa seemed to say, “Hey, guess what month it is? That’s right, it’s not even Thanksgiving, but we’re already in the Christmas spirit.”

The pink pig with a candy-cane scarf tied around its neck taunted me, “Cha-ching! Where’s your piggy bank? It’s about to be empty!”

Admittedly, the whole scene wasn’t this dramatic. It was more me saying in a tiny voice, “Wow, Christmas already?” to the nice greeter who handed me a shopping basket.

Still, those inflatables were a not-so-subtle reminder that holiday shopping looms.

Some Slick Ways to Save Money While Online Holiday Shopping

If you’ve felt that same momentary panic when walking into retailers lately — brace yourself — we have to say the feeling is justified.

According to new numbers from the National Retail Federation, holiday sales are expected to increase by up to 4% this year. Although that sounds like a reasonable amount, it pushes last year’s $655.8 billion spending total up to $678.75 billion.

But don’t crumble up the wrapping paper and hide in an empty Amazon box just yet.

Keep in mind you have time to prepare by building an army of savings apps and browser extensions that’ll help you save while online holiday shopping. We found some of our favorites to get you started.

(Or you can opt for DIY presents, but that’s another story.)

1. Earn Cash Back With Ibotta

Traditionally, Ibotta is known for its cash-back offers on groceries, but it’s seeping into other markets now — like travel, restaurants and online shopping.

Let me give you a few examples that might help you tackle that Christmas list:

  • For the outdoor enthusiast, snag 6% cash back from Backcountry.
  • For the world traveler, earn 10% cash back from eBags.
  • For the fashionista, bank $10 cash back from Stitch Fix.

Other online shopping offers hail from Gap, Groupon, Houzz, Kohl’s, Overstock, Target and more.

Just download the app, find your favorite retailer and shop through the portal. After you earn your first rebate, you’ll pocket a $10 bonus.

Bonus: If you don’t have Amazon Prime yet, the service can be a huge lifesaver for last-minute presents. If you decide to take the plunge and sign up, do so through Ibotta. You’ll earn a $20 Amazon gift card!

2. Protect Your Prices With Paribus

Have you ever ordered something online only to see that, one day later, the price has dropped? Yeah, that’s frustrating.

You’ll want to sign up for Earny, a price-protection tool that’ll monitor these prices so you don’t have to worry.

The stores it will negotiate price-drop returns from include big names, such as Amazon, Best Buy, Target, Walmart and Zappos — among others.

When an item’s price drops, Earny will automatically hand you the price difference.

3. Get Reimbursed for Price Changes on Amazon

Are you one of those people who only orders from Amazon? (Yup, I once had a gift in mind for my dad but then had to find an alternative because I couldn’t order it through Amazon. Sorry, dad.)

Paribus used to reimburse you for price changes on Amazon. However, we’ve found a solid replacement. It’s called Trim, and it’s a little bot that lives in your Facebook messenger app.

Once you sign up, it’ll register your Amazon purchases and will reimburse you for any price fluctuations.

For example, did that coffeemaker you ordered for mom suddenly drop $15? Trim will reimburse you.

4. Score Cash Back Through Ebates

Unfortunately you can’t double dip with Ibotta and Ebates cash-back opportunities, but it’s worth checking to see which platform offers the best deal.

Ebates is an online portal that allows you to find tons of rebates from participating retailers.

Here are a few gift-giving examples:

  • For your favorite yogi, get 5% cash back from Lululemon.
  • For the makeup obsessed, earn 4% cash back from Sephora.
  • For the concertgoer, snag up to 3.5% cash back from StubHub.
  • For the crafter, bank $2% back from Hobby Lobby.

Ebates also offers tons of coupons, so even if your preferred retailer doesn’t have a cash-back opportunity, you might be able to find a solid coupon to apply to your order.

5. Share Your Amazon Purchase History

The Harris Poll, a well-known survey company that measures U.S. public opinion, operates something called ShopTracker.

Basically, it anonymously tracks what products users are purchasing from Amazon.

It’ll pay you $36 a year for that access and promises to keep your information private.

Before you sign up (it’ll take something like three minutes), here are the basic requirements:

  • You should shop on Amazon, naturally.
  • You must be 18 and live in the U.S.
  • You’ll need at least a Windows 7-compatible PC. If you have Windows XP or a Mac, it won’t work.

Install the app for free. Then, log into your Amazon account to bank an extra $36 this year. No, it’s not a ton, but it’ll absolutely cover a present for your nephew.

Or at least shipping…

6. Sign Up for a Rewards Card

The wonderful thing about this last option is you can deal-stack it with any of the above.

When you sign up for a rewards credit card, you’ll get points or cash back on purchases. (Just be sure to pay that card off each month!)

We always recommend the Barclaycard CashForward™ World MasterCard® because you’ll earn 1.5% cash back on anything you buy.

Plus, when you spend $1,000 within the first 90 days of signing up (perfect for the holidays), you’ll get a $200 bonus. That’s like getting 20% off your purchases.

Even better? There’s no annual fee.

Here’s a list of a bunch of other rewards cards with no annual fees.

Be sure to read all the fine print, then you can sign up online.

Advertiser Disclosure: Many of the credit card offers that appear on this site are from credit card companies from which The Penny Hoarder receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). We do not feature all available credit card offers or all credit card issuers.

Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s definitely not buying one of those inflatable yard ornaments to haunt her dreams.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, one of the largest personal finance websites. We help millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. In 2016, Inc. 500 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the No. 1 fastest-growing private media company in the U.S.

Survey: Americans Worry About Saving Money, But Don’t Use Savings Apps

Americans aren’t too sure about this economy, and a new study is looking at why.

Sure, the stock market is up, and unemployment is down. That’s good stuff. We’ve come a long way since the Great Recession a decade ago.

On the other hand, people aren’t saving enough money.

A new national survey found that most Americans feel the American dream has changed — more than half now define financial success as simply not living paycheck-to-paycheck.

The study by PurePoint Financial, a division of California-based MUFG Union Bank, also found that many Americans aren’t preparing for the future, financially speaking:

  • Although digital and mobile banking is becoming more widespread, Americans aren’t taking advantage of apps that can help them make smarter financial choices.

In fact, only 7% of Americans use savings apps, the study found. That’s the case even though there’s been an explosion of such apps in recent years.

For example, you can use a smartphone app like Stash to automatically pull small sums of money from your bank account and invest it in the stock market for you.

Similarly, an app called Acorns will round up your purchases to the nearest dollar and funnel your digital change into an investment account.

One of the most attractive things about these savings apps is they’re simple and easy to use.

“Sometimes in the face of uncertainty, people tend to freeze and not take any action at all,” says Pierre P. Habis, president of PurePoint Financial. “The best advice I can give people is to always plan for tomorrow by saving what you can, ideally at least 10% of your income. But even if you can’t put that much aside, set up a system to save a set amount each month.”

It’s Hard to Get Ahead These Days

PurePoint’s survey found a lot of uncertainty about the state of the economy.

Only one in four Americans think it’s easier to get ahead today than it was five years ago. Half don’t expect to feel better about their savings five years from now.

Purepoint found that 71% of people feel the American dream has changed, and 64% define financial success as not living check-to-check.

One bright spot: About 20% of those surveyed were “super savers” who routinely set aside large portions of their income for savings. They tended to be more optimistic about the future than other Americans.

Here at The Penny Hoarder, there’s one finding in the PurePoint Financial survey that really jumped out at us: Americans are more comfortable discussing religion and politics with their families than they are talking about finances.

  • While the vast majority of Americans (87%) think parents are responsible for teaching their children about saving, only half say their own parents taught them financial skills.
  • Nearly half of Americans (42%) said they ultimately rely on themselves to learn about financial matters as best they can.

This sounds familiar. No one ever taught us anything about money. We have to figure it out for ourselves.

That’s why we read websites like The Penny Hoarder.

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He’s a big believer in the American dream.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, one of the largest personal finance websites. We help millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. In 2016, Inc. 500 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the No. 1 fastest-growing private media company in the U.S.

Retail Jobs Are Vanishing. What Does That Mean for the Workers Left Behind?

Many days, Christine Capra gets up, gets dressed and heads to her local library. She’ll stay there from about 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., just as if she’s working a shift at a job.

But for Capra, searching for work has become her full-time job.

Since being laid off from her food management position at Kmart in Crystal River, Florida, back in March, Capra spends countless hours on the public library’s computers or her smartphone, searching for work and filling out job applications.

She says she applies for about 25 jobs per week.

“I have had several interviews with a great resume and some [of the responses] I get is that I am overqualified,” she says. “What is that?”

When a Good Thing Comes to An End

Chris Capra poses for a portrait in Crystal River, Fla., on Aug. 8, 2017.

Capra poses for a portrait in Crystal River, Fla., on Aug. 8, 2017. She worked for Kmart for more than five years but was laid off when the store closed. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Capra, 51, moved to Florida from Connecticut in late 2007 to help her mother after her father died.

She started working at Kmart in 2011 as a cashier. When the department store opened a Nathan’s restaurant inside, Capra, who has over 30 years of restaurant experience, asked to switch roles.

After a year, Capra was promoted to a management role. She worked at the Kmart for a little over five years total.

But in January, store employees were informed their location would be closing permanently. The closure is one of over 200 Kmart announced as of Oct. 2017, as plunging sales have resulted in its parent company making drastic cuts.

“I felt like someone ripped the carpet right out from under me,” Capra says.

Then, Capra’s unemployment benefits, which were less than half her former salary, ran out in mid-August.

To adjust, Capra had to make some lifestyle changes: no weekly lunches with her best friend, no trips to the movies, no cable.

She’s already tapped into savings. Her brother helps out with expenses for her two dogs.

How is Capra planning to cover expenses without unemployment benefits? “Pray.”

Disappearing Brick-and-Mortar Stores

A vacant anchor store at the Crystal River Mall in Florida.

The Crystal River Mall in Crystal River, Fla., has had a run of bad luck since its anchor stores — Sears, Kmart, Belk and JCPenny — closed up shop. Rural King and Regal Cinema are the remaining anchor stores. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

If you’ve been following business news recently, you know that Kmart’s financial woes are not unique in the retail industry.

Sears Holding Company, which owns Kmart, also announced the closure of about 82 Sears department stores this year. J.C. Penney is shutting down up to 140 stores, and Macy’s will be closing 68 stores in 2017.

Large department stores aren’t the only ones shutting down locations: Smaller retailers like Payless ShoeSource and RadioShack announced hundreds of closures this year.

Some retailers aren’t just downsizing — they’re closing up shop altogether. This year, Wet Seal decided to close all 171 of its remaining stores. The Limited shuttered all 250 of its stores, accounting for about 4,000 workers being laid off.

As major anchor stores shut down, shopping malls across the country sit vacant, becoming sad shells where commerce and activity once thrived. While some malls have revamped themselves to keep up with changing times, others struggle to find money-making tenants.

Jobs Going, Going, Gone…

Alfred Angelo, including this location in Tampa, Fla., closed all of their store locations in mid-July 2017.

Alfred Angelo, including this location in Tampa, Fla., closed all of their store locations in mid-July 2017. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

 

The retail apocalypse isn’t hyperbole when you put the industry’s importance to U.S. jobs in context.

As of September 2017, 15.2 million people work in brick-and-mortar retail in the U.S. That’s nearly 10% of the American workforce.

One factor contributing to the massive loss of jobs is the glut of retail space. There’s enough retail space to fit every human in the U.S. with room to spare — 24 square feet per person.

In Canada, that number is 16, and Germany has roughly two square feet of leasable retail space for every person, according to International Council of Shopping Center data.
By 2022, 30% of the 1,000-plus malls in the U.S. will be gone, says Jeff Green, a retail analyst who is also president and CEO of Jeff Green Partners.

retail jobs

“It’s going to happen fast,” Green says. “It’s going to be across the board. It’s going to be department stores, big-box stores, it’ll be some of the inline mall space — it might be even the supermarket anchored stores as that industry changes.”

Not even our grocery stores are safe.

Yet another factor is the rise of online shopping.

Since 2001, e-commerce has consistently eaten up a larger share of retail sales, from 0.6% in 1999 to 8.5% in the first quarter of this year, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

And e-commerce is becoming even easier to use. This year, for example, the $135-billion company Amazon introduced Alexa, which allows you to order a product just by saying its name out loud.

Now, people go into home goods and clothing stores to try something on, but they buy it on their phones.

“They’re not walking out of the store with it,” Green says. While it may be a sale for the company as a whole, it won’t help pay for the merchandise and massive rental fees a physical store likely pays. “It’s still not a brick-and-mortar purchase.”

The Times Are Changing

Julie Rice of Hernando Beach, Florida works at her home office.

Julie Rice works at her home office in Hernando Beach, Fla. She started working in retail in 1973 and retired in 2006 from a merchandise buyer position at Dillard’s. After leaving retail, she became a real estate agent. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Julie Rice, of Hernando Beach, Florida, began her career in retail in 1973. She retired in October 2016, and over the course of her 43-year career, she’s seen the effect the internet has had on traditional retail.

Rice was a merchandise buyer for Dillard’s in the early 2000s when retail stores first launched websites, and then online shopping.

“That’s when things started to change,” Rice, 66, says.

Around that time, she noticed a bunch of consolidation throughout the company and a decline in the numbers of buyers employed.

In 2011, Rice started working in a management position at the Dillard’s at Gulf View Square in Port Richey, Florida. While working at that mall, she watched the J.C. Penney’s anchor close, and then Macy’s.

“There was a lot of stress in the store,” Rice says. “We had another pool of employees to pull from when the other stores closed, and that put a stress on the hourly people in our own store.”

Julie Rice poses for a portrait outside of her home in Hernando Beach, Fla.

Rice poses for a portrait outside of her home in Hernando Beach, Fla. She worked in retail for 33 years before retiring from the industry. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

She says she thinks the future of retail is online shopping. But, Rice says, fewer in-store shoppers means a reduced need for staff, and it also means more woes for workers.

Internet shoppers, she says, buy “six or eight of something, especially if they want to try it on. They buy it on the internet, and then they return all but the one they keep to [local stores]. It floods them with unwanted inventory. It makes it very difficult for those stores to make a profit.”

Though retired from retail, Rice still thinks it’s an enjoyable career path.

“It was exciting to me — even at the end,” she said.

Getting Back to Work — in Another Industry

Though it’s undeniable that the retail industry is undergoing some drastic changes, that doesn’t mean retail jobs are completely gone.

“There’s a pretty good number of retail jobs out there,” says Ed Peachey, CEO of CareerSource Tampa Bay.

He says at any given time, there are about 3,000 retail positions open in the Tampa Bay market.

Shoppers line up to get free lipstick at Tampa International Mall in Fla., on Saturday, July 29, 2017.

Shoppers line up to get free lipstick at International Plaza and Bay Street in Tampa, Fla., on July 29, 2017. While malls and other retail stores are closing their doors, this mall is thriving. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Still, for people laid-off from a retail job (or any job), a place like CareerSource is a good resource. Peachey says they assist job seekers with their resumes, soft skills and online job searches.

Individuals can come in and meet with staff members who’ll assess their specific needs — whether that means simply finding new opportunities to apply to or receiving training or education in order to change careers.

Peachey says CareerSource Tampa Bay has partnerships with local schools and training programs for trades that don’t require degrees.

Similar career resources can be found in communities across the country. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration also provides useful information to assist those laid off from a job.

An Uncertain Future

Whether workers stick with retail or adapt to new careers, they will need to adjust to some change.

Green, the retail analyst, says you’ll see a lot of redevelopment to add bowling alleys, movie theaters and sit-down restaurants for shopping centers to weather the retail apocalypse. And the centers will need to add residential components, apartments or townhomes.

But if a struggling mall redevelops the skeleton of a former Sears or Dillard’s into apartments, what does it mean for the retail workers who once stocked shelves in the department stores?

Will the skills picked up in retail easily transfer over to that of a movie ticket-taker or waiter?

And then there’s this statistic: Since 2010, jobs in the warehousing and storage industry have grown 50%. Amazon may be disrupting the retail industry, but it is also adding jobs in other sectors thanks to its distribution centers.

You can fold a cashmere sweater, but can you drive a forklift?

“There will be a lot of people whose job isn’t terribly relevant anymore,” Green says.

Sticking with Retail

Mike Bagley volunteers as an alternative music director at WMNF in Tampa.

Mike Bagley worked in retail for over 30 years.  In his spare time, he volunteers as the alternative music director at WMNF in Tampa, Fla. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

The retail industry might be tumultuous for some, but for others, it’s where their future lies.

After working about 30 years in retail, Mike Bagley, of Tampa, decided to try something new.

In September, he got a job working at a local call center but didn’t find that to be the right fit.

“After a while, I just felt a bit frustrated with it all,” says Bagley, 53.

By the beginning of November, Bagley found himself heading back for the retail industry — and back to a familiar role supervising a shop at the Tampa International Airport.

He’d worked as a retail supervisor in newsstands at the airport from 2009 until he was laid off in April. Construction inside the airport had deterred shoppers from entering stores, Bagley says, and business went south.

After he left the airport but before he landed at the call center, Bagley snagged a part-time job with Target that lasted about a month. It was there he realized working for big-box retailers wasn’t exactly for him.

“All you do all day is just stock, stock, stock, stock, stock,” Bagley says. “I just got to a point where I said, ‘You know, this really isn’t that fun.’ I don’t mind working. I love working, don’t get me wrong. But you also want to have a little fun at what you’re doing.”

Mike Bagley and Ira Hankin converse on-air at WMNF in Tampa, Fla.

Mike Bagley and Ira Hankin converse on-air at WMNF in Tampa, Fla. Bagley’s first job was in the shoe department at Sears, and he made a career out of being a retail worker. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Bagley looks forward to the new role at the airport because he’ll be supervising a store selling sports memorabilia instead of working at one of the shops selling newspapers, magazines and refreshments. He’s a sports fan — with a passion for soccer in particular.

He says he has no reservations about going back to retail because he’s accustomed to that line of work. Plus, he says there’s a chance he could branch out to working at a retail shop at one of the local sports arenas.

“There are other opportunities than just working at the store at the airport,” Bagley says. “I’m just looking forward to it.”

Nicole Dow is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Alex Mahadevan is a data journalist at The Penny Hoarder.

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