Alaska Airlines Clips the Wings on Its Generous Price Matching Program

In an effort to keep its profits high, Alaska Airlines dealt a blow to its loyal customers this week.

It’s imposing big restrictions on its popular price guarantee feature, much like changes made to its generous change fee policy earlier this year.

After Sept. 1, it will be nearly impossible for customers to get a price match guarantee refund.  

What’s Changing in the Alaska Air Price Guarantee Policy

Previously, if you booked a flight at alaskaair.com and later saw the price of the same flight drop, you could receive a credit for the price difference — whether it was $5 or $100.

New restrictions require any price guarantee request to be submitted within 24 hours of the purchase.

Found it $5 cheaper on Orbitz? Not gonna fly anymore.

The price difference also will have to be more than $10, according to the price guarantee terms and conditions.

There’s very little wiggle room, even for Alaska Airlines elite status members.

“I’m sad that’s going away,” said Cyndia Miller, who lives in Fairbanks, Alaska.

She’s used the price match guarantee on a number of occasions, including the time she and her husband each received a $200 credit when the price of their flight dropped.

That $400 credit went into their Alaska Air online wallet toward future flights.

What Else is Alaska Airlines Changing?

Alaska Airlines’ good old days of free last-minute flight changes are no more.

Earlier this year, it announced a new change fee policy that will charge travelers $125 to change or cancel a flight unless they’re elite status MVP Gold or 75k members.

“We have some of the most generous fee structures in the industry,” said Bobbie Egan, spokeswoman for Alaska Airlines.

In June, it reduced the size of carry-on bags from 24 x 17 x 10 inches to 22 x 14 x 9 inches to eliminate compatibility conflicts with other domestic and international airlines.

Other coming changes include extra fees for exit-row seats — which currently are available only to its elite status members — and demand-based pricing for its Premium Economy seats.

The biggest upcoming change, though, is the rollout of Saver Fares slated for early 2019.

Saver Fares will be Alaska Airlines’ version of the basic economy ticket, but without some of the restrictions seen on other airlines.

Saver Fare flyers can select their seats, but only at the back of the plane; they won’t be allowed to sit up front. They’ll board last, be unable to change or cancel tickets after the 24-hour federally mandated period and won’t be able to use an upgrade perk if they’re elite status members.

The upside? Carry-ons are included.

While Miller was bummed about the changes to the price guarantee policy, she seemed optimistic about the introduction of Saver Fares.

“I’m one of those bargain people,” she said. “I like good deals.”

Stephanie Bolling is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s all about basic economy tickets.

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.

Whole Foods Curbside Pickup Is Now Available. Here’s When It’s Worth It

Amazon Prime customers will find another new benefit at Whole Foods Markets this year: curbside pickup.

The upscale grocery store announced this week that it will launch the program now at two of its more than 470 stores, with more cities to be added as 2018 wanes.

Prime members can place orders through the Prime Now app and select the pickup option. Orders of at least $35 can be picked up in 30 minutes for a fee of $4.99; if you can wait an hour, you can pick up your order for free. Whole Foods promises dedicated pickup spots so customers don’t have to get out of their cars to grab their goods.

The service — which will be available between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily — is part of a larger rollout of Whole Foods perks for Amazon Prime members since the e-commerce giant bought the specialty grocer last year.

Whole Foods launched delivery via Prime Now in February and also allows customers to add items to their Prime Now carts through Alexa voice commands.

What’s the Convenience of Curbside Pickup Worth?

Whole Foods is just the latest grocer to offer curbside pickup among ever-expanding delivery options.

Walmart and Target both offer curbside pickup in a growing number of markets without an extra fee. Traditional grocery stores also offer curbside pickup in many markets. Kroger and Meijer charge order fees for pickup that vary by location. Giant Eagle charges $4.95 to pick up a Curbside Express order.

Minimum order requirements are also common: Walmart requires a minimum $30 order. Safeway has a $49 minimum order and charges $3 for curbside pickup unless your order is worth more than $150.

And delivery services often charge higher item prices in exchange for the convenience of home delivery, some with memberships of their own.

But while Whole Foods’ curbside offering is in line with what other grocery stores are charging for the convenience of order pickup, it’s the only one charging a $120 yearly fee in addition to the curbside fee.

The question for shoppers, then, is whether saving time is worth spending for curbside pickup. Time-crunched Whole Foods fans may value the time they’d spend wandering the aisles, risking distraction by new, tasty items. But those who typically place smaller orders or only occasionally shop at Whole Foods likely wouldn’t want to rush into this offering.

Lisa Rowan is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder covering the retail and grocery industries.

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.

Want a Free Mountain House and $50K? Enter This Contest by Sept. 26

I love a good home renovation project. Well, in theory.

I enjoy looking at before and after photos, walking through Home Depot and watching reruns of Chip and Jo transforming Waco, Texas, home by home.

Actually taking on a renovation project myself is a different story. I’ve been a renter all my adult life, so I haven’t had the opportunity to knock down walls or tile a floor. I wonder whether I really have the guts to take on a fixer upper — or the funds to afford to do so.

If I could just get the keys to a perfectly renovated home, I’d be elated. Anyone who has a similar dream needs to check out DIY Network’s 2018 Ultimate Retreat home giveaway.

The network is giving away a beautifully renovated 2,500-square-foot home in Sapphire, North Carolina. The three-bedroom, 2 1/2 bathroom residence is worth about $778,630.

The kitchen of the HGTV Ultimate Retreat 2018 is seen in Sapphire, NC. Photo by Robert Peterson/Rustic White Photography

The home comes fully furnished and decorated. (You’ve got to check out the photos and videos!) The great room has a two-way fireplace that’s also accessible from the multilevel outdoor deck. The master bedroom opens up to a study. One of the other bedrooms is designed as a kids’ space with built-in double bunk beds and a paint-by-numbers-style mural.

Oh, and the grand prize winner will also get $50,000 in cash.

You must be a U.S. resident who is at least 21 years old to enter the sweepstakes. You can enter twice a day online — once on DIY Network’s website and once on HGTV’s website. You could also enter by mail as much as you want, (but you’d have to pay for postage each time). The network is accepting entries until September 26 at 5 p.m. Eastern Time.

DIY Network will select the winner by a random drawing on or about Oct. 8. The winner will be notified between Oct. 22 and Nov. 5.

Though the house is amazing, DIY Network recognizes that not all entrants will want to uproot their current lives to move to the mountains in North Carolina. The grand prize winner can choose to take $400,000 in lieu of getting the title to the house — plus the person will still get the $50,000 cash prize.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She has way too many Pinterest boards dedicated to home decor ideas.

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.

3 Places to Score Sweet Deals on Frozen Custard This Wednesday Only

There seems to be a national day for everything nowadays. But hopefully, this one will make it easier to get through the week, because it involves something sweet, creamy, frozen and free.

This Wednesday, Aug. 8, is National Frozen Custard Day, and that means free — or nearly free — sweet and creamy treats!  

Where to Celebrate National Frozen Custard Day 2018

There are a few places celebrating National Frozen Custard Day with some sweet deals and freebies, but first: What exactly is the difference between frozen custard and ice cream?

While ice cream is usually made with milk, cream and sugar, frozen custard is made with all of the above and egg yolks, which give it a thicker, creamier texture. In fact, frozen custard is so dense and creamy, it’s often referred to as a “concrete” or a “concrete mixer” when you add in more sugary good stuff like cookie dough and chocolate chips.

Now that you know what makes frozen custard so sweet and creamy, here’s where to get it for cheap or even free on National Frozen Custard Day.

BurgerFi

BurgerFi is celebrating National Frozen Custard Day with totally free frozen custard! Stop by your local BurgerFi any time on Wednesday, Aug. 8, to enjoy a free small custard. And no purchase is necessary — all you have to do is show or mention this offer to receive your free frozen treat.

Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers

Do something sweet while enjoying something sweet on National Frozen Custard Day at Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers. Freddy’s is celebrating with single cones, dishes and custard cookies for 99 cents apiece, and the chain is making the day even sweeter by donating 50 cents for each item sold to the Kids In Need Foundation.

Rita’s Italian Ice

Although the name might not imply it, Rita’s Italian Ice also offers frozen custard and is celebrating National Frozen Custard Day all day with promotional-size frozen custards cups for 99 cents apiece.  

Nothing makes a Wednesday better like frozen treats, so don’t forget to grab yours on National Frozen Custard Day!

Jessica Gray is an editorial assistant at The Penny Hoarder. She admits national day celebrations are the bane of her imaginary diet.

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.

American Airlines’ Carry-On Fees for Basic Economy Will End on Sept. 5

Most basic economy airline tickets limit you to one personal item, the last boarding group, no advance seat assignments or upgrades and no wiggle room to change your flight.

This no-frills way of flying has become commonplace for budget travelers — and also a way for airlines to charge extra fees for seat assignments and additional baggage.

We have good news for our bargain-basement brood: Being basic is looking pretty fly right now.

American Airlines has announced that passengers on a basic economy ticket will be allowed a free carry-on bag as well as a personal item starting Sept. 5. Currently, it charges a $25 gate-check fee in addition to a $25 fee to check a first piece of luggage.

The airline made the change to keep it competitive with other airlines that include carry-on baggage in their economy fares, it said.

What You Get With American Airlines Basic Economy Ticket

While you might be stripped of the perks other main-cabin passengers enjoy, you can now pack a little extra on your next trip — if it’s after Sept. 5.

The carry-on bonus is good for all American Airlines destinations and it will allow passengers to use overhead bin space in addition to the under-the-seat space in front of them at no extra cost.

American Airlines basic economy ticket restrictions still apply.

Travelers will not be able to change, upgrade or board their flights early. However, they can choose their seats in advance or change seats for an extra $10 to $40 fee.

Thinking about snacks — I’m always thinking about snacks — don’t worry, all passengers receive the standard food and beverage service regardless if they’re on a regular main-cabin or basic-economy fare.

Read the Fine Print on Third-Party Purchases

Truth is, the quest for affordable flights often lands us on third-party travel-deal websites like Expedia, Kayak, Orbitz, Google and Priceline.

These aggregators list the cheapest flights first, which leads consumers into purchasing the lowest fare option without realizing they’re buying a basic economy ticket full of hidden restrictions.

Due to those hefty restrictions and fine print, there’s not much recourse if you accidentally buy a basic economy ticket.

Double check all the fine print and be sure you’re ready to commit to a basic economy ticket before making a purchase.

You might get stuck in a middle seat, but at least you’ll get there cheaply — and with an extra bag if you’re flying American.

Stephanie Bolling is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She loves boarding a plane last. The less time spent crammed on a plane, the better.

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 This Woman United Bloggers and Created The Blog Connect Conference

By day, Chrystina Cappello works as a construction consultant. With a degree in architectural engineering, the 29-year-old Philadelphia resident helps companies determine why construction projects went over budget or over schedule.

On the side of her demanding career, Cappello runs a successful blog, hosts two podcasts, founded PHLbloggers, a blogger community in Philadelphia, and masterminds an annual conference called The Blog Connect.

This is how Cappello grew a thriving blog community from a simple email and launched a profitable blog conference — plus, the four must-have qualities Cappello says you need to run a successful event.

Finding Her Blogging Stride

Within three months of starting her full-time job in construction in 2011, Cappello launched her blog, Chrystina Noel. “I knew I’d need a right-brained hobby to balance out my very left-brained day job to keep the peace in my head,” Cappello explains.

The Chrystina Noel blog focuses on the logistics of hosting parties, handmade greeting cards and staying in touch with people. Nearly eight years after launching Chrystina Noel, Cappello says, she blogs weekly and recently reached a new blogging milestone, earning 20,000 monthly pageviews.

“Blogging has always been about building community for me,” Cappello says.

Filling a Gap

With a blog about keeping in touch, naturally Cappello sought out opportunities to connect with fellow bloggers IRL (in real life). After attending a blog conference in 2012 and noticing most of the attendees were mom bloggers, Cappello shrugged her shoulders and thought to herself, “I guess this is the Philly blogging scene.”  

Then in 2013, she traveled to Texas to see one of her favorite bloggers speak at the Texas Style Council, a blog conference and social-media retreat for female lifestyle bloggers, small business owners, and creatives. The room was filled with 200 female bloggers close in age to Cappello who run all sorts of blogs: lifestyle, fashion, DIY and more.

“My mind was blown,” Cappello remembers. “Where were all of these people in Philadelphia?”

Cappello took matters into her own hands. She sent out an email to 13 fellow bloggers in the Philadelphia area asking if anyone would be interested in getting together to talk shop. Cappello was shocked when every single person responded “yes.” The first unofficial PHLbloggers meeting took place in August 2014.

“From there, it kept growing,” Cappello says. “It started as an email chain, and all of a sudden we were 40 people strong, so I created a Google+ group. We later moved to Facebook and a MailChimp email list.” Cappello says the original PHLbloggers website lived on her blog, though it was eventually moved to its own domain.

Now, PHLbloggers hosts quarterly educational events on topics including pitching brands, SEO and using social media to grow blog traffic. The group offers monthly work sessions at Philadelphia cafes. And in between events, an email newsletter and the active Facebook group help bloggers stay in touch.

Today, the group has grown to 350 members, became an LLC in 2016 and is run by a small team, including Cappello and three other Philadelphia bloggers, Melissa Funtanilla, Sarah Ramirez and Priyanka Setti.

True to Cappello’s desire to create connections, the purpose of PHLbloggers has never been to attract new members. In fact, Cappello doesn’t even publicize the group. Instead, bloggers looking to meet fellow bloggers typically find the group on their own.

“The purpose is to provide an in-real-life opportunity for bloggers to meet up. Our goal is to get people in the same room,” Cappello says. “We don’t try to recruit members. If you are seeking community, you will find us.”

Masterminding a Blog Conference

a group of women at a conference pose for a photo.
Chrystina Cappello, second from left, and her Blog Connect team at the 2018 conference in Philadelphia. From left: Sarah Ramirez, Cappello, Annsley Lucas, Priyanka Setty and Melissa Funtanilla. Photo by Julia Dent

After attending the Texas Style Council back in 2013, Cappello knew she wanted to bring a similar experience to bloggers in Philadelphia.

Cappello used the same grass-roots approach to planning the first Philadelphia blog conference as she did when PHLbloggers was formed. She turned to her trusty PHLbloggers email list and asked a simple question: Who might be interested in attending a blog conference in Philly, and would anyone like to speak? Cappello says almost the entire speaker lineup for the 2016 conference came directly from that initial email.

The first The Blog Connect conference came together in just four months in a flurry of finding an appropriate venue, curating a conference schedule and finding sponsors to help fund the day.

Forty-five bloggers attended the inaugural conference.

Now, The Blog Connect runs like a well-oiled machine. The planning process begins as soon as the last conference ends.

The Financial Nitty-Gritty of Running a Conference

There has been a definite financial learning curve for Cappello since starting PHLbloggers and The Blog Connect.

“I’ve learned about cash flow, tracking expenses and putting aside money for taxes,” Cappello says.

There are a lot of expenses to consider when planning a conference, including the obvious, such as paying for a venue, food and website domain. But there are hidden costs too, like renting chairs, purchasing name tags and, perhaps most surprisingly, giving away free tickets to speakers and those providing significant resources, including a volunteer and two photographers.  

That’s why sponsors and ticket sales are key to planning a successful event. This year, Cappello and The Blog Connect team introduced three tiers of sponsorships, giving businesses the opportunity to connect with bloggers and influencers in the Philadelphia area.

Cappello says her day job in construction management has helped her in planning and executing a successful conference. “Building relationships is enforced at the day job, and that’s been helpful in building relationships with sponsors,” she says.

Cappello says the entire conference cost about $2,000 in its first year. PHLbloggers wasn’t yet an LLC, and Cappello fronted her own money to help pay for the event. In 2017, the conference grew to nearly 80 attendees and cost about $6,000. It broke even.

The 2018 conference, at the end of April, was the first to turn a profit. It cost about $5,700 and generated $7,800 in revenue, Cappello says. About 65 people attended.

To Profit or Not to Profit

“The purpose of PHLbloggers and The Blog Connect has never been to make a profit. The purpose is connection,” Cappello says.

Currently, Cappello and The Blog Connect/PHLbloggers team don’t earn money for their roles in planning the event and managing the group.

Cappello says she is grateful for her dedicated team. The reason they do it for free is because they use strengths that they don’t get to use in their day jobs. “It’s incredible to work on a project with no red tape,” Cappello says. “It’s great to be innovative because there’s not anything tying us down.”

But still, in the future, Cappello hopes to be able to pay the team members for their passion and hard work.

“It’s an interesting balance,” Cappello says. “Moving forward, the goal is to earn money from sponsors so we can keep costs low to attend our events for the bloggers.”

Do You Have What it Takes to Plan an Event?

Cappello says there are four skills required to plan a successful event like The Blog Connect.

  1. Project management. “Parties and construction are exactly the same. Whether you’re planning an event or a building, they both have a schedule and a budget,” Cappello says. Strong project-management skills and attention to detail are important when it comes to planning an event.
  2. Personnel management. Over the past several years, PHLbloggers transitioned from a one-woman show to a team effort. Cappello says that personnel management — finding the right team members with different skills and making sure everyone’s ideas are heard — is key.
  3. Foresight. The ability to think ahead is crucial when planning an event. “It’s about vision,” she says. “Think about what someone is going to see when they walk into the room for the first time.”
  4. Communication. No doubt, communication plays a role in planning an event. Cappello says her team focuses on creating beautiful branding for the conference and communicating clearly with speakers and attendees to make sure everyone understands the flow of the day.

Oh, and Cappello also advises would-be conference planners to never let their attendees go hungry. “It’s the worst to be hungry at a conference,” she says.

For those interested in planning a conference or event of their own, Cappello’s best piece of advice is to just get started.

“It doesn’t need to be complicated. I used the network of people I already knew to see if there was even interest or a possibility of making a conference happen,” Cappello says.

When challenges arise or Cappello feels exhausted from her day job, plus the demands of running a blog community and conference, she returns to her original mission.

“When I introduce people to each other and I see connections being made, I feel giddy. I love seeing the relationships that have come out of PHLbloggers and the conference,” she says. “I get so much genuine joy out of watching people be able to dream bigger.”

Jessica Lawlor is the president and CEO of Jessica Lawlor & Company (JL&Co), a specialty communications agency. She’s a proud member of PHLbloggers and spoke on a panel at the 2018 event.

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 Millennial Couple Opened a Nonprofit Theater. Here’s What They Learned

I was sitting by a fire pit back in 2014, sucking down a Blue Moon and warming my feet at a cast party for a production I had just appeared in at a local community theater.

That’s when I overheard the lead in the play, Christopher Hahn, and his girlfriend who also appeared in the show, Jenna Burnette, discussing their dream to open a theater company in Dayton, Ohio.

They mentioned that they hoped to start with a stage adaptation of “The Breakfast Club” to draw in non-theater-goers, their target audience, and immediately, I was hooked.

You see, “The Breakfast Club” is in my top five favorite movies, and forget Anthony Michael Hall: The role of Brian Johnson was written for me.

I joined in the conversation, agreeing that opening a new theater with no business knowledge and no funds was a great idea and that I would be happy to offer my basic web design and writing skills to join the cause.

And wouldn’t you know it? They listened to tipsy Tim by the fire pit and moved forward with their dream. (I should also add that they did stage “The Breakfast Club,” and I killed it as Brian Johnson. Anthony Michael Hall hasn’t reached out yet to recognize me for a job well done—but give it time.)

It has been nearly four years now, and Hahn’s and Burnette’s theater, called The Playground, is going strong and has been lovingly received by its audiences in Dayton.

So how did this millennial couple pull it off?

“Many sleepless nights, actual blood, a ton of sweat and a lot of real tears,” Hahn told me. That’s how.

How to Start a Nonprofit Community Theater

Lisa Glover (left) as Claire, Christopher Hahn (center) as Bender and Timothy Moore (right) as Brian.
Actors perform a scene from “The Breakfast Club” at The Playground Theatre in December 2014. From left are Lisa Glover as Claire, Christopher Hahn as Bender and Timothy Moore as Brian. Photo courtesy of The Playground Theatre

Hahn and Burnette credit their experiences growing up and consuming theatre in their hometown of Dayton as their inspiration for The Playground.

“We were exposed to different types of theater—from the touring companies at the Schuster Center and Victoria Theatre to the productions at Human Race and Dayton Theatre Guild,” Burnette explains. “They all inspired us in different ways and made us fall in love with theatre.”

But it was in Chicago, a much larger and more thriving theater scene, that the pair began to formulate their own vision for a theatre company.

“The material was contemporary and edgy,” Burnette says. “Theaters were filled with young professionals who would rather see a show than a movie, and the productions were presented in a raw, intimate and hyper-naturalistic way that we had never experienced before. The closeness to the performers and realistic acting made us feel like we were watching a film on stage.”

This kind of theater could not be found in Dayton back in 2014, at least not consistently. Hahn and Burnette resolved to bring their experiences back to the town they called home. They’d introduce the community to this visceral, contemporary theater, with the goal of drawing in younger crowds — crowds who would ordinarily scoff at the thought of spending $20 to see a play.

“The nonprofit route seemed like the logical way to go,” Burnette explains. “We looked around and saw that other successful theater companies were nonprofit, and we knew that because of the nature of the theater industry, we could not rely on ticket sales alone to make enough money to not only sustain, but continue to grow our company. Grants and donations would be imperative.”

Other financial and legal factors will help guide you as you determine if your new startup should be for-profit or nonprofit. Entrepreneur.com does a good job in laying out the important distinctions.

Defining Their Nonprofit’s Mission

Kaleigh Brooke Dillingham as Leigh and Tyler Henry as Jimmy
Kaleigh Brooke Dillingham, left, and Tyler Henry act out a scene from “Really Really” in December 2015. Photo courtesy of The Playground Theatre

Hahn’s number one advice for anyone starting a nonprofit?

“Figure out your ‘why’ before anything else, and make sure it is damn strong because it will be tested, repeatedly.”

Hahn and Burnette took this to heart when starting their company. It was crucial for them to define what set their theater apart in Dayton and why non-theater-goers should check them out. They developed a mission statement that sought to encapsulate that:

“The Playground’s vision is to be a playground for actors, artists, designers and dreamers to use their unique voice to bring to the stage raw, honest and relevant stories that reflect what it means to be human.”

But What About the Money?

Brett Hill as Kent, Jenna Burnette as Steph, Christopher Hahn as Greg and Kaleigh-Brooke Dillingham as Carly
From left, actors Brett Hill, Jenna Burnette, Christopher Hahn, and Kaleigh-Brooke Dillingham pose for a portrait at the theater. Photo courtesy of The Playground Theatre

Hahn’s and Burnette’s biggest challenge as they launched their new company (and that they still wrestle with today) was the money.

They never intended to make money off their company; to them, it is a passion project. They do, however, need to earn enough funds to keep it going.

“Our initial financial push came with the help of a local campaign that was running called Power2Give,” Burnette explains. “Essentially it is like Kickstarter for nonprofits. They also had a partner at the time that was offering a 50% match of anything that was donated. This was not an easy process. We shot videos, promoted content and even threw a fundraising party. Getting people to invest in a new arts organization is tough. You sort of feel like you are asking them to pay for a root canal. We had to realize that early on, the greatest support would come from friends and family, and not from random people jumping at the chance to throw money at us.”

While Power2Give was a specific, local campaign, Burnette and Hahn challenge aspiring nonprofit owners to do their homework.

See what programs you can become involved in and what grants and opportunities exist for new organizations. And, as much as you might hate it, start crowdsourcing, professionally reach out to donors in the community who are known to give out money to nonprofits like the one you are aiming to start, and don’t be afraid to ask friends and family for help at the beginning.

Unfortunately, finances haven’t gotten any easier. Burnette told me, “We are working in a smaller market that is not used to the style of theater we are doing. Add to that the fact that our target audience is comprised of non-theater-goers, and you have a very challenging situation on your hands.”

Right now, the theater operates and lives show-to-show in terms of budget. Ticket sales, donations and unique arts programs have been just enough to keep them going.

“We are aware that this is not sustainable,” Burnette says, “so we are going to ramp up classes and apply for grants.”

So far, it has been difficult for The Playground to earn local and national grants.

“Our hope is now that we have been established for three years, we will have access to more grant opportunities,” Hahn says. “We absolutely plan on gaining more knowledge and pursuing as many grants as possible going into our next season.”

Hahn and Burnette were lucky to be selected to be a part of a local initiative called ImPACt for the last three years. As part of this program, the Victoria Theatre Association has provided a space for The Playground to rehearse and host its productions at an incredibly discounted rate. The head of the program is also available to give advice to young theater companies like The Playground.

The Playground just wrapped up its third and final year with the program, making grant applications and fundraising for a new space integral to the company’s 2018 business plan.

Going In Blind

Ryan Grissett as Milo Jenna Gomes as Heidi A.J. Breslin as Joe Boyang Zhang as Kwan Skyler McNeeley as Toby
The cast from “The Tutors” are pictured in January 2018. From left are Ryan Grissett, Jenna Gomes, A.J. Breslin, Boyang Zhang and Skyler McNeeley. Photo courtesy of Knack Creative

When I asked Hahn and Burnette what business and financial knowledge they had going into this, they both smiled and told me, “Seriously, we knew nothing. We cannot stress that enough.”

While both Hahn and Burnette studied theater in college, they lamented that theater programs don’t typically offer courses in how to run an actual theater business.

“Not understanding fundamental business and financial principles made for some tough times. Our lack of knowledge and experience in development and fundraising is an issue that we face as a company to this day, but we are pushing ourselves to learn and grow in this area,” Burnette explains.

Hahn adds, “Moving forward, we plan on being much more committed to learning about the development side of the business and taking advantage of some of the grant writing classes they offer at our local library branch. Additionally, we plan on seeking as many other resources as we can. This is the side of our company that we know is lacking, so now it’s time to give her the nurturing she deserves.”

The Challenges of Running a Theater — Or Any Nonprofit

A.J. Breslin as Dennis, Kelsie Slaugh as Jessica and Ray Zupp as Warren
The “This is Our Youth” cast poses outside the Theater in September 2016. From left are A.J. Breslin, Kelsie Slaugh and Ray Zupp. Photo courtesy of The Playground Theatre

Despite having little knowledge in running a business, their passion has carried them through these last several years. That doesn’t mean they’ve been without challenges, however.

“Oh man, so many mistakes!” Burnette laughs. “All of the mistakes. When you start out to build a company, especially an innovative one, the desire is to do everything perfect, but it’s literally not possible. Life is messier than that.”

Hahn and Burnette have faced shortages in funds, artists who could not follow through with a commitment, lack of rehearsal space, board shakeups, technical difficulties and more.

“Specifically in regards to finances, in general we didn’t keep a close enough eye on them,” Hahn says. “We didn’t really have a bookkeeper, it got out of hand, and we felt like we were drowning.”

Yet they persisted.

More recently, they sat down with their finances and invested in bookkeeping software customized to their needs. “It’s not sexy,” Hahn says, “but it’s required.”

And from all the challenges they have overcome, Hahn and Burnette have learned something.

“The hardest, most valuable lesson we’ve learned (and are still learning) is that if you don’t make mistakes, you aren’t going to grow,” Hahn told me. “It’s easy to see in retrospect, but it really sucks when you are in the midst of making those mistakes. When you are in the process of making a mistake, it’s very easy to get caught up in the negativity and feel like a total failure. The important thing is to breathe, stay positive and figure out how to work the problem.”

Their Advice? Just Go for It

Alaska Stoughton as Gena, Darren Lee Brown as Jeff, Kaleigh-Brooke Dillingham as Regan, Christopher Hahn as Joe, MacKenzie Aaryn Stephens as Katie and Jenna Valyn as Becky
“Bachelorette” cast members pose for a portrait in March 2018. From left are Alaska Stoughton, Darren Lee Brown, Kaleigh-Brooke Dillingham, Christopher Hahn, MacKenzie Aaryn Stephens and Jenna Burnette Photo courtesy of Knack Creative

Hahn and Burnette admit that The Playground has been nothing but hard work for nearly four years now. They both still work day jobs, Hahn as a technical lead at a marketing company and Burnette as a house manager at a larger theater.

Yet they still manage everything for their nonprofit — marketing, finances, growth, directing, acting, set construction, ticketing, sound and light design, you name it. Sure, they have had some help from fellow actors and patrons of the arts (like me!), but at the end of the day, 99% of the work is done by Hahn and Burnette.

And they absolutely love it.

“We have been lucky enough to receive some incredible recognition from both critics and audiences,” Burnette told me, mentioning local awards and reviews from the press.

But more importantly, the two have been challenged and have grown.

Burnette said, “We have created a brand and a name for ourselves, and hearing people associate that brand with moving, impactful, honest, daring work has been a bit surreal. We have established an environment for artists to explore and hone their craft. A place where they can challenge themselves personally and creatively. Many of the artists we have worked with have told us that they did their best work in one of our shows, and that fills us up with more gratitude than we know what to do with. To us, that is one of the biggest rewards.”

So should you dive into a passion project headfirst without any knowledge of what you’re doing? Not necessarily.

But if you’ve got some sense of direction and the drive to figure out the rest — and it’s a nonprofit whose difference in the world you believe in — well then Hahn and Burnette say go for it.

Their final advice:

  • “Dedicate yourself to always doing your best work, no matter what, no exceptions.”
  • “Keep track of your finances from the get-go and never let them lapse.”
  • “Make good art that matters,” or, more broadly, do charitable work that matters, and the rest will fall into place.

Timothy Moore is an editor and freelance writer, but in his free time, he fancies himself as an actor. His favorite roles have been Brian Johnson in “The Breakfast Club,” CB in “Dog Sees God,” Johnson in “Really Really” and Jeff McCracken in “Kimberly Akimbo.”

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.

One Simple Trick Helped These 5 People Overcome Awful Credit

Everyone who’s saddled with bad credit has a unique story.

A man burdened with $6,000 in unpaid bills. A couple recovering from job loss and foreclosure. A woman who fell behind on payments while living abroad. A single mom with a terminally ill child. A young woman with so much debt she couldn’t even get a credit card.

One of the toughest parts about paying down debt and fixing your credit score is knowing where to begin.

To create a rebuilding plan, first you have to know what you’re dealing with.

Your credit report will give you this information. You can get a free copy of it once every 12 months from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus — but they can be tough to decipher.

If you want to keep a closer eye on your credit, get your credit score and “credit report card” for free from Credit Sesame. This website breaks down exactly what’s on your credit report in layman’s terms, how it affects your score and what you should do about it.

Folks who’ve used it tell us it’s a lifesaver.

5 People Who Raised Their Credit Scores Using Credit Sesame

We spoke with five different people who’ve had profound problems with their credit. All five turned things around with Credit Sesame.

James Cooper: +277 Points

Matt Odom for The Penny Hoarder

James Cooper knows all about having bad credit. As recently as 2017, his credit score was a lousy 524.

“I never had a credit card,” he says. “I had $6,000 worth of unpaid bills.”

He vowed to sort out his financial situation and fix his credit.

Although there are legitimate credit repair services, there are also shady ones that demand money upfront and promise way more than they can deliver. Then they’ll milk you for money until you wise up.

Cooper and a friend went through this ordeal with three companies. Then they found Credit Sesame, and the free credit monitoring service taught them how to fix their credit.

Cooper raised his score by 277 points — from 524 to 801 — over the six months from June to November 2017.

Inspired by his experience, now Cooper teaches high school students the importance of good credit.

Jerry Morgan: +120 Points

Carmen Mandato/The Penny Hoarder

In 2008, the housing bubble burst. The three-bedroom home in New Port Richey, Florida, where Jerry Morgan and his wife, Vivienne, had lived for 10 years plunged into the foreclosure process.

Then Vivienne lost her job.

By 2017, the family’s financial situation started to look up again. So in September, Morgan decided to address his credit score.

“Frankly, with the experiences we have gone through, I was embarrassed to even check my score,” he said.

Before coming across Credit Sesame, Morgan hadn’t bothered to check his credit score in, well, quite a while. He says finally getting his finances on stable ground encouraged him to take a peek at this three-digit number.

Following recommendations from the service, he’s raised his score 120 points in six months.

Elisabeth Nyang: +168 Points

Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

At the end of 2016, Elisabeth Nyang was in debt to the tune of $17,500 — a mix of credit card debt, overdue bills and lingering student loans. She found herself there after two years of living in China.

In China, where it’s difficult to send money to the U.S., Nyang fell behind on her payments. In hindsight, she admits, the difficulty in transferring money was just an excuse — out of sight, out of mind.

But when she decided to move back to the States, she knew she needed to get her finances back on track.

“I can’t live like that,” she remembers thinking.

Since signing up for Credit Sesame in January 2017, Nyang has paid off that $17,500 pile of debt and raised her score from 495 to 663. That’s a 168-point jump.

Melinda Smieja: + 284 Points

Photo courtesy Melinda Smieja

In 2005, Melinda Smieja’s 13-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor.

“So here I am a single mom, and my daughter gets sick,” she explains. “And I’m like, ‘What am I gonna do?’”

Between continuing to care for her younger daughter and moving from Seabeck, Washington, to Seattle to be near her 13-year-old’s medical care, she racked up credit card debt.

“I used [a credit card] for dinners, I used it for food,” she says. “For a place to stay. It got to the point where all of my credit cards were maxed out.”

Her credit score was down to 480 by the time she checked. And she’d racked up somewhere between $20,000 and $30,000 in debt on 11 credit cards.

In 2010, an email campaign led her to Credit Sesame, a new company (at the time) offering an easier way to monitor your credit history.

“It was something that I had been searching for [without realizing it],” Smieja explains.

It made her overwhelming situation manageable.

“I could look and I could say, ‘Okay, this is what’s all going on here. This is my debt. This is what’s happening. This is what’s making my credit [interest] high.’”

And she could finally tackle her debts, one at a time. The work wasn’t quick. It was slow and steady — but it paid off.

In 2016, for the first time, Smieja’s credit score hit 680, crossing the line of what lenders consider “good credit.” By late 2017, it was up to 764.

Dana Sitar: +68 Points

Carmen Mandato/The Penny Hoarder

At 30, Dana Sitar’s history with credit cards, student loans and medical bills was pretty bad.

Student loan interest was piling up. Hospital bills were out to collection agencies. No one would give her a credit card. She landed a loan for a new car by the skin of her teeth. Her security deposits for car rentals and apartments were through the roof.

She wanted to fix it, but didn’t even know where to start.

She found Credit Sesame in 2016, and today, she’s breathing a little easier.

Credit Sesame, Sitar writes for The Penny Hoarder, is “answering all the questions swirling in my head, keeping me awake at night and threatening a panic attack every time I authorize a credit check.”

Since she started tracking her credit score with the app, she’s watched it rise — slowly but surely — by 68 points.

“Motivated by the easy access to my free credit report card through the app,” she says, “I haven’t been able to ignore my credit like I used to.”

Keep an Eye on Your Credit Score

Your credit score is important.

And why is that?

The better your score, the better deal you’ll get on a mortgage, car loan or credit card. We’re talking big money here.

To keep a closer eye on your credit, get your credit score and a credit report card for free from Credit Sesame.

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.

An Airbnb Superhost Shares 9 Unusual Tips to Improve Your Listing

Thinking about becoming an Airbnb host?

You’ve probably got some questions — like, how can you prepare the space, how do you advertise your space, how can I avoid talking to my guests, and, uh, what happens when someone clogs the toilet?

To answer these questions for you — with tips you can actually use — we talked to Terence Michael, an Airbnb superhost based in Los Angeles. For the past two years, he’s hosted alongside his college buddy David Andreone to manage two properties remotely — one in Nashville, Tennessee, and one in Palm Springs, California.

Now, he teaches others how to tap into a lucrative side gig using Airbnb through online consultations and his book, “Produce Yourself.”

9 Insider Airbnb Hosting Tips

Whether you’re a real estate tycoon or simply want to list your extra bed to help with rent, take notes from Michael, who shared some of his exclusive Airbnb hosting tips with us.

Here’s what he had to say:

1. Break out the Label Maker

Michael wrote a self-improvement book, “Produce Yourself,” that encourages individuals to take control of their finances through side gigs like Airbnb hosting. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

“Walk through your own place for the first time. People don’t know where things are, how the window opens or if the toilet needs to be flushed twice. Or, hey, extra towels are here.

“I have the entire house loaded with labels. They look nice; they’re modern. This helps people feel less helpless. When they walk to the coffeemaker, they can see, ‘Oh, it says extra coffee filters are here, with an arrow.’ You want to do everything you can to minimize them calling you or texting you.”

2. Make Your Guests Work for You — Just a Little Bit

“The amount of turnover products, like [toiletries], is rather large. It ended up being like, ‘Am I going to be making a bunch of Costco runs, or do I have to hire someone on TaskRabbit to do that?’

“Here’s a little hack: I order on Amazon and have it delivered when people are there. Everyone’s always fine. I’ll just say, ‘Hey, a box is coming. Do you mind just putting it inside?’”

3. Love Thy Neighbor — and Don’t Be Afraid to Turn Guests Away

airbnb listing in palm springs california
The interior of Michael’s Airbnb listing in Palm Springs, Calif. Photo courtesy of Airbnb

“I always let my neighbors know ahead of time what I’m doing before starting an Airbnb business. I just ask them kindly, ‘If it’s ever too loud, if anyone’s infringing on anything, text me immediately. I will rectify that.’

“I say, ‘I’m not going to put anyone here who I think won’t be good for you.’ And I turn a lot of big groups away, especially in Nashville. I don’t want anyone going to the cops or the city.”

4. Airbnb Will Side With the Host

Michael poses in his Venice, Calif. home on Monday, May 21, 2018. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

“When people leave, get someone to get eyes on the place as soon as possible. Airbnb does side with the lister.

“If there’s a broken chair leg or a towel rack — I make sure it’s something [the guest] did — or if they had a baby that threw up on the carpet, Airbnb will actually cover you and release the security deposit back to you if you reach out within 14 days.

I thought Airbnb was going to side so much with everybody else, but they really take care of the host.”

5. Update That Speed Dial

“Another thing that will help you sleep better at night: You want to have a plumber, electrician and a handyman.

“Go on Yelp, and everybody’s there. I just call and say I want someone who’s available or who also has someone they can recommend if it’s 3 a.m.

“Have those three numbers on your cell phone ready to call. For me, personally, it’s always been plumbing. Someone’s going to clog a toilet. The garbage disposal isn’t going to work if they put rice down it.

“Many times, it’s their fault, so what I like to do is say, ‘I’m going to send someone up there right away for you. They say it’s going to cost $75. You can just pay them.’ And they understand. I’ve never really had an issue. They’re just happy someone comes and fixes it right away.”

6. Invest in a Fire Stick

“I have Wi-Fi, but I don’t have cable. A couple of people have complained, but it’s been a small percentage. Here’s how I get around it: I just have an Amazon Fire Stick.

“It’s like $39 on Amazon. You plug it into the back of the TV, and it has Showtime, Netflix, HBO — it has every single thing you could ever want. A guest will click Netflix, and they can sign in with their own account.”

7. Buy a Domain Name

Michael obtained the domain name BookPalmSprings.com to make his listings easier for potential guests to find. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

“Anytime you talk to people and they ask, ‘How can I find your Airbnb?’ Most people say, ‘Go on Airbnb. Type in the city.’

Well, they’re going to see everything else that’s available.

So I went to GoDaddy, and I think I paid $35 or something. I bought BookPalmSprings.com. That’s it. How easy is that to remember?

On Book Palm Springs, I actually did make my own little clunky website, but you don’t have to. On MidCentury1963.com, I didn’t. That’s the forward [to my listing on Airbnb].”

8. Upsell Isn’t a Four-Letter Word

Sachi, Michael’s 16-year-old Shiba Inu, walks down the stairs of his Venice, Calif. home on May 21, 2018. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

“A big thing I’ve learned is to upsell. A lot of people ask the day of or maybe while they’re booking, ‘Hey, do we really have to check out at 11 a.m.? Our flight is at 5 p.m.’

“I’ll be like, ‘You know, it’s going to be an extra half day. That’s going to be $50 extra.’

“Or consider a per-person charge, depending on how big your place is. Most Airbnb policies suggest you shouldn’t have more than two people per bedroom. So if you’ve got a two-bedroom place and six people want to crash, it’s OK for you to say, ‘We’re going to charge $30 extra for each of the two extra people.’

“Other typical add-ons are pets. Some people do a pet deposit.”

9. Establish the Vibe

airbnb listing in palm springs california
The outdoor area of Michael’s Airbnb listing in Palm Springs, Calif. Photo courtesy of Airbnb

“There’s this marketing technique where you ask for five adjectives that define the product or service. For my Palm Springs place, I said, ‘It’s white. It’s zen. It’s midcentury. It’s Coachella. It’s simple.’

“So I made the write-up have that feeling. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, party here.’ That wasn’t the brand. This brand was just chill — come fall asleep in the hammock.”

How to Make the Most of Your Hosting Experience

If you want to learn more about becoming an Airbnb host, read our Airbnb beginner’s guide. There, Michael offers more tips on how to get started and covers what you need to know about expenses — from insurance to taxes.

Carson Kohler (carson@thepennyhoarder.com) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s thinking she’ll take a trip to Palm Springs and stay in Michael’s place. You know, for research

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.

3 MoviePass Alternatives for Anyone Who’s Bitter About the Latest Changes

My mother always said: “All good things come to an end. And then they come back. And then they come to an end again.”

It looks like Mom was right because this week, MoviePass made headlines again as it announced a price increase that will — fingers crossed — keep it from going bankrupt.

Now that the popular movie ticket subscription service has placed more restrictions on its offerings, we thought it would be good to compare MoviePass and its competitors to see if it’s time for you to say “hasta la vista, MoviePass!”

The Latest MoviePass Changes

New Price: $14.95 per month

MoviePass prices will increase to $14.95 per month in the next 30 days, a press release announced Tuesday.

The original allure of MoviePass was the ability to see any movie at any time for $9.95 per month. Now you’ll still get access to one 2D movie per day, but blockbuster movies will have limited availability during the first two weeks of their releases. No one really knows what that means, but MoviePass did state that special promotions could open up availability for certain movies.

3 MoviePass Alternatives for Big-Screen Lovers

I’m sad for MoviePass because people really love it. Even with the $5 per month increase, its Twitter supporters have come out to say they’ve saved money and will continue to subscribe — which makes you think this whole thing could’ve been avoided.

But since we’re here now, let’s explore the other options.

Sinemia

Price: $12.99-$34.99 per month

Sinemia has two tiers: Classic and Elite. In the Classic tier, you can choose one or two movies per month. It includes any 2D movie anytime — even opening weekend. There are no blackout dates, and advance ticket purchasing is available (something MoviePass has always lacked).

The Elite tier includes everything from the Classic with the addition of 3D movies and one Imax-4DX movie every 30 days.

Elite and Classic family plans are also available.

Sinemia is having a summer sale right now: The one movie per month Classic plan is starting at $3.99 per month. Two movies for two people each month is $15.99 per month during the sale. If you decide to forgo an annual plan and pay monthly, you’ll have to pay a $19.99 initiation fee per person.

You can also book movies through third-party ticket processors like Fandango, Atom Tickets or MovieTickets.com if you’re looking for reward points.

AMC Stubs A-List

Price: $19.95 per month

You can see up to three movies every week in any format with no blackout dates.

AMC Stubs A-List will even let you see all three of those movies in one day. And they can all be Dolby Cinema, Imax, 3D or whatever combo you can feasibly stomach.

There’s a three-month minimum commitment, but your price is locked in for 12 months.

The A-List also includes advance ticket reservations, 10% cash back on food and beverage purchases, and its Stubs Premiere benefits, which include free drink and popcorn upgrades.

Benefits reset every Friday morning.

The glaring disadvantage is that the program is only good at AMC theaters, so if you’re not near one, it won’t help you see cheap Prime, RealD or BigD movies. (I’m still figuring out the difference between them.)

Cinemark Movie Club

Price: $8.99 per month

Probably the best program on the list for light moviegoers, but again — not useful unless you live near a Cinemark theater.

For less than $9, you get one 2D movie ticket every month, 20% off concessions for you and friends, waived online fees and extra tickets for $8.99 each. And if that isn’t enough, unused tickets roll over, never expire for members and are usable for up to six months if you need to cancel.

It’s limited to 2D movies, but you can add premium upgrades like Imax and 3D for an additional charge.

Jen Smith is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She likes seeing movies but probably wouldn’t go more than once a month. 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.