Save On Pet Guinea Pig Supplies With DIY Know-How and Smart Shopping

I’ve had two guinea pigs, Chocolate and Vanilla, for almost five years, and they make wonderful pets. They’re low- maintenance and cute as anything.

But like any pet, a guinea pig has needs that can dent your bank account. Through trial and error, I figured out what to buy and what to skip.

Habitat

The first thing you need when you adopt a guinea pig is a cage. But not all small pet cages are suited for guinea pigs. Guinea pigs cannot live in a wire-bottom cage like rabbits can. They must have some kind of flooring to protect their feet, which are small and sensitive.

I found the cages at pet stores woefully lacking. They were too expensive and too small. The Humane Society of the United States recommends housing a maximum of two guinea pigs in a cage that’s at least 7.5 square feet. Most cages advertised for guinea pigs are much smaller.

I purchased an uncovered MidWest guinea pig cage for about $35 on Amazon. Not only was it cheaper than pet-store cages, it was roomy enough for my two guinea pigs to claim their own territory and get some exercise. (Males, especially, need room to avoid each other when they’re grouchy.)

Lots of guinea pig owners prefer to build their own cage. The supplies are available at most big-box and office-supply stores and allow owners to customize their cages at a low cost. Alexandria’s Animals on YouTube has a video on how to build a C & C (cubes and corrugated plastic) cage.

Bedding

Bedding is where I spend most of my guinea-pig dollars because we clean our cage at least once a week.

The easiest bedding option is natural paper bedding. You can buy it in pet stores, big-box stores and even some grocery stores.

However, I found that the cheapest place to get bedding is Amazon. I search for guinea-pig bedding, then I scroll through the list to see which one is the cheapest per liter. Generally, I can get a 60L package of paper bedding for approximately $15. Sometimes I score one on sale for about $13. One package of bedding lasts almost a week in our house.

The trick is not to become loyal to a particular kind. I’ve even ordered confetti-colored paper bedding because it was the cheapest choice.

An even cheaper option, in the long run, is to use fleece. Lots of guinea-pig owners prefer to use fleece to line their cages because it’s reusable and they feel it’s more comfortable for their guinea pigs.

However, you have to have the right kind of fleece, which wicks urine down to an absorbent layer underneath. Look for 100% polyester anti-pill fleece. Then prepare the fleece by washing and drying it three to five times in hot water with detergent, without fabric softener or dryer sheets. Washing the fleece over and over removes the protective barrier from the fleece and allows liquids to pass through.

Once the fleece is prepared, place it in the cage on top of an absorbent layer, like paper bedding, puppy pads or newspaper. Jessica’s Nerd Life has a YouTube video on how to prepare fleece for guinea pig cages.

I’ll be honest; I tried the fleece method and I couldn’t hack it. I didn’t like sweeping up poop and hay every day. Plus, you have to have at least two prepared fleeces: one to use and one to wash. On top of that, I couldn’t get it to work properly. The smell was awful. I decided to stick with paper bedding.

You may be thinking that newspaper would be a cheap alternative to paper bedding, but I don’t recommend it. Newspaper tends to soak up urine, leaving your poor piggy in sopping wet, smelly bedding after only a day.

Please do not use pine or cedar shavings for guinea-pig bedding. Although it’s still sold in stores, the oil and resin can be harmful to small pets. The aromatic oils from pine and cedar can irritate a guinea pig’s skin, eyes and respiratory tract.

Food

guinea pig eating a carrot
Vanilla chowing down on a carrot. Photo courtesy of Nancy Basile.

Guinea pigs need hay, preferably Timothy hay. Not only do they get nutrition from hay, it keeps their teeth from growing too long. Guinea pigs, like rabbits, have teeth that will continue to grow to unhealthy lengths if they don’t have something hard to chew on. Hay takes a lot of chewing.

Guinea pigs also need pellet food, preferably made from Timothy hay. Pellets that have alfalfa hay as a base are high in calcium, which may lead to bladder stones.

I buy pellet food and Timothy hay from Amazon. Again, I’m not loyal to a brand, so I’m able to buy the cheapest options. I generally buy a five-pound bag of Kaytee pellet food for about $6. It lasts for several months.

Don’t be tempted to buy guinea-pig pellet food with extras — those colorful nuggets of non-nutritious food that’s added to the pellets. According to VetBabble, it’s like adding candy to their healthy food.

Guinea pigs must also have fresh produce. They can’t produce vitamin C, so they need to get it from their food. I feed our guinea pigs carrots, kale and, for a treat, strawberries. I occasionally give them a bit of apple.

The good news is that they’re not super picky. Check your grocery store for a produce clearance section. My store has a shelf with bruised, broken and spotted fruit and vegetables that I can buy at about a third of the full price. My little guys don’t care if their carrots are starting to brown. (But I would never feed them rotten food.)

Chews

As mentioned above, guinea pigs need to chew on stuff to keep their teeth a healthy length. Stores sell all kinds of wooden blocks and hay cubes, but they’re expensive and unnecessary.

Guinea pigs can chew on cardboard, which is probably as plentiful in your house as it is in mine. Remember all my Amazon orders? I use the boxes to build “additions” to my guinea pigs’ cage. They usually chew on the cardboard flaps.

You can also give your guinea pig a paper towel or toilet-paper tube to chew on. Try shoving lettuce or other foods inside to give your guinea pig a boredom buster.

What Not to Buy

There are a lot of products out there for guinea pigs that are a waste of money. Here are things you don’t need to buy.

Litter. Guinea pigs are nearly impossible to litter train. Don’t bother.

Toys. Guinea pigs don’t play with toys. They’re happy with a cardboard box or tube. You can also create tunnels and mazes from cardboard to give them some exercise and fun.

Clear, plastic balls. Guinea pigs are not hamsters. They will not run around the house in a big, clear ball. They will just sit and wonder what’s happening.

Fancy houses. Guinea pigs like to have a cover over their heads, but they don’t need anything fancy. A plastic igloo or cardboard box works just fine.

Pillows. You might see videos of guinea pigs sleeping with their heads on pillows. It’s super cute, so I bought two on Etsy. My guinea pigs completely ignore them.

Nancy Basile is a freelance writer who didn’t expect to fall in love with her two guinea pigs, Chocolate and Vanilla. Follow her on Instagram @mediamedusa.

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.

Got Busted Running a Rogue Lemonade Stand? Country Time’s Got Your Back

It’s a tale that’s more than a century old.

Kids want to earn some extra cash — to buy whatever it is kids buy these days (are yo-yos still cool?) — so they decide to sling some lemonade on their street.

They hit up their parents for supplies, whether it’s fresh lemons or that powdery stuff we all know and love, and slave away to make the best lemonade their cul-de-sac has ever seen.

If they’re serious lemonade sellers, they might have a fancy set-up, or they could be like 8-year-old me and drag the living room coffee table out to the sidewalk.

They go through all of this trouble, with dreams of dollar bills dancing through their heads, only to be shut down by The Man.

That’s right, kids across the country are getting hit with cease-and-desist orders and slapped with fines for running lemonade stands without proper permits.

In 2015, authorities closed down two sisters in Texas for selling lemonade without a peddler’s permit. Three girls in Georgia had their lemonade dreams squashed because they didn’t have a business license, peddler’s permit or a food permit. Yikes.

Country Time Lemonade is sick of it and ready to fight the good fight.

Country Time Takes a Stand

The popular lemonade brand known for its powdered mixes is standing up for budding entrepreneurs everywhere by offering “Legal-Ade.”

If city officials shut down or fine a lemonade stand this summer, Country Time Lemonade will provide the operators reimbursement of up to $300.

Not only will the company cover the costs of any fines incurred from 2017 through this summer, it will also reimburse lemon-preneurs who apply for proper permits before setting up shop.

To apply for reimbursement, a parent or legal guardian can head over to Country Time’s Legal-Ade website. Just upload a photo of the fine or permit and have the kiddos describe what their lemonade stand means to them.  

The site says that payments will be made throughout the summer, until hitting the limit of $60,000.

But that’s not all: Country Time posted a video on Twitter that vows to donate $1 for every retweet — up to $500,000 — to offer Legal-Ade to kids next summer and beyond.

Lemonade stands are not only a great way for kids to earn extra cash but also a learning experience. They can teach math, customer service, supply-and-demand and, our favorite, how to handle money.

So don’t let the fear of fines or a visit from the local police deter you or your kids from taking on this venture.

I think Country Time said it best on its site: “Life doesn’t always give you lemons, but when it does, you should be able to make and share lemonade with the neighborhood without legal implications.”

Kaitlyn Blount is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Her mom hated it when she took the coffee table on the sidewalk.

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.

Bill Gates Loves This Book So Much That He’s Giving It Away to 2018 Grads

The world probably isn’t as bad as you think it is — and that’s exactly what Bill Gates wants you to understand.

That’s why Gates, the billionaire founder of Microsoft, is giving away a copy of Hans Rosling’s book, “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World — and Why Things Are Better Than You Think,” for free to every spring 2018 college graduate.

The World Is a Better Place than You May Think

Gates has talked about his love of reading on multiple occasions. In fact, he even has a section devoted to his favorite reads on his blog.

A few months ago while answering questions on an Ask Me Anything thread on Reddit, Gates explained that while he loves to read, he doesn’t always have as much time to devote to the hobby as he’d like. However, when asked about the best book he’s read in 2018, Gates did have a couple of favorites to note.

“There are two amazing books,” Gates wrote in his reply. “They are both very readable and explain that the world is getting better.”

One of the books was “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress” by Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker. The other was Rosling’s “Factfulness.”

Factfulness

The book wasn’t scheduled to be released until April 3, but Gates got ahold of an early copy.

Rosling, a Swedish statistician and doctor who was known for his TED Talks died last year of pancreatic cancer. In January of 2017, he described “Factfulness” as “my last battle in my lifelong mission to fight devastating ignorance.”

According to Gapminder, Rosling’s foundation, “Factfulness” is the “stress-reducing habit of only carrying opinions for which you have strong supporting facts.” The book offers an explanation for why our society is so insistent on presenting incorrect “facts” as truth and looks at the 10 instincts that distort our perspective on the world — including how we view progress, the way we consume media and our tendency to view the world with an “us vs. them” mentality.

On his blog, Gates posted a quote from the book, adding that he hopes students take Rosling’s advice to heart and earn to think and act “factfully.”

Then, he offered 2018 grads a gift.

How to Get Bill Gates’ Top Pick for Grads for Free

“If you’re getting a degree from a U.S. college this spring, I have a present for you,” Gates wrote on June 5.

(Spoiler alert: It’s a book.)

The book, Gates says, is “packed with advice about how to see the world clearly.”

“Although I think everyone should read it,” he continues, “it has especially useful insights for anyone who’s making the leap out of college and into the next phase of life.”

And that’s why, he explains, he’s gifting a copy to every person who’s receiving (or has received) a degree from a U.S. college or university in spring 2018.

If you are a spring 2018 recipient of an associate’s, bachelor’s or post-graduate degree, you can head to Gates’ site to download your free copy of the e-book.

(Because of international publishing rights, however, only students in the U.S. can receive the free e-book download.)

To get your copy, you’ll have to create a “Gates Notes” account using your Twitter, Facebook or email address. Then, you’ll put in your school’s name and hit the download e-book button.

Once your status as a 2018 graduate is confirmed, you’ll receive a downloadable copy of the e-book.

Then you can get to reading and start seeing the good in the world again. We promise, it’s not as scary out here as it seems.

Congrats, grad!

Grace Schweizer is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.

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

5 Rights to Flex When a Debt Collector Calls (Even if You Really Owe Money)

When an unpaid credit card bill or loan payment comes back to haunt you in the form of a persistent debt collector, it’s hard to know what to do.

You know you owe the debt, but the daily phone calls on your cell phone and at work aren’t helping you pay it down any faster. They’re just making you miserable in the interim, and you’re terrified that a co-worker or even your boss may answer the next time a debt collector rings.

But just because you have unpaid debt, that doesn’t give collection agencies the right to harass you. You have control over when and how debt collectors contact you.

That’s thanks to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the law that governs the behaviors of debt collectors.

Your Rights as a Person in Debt

Bruce McClary with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling walked us through the rights the fair debt collection law grants people in debt. The foundation is a national debt counseling nonprofit.

“As a former debt collector, I can tell you that a lot of people are not aware of the fact that they have some level of control over requesting how and when they are contacted,” McClary said.

You can start exercising your rights as soon as your next collection call.

You get to say how often they call you. If you’re sick of the deluge of phone calls you get every day from bill collectors, you have to right to request that the company limit how often its employees call.

You can stop calls to your workplace. Some state laws already limit how often bill collectors can call you at work, McClary said. But even if your state doesn’t, the federal law says that if the incessant calls have the potential to put your job in jeopardy, you have a right to ask them to stop, and the debt collector must comply.

You can stop calls before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m. This is based on your time zone, not your bill collector’s. You shouldn’t even have to request this because it’s already built into the law. But if you are getting early morning or late night calls, put a stop to it by making this request in writing.

You can stop calls altogether. If you’re sick of the calls and are looking for a way to communicate with the debt collector that doesn’t make answering your phone feel like a game of Russian Roulette, you can even ask the company to stop calling altogether — at work, at home and on your cell. You can request contact via email or mail instead, McClary said.

You can stop all communication, period. McClary added that the law allows you to go as far as cutting all communication over the phone and in writing. But he doesn’t suggest you do that.

“When you request to have communication completely cut off and you just want to drop off their radar, that sends them a signal that you have zero intention of paying ever, and it may accelerate some of their actions in trying to recover the debt in other ways,” McClary said.

It could increase the likelihood of a lawsuit over the debt if you choose to bury your head in the sand and pretend it doesn’t exist.

What if a Debt Collector Ignores Your Requests?

McClary says it’s important to make a request in writing as often as possible so you have a record of it. That could be as simple as an email using software that lets you know when the email is opened, or as involved as a certified letter that requires a signature when the company receives it. You not only want the record to show you sent it; you also want proof it was received.

It will be important that you can prove you made the request if you ever have to file a complaint against a debt collection company.

In most cases, filing a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or the Federal Trade Commission will be enough.

In extreme cases when the debt collector is harassing you or threatening you with violence, report it to your local law enforcement if the collection agency is in your state or the FBI if the debt collector is calling from a different state, McClary said.

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

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

Is That a Debt Collector Calling… or a Scammer? 3 Shrewd Ways to Find Out

Your phone rings, and it’s a number you don’t recognize. Against your better judgment, you answer.

On the line is someone who says they are calling from a debt collection agency. You owe money from an unpaid parking ticket. Or maybe an old medical bill. Possibly even that Old Navy card you maxed out buying all the cargo shorts you could get your hands on when you were in college.

The person is telling you it’s time to pay up, and they can take your bank information to settle the debt right now over the phone.

There’s only one problem: You’re not sure if handing over your information will really clear you of the old debt — or if you would actually be playing right into the hands of a scammer.

This dilemma is so widespread that it’s on the radar of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. A new report provides a snapshot of the most common concerns among the 400,500 debt collection complaints consumers sent to the bureau since 2011.

Other common themes in the complaints included:

  • Debt appearing on consumers’ credit reports before they got written notice.
  • Debt collectors continuing calls after a borrower requested not to be contacted by phone.
  • Debt collectors withholding information about the debt.
  • Calls at odd hours.

What to Do When a Debt Collector Calls

With the number of scam calls we all get each month, no one wants to inadvertently aid a criminal while repairing their finances.

To help you navigate debt collector calls, we talked to Bruce McClary with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), a financial counseling nonprofit.

Before joining the NFCC, McClary worked as a debt collector. He’s got some ideas for how you can settle your debt without exposing yourself to a savvy scammer.

1. Don’t Pay Over the Phone

There are few circumstances when paying over the phone is the only option.

According to McClary, a legitimate debt collection agency should give you at least a few days to look into the company’s credentials and the debt its employees claim you owe before you make a payment.

“There are very few situations where if you ask for enough time to validate what they’re saying that it would end up putting you in a situation where it’s too late,” McClary said. “If they can’t wait one or two days or even a week, I’d be very surprised.”

Once you’ve taken that time, you can pay over the phone if you’d like, but McClary still recommends paying online on a secure website. That ensures you will get a receipt to prove you made the payment. If you opt for a phone payment, make sure to ask the company to send you a record of the payment as soon as possible.

2. Ask for Proof That You Owe the Debt

“You have a right to ask for proof that the debt is legitimately yours,” McClary said. “And you want to get the proof in writing. Don’t just take their word for it over the phone. You want full documentation.”

Do this even if you think the debt sounds legitimate, McClary suggested. You want to know for sure before you pay.

McClary says any debt collector is required to send you enough information in writing to prove the debt is yours and that the company has the right to collect it. The information you can request includes your name, how long you’ve had the outstanding debt, how much you owe, the origin of the account and proof that the debt collector is authorized to take your money.

3. Don’t Forget to Get the Name of the Collection Company

Make sure you also get the name of the third-party collection agency asking for the payment so you can make sure it is licensed to collect money.

For now, you can check the standing of a company through the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s public complaint database. This may not be public forever, but for now it is. This database will let you know if the government has taken any complaints or recent action against the company collecting your debt, McClary said.

If the company doesn’t exist in the CFPB database, you’ll be able to continue the search on Google.

“That gives you the opportunity to investigate them to make sure they are a legitimate operation,” McClary said. “You can look them up to make sure they are licensed and that they are recognized as an actual debt collection agency.”

McClary recommends searching for the company online to find out where it is headquartered, and then checking with that state’s government to make sure the company has the appropriate license to collect debt.

Taking an extra few days to verify this can save you a truckload of money you could have lost to a scammer.

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

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

Knowing This Secret About the ACT and SAT Can Save You Money and Stress

If you’ve taken the SAT or ACT before, you know the insta-anxiety induced by the essay portion that comes at the end of the test — and if you haven’t, you’re probably not looking forward to it.

But there’s good news for anyone who’s absolutely dreading test day for that very reason: It will probably be fine if you don’t even sign up for the essay portion, (which will save you money, too).

The Essay Portion of the SAT Doesn’t Really Matter

It’s true.

Most colleges and universities don’t care about your score on the essay portion of the SAT and ACT — or whether you’ve even taken that part of the test at all.

Last week, Yale University notified counselors who work with high school students that it will no longer require applicants to have completed the SAT or ACT essay sections.

Yale is the most recent university to make this decision.

Cornell and Columbia universities and the University of Pennsylvania also have said they will no longer rely on the essay portion of these standardized tests, either.

A few months ago, Harvard University announced the same decision, saying that while writing is still an incredibly important skill when it comes to considerations for college admissions, the SAT essay is a poor representation of an applicant’s mastery of the craft. The school will instead turn to an applicant’s admissions essay.

But it’s not just the Ivy Leaguers who don’t want to bother with your SAT or ACT essay score. The University of San Diego recently announced the same, and schools including the University of Florida and the University of Tennessee consider the essay portion of these tests optional.

The Princeton Review, which offers test prep, admissions advice and tutoring services, notes that “While over 70 percent of students taking the SAT and more than 50 percent taking the ACT opt in to the essay, not even 2 percent of colleges require an essay score.”

Save Money, Skip the Essay Portion of the SAT and ACT

The Princeton Review in June 2018 identified just 25 institutions that require scores from the essay portion of the SAT or ACT.

If your school of choice isn’t on that list, you’re probably safe to skip it.

And while you didn’t think the news could get any better than getting out of a 45- to 50-minute stretch of writing an essay by hand, the bonus is that you’ll actually save money, too.

For the 2018-2019 year, the fee to take the SAT with the essay portion is $64.50. The fee to take the SAT without the essay portion is $47.50.

The fee to take the ACT with the essay writing portion is $62.50, while the fee to take the ACT without the essay writing portion is $46.00. (If you’ve already signed up to take the ACT with the essay portion, you may be able to get a refund with a written request.)

Unfortunately, if your school of choice is on the list of schools that still require and care about a standardized test essay score, you’ll still want to sign up to take the essay portion of those tests.

Grace Schweizer is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.

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

Find the Cheap (and Good) Restaurants By Using This Search Technique

I spent my first two days in Antigua, Guatemala, walking the cobblestone streets, taking in the old ruins and majestic Spanish colonial architecture. Finding my way through this new-to-me-place with my boyfriend, David, was the fun part.

What wasn’t fun: discovering that this city was significantly pricier than we anticipated.

We’d been in Antigua for less than 36 hours when the reality hit. Tired and hungry from a day of exploring our new surroundings, we wandered a few blocks away from our Airbnb to a pizza restaurant on the outskirts of the city center.

Dinner was good, but kind of basic. We shared a large cheese pizza and a house salad. I enjoyed a glass of red wine. Then the check arrived. Our meal came to $40.

What?!

We scanned the bill for errors, but aside from a 10% tip that was automatically included (pretty common here), nothing else was unexpected. Back in Chicago, the equivalent meal at Pequod’s Pizza, one of my favorite sit-down Chicago pizza spots, would have cost about $30.

Over the next few days, several experiences reinforced that Antigua isn’t a cheap spot. Local tour operators quoted us upward of $120 per person for a day hike to one of the nearby volcanoes. Weekend brunch cost us about $12 each.

It’s not that these prices are alarmingly high, but the research I did when planning our stay suggested that life in Antigua would cost less than what we’re accustomed to paying in Chicago.

According to major travel websites like Lonely Planet, you can “dine well and inexpensively” right near the central area. Couple that with the favorable exchange rate — about 7.4 quetzals for $1 — and Antigua’s popularity as a backpacker destination, I figured it would be easy to stumble upon plenty of budget-friendly options.

Long-Term Travel on a Budget

A cobble stone residential street with Volcano Agua in the distance. Photo courtesy of Jaclyn Schiff.

The plan was to hang our hats in Antigua for about six weeks; slow travel is a major perk of being a digital nomad. While a big part of working from different parts of the world is to indulge my wanderlust, finances are a significant part, too.

When I became location-independent in March 2017, I saw it as an opportunity to lower my cost of living and pay off some debt. I designed the opportunity so after about a year of living without a permanent address, I’d also have saved more money.

So when food, drink, and entertainment costs in Antigua didn’t look like they’d be as cheap as I originally thought, we had to improvise to keep pace with my financial goals.

Figure Out What Things Actually Cost: Online Reviews

After the price surprises during our first few days, I paid more careful attention to online reviews before venturing out for a bite to eat or drink.

People tend to look at reviews when they are about to decide where to go or what to eat. I didn’t think of them as a tool to consult before we arrived. But the more I looked through reviews, the more I realized the answers I was seeking about cost were staring me in the face — and in a more practical, user-friendly way than other resources like cost-of-living indexes.

Had I looked through online forums like TripAdvisor, Google, and Facebook beforehand, I probably would not have had sticker shock when we first got to Antigua (and would have dug up the cheap eats sooner).  

Reviews are helpful because they’re raw and typically unedited. But they are also totally subjective, so the key is to look for patterns. Here’s an approach for how to strategically scan for price information when planning your next travel stint.  

Step 1 – Skim through the reviews for general cost trends

To get a sense of whether a lot of places are pricy, take a look at reviews in the lowest-cost and moderately priced categories. This works best for restaurants but is also applicable for tour operators, shuttle services and landmarks.

Are a lot of people commenting on price — either noting that it’s cheap or expensive? Reviewers tend to note price when it’s remarkable, so this is a good way to get a feel for whether a place is especially inexpensive or overpriced.

It’s also helpful to look at where the reviewer is from. Someone from New York City is going to have very different price standards than someone from Columbus, Ohio, for example.

The key with this exercise is not so much to focus on single reviews — there will always be outliers — but to skim through a few listings and see whether you notice patterns. Here are a few I came across during my early days in Antigua that made me realize I wasn’t alone in being caught off-guard about prices:

Yelp isn’t available in Antigua, so my go-to review website has been TripAdvisor. I also joined a few active Facebook groups, including one for expats living in Guatemala, which has proven to be an excellent forum for information. Google reviews and the review tabs on Facebook pages have been helpful to get aggregate information as well.

Step 2 – Search the reviews for cost-sensitive keywords

Once you’ve selected a restaurant or other TripAdvisor listing, you can search all the reviews on that page. You can also use keyboard shortcuts like Ctrl+F to search a word on a page.

If you’re planning a trip, I’d suggest looking through a few recommended tour operators and restaurants and doing searches using keywords such as “price,” “cost,” “cheap” and “expensive.”

For example, here are returns I got when I searched “price” within the listing for Cafe Condesa, one of the most popular moderately priced cafes in the center of town:

Price is a great search term because it’s a neutral word, so if reviewers are mostly using it to say prices are too high, that tells you something. For the same cafe (and I don’t mean to pick on this place, just using it as an illustration), a search of “cheap” vs. “expensive” is telling. When I searched the word “expensive,” I got almost twice as many results.  

The same thing works on Facebook. Groups have a search function that looks through all posts. Using that tool in the expats group, with the keywords mentioned above, I found a few comments confirming my observations and some helpful threads with recommendations for cheaper eats.  

As my time in Antigua winds down, I’m not too sure when or where my next travel stint will be. But the wanderlust is sure to kick in again at some point, and when it does, I’ll know exactly where to go to get a good idea of what things will cost.

Jaclyn Schiff is a freelance writer and digital nomad who believes the finer things in life don’t (always) need to come at a higher cost.

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.

Retail Jobs Are Making a Comeback — Just in Time for Summer

With the recent news about Sears closing more than 70 stores and the lingering fear of a so-called retail apocalypse, you’d think encouraging teenagers to “fall into the Gap” for a summer job would be pretty dumb.

But with five months of growth in retail jobs — May saw thousands of new jobs at traditional brick-and-mortar stores — folding jeans and stocking shelves might be a good option for summer work.

“It certainly does signal that the retail industry is hiring,” said Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist for the National Retail Federation. “And, of course, we have a significant number of job openings like other industries.”

Seriously. Check out the numbers.

In May, department stores, clothing stores, sporting goods retailers and supercenters added a combined 34,700 jobs, according to a Penny Hoarder analysis of the latest employment figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s more than triple the 10,000-plus new jobs these stores recorded the previous month.

Here’s the kicker: Those traditional retailers actually helped buoy the retail industry as a whole last month.

Nonstore retailers, like, ahem, Amazon, saw the first month-to-month decrease in employment in four years. With 1,100 fewer jobs than the previous month, e-commerce sites recorded the first negative employment growth since May of 2012.

While Kleinhenz noted that the NRF “believes all retail jobs are equal — be it brick-and-mortar or online,” a strong economy is putting more money in consumers’ pockets. And their spending is boosting the entire retail industry.

Hit the Mall For Your Summer Job This Year

I worked at a pet store every summer during high school, and I can tell you that retail is the ultimate summer job for teens.

You learn soft skills you may not pick up in other industries — like how to deal with an irate mother after selling her son an extremely poisonous scorpion (sorry again, ma’am). Those customer service and social skills go a long way in any career you may end up choosing.

But, you also learn about how payroll works and how inventory functions (the flake fish food goes a lot faster than the pellets). Summer retail jobs give you a frontline look at what it takes to run a business.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to writing a resume you might want to peruse before heading to the mall. And while you’re at it, you might as well update your LinkedIn profile, too.

Still, if you’re looking for something outside of retail, The Penny Hoarder Jobs page on Facebook has tons of postings from a variety of industries.

Long-Term Trends Still Show Struggle for Traditional Retail Stores

All in all, May was a pretty good month for brick-and-mortar retail.

But if you look at the long-term trend, you can’t ignore the Amazon Effect.

Between May 2017 and last month, non-store retailers experienced 4.2% job growth, while clothing stores and sporting goods retailers saw a decline. Hiring at department stores has only grown 0.4% over the last year.

And one concern for the entire retail industry has flared up in just the last week: the much-discussed tariffs on foreign imports.

“Trade barriers ultimately impact the consumer,” Kleinhenz said.

Alex Mahadevan is a data journalist at The Penny Hoarder. He used to have to clean scorpion cages, so you probably shouldn’t mess with him.

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.

Don’t Forget the Furry Members of Your Family When Preparing for a Disaster

Every state or region deals with its own versions of inclement weather and natural disasters — everything from wildfires and tornadoes to earthquakes and flash floods.

In Florida (and throughout much of the southern, coastal and tropical regions of the U.S.), it’s hurricane season, which begins on June 1 and lasts for six months.

The 2017 hurricane season was especially horrendous, causing many people to flee their homes, leaving behind anything they couldn’t carry as they evacuated.

Unfortunately, many people also left their pets behind, trapped in homes threatened by rising floodwaters or chained to telephone poles or fences.

For those who did take their animals with them, it was a struggle to arrange last-minute travel or arrangements with shelters that would allow for pets.

Plus, last-minute care, boarding and supplies can be severely overpriced.

But with another hurricane season looming, and with the other various but all-too-frequent threats from Mother Nature we’ve been seeing recently, it’s important to have an action plan for when disaster strikes — and it should be one that involves your pets.

Prepare to Care for Your Pet During an Emergency

It’s a good idea to begin preparing to keep yourself, your family and your pets safe at the start of the emergency season your area faces. These tips from PetsWelcome.com can help.

Prepare a Pet Emergency Kit

When you put your emergency kit together for yourself and your household, don’t forget to put an emergency kit together for your furry friends, too. You should have this kit handy whether you think you will evacuate your home or not.

Here’s what your pet emergency kit should include:

  • A collar and ID tags with a name and contact information (if the animal doesn’t wear one regularly).
  • Medical tags and updated records (in a waterproof bag or sleeve).
  • Medications (your vet may be able to give you an extra supply if your pet depends on the drugs to survive) and a pet first aid kit.
  • Current photos of your pet to help with identification if you become separated.
  • A few copies of your pet’s feeding habits, notable behaviors, medication schedule and medical conditions, if applicable, in case the pet has to be boarded or placed in foster care suddenly.
  • A small toy, pillow, blanket or bed that brings your pet comfort.
  • Food and water bowls and extra food.
  • Plastic waste bags, lightweight cat litter and a travel-size litter box.
  • A leash, harness and travel crate that is comfortable even over long periods of time.

Before Disaster Strikes

Before bad seasonal weather or disasters are expected in your area, there are some things you should do to ensure your pet will remain safe and well cared for.

Here’s what to do now, before a natural disaster arrives:

  • If your pets are overdue for any shots, take them to the vet now so you’re not left scrambling to make an appointment while a storm approaches. An unvaccinated pet may not be allowed into shelters, hotels, boarding facilities or foster care.
  • Contact hotels, motels and emergency shelters on your planned evacuation routes to ensure they accept pets. (Specify that you are seeking information on emergency evacuation situations, and they may be able to explain their “in case of emergency” procedures and allowances.) Make a list of the places that do.
  • Make a list of any veterinarians or boarding facilities along your planned evacuation routes in case you are required to drop off your pets as you’re seeking shelter with your family.
  • If your evacuation plan includes staying with family or friends in another region, contact them to ensure they are OK with your pets staying, too.

Take Care of Your Pets in Case of Emergency

If you have to leave your home, don’t leave your pets behind.

Pets who are left behind in emergency situations are often sent to homes in another state or area or end up lost or dead.

If you are evacuating, don’t leave your pet locked in your home with extra bowls of food and water. You won’t be able to guarantee how long you will be gone, how severely the weather will affect your home or how your pet will react when left alone for so long under stressful conditions.

Do not leave a pet tied to a fence, light post or telephone pole or turn your pet loose to roam freely outside. Do not leave pets locked in a car, on a boat or otherwise stranded with no hope of escape. This is considered to be animal cruelty, and you may be fined or worse.

A pet is a huge responsibility, and part of that responsibility is keeping your animal pal protected during an emergency situation.

Just remember, preparation is the key to keeping yourself and those you love (humans and animals) safe.

Grace Schweizer is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.

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

Got Interior Design Experience? Style Rooms Remotely For Modsy ($15/Hr)

Do you have an eye for decorating to get the most out of your living space? Do you have interior design work experience?

If so, then now is your chance to get paid for your interior decorating skills without leaving your own home.

Modsy, an interior design startup, is hiring multiple part-time stylists to help people lay out their dream rooms. This entry-level contractor position requires a background in interior design. The gig, which can be done remotely from anywhere in the U.S., pays $15 per hour.

Modsy users take photos and measurements of the room; then a stylist creates a 3D mockup of the space with two design plans based on the client’s budget and layout requirements. This mockup comes complete with new furniture recommendations.

Once hired, you’ll work in real time with other remote stylists and with the Modsy staff that is based at the San Francisco headquarters. You must commit to working up to 40 hours a week. A minimum shift lasts four hours, between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. PT, including weekends.

If interior design isn’t your thing, check out our Jobs page on Facebook. We post new opportunities there all the time.

Remote Part-Time Stylist at Modsy

Pay: $15 per hour

Responsibilities include:

  • Creating 3D mockups of rooms submitted by the client, built with the client’s budget and requirements in mind
  • Meeting hard deadlines, spending two hours on design for each customer space

Applicants for this position must:

  • Have a bachelor’s degree, preferably with a background in interior design, art history or architecture
  • Have experience in retail furniture design
  • Have interior design work experience relevant to this job
  • Have e-styling experience (preferred)
  • Have experience with Auto-CAD, SketchUp and other similar programs
  • Be able to work in the U.S.
  • Be able to work up to 40 hours a week with minimum of four-hour shifts between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. PT, including weekends

Computer requirements for Mac users:

  • Desktop Mac, 2015 model or newer
  • 20-inch monitor or larger
  • MacBook Pro or Air, 2015 model or newer
  • 8 GB of RAM

Computer requirements for Windows users:

  • Intel HD 4000 graphics or superior
  • 8 GB of RAM
  • 20-inch monitor
  • Fast internet speed
  • Computer model 2015 or newer

Apply here for the remote part-time stylist position at Modsy.

Matt Reinstetle is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.

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