Graduation Post: Financial Planning Advice Parents Can Offer Adult Children

Earlier this month I had the honor of being the commencement speaker at Penn State University, my alma mater.

As I addressed the business school graduates I reflected on my years immediately following receiving my diploma 15 years ago. What were my best lessons learned? How did I make the most of my financial life as a young adult? How could I have been better prepared for the financial twists and turns ahead?

It’s ironic. I majored in finance but none of my classes prepared me for my own personal financial challenges. This is the sort of stuff that, if we’re lucky, we might learn from those who are older and wiser.

So parents, if you have a child who graduated this year or is soon to leave the nest, take the opportunity to share some remaining financial wisdom that will serve them well in the years to come.

Below are some of the lessons I learned in my early 20s and financial advice money and parenting experts say is critical to give a young person as they enter the Real World.

Proceed with Confidence

Money is emotional. The topic can instill fear in some and cause us to avoid our responsibilities altogether. As parents with decades more experience, it’s important to share with your kids that money management, while it may not come naturally to us, is nothing to fear, says parenting expert and founder of Tools of Growth, Roma Khetarpal.

Instead, teach how to approach money decisions with confidence by doing research, asking questions and staying organized. “As with any personal relationship, in order to have a good relationship with money, you have to believe in its power and…work within boundaries and guidelines,” she says.

Know Your Numbers

Speaking of boundaries and guidelines, walk through your grad’s first year of income and expenses on a spreadsheet. Really see the numbers and help your son or daughter get a grip on how their money gets allocated on a monthly basis – and what is left (or not left) for miscellaneous expenses. Being able to visually see their income and expenses will help make their finances more real – and they’re less likely to overspend.

Anticipate Mistakes

“Financial intelligence is gained through experience,” says Khetarpal. This includes both positive and negative experiences.

I learned very early on the importance of paying credit card bills on time when I accidentally missed a payment deadline. Even though I discovered and acted upon it quickly, the late payment set my credit score back a few points and was noted on my credit report for several years. I’m only grateful it happened when I was young and I had time to recover from the stain on my credit. It taught me the importance of automating my payments.

Get in the Habit of Saving

We all know that the sooner we begin to save, the more we can benefit from compound interest. But when I was young, I felt overwhelmed with the concept that I needed a 6-month rainy day account. The thought of saving so much money felt unrealistic and, as a result, I had a terrible time saving any money for the first few years out of college.

What I wish someone had told me was that it’s not how much you save that’s so important at this stage in your life. Instead, it’s better to focus on the habit of saving. You can start small but the important thing is that you stay consistent. Set aside as much or as little as you can each month automatically in both a rainy day account and a retirement account such as your workplace 401(k) or an individual retirement account. Once you feel you can save more, up your automatic contributions. But never neglect to save.

A good rule of thumb, says Beth Kobliner, author of New York Times bestsellers Get a Financial Life and Make Your Kid a Money Genius, is to tuck away 15% of your salary. If you can’t do that right away, start with less and work your way up to that goal within a year or two.

Take Student Loans Seriously

We may have gotten used to calling student loans “good debt,” but it’s important to teach young adults that student loans can turn ugly if payment deadlines go amiss. “College graduates today are coming out of school with more student loan debt than ever. Especially if your child has high-rate private loans, she should make paying them off a priority,” says Kobliner. She recommends that if your child is having trouble making monthly payments on federal loans, encourage her to look into alternative payment plans at

Don’t Wait to Invest

If your grad is fortunate enough to have access to a retirement plan through work (and better yet if the employer offers a match), insist that he or she participate as soon as possible. This is advice I actually do receive getting when I landed my first job – both from my father and my company’s human resources director.

While I was convinced I had no money at the time to invest in a retirement plan since I had student loans, credit card debt and my rent to worry about, they explained that I would hardly feel the pain. By automatically contributing out of each paycheck I wouldn’t really notice the allocation. But my retirement portfolio would thank me years later when I had saved more than $30,000 by the time I was 25.

Have a question for Farnoosh? You can submit your questions via Twitter @Farnoosh, Facebook or email at (please note “Mint Blog” in the subject line).

Farnoosh Torabi is America’s leading personal finance authority hooked on helping Americans live their richest, happiest lives. From her early days reporting for Money Magazine to now hosting a primetime series on CNBC and writing monthly for O, The Oprah Magazine, she’s become our favorite go-to money expert and friend.

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How to Plan a Vacation Without Going Into Debt

Estimate trip costs, save regularly and enjoy your next vacay without the stress of debt.

A break from the daily grind, sleeping late, exotic foods, breathtaking views and plenty of material for your social media accounts are just some of the reasons you may be counting down the days to your next vacation. You’re probably less excited about the financial hangover that hits once you’ve returned to reality and realize you’ve racked up debt in addition to riveting memories. If you plan ahead, there are a lot of ways to avoid going into debt on vacation so you can enjoy your time away to the fullest and skip the post-vacation blues.

While you may be focused on your travel itinerary as you vacation prep, creating a savings plan in advance of your trip can be an effective way to plan a vacation without going into debt. Follow this step-by-step guide as a way to avoid vacation debt and still get the most out of your time away:

1. Estimate your trip costs

In order to plan a vacation without going into debt, you’ll need to know how much to save up in advance. Getting an accurate sense of how much your trip will cost may require some research on your part.

“You need to add up four main expenses per day: nightly accommodation, meal spending, daily transportation and activities. Calculate an average cost per day of these,” says Jen Avery, co-founder of Thrifty Nomads, a budget travel website she manages with her husband.

To plan a vacation without going into debt estimate your costs, including airfare, accommodations and meals.

You can estimate the cost for your nightly accommodations by scoping out the places where you’d like to stay (you’ll find a wide range of costs across hotels, hostels and vacation rentals). It may be more difficult to finalize where you’ll be eating and adventuring ahead of time—especially if you like to make choices on the fly when vacationing—but you can reference travel blogs for the average cost of restaurants and activities in your travel destination as a way to avoid going into debt on vacation. If you prefer hard copy or are looking for nightly reading before your vacation, travel guidebooks can be a good source of this information.

If you’ll be taking an all-inclusive vacation, estimating your trip costs can be a lot simpler. But in order to plan a vacation without going into debt, you’ll need to confirm exactly what is covered in your fee and what may come with an additional expense (think excursions or specialty meals).

“When in doubt, always overestimate rather than underestimate, and be realistic in your estimates,” Avery says. “It’s also wise to leave some wiggle room for unexpected costs, treats and souvenirs that may catch your eye during the trip.”

2. Create a monthly savings goal

Once you’ve determined how much your trip should cost, one of the key ways to avoid vacation debt is to save up methodically. Create a final savings goal for yourself, and put money away at regularly scheduled intervals, like every paycheck or every month. You could consider opening an online savings account for your vacation fund so you’re less tempted to spend it on another financial goal or discretionary spending. Automating your savings with direct deposit can also help you build your vacation fund on autopilot.

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If you already have your vacation marked on the calendar (is it here yet?), divide your estimated vacation cost by the number of months you have between now and your trip. If you’re planning on spending $3,600 for a vacation that’s 12 months away, for example, target saving $300 per month (or $150 per paycheck if you average two each month).

If you don’t have a specific travel date in mind but are still looking for ways to avoid going into debt on vacation, review your budget to determine where you can trim spending to sock away funds for your vacation instead. Look for easy ways to save on everyday expenses by identifying extras you can live without (even if it’s for the short term) like dining out, premium cable packages, unused subscriptions or a fancy coffee habit every morning before work. You can then use these funds from your budget to plan a vacation without going into debt.

3. Find ways to earn more money

While Avery and her husband try to reduce unnecessary spending as one of their ways to avoid going into debt on vacation, they also focus on earning more money through side hustles you can do while working full time.

One tactic that could be easy to squeeze into your already packed schedule is selling things you’re not using or that you don’t want anymore. “Most people have even a few unused items they can part with,” Avery says.

Avery and her husband have also identified other ways to earn money for vacation funds. “This can be done by getting side jobs,” she says, “partaking in the sharing economy or renting your home.”

4. Be flexible

Another way to avoid vacation debt is having some flexibility in your travel plans.

“My travel savings strategy is to travel during the off-season,” says Debra Schroeder, founder of the website Traveling Well For Less. Off-seasons are usually the less popular time to visit when a destination’s weather is not as good. Crowds tend to thin at these times, however, and prices for accommodations and airfare are often not as expensive.

Being flexible with your travel plans and traveling during the off-season are two ways to avoid going into debt on vacation.

“I also have a bucket list of places I want to visit but their order isn’t set in stone,” she says. “So if the airlines are offering cheap flights to a country that’s number 20 on my list, that’s our next trip.”

If you’re not set on the duration of your trip, taking just a weekend getaway could be an opportunity to travel on a budget.

5. Stay motivated

Focusing on your savings goal to plan a vacation without going into debt can be hard work. That’s why it’s important to find ways to motivate yourself—especially if your vacation is still far out.

Avery recommends following blogs and social media accounts of travelers you admire or destinations you hope to visit to surround yourself with incentives to stick to your vacation savings plan. Seeing travel photos and stories from people who are going to the same places you’ll soon visit can be exciting and help lessen the sting of saving and making sacrifices.

“Each time you turn down a coffee or a meal out, think about what you’ll gain on your trip instead,” Avery says.

You might also track the progress you’re making on your savings goal by regularly checking on your balance. Seeing those funds add up can be encouraging and may entice you to save even more as a way to avoid vacation debt.

Enjoy your vacation

Congratulations! You’ve saved up and it’s time to enjoy your vacation. Before you go, remember one of the final ways to avoid going into debt on vacation: “While you’re on vacation, try not to spend more than normal” or what you’ve budgeted for your trip, Schroeder says. “That’s how people get into trouble. They go out to expensive restaurants that they never would at home because they’re on vacation. That’s a recipe for financial ruin and not relaxation.”

However, if you can estimate your vacation budget, come up with a savings plan and stick to it, there’s no need to worry. You really can find ways to avoid vacation debt.

“If you really want to make that trip, you can,” Avery says. “The lifelong memories and travel experiences will be worth it.”


Cheap Thrills: 5 Ways to Save Money at Amusement Parks

Discounted tickets, packed lunches and three other tips for enjoying your next amusement park trip on a budget.

It’s 90+ degrees outside. Your children are on summer vacation, desperate for distractions. The days are long. It may seem like the perfect time to fill those hours with a visit to an amusement park. Think about it: Catching your heart in your throat on extreme roller coasters, cooling off on splash-fest water rides, chatting up your children’s favorite cartoon characters and even visiting with exotic animals before washing it all down with treats like hot dogs and ice cream. Sounds pretty ideal.

Not so ideal? The stress that can come with the often high price tag associated with amusement park fun. But how do you save money at amusement parks? It just takes proper planning and a strategy for how to manage your time within the park.

Before you pack up for your next amusement park adventure, consider these five tips for saving money at amusement parks:

1. Search for discounts on tickets

According to the Los Angeles Times, the price of theme park tickets has risen faster since the Great Recession than the cost of other entertainment options. Without advanced planning, tickets can be especially pricey.

“Buying tickets to an amusement park at the gate is almost always a guaranteed way to overspend,” says Eric Anthony, managing editor for personal finance blog Houston On The Cheap, focused on entertainment in the area.

With more than 400 amusement parks and attractions in the U.S. vying for your money, you are likely to find enticing ticket deals. If you look beyond the front gate.

“Most local grocery stores offer tickets to theme parks in the area at a discounted rate,” Anthony says. “You can also search online for coupon codes and other deals on tickets.” Checking to see if you have any membership perks that might get you discounted tickets to a specific venue is another tip for saving money at amusement parks.

Searching for online coupons and discount codes for tickets is one of the ways to save money at amusement parks.

If you plan to be a frequent park visitor, season or annual passes can be an economical option, says Jeff Proctor, owner of personal finance blog DollarSprout. Many such passes come with discounts and special promotions.

Another way to save money at amusement parks is to be flexible with your dates and buy tickets for slower days or off-peak periods, like the middle of the week or during the fall season.

“If you’re willing to go on off-peak periods, you can save a bundle,” Proctor says. Bonus: Booking an off-peak trip could also mean fewer crowds and an easier time hitting all of your favorite attractions. Buying your tickets well in advance of your trip is also a common way to save money at amusement parks.

2. Stay at a vacation rental

If you’re planning to turn your amusement park visit into a longer getaway, the biggest advantage of staying at an on-site property is convenience. You can hop on a shuttle bus or even walk to the park. But if how to save money at amusement parks is the focus of your trip, you might want to consider alternate accommodations such as off-site hotels, vacation rentals or the home of a friend or relative.

Finding a vacation rental off-site is a way to save money at amusement parks.

Anthony finds that a vacation rental near an amusement park is like a home away from home for his family and one of the easiest ways to save money at amusement parks. He says there’s more space to relax and unwind, cook in a fully-equipped kitchen and avoid noisy crowds when his family wants some downtime.

If you’re worried that staying farther away from the park’s venue to travel on a budget could hike up your transportation costs, look into ride sharing services or public transit as a tip for saving money at amusement parks.

3. Pack a lunch

If you’re looking for ways to save money at amusement parks, know that food can take a big bite out of your budget if you buy at park restaurants and concession stands.

“I find you end up spending a lot of money on food when you’re not prepared,” Anthony says. “You didn’t pack your lunch, the kids are crying, so you end up going to some restaurant and dropping a hundred bucks.”

According to USA Today, the cost of various dining plans at major theme parks can be as high as $40 for children and $117 for adults per day. Before you embark on your trip, find out how to save money at amusement parks by going online and checking out the policy for bringing outside food, beverages and coolers into a particular venue. Many allow small snacks and meals that do not require heating, and if picnic areas are available, you can comfortably enjoy your own grub on park grounds.

“Just packing simple lunches for your family could easily save you $50 to $100 during one visit,” Anthony says.

Proctor also recommends packing an insulated cooler full of goodies and leaving it in your car as a money-saving tip for families. “When you get hungry, simply go out to your car for a short break,” he says. “Most amusement parks allow same-day re-entry, so this isn’t a problem at all.”

Having your own reusable water bottle is another way to save money at amusement parks. Not only will this help you conserve money as you refill at water fountains throughout the park, but it will also keep you hydrated while you’re on the go.

If packing your own meals doesn’t sound appealing or you’re a frugal foodie wanting to check out amusement park cuisine, order food a la carte as a tip for saving money at amusement parks. Skip fancy beverages and stick with water to avoid extra costs.

4. Save on souvenirs

Some people have a sentimental attachment to a particular theme park and insist on buying souvenirs, children may spot something during a visit they simply cannot live without and others may want a keepsake to remember a fun family vacation. But if you want to learn how to save money at amusement parks, you may need to stay clear of on-site gift shops.

Anthony says you can find less expensive souvenirs at local retail locations outside of the park or shop online from the comfort of your own home. T-shirts inspired by amusement parks can even be found at drugstore chains and discount retailers. Souvenir cups, a way to save money at amusement parks and still bring home a theme park memory, can typically be purchased at dining locations throughout a venue and can often save you money with free refills.

Anthony suggests you take a pass on souvenir photos shot while you’re enjoying the rides and have a friend or family member capture the moment instead. You also have the option of photographing your child posing with a favorite theme park character as a way to have fun without spending money instead of using a park’s official photographer for a fee.

If you're looking for tips for saving money at amusement parks, don't spring for pricey souvenirs.

5. Bring the essentials

Whether you’re staying for a few hours or a few days, one of the most important tips for saving money at amusement parks is planning ahead and bringing what you might need to make your experience more comfortable.

“One of the easiest ways to blow money at an amusement park is on essentials like a camera, sunscreen or a cap,” Anthony says.

If you’re focused on how to save money at amusement parks, pack your own sunscreen and consider bringing a portable umbrella and ponchos if the forecast calls for rain. Carry a water-resistant case or plastic bag with a zip-top closure to protect your phone or camera from rain and splashes on a water ride.

Since a blister or headache can ruin the day, make sure you carry a few basic first aid supplies such as bandages, blister patches and pain relievers.

Enjoy amusement parks on a budget

Before you head off for a whirlwind trip of roller coaster rides and carnival-style games, be sure to review these tips for saving money at amusement parks to ensure that your visit is as cost-effective as it is fun. Then you’ll be able to walk through the front gate with confidence that you can enjoy all that the park has to offer and keep your budget on track.


Don’t Be Surprised: 5 Things to Expect With Your Remodel

Budgeting. Scheduling. Disagreeing. Prepare for your home remodel to avoid unnecessary stress.

When Maggie Germano, 30, decided to renovate her home in Riverdale, Maryland, she wasn’t prepared for the process to be so difficult.

“It was the first time we’d ever been through a renovation, so we didn’t know what to expect,” she says. “When you’re going through renovations, your entire home is disrupted. It affects your way of life to have strangers in your home, and renovations can also be incredibly messy.”

Germano was also surprised when renovations to her kitchen, flooring and living room took much longer than expected and when the costs went up significantly after the estimate.

Wondering how to prepare for a remodel? Budgeting extra for contingencies is a smart tip.

Germano’s story doesn’t surprise Jason Biddle, the creator of The Helping Home, a website that helps adults renovate their homes to provide better accessibility as they age.

“Renovations are a commitment to the unknown,” he says. “Even those lucky enough to avoid any major curveballs must still deal with plenty of minor issues that pop up during the course of the renovation.”

Biddle believes it’s important to understand how to prepare for a remodel before diving into any work on your home. Here are five things to expect with your remodel, including home remodeling tips to avoid overspending:

1. Going over budget is common

You’ve finally saved up just enough money to pay for what you thought those granite countertops and stainless steel appliances would cost. A design change here, an installation issue there and you may be faced with a tough reality when those savings don’t quite cut it. It’s also easy to fall into a trap of overspending if your initial estimate is too low or no longer covers the scope of the project.

“Renovations are a commitment to the unknown. Even those lucky enough to avoid any major curveballs must still deal with plenty of minor issues that pop up during the course of the renovation.”

– Jason Biddle, creator of The Helping Home

John Bodrozic, co-founder of the home maintenance and remodeling tracking app HomeZada, believes that while going over budget is common, there are some basic home remodeling tips to avoid overspending.

“Taking the time upfront to plan out your specific design with all of your product choices is a great start,” he says. “People who know what they want and have done the various pricing research make it easier for contractors.”

Germano recommends signing a contract before the remodel kicks off and making it clear that the price quoted contains everything you agreed upon.

“If the contractor has to add any work, make sure they run it by you first,” she says. “In my experience, our contractors added work, making it seem like it wouldn’t be very much money. Unfortunately, we ended up spending more than we were planning to.”

While everyone dreams of a smooth home remodeling project, consider budgeting for more than your estimate in the event you do run over. You could stash your extra home remodeling funds in an online savings account so they are earning interest while your project is underway.

2. Scheduling can be a hassle

If you think it’s difficult to keep track of your children’s after-school activities and get them there on time, you’ll be astounded by the complex scheduling that can be involved in a remodel.

Scheduling hassles are among the most common things to expect with your remodel.

“Larger projects, like kitchen and bathroom remodels, tend to take more time because there is a specific sequence of different construction trades that must work on bringing everything together, like a complex puzzle,” Bodrozic says. “You first have demo and rough carpentry work, then electrical, plumbing and HVAC rough-in work. Then comes work like drywall, finish carpentry and tile trades and, finally, plumbing and electrical trades come back to install the various fixtures.”

When you’re determining how to prepare for a remodel, you may consider project delays if the work itself takes more time than expected. Another thing to expect with your remodel is that you could also encounter delays if the next trade person up to complete work is busy with other clients and can’t fit you in right away.


How Much Should You Budget for Home Repairs?

Consider these 4 questions to set up a home maintenance fund.

Buying a home might be one of the most exciting times in your life. It’s full of possibilities, but it’s also full of a whirlwind of paperwork and financial hurdles. One of those hurdles that can easily get lost in the shuffle of mortgage documents and closing costs: saving money for emergency home repairs.

“Homebuyers rarely consider how much it will cost to own, operate and maintain a house,” says Ilyce Glink, author of “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask” and publisher of, a personal finance and real estate educational website. “They’re very interested in looking at how much mortgage, taxes and insurance will cost, but if a homebuyer is on the edge of affordability, buying a bigger house with higher maintenance and upkeep could push him or her over the edge financially.”

When you save money for emergency home repairs you can be prepared for unexpected expenses.

In order to avoid this scenario, consider setting up a home maintenance and repair fund. But how much should you budget for home repairs, and how will budgeting for unexpected home repairs make your life easier as a homeowner? Consider the answers to the following four commonly asked questions:

1. How can a home maintenance fund help you?

Budgeting for unexpected home repairs helps to ensure that you have enough money to keep your home safe and in good working order. No one wants to deal with a leaky roof or a toilet that doesn’t flush.

For Lisa, who blogs only under her first name at Mad Money Monster, it literally took a lightning strike to encourage her to save money for emergency home repairs.

“I realized I needed to save for home repairs when lightning struck our neighbor’s tree on our fence line,” she says. “Unfortunately, it split and fell into my side yard. Interestingly, if a tree falls onto your property, regardless of where the roots live, you’re responsible.”

Luckily, Lisa explains, not only did the tree miss her newly installed fence by a few feet, but her neighbor agreed to pay for the cleanup, so mother nature’s havoc didn’t cost her anything. Had that not been the case, she says she was probably looking at $1,000 or more in cleanup and repairs.

“From that point on, I decided to dedicate a $100 per month for repairs in a separate bank account in order to be prepared for the unexpected,” she says.

Good thing, because when an ice storm hit a few years later, causing major damage to about 20 pine trees on her property and leaving her yard a mess of downed branches, she says she was able to tap these funds to pay for the $800 required to clean things up.

“The best part about having that home maintenance or repair fund is that I’ve eliminated the stress and worry that I dealt with before having one,” she says. “Even though I’m only saving $100 each month, that $100 adds up quickly and has come in handy more than once.”

2. How much should you budget for unexpected home repairs?

There are a couple of rules of thumb that can help guide you when budgeting for unexpected home repairs.

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Budgeting for unexpected home repairs and saving that money in a high-interest online savings account has a lot of benefits. You’ll earn interest on your funds while they are parked in your account, and with an FDIC-insured bank, your account will be insured up to the maximum allowed by law if the bank fails. Another online savings account benefit is that you can easily withdraw money when a home emergency pops up.1

“I have a separate online savings account where these funds live,” Lisa says.

Keeping your home repair and maintenance fund in a separate account can help you save money for emergency home repairs by making it more difficult to dip into the funds for an expense not related to its intended purpose.

Save money for emergency home repairs in a separate account to avoid spending those funds on something else.

Time to save money for emergency home repairs

Homeownership is a big responsibility with equally big costs. Most people think that the bulk of their costs come with the home down payment and closing, but unexpected home repairs can haunt you years later. As long as you determine how much you should budget for home repairs and come up with a game plan to save, you can enjoy your home stress-free—no scrambling when an unexpected home repair creeps up.

1 Federal law limits certain types of withdrawals and transfers from savings and money market accounts to a combined total of 6 per calendar month per account. There are no limits on ATM withdrawals or official checks mailed to you. To get an account with an unlimited number of transactions, consider opening a Discover Cashback Debit account. If you go over these limitations on more than an occasional basis, your account may be closed. See Section 11 of the Deposit Account Agreement for more details.


Who’s Covering the Paper Towels? How to Split Living Costs With Your Roommate

Take the stress out of your living situation with these 5 tips to better manage expenses with roommates.

Roommates aren’t just for college students. In fact, a study by the Pew Research Center found that in 2017, nearly 32 percent of U.S. adults had a roommate—an increase from the roughly 27 percent that lived in shared housing in 2004, the peak year of homeownership.

Maybe you love living with others, or maybe you see managing expenses with a roommate as a necessary evil until you’re ready to comfortably afford your own place. Whatever the reason you share your bathroom and kitchen with roomies, it can translate into at least one positive thing: real savings.

Just ask Josh Hastings, the founder of the personal finance blog Money Life Wax, and his wife Lauren. They own their home and estimate they save $7,500 per year by living with a roommate.

“It helps us with our mortgage and paying off student loans,” Hastings says. “We decided that to subsidize some costs, why not make use of our spare space?”

While sharing a house or apartment can help you save money on living expenses, you need to know how to split living costs with your roommate.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t financial challenges to living with others. Aside from remembering who cleaned the kitchen last, one of the biggest challenges of communal living is figuring out how to split living costs with your roommate.

What is the best way to split expenses with a roommate? Here are 5 tips to keep everyone happy and on the same page:

1. Decide together how to split costs

To manage expenses with a roommate, you have to determine how to fairly divide up household costs.

Ben Huber, a personal finance blogger who founded DollarSprout, believes it’s important to make sure everyone agrees on how to share costs—even roommates who move into an already established household.

“Each time a new tenant moved in, we sat down early on and tried to come up with general guidelines that would work for everyone involved,” he says. For his three-person arrangement, the deal is to share common household items and split the costs three ways.

In 2017 nearly 32 percent of U.S. adults had a roommate.

– Pew Research Center

However, one of Huber’s key tips for splitting bills with roommates is to avoid splitting the cost of bigger ticket items because of the complications it can create if someone moves out. If you’re furnishing a living room, for example, Huber recommends that everyone buy one or two items that they can own and take with them when it’s time to move out.

Hastings and his wife have slightly different tips for managing your shared expenses with roommates. Rather than split the bills down to the penny when they come in, the Hastings include a fixed amount to cover the cost of utilities in the rent they charge their roommate. They also use that fixed amount to cover shared household items, including cleaning products.

But they draw the line at personal items like blenders or other specialty kitchen tools. “When it comes to personal items, we don’t split costs,” Hastings says. “It is just easier this way in the long run.”

2. Develop an easy way to track expenses

Huber, who estimates he saves $10,000 a year by living with roommates, says one of his most effective tips for splitting bills with roommates is to track everything each person spends on shared expenses.

Wondering how to split living costs with your roommate? Be sure you have a method for tracking expenses.

To better manage expenses with his roommates, he documents each person’s purchases in a spreadsheet and evenly divides the expenses between the three of them at the end of each month. If someone picks up paper towels on the way home from work, for example, he knows he’ll get reimbursed and that everyone is contributing fairly.

“We all hold a single utility under our name,” Huber adds, “and then e-transfer the difference in our utility payments to one another’s bank accounts on the fifth day of each month.”

frugal foodie.

“Food is sometimes make or break for roommates,” Hastings says. “I have tried splitting food, and it seems to never work out. People like different things and use different brands.”

Huber and his roommates have accepted that one of the best tips for managing your shared expenses with roommates is being flexible, like sharing grocery bills for special occasions.

“We’ve all chipped in and fired up the grill numerous times for family dinners,” Huber says.

While the Hastings don’t typically share food with their roommate, they still help each other out to prevent last-minute trips to the grocery story. Hastings recently borrowed an ingredient from his roommate so he didn’t have to run out to the store.

“I ran out of canned tomatoes one time, and just replaced them the next day,” he says.

4. Create a roommate agreement

One thing that Hastings suggests to help manage expenses with a roommate is to create a roommate agreement. That’s in addition to the rental contract you have with your landlord. This ensures that all financial and housing responsibilities are clearly laid out.

“Draw up a contract that is flexible, but also has clear cut non-negotiables,” Hastings says. “Creating a contract upfront that addresses rent and utilities is the way to go.”

Your agreement could also address how to split living costs with your roommates and logistics related to cleaning schedules, parking and having guests over.

“Draw up a contract that is flexible, but also has clear cut non-negotiables. Creating a contract upfront that addresses rent and utilities is the way to go.”

– Josh Hastings, founder of the personal finance blog Money Life Wax

5. Consider unexpected expenses

You might know how to split common expenses, but how do you manage expenses with a roommate when they are unexpected? Agreeing to divide the cost of damage according to who is at fault is another one of Huber’s favorite tips for splitting bills with roommates.

“My longtime college friend and I both have dogs that, being dogs, inadvertently caused damage requiring repairs that went beyond what was covered by our original security deposit,” he says.

Since all three roommates had paid into the security deposit, it didn’t seem fair to use it to cover repairs that were the fault of two people. Huber and his fellow dog owner covered the expense so the third roommate wouldn’t lose his portion of the deposit.

If there is damage and everyone is at fault—ugh, marks on the hardwood floor from the kitchen chairs—then those expenses could be shared equally, Huber says.

To help manage expenses with a roommate and minimize the blow of unexpected housing costs, roommates could consider contributing money to a roommate emergency fund to ensure there’s cash on hand when a need arises.

If you're looking for tips for splitting bills with roommates, don't forget to account for unexpected expenses.

Having the awkward conversation is worth it

While it might feel awkward to talk to roommates about money, these are important conversations to have in order to ensure that you don’t end up arguing about who bought what and who owes what. By following these tips for managing your shared expenses with roommates, you’ll be able to spend less time worrying about money and how to split living costs with your roommate and more time just enjoying each other’s company.

“Living with other adults,” Hastings says, “provides me the opportunity to build lifelong friendships, in addition to saving money for future endeavors. As a fairly extroverted individual, I’ve been able to meet and actually enjoy cohabiting a space with individuals in similar stages in their lives.”


Are Gym Memberships Worth the Money?

These 6 questions can help you decide whether a gym membership belongs in your budget.

Beating your personal best. Becoming healthier and happier. Beginning to look and feel good. These are the promises many gyms make in exchange for a membership fee. But whether or not you need a gym to achieve these goals is often up for debate, especially when you’re keeping budget in mind. The constant pull between fitness and finances has many people asking: Are gym memberships worth the money?

“I think a gym membership is a great option if you plan to use it,” says Shannon McLay, founder and CEO of financial planning firm The Financial Gym. “Not only because it will keep you healthy, but the healthier you are, the less you will have to pay in medical expenses down the road due to poor health conditions.”

Still—that’s if you plan to make use of your gym membership. If you don’t hit the gym consistently, the membership cost could become a drag on your wallet, possibly for months or years on end. With that in mind, here are a few things to consider before buying a gym membership:

1. Is the gym within your budget?

The first thing to consider before buying a gym membership is how much you can afford to spend on the gym. The best way to know if you should start, cancel or keep a gym membership is to consult your budget: Do you have enough disposable income to cover the cost?

Is the cost of a gym membership within your budget—and will you use it—are things to consider before buying a gym membership.

From there, consider how often you’ll go and break down how much each visit will cost, McLay says. “Typically, I tell clients that their gym visits should be less than $20 per visit,” she says. “Otherwise, they should just invest in one-off classes or some other fitness activity.” More than this amount, she explains, and you could be paying higher than the national average for fitness classes and missing cost-effective alternatives.

It’s true that gyms come in all shapes and sizes, so compare the different offerings in your area to determine which is in line with your budget needs.

2. Are you truly committed to a fitness lifestyle?

Sure, working out regularly and improving yourself always sound like good resolutions.

“In all honesty, there’s nothing that will make you go to the gym if you’re not committed to making a change for yourself,” says personal trainer Jaclyn Phillips.

Before adding a gym membership to your budget, make sure the timing is right so you can reap the rewards of your fitness investment. If you’re committed to an extra crazy work schedule or prioritizing travel for the foreseeable future, for example, a new gym membership might go to waste. However, if you are committed to your fitness goals or a new extracurricular, a line item in your budget for the gym could motivate you to go and make your money’s worth.

“Typically, I tell clients that their gym visits should be less than $20 per visit. Otherwise, they should just invest in one-off classes or some other fitness activity.”

– Shannon McLay, founder and CEO of financial planning firm The Financial Gym

3. Do you have enough time and energy to use the gym regularly?

It’s no secret: Working out takes time and energy. One of the things to consider before buying a gym membership is whether or not you can carve out time in your schedule to use the facility regularly.

You should be “ready to commit to going to the gym at least three days per week,” McLay says, explaining that at least 12 visits per month will often average less than spending on individual classes. “If you can’t commit to actually going to the gym, it’s definitely not worthwhile.”

If your packed schedule means the answer to ‘are gym memberships worth the money?’ is ‘no’ for the time being, you can pursue one-off classes as your calendar permits. If you end up finding more free time or working out becomes more of a priority, you can then re-evaluate if a gym membership fits into your budget.

4. Does the gym offer useful or motivating amenities?

In addition to being a place to focus on fitness, gyms can also be an outlet for fun, activity and relaxation. Some gyms may even offer services or amenities that make it more likely you’ll stick with your new workout routine and can help you decide whether to cancel or keep a gym membership.

“Joining a gym that has a variety of amenities so you can mix up your workout (like a relaxing sauna or hot tub) can help,” says Phillips, when listing the kinds of things to consider before buying a gym membership. “It’s also helpful to find some kind of facility that has a class or type of exercise that you actually enjoy, such as a boxing class or yoga.”

If you're asking yourself are gym memberships worth the money, look for a gym that offers extras that are important to you.

McLay agrees. “If you like to attend classes, then make sure the gym has a robust class schedule with multiple options,” she says. “If you like working out on a treadmill, then make sure the gym has multiple and that you’re assured they will be available when you are in attendance.”

5. Does the gym require a lengthy contract?

Gyms know that people don’t always stick with their membership in the long run. That’s why many facilities require you to sign a contract, sometimes for up to a year, before you can get started. Yet when you first sign the contract, it may be difficult to know whether you’ll really like the gym. That’s why both McLay and Phillips say to avoid a contract that asks you to commit to a term you’re not comfortable with, even if that means finding a different gym.

If you think you’ve found the perfect gym but the contract’s term has you concerned, ask about using guest passes or a no-fee trial to test out the facility to make sure it’s a strong fit.

Deciding whether to cancel or keep a gym membership if you’re not using it gets a little bit trickier when you’ve signed a lengthy contract.

“I had a client who wanted to cancel a gym membership and she would have had to buy out the remainder of the contract term to exit the contract early,” McLay says. This is fairly common for gyms that require membership agreements, Phillips adds.

“Also, be wary of facilities that try to upsell you on extras like towels and other items you can easily bring from home,” Phillips says. When you’re going through the list of things to consider before buying a membership, McLay cautions against gyms that have a lot of upfront startup costs, such as an initiation fee or an additional annual fee.

“In all honesty, there’s nothing that will make you go to the gym if you’re not committed to making a change for yourself.”

– Jaclyn Phillips, personal trainer

6. Can you get the workout you need elsewhere?

Finally, when asking yourself ‘are gym memberships worth the money?’ consider whether you really need an exercise facility in the first place. It’s possible that you don’t, especially if you don’t know whether you’re truly committed yet or if you have enough time to actually use it.

“A lot of my clients are moms and busy women who only have time to do at-home workouts,” Phillips says. “You really only need a couple pieces of equipment (like dumbbells, kettlebells and resistance bands) that you can get at Walmart for fairly cheap.” You can also choose no-cost activities such as running, biking or hiking if you’re looking for ways to get fit on a budget.

McLay has some suggestions for finding no- or low-cost DIY workouts as well.

“I advise clients to look into free apps on their phone or YouTube videos of workout options,” she says. “You can also look into buying individual class passes to try out a number of workout routines or follow health and wellness influencers on Instagram and Facebook to get free workout plans and suggestions.”

To cancel or keep a gym membership

There are many things to consider before buying a gym membership or deciding whether to cancel or keep a gym membership you’ve held for some time.

If you're wondering whether to cancel or keep a gym membership, remember that a healthy lifestyle can fit your budget.

If you’re ready to commit to a healthy lifestyle and find room in your budget, signing up for a gym membership may bring great value. It can even save you money in the long run despite the short-term sting of an additional monthly bill. Regular exercise has been proven to reduce healthcare costs, especially for conditions like cardiovascular disease and obesity.

But, the experts agree, if you’re not yet committed to using a gym regularly, it might be better to pass on that membership for now. Better to wait until you’re truly ready.


A How-To Guide to Modern Tipping

I recently escaped to Lake Tahoe for some much needed rest and relaxation. After hours in the car with two kids, we finally arrived at our hotel, desperate to cool our heels in the pool.

And then it happened. The bellman brought our luggage to our room, and my husband and I exchanged horrified looks. He said, “Do you have cash for a tip?”

With so many of us leading cashless lives and relying on plastic these days, it’s hard to remember to tip, let alone what amount we should be tipping and ultimately budgeting for. Never fear! I caught up with Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert and founder of The Protocol School of Texas. Gottsman shared some advice on when to tip, who to tip and what to tip.


Gottsman advises to never skip a tip. Tip restaurant servers 18 – 20 percent or more for exceptional service, and even if service is poor, speak to the manager and leave 10 percent. While tipping is standard for almost all U.S. restaurants, some big-city venues are introducing new no-tipping policies.

In-home food delivery services like EAT24 and GrubHub make meal planning a breeze, but don’t forget the driver. A delivery fee is not the same as a tip. Generally, for orders less than $20, a minimum of $3 (or more) is customary. For larger amounts, opt for 10 –15 percent of the cost of the food. Factor in inclement weather and high volume traffic during major events and holidays when calculating the tip.

When running a tab, bartenders should be tipped 15 to 20 percent of the bill or $1 per drink. And if that tip jar is staring you down at your favorite coffee shop, don’t feel obligated. If you have exceptional customer service, however, feel free to drop in .50 – $1.


Before you jump in a Lyft or Uber, check their tipping guidelines. Uber factors tips into fares, while Lyft allows gratuity and you can tip through their app. Meanwhile, traditional taxi services should be tipped around 15 percent – up to 20 percent for assistance with heavy luggage. And don’t skip that tip for curbside check-in at the airport: $5 minimum for one bag, $2-$3 per bag for multiple bags.


If Airbnb is your preferred style for lodging, the host does not require a tip. However, stellar feedback and reviews are always appreciated. A small gift basket or bottle of wine may be appropriate if your host went above and beyond to make your stay comfortable.

At hotels, valets should receive between $3 – $5. There’s no need to tip the hotel doorman for friendly “hello” unless they assist you with shopping bags or offer an umbrella from the front door to a taxi in inclement weather. A bellman should be tipped $1 – $2 per bag, and if you’re ordering room service, tip 15 – 20 percent of the bill. Be sure to check first to see if gratuity has been added.

Salon and Spa

Whether it’s a manicure, pedicure, massage or hair styling, tip 15– 20 percent. Always check the salon tipping policy. Some businesses don’t accept tips, some are cash only, while others may include the gratuity in your bill.

Gottsman adds, “The ceremony of tipping never goes out of style. It’s always appropriate to make sure the person who provides you with a service, whether it be in hospitality, travel, or beauty is appropriately tipped.”

Do you have a tipping quandary that Mint can help with? Ask us on Twitter at @mint, and you may see yourself on the blog!

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Are We There Yet? 5 Tips for a Frugal Road Trip

Coolers, cheap gas, a car checkup and other tips for enjoying your next road trip on a budget.

When traveling with family or friends, it’s hard to beat the memories you’ll make on a road trip: taking in panoramic views, cruising through coastal towns, stopping at roadside fruit stands. Experiencing life on the road—at least for a little bit—can really put things into perspective.

But those memory-making experiences can turn sour pretty quickly if you don’t plan ahead. Who wants to be stranded 20 miles from civilization and paying for a costly tow truck, all because you forgot to map out when and where to fill up your gas tank?

With proper travel prep and financial planning, you’ll have only fun memories of your road trip for years to come—instead of guilt for that time you way overspent.

Planning ahead is one of the easiest ways to save money on road trips, so you can focus on making memories.

How do you save money on a road trip? It’s easier than you might think. Check out these five tips to make your next vacation a frugal road trip:

1. Plan your trip in advance

In order to have a road trip on a budget, it’s good to have a realistic expectation of what the trip will cost. Despite higher gas prices, road trips were the most popular vacation option for families staying stateside in 2018. Nearly two-thirds of families planning a summer vacation in 2018 were expected to hit the road, according to roadside assistance provider AAA.

If you’re joining the throngs of road-trippers, the best way to save money on a road trip is to plan, plan, plan. “Do your research ahead of time, and estimate your trip costs in advance,” says Desmond Henry, a certified financial planner at Afflora Financial Life Planning in Topeka, Kansas.

If you want to plan ahead, look to how other people have managed frugal road trips by checking out travel review websites. “You can go into the reviews and see other travelers’ tips for a destination that you’re going to,” Henry says. “Maybe you have a lot of people that are saying ‘don’t pay extra for this,’ or ‘instead of parking in that parking lot, if you park a few blocks down, there’s a free shuttle.’”

Nearly two-thirds of families planning a summer vacation in 2018 were expected to take a road trip.


J.R. Duren, a personal finance analyst at consumer product review website HighYa, finds it beneficial to get a head start on planning a road trip on a budget to give his family more options of things to do. By comparing prices of various activities ahead of time, you can figure out how to stretch your vacation dollars further—and know how much you need to save for those non-negotiable activities.

“If you want to give yourself and your kids the best experience, start planning ahead and set a savings goal,” Duren says. “The last thing you want to do is be stressed out on the vacation because money is running out.”

unexpected breakdown. Otherwise, you may end up paying for repairs that cost much more than routine and preventive maintenance—and during times when you’d rather be out sightseeing and enjoying your vacation.

As you prepare for your frugal road trip, take the vehicle you will be traveling in to a reputable auto repair shop or dealer’s service department for preventive maintenance, says Richard Piatt, a certified credit counselor with Consumer Credit of Des Moines.

If you happen to need a standard oil change before your trip, many service centers will offer a free multi-point checkup of your vehicle and examine fluid levels, the battery, tire pressure, brakes and more. You can tell the auto shop that you’ll be traveling and how many miles you plan to clock on your adventure.

Even if your car has been checked out and is ready to go, you’ll also want to be prepared in the event of an emergency on the road. Be on the safe side and equip your car with emergency supplies like a flashlight, first aid kit, drinking water, food for passengers and pets, battery booster cables, tools to change a flat tire and emergency flares or reflectors.

3. Download travel apps

There’s an app for everything, including those that can be used as a way to save money on road trips. Fueling up at the gas station could be a big part of any road trip budget, so consider leveraging apps that can help locate the cheapest gas stations. “The gas station that is right off the highway is typically the worst place to get gas,” financial planner Henry says. “They always seem to be the most expensive.”

For a frugal road trip, you’ll also want to consider route-planning apps to help identify what you’re up against on the road, from construction-related slowdowns to common speeding checkpoints to accidents blocking traffic. “These could really put a damper on a trip and waste gas,” credit counselor Piatt says.

Several apps also provide information about amenities available at nearby exits, from restaurants to rest stops. Otherwise, you may end up wasting gas—and money—by aimlessly meandering, or you could find yourself settling for something over-budget when there is a more cost-effective option nearby. “It’s nice to know what’s coming up to avoid getting off the exit and having it be a dead end,” says Bonnie Sewell, a certified financial planner at American Capital Planning in Leesburg, Virginia.

Travel apps are key to planning frugal road trips

But be careful going with the default route if ways to save money on road trips are more important to you than saving time. “Most of these apps that try to keep you on the fastest route will keep navigating back to the toll road,” Sewell says. You may want to choose a route that steers clear of tollways if you’re looking to avoid additional costs and keep your road trip on a budget.

4. Eat on the cheap

Another way to take a road trip on a budget is to pack your own food and beverages in a cooler rather than relying solely on eating out. Piatt says if a family of four eats at a fast-food restaurant, the tab will likely be at least $20. If your family eats one fast-food meal a day over a two-week time period, “you’re talking about [at least] $280 just in eating fast, unhealthy food,” he says. If you’re grabbing fast food twice a day, you’re up to more than $560.

If food is your thing, experiencing the local cuisine will be an important part of your travel. Henry recommends doing some light grocery shopping for breakfast and lunch food and then dining out for dinner to be a frugal foodie. He personally makes a point of staying at hotels that offer complimentary breakfasts and fully takes advantage of them as a way to save money on road trips.

“If you can knock out one free meal a day for your family, that’s huge savings,” Henry says. “We’re also not shy about grabbing a piece of fruit for a mid-morning snack.”

“You typically can find a whole apartment or whole home rental that’s cheaper or equivalent to what you’d pay at a hotel. You get the added benefit of having your own kitchen, which can save you money on food. It’s fun to go out and shop at local supermarkets and farmers markets.”

– J.R. Duren, personal finance analyst at HighYa

5. Find affordable accommodations

Consider staying at a vacation rental for your road trip on a budget. “You typically can find a whole apartment or whole home rental that’s cheaper or equivalent to what you’d pay at a hotel,” Duren says. “You get the added benefit of having your own kitchen, which can save you money on food. It’s fun to go out and shop at local supermarkets and farmers markets.”

You can also try booking a last-minute hotel room if you’re feeling spontaneous. “Nothing replaces walking into a hotel, talking to the manager on duty and saying, ‘We’re thinking about stopping for the night. What’s your best rate?’ You might have to be prepared to leave if the rate isn’t good and see if the next hotel is more accommodating,” Sewell says.

Enjoy your road trip on a budget

Taking a vacation with your family or friends doesn’t have to break the bank. In fact, it shouldn’t. With some mindful research ahead of time, you can map out a frugal road trip that the whole family will enjoy.


Asking for a Promotion in an Unsteady Market

As an employee, it’s natural to worry about the financial health of your organization. If the company you work for is doing well, there will likely be more opportunities for everyone to get what they deserve. If the company you work for isn’t doing well – say, because of a global pandemic and ensuing economic recession – asking for what you deserve becomes a little more complicated.

Even if you’re long overdue for a raise or promotion, it can be awkward to ask for more money when business is bad. A struggling economy also gives your employer a ready-made excuse to deny your request. But even if the timing isn’t perfect, you have every right to ask for what you deserve. It just might take a little more finesse to get your employer on board, which is why we’ve put together this guide to help you make the strongest argument possible.

How to Ask for a Raise During a Recession

Negotiating a higher salary during a recession is still acceptable, especially if you’re being underpaid or providing much more value than expected. Many companies have continued to grow and be profitable during the recession, so you shouldn’t feel bad asking for more money.

Here are the best steps to take when negotiating:

Collect Relevant Data

Before going into the negotiation, you need to figure out what you can realistically expect. Use data from sites like Glassdoor,, and Payscale. Most of these sites let you filter salaries based on location, education, and experience, allowing you to find a custom number.

For example, if you live in Columbus, Ohio, you should try to find salaries from similarly sized Midwestern cities. Higher cost-of-living cities like New York or Los Angeles could skew the data. If you’re having trouble finding salary information, reach out to your local network and ask for opinions on a fair salary for someone in your position. 

Proceed carefully if you’re asking for more money because your coworkers make more than you. If there are only one or two other people in a similar role, it could be easy for them to be outed as the ones who shared their salary information. This could make it uncomfortable for them. In any case, you would still need objective data to back up your request. 

If there are dozens of people in your company in similar roles, then you can be honest and say that you discovered you’re being underpaid.

Prove Your Value

Tori Dunlap of Her First $100K teaches negotiation workshops and courses. She has helped women ask for $400,000 more in salary and benefits over the course of her career. She said the key to a successful negotiation is proving your value with exact figures. Did you make the company more money? Go above and beyond your job description? Did you save the company money? Take on responsibilities from a coworker who left?

When Dunlap worked as a social media manager, she advocated for a raise by showing how much money in ad sales she saved by driving organic traffic to her employer’s website. 

Take some time to brainstorm ways you’ve contributed to the company. Ask a coworker familiar with your work if they have any suggestions. Better understanding your value will also help you feel confident in your request because you’ll know you’re worth it.

Change Your Mindset

It’s easy to think of a negotiation as an old-fashioned stand-off between two opponents, but you don’t have to see your supervisor as an adversary. Instead, think of it as a conversation between two people trying to solve a problem.

“Anytime you’re approaching a negotiation, approach it with grace and gratitude,” Dunlap said.

This attitude is especially crucial during a recession when so many companies are being forced to cut jobs. Before launching into your request, mention how much you like working there.

Ask for the Right Number

A basic rule of negotiating is to ask for more money than you actually want, like asking for $60,000 when you’d be happy with $50,000. Most employers are going to negotiate down, so it’s crucial to start with a higher figure.

Instead of asking for a specific number, Dunlap says it’s better to provide a range. This makes the employer feel like they have more of a choice. For example, instead of asking for $75,000, ask for somewhere between $72,000 and $77,000. Salary data you find online is often provided as a range, so framing your request this way makes sense.

How to Handle Rejection

If you’re denied a raise, try to negotiate for more perks like extra paid vacation days. Dunlap said one of her favorite benefits to ask for is an educational stipend to pay for classes, conferences, and workshops. This helps you learn more skills that you can add to your resume without taking on extra expenses. You can also try to negotiate for a more prestigious title, which can make it easier to land your next job. For example, if you’re currently a junior accountant, ask if your title can be staff accountant instead.

If your employer says that now is not a good time for a raise, ask if you can set some metrics that would guarantee a raise in six months if met. For example, if you can reach a certain sales target in six months, you’ll be eligible for a $10,000 raise.

There’s also the possibility that your employer won’t be receptive to any kind of negotiation, even if you’re a highly-productive employee who is significantly underpaid. This kind of negative, definitive response is a major red flag. “If they’re not willing to talk to you, they’re not going to see your value for the rest of your time there,” Dunlap said. “So it might be time to look for another job.”

When you get your next offer, remember to negotiate your starting salary and benefits using some of the tips mentioned above.

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