Free Downloadable Chore Wheel: Divide and Conquer Your Apartment Cleaning

One of the most difficult situations roommates face is deciding who will take care of what chores. Obviously, each roommate is in charge of keeping his or her bedroom and bathroom clean, but what about common areas? Who does the dishes and who vacuums? Before you and your roommate resort to fisticuffs over who will take out the trash, consider an easier, more peaceful solution: A chore wheel. This simple DIY project will take you less than 10 minutes to create, and when it’s done, you’ll have an easy way to divide up household chores. You and your roommate(s) will trade off tasks so everyone does their part and no one is stuck with the chore they hate for very long.

Ready to pitch the pigsty? Download and assemble our free chore wheel to restore order to your apartment.

What you’ll need:

  • Chore wheel templates (download links are below)
  • Cardboard
  • Glue
  • Scissors
  • Permanent marker
  • Hole punch
  • Paper fastener

free downloadable chore wheelfree downloadable chore wheel

Making the Wheel

Step 1: Download one of the following chore wheel templates, depending on how many people live in your apartment.

  • Two people: If your household consists of you and just one roommate, download this template. Your wheel will contain either six or eight chores – your choice.
  • Three people: If your household is you and two roommates, download this template. Your wheel will contain six chores.
  • Four people: If your household is you and three roommates, download this template. Your wheel will contain eight chores.

Step 2: Print out the chore wheel template you downloaded. You don’t have to print in color, but doing so will make your chore wheel a lot prettier.

Step 3: Cut out each circle.

free downloadable chore wheelfree downloadable chore wheel

Step 4: Glue each circle to a piece of cardboard.

free downloadable chore wheelfree downloadable chore wheel

Step 5: Cut the cardboard to match the circle. Now you should have two circles with cardboard backing.

free downloadable chore wheelfree downloadable chore wheel

Step 6: On the bigger circle, write your name and the names of your roommate(s) in each section. On the smaller circle, assign each section to a different household chore. You might label it like this:

free downloadable chore wheelfree downloadable chore wheel

(Betty is my fictional roommate.)

The exact labels are up to you, and they depend on what sorts of cleaning your apartment needs. For example, if your apartment has stairs, you might put “vacuum stairs” in one section, but if not, you might use that section for “dust bookshelves” or something else.

Try to keep big chores on opposite sides of the chore wheel. For example, doing the dishes can be a big task, but taking out the trash only takes a few minutes. Try to make sure each roommate will take on a similar workload each week.

Step 7: When both circles are labeled, punch a hole in the center of each one. You can use a hole punch or bore a hole in each circle with the pointy end of a sharp knife. (Just remember to place a cutting board underneath, and be careful!)

Step 8: Push the paper fastener through the hole to join the two circles together.

Your chore wheel is complete!

Using the Chore Wheel

To use it, just twist the top wheel so certain sections line up with each roommate’s name. That person will be in charge of those chores for the amount of time you choose together. For example, this week I’ll be in charge of taking out the trash, vacuuming and cleaning the bathroom, while Fictional Roommate Betty will clean the kitchen, dust and pick up the living room.

free downloadable chore wheelfree downloadable chore wheel

You can switch it up every week, every other week, or as often as you like. Now our responsibilities are reversed.

free downloadable chore wheelfree downloadable chore wheel

You could also move the top wheel one wedge at a time instead of flipping it 180 degrees. You and your roommate(s) can decide what works best for your household.

More advice on the Apartment Guide Blog:

How is your chore wheel working out in your apartment?




10 Money Books for Children and Teens

Reading is one of the most valuable skills children learn. Not only does reading enable us to navigate the modern world, it provides an endless source of learning and entertainment.

I am incredibly thankful that all of my children are avid readers who love nothing more than to have a fresh new book in their hands, but over the years, I’ve learned that you can’t just toss any book at them and expect them to read it. They’re engaged by compelling stories and by things that match up well with their interests in the moment. They’re not immediately going to gravitate to a book about money unless it speaks to them in some way.

Why worry about it at all? The reality is that financial education is a big part of modern parenting. Many schools provide very little in terms of practical financial education, leaving it up to parents to prepare their children for this aspect of adult life, and it can be a real challenge.

There’s an abundance of great financial books for adults, but it’s harder to find great options for children that really hit the sweet spot of being age-relevant and interesting to them. Here are 10 options that manage to balance these two goals.

In this article

The Berenstain Bears’ Trouble with Money by Stan and Jan Berenstain is a wonderful picture book for read aloud time or for early independent readers. It tells a relatable story from the perspective of the two younger Berenstain Bears about the challenge of having limited amounts of money. Children are going to be familiar with the idea of not having enough money to buy the things that they want, but what do they do in that situation? This book handles it with care.

Another good financially minded book choice for preschool children is Curious George Saves His Pennies by H.A. Rey. It focuses on the challenge of having enough patience to save for a large goal without getting distracted, balanced with George’s colorful adventures and distractions.

Brock, Rock, and the Savings Shock by Sheila Bair and Barry Gott takes the idea of compound interest and makes it into an accessible children’s book with a lot of clever rhyming and beautiful illustrations. The book focuses on twin brothers, one of whom chooses to spend on momentary impulses while the other saves his money, leading to the end when the saving brother has a lot of money built up thanks to the compounding.

Another great choice for early elementary children is The Squirrel Manifesto by Ric and Jean Edelman and illustrated by Dave Zaboski. It’s a beautifully illustrated book that brings to mind the fable of the grasshopper and the ant, focusing on a parable involving a squirrel saving resources for the winter to come.

For upper elementary kids: Lunch Money

Lunch Money by Andrew Clements and illustrated by Brian Selznick tells a great story of a rivalry between two entrepreneurially minded children, but within the rollicking tale comes a lot of good ideas about working to earn money, the value of cooperation, investing in yourself, and putting aside money for the long haul. These ideas are really effortlessly weaved into the story.

An alternative choice is How to Turn $100 into $1,000,000 by James McKenna, Jeannine Glista and Matt Fontaine. While this isn’t story-oriented like many of the other selections here, the provocative title and the perfect approach for older elementary-age children who are beginning to have somewhat more expensive tastes make this a great choice for adolescents.

Money Hungry by Sharon Flake tells a very memorable story about a 13-year-old girl who seems obsessed with money, finding all sorts of ways to earn a dollar here and a dollar there. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that she’s driven by a fear of poverty and some painful memories of not having enough when she was younger. This book has spurned some wonderful conversations in our home about money, needs and how different people see those things differently.

Another really great option for middle schoolers is Katie Bell and the Wishing Well by Nephi and Elizabeth Zufelt, which takes something of an opposite approach to Money Hungry. Here, the titular character finds all of her financial wishes easily granted, but finds that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be and that much of what we think of as a wealthy life comes from other things, like relationships.

The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen is a beautiful story about a teenager with a summer job who is using that opportunity to both earn money and escape from some difficult life issues, particularly the death of a parent. The book intertwines money issues with the multitude of concerns and difficulties teens often face, resulting in a wonderful story with a great conclusion.

A completely different type of financial book that might just click with your high schooler is I Want More Pizza by Steve Burkholder and editors Rebecca Maizel and David Aretha. This is a nonfiction book, but it’s extremely applicable to and targets almost perfectly the financial concerns of high schoolers. Should they get a job? Should they be saving for college or for a car? It does a great job of addressing the exact questions I often hear from the high schooler in my home.

We welcome your feedback on this article. Contact us at with comments or questions.


Wondering How to Become an Audiobook Narrator? Here’s How

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2019. 

While readers and writers have skeptically watched the fluctuating publishing industry in recent years, one literary market has caught us all a bit by surprise: audiobooks.

Somewhere along the path of lengthy commutes and ubiquitous smartphones, a market for audiobooks erupted: people who don’t otherwise read much.

This exploding market makes it imperative for authors and publishers to get books into audio form and on the most popular platforms — Audible (Amazon) and iTunes.

Enter Amazon’s Audiobook Creative Exchange (ACX), which connects audiobook narrators with books to narrate.

Like other publishing services you’ll find at Amazon — CreateSpace for print-on-demand books, CDs and DVDs; and Kindle Direct Publishing for ebooks — ACX simplifies the process of producing an audiobook from start to finish.

If you’re an actor or voice-over artist, you could make money working in this market.

Not sure where to start? Here’s our guide.

How to Become an Audiobook Narrator

Actor Kris Keppeler has been doing voice-over work for over a decade.

“I got started through freelancing and bidding on work,” Keppeler said. “I bid on a short audiobook and got that, and it went well. When ACX came along, I started auditioning there… It’s taken a little bit to discover where my voice fits.”

Based on her experience, Keppeler shares some advice — and warnings — for anyone interested in doing audiobook work.

What You Need to Know Before Auditioning

Before you spend months auditioning to land your first gig, we have some tips to help you get started.

“My voice just fits with audiobook work,” Keppeler said. “Actors are especially tuned in for audiobook work, by the nature of our training.”

That’s because actors learn how to represent multiple characters, necessary for fiction narration in particular. Even for nonfiction, acting training can help you animate narration and make a book interesting.

“You definitely have to have some training,” Keppeler said. “If you regularly listen to audiobooks and like them, that’s a good starting point. But you have to have a real desire to do this kind of work, because it’s a lot of work.”

How is narrating an audiobook different from just reading a book aloud?

“When you read a book, you’re seeing and hearing things in your mind,” she said. “When you’re narrating that book, what you’re seeing and hearing in your mind you have to then vocalize. That’s not easy!”

Because an audiobook listener relies entirely on your narration, painting the picture just right (and meeting the author’s vision) is vital. It’s a distinct difference from other voice-over work, like commercials, where images or video complement the narration.

Because of this need to draw the reader into a made-up world, narrating fiction requires acting skills. Not everyone is cut out for it.

But, “nonfiction has its own challenge,” Keppeler said. “Sometimes what you’re reading is kind of dry, but you still have to make it interesting.”

She says it doesn’t necessarily matter whether a book is interesting to her.

“At this point, whether it is or not, I am narrating it and finding the interesting bits for me and putting it into my voice,” Keppeler said.

Even if you don’t enjoy the subject matter, you can still enjoy the process of producing the book for readers.

Learn Proper Technique

Before landing her first gig through ACX, Keppeler submitted auditions to the platform for well over a year.

Why does it take so long to land a gig?

Some of it, Keppeler says, is just learning how to narrate correctly. “I had some coaching that finally brought me to the point of doing a fairly good job.”

Author Joanna Penn recorded the audio versions of some of her own books. If you can’t afford coaching, she offers some tips for beginners at The Creative Penn to help you get started.

Some tricks to consider:

  • If you’re new at recording, schedule sessions a few days apart to ensure you have enough energy.
  • Try to avoid dairy before recording. Same goes for foods like peanut butter or anything that clogs up your mouth or throat (yeck!).
  • Try to modulate your breathing so you don’t end up holding your breath. This has a real effect on stamina.

Find Your Niche

Once she’d mastered the audiobook reading techniques, Keppeler said, she had to find her niche.

She used trial and error. She took whatever narration work came her way, and listened to client feedback. When an author liked her voice, she knew it was a good fit.

“In voice-over in general, there are so many different genres,” she said. “Most people find you have certain specialities and certain ones don’t fit.”

Once you know your voice and which genres are the best fit, she says, jobs come much more quickly.

Only audition for gigs that fit your voice, and the success rate is much higher. You can even search for books by genre.

“I’m becoming a bit of a nonfiction specialist,” Keppeler said. “[When it comes to fiction], it’s hard to learn to do the different voices… Fiction books are heavily character-based, so you’re going to have to handle [those] unless you’re hired to work with a group, but that’s not that common.”

The Challenges of Audiobook Narration

Some of the work involved goes beyond just recording the voice-over. “Especially if you work through ACX, you have to do the producing yourself,” Keppeler said. “[That’s] editing and mastering yourself. There’s a technical learning curve.”

Audiobooks require hours and hours of editing, making them much more labor intensive than a lot of other voice-over work.

“What I learned editing smaller jobs contributed a lot to being able to jump into audiobooks,” Keppeler said.

So you might consider starting small.

Search online for voice-over jobs — you’ll find promotional videos under five minutes or corporate training videos of five to 15 minutes.

Even online course videos requiring a few hours of voice-over are much shorter than most audiobooks, which run closer to 10 to 15 hours. Hone your skills on smaller jobs and work your way up to the lengthier projects.

What about contracting the technical stuff out to an audio editor? Keppeler says that for what you’re paid, it’s not usually worth it for an audiobook.

You’re expected to record, produce and deliver a finished product. Any additional help you bring in will cut into your pay. Keppeler says you’re better off just learning to do it yourself.

The Creative Penn also offers a few editing tips:

  • Avoid page turning noises — read from a tablet, Kindle or other electronic device.
  • Turn off any devices’ Wi-Fi connections and set them to Airplane mode to avoid static noises. (They may be there, even if you can’t hear them.)
  • Each ACX file needs to be a single chapter of the book. It’s easier to record these as separate files rather than cut it up later.
  • The ACX technical requirements mean you have to add a few seconds of Room Tone at the beginning and end of the file.

How Much Money Can You Make Reading Audiobooks?

ACX doesn’t set or recommend rates for producers to charge.

But it does point out many narrators are members of the SAG-AFTRA union, which lists minimum rate restrictions.

These guaranteed rates vary by publisher/producer. Author Roz Morris tells authors to expect to pay around $200 per finished hour for audiobook narration.

However, Keppeler says most freelance audiobook work will be paid in royalties. As you might guess, this reduces an author’s upfront cost — as well as their risk in hiring you.

While ACX may be a good place to find the work, the pay is usually lower, especially compared with freelance broker sites that aren’t dedicated solely to audiobook narration.

When you record an audiobook with ACX, you’ll choose between setting your own per-finished-hour rate or splitting royalties 50/50 with the rights holder (usually the book’s author or publisher).

If you charge a flat rate, you’ll be paid upon completion of the book. Royalties are paid monthly based on sales from the previous month.

Mostly, Keppeler focuses on short books she can quickly complete. And she gets paid a flat rate of about $100 per finished hour, rather than royalties.

“I have done royalty deals but only on ACX with short books,” she said.

“I don’t want to tie up my time, because you [typically] make very little on royalty books… I have four royalty books [on ACX], and about $20 trickles in every quarter.”

Whether or not a royalty deal pays off is largely based on an author’s platform, The Creative Penn points out. Research an author before signing an agreement.

If you’re just looking for a quick job and aren’t concerned with long-term sales, you can work with an author regardless of their audience. Set a flat rate, and get your money when the job’s done.

But if you want to develop a long-term relationship with an author and you’ve found someone with a sizable audience, you may be better off with the royalty deal.

Long term, you could make much more money in sales royalties. Your working relationship with the author also will be strengthened, because you’ll be invested in the book’s success.

Where to Find Audiobook Work

As with any freelance work, booking a gig directly with the client in your network allows you the most autonomy in setting your rate.

Connecting with a client through a freelance broker like Upwork and Freelancer offers less autonomy and usually lower rates than working with someone directly.

Bidding through an exchange site like ACX offers the lowest of both.

“I only go out to ACX when I don’t have other paid work,” Keppeler said.

ACX also makes it difficult to achieve one of the staples of successful freelance work: repeat clients.

Keppeler said the platform isn’t really set up to connect authors with narrators long-term. Instead you audition for each job. It eliminates a huge opportunity for narrators to work with an author on a series or future books.

Directly connecting through a freelance broker does offer that opportunity. Keppeler said it’s how she found the author of this series of books on Wicca, which offered her ongoing work.

What ACX is good for, she said, is building your portfolio.

If you’re just getting started, the platform gives you an opportunity to hone your chops.

Practice your narrating and editing skills through auditions, and improve from author feedback. Once you land a few gigs, use those as samples to land clients elsewhere.

As audiobooks increase in popularity, Keppeler is seeing more audiobook work appear on Upwork. Freelancers, she says, tend to be better for general voice-over gigs, but not audiobook narration.

Audiobook Narrator Must-Haves

Keppeler’s top tip for anyone getting into voice-over work is to invest in a good microphone and headphones.

Early on, she says,  “I lost out on work because I didn’t have a really great pair of headphones, and there was background noise that I wasn’t hearing. If you send something out that’s not good enough, they will never hire you again.”

Eventually, she hired a professional to help improve her set-up. She says she wishes she had done it up front, instead of DIYing.

A good pre-amp or audiobox can also help clean up your sound and eliminate background noise. But Keppeler warns against buying a cheap one — it’s a tool worth spending money on.

Finally, “You have to have a desire to learn the technical part of it,” she said. “You can ruin an audiobook with bad editing.”

How to Get Started

ACX offers comprehensive guides and FAQs for authors, narrators and publishers, so review those before you get started.

Here’s an overview of how it works:

  1. Create a profile to detail your experience.

  2. Upload samples to your profile to showcase your various skills — accents, genre, style, etc.

  3. Determine whether you’ll always want to be paid per finished hour or by royalty agreements, or if you’re open to either.

  4. Search for books authors/publishers have posted, and record a few minutes of the manuscript to audition for the gig.

  5. When you’re chosen by the author/publisher, they’ll send you an offer. To take the job, accept the offer. All of this should happen through ACX (not over the phone or via email) to ensure the contract terms are on record.

  6. Record and edit a 15-minute sample for feedback before recording and editing the full project. They’ll also have the right to approve or request changes once you’ve submitted the full project.

  7. You’ll be paid a flat rate upon completion and approval of the project or monthly royalty payments based on book sales.

If you’re just getting started in voice-over work, try browsing Upwork for smaller projects you can use to find your voice, build your technical skills and grow your portfolio.

Or reach into your network, and get creative to find freelancing gigs on your own.

Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a former branded content editor at The Penny Hoarder.


COVID-19 Super Savers Need to Carefully Navigate in a Post-Pandemic World

A little over a year ago, COVID-19 hit the United States, altering the fabric of our daily lives and turning the average American’s personal finances upside down. Within weeks, 52% of all households slashed their spending.  From all the upheaval and radical change emerged a new generation of risk-averse, financially conservative people: Meet the super savers.

After COVID reached the United States, we saw a pronounced jump nationwide in the personal savings rate — the amount of people’s disposable income that gets saved or invested. For the last two decades that savings rate sat at just under 10%. In April of 2020 it exploded to 33.7%, more than three times its usual number, according to Federal Reserve data. 

Fast-forward to 2021. The pandemic continues to wreak havoc, and a staggering 61% of Americans say they are in danger of running out of their emergency savings. Super savers are on the opposite end of that spectrum. They are middle-class families who’ve embraced an aggressive level of precautionary saving, or they are people with high incomes who’ve seen their disposable expenses, like entertainment and travel, drop off drastically.   

There may be a light at the end of the tunnel for COVID-19: The current administration expects 300 million vaccines to be administered by the end of July. Things may be on their way back to normal, but where does that leave the super savers who’ve embraced extreme and unsustainable frugality? They had the luxury of an altered pandemic budget working in their favor, but when a sense of normalcy returns to our daily lives later this year, how will they cope?

Super savers will be faced with the opportunity to spend their new nest egg and may feel like they deserve to make up for lost time. When quarantines finally come to an end there will be infinite temptation. If super savers aren’t careful, the pendulum could swing the other way, paving the way for bad spending habits to emerge. They will need to sensibly allocate their funds ahead of time instead of falling into the trap of overindulgence.

Here are some practical tips to keep in mind as they move forward into a return to normalcy:

Don’t Stop Investing

We’ve experienced a high degree of societal turbulence over the last few months, which has bled into the long-term investment practices of so many Americans. Households guided by extreme frugality may have decreased their 401(k) contributions to have more liquid cash on hand. That’s a corner you can’t afford to cut. In the post-pandemic world, super savers must continue their long-term investment strategies. 

Despite a historic level of stock market volatility during the past few months, super savers should not let their hallmark level of risk adversity affect their willingness to invest. This year has been filled with incredible investment opportunities for those willing to embrace even a little risk. But for those geared toward frugality, the age-old advice holds true: Stay the course. Maintaining a solid investment portfolio is worth more than hanging onto your cash, and super savers are in an opportune position to ride out market instability.

Keep Your Debt Under Control

Too much extra cash on hand and nowhere to spend it? That’s the challenge facing super savers when COVID-19 subsides. It’ll be tempting for even the most frugal person to go on a spending spree; that’s human nature. Whether it’s a major home improvement, a new car or extra spending on entertainment, super savers will be hard-pressed to guard the nest egg they’ve built. 

With interest rates at all-time lows, now is the time to make those rates work for you. Look for ways to curb your existing debt —by refinancing your mortgage or seeking lower APR on your credit cards — instead of accruing new debt. 

Curb Extraneous Monthly Expenses 

COVID-19 transformed our homes from a simple living space into a hub for work, school and entertainment. Over the course of the pandemic, it’s been too easy to justify paying for dozens of streaming services, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime or HBO Max. 

As the world opens back up, it’s time to analyze the services you pay for and cut back where you can. As things like travel and entertainment expenses come back online, little recurring charges can add up without providing the same level of value that they previously did.    

Keep Your Budget Flexible and Plan for the Near Future

COVID-19 has made many households fiscally conservative by accident. Families with stable income and a lack of goods and services to spend it on might seem responsible on the surface, but quick and radical changes to personal finances can breed bad spending habits down the road. 

A more realistic budget is one that is flexible and geared toward the near future. When things return to normal, as they inevitably will, super saving patterns will no longer be feasible. To continue enjoying good financial health, avoid large impulsive purchases that further saddle your household with debt, and think about real world costs, such as child care, gas and food. Plan for the concrete and build in money for emergencies, but don’t hoard for a doomsday scenario. By adopting a solid and sensible budget now, super savers can avoid financial pitfalls when we all come back down to earth.   

Securities and investment advisory services offered through Royal Alliance Associates Inc., (RAA), member FINRA / SIPC. RAA is separately owned, and other entities and/or marking names, products or services referenced here are independent of RAA.

CEO and Co-Founder, Mint Wealth Management

For more than 18 years, Adam Lampe has helped high net-worth-individuals, affluent families, foundations and institutions work toward their financial goals through holistic financial planning. As the CEO & Co-Founder of Mint Wealth Management, he leads all development efforts within the firm. Alongside his extensive work serving clients, Adam also teaches retirement planning courses through Lone Star College and Prairie View A&M University satellite campuses around Houston.


How a Sou-Sou Helped This Woman Save Money to Start a Business

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in 2016.

Saving has always been a challenge for me. While I continuously applied the pay-yourself-first principle to my finances, I struggled to stick to my budget.

So when I wanted to start a cake-decorating business, I needed another way to cover my startup costs. I preferred not to take out a loan because of interest charges.

A co-worker suggested starting a sou-sou.

What’s that? you’re wondering. Well, read on.

What’s a Sou-Sou?

A sou-sou is a simple savings plan.

The West African tradition, which is also popular in the Caribbean, requires a group of people to contribute a fixed amount of money either weekly, bi-weekly or monthly to a group account, with one member responsible for collecting the cash.

The group holds a random draw to determine the order in which each person will receive their lump sum payment. However, once each person receives their cash, they still have to contribute until everyone gets paid.

A sou-sou could run for six months or up to a year — it all depends on how many people are in on it. Sou-sous continue until everyone receives a payout at least once.

How I Used a Sou-Sou to Start a Business

Here’s how I started a sou-sou to help me make enough money to get my cake-decorating business off the ground.

Determine How Much Cash You Need to Start Your Business

I created an inventory of supplies I’d need, then calculated the total cost of buying them. This helped me make sure I’d be able to get started once I received my payout.

Next, I shopped around to find the best prices — then asked vendors about a discount for buying in bulk. It never hurts to ask! It helped me save 20% of the original cost when I eventually bought everything.

Find Cash in Your Budget and Earn Extra Money

I needed to free up some money to go toward my sou-sou, so I decided to eliminate one bill from my monthly budget.

I compared my cable and internet bills to see which was costing me more, and then canceled my $50 per month cable service.

To earn extra cash, I sold cakes at community events at a reduced price.

Consider how you could earn a few extra dollars a month for your business. Consider this list of 43 ways to save money fast.

Form a Group

Everyone in my department had previously been involved in a successful sou-sou, and since we were all working toward financial goals, it was easy for the team to get on board.

A total of 10 colleagues joined the sou-sou, but you can start one with any number of people. Ask co-workers, relatives and fellow church or gym members if they want in.

Choose a Cash Collector

We nominated my supervisor as cash collector and placed our money in a locked box in her office. Two people had to be present when money was deposited or paid out.

Since we all earned monthly salaries, we decided on a deadline for everyone to pay up.

My supervisor was also in the sou-sou. If the person collecting the cash isn’t in on it, they’re sometimes paid a percentage by each member. If my supervisor hadn’t been a member, she would have received 5% of our earnings for managing the sou-sou.

Decide on a Reasonable Contribution 

We considered our final objectives and unanimously decided on a realistic amount each person would pay.

With 10 members, we decided to each contribute $100 per month — meaning we’d each get a $1,000 payout.

A few members were unable to contribute the full amount, so they joined with another member to each contribute $50 per month. When their payout time came, each person received $500 — a 50% payout.

I decided to double my contributions and pay $200 a month, meaning I’d get two $1,000 payouts to help me fund my business.

Propose Accountability 

We suggested each person in the group be accountable to another member to make sure they spent their money on fulfilling their goals.

For example, I chose an accountability partner who would make sure I invested my $1,000 in my business.

If I didn’t, I’d have to pay my partner 20% of my payout — a huge amount we chose to help motivate me.

How My Sou-Sou Worked Out

Our sou-sou began in January and I received my payout in May. Since I doubled my contributions, I received another payout in November, which I also put toward my business.

The group initiative was a huge part of my motivation, and everyone agreed that having the support of other members of the sou-sou was crucial to our success.

My choice to use a sou-sou rather than take out a loan paid off. I didn’t owe the bank any money, and I saved $200 I would have paid in interest charges.

With the assistance of friends or family, saving money to start a business is possible. Making $100 or $200 contributions may not seem like much, but with time, it could be enough to get your business off the ground or help expand it without a loan.

Kerry Mc Donald is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.




7 Tips for Acing a Video Interview

Whether you just graduated school or are just seeking a new job, work interviews have modernized. Video interviews —conducted online— are increasingly common. In some industries, IRL interviews are (for now) a thing of the past—as more companies take on remote hires and millions are working from home.

And, with the rapid rise in digital job interviews, what are some ways to ace the video interview?

Here are seven tips for giving an impactful and memorable video interview—from practicing potential answers out loud ahead of time to tweaking the lighting for your camera.

There are various ways to get a first job after college. Being prepared for video interviews is one way to make a positive first impression.

Dressing for the Video Interview

For remote jobs, it’s quite possible that applicants may do a video interview through their tablets or computers. And, while the job interview location may now be a digital platform (and your couch), certain interview expectations stay the same—namely presenting yourself with professionalism and dressing for the job. Even when (especially when) you’re interviewing from home.

It may be helpful to ask about the expected dress code for a remote position. Asking questions like this may show a hirer that you’re aware that businesses have diverse expectations for professionalism. Even if they say you can wear whatever you want, you’ve shown that you’re unafraid of asking questions to grasp what’s expected of that role.

There’s an old adage— dress for the job you want, not the role you have. In a video interview, this could mean opting to dress a touch more formally—even if HR said the employees usually go for business-casual. (And, yes, you should wear pants during video interviews.)

It’s hard to feel like you’re going to shine if you’re in coffee-stained PJs.

It’s also not a bad idea to confirm the logistics of the video interview (in addition to outfit- planning). Some video interview logistics questions could include:

•   Will you get a calendar invite or event link for the interview?
•   What time zone will the interviewer be calling in from?
•   Which video conferencing platform will be used?
•   Will you need to download software to be able join the interview?

Knowing the answers to logistics can help bring more confidence to the video interview.

1. Practicing to Make Perfect

Different companies or organizations may use different platforms to host the interview—from Zoom to Google Hangouts to other programs. Don’t worry: You don’t need to become a pro at all the expert features. Still, it’s a good idea to become comfortable at:

•   Dialing in to scheduled calls
•   Checking the audio and the camera
•   Understanding what the interviewer can see
•   Ensuring the WiFi signal is strong enough for the video interview

If an interviewer mentions a program you’ve never used, it’s advisable to download and try it out well before the actual call. Opening up an unfamiliar program just before the interview only to realize it’s not compatible with your technology might create a positive first impression. So, make sure you double-check that you have all logins or passwords for the call. It’s best not to keep interviewers waiting because you failed to check the video interview details.

Try to make a mental checklist of digital distractions you’ve run across, as well. Then, see what you can do to minimize (if not outright eliminate) those common distractions before the live video interview. For example, you could turn off notifications or sounds for texts and emails during the interview time slot.

2. Setting the Surroundings

Generally, it’s a good idea to do a test call on the planned video-interview platform. This could help you assess how you and your surroundings appear via video. You may even want an extra set of eyes and ears–asking a friend or family member to do a “mock” call to ensure the audio and visuals are clear.

When prepping for a video interview, put yourself in the position of whoever will be interviewing you. Some questions to chew on:

•   What can the interviewer see of your space?
•   Are you easily visible or is more light needed?
•   Are there any distractions in the camera frame?

Some digital platforms allow users to record sessions. So, interviewees may want to record themselves talking and then watch and listen. You could run through the main things you want to say in the real video interview. Talking aloud on camera can help some people to become more aware of their own nervous tics and body language.

3. Taking Notes Beforehand

With job interviews, researching the company beforehand could give you ideas of how to connect previous work experience with the brand’s values or role’s job. One of the benefits of a video interview is that you can make these research notes quite literal.

Write out key points on a big piece of paper near your computer. Or, jot down some ideas or accomplishments on a sticky note next to your camera. It’s likely that the employer conducting the video interview will have no idea you’re looking at those pre-prepared notes—just make sure you keep your notes short, so you can naturally weave in keywords.

Talking points are a good idea. You may want to skip long sentences that sound like you’re reading.

4. Minimizing Off-Screen Distractions

Above all else, keep your on-screen image distraction-free. It’s worth remembering that the only person the interviewer wants to interact with is you–not your adorable pets, lovely roommates, or kid sister. You ask the folks you share a living space with to keep quiet or stay in their rooms during your interview. Plan ahead so the conversation isn’t distractingly interrupted by unexpected visitors.

5. Wearing Headphones

It would be a shame to have the audio cut out mid interview. Nothing can derail a smooth interview back-and-forth than the inability to hear the other person. It’s likely neither the interviewer or the job applicant wants to say, “What?” or “Can you repeat that?” during the video call.

There’s no need to invest in fancy, studio-quality headphones, thankfully—if you’re comfortable with earbuds, those should work fine. They also have the added benefit of not being visually intrusive.

6. Going Outside for a Breather

It’s hard to feel energetic and friendly if you’re cooped inside all day. A good way to minimize nerves is to get fresh air. Don’t just open up a window—put on sunscreen, maintain social distancing, and go outside. Even if it’s just for 15 minutes, a jolt of sunlight and breeze can reset the mind.

7. Remembering to Be Yourself

After preparing for the logistics of a video interview, it can be easy to forget one simple thing: Be yourself. While a strong WiFi signal and well-lit space won’t hurt your chances during a video interview, it’s helpful to recall that interviews are conversations between two or more people. Be prepared and share who you are.

Getting to Work

Acing a job interview—video interview or otherwise—is just one part of navigating life after college. Being ready for a video interview is just one new way to get noticed these days.

On top of looking for a full-time or better-paying job, some grads also want to find ways to reduce their outstanding debt balances—including long-term bills, like student loan repayments.

After exhausting federal options (like income-driven repayment or loan forgiveness programs), some borrowers decide to refinance their student loans with a private lender.
Refinancing student loans could reduce monthly bill payments or the amount paid in interest during the duration of the loan.

Learn more about refinancing your student loans with SoFi.

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp (dba SoFi), a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law, license # 6054612; NMLS # 1121636 . For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see

Third Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
SoFi Student Loan Refinance
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.



FreeWill Review: Pros & Cons

FreeWill Review: Pros & Cons – SmartAsset

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your financial details.

FreeWill is an online estate planning tool that allows you to create or update a legally binding will in as little as 20 minutes. It offers products such as the ability to document funeral wishes, create a durable financial power of attorney, advance healthcare directives (living wills) and give charitable contributions from your retirement or stock brokerage account. As the company’s name implies, FreeWill’s services are completely free. Funding comes from FreeWill’s partnership with more than 100 nonprofit organizations who sponsor these services. You can access the service online, giving users the ability to change or download their will at any time without needing to create a new one.

If you’d rather have a professional personally help you with your entire estate plan, consider working with a local financial advisor.

FreeWill Overview
  • Fairly robust service for free
  • Online access – Once you create you can update at any time
  • No live support
  • Relatively smaller range of products
Best For
  • Cost (free)
  • Charitable giving

FreeWill: Services & Features

For a completely no-cost service, FreeWill’s offerings are fairly robust.

First, it can cover an individual’s most important needs for a last will and testament. The website offers a questionnaire via an easy-to-use interface, asking basic information as well as other pertinent details such as current income, family information and whether users have any children or pets that they’d like to cover in their will.

For users who need to create an advance healthcare directive (also known as a living will), filling out the form will involve answering questions about some personal information, selecting a preferred physician and hospital for end-of-life care as well as selecting an agent or healthcare proxy. Then users can share what they need to about the values they wish to be upheld and other specific instructions, before finalizing with signatures and any further instructions specific to their state.

For a durable financial power of attorney, individuals will need to provide some personal information and also select an agent or agents to make financial decisions for them if they become unable to do so. Then users can choose the powers that any agent(s) will be allowed to exercise, list any specific limitations and provide other important details (i.e. compensation, monitors, guardians, revocation and how documents will be executed).

Additionally, in keeping with its commitment to charitable giving, FreeWill offers individuals ways to give a charitable contribution from a retirement account or a stock brokerage account.

FreeWill: Pricing

FreeWill’s Fee Structure
Membership Tiers
  • $0 / Free for individuals
Extra Features

FreeWill’s pricing model is straightforward, as it is free to use for individuals. As an individual user, you can draft your will, durable financial power of attorney or advanced healthcare directive via the website.

Funding comes from FreeWill’s partnership with more than 100 nonprofit organizations who sponsor these services. Nonprofit organizations can learn more about a range of tools that FreeWill offers – like a Bequest Tool, a Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCD Tool) and a Stock Gifts Tool – in order to make gifts easier for both supporters to give and organizations to receive.

FreeWill: User Support

FreeWill’s website offers a streamlined design that’s fairly easy to use. For a last will and testament, its questionnaire form is divided into parts and users can track their progress so that they know how many sections remain to fill out. For services such as advance healthcare directives and durable financial power of attorney, the site outlines the form sections and the information you’ll need to gather before you begin.

If you’re looking for immediate support from customer support representatives, FreeWill unfortunately does not provide this kind of a feature. It does, however, have a contact page as well as a help center page where users can find the answers to some frequently asked questions addressing troubleshooting and technical issues.

Thanks to insight from experts around the country, FreeWill makes sure that a user’s will complies with each state’s specific legal requirements. Of course, FreeWill makes it clear that it is not a law firm and therefore cannot provide legal advice. If you need to enlist the services of a professional attorney or even a professional financial advisor, you should do so separately.

FreeWill: Online Experience

FreeWill does not have any further mobile or online platforms available through its service, as all the final documents will be available to users once they finalize the questionnaire process on the site. There is no app or other software that a user would need to download. Given the company’s no-cost pricing model, this is probably to be expected.

How Does FreeWill Stack Up?

Comparing FreeWill to Other Services
Service Pricing Features Accessibility
  • $0 / Free for individuals
  • Last will & testament, durable financial power of attorney, advance healthcare directive, charitable contributions
  • No legal services or support
  • $14.95 – $19.95 for legal documents
  • TotalLegal Plan subscription $89/year or $9.95/month
  • Create documents
  • With subscription: Legal services from attorneys
  • With subscription: Document storage vault service
Tomorrow app
  • Mobile app free for families
  • Free for employees covered by employers who buy Tomorrow Plus plans
  • $39.99/year for Tomorrow Plus plan not through employer
  • Mobile creation of estate planning documents, such as will, trust, healthcare directive, power of attorney
  • App allows users to connect with family members and make decisions together
  • No legal services or support
  • Mobile app

The biggest differences FreeWill has over competitors is its emphasis on charitable giving and its free services as a result of that.

Bottom Line

Overall, FreeWill is an easy-to-use website that helps those who are looking to have an official last will and testament the ability to create a simple one using their online forms. The service – including certain other end-of-life planning forms such as a durable financial power of attorney or a living will – is free to use for individuals, with an emphasis on charitable giving driving the company’s ethos and business model. While 24-hour support or live customer representative or legal support is not available with free will, its website allows users to create an account, begin and have their specific forms in just minutes – and also allows them to log in, update and download forms again at any time.

Estate Planning Tips

  • If you’re seeking more detailed advice instead of or in addition to your own estate planning steps, consider reaching out to a financial professional. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool connects you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors, get started now.
  • Estate planning is all about looking ahead and mapping out your plan as best as possible. If you’re going the DIY route, make sure you’re aware of the possible financial consequences. Read more about the dangers of DIY estate planning and five estate planning mistakes you can’t afford to make.

Photo credit: FreeWill

Nadia Ahmad, CEPF® Nadia Ahmad is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®) and a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW). Her interest in taxes and grammar makes writing about personal finance a perfect fit! Nadia has spent ten years working as a seasonal income tax assistant, researching federal, state and local tax code and assisting in preparing tax returns. Nadia has a degree in English and American Literature from New York University and has served as an instructor/facilitator for a variety of writing workshops in the NYC area.
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What are Uninhabitable Living Conditions?

Tenants are entitled to a safe and livable rental property, regardless of how much rent they pay.

According to most state laws and housing codes, it’s the landlord’s responsibility to provide habitable living conditions, which means the rental unit meets basic requirements such as reliable heat, plumbing, electricity and solid structural elements.

Your rights apply when you first sign a lease, and throughout the rental term. Generally, landlords should also do minor repairs and maintenance when required.

But what if major problems crop up that affect your everyday life, health or safety? Uninhabitable living conditions can include anything that’s unsanitary or poses a danger to occupants residing there. Here are some common issues you might face, and what to do about them.

Common uninhabitable living conditions you might face as a renter

Anything that makes living on the premises difficult or impossible or that is an obvious building code violation falls under the term uninhabitable living conditions:

Rodent or insect infestation

Rat eating food on a plate in a dirty kitchen.

Bedbugs, cockroaches, fleas, mice, rats or bats all make your rental unit uninhabitable. Cockroaches can spread disease, while rodents can damage apartment walls, electrical systems, plumbing, and roofs. Mice or rat droppings pose health hazards including Hantavirus, a serious respiratory infection.

Structural issues

Holes in the floor or walls, a leaky roof, broken exterior doors, crumbling ceilings – they’re all potentially dangerous hazards that could prevent a tenant from staying.

Mold, mildew, lead or asbestos

Poor indoor air quality usually makes your rental uninhabitable. If you see traces of black on walls and ceilings, that’s likely hazardous mold, which may cause allergic reactions or respiratory problems. Mildew, chipped lead-based paint or deteriorating asbestos insulation can also be unhealthy.

Inadequate utilities

Tenants are entitled to sufficient hot water and enough heat to stay comfortable during the winter months.

Exposed electrical wiring

Exposed electrical wiring.

Loose, live or improperly grounded wires can cause a fire or injure someone if touched. Faulty outlets, flickering lights or any other kind of electrical issue can make your place unsafe to live in. Power failures related to the city grid, however, are not under your landlord’s control.

Plumbing problems

Toilets that regularly clog, overflow or won’t flush, along with leaky pipes and sinks that don’t drain all violate the basic requirements of your lease.

Defective appliances

Landlords who provide appliances as part of the lease should make sure they’re safe to use and in good working order, especially stoves and refrigerators.

If you can’t prepare or store food in your unit, it’s uninhabitable.

Air conditioning that doesn’t work in states that experience dangerously hot summer months also qualifies.

Unsafe common areas

Stairwells, elevators, hallways and entrance or garage doors should be well-lit and in good working order. If they’re not, they could be classified under uninhabitable living conditions.

moldy ceiling

How do I report uninhabitable living conditions?

Depending on where you live and how severe your issues are, you have recourse if you think your rental unit is unsafe or dangerous. Here’s what to do:

  • Report any issues and defects immediately: It’s important to document all problems: Take photos and video, and keep detailed notes. Your lease might explain how to give notice – such as by registered mail – so be sure to check.
  • Follow up regularly: Keep track of when you alert your landlord, what response you received, and whether the problem was addressed. If your landlord promises to fix the issue, find out when and how it will happen.
  • Reach out to local housing authorities: If your complaints are ignored, this might be your next step. They’ll advise you of your rights and outline where you go from here. Some states have government agencies that can impose fines or take legal action on your behalf.
  • Withhold rent: In most areas, tenants with landlords who don’t address uninhabitable living conditions can stop paying rent until the problem is fixed. Or, you can pay for repairs and deduct costs from your rent. There are different procedures to follow depending on where you live, so consult with a lawyer or housing authority first.
  • Move out: While your lease might say you need to give three months’ notice before leaving, if you have a serious problem that affects your health – like rats or mold – you can move out without giving notice.
  • File a lawsuit: You might want to speak to a lawyer specializing in landlord-tenant disputes. Some offer deferred fee services so you only pay if you win.

Protect yourself by being proactive

One way to avoid dealing with uninhabitable living conditions is to avoid renting one in the first place. Inspect every apartment or condo you visit, paying attention to how the place is maintained.

And since laws vary from state to state, be sure to read up on your rights as a tenant by contacting the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal or financial advice. Readers are encouraged to seek professional legal or financial advice as they may deem it necessary.