Try the 4-Gift Rule to Keep Your Holiday Spending in Check

This strategy sets clear boundaries on what types of gifts to get and caps how much you buy. It’s a great family tradition to adopt if you want to reduce the financial stress of the holiday season.
These tips for using the four-gift rule will help you stay within your holiday budget and avoid post-Christmas shopping regrets.
This gift category is a way to sneak in learning opportunities for your kids, but you can make it fun too. Even if your children aren’t major bookworms, they might love a book based on their favorite TV show or a new movie that’s coming out. Graphic novels and comics count as books too!
But really though — socks and underwear. Do it.

What Is the Four-Gift Rule?

Or go for something a little more exciting, like headphones, hats or headbands.
Just make sure to set a spending limit for this gift — whatever works best for your budget.

  • Something they want
  • Something they need
  • Something to wear
  • Something to read

If you’ve got room in your budget, don’t forget about jolly old St. Nick! You can opt for one Santa gift for the whole family — like a game — or get each kid one present from Santa that you know they’ll love. Look for small trinkets at the dollar store or somewhere similar to fill up the kids’ stockings.
Fortunately, the solution to keeping the kids happy without going overboard with your spending comes down to an easy gift-giving strategy called the four-gift rule.

See, there’s more to this category than just socks and underwear.

Something They Want

This one is quite easy if you save it for last and see what’s left in your budget. It can be as simple as a paperback, or as grand as an e-reader.
You buy one gift per category — that’s it.
Those of us who have fond memories of opening stacks of presents under the tree on Christmas morning want to re-create that same magical feeling for our kids when the holidays roll around.

Something They Need

You can get creative with this category and find something that you and your kids both agree they need.
What we don’t need, of course, is for our eyes to grow wide when checking our credit card statements and our hearts to sink with disappointment when realizing it’ll take months to pay down all the holiday debt.
Using coupons and shopping sales can really help you score a gift from this category without spending hundreds of dollars.

Something to Wear

Your kids may not have included any clothing items on their wish lists, so think hard about what would be exciting for them to get — like a shirt with their favorite cartoon character on it or a personalized piece of jewelry.
This is a no-brainer if your kids play sports and their gear is getting a little worn. Maybe your children are shoe fanatics and would really appreciate a new pair. Or perhaps your little one loves playing dress-up and could use a nice jewelry box to store their many accessories.
If you were under your budget on your shiny “want” gift, maybe you could package up an entire outfit.
Trim your holiday spending budget by finding free books for your kiddos. This article shares 14 ways to get free kids books.

Something to Read

This is where you can make kids’ wishes come true. Go ahead and get the gift they circled in that catalog or saw on a TV commercial. It will be your shiny present with a bow on top, so make it count. Meghan McAtasney is a freelance writer. Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.
Ready to stop worrying about money?

Bonus: One Gift From Santa

By following the four-gift rule and sticking to one present from Santa, the meaning of giving goes a little further instead of letting Santa get all the credit.
The four-gift rule is super simple. It even rhymes, so it’s easy to remember.
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Without being overwhelmed with a plethora of presents, the kids will be able to really focus their attention on the gifts they receive. The magic of Christmas will remain intact — without the extra financial stress. <!–

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10 Tips to Help You Stay Cozy in Your Apartment this Winter

Enjoy cozy vibes in your apartment all winter long with these 10 tips.

With temperatures dropping quickly and the shortest days of the year approaching fast, many apartment renters are looking for ways to stay cozy and ride out the long winter in complete comfort.

Here are 10 simple tips that are sure to help you stay cozy in your apartment until spring returns.

1. Avoid the overheads

Overhead lights are great when you’re staying up late to get some extra work done or trying to find something small you dropped on the ground. What they’re not great for is setting a cozy mood. With the sun setting earlier than any other time throughout the year, you end up spending a solid portion of the winter months basking in unnatural light, regardless of how much natural light your apartment receives in the middle of a sunny day.

Make the most of these early sunsets and treat yourself to some warm and cozy mood lighting. Whether that takes the form of an ultra-modern floor lamp, a hand-me-down lava lamp from your pop’s college days or a Michael Scott-style St. Pauli Girl neon sign, all that matters is that it puts your mind at ease and amplifies your cozy vibe.

2. Light a candle…or five

candles to stay cozy in your apartment

candles to stay cozy in your apartment

For hundreds of years, fire has been the most effective way for people of all walks of life to find coziness in the toughest conditions. From our cave-dwelling ancestors sharing stories around the warm embrace of a communal fire to you and your cousins sitting at the base of the fireplace while grandpa relives the glory days aloud, fires have always been a go-to for cultivating coziness.

Given the fact that many apartments are not equipped with a fireplace, you’re going to have to get a bit creative here. Luckily for you, candles are in vogue and that means every Walmart, Target and CVS boasts an entire section of seasonally scented candles perfect for mellowing out your apartment and inviting those cozy feelings in.

Pro tip: Create your own makeshift fireplace by getting a set of five or so scentless candles. Place them together in a safe spot in your apartment, turn off the lights and stay cozy around your new “fireplace.”

3. Invest in sweats

When you’re getting down to business, you put on a suit. When your business is staying cozy in the winter, you put on a sweatsuit. As temperatures drop and the sun only shows its smiling face for a few precious hours a day, comfort takes the top priority over style. This is especially true if you’re part of the still-growing population of people spending their nine-to-five working from home. Stay home, stay suited and stay cozy.

4. Slide into a quality pair of slippers

Person with slippers staying cozy in apartment

Person with slippers staying cozy in apartment

If you’re already committed to spending a majority of your winter rocking a sweatsuit, slippers are the next logical step (pun very much intended). Less rigid than shoes, more comfortable than your coziest pair of socks, a quality pair of slippers is the final piece you need to achieve total head-to-toe comfort and maximize your overall coziness as winter rages on outside your windows.

5. Organize your closet

Now that you’ve got a cozy sweatsuit and quality slippers, it’s time to trim the fat in your closet by tossing the things you don’t wear.

Buckle up, this step to staying cozy is a three-parter.

Part 1: Remove summer clothes you didn’t wear this year

Go through your closet and set aside all of the warm-weather items you didn’t touch throughout this past spring and summer. Put those clothes in a garbage bag or cardboard box and set them aside for a few months.

Part 2: Remove winter clothes you didn’t wear last year

Go through your closet and set aside all of the cold-weather items you didn’t wear throughout the fall and haven’t touched a month or so into the winter. Add those clothes to your warm-weather collection from a few months ago.

Part 3: Donate these clothes

Donate those clothes and enjoy the cozy feeling that comes with helping those in need in your community. And, as an added bonus, you’re creating more space in your closet for the fashion trends of the future.

6. Get creative

arts and craft supplies

arts and craft supplies

The lighting is right and your sweats are plush. Now that you’re equipped with the things you need to stay cozy, it’s time to take the next step and do some activities that invoke that highly sought-after feeling of pure coziness.

One great way to leverage your creativity to create a more cozy environment is to fill your walls and shelves with your own creations. You don’t have to be a Picasso to display your own artistic creations throughout your apartment. Even if you’re not the most creative person, the whole point here is to pass the time, ignite your imagination and create a more cozy environment in your apartment through your own artistic endeavors.

Whether you’re painting something simple like a heart, learning the ancient art of origami or hopping in on a new trend like creating your own macrame wall hanging, the important thing is that you’re enjoying yourself and engaging your imagination to fend off the boredom that often accompanies cold winter days.

Pro tip: You don’t have to spend money to learn a new skill. Look at YouTube for simple tutorials designed to help you perfect your craft without asking you to spend a dime.

7. Embrace your inner iron chef

They call it comfort food for a reason: it provides comfort. Whether that dish takes the form of a hearty hot soup, an extra cheesy casserole or a downright delicious batch of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, comfort food is undoubtedly one of the keys to cultivating a cozy atmosphere all winter long.

For those living in smaller apartments, an added bonus to upping your kitchen productivity throughout the winter is that you get a little residual heat from your stovetop or oven circulating around the apartment.

8. Work out with your bodyweight

person doing yoga

person doing yoga

Even if you’re living in a 400-square-foot studio, you still have enough room for some bodyweight workouts. While this may seem like a counterproductive activity to staying cozy in your home, bodyweight workouts offer a few advantages that contribute to an overall cozy vibe.

Working out is one of the most reliable ways to activate your endorphins and improve your overall mood. So, if you find yourself feeling bogged down by a cold gray day, take 15 minutes or so to work through some pushups, squats and situps. You can do these three simple workouts in minimal space with no equipment required.

These workouts can act as a palette cleanser for your mood and provide you with a fresh mental start even if you’re at the beginning of a long day.

9. Find your emotional support show

All due respect to 1950’s Hollywood, but the golden age of TV is happening right now. With specialized streaming services opening doors to all types of entertainment, there has never been a better time than now to cozy up on your couch for a full day of pure binging bliss.

If you’re looking for something that will put you in a cozy mood the second it shows up on the screen, here are a couple of qualifiers you should keep in mind before you dive into a new show.

  • Find something that’s easy to follow. This kind of show will allow you to work on your creative endeavors, prep your favorite dish or knock out a quick bodyweight workout circuit without losing track of the narrative.
  • Find something with at least three seasons. You can feel the effects of winter well before and long after the official start and end dates of the season. Because of this, it’s important to pick a show with some staying power that has the ability to last you to the spring.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a Netflix fanatic, a Hulu loyalist or dedicated to Disney+, you’re sure to find something that will have you feeling cozy every time take a seat on the couch and pick up the remote.

10. Hit the books

books to stay cozy in your apartment

books to stay cozy in your apartment

There’s something primally pleasurable about cracking open a book and transporting your mind to an entirely new world. When temperatures drop, this joy rises even more. While it’s difficult to put down the remote and pick up a new book, taking some time to read is a truly effective way to keep your mind off the cold and keep the cozy vibes rolling. Don’t know what to read? Here are three book recommendations that pair perfectly with a winter day.

  • “My Year of Rest and Relaxation:” Ever wonder what it would be like to hibernate for a whole year? Author Otessa Moshfegh explores this idea in a wildly entertaining novel that is currently in development to become a movie starring Margot Robbie.
  • “Out There – The Wildest Stories from Outside Magazine:” It’s hard not to feel cozy when you’re sitting in a temperature-controlled apartment reading about some of the most harrowing adventures ever documented in the freezing wilderness. Simple as that.
  • “The Little Book of Hygge:” Defined as “the art of creating coziness,” Hygge is something that is only achieved through concentrated efforts. Written by Meik Wiking, the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, this book is the definitive guide to cultivating coziness from arguably the most qualified person on the planet to do so.

Not interested in the titles above? Take a trip to your local bookstore and ask around for recommendations or look around for an online book club that matches your style.

Start prepping and stay cozy all winter long

It doesn’t matter if you’re using light to set the mood, putting your kitchen to the test or escaping your surroundings through a great show or book, coziness is within reach no matter who you are, where you live and what your interests are.

Source: rent.com

What Can You Use Student Loans For?

To attend college these days, many students take out student loans. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to afford the hefty price tag of tuition and other expenses.

According to U.S. News & World Report, among the college graduates from the class of 2020 who took out student loans, the average amount borrowed was $29,927. In 2010, that number was $24,937 — a difference of about $5,000.

Student loans are meant to be used to pay for your education and related expenses so that you can earn a college degree. Even if you have access to student loan money, it doesn’t mean you should use it on general living expenses. By learning the answer to, “What can you use a student loan for?” you will make better use of your money and ensure you’re in a more stable financial situation post-graduation.

Recommended: I Didn’t Get Enough Financial Aid: Now What?

5 Things You Can Use Your Student Loans to Pay For

Here are five things you can spend your student loan funds on.

1. Your Tuition and Fees

Of course, the first thing your student loans are intended to cover is your college tuition and fees. The average college tuition and fees for a private institution in 2021-2022 is $38,185, while the average for a public, out-of-state school is $22,698 and $10,338 for a public, in-state institution.

2. Books and Supplies

Beyond tuition and fees, student loans can be used to purchase your textbooks and supplies, such as a laptop, notebooks and pens, and a backpack. Keep in mind that you may be able to save money by purchasing used textbooks online or at your campus bookstore. Hard copy textbooks cost, on average, between $80 and $150; you may be able to find used ones for a fraction of the price. Some students may find that renting textbooks may also be a cost-saving option.

Recommended: How to Pay for College Textbooks

3. Housing Costs

Your student loans can be used to pay for your housing costs, whether you live in a dormitory or off-campus. If you do live off-campus, you can also put your loans towards paying for related expenses like your utilities bill. Compare the costs of on-campus vs. off-campus housing, and consider getting a roommate to help you cover the costs of living off-campus.

4. Transportation

If you have a car on campus or you need to take public transportation to get to school, work, or your internships, then you can use your student loans to pay for those costs. Even if you have a car, you may want to consider leaving it at home when you go away to school, because gas, maintenance, and a parking pass could end up costing much more than using public transportation and your school’s shuttle, which should be free.

5. Food

What else can you use student loans for? Food would qualify as a valid expense, whether you’re cooking meals at home or you’ve signed up for a meal plan. This doesn’t mean you should eat out at fancy restaurants all the time just because the money is there. Instead, you could save by cooking at home, splitting food costs with a roommate, and asking if local establishments have discounts for college students.

Recommended: How to Get Out of Student Loan Debt: 6 Options

5 Things Your Student Loans Should Not Cover

Now that you know what student loans can be used for, you’re likely wondering what they should not be used for as well. Here are five expenses that cannot be covered with funds from your student loans.

1. Entertainment

While you love to do things like go to the movies and concerts and bowling, you should not use your student loans to pay for your entertainment. Your campus likely offers plenty of free and low-cost entertainment like sports games and movie nights, so pursue those opportunities instead.

2. A Vacation

College is draining, and you deserve a vacation from the stress every once in a while. However, if you can’t afford to go on spring break or another type of trip, then you should put it off at this time. It’s never a good idea to use your student loans to cover these expenses.

3. Gym Membership

You may have belonged to a gym at home before you went to college, and you still want to keep up your membership there. You can, as long as you don’t use your student loans to cover it. Many colleges and universities have a gym or fitness center on campus that is available to students and included in the cost of tuition.

4. A New Car

Even if you need a new car, student loans cannot be used to buy a new set of wheels. Consider taking public transportation instead of buying a modest used car when you save up enough money.

5. Extra Food Costs

While you and your roommates may love pizza, it’s not a good idea to use your student loan money to cover that cost. You also shouldn’t take your family out to eat or dine out too much with that borrowed money. Stick to eating at home or in the dining hall, and only going out to eat every once in a while with your own money.

Student Loan Spending Rules

The federal code that applies to the misuse of student loan money is clear. Any person who “knowingly and willfully” misapplied funds could face a fine or imprisonment.

Your student loan refund — what’s left after your scholarships, grants, and loans are applied toward tuition, campus housing, fees, and other direct charges — isn’t money that’s meant to be spent willy-nilly. It’s meant for education-related expenses.

The amount of financial aid a student receives is based largely on each academic institution’s calculated “cost of attendance,” which may include factors like your financial need and your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Your cost of attendance minus your EFC generally helps determine how much need-based aid you’re eligible for. Eligibility for non-need-based financial aid is determined by subtracting all of the aid you’ve already received from your cost of attendance.

Starting for the 2024-2025 school year, the EFC will be replaced with the Student Aid Index (SAI). The SAI will work similarly to the EFC though there will be some important changes such as adjustments in Pell Grant eligibility.

Additionally, when you took out a student loan, you probably signed a promissory note that outlined what you’re supposed to be spending your loan money on. Those restrictions may vary depending on what kind of loan you received — federal or private, subsidized or unsubsidized. If the restrictions weren’t clear, it’s not a bad idea to ask your lender, “What can I use my student loan for?”

If you’re interested in adjusting loan terms or securing a new interest rate, you could consider refinancing your student loans with SoFi. Refinancing can allow qualifying borrowers to secure a lower interest rate or preferable terms, which could potentially save them money over the long run. Refinancing federal loans eliminates them from all federal borrower benefits and protections, inducing deferment options and the ability to pursue public service loan forgiveness, so it’s not the right choice for all borrowers.

The Takeaway

Student loans can be used to pay for qualifying educational expenses like tuition and fees, room and board, and supplies like books, pens, a laptop, and a backpack. Expenses like entertainment, vacations, cars, and fancy dinners cannot generally be paid for using student loans.

If you have student loans and are interested in securing a new — potentially lower — interest rate, consider refinancing.

There are no fees to refinance a student loan with SoFi and potential borrowers can find out if they pre-qualify, and at what rates, in just a few minutes.

Learn more about student loan refinancing with SoFi.


SoFi Student Loan Refinance
IF YOU ARE LOOKING TO REFINANCE FEDERAL STUDENT LOANS PLEASE BE AWARE OF RECENT LEGISLATIVE CHANGES THAT HAVE SUSPENDED ALL FEDERAL STUDENT LOAN PAYMENTS AND WAIVED INTEREST CHARGES ON FEDERALLY HELD LOANS UNTIL THE END OF JANUARY 2022 DUE TO COVID-19. PLEASE CAREFULLY CONSIDER THESE CHANGES BEFORE REFINANCING FEDERALLY HELD LOANS WITH SOFI, SINCE IN DOING SO YOU WILL NO LONGER QUALIFY FOR THE FEDERAL LOAN PAYMENT SUSPENSION, INTEREST WAIVER, OR ANY OTHER CURRENT OR FUTURE BENEFITS APPLICABLE TO FEDERAL LOANS. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION.
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.

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp. or an affiliate (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 SoFi.com/legal.

Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. A hard credit pull, which may impact your credit score, is required if you apply for a SoFi product after being pre-qualified.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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Source: sofi.com

9 Best Books to Read Before Buying a Home

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For most people, buying a home is the biggest purchase decision of a lifetime. In fact, it’s one of the biggest decisions, period. 

Your mortgage is probably the largest debt you’ll ever take on, and taking care of a house is one of the largest responsibilities. Next to getting married or having children, it’s hard to think of anything that will have a greater impact on your life. 

With so much at stake, it makes sense to learn as much as possible about the process before you take the plunge. You can find lots of articles about home buying online, of course, just like any other subject. But for a really in-depth take on the topic, you can’t beat a good book.

Best Books to Read Before Buying a Home

There are literally hundreds of books on home buying, covering the subject from every possible angle. Some real estate books provide a walk-through of the whole process. Some focus on the legal details. And some are all about getting the best deal on a mortgage.

With so many books to choose from, how do you find one that’s useful for you? To get started, look at what books other people have found most helpful. The books on this list all get good reviews from finance professionals, as well as ordinary homeowners.


1. “Home Buying Kit for Dummies” by Eric Tyson & Ray Brown 

All the books in the “Dummies” series explain complex topics — from computer languages to sports — to people who know nothing about them. “Home Buying Kit for Dummies” takes the same approach. It covers all the basics of buying a home in an easy-to-digest form.

This comprehensive guide covers every step of the home-buying process, including:

The book is ideal for first-time home buyers because it assumes no prior knowledge. It’s all in plain English, with no fancy lingo. You can read it from cover to cover or dip into it as needed to learn about specific topics.

To aid reading, the pages are peppered with icons marking key points. These include a light bulb for tips, a warning sign for pitfalls to avoid, and a deerstalker cap for topics to research on your own. They make it easy to spot important info at a glance.


2. “Buying a Home: The Missing Manual” by Nancy Conner 

The “Missing Manuals” series deals mostly with computer software and hardware. But it’s branched out into finance, another subject that ought to come with instructions. In this volume, Conner, a real estate investor, walks you through the home-buying process from start to finish.

“Buying a Home: The Missing Manual” is a step-by step guide to all the ins and outs of home buying. Its includes chapters on:

  • Choosing a real estate agent, mortgage lender, and lawyer
  • Choosing the right neighborhood
  • Finding your dream home 
  • Figuring out how much to offer on a house 
  • Financing your down payment
  • Comparing mortgages
  • Inspections
  • Closing costs

And it does all this with simple language and handy, bite-size chunks of information. Fill-in forms throughout the book help you apply the author’s expert advice to your specific situation.


3. “NOLO’s Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home” by Ilona Bray J.D., Alayna Schroeder & Marcia Stewart 

The legal website NOLO is the top place to find legal advice online. Along with its free articles, the site offers an array of do-it-yourself forms, books, and software. This walk-through guide to homebuying is just one example.

“NOLO’s Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home” covers most of the same topics as the Dummies and Missing Manual books, but from a different angle. It focuses on all the legal ins and outs of the home-buying process.

Although three attorneys wrote this book, it doesn’t rely on their knowledge alone. It draws on the knowledge of 15 other real estate professionals, including Realtors, loan officers, investors, home inspectors, and landlords. It’s like having your own private team of experts. For example:

  • A real estate agent offers tips on how to dress for an open house. 
  • A mortgage broker explains the risks of oral loan preapprovals. 
  • A closing expert discusses the importance of title insurance. 

Along with the expert advice, the book provides real-world stories from over 20 first-time home-buyers. Their experiences let you preview the process before jumping in yourself.


4. “Home Buyer’s Checklist: Everything You Need to Know — But Forgot to Ask — Before You Buy a Home” by Robert Irwin 

Every home-buying guide talks about the need for a home inspection. However, there are many problems home inspectors don’t always look for. The only way to detect them is to ask the right questions. In “Home Buyer’s Checklist,” Robert Irwin tells you what those questions are.

Irwin is a real estate professional with over three decades of experience. He knows all about the hidden flaws in homes and how to track them down. Irwin walks you through a house room by room and points out possible problem areas, such as:

  • Doors and door frames
  • Windows and window screens
  • Fireplaces
  • Light fixtures
  • Floors
  • Woodwork
  • Attic insulation

For each area, he notes possible problems and how to spot them. He also explains what they cost to fix and what damage they can cause if you don’t fix them. And he helps you use that information to your advantage in negotiating the price of the house.

Armed with this information, you can avoid unpleasant surprises when you move into your new home. It won’t make your house’s problems go away, but it will prepare you to deal with them — and keep the money in your pocket to do it.


5. “The 106 Common Mistakes Home Buyers Make (and How to Avoid Them)” by Gary Eldred

To first-time homebuyers, the real estate market is a big, confusing place. In “The 106 Common Mistakes Home Buyers Make (and How to Avoid Them),” Gary Eldred offers you a map to help you find your way around.

Eldred’s guide draws on the real-world experiences of homebuyers, home builders, real estate agents, and mortgage lenders. They shed light on the mistakes homebuyers make most often, such as:

  • Believing everything a real estate agent says
  • Underestimating the cost of owning a home
  • Buying in an upscale neighborhood that’s on the decline
  • Paying too much for a house
  • Letting your agent handle the price negotiations
  • Staying out of the housing market due to fear

With the help of Eldred’s examples, you can avoid these pitfalls and find a house that’s both a comfortable home and a sound investment.


6. “No Nonsense Real Estate: What Everyone Should Know Before Buying or Selling a Home” by Alex Goldstein 

As both a Realtor and a real estate investor, Alex Goldstein has been on both sides of a real estate transaction. This gives him a unique perspective on what works and what doesn’t in the home buying process.

In “No Nonsense Real Estate,” Goldstein puts that experience to work for you. He offers a step-by-step guide to the home buying process in language a first time home buyer can easily understand. This comprehensive guide covers:

  • The economics of the housing market in simple terms
  • The pros and cons of working with a real estate agent
  • What to look for in a home
  • Assembling a real estate team
  • Types of homes, such as single-family homes, condos, and co-ops
  • Traditional home loans and non-bank financing
  • Tips for sellers to get the best price on a home
  • The five elements of a successful real estate negotiation
  • Real estate contracts and closing costs
  • The eight steps of a real estate closing
  • The basics of real estate investing
  • A real-world case study of a home purchase
  • A list of frequently asked questions
  • A glossary of real estate terms

As a bonus, all buyers of the book gain access to a library of training videos and materials. They can help you find a real estate agent in your area, evaluate investment properties, and more.


7. “The Mortgage Encyclopedia” by Jack Guttentag

One of the most intimidating parts of buying your first home is getting your first mortgage. Not only is it likely the biggest loan you’ve ever taken out, there are dozens of options to consider. And the jargon loan officers use, from “escrow” to “points,” doesn’t make it any easier.

Jack Guttentag’s “The Mortgage Encyclopedia” offers a solution. The author, a former professor of finance at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, tells you everything you need to know about how mortgages work and what your options are. The book includes:

  • A glossary of mortgage terms, from “A-credit” to “Zillow mortgage”
  • Advice on nitty-gritty issues such as the risks of cosigning a loan and the pros and cons of paying points versus making a larger down payment 
  • The lowdown on common mortgage myths, traps, and hidden costs to avoid
  • At-a-glance tables on topics like affordability and interest costs for fixed-rate and adjustable-rate mortgages

For first-time homebuyers grappling with the details of choosing and signing a mortgage, it’s a must-read.


8. “How to Get Approved for the Best Mortgage Without Sticking a Fork in Your Eye” by Elysia Stobbe 

Another book that focuses on mortgages is “How to Get Approved for the Best Mortgage Without Sticking a Fork in Your Eye.” As the whimsical title suggests, mortgage expert Elysia Stobbe understands how frustrating the mortgage approval process can be. 

To keep you sane, she helps break the process down into bite-sized chunks of info that are easy to manage. Her guide walks you through such details as types of mortgages, loan programs, interest rates, mortgage insurance, and fees. 

Stobbe explains how to find the right lender, choose the best real estate agent to handle negotiations, and find an appropriate type of loan. She also devotes a lot of space to mistakes you should avoid. And she supports it all with interviews with top real estate professionals.


Buying a home is such a huge, complicated process that it’s often hard to figure out where to start. In “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask,” Ilyce R. Glink addresses this problem by breaking the process down into a series of questions.

This approach makes it easy to find the information you want. Look through the table of contents to find the question that’s on your mind, then flip to the right page to see the answer. Glink tackles questions on all aspects of home buying, such as:

  • Should I buy a home or continue to rent?
  • How much can I afford to spend?
  • Is a new construction home better than an existing home?
  • What’s the difference between a real estate agent and a broker?
  • Where should I start looking for my dream home?
  • What should I look for at a house showing?
  • How does my credit score affect my chance of getting a mortgage?
  • How do I make an offer on a home?
  • Do I need a home inspection?
  • What happens at the closing?

Glink combines advice from top brokers, real-world stories, and her own experience to provide solid answers to all these questions. And she wraps it up with three appendices covering mistakes to avoid and simple steps to make the home-buying process easier.


Final Word

All the books on this list offer a good grounding in the basics of home buying. But if you’re looking for more details on any part of the process, there’s sure to be a book for that too.

You can find books on just about every aspect of home buying. There are books on every stage of the process, from raising cash for a down payment to preparing for your closing. There are books about home buying just for single people and books on buying a home as an investment.

And once you move into your new home, there are more books to help you organize it, decorate it, and keep it in repair. Just search for the topic that interests you at Amazon, a local bookstore, or your local public library.

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Source: moneycrashers.com

These Healthcare Stocks Should Thrive in 2022

As the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, routine doctor and hospital visits, along with deferred medical procedures such as cataract surgery and heart valve replacements, are returning to normal.

The pandemic has been a global tragedy, but if there is one silver lining it is that the miraculous development of effective COVID-19 vaccines in less than a year is helping to usher in a golden age for the pharmaceutical and health sciences industries.

“We’re seeing a revolution today in vaccine development,” says Andy Acker, manager of Janus Henderson Global Life Sciences.

Before COVID arrived, the fastest vaccine approval had been four years, and the average was 10 years; with COVID, two vaccines were approved in about 10 months. Validation of the mRNA technology used by Pfizer (PFE) and Moderna (MRNA) in their vaccines means that it will now be adopted to treat other medical indications. (The mRNA vaccines teach our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response.)

In truth, the COVID-19 medical challenge and the dramatic success of the vaccines have only served to accelerate a powerful trend of innovation in medicine. For instance, the sharply declining cost of gene sequencing is pushing forward the growing field of precision medicine, which aims to tailor treatments to specific diseases, such as cancer.

“The science is exponentially improving for better outcomes,” says Neal Kaufman, manager of Baron Health Care fund.

Of course, the healthcare sector is also riding the (global) demographic wave of aging populations. At CVS Health drugstores, the number of prescription medicines purchased by people age 65 or older is three to four times that of 20- to 40-year-old people, says Jason Kritzer, co­manager of Eaton Vance Worldwide Health Sciences.

In rapidly developing countries with expanding middle classes, such as China, quality healthcare is likely to be one of the first things people rising out of poverty will spend money on.

With innovation and some of these secular trends in mind, we identified six intriguing healthcare stocks that literally span the alphabet, from letter A to letter Z. We particularly like companies that address large and growing end markets, especially global ones. We give extra points to businesses that have less exposure to pricing pressure from insurance com­panies or the government. Returns and other data are through Nov. 5.

healthcare stockshealthcare stocks

1 of 7

Align Technology

Share price: $687

Market cap: $54 billion

Price-earnings ratio: 50

Maker of the Invisalign brand of clear, plastic braces for teeth, Align Technology (symbol ALGN) is a disruptive force in the global teeth-correction market, rapidly gobbling market share from traditional wires and brackets. Jeff Mueller, comanager of Polen Global Growth, credits the “Zoom effect” for accelerating the adoption of the aesthetically pleasing aligners: Workers stuck at home during the pandemic were staring at their own teeth every day on Zoom. “Vanity is increasing around the world,” Mueller says, adding that, due to the rise of smartphones, the internet and social media, “more people are taking pictures of themselves than ever before in the history of mankind.”

A lot of technology is used in the Invisalign process. It employs intra-oral scanners and modeling software, plus mass-customization manufacturing using 3D printing at several plants around the globe (each set of teeth is unique, and individuals change their aligners every two weeks). Because braces are generally for cosmetic purposes, they are not subject to pricing pressure from insurance companies or the government.

Align Technology’s revenues are currently growing by 25% to 30% a year as its market penetration rises, and Mueller expects earnings to continue to compound at double digits for quite a while.

2 of 7

Merck

Share price: $82

Market cap: $206 billion

Price-earnings ratio: 11

Dividend yield: 3.2%

CFRA analyst Sel Hardy thinks that Merck’s (MRK) COVID-19 antiviral pill, molnupiravir, is “a game changer.” The drug maker has applied for emergency-authorization use from the government; approval was expected before the end of 2021. Merck projects that global sales of the oral medication, which has demonstrated strong efficacy against multiple variants of COVID, could be $5 billion to $7 billion by the end of 2022.

Apart from this breakthrough drug, Hardy likes the way Merck is positioned. Sales of Keytruda, its versatile oncology drug, topped $14 billion in 2020 and continue to grow; its animal health division is expanding; and the firm’s $12 billion acquisition of Acceleron Pharma, a biotech firm with strengths in blood and cardiovascular treatments, will augment Merck’s product pipeline.

Hardy thinks Merck, which yields 3.2%, can compound earnings by at least 10% a year for the next three years.

3 of 7

Novo Nordisk

Share price: $113

Market cap: $259 billion

Price-earnings ratio: 31

Dividend yield: 1.3%

Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk (NVO) focuses on two global pandemics: diabetes and obesity. The World Health Organization projects that the number of diabetics will expand from 460 million to 580 million by 2030, and it estimates that there are nearly 800 million obese people around the world. Novo pioneered insulin injections a century ago and has remained a global leader in diabetes care ever since. Multibillion-dollar drugs include Ozempic, a once-weekly prescription for adults with Type 2 diabetes to lower blood sugar, and NovoRapid, a fast-acting insulin treatment. Novo’s sales are evenly split between North America and the rest of the world.

Investors such as Samantha Pandolfi, comanager of Eaton Vance Worldwide Health Sciences, are also excited about rapid growth in Novo’s newer weight-management business. Wegovy, prescribed for obese people with another disease, such as diabetes, was approved by the FDA in June 2021. Tests show Wegovy typically delivers a weight loss of 15% to 17%, and Pandolfi says sales are off to a blazing start. The century-old firm plows an impressive 12% of sales back into research and development, which helps it stay ahead of the competition and generate earnings growth in the low double digits.

4 of 7

Thermo Fisher Scientific

Share price: $617

Market cap: $243 billion

Price-earnings ratio: 29

Dividend yield: 0.2%

Eddie Yoon, manager of Fidelity Select Health Care Portfolio, calls Thermo Fisher Scientific (TMO) “the Walmart of life sciences.” Whether it’s a big pharma, biotech or university lab, customers come to this health sciences supermarket for analytical tools, lab equipment and services, and diagnostic kits and consumables. “They are the partner of choice for any pharma or biotech company of any size,” says Jeff Jonas, a portfolio manager at Gabelli Funds. Thermo has benefited from increased demand for its products and services due to COVID-19, and now the firm is poised to benefit from the rise in research and development spending among drug companies around the world.

One thing that distinguishes Thermo, according to health care stock analysts, is the quality of its management. The firm has successfully integrated several strategic acquisitions that helped broaden its menu of products and services. Tommy Sternberg, an analyst at William Blair, notes that Thermo is particularly adroit at staying close to customers and understanding what their scientists are working on. “They do a fantastic job of getting to know customers and their needs, and learning from customers to come up with more solutions more quickly,” says Sternberg.

5 of 7

UnitedHealth Group

Share price: $456

Market cap: $429 billion

Price-earnings ratio: 21

Dividend yield: 1.3%

The U.S. spends a staggering $4 trillion a year on health care. UnitedHealth (UNH)—with annual revenues of nearly $300 billion, a market value of $430 billion and 330,000 employees—is the industry’s largest player. As the top private health care insurance provider, it leads in managed care. Its OptumHealth unit offers pharmacy benefits and owns physician’s practices and surgical centers. Eaton Vance’s Kritzer calls Optum, an industry leader in the digitization of services, “a very large health IT company inside an insurance giant.” United helps the federal government manage costs through its Medicare Advantage plan (the most popular private plan). Plus, it enjoys high customer satisfaction, and it is counting a growing number of seniors as customers (about 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day). Despite United’s massive size, William Blair’s Sternberg thinks it can sustain earnings-per-share growth of about 15% annually.

6 of 7

Zoetis

Share price: $217

Market cap: $103 billion

Price-earnings ratio: 42

Dividend yield: 0.5%

Like Align Tech­nology’s Invisalign, Zoetis’s (ZTS) main business—companion-animal health—was already riding a tailwind that picked up force thanks to lifestyle changes during the pandemic. Pet-ownership rates spiked as people grew more isolated and sought the companionship of dogs and cats, according to David Kalis, comanager of The Future Fund Active ETF. Zoetis markets vaccines, prescription drugs and diagnostic equipment directly to veterinarians. The industry is regulated, with FDA approval required for the drugs, but Zoetis benefits from the lack of insurance company price pressures and the fragmented nature of the firm’s customer base, notes Eaton Vance’s Pandolfi.

In fact, companion-animal ownership is growing globally, driven by aging populations and shrinking family sizes. Pet owners are treating their pets better, addressing ailments such as skin irritation and arthritis, and visiting the vet more frequently, says Pandolfi. Zoetis books about half of sales overseas; roughly 60% of revenues come from the companion-animal business and 40% from the less-profitable and slower-growing livestock animal division.

7 of 7

Invest in a Fund

Given the complexity and diversity of the health care sector, investing in a fund makes a lot of sense for many investors. Here are our favorites (returns and other data are through November 5).

Baron Health Care (symbol BHCFX, expense ratio 1.10%) is a young fund off to a sizzling start. Over the past three years, it returned 29.2% annualized, or nearly twice the return of the S&P 1500 Health Care index. Manager Neal Kaufman and assistant manager Joshua Riegelhaupt look for innovative, fast-growing companies. The largest holding is Natera, a clinical genetic-testing outfit.

Fidelity Select Health Care (FSPHX, 0.69%) is a member of the Kiplinger 25, the list of our favorite no-load funds. The fund has a 19.8% three-year annualized return, ahead of the 17.0% average annual gain of its peers. Eddie Yoon, who has piloted the fund since 2008, says he’s light on large pharmaceutical companies in the portfolio, preferring makers of devices used to help manage chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart ailments. The fund’s top three holdings are UnitedHealth, Boston Scientific and Danaher.

Ziad Bakri, a former physician, runs T. Rowe Price Health Sciences (PRHSX, 0.76%), which has returned 21% annualized over the past three years. Nearly one-third of assets are invested in biotechnology, a high-risk, high-return segment of health care. Top positions include Thermo Fisher Scientific and Intuitive Surgical.

If you prefer investing through exchange-traded funds, Simplify Health Care (PINK, $26, 0.50%) is an intriguing, actively managed ETF that launched on October 7. Through November 5, just shy of one month, it returned 5.9%. Manager Michael Taylor, a virologist by training who spent 20 years investing in health care stocks at some prominent hedge funds, expresses his views by increasing or decreasing the fund’s weighting of stocks in relation to the MSCI US Health Care Index.

Source: kiplinger.com

How to Talk to Your Children About Student Loans: 6 Key Points

Many parents lecture — er, talk to — their teenagers about being responsible. Don’t text and drive. Do try to spend that summer job money wisely. As children approach college, talking about student loans might be a smart idea.

For one, the topic is pretty complicated.

And second, even if you plan to help repay any student loans, most qualified education loans are taken out in the student’s name, and there’s usually no escape: Even bankruptcy rarely erases student loan debt.

Maybe your student-athlete or scholar is counting on a full ride. While confidence is a wonderful thing, full rides are exceedingly rare.

Here are six student loan concepts you can discuss with your aspiring college student.

1. Here’s What We Think We Can Contribute

It might be uncomfortable to talk frankly about your family finances, but they almost always determine the amount and types of financial aid your child may qualify for.

It can be important for parents to discuss what they’re able to contribute in order to help their young adults wrap their heads around the numbers, too.

2. Let’s Forge Ahead With the FAFSA

The first step to hunt for financial aid is to complete the FAFSA®, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It takes most people less than an hour. Students helping their parents fill it out will get a look at the expected family contribution: the family’s taxed and untaxed income, assets, and benefits.

Based on financial need, a college’s cost of attendance, and FAFSA information, schools put together a financial aid package that may be composed of scholarships and grants, federal student loans, and/or work-study.

Awards based on merit (scholarships) or need (grants) are free money. When they don’t cover the full cost of college, that’s where student loans can come in.

If your income is high, should you bother with the FAFSA? Sure, because there’s no income cutoff for federal student aid. And even if your student is not eligible for federal aid, most colleges and states use FAFSA information to award nonfederal aid.

About 400 colleges and scholarship programs use the CSS Profile, a financial aid application in addition to the FAFSA. It determines eligibility for institutional scholarships and grants.

3. Interest Rates: Fixed and Not

Your soon-to-be college student may not know that there are two types of interest rates: fixed and variable.

Fixed interest rates stay the same for the life of the loan. Variable rates go up or down based on market fluctuations.

You can explain that all federal student loans borrowed after July 2006 have fixed interest rates, which are set each year, and that private student loan interest rates may be variable or fixed.

4. Federal vs Private Student Loans

Around now your young person is restless. But press on.

Anyone taking out student loans should learn that there are two main types: federal and private. All federal student loans are funded by the federal government. Private student loans are funded by some banks, credit unions, and online lenders.

If your child is going to borrow money for college, it’s generally advised to start with federal student loans. Since federal student loans are issued by the government, they have benefits, including low fixed interest rates, forbearance and deferment eligibility, and income-based repayment options.

Private student loans have terms and conditions set by private lenders, and don’t offer the generous repayment options or loan forgiveness programs of federal loans, but some private lenders do offer specific deferment options.

Private student loans can be used to fill gaps in need, up to the cost of attendance, which includes tuition, books and supplies, room and board, transportation, and personal expenses. A student applicant often will need a cosigner.

5. Another Wrinkle: Subsidized vs Unsubsidized

Financial need will determine whether your undergraduate is eligible for federal Direct Subsidized Loans. Your child’s school determines the amount you can borrow, which can’t exceed your need.

The government pays the interest on Direct Subsidized Loans while your child is in college, during the grace period (the first six months after graduation or when dropping below half-time enrollment), and in deferment (postponing repayment).

With federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans, interest begins accruing when the funds are disbursed and continues during grace periods, and the borrower is responsible for paying it. Direct Unsubsidized Loans are available to both undergraduate and graduate students, and there is no requirement of financial need.

Borrowers are not required to pay the interest while in school, during grace periods, or during deferment (although they can choose to), but any accrued interest will be added to the principal balance when repayment begins.

There are annual and aggregate limits for subsidized and unsubsidized loans. Most dependent freshmen, for example, can borrow no more than $5,500.

6. Soothing Words: Scholarships and Grants

It’s important to not overlook the nonloan elements of the financial aid package. They can (hooray) reduce the amount your student needs to borrow.

Scholarships and grants are essentially free money.

While some schools automatically consider your student for scholarships based on merit or other qualifications, many scholarships and grants require applications.

You may want to assign a research project to your college-bound young adult to look into all of the scholarship options they may qualify for.

The Takeaway

Debt isn’t the most thrilling parent-child topic, but college students who will need to borrow should know the ins and outs of student loans: interest rates, federal vs. private, subsidized vs. unsubsidized, and repayment options.

If federal aid doesn’t cover all the bases of college, your student can consider a private student loan with SoFi.

SoFi Private Student Loans come with competitive rates, flexible repayment options, and no fees. A student can apply entirely online, with or without a cosigner.

See your interest rate in three minutes. No strings attached.


SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs.
SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
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.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
SOSL18140

Source: sofi.com

Amazon Prime Review – Is it a Good Value for the Cost?

At a glance

Amazon Prime Logo

Our rating

Amazon Prime

  • Plans: One standard plan for $119 per year or $12.99 per month (about $156 per year); discounted Student Prime plan for eligible members
  • Features: Prime Delivery (multiple expedited and discounted delivery options); Prime Video; Prime Reading; exclusive Prime deals; unlimited music streaming; unlimited photo storage; eligibility for Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card subject to credit qualification
  • Advantages: Wide range of shipping options, though variable by customer location; potentially valuable media perks; higher cash-back earnings for qualified Amazon Prime Visa Signature Card users; Prime member discounts at Whole Foods; 30-day free trial period; household memberships; discounted student memberships
  • Disadvantages: Relatively high annual (and even higher monthly) fee; no refunds if you fail to use the service; additional fees for expedited food delivery; music library is weaker than some competitors’

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Dig Deeper

Additional Resources

Amazon Prime is one of the most popular retail loyalty programs in U.S. history. Although Amazon itself doesn’t regularly release membership figures, a study by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners estimated that more than 100 million people had access to Prime in 2019.

Why is Amazon Prime so popular? And is it really a good value for the cost? To decide for yourself, take a closer look at Amazon Prime’s core features and member perks. Then, weigh the facts to determine when and whether it’s worth the annual expense.

Key Features

What’s remarkable about Amazon Prime’s subscriber count is the fact that you must pay to join. Regular Prime members pay $119 per year when billed annually or $12.99 per month (about $156 per year) for the more flexible monthly plan. 

Prime Student members pay $59 per year when billed annually and $6.49 per month (about $78 per year) when billed monthly. To qualify, they must have valid dot-edu email addresses and be able to prove they’re actively enrolled in at least one college course in the United States (including Puerto Rico).

Tens of millions of consumers happily pay comparable annual fees for warehouse store memberships. But most other common retail loyalty programs, such as those run by supermarket and department store chains, cost nothing to join.

But when you look at Amazon Prime’s core features, it’s easy to see why it’s so popular despite the cost.

30-Day Free Trial

All new Prime members are eligible for a 30-day free trial to test-drive the service. During the free trial, you have access to all Prime-exclusive perks and benefits.

You must enter a valid credit card to secure your free trial. Your membership automatically rolls over to paid status at the end of the trial period unless you cancel.

Household Prime Membership

Amazon allows multi-person Prime memberships covering the same household. My wife and I pay a single annual fee for our joint Prime membership. Like merging finances in joint accounts, joint Prime memberships are common practice for spouses and committed domestic partners. 

Household Prime memberships also make sense for long-term roommates.

Prime Delivery

Amazon Prime’s most valuable benefit is Prime Delivery, a collection of Prime-exclusive free and discounted delivery options including:

Free 2-Day Delivery 

Prime’s signature benefit is available on more than 100 million Amazon products for customers in the continental U.S. Members don’t have to worry about a minimum order size or limits on delivery frequency to get free two-day shipping. 

By comparison, free shipping takes anywhere from five to eight business days for non-Prime members, depending on their location and what they order.

Free 1-Day Delivery

Free one-day delivery (next-day delivery) is available across the continental U.S. on more than 10 million Amazon products. Just look for the “Prime FREE One-Day” logo. 

One-day deliveries arrive by 9pm local time the day after you order them. And you’ll never run into minimum order sizes or delivery frequency limits.

Free Same-Day Delivery

Free same-day delivery is more like free 10-business-hour delivery. 

Eligible goods — several million in all — ordered before noon local time arrive by 9pm local time on the same day. Products ordered in the afternoon or evening arrive the following day. 

To qualify, orders must have at least $35 in eligible purchases. Same-day delivery is only available in select cities. Roughly speaking, you can get it in the largest 50 to 100 U.S. metro markets, though Amazon adds new cities regularly.

Free Ultrafast Grocery Delivery 

In select U.S. cities, Amazon offers free ultrafast grocery delivery through Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market. In some markets, participating third-party retailers may offer ultrafast grocery delivery through Amazon as well. 

These deliveries typically take no more than two hours during the business day, but they may take longer during off-hours. Look for the “Available Today” icon in the upper left corner of the shopping page.

Secure In-Home Delivery

In select U.S. cities, Amazon offers secure in-home delivery through the Key by Amazon app. 

You can use the app to watch deliveries in real time to ensure the delivery person minds their business inside your home. You must install a special lock and camera and register any frequent guests to limit Amazon’s liability for damage or theft before accepting your first in-home delivery.

Amazon Day Delivery

If you typically place multiple orders per week, you can set a standing Amazon Day to receive everything you ordered during the preceding week. 

It’s a nice perk for Prime members who are frequently absent during the week. For example, setting your Amazon Day for Friday or Saturday reduces the risk of package theft when you’re out of the house on weekdays.

Release-Date Delivery

Amazon Prime members are eligible to shop for preorder products at least two days before their scheduled release dates, then receive free guaranteed delivery the day they’re available to the general public.

Other Amazon Delivery Perks

Amazon’s regular shipping benefits get all the glory. But they’re not the only perks for Amazon Prime members.

Additional perks include:

  • Shopping rewards when you select the no-rush delivery option (either points to use as a credit toward future purchases or instant discounts) 
  • Free delivery on special merchandise that doesn’t typically qualify for free delivery, such as bulky, heavy, or fragile goods
  • Discounted expedited delivery on products that don’t qualify for free one- or same-day shipping

Amazon Prime Video

Amazon Prime Video is Amazon’s Prime-exclusive library of free on-demand TV and movie content. 

Amazon Studios’ top original series and movies (known as Amazon Originals) are available through Prime Video at no additional charge. So are hundreds of popular non-Amazon shows, movies, and live out-of-market sporting events. 

Amazon doesn’t make its entire universe of video content available to Prime members for free. Premium TV series and films may carry one-time rental fees. 

You can stream Prime Video to your TV with a compatible smart TV or external device, such as an Amazon Fire Stick or Apple TV. On the go, you can access content through the Amazon Prime Video app, which is compatible with Android and iOS operating systems.

Amazon Prime Video is the most popular Prime service available on an a la carte basis. If you only want access to Prime Video streaming and don’t care about other Amazon Prime perks like free, fast delivery, you can get it for $8.99 per month. That’s less than competitors like Hulu and Netflix.

Prime Reading

Prime Reading is Amazon’s Prime-exclusive collection of fiction and nonfiction books, magazines, and audio recordings. Prime Reading works are available for download on any compatible device, Amazon-made or otherwise.

Music Streaming

Prime subscribers can stream over 2 million songs, including new hits and old favorites, through Prime Music for free. But it’s worth noting that’s a fraction of what’s available from leading streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, which have more like 40 million songs in their respective libraries.

Prime Deals & Prime Day Deals

Prime Deals are Prime-exclusive shopping discounts and promotions. They’re subject to change but generally include discounts of 10% to 40% on popular Amazon products, with a focus on home goods, electronics, and kids toys and accessories. Prime-exclusive deals are particularly plentiful on Prime Day.

Prime Add-On Subscriptions

Prime members are under no obligation to add anything to their Prime subscriptions. Before you subscribe to an add-on, check its availability. 

As add-ons, all these subscriptions carry an additional cost — anywhere from $2.99 per month for Amazon Kids+ to $29 per month for NBA League Pass. But they make valuable services for anyone who uses them regularly.

Premium Prime Video Channels

Prime members can watch high-quality video content not included in the regular Prime Video. 

Known as Prime Video Channels, this premium content lineup includes subscription movie and TV channels like HBO and Starz. It also includes a decent lineup of live sports channels and memberships, including NBA League Pass and MLB.TV. 

There are no big channel packages full of content you don’t really watch. You pay only for the channels you want, which helps control your total entertainment cost.

Amazon Kids+

For a small additional monthly fee after a one-month free trial, Prime members can add unlimited kid-friendly content — books, TV shows, movies, and apps — through Amazon Kids+. Kids+ includes built-in parental controls.

Amazon Music Unlimited

Amazon Music Unlimited is an expanded song library with over 60 million songs, which is on par with top standalone subscription streaming services. There’s a decent additional monthly fee associated with this service.

Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card

The Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card is a premium cash-back credit card that’s ideal for Prime members who spend heavily at Amazon and Whole Foods.

It’s a more powerful version of the Amazon Rewards Visa Signature Card. The Prime Visa earns 5% cash back on Amazon-universe purchases and an unlimited 2% cash back on purchases at eligible restaurants, gas stations, and drugstores. 

Credit qualification applies. This card is designed for Prime members with good to excellent credit. Before you apply, check your credit score.


Advantages

There are many reasons to invest in an Amazon Prime subscription. 

1. Vast Array of Shipping Options

Amazon Prime’s most valuable benefit is a slew of free or discounted shipping options, from two-day free shipping on some 10 million products to ultrafast two-hour shipping in select metro markets. 

If you frequently place last-minute orders, the rush delivery fees could cost as much as or more than many of the products you buy. That makes Prime’s subscription fee seem like a bargain. 

Even if you’re not in a rush, it could still be worth it. Let’s optimistically say you average a delivery fee of $5 per order. Your month-to-month Prime subscription pays for itself if you place just three orders per month. On an annual subscription, it pays for itself with two orders per month.

2. Media Perks Have High Potential Value for Frequent Users

Amazon Prime Video in particular delivers tremendous value for frequent users when compared with competitors like Hulu. 

Unfortunately, it’s not a universal library. For example, Netflix has a trove of original shows and movies, and the newest, choicest flicks carry per-rental fees. But it’s more than enough to keep Prime members occupied on nights in.

3. Free Trial Period

You can cancel your Prime subscription without penalty during the 30-day free trial period. That’s a lifesaver for budget-conscious shoppers looking to dip their toes in without paying anything out of pocket.

4. Household Membership

Joint household memberships are ideal for couples, families, and long-term roommates looking to pool their shopping and media consumption dollars. 

You can only have two adults on a household membership, but its time-saving features give parents peace of mind without paying an extra dime. Teens can shop on their own, pending your approval via text, and you can customize parental controls to limit and monitor kids’ access to media.

5. Membership Discounts for Students

Verified students enjoy 50% off the monthly or annual cost of a Prime membership. That’s excellent news for penny-pinching scholars expecting to rely on Amazon for timely deliveries of textbooks, electronics, school supplies, and basic dorm necessities.

6. Special Discounts at Whole Foods

Prime members enjoy exclusive 10%-off deals on hundreds of products at Whole Foods, subject to change and availability. 

Were it not for this perk, I wouldn’t bother shopping at my local Whole Foods at all, but this discount is deep enough to make Whole Foods’ prices competitive with nearby downscale supermarket chains.

7. Higher Cash-Back Earnings on the Amazon Prime Visa Signature Card

For frequent Amazon and Whole Foods shoppers with above-average credit, the Amazon Prime Visa Signature Card’s 2% cash back bonus subsidizes or entirely offsets Prime’s annual membership fee. 

Earning 2% back on gas and restaurant purchases is nice too, though you don’t need to be a Prime member for that.


Disadvantages

As good as it is for so many, there are downsides to the Amazon Prime subscription.

1. Relatively High Annual Fee

Amazon Prime has a relatively high annual fee: $119 per year when billed annually and $12.99 per month (about $156 per year) when billed monthly. For reference, that’s roughly double the cost of a basic Costco membership. 

If you’re not a frequent Amazon or Whole Foods shopper, don’t regularly take advantage of Prime’s non-shipping perks and features, and don’t mind waiting a few extra days for delivery, Prime probably isn’t for you.

2. No Partial Refunds for Unused Benefits on Annual Subscriptions

If you use your Prime benefits at any point during your subscription period, you’re automatically ineligible for a refund of Prime fees paid during that period. 

For instance, say you opt for the two-day free shipping benefit on one order in January, the first month of your Prime membership year. Then, you don’t use your subscription for months, deciding to cancel your annual subscription in May. You’ll pay the full cost for the entire year, despite canceling five months in. 

That’s an incentive to pay for Prime on a month-to-month basis, despite the higher yearly cost. And it’s a disadvantage over warehouse stores like Costco, whose expansive satisfaction guarantees make it fairly easy to cancel for a retroactive refund.

3. Expedited Food Delivery Costs More

An Amazon Prime membership does not entitle you to expedited grocery deliveries. For most folks, the fastest, cheapest way to get edible essentials using your Amazon discount is to stop by the nearest Whole Foods Market, where Prime members enjoy 10% off select goods. 

Amazon Fresh is particularly expensive. Mercifully, shipping is free on Prime Pantry orders over $35.

4. Free Music Library Isn’t Particularly Impressive

To most people, 2 million songs sounds like a lot. But Prime’s free streaming music library isn’t very extensive compared with top-of-the-line streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify. 

Those seeking deep cuts may want to look elsewhere or spring for a paid Amazon Music Unlimited subscription.


Final Word

Amazon Prime has a lot to offer, but it isn’t for everyone. 

My wife and I get our money’s worth and feel it’s a fair value. But we know plenty of occasional Amazon shoppers who can’t justify spending more than $100 per year for Prime benefits. Other shoppers take issue with Amazon’s growing retail dominance and prefer to support independently owned retailers instead.

Whether Amazon Prime makes sense for you depends on how much value you can extract from it. If you’re already selecting one- or two-day shipping on frequent Amazon purchases, shopping at Whole Foods, and regularly streaming Amazon content, it makes sense to join Prime. 

If you shop Amazon infrequently or not at all, don’t watch much TV, and don’t live near a Whole Foods, Prime likely isn’t worth it for you. If you’re living somewhere between those two poles, your choice might be tougher, but you now have what you need to make an informed decision.

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The Verdict

Amazon Prime Logo

Our rating

Amazon Prime

Verdict: Amazon Prime is a wildly successful retail loyalty subscription that more than justifies its high annual cost and even higher monthly cost (a premium for the freedom to cancel anytime).

The ideal Prime user is an individual or household willing to pay upfront for free, expedited shipping and able to take advantage of value-added perks like Prime Video and member-exclusive deals.

If you qualify for the Amazon Prime Visa Signature Card, you’re much more likely to offset the annual Prime membership fee. And you may neutralize the cost through increased cash-back earnings alone if you spend enough at Amazon and Whole Foods.

Prime is not ideal for occasional Amazon shoppers or those willing to pay more to support local or non-Amazon retailers.

Editorial Note:
The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Source: moneycrashers.com

What Are College Tuition Payment Plans?

According to the 2021 Sallie Mae survey “How America Pays for College,” nearly 80% of students and their families eliminated a college based on cost when determining which school to attend.

If the cost of college tuition is one of the determining factors in your decision process, it could be worth looking into tuition payment plans. College tuition payment plans are offered by colleges and allow tuition to be paid over an extended period of time. Typically, it is not difficult to qualify for a school’s tuition payment plan, but there may be a fee in order to enroll.

These plans are offered by some colleges and could help make tuition payments more manageable for students and parents.

What Is a College Tuition Payment Plan?

Instead of paying for college tuition at the beginning of each year, semester, or quarter, college tuition payment plans — also known as tuition installment plans or deferred payment plans — allow students and their families to spread out the cost of tuition over a period of time.

Depending on the school, the plan may allow payments to be made over the course of the semester or over the full year.

While you’ll generally have to start making payments right away, programs frequently offer the option to spread payments into monthly installments. Some schools also offer programs that break the payment into a few equal payments throughout the semester.

How Do Payment Plans Work?

Some colleges run their own tuition payment plans. Others use an outside service to administer the plan.

Typically these payment plans only cover the direct costs charged by and paid to the college, such as tuition and fees. Sometimes the cost of housing and meal plans will also be included under a tuition fee payment plan. The cost of things like textbooks and school supplies are not usually included in these payment plans.

Many tuition payment plans require an enrollment fee, which may fall around $50 or $100, although it may be lower. These plans don’t usually charge interest, which can potentially make them less expensive than taking out a student loan, as long as you are able to make the monthly payments.

What Types of Colleges Offer Payment Plans?

Many schools offer some sort of tuition payment plan. Qualifying for the plan isn’t generally very difficult. However, some schools do have specific enrollment periods. Check with the school you plan to attend to determine when you need to enroll and what is required to do so.

What if My School Doesn’t Offer a Payment Plan?

For many students and their parents, paying for school upfront isn’t possible. Sometimes even with a payment plan, the burden of tuition is still too high for students and their families.

Consider some of the following options when planning to pay for college tuition. While these ideas might not be enough to help you cover the full cost of tuition on their own, a combination of a few could do the trick.

Federal Aid

Federal aid for college encompasses grants, scholarships, student loans, and work-study. To apply, students must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA® ) each year.

The schools you apply to will use this information to determine how much aid you receive. You’ll typically receive an award letter detailing what types of federal aid you’ve qualified for and the amounts.

Federal Student Loans

Federal student loans can be either subsidized or unsubsidized. Subsidized loans are awarded based on need. The Department of Education covers the interest that accrues on these loans while you are in school at least part-time, during the grace period after leaving school, and during periods of deferment or forbearance.

Unsubsidized federal loans are awarded independent of need. Borrowers are responsible for paying the interest that accrues on these loans while they are in school and during periods of deferment, like the grace period.

Payments are not required on either unsubsidized or subsidized loans while you are actively enrolled more than part-time in school.

There are also PLUS loans available to parents who are interested in borrowing a loan to help their child pay for college.

Work-Study

The federal work-study program provides jobs for undergraduate and graduate students who demonstrate financial need. The amount of work-study you receive will depend on factors like when you applied, your level of determined financial need, and the amount of funding available at your school.

The money earned for work-study won’t count against you when you fill out the FAFSA, so it shouldn’t jeopardize future financial aid awards. Each time you fill out the FAFSA, it’s worth indicating that you’re still interested in receiving work-study as part of your financial aid award (that is, if you are still interested).

And it’s important to remember that your financial aid award may change from year to year, depending on you and your family’s circumstances.

Scholarships and Grants

Scholarships and grants don’t typically have to be repaid, which makes them one of the best options for students trying to pay for school. Some scholarships and grants are awarded by schools based on the information you provided in the FAFSA, but there are scholarships and grants available that aren’t based on financial need.

Taking some time to comb through online databases that catalog available scholarships, like FastWeb or Scholarships.com , could prove helpful. Each scholarship will have different application requirements.

Some might require an essay or additional supplementary materials, but the effort could be worth it if you’re able to fund a portion of your tuition costs.

Private Student Loans

Sometimes federal aid, scholarships, and your savings aren’t enough to cover the full cost of tuition. In those cases, private student loans could be an option. Unlike federal student loans, which are offered by the government, private student loans are offered by banks, credit unions, or other private lenders.

The private student loan application process will vary slightly based on lender policies, but will almost always require a credit check.

Lenders will review your credit score and financial history as they determine how much money they are willing to lend to you.

In some cases, students might need the help of a cosigner to take out a private student loan. This could be the case if they have little to no credit history.

Some parents may also be interested in taking out a loan to help their child pay for their education.

The Takeaway

Tuition payment plans, which extend the payment for college tuition over a fixed period of time, can be helpful for parents and students as they navigate how they’ll pay for the cost of education. Spreading tuition payments over the semester or year can help make them more manageable.

Private student loans could be worth considering after you’ve exhausted your federal aid options, and if things like tuition payment plans aren’t financially feasible. If you decide a private student loan is a good option for you, consider SoFi as your lender.

SoFi offers student loans for undergraduate students and their parents. If you qualify to borrow a private student loan with SoFi, there are no fees. The application process can be completed entirely online. You can also choose one of four flexible repayment plans for undergraduate student loans.

Want to learn more about the private student loans offered by SoFi? See your rates and find out if you pre-qualify right now.


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp. or an affiliate (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 SoFi.com/legal.

SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs.
SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. A hard credit pull, which may impact your credit score, is required if you apply for a SoFi product after being pre-qualified.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
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.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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Source: sofi.com

31 New Orleans Secrets That Only Real Locals Know are True

Down in the Big Easy, the drinks flow generously and jazzy melodies breeze through the streets.

Maybe it’s the voodoo, or maybe the conglomeration of all the people that make up this great city, but there’s something magical about New Orleans. It’s big but feels comforting, and makes total sense why so many call it home. Visitors far and wide will say it’s otherworldly, but locals know there’s nothing quite like it, between the city itself and all the secret hangouts only they know about. This intangible magic is what keeps locals around, quite literally, come hell or high water. Here are all the New Orleans secrets you need to know.

You’re a real New Orleanian when:

1. You’ve attended your fair share of hurricane parties. What better time to hang out with fun company and have some strong drinks than when you don’t know if your home will be there after the storm, right?

2. You get outraged when people say, “Why don’t you just evacuate?” when a storm’s coming, because you know it’s an option most New Orleans residents can’t afford.

3. If it’s not purple, green and yellow, it better be black and gold. Go, Saints!

4. You know every nearly life-threatening pothole in a half-mile radius around you. Hopefully, the city will fix them soon, but you doubt it. In the meantime, it’s not unusual for locals to shove their Mardi Gras beads in them out of spite.

crawfish

crawfish

5. It’s not springtime, it’s crawfish season.

6. You know it’s not all about Bourbon Street. Actually, you wouldn’t be caught dead in the tourist trap. Instead, you head for Royal Street or Frenchman Street. There are still plenty of places to get a drink there — and everywhere in New Orleans, for that matter — but the environment is a little laxer, and there are plenty of street artists playing wonderful medleys, too.

7. Jazz has a special place in your heart, and you know a concert could never come close to listening to your neighbors’ songs seeping through the walls or any random person playing on the street.

8. You know better than to ever touch anything on a voodoo shrine. And if you’ve ever accidentally bumped into anything at a shrine — say Marie Laveau’s — you know to visit her gravesite to give her a gift, so she’ll lift the hex off of you.

9. Tiana from Disney’s “Princess and the Frog” is based on the wonderful late Leah Chase and the Dooky Chase Restaurant (which has the best lunch buffets).

New Orleans front porch

New Orleans front porch

10. People don’t sit on their back porch. Find ’em out on their front porch or balcony taking in the sites and sounds the neighborhood has to offer.

11. Whether you find yourself on the Streetcar or an RTA — because you know driving from the French Quarter just to the Garden District will take longer than it did for Bush to send help after Katrina — if you see a lost tourist, you’re going to help them out.

12. You know all about the goat jaws, the booze, the sardines and the bodies uncovered in New Orleans. Chalk it up to buried treasure.

13. You know you can carry a king cake through New Orleans airport security, no questions asked.

14. You head over to Magazine Street to get some peace and quiet, but you start to miss the mayhem pretty quickly.

Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras

15. You love Mardi Gras, but you know that there are more New Orleans festivals to enjoy than just the big one. Sure, Mardi Gras takes the (king) cake, but New Orleans can turn anything into a party. Hell, there’s even a tomato festival down here.

16. A yummy New Orleans secret is that there’s nothing quite like mastering the skill of not covering yourself in powdered sugar at Café du Monde. It’s a talent that takes time to cultivate.

17. When friends visit, you take them to the French Market to stock up on New Orleans goodies instead of the touristy souvenir shops that are a dime a dozen.

18. It was cool at one point, but now all the filming in the French Quarter has gotten out of hand and you just wish they wouldn’t shut down three blocks of the city for another “Girls Trip” or “NCIS: New Orleans.”

19. Acceptable names for New Orleans include: New Orleans, the Birthplace of Jazz, Crescent City, Creole City and, very occasionally, Nola. Read: not N’Awlins.

Fleur de Lis

Fleur de Lis

20. Fleur de lis. Everywhere.

21. You have masks and beads hanging somewhere in your house. It’s a fact.

22. You know to-go drinks aren’t limited just to Bourbon Street. Not only can you enjoy them all over the French Quarter, but Louisiana doesn’t have any laws prohibiting open carry unless you’re in a vehicle. But even that doesn’t deter the existence of drive-thru daiquiri bars.

23. A creepy New Orleans secret: Sure, the aboveground graveyards in New Orleans are a hot spot for tourists, but you, too, give in to the lure and visit every now and then. The Cities of Death are just too intriguing to ignore. Whether it’s Nicholas Cage’s pre-made eternal pyramid or any run-of-the-mill grave, each one is intriguing and it’s all thanks to the water tables being abnormally high in New Orleans.

The French Quarter

The French Quarter

24. At one point in your life, you probably paid way too much to rent out an apartment in the French Quarter, which only lasted a couple of years before you grew up and got too tired for the never-ending party.

25. Most New Orleanians are just a little bit obsessed with true crime. And with books like the Axeman of New Orleans, Bonnie and Clyde’s ambush and the tragic tale of Zach and Addie. How could they not be intrigued?

26. The Singing Oak is the perfect pick-me-up on hard days.

27. You probably do all your local shopping on Oak Street, Royal Street or Magazine Street. They’re loaded with boutiques, antiques and galleries where you can find just about anything.

28. You’ve got your gumbo recipe on lockdown. Everyone’s is a little different, but one thing’s for sure: Get that roux a dark brown, baby!

29. Roux is practically New Orleans’ love language. All good things start with roux (or a drink).

30. You’ve definitely cooled off with a sky-high helping of Hansen’s Sno Bliz in the heat of the summer.

Red beans

Red beans

31. On Mondays, we eat red beans.

How’d we do? Comment below to share your favorite New Orleans secrets, or to let us know if we left anything out!

If you think this city is right for you, check out these apartments for rent in New Orleans. And remember: Laissez les bons temp rouler!

Source: rent.com