12 Steps to Filling out the FAFSA Form 2021-2022

For many people, one of the first steps to applying for college is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA®. This form helps the government determine your eligibility for federal student aid, including subsidized and unsubsidized student loans, as well as grants and work-study opportunities.

Completing The 2021-2022 FAFSA Application

The FAFSA form 2021 may look a bit different if you’ve filled out the form in the past. That’s because of the FAFSA® Simplification Act, which was passed in December 2020 and designed to make the FAFSA more accessible for lower-income students and families. While most of these changes won’t go into effect for the upcoming FAFSA cycle, we’ll point in this article a few changes to FAFSA you will see this year.

Recommended: FAFSA 101: How to Complete the FAFSA

12 Steps to Fill Out the FAFSA

FAFSA opens Oct. 1, 2020, and closes June 30, 2022 for the 2021/2022 academic year. However, FAFSA deadlines may vary depending on the states and schools you’re applying to, so you may want to check with each school to confirm their FAFSA deadline. If you’re ready to fill out FAFSA, we’ve outlined steps required in the process.

Not ready to fill out the FAFSA? You can fill out an abridged Federal Student Aid Estimator to give you an idea of what filling out the actual FAFSA will be like and to estimate your expected student aid package.

1. Required Documents Ready

Before even loading the online FAFSA form, it may be useful to have all your required documents in order to make the application process even easier. The things you’ll need may include:

•   Social security or alien registration ID

•   Drivers license or state ID

•   Federal income tax returns, W-2s and other financial documents for both yourself and your parent(s) if you’re a dependent (more on that later)

•   Bank statements

•   Untaxed income

•   Title IV Institution Codes for schools you’re applying to (again, more on that later)

•   Download app, if you plan on applying on mobile (you can also apply on desktop)

Dependent students will also need to provide similar information for their parents.

2. FSA IDs

There’s one more thing you’ll need in order to apply for FAFSA, and that’s a federal student aid ID, or FSA ID . This is simply the username or password you’ll use to log into FAFSA. Note that if you need to enter parental financial information, whoever is providing that financial information will also need to create an FSA ID .

3. Basic Information

Now that you have a FSA ID, you’re ready to log in and get started. The first few steps of FAFSA will be filling out basic information. The site or app will first ask you if you are a student, parent, or preparer helping a student fill out the FAFSA. Select which one applies to you. You should then be prompted to provide the following:

•   Your full name

•   Date of birth

•   Social security number

4. Starting the Application

Once you fill in this information, you will be asked to accept or decline the disclaimer, which details how the site will use and monitor your data. You should then be prompted to either start a FAFSA for 2021-2022 or 2020-2021. If you’re filing FAFSA for the upcoming year and are not currently enrolled in college, you should choose “Start 2021-2022 FAFSA.”

You’ll also be asked to create a save key, which is simply a four-digit code you’ll use to save your application. If you don’t finish FAFSA in one sitting, then you’ll be asked to enter your save key to continue filling it out at a later date.

5. Section 1: Student Information

Next, you’ll need to enter some information about yourself, including (but not limited to):

•   Social security number

•   Full name

•   Date of birth

•   Email address

•   Phone number

•   Home address

•   State of residence

•   Citizenship status

•   High school completion status

•   College degree level

•   If you’d like to be considered for work-study

6. Section 2: College Search Section

To send your FAFSA information to schools you’re applying to, you’ll need to find the federal school code for each school you want your information sent to. Doing so allows colleges to receive your FAFSA information and use it to provide you a financial aid package. You can find this code either on the school’s website or by searching for it on the FAFSA form itself.

7. Section 3: Dependency Status

You can either apply to FAFSA as a dependent of your parents or as an independent. If you’re a first-time college student and will graduate from high school in 2022 and/or are under 24 years old, you’ll most likely need to file as a dependent, meaning you’ll need your parents’ financial information to apply.

Section 3 of the FAFSA will help you determine if you’re an independent or dependent student. You’ll need to provide some more information about yourself, such as your marital status, if you have children or other dependents, and if you’re at risk or are currently experiencing homelessness.

Once you’ve filled out this information, FAFSA should display a message that determines whether or not you’re considered a dependent and therefore need parental financial information to determine expected family contribution (which will soon be replaced with the student aid index).

(Note that the rest of these steps assume you’re filing as a dependent. While the process of filing as an independent will be similar, you won’t be asked to provide information about your parents.)

8. Section 4: Parental Information

If you need parental information for FAFSA, you’ll include that in this section. Information you’ll need includes (but is not limited to):

•   Parental marital status

•   Date of parent’s marriage

•   Parent social security number

•   Parent name

•   Parent date of birth

•   Parent email address

•   Parent’s spousal information for all of the above

•   Household size

9. Section 5: Parent Financials

Next, you’ll need to provide some financial information about your parents. You’ll be asked for information such as (but not limited to):

•   Last year taxes were filed

•   Tax return type

•   Filing status

•   IRS Data Retrieval Tool (otherwise, need to fill in tax information manually)

•   Combat pay

•   Grant and scholarship aid

•   Education credits

•   Untaxed IRA distributions

•   IRA deductions and payments

•   Tax exempt interest income

•   Child support payments

•   Need-based employment programs

•   Net worth

10. Section 6: Student financials

Now it’s time to provide some financial information about yourself. You’ll be asked for information such as (but not limited to):

•   Last year taxes were filed

•   Tax return type

•   Filing status

•   IRS Data Retrieval Tool (otherwise, need to fill in tax information manually)

•   Combat pay

•   Grant and scholarship aid

•   Education credits

•   Untaxed IRA distributions

•   IRA deductions and payments

•   Tax exempt interest income

•   Child support payments

•   Need-based employment programs

•   Net worth

11. Check for errors

Once you’ve reached the end of the application, you should receive a FAFSA summary. Before hitting submit, you may want to ensure that all the information you included is accurate. Reviewing this information closely may help avoid filing a FAFSA correction later.

12. Agreement of Terms

The FAFSA requires you to accept or reject its agreement of terms. If your parent(s) also provided information because you filed as a dependent, they will also need to accept these terms in order for you to submit the application. Both you and your parent(s) will e-sign using your FSA ID. Once you’ve accepted the terms, your FAFSA will be complete.

Sample FAFSA Form for 2021/2022

Do you need some extra help? FAFSA’s Financial Aid Tool Kit is rich with resources and information. Some documents include step-by-step instructions on how to complete the FAFSA on the website and mobile app, lists of tips for filling out the FAFSA, question-and-answer documents, and more. You can also view a sample FAFSA form or a presentation on how to fill out FAFSA using the mobile app.

This student aid report may also be useful if you need to see another FAFSA sample form.

Recommended: How much FAFSA Money Can I Expect?

What’s Different About the 2021/2022 FAFSA

As previously discussed, the FAFSA Simplification Act passed last December resulted in a few changes to FAFSA. However, most of these changes won’t go into effect for the 2021-2022 school year. For FAFSA 2021-2022, major changes include the following:

•   Automatic-Zero EFC: FAFSA will give all applicants with an income of $27,000 or less an EFC of zero, meaning FAFSA does not expect families to help pay for the applicant’s college. This amount increased $1,000 from last year, which set the cut-off at $26,000, so more students should be able to receive a EFC of zero.

•   Schedule 1 Questions: When populating tax information from the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, the tool will automatically answer whether or not the applicant filed for a Schedule 1.

Additional changes are already scheduled for the 2022/2023 FAFSA form, such as drug convictions no longer negatively affecting one’s ability to get financial aid. Additionally, registration status for Selective Service for eligible males will also no longer be considered for financial aid. You can review the latest changes to the FAFSA on the official FAFSA website.

A Few Extra Tips

Completing the FAFSA can be an overwhelming process. For those filing for the first time, you may want to check out this 2021-2022 FAFSA guide and some FAFSA tips to make the process even easier. If you need some more help on how to fill out FAFSA 2021/2022, some tips from StudentAid.Gov include:

1.    Completing the form: It can be tempting to skip the FAFSA altogether, especially if you’re from a middle- or upper-class family and you believe you won’t be eligible for aid. However, falling for this assumption could mean leaving aid on the table.

2.    Paying attention to deadlines: As stated earlier, FAFSA 2021/2022 opens Oct. 1 and closes June 30, 2022. However, the schools you’re applying to may require you to fill out the FAFSA before June 30, so it’s best to ask each school’s financial aid office about what their FAFSA deadlines are to avoid losing out on aid.

3.    Using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool: This tool auto-fills your latest tax information from the IRS database. When you fill out FAFSA, you’ll have the option to either fill out your tax data manually or use the tool. Using the tool could help you avoid making costly mistakes while also saving you time.

4.    Filling out every section: Not sure how to fill out a section? FAFSA offers helpful tips throughout each section of the FAFSA form to make filling out the FAFSA easier. Additionally, not filling out a section of FAFSA could result in your form not being submitted or you receiving less financial aid.

5.    Double-checking the form: Before you submit, you may want to go back and double-check your answers to make sure everything is filled out and is accurate.

Recommended: Navigating Your Financial Aid Package

The Takeaway

Filling out the FAFSA is a great first step to pay for your dream school. This is one of the best ways of getting scholarships and grants you won’t have to pay back or government-backed loans to help you pay for college-related costs. By learning how to properly fill out the FAFSA (and then actually doing so!), you can increase your odds of getting a bigger financial aid package.

However, if your financial aid package doesn’t cover all your college expenses, you may want to consider private student loans. It’s important to note that private student loans don’t offer the same protections as federal student loans, like income-driven repayment plans or deferment options. For this reason, private student loans are generally considered only after other sources of funding have been considered.

SoFi’s Private Student Loans are available for undergraduate and graduate students, as well as parents. In just a few minutes, you can apply online for student loans and be well on your way to financing your education.

Find out more about SoFi’s Private Student Loan options.

Header photo credit: iStock/Vladimir Sukhachev

FAFSA photos credit: FAFSA’s Financial Aid Tool Kit

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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.
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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.
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Source: sofi.com

ZipRecruiter vs. Craigslist: 2021 Comparison

ZipRecruiter has only been around for a little over a decade, but it has already positioned itself as the top job site for finding and creating job postings.
So depending on what the open position is — or what a qualified candidate looks like — the job board itself should be taken into consideration before the job hunt begins. Looking for your company’s next Director of Marketing? ZipRecruiter is likely the best job site to find them. Seeking a position that doesn’t require a degree? Craigslist has thousands of these types of jobs available in your area.
We’re breaking down the key differences between these two job boards, so you can make the most of your time when looking for a job or hoping to find top talent.

What is ZipRecruiter?

There are no flashy features, like team collaboration, resume searches or the ability to manage applicants. Job listings won’t be syndicated to 100 other job boards like with ZipRecruiter either. But if a hiring manager knows exactly what they’re looking for, they can upload new job openings to the Craigslist job boards in a matter of minutes.
The key differences between ZipRecruiter and Craiglist for people who are on the job search are the types of positions that are typically posted and the ability — or inability — to have potential employers reach out to them.
Employers looking to hire on Craigslist can get an unlimited number of emails from potential candidates, but are unable to search through any sort of resume database to find local candidates themselves.

What is Craigslist?

Companies that are hiring can post job openings and find quality candidates through ZipRecruiter’s easy-to-use platform. Not only will ZipRecruiter’s artificial intelligence algorithm find top talent for them, it will also syndicate each job posting to more than 100 other job boards to open up the applicant pool even more and make the hiring process more streamlined.
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ZipRecruiter for Employers

Employers on a small budget will also benefit from Craigslist’s affordable job site. For as little as each, they can post as many jobs as they want — but will have to do a lot more leg work when it comes to sorting through unqualified applicants and manually handling the entire hiring process.
When you’re looking to fill a position or hoping to find a new job for yourself, where you look can be almost as important as what you’re looking for.
ZipRecruiter’s prices start as low as per day for one reusable job posting and increases based on a number of factors, including industry, resume downloads and number of users you want on your account. But the features that come with the subscription can make the monthly cost worthwhile.

Craigslist for Employers

Craigslist is best known for being a local marketplace where people can find almost anything — furniture, rooms to rent, missed connections and even legal help.
Ready to stop worrying about money?
As for people hoping to get plenty of resume views as they search for the best job for them, ZipRecruiter has thousands of potential employers and millions of jobs to search through. And with the recruiting process made simple for a potential employer, it then makes it easier for a candidate to make it through the job-search process.

ZipRecruiter vs Craigslist: Comparing Costs for Employers

Source: thepennyhoarder.com
ZipRecruiter has a mobile app, which lets employers create job postings, screen candidates and contact support from anywhere. Support is available via phone, online chat or email.
But with the ability to simply syndicate job postings, create sponsored jobs, boost team collaboration and take advantage of the job site’s artificial intelligence, there’s a reason why ZipRecruiter has been named the No. 1 website for an employer’s hiring needs. It has a nearly perfect rating on TrustPilot, taking it to the top spot above all the other job boards, including Monster.

ZipRecruiter vs. Craigslist for Job Seekers

ZipRecruiter has an easy job search function, plus employers can use artificial intelligence to find job seekers to interview, making the process much more streamlined and efficient.
Privacy Policy
Job seekers can use the job-searching engine to look for open positions. They can also upload their resume and be matched with jobs that ZipRecruiter’s algorithm shows they’d be a top candidate for.
A unique feature ZipRecruiter offers is pre-written job descriptions that make it easy for hiring managers to post jobs and quickly help employers find potential qualified employees. They can also swap out job postings whenever an opening has been filled, instead of being stuck with a set time frame to keep each job posting live.


Applying to a Craigslist job is similar to how people acquire things from other Craigstlist posts — job searching users need to email or call the poster and hope to hear back from them. There isn’t a way to track applications or answer screening questions to make yourself stand out.
If you’re starting your job search, think about what kind of job you’re looking for. Are you looking for a side gig, or something that doesn’t require a university degree? Craigslist can be a good solution for you to land a job quickly.
The type of position someone is looking for should determine which job board they use first to find a position. Side gigs, part-time and manual labor tend to have more options on Craigslist, while ZipRecruiter is better known for full-time positions.
But a major portion of Craigslist’s business is as one of the top-job hunting sites for part-time work, manual labor, side gigs or more.
Craigslist is by far the least expensive option for employers looking to speed up their hiring process. A 30-day job posting costs between and depending on the location. Individual listings can’t be swapped out for new ones — instead employers will need to create a new posting, but they can post as many jobs as they want at any given time. All they need to do is pay with their credit card for a new listing. <!–


Craigslist is a cost-effective solution for employers looking to fill jobs. There are no subscriptions required, just a flat fee for each job posting. They don’t even need to create an account to post jobs if they don’t want to.

100+ Birthday Freebies — Celebrate With Free Stuff!

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Hooray! It’s your birthday!

The last thing you should do is pay for stuff. So we’ve put together a list of 100 places where you can get birthday freebies, updated for 2021.

Most of these places require you to sign up for their email list or join their rewards club at least seven days before your birthday.

So get busy now and enjoy the free birthday stuff as it rolls in on your big day.

103 Places to Get Birthday Freebies

These restaurants and retailers will provide you with free treats for your birthday. Be sure to sign up in advance.

Food & Drink

1. A&W All American Food

Get a free root beer float on your birthday by joining the Mug Club.

2. ABC Liquor

Sign up for ABC Liquor Access to get a “birthday gift.”

3. Abuelo’s

When you join the Mi Abuelo’s Rewards program, you’ll receive “special offers” on your birthday. You’ll also receive a special offer upon joining.

4. Acapulco

Sign up for the Acapulco eClub and get a free entree on your birthday. Plus, you’ll get a free appetizer with the purchase of an entree just for signing up.

5. Applebee’s

Sign up for the email club, and get $5 off when you spend at least $25. You’ll also get a free dessert on your birthday when you spend $15.

The exterior of an Arby's fast food restaurant.
Photo courtesy of Arby’s

6. Arby’s

Sign up for Arby’s emails and get a free small milkshake and curly fries on your birthday when you buy any sandwich. You’ll also get 50% off the sandwich or wrap of your choice when you sign up.

7. Au Bon Pain

Join the Eclub, and get a free coffee and pastry on your birthday. You’ll also get a travel mug just for signing up.

8. Auntie Anne’s

Download the Pretzel Perks app, and get a free pretzel on your birthday.

9. Baja Fresh

Sign up for Club Baja to get a “special offer” on your birthday.

10. Baskin Robbins

Create an account, join the Birthday Club, and get a free scoop of ice cream on your birthday.

11. bd’s Mongolian Grill

Get a free meal on your birthday when you join the bd’s Rewards eClub, plus get a $5 coupon just for signing up.

12. Benihana’s

Register for the Chef’s Table, and you’ll get a $30 birthday certificate.

13. Big Boy

Joining the I Love Big Boy email club gets you a free meal on your birthday.

14. BJ’s Brewhouse

Join Premier Rewards Plus and get a free Pizookie for your birthday. What’s that? It’s a big, warm cookie smothered in ice cream… yum. What’s even better is you don’t have to wait for your birthday – you’ll also get a free Pizookie just for signing up.

15. Black Angus Steakhouse

Join the Prime Club to get a free steak dinner on your first birthday as a member.

16. Bojangles

Get a free Bo-Berry Biscuit with a purchase on your birthday as a member of the Bojangles’ eClub.

17. Bruegger’s Bagels

Members of the Bruegger’s Bagels Inner Circle will enjoy a free bagel and cream cheese on their birthday, and another free bagel and cream cheese just for signing up.

18. Buca di Beppo

You’ll receive a free pasta after signing up, as well as a $20 birthday gift for joining the eClub.

The sign of Buffalo Wild Wings is photographed.
Tina Russell/ The Penny Hoarder

19. Buffalo Wild Wings

Sign up for Blazin’ Rewards to get free birthday wings during your birth month.

20. Carvel

Join Fudgie Fanatics to receive a free treat for your birthday. You can get a small soft serve birthday cone, take $2 off any cake (except for a small square) or take $3 off any sheet cake.

21. Chevys Fresh Mex

Members of the eClub get a free entree on their birthday, as well as a free appetizer for signing up.

22. Chick-fil-A

Join Chick-fil-A One to get a “birthday reward.”

23. Chili’s

Get a free dessert for your birthday when you join My Chili’s Rewards Club. Plus, as long as you spend $5, you get free chips and salsa or a non-alcoholic beverage with every visit!

24. Chipotle

Join the Chipotle rewards program to get free chips and guacamole on your birthday when you make a purchase of $5 or more. When you sign up and make your first purchase, you’ll also get free chips and a choice of guacamole, queso blanco or salsa.

25. Cinnabon

Subscribe to Club Cinnabon to get a free iced coffee on your birthday and a free order of BonBites for signing up.

26. Cold Stone Creamery

Get a BOGO coupon for your birthday by signing up for the My Cold Stone Club. You’ll also get a BOGO coupon just for signing up!

Two sundaes at Culver's.
Photo courtesy of Culver’s

27. Culver’s

Enjoy a free sundae on your birthday when you sign up for MyCulver’s. You’ll also get a BOGO value basket when you sign up.

28. Del Taco

If you join Del Yeah! Rewards, you can enjoy a regular-size premium shake for your birthday. If you’ve racked up more than 1,500 points, you’ll get your choice of a shake or any dessert — except for Caramel Cheesecake Bites.

Plus you’ll get two free The Del tacos when you sign up.

29. Denny’s

Sign up for Denny’s Rewards program online or via the mobile app. You’ll get 20% off your next visit, plus during your birthday month you’ll get your choice of a free dessert or a free Birthday Slam, which includes pancakes, eggs and your choice of bacon or sausage.

30. Dippin’ Dots

Get free Dippin’ Dots for your birthday when you join the Dot Crazy! Email Club.

31. Dunkin’ Donuts

Get a free beverage on your birthday by signing up for the DD Perks Rewards Program.

32. Edible Arrangements

Join Edible Rewards and receive a free 12-count chocolate dipped fruit box (valued at $29.99) during your birthday month as long as you’ve spent at least $29.99 in the past calendar year. You’ll also get a $5 coupon for signing up (valid for 30 days).

33. Einstein Bros. Bagels

Get a free egg sandwich with a purchase on your birthday when you join the Shmear Society — not totally free, but hey, you’ll need something to help wash that sandwich down. You’ll have 14 days to claim your reward.

34. Famous Dave’s

Join the Famous Nation and get a free dessert with a value of up to $9.00 for your birthday.

35. Firehouse Subs

Sign up for Firehouse Rewards for a free medium sub on your birthday or in the six days that follow it.

36. First Watch

Get a BOGO breakfast, brunch or lunch for your birthday as a member of the Sun EClub.

37. Friendly’s

When you become a BFF Club member, you’ll receive a free birthday sundae.

38. Godiva

As a member of the Godiva Rewards Club, you’ll get a free birthday chocolate offer every year.

39. Habit Burger Grill

Be sure to join Habit Burger Grill’s CharClub to enjoy a free Charburger on your birthday.

40. Hooters

Get 10 free boneless birthday wings when you sign up for Hootclub. You’ll also get a free appetizer of $8.99 or less when you sign up — and after every eighth visit..

41. Houlihan’s Restaurant and Bar

Email club members get a free birthday entree, plus $10 off just for joining.

42. IHOP

Sign up for MyHop and get free pancakes on your birthday. You’ll also get free pancakes on the anniversary of your sign-up.

A woman smiles as she holds up a drink and a sub she got for free from Jersey Mike's Subs.
Robin Hartill scored a free birthday sub she got from Jersey Mike’s Sub in Saint Petersburg, Fla. Tina Russell/ The Penny Hoarder

43. Jersey Mike’s Subs

Get a free birthday sub when you sign up for the email club.

44. Krispy Kreme

Krispy Kreme Rewards members receive a free Original Glazed Dozen. You’ll also get a free doughnut when you sign up.

45. Longhorn Steakhouse

As a member of the Longhorn Steakhouse’s eClub, you’ll get “special offers and coupons” on your birthday. You’ll also get a free appetizer with the purchase of an entree when you sign up.

46. Marie Callender’s

Join the eClub, and get $5 off the purchase of two entrees, plus two free slices of pie. You’ll also get a special dine-in offer for signing up. The company also sends special offers for your wedding anniversary and allows you to add family members so they can get birthday rewards.

47. Moe’s Southwest Grill

Sign up for Moe Rewards and get a coupon for a free birthday burrito, plus a free cup of queso just for signing up.

48. Nothing Bundt Cakes

Join the Nothing Bundt Cakes eClub and get a free Bundtlet on your birthday.

49. Olive Garden

Get a complimentary dessert on your birthday. No signup necessary..

50. On the Border

Join Border Rewardsand get a ‘special surprise’ on your birthday. Plus, when you sign up, you’ll get a free dessert with the purchase of an entree.

51. Pei Wei

Sign up for My Wei Rewards and choose from these birthday freebies: crab wontons, traditional edamame, vegetable spring rolls or pork egg roll. The reward will automatically appear in your app seven days prior to your birthday.

52. Perkins

Members of the MyPerkins Club receive a “special gift” on their birthdays. Plus you’ll get a 20% off coupon for signing up. You will also be able to add your children ages 12 and under so they can get birthday rewards, too.

53. Pinkberry

Sign up for a Pinkcard or download the app, and receive a free yogurt on your birthday.

54. Pita Pit

Sign up for the Pita Pit Rewards Club and receive a free pita on your birthday.

The exterior of Pizza Hut.
Photo courtesy of Pizza Hut

55. Pizza Hut

Join the Hut Rewards program to get a “birthday reward.”

56. Planet Smoothie

Join the Planet Smoothie Club and receive a free smoothie for your birthday.

57. Red Lobster

Enjoy a “birthday reward” when you sign up for the My Red Lobster Rewards program.

58. Red Robin

Register for the Red Robin Royalty Program, and get a free birthday burger.

59. Rita’s

Get a free Italian ice on your birthday when you download Rita’s Ice App.

60. Romano’s Macaroni Grill

Sign up for the email club, and get a free dessert on your birthday with the purchase of an adult entree.

61. Ruby Tuesday

As a member of So Connected, you’ll get a choice of a free burger or a free garden bar entree on your birthday. You’ll also get a $5 off coupon for signing up.

62. Sbarro

Become a member of the Slice Society to get a birthday surprise. You’ll also get a free New York slice when you buy a beverage after signing up.

63. Sonny’s BBQ

Get a free Big Deal Combo meal on your big day by joining the ‘Q Crew, plus a $5 coupon just for joining.

64. Sprinkles

Receive a free cupcake (make that a baker’s dozen if you’re a Red Velvet tier member) for your birthday when you join Sprinkles Perks.

Robin Hartill, an editor at The Penny Hoarder, sips an iced coffee she got for free on her birthday at Starbucks in Saint Petersburg, Fla.
Hartill sips an iced coffee she got for free on her birthday at Starbucks in Saint Petersburg, Fla. Tina Russell/ The Penny Hoarder

65. Starbucks

Get a birthday beverage or food item as a member of Starbucks Rewards.

66. Subway

Sign up for the Subway MyWay Rewards program and the sandwich-making company will give you “something special” on your birthday.

67. TCBY

Sign up for TCBY emails, and receive your first 3 ounces free on your birthday — as long as you’ve spent $100 at TCBY over the past year.

68. Texas Roadhouse

Sign up for the email club and you’ll get a free appetizer or a sidekick of ribs on your birthday.

69. The Melting Pot

Members of Club Fondue will get a “birthday voucher.”

70. The Spaghetti Warehouse

Join the Warehouse Club, and get a free meal on your birthday, plus a free appetizer with an entree purchase for becoming a member of the club.

71. Tijuana Flats

Become a Flathead and receive a free dessert for your birthday. You’ll also get a free Tijuana Trio when you sign up.

72. Tropical Smoothie Cafe

Download the Tropical Smoothie Cafe app to be eligible for a birthday reward. What you get depends on your loyalty tier, but it ranges from a $2 reward to a free menu item.

73. Uno Pizzeria & Grill

Join the Uno Extras program, and receive a birthday coupon, as well as a free individual pizza.

74. Waffle House

Make sure you’re a member of the Waffle House Regulars Club to receive a free waffle on your birthday. You’ll also get free hashbrowns when you sign up. Additionally, Regulars receive an Anniversary Bacon Coupon, seasonal coupons, and other offers throughout the year.

75. Wienerschnitzel

Join the Wiener Lovers’ Club, and get a “free food” each year on your birthday, plus a free chili dog for joining.

76. Zaxby’s

Sign up for the Zax Club and get a free “birthday surprise” , plus a free signature sandwich for signing up.


77. Alamo Drafthouse Cinema

Join Alamo Drafthouse Cinema’s Victory program and get a free movie ticket on your birthday every year. If you visit Alamo Drafthouse Cinema more than 50 times per year, you’ll get two free tickets for your birthday.

78. AMC Theatres

Become an AMC Stubs Insider to get a free large popcorn during your birthday month. If you’re a Premiere or A-List member, you’ll also get a free large fountain drink.

People wait outside Best Buy on Black Friday.
Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

79. Best Buy

My Best Buy members get a “birthday gift.”

80. Harkins Theatres

Sign up for My Harkins Rewards and receive a $5 birthday coupon to use at the concessions.

81. Hard Rock

Sign up for Hard Rock Rewards to get an “annual birthday offer” from the cafe and shops.

82. Redbox

Sign up for Redbox Perks and receive a free birthday rental (it must be used within 60 days). If you have made 50 purchases or rentals, you’ll get two free birthday rentals.You’ll also get a free one-night rental for signing up (that offer is valid for two weeks).

Clothes & Shoes

83. Anthropologie

As a member of the Anthro Loyalty program, you will get a “special treat to celebrate your birthday.”

84. Banana Republic

When you sign up to receive Banana Republic’s emails, you can opt to also get a “birthday gift.”

85. Columbia

Members of the Greater Rewards program get a “birthday gift” in addition to a welcome gift from the sportswear and outdoor gear retailer.

Penny Hoarder senior writer Robin Hartill knows how to score the freebies on her birthday. Check out her haul.

86. Designer Shoe Warehouse (DSW)

Join the free DSW VIP Club to get a $5 birthday reward. You’ll also get $5 on your birthday if you spend $200 annually as a VIP Gold member, and you’ll get $10 if you spend $500 annually as a VIP Elite member.

87. Famous Footwear

Famously You Rewards members get a $5 birthday cash reward. You’ll also earn double points on all of your purchases during your birthday month.

88. JCPenney

Receive a birthday gift when you sign up for JCPenney Rewards. If you are not a JCPenney credit card member, you must have earned points within the last 12 months. If you are a credit card member, you must have made a purchase with your JCPenney Credit Card within the past 12 months.

The exterior of a Kohls store.
Getty Images

89. Kohl’s

Members of the Kohl’s Rewards program get a “special birthday gift.”

90. Old Navy

When you join Navyist Rewards, you’re eligible for one free “birthday surprise.”

91. Torrid

Sign up for Torrid Rewards and get a coupon for $10 off during your birthday month.

92. Uniqlo

Download the Uniqlo app to get a birthday coupon during your birthday month.

Beauty & Jewelry

93. Aveda

You need to pay $10 to join Aveda’s loyalty rewards program, but you’ll receive a birthday gift valued at $23, as well as double points for your next Aveda purchase.

94. bareMinerals

Sign up for the Friends and Benefits loyalty program to get “birthday gifts.”

95. Kendra Scott

Kendra Scott offers a 50% birthday discount on one fashion jewelry or color bar item. It also offers a 25% discount on fine jewelry, sterling silver jewelry or gold vermeil jewelry. You can also get 25% off a home goods item. Find out more information here.

96. Pandora

Members of the Pandora Club get a 15% discount during their birthday month. This offer can only be used one time and is valid on regular-priced jewelry only.

97. Sephora

Beauty Insiders are eligible to choose a free makeup or skin care gift for their birthday.

98. Ulta Beauty

As an Ultamate Rewards member, you’ll get a free gift. If you’ve spent enough money to be a Platinum ($500) or Diamond ($1,200) member, you get an additional bonus gift.

During your birthday month, you’ll earn double points on all of your purchases.


99. Ace Hardware

Ace Rewards members get $5 off for their birthday at participating locations. If you’ve spent $750 at Ace Hardware over a 12-month period, your birthday rewards get bumped up to $10 off, regardless of location.

100. Container Store

Join the POP! (Perfectly Organized Perks) program to get a birthday gift.

The exterior of a CVS is photographed in Florida.
Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

101. CVS Pharmacy

As a member of the ExtraCare program, you’ll get a free, $3 Extrabucks reward on your birthday, as well as 2% back every time you shop.

102. Swagbucks

As a birthday reward, “you’ll receive a Swag Up for a 55 SB credit when you redeem your next gift card.”

103. World Market

Members of World Market Rewards get a “surprise offer” on their birthday, plus a 15% coupon for signing up.

The Penny Hoarder Staff

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Our Best Value Tech Holiday Gifts for 2021 (Plus the Best, Period)

Yes, the 2021 edition is arriving a little earlier than usual, but there’s a reason for that. The supply chain disruption, chip shortages, and transportation woes that have been so disruptive over the past year continue. That means popular products may be more difficult to find than usual, and retailers are warning that some may quickly sell out when holiday shopping kicks off.

To put that in perspective, a full year after launch, many gamers are still struggling to get their hands on a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X game console.

So this is your head start. The gift guide is divided into two sections. The first is tech gifts that offer great value. They have an excellent combination of performance, features, and quality at a compelling price point. The second section is for tech products that stand out and offer more of a wow factor. They still deliver on value, but they’re higher up the price scale. I have had hands-on experience with virtually all of these products and published reviews for the majority of them, so you can count on each of these being much more than a pretty picture.

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Best Value in Chromebooks: Lenovo Chromebook Duet 10.1-inch 2-in-1

photo of Lenovo Chromebook Duet 10.1-inch 2-in-1photo of Lenovo Chromebook Duet 10.1-inch 2-in-1

Chromebooks were already popular with students, but two school years where remote and hybrid learning have been a frequent reality has made them indispensable for many families.

The Lenovo Chromebook Duet has wowed us since its 2020 debut. It’s a 2-in-1 with a detachable display so it can be used as a tablet, which is ideal for running Android apps or reading. Unlike many companies, Lenovo includes the magnetically connecting keyboard in the box. At under $300, you’re not going to find a fire-breathing processor, extra RAM or a lot of storage. In this case it’s a MediaTek Helio P60T 8-core CPU, 4GB or RAM, and 64GB of eMMC storage.

However, in a Chromebook, that does the job. When I reviewed the Chromebook Duet, I could easily have a dozen Chrome tabs open without slowdown. It’s equipped with a built-in webcam for video conferencing. I was really impressed by Lenovo’s inclusion of a 1080p IPS touchscreen display (many entry level Chromebooks still have 720p displays), and the 10 hours of battery life I averaged.

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Best Value in Gaming Laptops: Acer Nitro 5 (AN515-55-53E5)

Photo of Acer Nitro 5Photo of Acer Nitro 5

Gaming was already big, but in the pandemic, popularity soared. And then kept growing. Online PC gaming platform Steam just keeps breaking its own record for concurrent users. Gaming laptops have been incredibly popular because they allow PC gaming from wherever you can carve out the space to sit down, and they can do double-duty for school. But to play PC games, you really do need a gaming laptop, though — a standard computer lacks the graphics processing unit (GPU) to be able to handle popular triple-A games. 

You can actually get a pretty capable gaming laptop for well under $1,000. Acer’s Nitro 5 series has been an affordable gaming laptop leader for years. There are dozens of models to choose from, but this year’s crop includes the Nitro 5 (AN515-55-53E5).

For $799, you get a 10th generation Intel Core i5 processor, Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3050 GPU capable of real-time ray tracing, a 15.6-inch 1080p display with a 144Hz refresh rate, Wi-Fi 6, and ultra-fast NVMe storage.

RAM and storage are both on the low end but usable (8GB and 256GB respectively), but can be easily and inexpensively upgraded at any time thanks to free slots.

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Best Value in Laptops: Apple M1 MacBook Air

Photo of Apple M1 MacBook Air Photo of Apple M1 MacBook Air

Once again, the M1 MacBook Air tops our list as the best value in laptops. We’re expecting a new version in 2022, but that one is undoubtedly going to go a little more upscale.

The current M1 MacBook Air — released last November — is a powerful performer thanks to Apple’s custom-designed M1 CPU. It features a silent, fanless design, a premium machined aluminum enclosure (in gold, silver or space gray), a very nice 13.3-inch Liquid Retina display, and battery life of up to 18 hours. It runs macOS instead of Windows, but there are macOS or cloud versions of most popular applications including Microsoft Office, so that shouldn’t be a big issue for most users.

With a starting price of $999 ($899 if you qualify for educational pricing), there’s no better value to be found in a laptop.

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Best Value in Smart Speaker: Google Nest Hub (2nd Gen)

Photo of Google Nest HubPhoto of Google Nest Hub

The pandemic has made connected digital photo frames popular as a way to create a digital connection with people less comfortable with laptops, tablets or similar equipment. This year’s suggestion is the second-generation Google Nest Hub.

This device is truly a great value. Priced at $99.99, it’s a smart speaker with a built-in 7-inch touchscreen. Use it to play music, stream videos, voice control smart home devices, and take video calls. And when not doing all that, the display can double as a digital photo frame as well, playing a slide show of your favorite snaps from Google Photos.

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Best Value in TVs: TCL 6-Series 4K Roku TV

Photo of tvPhoto of tv

Last year, the TCL 4-Series 4K Roku TV made this list as the best value in TVs, with a $229.99 starting price. This year, TCL is on the list again (the company is on a roll), but with the 6-Series, which has a $949.99 starting price.

Why the big price difference, and should you pay it?

First, sky-high demand for TVs combined with parts shortages and higher shipping costs have pushed prices considerably higher for all TVs this year. The TCL model that went for $229.99 last year is priced at $349.99 this year. That was also a 43-inch TV, where the smallest 6-Series is a 55-inch model ($499.99 for that size in the 4-Series).

The TCL 6-Series is equipped with advanced technology including a quantum dot display and a 120Hz refresh rate. It supports features like Dolby Atmos surround sound and Dolby Vision HDR. It delivers an excellent viewing experience and with its THX certified game mode, it is consistently rated as one of the best TVs for gaming with the new Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X game consoles. It’s a tremendous value in a TV and well worth the higher price tag — which is still well below the competition.

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Best Value in Fitness Tracker: Fitbit Charge 5

Photo of Fitbit Charge 5Photo of Fitbit Charge 5

Smart watches like the Apple Watch continue to gain popularity, but the reality is that many people who buy these are primarily using them for their health and fitness-tracking capabilities, and those you can get for less.

The Fitbit Charge 5 is an attractive-looking fitness tracker, with an aluminum case (in a choice of colors), swappable bands, a vibrant, always-on AMOLED touchscreen display, built-in GPS, and seven-day battery life. It offers a full array of health and fitness tracking capabilities including a heart rate sensor, ECG, oxygen saturation (SpO2) levels, breathing rate, and sleep monitoring.

It can also show notifications from an iPhone or Android smartphone.

If you’re shopping for someone who wants to be on top of all aspects of their health and fitness, the Fitbit Charge 5 is a great value at $100 less than Apple’s entry-level Apple Watch SE.

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Best Value in ANC Wireless Headphones: PuroPro Hybrid ANC Volume Limited Headphones

Photo illustration of PuroPro HeadphonesPhoto illustration of PuroPro Headphones

Wireless headphones are always a popular gift. The latest must-have feature — thanks to the trend working from home trend — is active noise cancellation (ANC). You can spend a lot of money on a pair of over-ear headphones that offer wireless connectivity and ANC, but you don’t need to. These will handle your neighbor’s leaf blower just fine.

In testing, I found the PuroPro Hybrid ANC wireless headphones deliver on the noise cancellation front, with two levels of ANC. They are comfortable and modern-looking, and offer an enjoyable music listening experience with plenty of energy. It’s on a level comparable with more expensive offerings. But there’s a twist. These headphones have a built in volume limiter to prevent hearing damage, making them ideal for those who habitually crank their music to 11. Odds are, they’ll never even notice.

PuroPro headphones fold compactly for carrying and come with a hardshell carrying case. They ship in a unique wooden box instead of cardboard, making for an attractive gift you won’t even need to wrap. 

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Best Value in Wireless Earbuds: 1More ComfoBuds Pro Aura Blue

Photo of 1More ComfoBudsPhoto of 1More ComfoBuds

True wireless earbuds make a great gift, and as with headphones, active noise cancellation is the latest must-have feature. The default when it comes to earbuds are Apple’s incredibly popular AirPods. If you want ANC, that means moving up to the $249 AirPods Pro.

However, at less than half that price, the 1More ComfoBuds Pro Aura Blue wireless earbuds are a much better value.

They are designed to be extremely comfortable (hence the name) and music sounds great thanks to 13.4 mm titanium composite dynamic drivers and custom tuning. You can customize the sound with 22 pre-set EQ settings. Six microphones support voice calls and multiple ANC modes, including pass-through (which basically means amplifying outside sounds so you can hear nearby voices or warning noises like car horns over top of the music). The stems are equipped with customizable touch control. They have a unique and very attractive metallic blue paint job and tiny LED “firefly” indicator lights on the tips. Sweat and rain are no problem with IPX4 water resistance.

ComfoBuds Pro also beat the AirPods Pro when it comes to battery life, with up to six hours per charge with ANC on and eight hours with ANC off.

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Best Value In Kids’ Tablets: Amazon Fire HD Kids Tablets

Photo of Amazon Fire Kids ProPhoto of Amazon Fire Kids Pro

Tablets make great gifts for kids. The devices let them stream their favorite videos, play games, read, listen to music, snap photos, and more. A tablet is entertainment that can be used anywhere, including in the car during road trips.

But: Tablets can be expensive, they’re fragile, and security can be a problem. Apple’s iPad is the go-to tablet, but it starts at $329. The smaller iPad mini that’s a more kid-friendly size costs even more with a $499 starting price.

Amazon has a proven solution for parents. It has a series of Fire tablets made specifically for kids. These include models starting at 7 inches, with features like a protective case, parental controls, a one-year subscription to Amazon Kids+ content, access to Amazon’s app store, support for video calls, and free replacement for two years if the tablet is broken.

Prices start at $99.99 for the 7-inch Fire 7 Kids Pro and range to $199.99 for the 10-inch Fire HD Pro Kids tablet. Amazon even offers discounts on multiples if you’re shopping for more than one kid. These do tend to sell out frequently, so keep checking back for stock.

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Best Value in Portable Power Banks: Mophie Powerstation Wireless XL With PD

Photo of Mophie Powerstation Wireless XL WPhoto of Mophie Powerstation Wireless XL W

Everyone can use a portable power bank. With so many of our devices being battery-powered, running out of charge is a constant risk. If it’s not your smartphone, it’s a tablet or wireless earbuds. Having a portable power bank handy in a purse, backpack, or glove compartment means you can easily charge these devices on demand and on the move, without clinging to an AC outlet.

I’ve always been a fan of Mophie products. The company has been making battery packs for smartphones and mobile devices for years. They know what works. My current pick among Mophie’s offerings is the Powerstation Wireless XL with PD.

This portable power bank is on the large size for a portable (it’s just over 5 inches long and weighs almost 8 ounces), but it packs a big 10,000mAh battery. That’s enough to charge most smartphones twice. Its top is a Qi wireless charger for convenience, and it has both USB Type-A and USB-C output ports. So you can charge just about anything, and charge multiple devices simultaneously. It’s also covered with fabric for a premium touch.

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Best Portable Gaming System: Nintendo Switch OLED Model

Photo of Nintendo Switch Photo of Nintendo Switch

The first gift idea among the “best of” pack is a new version of the must-have portable game system for the past several years. There are now hundreds of games in the Nintendo Switch library, including best-sellers like Animal Crossing: New Horizons and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

The Nintendo Switch is a mobile gamer’s dream. The new Switch OLED Model adds $50 to the price of the original, but addresses that system’s primary weakness with a vibrant new OLED display. Colors pop like never before and the size increases to 7.0 inches from 6.2 inches. The Switch OLED Model also features an improved stand, better audio, and adds a wired LAN port to its stand for use in docked mode.

Heads up: the Nintendo Switch has proven to be tough to find, especially during the holiday season, so don’t leave this one to the last minute.

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Best All-In-One Music System With Turntable: Andover Audio Spin System

Andover Audio Spin SystemAndover Audio Spin System
  • Our pick: Andover Audio Spin System
  • Manufacturer’s suggested retail price: Components sold individually, ranging from $199 to $599

Andover Audio is an American audio brand led by an engineering team with backgrounds at firms Cambridge SoundWorks, Bose and Harmon. Designing high-end audio gear since 2012, the company has serious audiophile cred. And it’s focused on compact, turntable-based systems. In last year’s gift guide, the Andover Model One all-in-one system was featured. This year, it’s Andover’s Spin system.

This is a modular approach that you can add to. The base configuration is the SpinBase turntable speaker system ($299) plus a SpinDeck ($349) or SpinDeck MAX ($599) turntable. That configuration provides a solid, compact audio system with 270-degree sound, the ability to play your record collection in style, and Bluetooth streaming.

You can add to that base system with the SpinSub subwoofer ($299) and SpinStand system and record stand ($199) for a killer, compact audio system in a black or white finish.

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Best Compact Tablet: Apple iPad Mini

Photo of Apple iPad Mini Photo of Apple iPad Mini
  • Our pick: Apple iPad Mini
  • Manufacturer’s suggested retail price: Starting at $499

Compact tablets make great gifts. A small tablet is easy to slip into a bag for travel and it’s small enough to sit on a nightstand. It provides a bigger display than a smartphone, but it’s not too large. Compact tablets don’t get much better than Apple’s recently-launched 6th generation iPad mini.

Apple went with an all-screen design in this 2021 release, losing the Home button and increasing the screen size to 8.3-inches. It’s equipped with a high resolution Liquid Retina display with True Tone and P3 wide color support. The iPad mini is extremely powerful, with Apple’s latest chip — the A15 Bionic — inside. Apple also incorporated high end cameras with a 12MP rear shooter, and a 12MP FaceTime HD camera that supports Center Stage intelligent focus. It’s also great for jotting notes or sketching with the optional Apple Pencil 2.

The latest iPad Mini is perfect for reading, web browsing, streaming video, checking your social media feed, videoconferencing, and even snapping photos. It also packs the power for mobile gaming. It’s available in four colors and starts at $499 with 64GB of storage. Additional storage and 5G connectivity is available at extra cost.

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Best Wireless Headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4 Over-Ear Wireless Headphones with ANC

Photo of Sonny HeadphonesPhoto of Sonny Headphones

It should come as no surprise that Sony makes great headphones. When I reviewed the company’s WH-1000XM3 wireless headphones with ANC, I wore them to a water park on a hot summer day and parked myself in a chair just feet from a roller coaster track. With ANC active, there was nothing but silence despite hundreds of screaming kids and a thundering coaster hurtling past. Music sounds fantastic and spatial audio in the 360 Reality Audio format is supported. Battery life is excellent, at up to 38 hours.

Sony managed to top those with the WH-1000XM4 headphones, which scooped a CES 2021 Innovation Award. Voice call performance is improved, and they gain multi-point Bluetooth so they can be connected to two devices simultaneously (useful when working from home). ANC somehow gets even better and they gain DSEE Extreme upscaling, a feature that makes lossy files like MP3s sound better.

While there’s a strong case for Apple’s AirPods Pro headphones in this category, Sony’s WH-1000XM4s simply offer a better value.

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Best Wireless Earbuds: Ultimate Ears UE FITS

Photo of Ultimate EarsPhoto of Ultimate Ears

One of the most important factors in terms of how good earbuds are going to sound is their fit. Without a tight seal, bass in particular drops off, and even the best buds sound tinny. Of course  if they don’t fit properly, they are also unlikely to stay in place. Sometimes all the tips and wings in the world just won’t do it.

Ultimate Ears drove this point home when I tested the company’s UE 18+ CX earbuds. These are custom-molded buds that fit like a glove and sound phenomenal — but they cost as much as a mortgage payment. Fortunately, the company has adapted that custom-molding technology in the consumer UE Fits wireless earbuds.

An app walks you through the fitting process and after less than a minute you have custom-molded wireless earbuds that fit perfectly. They sound great, they’re extremely comfortable, and they stay in place. They’re available in midnight blue, gray, or lilac. What makes a better gift for a music lover than custom-molded earbuds? Especially when they cost a very reasonable $249…

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Best Portable Speaker: Ultimate Ears HYPERBOOM

Photo of the Hyperboom SpeakersPhoto of the Hyperboom Speakers

Ultimate Ears’ second product in this gift guide is making a repeat appearance after being featured in our 2020 gift guide. The reason why is simple: if you’re looking for a portable wireless speaker, there is nothing else (at a reasonable price point) that can touch the sound the Ultimate Ears HYPERBOOM puts out.

This is a big speaker (it weighs 13 pounds) and it’s packed with drivers including a pair of 4.5-inch woofers, two 1-inch tweeters, and two 7.5-inch passive radiators — a setup that delivers thumping bass, wide dynamic range, and 270-degree sound. A built-in adaptive EQ with mic automatically optimizes the audio for whatever environment you’re in and the mobile app lets you customize the audio to your heart’s content with a 5-band EQ.

It’s big and powerful, but also portable. The HYPERBOOM is equipped with an integrated handle, it has an IPX4 water resistance rating, and its battery will keep the music going for up to 24 hours.

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Best TV Soundbar: Sonos Beam (Gen 2)

Photo of Sonos BeamPhoto of Sonos Beam

You can spend a lot on a soundbar these days. Once considered a compromise solution for when someone lacked the space or budget for a full home theater rig, sound bars have evolved into fully featured systems in their own right.

The Sonos Beam (Gen 2) is a top pick for 2021. In its second generation, it adds support for Dolby Atmos 3D audio. It lacks upward-firing drivers, but two arrays are dedicated to reproducing overhead and surround effects. It’s not quite as effective as the Sonos Arc soundbar, which is equipped with actual upward-firing drivers — but that model retails for $899. The Sonos Beam 2 is pretty convincing while saving money that could be put toward a Sonos Sub wireless subwoofer for true movie theatre rumble.

The Sonos mobile app is required to set up the Beam (Gen 2), but you don’t need to be invested in the Sonos ecosystem to use this soundbar. In fact, it supports Wi-Fi music streamed via Apple AirPlay 2. Sonos Beam (Gen 2) is available in matte black or matte white finishes.

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Best Smart Lighting System: Nanoleaf Shapes

Photo of Nanoleaf ShapesPhoto of Nanoleaf Shapes
  • Our pick: Nanoleaf Shapes
  • Manufacturer’s suggested retail price: Kits start at $119.99

I test a lot of smart lighting solutions. Color-changing bulbs and LED strips are fine, but I’ve been a fan of Nanoleaf’s interlocking. wall-mounted smart light panels since the first version was released in 2016. I currently have around 50 Nanoleaf panels on my office walls. Nanoleaf’s Canvas took the best-smart smarting lighting honors in the 2020 gift guide.

Nanoleaf is back again in 2021, but this time with the all-new Nanoleaf Shapes. These new panels — available in hexagons, triangles, and small triangles — finally allow the mixing and matching of different shapes and sizes in a single Nanoleaf setup. This opens up a whole new level of custom designs. They also feature an improved connection system that makes it easier to remove panels.

Everything else that makes Nanoleaf smart panels great (and a great gift) remains. They’re Wi-Fi connected, support all the main smart home standards, they can display millions of colors and scenes, and they can pulse to music in various patterns.

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Best Whole Home Mesh Router System: Netgear Orbi Tri-Band Mesh Wi-Fi 6 System

Photo of Netgear RouterPhoto of Netgear Router

It seems like virtually everything in our homes is connected these days. It’s not just your smartphone, tablet, or PC. Smart TVs, video streamers, smart watches, smart speakers, game consoles, smart thermostats, smart door locks, smart lights, home security systems, and more are all connected. They all rely on the internet and they connect to the internet using your home’s Wi-Fi network.

Too often that Wi-Fi just isn’t up to the task. Connections drop, video streams buffer, games lag, and websites load slowly.

One of the best gifts you can give someone these days is a Wi-Fi upgrade. I’ve been testing a lot of routers over the past two years as Wi-Fi 6 makes its way into the mainstream. From my perspective, the ultimate solution to any home Wi-Fi woes is a Wi-Fi 6 mesh system. You get next-gen speed and features, plus whole-home coverage that a traditional router just can’t match. Netgear’s Orbi is the leader of the pack. It may cost more than other whole home mesh router systems, but Orbi is worth it.

The current sweet spot among the company’s offerings is the Orbi Tri-Band Mesh Wi-Fi 6 System. Comprised of a router and one satellite, it supports Wi-Fi 6, offers a maximum throughput of 6Gbps, supports over 100 devices with concurrent connections, and blankets 5000 square feet with seamless, reliable, fast Wi-Fi.

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Best eReader: Kobo Sage

Photo of Kobe Sage eReaderPhoto of Kobe Sage eReader
  • Our pick: Kobo Sage
  • Manufacturer’s suggested retail price: $259.99

For someone who reads a lot, an eReader is an excellent gift option. Chances are, even if they own one already, it’s getting long in the tooth. The new generation of eReaders makes models from even a few years ago look primitive in comparison, especially with advances in lighting and screen resolution. If you’re shopping for someone who is already heavily invested in Amazon Kindle eBooks, then the cream of the crop is the latest Kindle Oasis.

However, for anyone else, my suggestion is the Kobo Sage. The latest release from Kobo is the perfect piece of hardware for people who read a lot. Its 8-inch display is the largest in its class, and the E Ink Carta 1200 touchscreen is razor-sharp at 300 PPI. Kobo pioneered temperature-changing side-lighting with its ComfortLight PRO system that adjusts the lighting colour temperature and brightness to reduce eyestrain. It is IPX8 water resistant and can survive a dunking in three feet of water. The Sage offers 12 fonts and 50 font styles for complete customization of the reading experience.

Kobo e-readers also include integrated Overdrive support, which makes it easy to borrow eBooks from local libraries.

The Sage includes a number of new features (to Kobo) including upgrades to 802.11ac Wi-Fi and USB-C, Bluetooth connectivity and support for audiobooks, dark mode, plus support for an optional Kobo Stylus for penning notes.

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Best Gaming Laptop: ASUS ROG Zephyrus G15 (GA503QS-BS96Q)

photo of laptopphoto of laptop

Finally, what might be the most popular gift on the 2021 list: the best gaming laptop. The ASUS ROG Zephyrus G15 isn’t the most expensive gaming laptop you can buy. Far from it. But it offers a near-perfect balance. Between cost and performance, weight and battery life, performance and portability. This is the gaming laptop that does it all, and does so without feeling like compromises are being made.

Brace for the letters and numbers (the gamers will appreciate them):

  • The GA503QS-BS96Q version is equipped with AMD’s screaming Ryzen 9 5900HS Processor at 3.1 GHz.
  • There is a 16GB of DDR4 RAM onboard, upgradable to 40GB. 
  • Graphics are taken care of by Nvidia’s mighty GeForce RTX 3080 GPU with 6GB of DDR6 RAM. 
  • Storage is a super fast 1TB M.2 NVMe PCIe 3.0 SSD.
  • The six speaker audio system supports Dolby Atmos.
  • The 15.6-inch IPS display has WQHD resolution, a 165Hz refresh rate with FreeSync support, 3ms response time, and the color is Pantone validated. Heat is effectively dissipated by a pair of 84 blade fans and six heat pipes.

All this in a 0.78-inch thick laptop that weighs just 4.1 pounds and can stream video for eight hours on a charge.

Source: kiplinger.com

ZipRecruiter vs. Monster: 2021 Comparison

The job search can be overwhelming — for both job seekers and employers — with hundreds of sites, thousands of companies and millions of positions to sort through. And while some people can get lucky with the perfect network connection or an actual, physical job board at their school or community center, the rest of us have to put in more work to find or fill a job.

There are several major websites that can be used, but in this article we’re going to compare two of the top online job-seeking websites: ZipRecruiter vs. Monster. Whether you’re looking for top-quality applicants or need to find the best job for yourself, this information will be able to help point you in the right direction.

What is ZipRecruiter?

ZipRecruiter has only been around for a little over a decade, but it has already positioned itself as one of the top websites for finding and creating job postings.

Job seekers can use the job search engine to look for open positions. They can also upload their resume and be matched with jobs that ZipRecruiter’s algorithm shows they’d be a top candidate for.

Companies that are hiring can post jobs and find quality candidates through ZipRecruiter’s easy-to-use platform. Not only will ZipRecruiter’s artificial intelligence algorithm find top talent for them, it will also syndicate each job posting to more than 100 other job search websites to open up the applicant pool even more.

What is Monster?

Monster is one of the oldest job search sites, having aided in the job-search process for candidates and the hiring process for recruiters since 1999.

For job seekers, Monster works similarly to ZipRecruiter in that they use the job search bar to look for open positions.

If you’re an employer looking to find candidates, you can post jobs to Monster and search through resumes to find qualified candidates. There is also an opportunity to syndicate open positions to other job boards with certain subscriptions.

ZipRecruiter for Employers

ZipRecruiter was rated the No. 1 hiring site in the U.S. in 2020, earning the top spot, thanks to its ease-of-use for posting jobs and finding quality candidates. ZipRecruiter has customizable templates for different positions and includes the ability to create screening questions for candidates to streamline the interview process. It also uses AI to scan potential candidates and the ZipRecruiter resume database for top matches on the employer’s behalf.

A unique feature ZipRecruiter offers is pre-written job descriptions that make it easy for hiring managers to post jobs and quickly help employers find a quality candidate. They can also swap out job postings whenever an opening has been filled, instead of being stuck with a set time frame to keep each job posting live.

ZipRecruiter has a mobile app, which lets employers create job postings, screen candidates and contact support from anywhere. Support is available via phone, online chat or email.

Monster for Employers

Since Monster was one of the first job search websites out there, it seems most employers have posted job listings on there at some point, to help in their recruiting process.

Monster and ZipRecruiter have a lot in common when it comes to their main service, but the key difference is that some features are only available with higher cost plans on Monster. For example, the ability to proactively search through resumes, text and email job seekers or narrow your search parameters can only be used when paying for a Standard or Premium plan.

You can also reuse job postings on Monster instead of having to recreate a new post for additional similar jobs.

Comparing Costs for Employers

Both ZipRecruiter and Monster have three tiers of membership for employers to find candidates — and each offers a free trial before committing to a subscription.

ZipRecruiter’s pricing starts at $299/month for a single job posting and increases based on a number of factors, including industry, resume downloads and number of users you want on your account.

One money-saving tactic for employers using ZipRecruiter is having a reusable job slot. Meaning job posts aren’t locked in for 30 days, and they can be swapped out for a new job as soon as the other posting has closed.

Monster’s monthly subscription starts at $279 for a single job posting and increases based on the number of active job openings and the ability to send them to other job search sites with their Performance Boost capability.

Monster also has the ability to post ads on the job site, so an employer only pays when someone views their job post.

ZipRecruiter vs. Monster for Job Seekers

People looking for the right job on ZipRecruiter and Monster can search for job openings on the job sites and on mobile apps. Applicants can post their resumes and a cover letter to the job boards to simplify the process when they want to apply to a job opening.

Both job sites allow candidates to search by location and job title or keyword. Monster also suggests top keywords people are searching for, like “work from home” or “part time.”


So, which job board should you use for your hiring needs or to find your next job?

With the ability to simply syndicate job postings, create sponsored jobs, boost team collaboration and take advantage of the job site’s artificial intelligence, there’s a reason why ZipRecruiter has been named the No. 1 website for an employer’s hiring needs. It has a nearly perfect rating on TrustPilot, taking it to the top spot above all the other job boards, including Monster.

As for people hoping to get plenty of resume views as they search for the best job for them, ZipRecruiter has thousands of potential employers and millions of jobs to search through. And with the recruiting process made simple for a potential employer, it then makes it easier for a candidate to make it through the job-search process.



Source: thepennyhoarder.com