Even though I received my share of horrifying messages, overall I enjoyed my experience on OK Cupid. Check it out to see if it might work for you. Read More...

Early this year, I decided it was time for me to dip my toe into the world of dating. My divorce had been final for a few months, and I figured it was time to meet new and interesting people — even though I’m 90% certain at this point that marriage isn’t in the cards for me again.

After some thought, and after asking a few friends, I decided to start with OK Cupid. (Never fear. Over the next few months, I’ll try other dating sites and write about them, too.) I actually really enjoyed my OKC experience, even though there were some weird moments.

Belle of the ball.

This was my first whack at online dating. Online dating barely existed when I got married, and we met the old fashioned way: at college. One of the very first things I learned is that if you want to feel like the belle of the ball, sign up for an online dating site as a woman. Almost immediately, I got a flood of messages. It was pretty easy to weed many of them out, though.

A message I actually received
A message I actually received!

I ignored messages that started with some variation of, “Hi beautiful” and discovered that if I checked my account just before bed, late at night, things sometimes got really weird.

But I also found that there are men willing to take a few minutes to actually get a feel for who you are before they message you, if you’re careful about your profile. I was true to myself in my profile, and even though I got my share of degrading and awful messages, I also discovered that there are plenty of men strong enough to deal with an opinionated, independent woman.

My very real OK Cupid profile 1/2
My very real OK Cupid profile 1/2
My very real OK Cupid profile 2/2
My very real OK Cupid profile 2/2

(Fun fact: I actually did attend space camp.)

In the end, I went out on dates with two people I met on OKC, and had extensive text and phone conversations with two others. Also, in a fun twist, a good friend of mine was on the site and he messaged me just for shits and giggles. It was also weird to see a couple people I actually know, but don’t really know on there. Just passed them by because awkward.

It’s any experience you want.

The thing I liked most about my OK Cupid experience is the fact that I could choose how to proceed. The site allows for different gender and sexual expressions. You can also be clear about what type of experience you are looking for, from nothing but sex to monogamous marriage and everything in between. In fact, the most interesting person I met on OKC was in an open relationship. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about his experience over drinks and appetizers.

OK Cupid also has a questions feature that allows you to answer questions, and then indicate which answers you’d accept from a potential match, plus how important that answer is to you.

How would you answer this question?
How would you answer this question?

The idea is that you end up with better matches the more questions you answer. Most of the people who contacted me with thoughtful messages, and those I ended up devoting actual time to, were pretty well matched. I think a combination of using the profile, plus the questions I answered dealing with religion, politics, personal habits, sex, and family, helped narrow things down. I am a political and ideological minority in my area, so I think OK Cupid did a pretty good job of narrowing it down.

Here's a match who's also partly my enemy.
Here’s a match who’s also partly my enemy.
He's a good match for me.
He’s a good match for me.

I also like how OKC makes it a point to let you know if there are things you really don’t agree on, with the enemy rating. There are a number of other features as well, such as a swiping feature, similar to Tinder, that allows you to quickly make decisions about people in a gallery at the top of the page.

I like some of the other features as well. You can choose to go “incognito” so that others can’t see your profile unless you either like or message them. Turning on this mode dramatically reduced the number of messages I received, which was nice, and it also reduced the number of horrifying, misogynistic, and sexually aggressive messages I received.

A newer feature is one that allows you to gauge the chances that someone will respond to your message. This seems like a cool feature that can provide you with insight into whether or not sending a message is worth your while. After all, you don’t want to wind up wasting your time.

What are the chances the match will respond?
What are the chances the match will respond?

It’s also possible to pay to boost your profile, allowing you to get in front of more people, if that’s your thing. OKC will also tell you when it’s “rush hour” so you can hop on and see a flurry of activity. If you really want to stay on top of everything, download the app. It can get addicting, though, and I didn’t want it to take over my life, so I promptly deleted the app once I downloaded it. But it was easy to use for the short period of time I did use it.

For the most part, OK Cupid seems to make dating fun. You can sign up to have indications of new matches, new messages, and even see when people are checking you out — right now! It depends on which plan you sign up for, and how much you are willing to pay to find true love (or have a little fun). I was appalled at some of the messages I received, but overall the experience was positive.

How much will OK Cupid cost me?

Like many dating sites, OKC is free initially, but if you want access to certain features, you end up needing to pay. Also, there are features, like “Boost,” that are done on a per-charge basis. For a couple bucks, you’ll be shown to more people in a short period of time.

When you pay for A-List Basic, you can see who likes you, read message receipts, and browse profiles invisibly. Paying can also get rid of the ads and allow you to change your username without any trouble. Plus, you can store more messages (if that sort of thing matters to you). If you are willing to pay even MORE, you can get A-List Premium and get an automatic daily boost and see all public answers to questions before you make your own answers. There’s also message priority, which moves you to the top of your potential matches’ inboxes.

You save more by committing to three or six-month packages. I chose a package that gave me a lower price, and paid a little less than $50 for six months of being on the A-List. (And now, since I’m writing about it, it’s a tax deduction!) The price quoted to me is different now: $19.95 per month or $9.95 per month for six months. To upgrade to Premium, it starts at $34.90 per month, or you can save by getting the six-month package for $24.90 per month. You can set it up through PayPal, which makes things easy and convenient.

With OK Cupid, you pay for everything at once. It’s easy to cancel, but you end up getting the rest of the months on your package if you don’t catch it before renewal. So I get to be A-List for a couple more months, even though I don’t really care at this point.

Overall, OKC was a decent value for what I paid. However, I’m not sure I’d pay for more than six months, although it depends on what your goals are. I’ll probably keep the profile but have it downgraded to the free version.

Have you tried OKC? What did you think?

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Just because you’re thirsty, it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to jump into dating at the end of a long-term relationship. Read More...

A week after my now-ex-husband asked for a divorce, a man approached me on a platform in Philly just as a train arrived. “I noticed your eyes,” he said. “Do you mind if I sit with you on the train?”

The train doors opened. I smiled and shrugged. He sat down next to me. We enjoyed a pleasant conversation. He asked for my number, and if he could see me again. A voice in my mind urged me onward, “He’s cute! He thinks you’re attractive! Say yes and show [redacted] that you have plenty of other options too!

I realized that I wanted to say yes because I wanted to get back at someone — and that’s a surefire way to crash and burn. Instead, I took a deep breath, briefly explained that my husband had asked for a divorce only days before and that I didn’t think I was in a good place.

He pulled out a piece of scrap paper and a pen, scribbled his number, and handed it to me as he slipped out the door. “He’s an idiot. If you change your mind, give me a call.”

Still, I knew I wasn’t ready to get back out there. After I thought about it a little, I decided it was a good idea to swear off dating at the end of a long relationship.

1. You’re not the same.

Any relationship changes you. But a long relationship? It transforms you into a different person over time. You might be fundamentally the same at the core, but you are still different. By the time my ex asked for a divorce, 13½ years after we said “yes” to our covenants at age 22, I was almost a completely different person.

Time changes you. Experiences change you. Having children changes you. Being with someone for more than a decade changes you. Hell, just being with someone for a year changes you. You aren’t the same person anymore, and you need to rediscover the new you before you start dating again.

Charging into dating or starting a new relationship before you’ve gotten to know the new you is dangerous. Swear off dating until you have a chance to figure out who the new you is. I’ve always enjoyed alone time, but I took it to a new level in the months following my divorce. I wanted to know who I was — and if I even liked her.

2. You need time to grieve.

Divorce is one of those things that involves the stages of grief. Even if you weren’t married, and even if your relationship was two or three years instead of more than 10, you might still need to allow yourself space to grieve. You don’t get that if you launch into dating and a new relationship immediately.

For the most part, I’m over the divorce. I’m healthy. I’m happy. I enjoy being single. (Maybe I enjoy being single too much.) But there are still days that I feel sad about what could have, should have, might have been. But at the beginning, there was a lot of sadness, loneliness, and anger. I was in no state to be a good partner in a relationship, and certainly not ready to explore dating.

It made sense to swear off dating while I grappled with my new feelings, allowed them to hold sway, and then heal (mostly) up. I will never be the same. I will never approach another relationship the same way. But allowing myself that space means that I am more likely to be open and honest when the time comes.

In fact, getting through those emotions, and allowing that space without the pressures, obligations, and distractions of dating and potential new relationships allowed me to be more honest with those around me.

3. You need to figure out what you want.

Swear Off Dating After a Long-Term Relationship Ends

Because you are a different person, you want different things. After the end of a long-term relationship, you might have a better idea of what makes you tick. Or you might not have any idea at all.

I know I wasn’t sure what I wanted. Did I want to get married again? Maybe just date around for a little while? The things I admire in a partner are different from the things I admired in a partner a few years ago.

Take time to reflect on what you liked and didn’t like about your long-term relationship. What would you do differently? What could you have done better? And what traits matter most to you in a partner? What traits do you want to develop so you are a better partner?

I decided to swear off dating until I had a better handle on things. It took several months. Then I dipped a toe in by using an online dating service. But once I broke my wrist, then left for the summer, that whole thing fizzled. But I made some amazing connections over the summer, met interesting people, and learned a few things about myself.

Now I’m trying to decide whether I want to bother with dating and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to move in with anyone ever again. But who knows? That could all change.

It’s not just about you and a partner, either. It’s also about what you want your life to look like going forward. I’ve got a son I need to usher through high school and a newfound freedom that I love. Do I want to change things up with by tossing someone else in the mix? Plus, if you don’t know what you want out of life, how do you know if that person you are dating actually fits into the picture?

Figuring out what you want is an ongoing process, and time changes you, even when you’re not in a relationship. But before you start dating again, it’s a good idea to at least think about a few things, and generally establish an outline of where you stand.

You don’t want your dating experiences or next relationship to suffer because you haven’t taken the time to get reacquainted with yourself or figure out what you want from life. Swear off dating, even if it’s only for a month or two, to give yourself time.

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How much do you trust your S.O.? Do you trust him or her with ALL of your money? Read More...

In every serious relationship, you reach the point where you need to talk about money. This is one of the pivotal discussions you will have with a potential partner.

Part of this money talk involves discussing whether or not you will combine finances. This is a tough decision and one you have to decide on for yourself, based on how you and your partner feel about money.

There are advantages.

When you combine your finances, you truly form a partnership. Everything goes into a big pot. All your money. All your partner’s money. You pay your bills from the big pot. You set up joint savings and investment accounts. When you combine finances, it can have a big impact emotionally. You truly feel like one entity. It’s practically impossible to feel detached when you are sharing your finances.

Combining your finances can also simplify matters. You don’t have to worry about who’s putting what into the joint account for household expenses, and you don’t have to divvy up the bills or worry about whether or not your partner is actually paying his or her “fair” share. With combined finances, it all goes to the same place, and you only have to worry about paying from one account.

Finally, with combined finances, it’s all on the table. You can both see what’s happening with the money, and you both have equal access to it. A lot has been written about financial infidelity. (Go ahead, search it on Google. I’ll wait. Checked it out? Seen that it’s a real problem for some people? Awesome.) While combining finances can’t totally eliminate the problem, the reality is that it’s much harder for someone to hide his or her money issues when the S.O. has just as much access to everything.

For many couples, this is the way to go. In fact, during my marriage, we had combined finances. We had a big pot, what’s-mine-is-yours-and-what’s-yours-is-mine, approach. It made things simple during the marriage, but a bit of a PITA during the divorce.

But there are downsides, too.

One of the biggest issues with combining your finances is that you lose some of your autonomy. You don’t have complete control over your money; you need to consult with someone else before you make certain decisions. If you still like to have that measure of control over what you spend, and how you use your money, combining finances can be scary as hell.

When you separate your finances, you can also create a formula for deciding who pays for what. There are many ways to do this. In some cases, the person who makes the most might cover the biggest expenses, while the other person takes care of the smaller household costs. If you make close to the same amount of money, it can make sense to split everything down the middle.

Another way to separate determine your bills is by using a percentage. If one of you makes 70% of the money, you pay 70% of the shared expenses, while the other pays 30% of the household costs. Once those shared costs are covered, each of you gets to keep what’s left to use how you want. However, when you have separate finances, you each pay from your own account.

Keeping things separate can also provide protection. What happens if you aren’t sure about how your bae handles money? You can better protect your own financial situation by avoiding combining accounts. Your partner can’t raid your account if it isn’t shared. If you think your partner spends too much and you want to keep him or her from draining your resources, separate finances can make sense. Keeping things apart protects you.

Finally, separate finances are easier to manage in the event of a de-coupling. My ex and I had to go through our shared accounts and assets and divvy them up at the end of the marriage. On top of that, as I looked back on some of the purchases he made with our joint money, I was a little bitter.

While we are on good terms, and I care deeply for my ex, the reality is that combining finances and the aftermath left a sour taste in my mouth. Things are fine now, but they were a bit unwieldy for a while. Keeping things separate would have made things easier. In a world where many of these romantic relationships, whether or not they are marriages, come to an end, combined finances may not be the best choice.

How about making a compromise?

It’s possible to create a hybrid model. I know many successful couples who employ this method. Rather than keep things completely separate, they have some joint accounts. For shared expenses, like housing costs and paying for kids’ activities, you can open a joint account. Each of you contributes a pre-determined amount of money. You pay your shared expenses from the shared account.

Everything else, however, is separate. You have the feeling of working toward a common goal, but you also keep some things separate. This method can work for shared goals like saving up for a down payment on a home, going on vacation, or making a major purchase together.

When you use this plan, you maintain separate accounts. You can buy gifts for each other and make them true surprises. You also obtain limited protection. While there is no way to keep your honey out of the joint account, the bulk of your money is safe from pillaging in your own accounts. A friend of mine was fortunate that he used the hybrid model when his wife drained the joint account and then asked for a divorce. She couldn’t access his account and take that money, too, ahead of time.

How you manage your money is up to you. Have a talk about it, figure out what you’re comfortable with, and make a plan from there.

What do you think about combining finances? Is this something you are comfortable with?

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Authority issues and people issues. It’s a good thing I work from home. Read More...

I never lasted more than a year or two in a traditional job. Even in high school, I got tired of working for “the man” when it interfered too much with my swim practices and social calendar.

Rather than stick it out, I quit and “worked for myself” teaching piano lessons. I made more per hour, and arranged matters so I only had to “work” one day a week – the day I picked.

Through college and even after, it was obvious I wasn’t going to be able to stick with anything approaching a real job. I went to grad school, got my master’s degree in journalism, and haven’t had a real job in years. Even now that I’ve accepted a salaried position with an online publisher, I still work from home and enjoy a freelance lifestyle.

Working from home is clearly the right choice for me, and maybe you, too. Here’s why:

I hate people.

Okay, I don’t actually hate people. But I struggle when I have to be around them for hours at a time. Even my son, whom I love, gets on my nerves. I need alone time to recharge. As an introvert, working around others can be extremely draining.

I prefer to work at home, in my own space. No one demands my undivided attention when I’m at home. I can ignore emails and texts in a way that I can’t ignore a coworker walking up to make small talk (which I hate and am awkward at).

Working at home allows me to go at my own pace, interact with those I want to talk to, and avoid actually having to deal with people on a regular basis. Do I sometimes have a video meeting or phone call? Sure. But at least it’s not Every. Single. Day.

I have authority issues.

I’ve never enjoyed having people tell me what to do. I can take direction, and I try to provide what my clients ask for. However, I don’t do well with a traditional “boss” in my life. I naturally rebel against authority. Not great when you have to see a supervisor each day.

Turns out, working from home is great if you are a self-starter. It’s even better for those who can problem solve on their own, and don’t need someone to tell them what to do all the time. Working from home is the ultimate adult experience. For the most part, no one is going to make you do anything – especially if you don’t have a boss. You have to be in charge of the situation on your own.

Of course, when you have authority issues, you can’t blame anyone else for your failures. If you don’t get out of bed and get your work done, it’s on you. If you can’t figure out a solution to your problem, that’s on you, too. It’s great when you don’t have to worry about a boss walking by at any time. But you still have to perform.

I value freedom and flexibility.

The two most important things in my life are freedom and flexibility. I care about freedom more than I care about money. I prefer flexibility to security. Working from home is great for me because it offers the ultimate in freedom and flexibility.

I set my own hours. If I want a spa day on Wednesday afternoon, I take a spa day on Wednesday afternoon. Ready for a nap around 11 am? It’s sleepy time! Feel like eating chocolate for lunch? No coworkers to judge me.

My dad recently retired, and that means that I am available to go to lunch with him. If my sister needs emergency childcare help, I can provide that.

Because I set my own schedule while working from home, I can be involved in my community and help my family. Sometimes it means I work on the weekend or at night, but the truth is that a “traditional” week holds no real meaning for me. The only reason I know what day of the week it is nine months out of the year is because I need to make sure my son gets to school.

Staying on top of everything.

The downside to working from home is that sometimes it’s hard to stay on top of everything. I can’t just leave my work at work. I get distracted by other things and sometimes struggle. And sometimes my family and friends, God love ‘em, don’t respect the fact that I have to work and I can’t always take care of things. Or they get upset because I have to work right now or check my email because I’m expecting something vital to my career. They get annoyed at how there are times I really don’t stop working.

Working from home isn’t for everyone. It works for me because I like the time to recharge by myself and I like the freedom and flexibility involved. To me, it outweighs a time-intensive job that might pay more. And there really is no substitute for avoiding people most of the day.

Do you work from home? Would you like to? Why or why not?

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Is it time to bail? Here’s how to tell if you should move on right now. Read More...

You’ve stressed about doing a great job so you can stay employed. It seems like a terrible idea to ditch your job when you worked so hard to get where you are.

But sometimes you need to move on, no matter how much time and energy you’ve invested in your job. Here are a few signs your current position has run its course:

1. The environment is toxic.

One of the biggest reasons to ditch your job is due to a toxic environment. If you are dealing with harassment, bullying, or you are concerned about the legality of some of the company’s practices, it’s time to bail. Don’t stick around if there are serious problems.

2. You aren’t growing.

Many of us like meaning in our work. In fact, one of the hallmarks of today’s young job-seekers is that they expect a job to offer meaning. While it’s possible to find meaning in practically any job, no matter how crappy, it can become wearing if you don’t feel that your work leads to personal growth and feelings that you are impacting the world for good. If you feel like you could progress and make a positive contribution elsewhere, start looking.

3. The company doesn’t match your values.

Maybe the company isn’t doing something illegal, but you aren’t sure that the mission and values align with yours. It’s hard to feel good about working at a place that doesn’t mesh with your personal mission. Ditch your job if you feel the cognitive dissonance is becoming too great to manage.

4. Your skills aren’t utilized.

Are you proud of your skills and abilities and wish your company would use them? Perhaps your boss doesn’t recognize your skills, or maybe you are in a position that isn’t compatible with your abilities. The struggle to continue may drain you emotionally. Start looking for a job that offers you a chance to use what you know.

5. You’re at a dead end.

Trying to climb that career ladder, but there’s no place to go? It’s time to ditch your job. If you want a position that allows for the possibility of advancement and you’re stuck going nowhere, a shift to a company with room for progress might make more sense.

6. The job isn’t secure.

These days no job is secure. However, there are times that might be less secure than others. If you think layoffs are coming, now might be the time to update your resume and brush up on your interview skills. Don’t wait until the ax falls to get ready.

7. You’re want something different for your life.

Sometimes you just want a new challenge. Maybe you’re ready for the freedom and flexibility that comes with being self-employed. Perhaps you’ve changed your expectations for your life. We’re all on a journey, and when you’re ready for a new direction, your current job might not fit.

Before you leave your job.

Don’t get fired up to ditch your job and give noticed tomorrow, though. Once you realize it’s time to move on, you need to have a plan in place. Are you in a financial position to leave? What are some of the challenges you will face if you no longer have a job?

Whenever possible, build up an emergency fund and think about how you will handle benefits. You need to be ready for what’s next before you take that leap. While it’s not always possible to be completely ready, do what you can to get ahead of the curve.

There’s no reason to stay in a job that doesn’t fit with your life. Start preparing now so you are ready in the event you decide to ditch your job.

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Don’t let your hatred of exercise get in the way of your health. Read More...

I hate exercise for the sake of exercise.

However, I know physical activity is an essential part of healthy living. So I suck it up and exercise anyway. But that doesn’t mean I always follow a prescribed method of exercise that involves going to the gym or moving to a workout video.

Do something fun.

The fact that I don’t like exercise doesn’t mean that I refuse physical activity. Quite the opposite. I love being active. I enjoy riding my bike and hiking. I prefer walking to driving. I love swimming and playing tennis. I recently started fencing with my son and learning how to use a punching bag.

Your exercise time doesn’t have to include a boring routine that you hate. It doesn’t feel like exercise when I’m in the pool or sparring with my son. It’s exhilarating and enjoyable. I get a workout, and it doesn’t feel like a chore.

Find something active that you enjoy and use that as your primary method of exercise. It’s easier to stay motivated when it’s something you like, and you’re more likely to stick with it.

Break it up.

Sometimes you need to work on different aspects of your physical fitness. Most of my preferred activities involve cardio, and not much in the way of strength training. This means I need to devote some of my exercise time to strength training, even though it’s not my favorite.

I find yoga soothing, so I usually start with that. Many of the poses promote strength training using your body weight. If I start the day with five to 10 minutes of yoga, I feel good mentally and it is good for my body.

Throughout the day, though, I look for other ways to boost my strength training. Maybe it’s a few reps with the hand weights or a set of squats. Because I belong to a gym for the pool access, there are days I just suck it up and work out with the weight machines for strength training. But I do it in broken up doses so I don’t end up stuck doing something I hate for what feels like FOREVER.

You can do the same. Break your exercise into 10-minute chunks. Even if you are doing something you hate, you are more likely to stick with a regimen if you don’t have to block it all out and devote a whole half hour at a time to it.

Do something else at the same time.

Distract your mind by engaging in another activity at the same time you exercise. After I broke my wrist, I couldn’t engage in many of my preferred activities. Instead, I had to walk on the treadmill for most of my cardio. I hate that.

To take my mind off that fact, I listened to podcasts or brought my Kindle so I could read. Having my mind engaged allowed me to exercise without really registering how much I hated it. Some days I even answered email while on the treadmill.

I have friends who use a stationary bike while watching TV. They are distracted by the TV, but still get the exercise in. Use this technique to trick yourself into moving forward with exercise — even if you don’t normally like exercise.

Find a buddy.

Working out with a friend can feel like fun, instead of a chore. I don’t usually workout with someone, but there was a time when I had a walking buddy. He and I had similar fitness goals and we met twice a week to walk the track at the university.

Your workout buddy can also help you turn exercise into a game. Look for ways to reward yourselves for improved performance. You can even compete with each other, as long as you keep it friendly.

Don’t let your hatred of exercise keep you from developing a healthy habit. Trick yourself into exercise and you might be surprised at how much you can accomplish — and how much better you feel.

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Do you want to make the most of today’s money for tomorrow? Make it rain for your future self. Read More...

One of the best times to set aside money for the future is now, while you’re young and compound interest can work longer in your favor.

Even if you think you don’t have enough money to invest, the truth is that you probably do. And one of the best things about using accounts that offer tax-free investment growth when your young is that you pay taxes at a lower rate.

If you want to make it rain later, the right planning now is the way to go.

Roth IRA

The Roth IRA is a solid choice when you have your first job. (There is also a Roth 401(k), so if your company offers a retirement plan, ask if there is a Roth version.)

With a Roth account, you make your contribution after taxes are taken out of your paycheck. However, this isn’t such a bad thing when you consider that right now you’re probably making very little anyway. Your taxes are lower than they might be later on.

A Roth account is all about the tax-free investment growth. When you withdraw money, you don’t have to pay taxes on it like you do with a “regular” retirement account. The longer you invest in a Roth IRA, and the longer the money grows, the bigger your benefit later on because you have the potential for more gains the longer you grow your account.

It’s a huge deal to not have to worry about paying taxes when you withdraw from your account.

Health Savings Account

If you want to level up your tax-free investment growth, consider opening a Health Savings Account (HSA) and contributing regularly.

The HSA offers a unique chance to invest because your contributions are made before taxes, so you get a tax deduction. Later, if you withdraw the money for qualified expenses, you don’t have to pay taxes on that money, either. Money in the HSA is truly tax-free — as long as you use it for qualified health care costs.

You can’t immediately invest the money in the HSA, though. Most of the time, you can only invest after your account balance exceeds $2,000. If you make regular contributions, you will get to that point and be able to enjoy tax-free growth.

In order to qualify, you need to have a high-deductible health care plan. As long as you don’t have really high health care costs, this type of plan can be great. It’s usually less expensive than other plans, and you can put your savings in the HSA.

I like to think of my HSA as a health care retirement account. I don’t actually use it now. Instead, when I am older, I’ll withdraw from my Roth IRA for income, and use the HSA to pay for medial co-pays and other medical costs. It will all be done with money that I won’t have to pay taxes on.

Now is the perfect time to start putting your money to work for you. Your taxes are likely the lowest they will ever be, and you can keep your expenses small, too. Focus on tax-free investment growth today, and you’ll be more likely to enjoy financial freedom later.

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Is a pajama-uniform a viable option for you?

We hear a lot about the joys of working from home. It’s supposed to be the way we work now. I love working from home; it’s how I make my own living. However, just because

However, just because it works for me, and it works well for others, doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. Working from home isn’t always a viable option.

Before you get hung up on the idea that working from home is the path to career happiness, here are some things to keep in mind:

Do you really want to be stuck in the house — alone — all day?

One of the biggest challenges facing many solopreneurs is isolation. If you’re a social person, it might not make sense to sit in a home office all day. If you enjoy working with others, and being on a team, there’s nothing wrong with having a more traditional job.

If you want to work for yourself, but dread the thought of no social interaction, compromise with the help of a co-working space. At least a couple times a week you can get out and work in an environment with others.

My social interaction comes from the causes I’m involved with. It gets me out of the house and helps me avoid the downward spiral into talking to myself.

Can you avoid distractions?

What else is going on at home? When I was married, it was a nightmare trying to get anything done on days when my then-husband was around. At first, I thought it would be fun for us both to be working from home, but it quickly became evident that the distractions were real.

Look around. Are you too tempted to watch TV or surf the Internet. When there’s no one to catch you, it can be hard to stay focused. Before you decide that you are perfect for the pajama-uniform lifestyle, take an honest look at yourself. Are you really going to stick to it when you have to?

Whether you are trying to start your own business, or whether you are just trying to convince your boss to let you telecommute twice a week, you need to make sure you can block out the distractions and do the things.

Do you have the right equipment?

Working from home requires the right equipment and access to the Internet. The great thing about freelancing is that the startup costs are really, really low. I just need a computer and Internet access. Depending on what you hope to accomplish by working from home, you need to make sure you have the right equipment.

If you can’t access work remotely, or if you can’t get the setup you need for a reliable work environment, it might not be a viable option for you right now.

Before you quit your real job

I hope never to have a real job again. But that doesn’t mean that you should just abandon your source of income to pursue the dream of working from home. Give the side hustle a try first. Do a little extra work at home in your spare time. Save up so that you have something to live on if you need it when you quit your job.

Leaving the traditional workforce to work from home as a solopreneur or entrepreneur takes planning and effort. I did it backward, leaving the workforce to get my graduate degree and then never going back to the 9-to-5. Instead, I started a business while living on my then-husband’s student loans. Not the smartest approach, although it worked for us at the time.

If you are in a job now, and you are supporting yourself, simply walking away without a safety net might not be an option. This doesn’t mean that you’ll never work from home or quit. But it does mean that you are probably better off making a plan first.

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It’s time to dive deep. Can you have a major discussion without major drama? Read More...

At some point in a relationship, you move beyond the excitement of starting something new and into the reality that you might be “serious.”

When things get serious with your S.O., it’s time to discuss what’s important to you. It’s no fun to get deep into a committed relationship and realize that none of the most important things in your life line up with what your partner wants.

From kids to money to sex to values to priorities to religion, you should know what the other person wants — and you should know whether or not those important things are dealbreakers for you.

What matters to you?

Before you start grilling your SO about what’s important, you should have a good idea of what matters to you. I was young enough when I married that I hadn’t seriously thought about some issues. I was following a script, and even though there were a few things I knew about myself, I didn’t really know myself.

Later, when things bugged me, I didn’t know how to articulate them in a healthy way because I wasn’t entirely sure about who I was or what I really wanted. (That’s part of what happens when you follow someone else’s script.)

Before you start probing someone else, examine yourself. Learn who you are, and know what you love about yourself. Once you are clear about who you are and what you value, and what matters most to you, it’s time to discuss the Big Things with your S.O.

Don’t be judgy.

We all like our way best. However, not everyone is the same. Don’t be judgy if your partner prefers to stay at home instead of traveling somewhere new. And what happens if your S.O. doesn’t want kids? That’s not an invitation to assume some sort of emotional (or other) deficiency.

If you’re going to get deep and discuss what’s important with your partner, you need to ensure that you are both in a safe space. That means you accept that your partner’s values and priorities might be a little different than yours. And you don’t get personal about it.

And you don’t get personal about it. Wanting different things, to a different degree, doesn’t make someone bad or wrong. When discussing what matters, remember that you want a measure of grace for your own views. Respect is essential in any relationship. If you can’t discuss these hard, vital issues with respect, that’s a relationship red flag right there.

How much do you already know?

In many cases, you might already have a pretty good idea of where your partner stands on a lot of issues. You might have already discussed politics or you might be open about sex. Perhaps you’ve attended church with your SO or you can see how s/he spends (or doesn’t) money.

Pay attention. As your relationship develops, there are some things that become fairly obvious. You can even make a small comment if you want to start a deeper discussion:

  • “I love that you call your mom once a week. Family seems important to you. How often do you go for a visit?”
  • “You are so great with my nephew. Do you think you want kids at some point?”
  • “You seem really busy with the Bushwackers. I can tell that you are passionate about volunteering. What are some of your favorite causes?”
  • “I feel a little cash-strapped right now. What’s your favorite frugal activity?”

These are all ways you can ease into a conversation about the things that matter most in your life. A small observation can turn into a great discussion about what you hope for in life, as well as what matters to you right now.

You want to discuss what’s important with your SO because you want a good feel for whether or not you really can be true partners with this person you’re getting serious about. In some cases, with some things that might be less important, a relationship is about compromise. You’ll always need to do a little of that.

In some cases, with some things that might be less important, a relationship is about compromise. You’ll always need to do a little of that. It’s the way it is when you commit to share your life with someone.

When is it time to gtfo?

However, there are some BIG issues that aren’t ready-made for compromise or long-term partnership. You and your S.O. might agree that saving for retirement is vital, but what if you have fundamental disagreements over what that retirement should look like? It doesn’t do much good to save for retirement together if one of you plans to sell the house and travel the world while the other is excited to have the mortgage paid off so s/he can settle down “rent free” and be a homebody.

And very few relationships have solid staying power when one person wants lots of children while the other isn’t even sure if one is a good idea. These are the kinds of fundamental differences that lead to resentment in a relationship. You’re better off breaking it off for both your sakes than trying to make it work in the name of preserving passion.

What do you think? What are some of the dealbreakers in your relationships? And how do you talk about them with your SO?

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An unpaid internship doesn’t have to be a total waste. Read More...

In recent years, controversy has surrounded unpaid internships for college students.

Many of us are told that an unpaid internship is the way to go, depending on chosen profession. You’re supposed to learn skills, make useful contacts, and generally prepare for the “real” world of work.

Unfortunately, not all internships are worth the trouble. Some of them end up being less of a stepping stone to your first job and more of a waste of valuable time and energy.

And to add insult to injury, many internships wind up costing you extra, since you still have to pay for the college credits you are earning for the internship.

This doesn’t mean that any internship is a bad idea. But it does mean you need to be careful about how you choose your internships.

Can you get a paid internship?

The best way to make sure your internship is worth it is to get paid.

Landing a paid internship can be tough, though. In many cases, a paid internship is dependent on your chosen major. If you major in humanities or social sciences, there is a good chance your internship will be gratis.

On the other hand, there are majors where it’s easier to find a paid internship. Budding accountants can usually find paid internships, as well as those going into STEM fields.

Consider you options. Sometimes, it makes sense to just get a summer job in a field somewhat related to your major. If it’s a choice between a job that you know will give you some experience and skills — plus pay you — and an internship that is dubious in its value and doesn’t pay you, the job might be the better choice.

Increase the value of an unpaid internships.

Sometimes you’re just stuck. It blows, but you might have to suck it up and take the unpaid internship. If this is your reality, here are a few things you can do to increase the value:

Focus on universal skills: Look for ways to learn from your internship and develop skills that can be universally useful. No one is going to hire you for your sick photocopying ability, but you can learn how to communicate with others and be a team player.

Also, look for other ways to learn skills while at your crappy unpaid internship. You can focus on leadership and problem solving while you are at your internship.

Ask for more responsibility: It doesn’t hurt to ask for more responsibility. If you feel like you can handle more, ask for more. And remember: the Deparment of Labor has actual criteria for whether or not your internship actually qualifies. This includes providing training that is educational, the benefit is for the intern, and the intern works under staff (not displacing workers). There are other requirements as well.

If you don’t feel like you are getting educational training and work trading for your benefit, ask for more responsibility and duties so that you can learn something.

Develop contacts: When I completed my unpaid internship, the most valuable thing I got were great contacts. My supervisors provided great letters of recommendation to me. I was also introduced to some great people who helped me with my career later on. That networking was very valuable to me. Even though I was able to work in my field and get some solid experience, it was building my career network that really helped me move to the next level.

Don’t get hung up on the internship.

You don’t have to get hung up on an internship, though. There are plenty of other good ways to develop skills and contacts and gain useful experience.

From working a summer job to focusing on your own business, there are other options. Carefully consider whether or not your internship will really be worth it. Don’t force it if you don’t see that there will be value.

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