Wednesday, May 16, 2012

5 Tips for Giving

Well, hello old friend. It appears it's been so long since my last post that Blogger has changed their user interface--lookin' sharp! Between a recent work trip, visiting family and friends, and a truly cruel early-summer cold, things have been busy. But I'm back, with a fun topic to boot.

I occasionally write about the importance of giving back, donating money, and volunteering. This is something I'm really passionate about, and I want to spread the word! You don't have to be independently wealthy, have knowledge on every non-profit on the planet, or spend a lot of time to make a big difference. So, here are my five tips for great giving:

1. Follow your heart. There are literally thousands of non-profits just in the city you live in. This can be overwhelming. The first step is to figure out what you're passionate about. Think about the kind of social issues or news stories that really get you fired up. Maybe you are interested in women's health advocacy. Perhaps you're an animal lover and want to protect our furry friends. Or, maybe the you can't believe how many kids go hungry in the US every day and want to do something to help. Whatever your passion, find a charity that aligns with it. You'll be more interested, more engaged, and more likely to form a long-term giving relationship with a charity that you're personally invested in.

2. Do your research. As I said before, there are more non-profits in this world than you could possibly know what to do with. And, you work hard to earn that money that's burning a hole in your altruistic pocket--don't let it go to an organization that isn't doing their best to further the cause. Every few years, the media goes crazy with a story about how a trusted charity isn't on the up-and-up or has ulterior motives (see Kony 2012, Three Cups of Tea, Komen vs Planned Parenthood, et al). So, take the time to do your research before opening your wallet. Sites like Charity Navigator and Give Well offer insight into the best, most effective charities out there. Additionally, organizations that receive over a certain amount of donations each year are required to make their Annual Report public. Check out an organization's Annual Report and determine what percentage of donations are going to programs and services (as opposed to administrative and fundraising costs). The higher percentage, the better.

Kids playing during recess at a La Esperanza
Granada-sponsered school in Nicaragua
3. Find out ways to make your buck go further. Once you're ready to give some money, find ways to get more bang for your buck. Ask the charity of your choice if they have a matching program. Many charities have benefactors that offer to match donations during a specific time period. That means, for every $50 you give, your donation is matched, for a total of $100. Also, ask your employer if they offer a company match. Many companies encourage charitable giving and pony up matching donations on behalf of their employees. It's worth asking. Finally, when you give a donation, ask the charity where the money is most needed. Most likely, they'll tell you that they want donations to their general fund. This money is used for whatever their most pressing need is at any given time.

4. Keep your receipts! Yes, giving makes us feel all warm and fuzzy and gives us some good karma, but don't forget about your bottom line. If the charity you're donating to is 501(c)3 certified, that means you can deduct your donations from your tax liability every year. Always ask for a receipt and hold on to them until tax time.

5. Give in other ways. Sometimes, money is tight. If you can't make a financial donation, that doesn't mean you can't help in other ways. Most charities rely heavily on volunteers to do everything under the sun: writing thank you notes to donors, walking dogs, tutoring kids, organizing food drives, or cleaning up after events. Think about what you're good at, and offer your services. For example, an organization I support just completed a new website. Since I'm a writer, I offered to proofread their site. Everyone has special talents--get creative about how you can use yours to help others. 

As for me? I love the idea of offering my help and funds to a small group of charities that are important to me, that run the gamut. Currently, I sponsor a Nicaraguan high school student's education through La Esperanza Granada, give as a member to the Women's Philanthropic Investment Group of Seattle in support of our work with women and children, donate to Semester at Sea so that deserving college students have a chance to study abroad, and other things here and there, as they come up.

I'm always curious about the types of causes that other people are passionate about. I'd love to hear about the charities you love in the comments, so type away!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

You paid how much for your wedding dress?

Having a wedding can be one of the most expensive financial events of a young person's life. And, it seems like all you have to do is mention the W-word, and prices go through the roof. (Full disclosure, I have a wedding coordinating business, and I always think a day-of coordinator is money well spent). 

I'd always assumed that your wedding dress had a bigger markup than almost anything else, and turns out, it's true. Check out this awesome short video from NPR's Planet Money. Reporter Caitlin Kenney took her wedding dress and went on a find out how much markup she paid on her own dress. This video is short, informative, and fun. Check it out! 

Just ask!

Note: This blog post appeared on my guest blogging column on

Smart, savvy professionals know that you have to ask in order to get what you want. Whether it’s in the boardroom, at a networking event, or in your personal life, nobody is going to read your mind and just give you what you’re hoping for.

So why are we so shy when it comes to asking for things related to money? I’m talking about discounts, sales, bargaining, and returns. It’s time to speak up. You work hard for every last dollar you make, so why would you be so lax about letting it slip out of your hands?

Here are five places you can save some cash just by asking:

Pick up the phone and get to work!
Your TV and Internet service: Cable and Internet eat up a big portion of a lot of people’s monthly utility budgets. Luckily, unless you’re in a long-term contract, you can call your cable or Internet provider and ask for a discount. Tell them your bill is too expensive, and ask if they have any current promotions that can be applied to your account. I’ve saved upwards of $100/month doing this. Note that most deals are for three, six, or 12 months, and then a higher rate will kick in automatically. To avoid the shock of a large bill after the end of the promotional period, set yourself a reminder in your Outlook calendar to call them back a month prior and ask for another new deal.

Credit cards: If you’ve been a long-time customer of a credit card company or bank and always pay your bill on time, call and ask if they can offer you a better interest rate. A lower interest rate will save you actual dollars every month as you chip away at that pesky balance you’re carrying. If they can’t lower your interest rate, they may be able to give you a balance transfer offer to help you consolidate your debt at a lower rate.

Medical bills: Americans fork out a lot of cash paying for out-of-pocket medical expenses each year. This may be especially true if you have a high-deductible health plan, or are self-employed. Do a little research online about the true cost of procedures you’re having done, and then ask your doctor or dentist if the rate can be lowered at all. Additionally, many smaller medical offices may offer a discount for paying with cash instead of a credit card.

Fitness membership: If you’re currently paying a month-to-month gym membership or forking out the drop-in fee at your favorite yoga studio, ask the manager if they can offer you a lower monthly rate if you agree to a contract. Of course, only agree to a contract if you’ll actually use the membership enough to make it worth it.

Retail stores: Many big-box stores offer weekly coupons via email or in the Sunday newspaper. But, if you lose interest somewhere between clipping coupons and actually remembering to use them in the store, just ask instead. Now that more coupons are online, stores are getting more flexible about the rules for using coupons. Just ask, “Do you have any coupons available that would work on my purchase?” If they’re not able to type in the discount code at the register, just whip out your smart phone and see if you can find a digital coupon online.

So, it’s time to be bold, be brave, speak up, and ask for great deals. Remember – companies love loyal customers, and if they help you find a great deal, you’re much more likely to return in the future, and tell your friends how great the experience was! 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Keeping it Simple

Although this blog is dedicated to money saving, budgeting, charitable giving, and the like, in the past I've snuck in a few posts about my day job -- copwriting. I did that mostly because I didn't have anywhere else to put that kind of information that I thought was really interesting.

However, I know that not everyone who reads this blog is on the edge of their seats waiting to hear about the exciting world of copywriting. So, I recently created a blog as part of my business website that offers more marketing/copywriting/business type content (as if I don't have enough social media channels to manage already).

So, keep coming back to Happily Ever Clever for all things personal finance, and if you want to read more about my business, please visit

I have a couple of new, fun Happily Ever Clever posts coming your way soon, so stay tuned!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Maybe there IS such thing as a free lunch..

Attention all blog readers! Here is a GREAT opportunity to get involved with with no money out of your pocket.

You may know about, the micro lending site. Here's how it works: Donors log in and pick an entrepreneur somewhere in the world that they'd like to support. Loans can be as small as $25. These loans go directly to the small business owner so that they can start, maintain, or grow their business. Many of these entrepreneurs are women in third-world countries who are working to support their families. 

Since 2008, Kiva has brokered more than $293 million in loans, with an amazing $98.91% repayment rate. Learn more about them here.

For a limited time, new Kiva users are given a $25 credit to spend supporting an entrepreneur of their choice, with nothing out of your pocket (although when the loan is repaid, it goes back to the financial backer of this promotion, not you). It's a great way to explore Kiva and see if you like what they're doing. If you do, you can continue to invest in other small business owners around the world!

I signed up this morning to support Petrona Madrigal, a woman in Nicaragua who sells grains and tortillas in her local community. Nicaragua holds a special place in my heart, as I used to live there. As Petrona grows her business, I'll get periodic reports on how it's going, and notification when my loan is repaid.

I'm really excited about this, and I hope you are too. Get involved today and let me know what you think!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Pushover, pushy, or somewhere in between?

This is the blog post I recently wrote for my monthly entry as a featured blogger on Girl Power Hour. In case you didn't read it on their site, here's my latest blog post! 

Picture this: you’ve just gotten home from grocery shopping. You’re unpacking your groceries and you notice that something you bought is way past its expiration date. Or, you’re looking over a receipt from happy hour last night, only to discover that you were overcharged. Maybe you’re checking out of the hotel at the end of a girls’ weekend, and at the front desk they try to charge you a different price than what you booked online.

What do you do? Do you ignore it, not wanting to make a scene? Or, do you point it out to the server, clerk, or manager?

Something similar happened to me last week. I was running late and trying to pull together a salad for my niece’s birthday party. I had gone to the store earlier that morning and bought all of the ingredients that I needed, including fresh basil. When I went to put the salad together, I discovered that not only was the basil past its prime – it was so moldy it was fuzzy!

I quickly threw together the other ingredients and swung back by the store on my way to the party. I calmly explained the situation to the woman at the customer service desk, and she was rude, condescending, and the words, “I’m sorry” never crossed her lips. Sigh. With no time to ask for a manager, I swapped out the basil and headed off to the party.

But, a few days later, I went on the store’s website and emailed the manager. I got a response this morning saying it had been elevated to someone higher up.

I don’t know exactly what I expect to come of this, but I do know one thing: I work hard for my money, and whether it’s $1, $10, or $100, I deserve quality products and respectful service.

So, next time you receive poor service, are overcharged, or find yourself with a sub-par product, speak up for yourself! Be calm, polite, straightforward, and assertive. Don’t be afraid to ask to speak for a supervisor. If you don’t receive the answer you’re looking for, simply take your business elsewhere in the future – money talks.

Expecting quality in exchange for your hard-earned dollars doesn’t make you a bitch; it makes you a savvy shopper.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

My first blog post with GPH

A few weeks ago I announced that I'm now a featured blogger for Girl Power Hour, a local networking group.  My first blog post was published today. Check it out on the Girl Power Hour blog website here.

I also recommend following the RSS feed. The GPH blog has over 40 great female bloggers covering all kinds of topics from style to personal finance, and travel to exercise.

Thanks for reading!
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