How to Check Out a Non-Profit Before You Donate

TAX RETURNS!!! SQUEEEEEE!!!

I bet you can think of a hundred different ways to spend the automatic deposit or check that you’re getting from Uncle Sam, right? Are you saving it? Paying off some debt? Going on vacay?

Allow me to put a bug in your ear…Have you ever thought of giving some of it to a charitable organization?

I think a lot of us love the idea of giving back to a non-profit with either our time or our talent, but unfortunately the non-profit world is like the business world – you have to do your due diligence to make sure you are getting the most bang for your buck. Here are some simple tips to ensure your donation is going to a reputable organization, and that it’s not being wasted:

  1. Is the charity a 501(c)3? In order for your donation to be tax-deductible, it has to be registered as a 501(c)3, which is the IRS’ non-profit code. Go to IRS.gov to determine if the charity you want to donate to has this tax-exempt status.
  1. Examine the charity’s annual report. If the non-profit is truly transparent, they will have their annual report either on their website or will readily send it to you. If they have pie charts or bar graphs, you can literally see where the cash is going. If they are hemorrhaging money, that’s a bad sign. If they rely too heavily on volatile grants, that can be another red flag.
  1. Read the organization’s 990. The 990 is the non-profit equivalent of a 1040 that they file every year. This is where you find the real dirt. FoundationCenter.org is hands down the best place on the Internet to find out where the non-profit *really* spends their money. For example, the Los Angeles Opera Company spent $35 million in its 2014 filing. The famous opera tenor Placido Domingo made over $900,000 for being their general director, and the form even indicated he sometimes used first-class travel for “business purposes.”

The famous opera tenor Placido Domingo made over $900,000 for being their general director, and the form even indicated he sometimes used first-class travel for “business purposes.”

Wait, what?!

  1. Determine what percentage of their budget directly impacts programs. Continuing with the example of the LA Opera company, their 990 shows that $3.5 million went to the top eleven salaries. That’s equivalent to 10% of their operating budget. That’s a big percentage for such a small portion of their staff. I wonder what they pay their musicians…?

This isn’t an exact science, because of course non-profits’ biggest expenses are salaries. And people who work there deserve to make a living they are often hardworking and very underpaid.

But is an appropriate amount going to programs in the community? Are they making an impact among people you know or have heard about? Can the non-profit give you evidence of its footprint with statistics and press packets? Because if they can’t, something is probably fishy.

  1. Consider an in-kind donation. Give an old bridesmaids dress to a charity that provides prom dresses to those who can’t afford it. Donate books to a literacy center, or gently used toys to a shelter that takes in families. Or offer a donation to a silent auction fundraiser. That way you know your items go directly to support the organization’s mission, and receive a donation form come tax season.
  1. Or, better yet, give your time. Money is great, but time is even better. Play with shelter kitties. Cook a meal for soup kitchen. Pick up trash along a bike path. Do Meals on Wheels. There are hundreds of ways to donate your time and get some real skin in the game. Nothing will show your passion for an organization like the time you spend there. 

What non-profit is nearest and dearest to your heart? Comment below!

Why You Need a Will (and How to Get One!)


“I’m 35, single, and in good health. I don’t need a will!”

Yes, you do.

I’m going to talk about estate planning today, which isn’t exciting or glamorous, but it is definitely an uncomfortable subject. Here are some compelling reasons why you should consider getting a will, and how you can do it without too much hassle.

  1. Protect your assets. I rent, so on paper, it may look like I don’t own much. But if you add in my car, retirement accounts, my business, and my other assets, it all adds up. Having a will means I know what I am worth, and I know my interests are protected.
  1. Have your wishes fulfilled. My will includes instructions to be cremated and having my ashes scattered. I know from conversations with my parents they would prefer to bury me. But my will trumps their wishes and I don’t leave my final wishes to chance. It’s spelled out in black and white.
  1. Spare your loved ones. Many of us know people who pass away without wills and relatives and friends come out of the woodwork, all wanting valuables or a piece of the deceased’s estate. This can cause heartache and ruptures in the family as it drags out in the courts. Do you want to subject your family to that kind of grief? Having a will guarantees squabbles won’t arise after your death, and preserves the peace.
  1. You really never know. I am young and healthy, but sadly none of us know what the future holds. A very dear friend of mine died at 33 years old. She had no will, and her heart-broken parents had to go through her estate and determine what she owed. It was so difficult for them to take care of all her paperwork. I don’t want my parents to have to go through that, so my will has specific instructions, and my sister is my executor.

I gave my parents power of attorney over me before I moved to France for a year. They were baffled why I would do such a thing, saying nothing bad would happen to me. Well, at the end of my trip, my appendix ruptured and I got a blood infection. I very nearly didn’t make it home. But because they had power of attorney over me, I made it legally easier for them to bring me home to the States in case I did die. I was only 23.                                                                                                                    

As a Dave Ramsey fan, I followed his advice and got my will drawn up at USLegalForms.Com. They offer state-specific wills you can fill out online and are valid legal documents. At $49.95 for a PDF or $59.95 for a paper form, it certainly is a budget-friendly way to draw up a will. Rates may vary depending on your state, but it is certainly worth investigating. There are other websites like LegalZoom.com which offer wills created online for a reasonable cost. It pays to do your research!

Of course you can meet with a lawyer and draw up a will. That is advantageous because you are dealing with real people who know you and can amend the will whenever you need it. Be prepared to spend $300-$1,000, but that is money well spent!

Hopefully this blog post has given you some food for thought and will have you consider creating a will. Think about your loved ones. Do you want to put them through anxiety and additional grief of taking care of your estate with no written directives?

Of course not. So look into getting a will started. Now.

Do you have a will? Why or why not? Comment below!

When to Save and When to Splurge on Clothing

To spend or not to spend…that is the question.

There are a lot of budget fashionistas out there who will spend a little money on ready-to-wear items every season. But Plus One Women are a little more discerning. We would prefer to have nicer things if we know they will last.

This week, I’m taking a look at various items of clothing to determine which ones I recommend saving on, and which ones to splurge on. I don’t cover workout clothes, loungewear, undies, or jammies. Instead, I focus on wardrobe staples you will wear either to work or out and about.

Splurge

  • Sweaters – I don’t skimp on sweaters. Because they are the bulk of my winter wardrobe and I prefer cashmere, I go for quality over quantity. The only exception is black cardigans – I love them but wear them so hard, they rarely last year to year.
  • Coats – Midwest winters are brutal. So why would you skimp on a poor quality coat? I had to invest in a new one this year, only because I had gained so much weight that my coat of three winters no longer fit. I got a stylish wool coat that will last me for several years. It wasn’t cheap, but I know I will get my money’s worth out of it.
  • Shoes – This is the item I am least likely to save on. I have awful feet – bunions, pronation, and all. So why would I spend $25 on a crummy pair of shoes that falls apart in a few weeks? My shoes may not be cheap or sexy, but they are comfortable and last me for years.
  • Dresses – Since I only wear two dresses a season, I am meticulous about how they fit, and this is one where you get what you pay for. When I try on cheaper dresses, I am almost always disappointed how they fit. But a good quality dress will fit you like a glove and wear well through many washings.
  • Jeans – I only own one pair of jeans. You heard me right. After searching high and low, I found a pair that covers my stomach, makes my butt look good, and emphasizes my long legs. Yeah, they cost $100, but they’ve lasted almost three years. Can you say the same about a $40 pair?

Save

  • Scarves – These colorful nomads of your wardrobe don’t have to cost a lot. You can find them at discount stores in all sorts of gorgeous patterns that won’t break the bank. Have fun with them!
  • T-shirts and camis – Because they usually don’t tend to last long, there’s no sense in spending big bucks on them. Unless you find a style that really flatters you and you buy all the colors, tees and camis aren’t investment pieces.
  • Trousers – Because I know what Lane Bryant size I am, as soon as I wear out a pair of trousers, I have no problem buying another pair. I put pants through a lot: weight fluctuation, chub rub, contorting in different positions at work or even relaxing on the couch. My experience is expensive trousers don’t hold up any better.
  • Skirts – Because hemlines and silhouettes change, go ahead and have fun with skirts. They’re an easy item to wear and care for. I will spend money on a quality wool pencil skirt, but that’s it.

Save or Splurge

  • Purses – It’s your call. Personally I prefer to pay a little more for one quality black purse. But if you like different colors for the seasons, buying inexpensive purses adds a great pop of color!
  • Tops – For me, it just depends. I have shirts from Target and shirts I paid nearly $100 for. I would prefer to spend a little more to wear a shirt that fits really well than $30 for something that looks like a box on me. Again, I care about fit and quality, not price.

I hope that gives you some idea of how I price out my clothing. I’m not a snob for preferring quality clothes – they are investment pieces in my capsule wardrobe and I save money in the long run by shopping less because I buy clothing that holds up for years instead of months.

What is the one fashion item you always splurge on? Comment below!

6 Reasons Why You Need to Go Bra Shopping Every Year

Bras. Swimsuits. Jeans. Bridesmaids dresses.

What do all these things have in common?

They’re all things most women would rather get a root canal than go shopping for. (Full disclosure: I’ve never had a root canal. But I can’t imagine they’re fun.)

I used to work at Lane Bryant and was a certified intimate apparel expert. (Second full disclosure: I watched a video and took an open-note quiz. But I was actually known as a pretty damn good bra saleswoman.)

I can attest to the fact many women only shopped for bras every two or three years. Other women I know—specifically ones who gave birth to me—do it even less often. (Full disclosure: I love my mom.)

Trust me: I get it. I understand the many reasons to put off bra shopping, from cost to the time factor to the stupefying number of choices.

But the reality is you need to go bra shopping at least once a year.

I have a list of six reasons to consider why you need to go bra shopping. You’ll be doing yourself and “the girls” a huge favor:

  1. Chances are very good you’re wearing the wrong size. Depending where you read it, anywhere between 65-85% of American women are wearing the wrong bra size. And having worked at LB so long, I believe it. No store charges for a bra fitting, so at the very least, it costs you nothing to find out how far off the mark you are. Because of hormones, weight gain/loss, and many other factors, you are probably not the exact size you were five years ago.
  1. You’ll boost your fashion IQ. I am amazed at all the different types of innovations bra designers and manufacturers come up with. Back smoothing. Moisture wicking. Bralettes. Demi cups that fit a DDD. Lace that doesn’t show under knits. Hundreds of gorgeous patterns. You’d think such a simple garment would be pretty dull, but there’s a lot you can do with it!
  1. You will find a new best friend. Once you are properly fitted and find a comfortable bra with good support—yes, they do exist—you will seriously wonder how you ever lived without it! Imagine being at work without having to adjust your bra at a staff meeting. Or if you went running without pain because you had a proper sports bra. Did you just improve your quality of life? Yes, you did!
  1. Your clothes will look stunning on you. I see so many shirts or dresses that don’t look quite right because of an ill-fitting bra. I see boobs that are pointed up and down. I see uniboobs. Quadriboobs. And other types I can’t even mention. When you are fitted with the right bra for your frame, I cannot even tell you how well your clothes fit. You can be proud of your figure and wear clothes that are sleek or tailored instead of boxy and baggy. Believe me, others will notice.
  1. You could get the chance to treat yourself and your SO. Hell, I don’t even date, but even I occasionally splurge on something lacy and/or oh là là for myself. Why not? It’s fun! And if you enjoy something black or sparkly or with ribbons, I’m guessing your SO does, too!
  1. It will save you money in the long run. A good fitting bra is an investment. Stop throwing your money away on cheap bras that don’t fit. And definitely stop buying expensive ones that don’t fit and you don’t take care of! A quality bra will last approximately 180 wears, or even longer if you wash and store it properly.

The next time you put on a bra, ask yourself:

  • Does the back ride up?
  • Are the wires rubbing scabs into my skin?
  • Do I spill over or under the cup?
  • Do I often fiddle with the straps?
  • Is it cutting red marks into my shoulders or chest?
  • Does it hurt so badly that I take it off right when I get home, even before I take off my shoes?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you need to go get fitted for a new bra. Block an hour out over lunch, after work (Mondays and Tuesdays are typically the slowest nights in retail), on a Saturday morning, or when the mall opens on Sunday. Take a sister or a trusted friend. It doesn’t have to be torture.

You deserve to be comfortable and look great. With a bra that fits great, you are ready to conquer the world like the amazing curvy goddess that you are!

Be honest…when was the last time you had a fitting? Comment below!

Project 333 and Me: A Review

As nerdy as it sounds, I am obsessed with simplicity.

I want things easy breezy.

I have long sung the praises of the capsule wardrobe, so when I saw the 333 Project on the Becoming Minimalist Blog, I thought I had to give it a try. I want to introduce you to this super easy minimalist wardrobe, how I did it, and what I learned.

What is Project 333?

Created by Courtney Carver in 2010, the 333 Project is pretty straightforward for those of us ready to leap into the capsule wardrobe:

  • You are limited to 33 items. That includes clothing, accessories, jewelry, outerwear, and shoes.
  • It does not include sentimental jewelry you always wear (I always wear the same necklace and right-hand ring), undergarments, sleepwear, loungewear (leggings, t-shirts), and workout clothes (but you can only wear those when you actually exercise).

How I Did It

You can buy her $19.99 mini-course on how to get started, but here’s what I did for the price of zero dollars:

  • The day after Christmas, I laundered all my clothes and threw them on my bed.
  • I was shocked that I still had quite a few clothes that no longer fit. Except for three shirts, they all went in the donation bag. All of them.
  • After that, I considered which clothes would be best for work and play. I tend to wear my work clothes out, just changing the trousers or skirt for jeans.
  • I only picked what I really, really loved and needed.
  • I don’t know what this says about me, but I gravitated towards my most expensive and/or high-quality clothing.

Here is my list:

OUTERWEAR

  1. Wool coat
  2. Fleece vest

SHOES/ACCESSORIES

  1. Black flats
  2. Red flats
  3. Converse sneakers
  4. Black knee-high boots
  5. Tan-and-cream Burberry scarf
  6. White gold hoop earrings
  7. Watch

PANTS/SKIRTS/DRESSES

  1. Black work trousers
  2. Black jeans
  3. Black cropped pants
  4. Blue jeans
  5. Leopard-print pencil skirt
  6. Little black dress

SHIRTS/TOPS

  1. White t-shirt
  2. Black t-shirt
  3. Grey t-shirt
  4. White tunic
  5. Denim shirt
  6. Black boyfriend blazer
  7. Igigi shirt
  8. Breton t-shirt
  9. Floral tunic
  10. Black cami
  11. Black cami with lace
  12. Nude cami
  13. Fuschia cami
  14. Leopard print cami
  15. Black flyaway tank top
  16. Cashmere sweater
  17. Lightweight cropped sweater
  18. Black cardigan

Project 333 Hacks

Though it’s not mentioned in the rules, I swapped out items as the weather got warmer. I live in the Great Plains; I’ll be damned if I wear a cashmere sweater or wool coat in March. They were traded for a t-shirt and another pair of cropped pants.

Sunglasses are considered accessories, but since mine are prescription, I cheated a little and didn’t count those.

I also bought new clothes as needed. My black dress was several years old, pilled, and showing signs of wear, so I got a new Igigi dress on mega-sale thanks to eBay. As Courtney says, this is not punishment. This is only taking what you really love and wearing it in heavy rotation.

What I Learned

The 333 Project was super easy to do. Laundry loads were a little smaller, getting dressed was a heckuva lot faster, and I still got tons of compliments on what I wore by people who’d seen me wear them countless times. If my coworkers noticed I was wearing the same things over and over, they never said a word.

I realized it really is OK to spend money on quality items. My stuff from Lane Bryant (about half the clothes) isn’t expensive but still good quality. My Breton shirt and blazer came from Target. But I shouldn’t feel guilty about spending $100 on quality shoes for my poor, deformed feet. I spent a pretty penny on the Burberry scarf, but I’ve gotten more value for wear out of that than any other scarf I own.

The one thing I am scratching my head about is my jewelry collection. I have a lot of silver jewelry. A. LOT. Some of it is from my grandmother so – duh – I’m not giving it up. But I have so many rings and earrings I never wear. I want them to go to a good home, so I am going to have to figure out how to dispose of them. I will keep you posted!

Do you find Project 333 intriguing? Could you live with just 33 items? Comment below!

Why You Should Wear Red Lipstick

Marilyn Monroe. Taylor Swift. Dita Von Tease. Gwen Stefani. Dr. Frank-N-Furter.

What do all these people have in common?

Red lips. Crimson. Scarlet. Vermillion. Ruby. Cerise. Carmine. Matte, shiny, or glossy. Whatever you call it, they know how to take the color red and rock it as their signature color.

I don’t wear red lipstick every day, but when I do, someone often tells me, “That’s such a great shade on you. I wish I could pull it off!”

Well, I’m about to let you in on a little secret. You can pull it off. For those of you who have always wanted to wear red lipstick, I am going to give you reasons why you should and what you need to do when selecting a shade. Hopefully it will give you the boost you need to try it yourself!

There are a lot of reasons to even consider wearing red lipstick in the first place:

  • You can wear no makeup except a red lip and still look pulled-together. I wear very little makeup as it is, but when I wear red on my lips, no one cares if I did my eyes or am wearing foundation. Your lips will be there front and center!
  • Red complements nearly every color you wear. There’s just something about it – it matches every color under the rainbow (except maybe pink…I personally don’t mix the two), so you will always look polished.
  • It makes you stand out in a crowd. Do you ever see a woman wearing a beautiful shade of red and envy her for it? That could be you. In a sea of colored lips, the red is definitely a show-stopper!
  • It is a timeless color. Think of every old-timey actress you can. How easy is it to imagine her in red lipstick? It’s not hard at all. Purples, pinks, corals, and earth tones come in and out of style over the decades, but red is eternal.
  • There is a shade of red that will perfectly match your skin tone. Not all hues of red were created equal, but some time at a makeup counter will not be wasted!

Below is a chart from InStyle magazine about which shades of red will work best with different skin tones:

Skin tone Undertone Lipstick shade
Fair Cool Raspberry
Fair Warm Red with an orange undertone
Medium-light   Pinkish red
Medium Yellow Tangerine
Medium Gold True red
Medium Neutral Blue-red
Golden   Berry
Tan Warm Orange-based
Tan Neutral Bright cherry
Tan Cool Merlot
Dark Warm Opaque blue
Dark Cool Ruby or wine

 

Note that “cool” undertones mean you have more pink or blue hues in your skin. “Warm” is more yellow or peach, and “neutral” means you have a combination of all the above.

Again, if you’re completely confused by this chart, make an appointment at a department store makeup counter. They’re almost always free, and their expert advice can get you started. Many will even give you a sample to try. If they do, take it to your local drug store to find a budget-friendly substitution!

I hope this post has inspired you to consider buying a tube of red lipstick. Because it is so eye-popping and timeless, you really can’t go wrong. And there is definitely a shade that will flatter you, so what are you waiting for?

What is your all-time favorite lipstick shade? Comment below!

An Interview with Hackwith Design House

(photo credit: Hackwith Design House)

I am so excited to bring you Plus One Woman’s first interview with a fashion line! Founded by Lisa Hackwith in 2013, Hackwith Design House is a leader in minimalist design and sustainable fashion. Best of all, they carry plus sizes!!!

Every piece is a limited edition, handmade at their studio in Minneapolis. I love their high-quality fabrics and durable wear. Each item really is a wearable work of art.

Enjoy the following interview with Erin Husted, their Director of Operations!

  1. What is your definition of slow fashion?

Slow fashion is about creating pieces that are meant to last and sustainable. At Hackwith Design House, we strive to use natural and sustainable fabrics as much as possible, and we make every single piece in our Minnesota studio. You can read about our whole team on our website, and you’ll know that one of those women made the clothing you buy from us.

  1. Many of us are on a budget but would love to embrace slow fashion. What would you suggest as one or two key pieces she should consider investing in for her capsule wardrobe?

We believe that women are as diverse as their skills, talents, and accomplishments, so what I might want as a key piece will be different than what someone else might want. But I’ll give my two cents, anyway J. Any piece from our HDH Basics line (which is sized through XL right now) is a great first start to a capsule wardrobe. We also have a beautiful Trench Coat that will work with anyone’s closet, and it is available in HDH Plus.

  1. What was the catalyst for launching HDH Plus?

Lisa and I both have friends who consider themselves plus-sized, and they are beautiful, fashionable women. It didn’t make sense to us that there weren’t more lines catering to these accomplished women who wanted to buy sustainable, well-designed clothes. As soon as we had room in our budget, we decided to launch HDH Plus. We hope to be able to expand the line over time as our budget allows.

What You Should Know About Car Care

Think about the worst car you ever drove.

Maybe it was so ugly that it made babies cry. Or perhaps, like mine, it was so mechanically unsound that you couldn’t even trust it out on the roads. You gripped the steering wheel so hard that your knuckles turned white and your teeth clenched until you practically had lockjaw.

Whether you drive a brand-new car or have one that is at the end of your life span, it is important to know the basics of car maintenance. As single women, we must stand on our own two feet and not be taken in by dishonest mechanics.

I’m not saying you have to know how to fix everything in a car, but I have compiled a list of basic things you should be able to do yourself. That way, if your car starts acting up, you can make very basic repairs yourself, or at least be able to identify the source of the problem:

  1. Using your carjack. I didn’t learn how to do this until I was about 28. And by then, I learned the jack that came with my repair kit was woefully inadequate. It was a hard lesson learned, but I know better now!
  1. Changing a tire. I actually learned how to change a tire in high school, but that skill wasn’t helpful at 28 because my terrible carjack didn’t work!
  1. Changing an interior light bulb or headlight. This one is a little trickier, but important to learn how to do, because the last thing you want is getting pulled over for a non-functioning headlight!
  1. Changing oil. I did this – once – many moons ago, but I would not be able to do it now. You could save hundreds of dollars over the course of your car’s life if you learn how to do this yourself!
  1. Charging a battery. Again, I had to learn how to do this the hard way in college. And grad school. And after grad school. A good pair of jumper cables in your trunk is worth its weight in gold.
  1. Changing the battery. You have to be careful when you do this one, because you want to make sure you have the right connections on the right terminal!
  1. Checking your fluids. Checking your oil is something I learned back in high school, and very important if you have a leak anywhere or you aren’t sure when you need an oil change. Learning how to check coolants as well as windshield wiper, brake, power steering, and transmission fluids.
  1. Checking your tire pressure. When I was strapped for cash and had a very slow leak in my tires, it was very important to monitor tire pressure. You can buy a gauge at a hardware or auto parts store for less than five bucks. Money well spent.
  1. Knowing the location of important car parts. If you know where the shocks, struts, alternator, and starter are, you will have a much better chance of identifying where weird sounds come from when things start to go south.
  1. Knowing the signs of when various parts are going out. Speaking of things going south, keeping an ear out for weird sounds, vibrations that shouldn’t be there, noticing a difference in how the car handles, or identifying why your car won’t start (alternator vs. battery, for example) are all great skills to cultivate. Pay attention to your car. If you notice something is off, chances are your intuition is right. 

That’s all well and good, but how am I supposed to know all this stuff if I don’t have anyone to teach me?

Glad you asked. A lot of this stuff I learned from my dad. A mechanically-inclined girlfriend taught me a lot of other points. Feel out your network to see if anyone is willing to teach you how to do this, maybe in exchange for babysitting services, pizza, or another way of bartering.

Some vocational schools will offer classes on basic car care. A really good, patient mechanic may also take time out of his day to teach you. And YouTube is full of video tutorials.

Hopefully you already know how to do at least two or three items on the list, and this will give you an idea what you need to do for basic car care. Knowledge is power, and learning how to do this will give you more independence.

Is there anything I should have added but didn’t? Comment below!

How to Deal with a Workplace Bully


Does bullying end once we leave high school and go to college or enter the workforce?

Sadly, the answer is no. Almost 30% of American women reported being the victim of workplace bullying in 2014, were more likely than men to be targets of bullying, and were more likely to be bullied by a female coworker.

Today I want to talk about some of the signs you might have a workplace bully and what you can do about it. It is difficult for a single woman to cope with a bully in a professional environment, but believe me when I say you are not alone.

The definition of workplace bullying can get a little gray. Here are some signs a coworker might be bullying you:

  • Leaves you out of important workplace communications related to your job or leaves you out of important meetings related to your job function.
  • Takes credit for work you do or always wants to be the center of attention.
  • Treats you very different from other people in your office.
  • Makes you feel useless. Doesn’t give you projects or work that plays to your strengths, will subtly seek to isolate you from others.
  • Passively uses you as a scapegoat if something they do does not turn out right.
  • Fails to engage you in small talk, or does not exchange any civilities if you do.
  • Does not maintain eye contact at staff meetings, even when you are directly addressing them.
  • Sharply criticizes any mistake you may make, refuses to accept apologies.
  • Sets unrealistically high expectations of you and the amount of work you can perform.
  • Avoids having face-to-face conversations and talks about you behind your back.

Of course there are other ways not mentioned here, but in my 20 years in the workforce, I have seen many of these play out between other coworkers or have been the recipient of it myself.

So what can you do when you realize there’s a pattern and you identify a bully in your workplace? You absolutely should proceed with caution, because depending on the circumstances, your job may be in jeopardy.

While not all of these suggestions will apply to every situation – because each one is indeed unique – hopefully it will give you some ideas of resources or strategies:

  • Realize the bullying is not your fault. You must understand that while you cannot control how people treat you, you can control how you react to it.
  • Read your employee handbook. Study the chain of command of where to take your grievances.
  • If a bullying incident occurs for a first time, try to address it with the person who did it. Setting clear boundaries right from the beginning may nip the behavior in the bud. Try to be as unemotional as possible during the conversation.
  • Document everything. Save emails if you are being directly harassed, keep track of email chains you were left out of, record dates and times of unpleasant conversations, and any other things that definitively prove you are being bullied. Information is power.
  • Avoid gossiping or complaining to your equals about how you are being treated. I know this is much more easier said than done, but workplace gossip always has a habit of coming back to haunt you.
  • Try to treat your bully better than they treat you. Greet them in the morning and wish them a good evening. It is so difficult to be nice to people who are mean to you, but the high road is definitely the one to take.
  • Following your company’s policies and armed with your information, speak to your direct supervisor of HR officer (whichever is most appropriate). If they are worth their salt, they will address the issue immediately, and your identity will be kept private.
  • If that doesn’t help, take it further up the chain of command.
  • If all else fails and your bully is making you physically or mentally ill, dust off your résumé and start looking for another job. You deserve so much better than a toxic work environment.

Please believe me that I know what it is like to be bullied at work – it’s something I endured working in restaurants, schools, and other settings. You don’t have to stand for it, you are so much stronger than you give yourself credit for, and life is too short for you to have to worry about the bully. Hopefully this has given you an insight into symptoms and solutions to deal with your bully.

Who is the meanest person you have ever worked with? Comment below!

Why You Should Travel Solo with Airbnb

Gas. Airfare. Restaurants. Sightseeing. Hotels.

If you’re anything like me, you tend to keep an eye on your budget when you travel. There are so many costs associated with taking a vacay that it tends to boggle the mind.

I don’t know how the hotel industry can justify an average rate of $143 dollars for a night’s stay, but let me introduce you to Airbnb. Founded in San Francisco in 2008, it is an app that pairs homeowners with weary travelers. You can stay in a shared room, a private room, an entire apartment, or a whole house. Prices vary by season, accommodations, and location, but believe me when I tell you Airbnb is a fabulous alternative to expensive, cookie-cutter hotel rooms!

I first used Airbnb on the recommendation of my best friend. I spent three weeks in Spain, and I wasn’t about to fork over $200 a night for posh hotels. When she showed me what I *could* get for an average of $75 a night, I was simply stunned.

In the course of my three-week trip, I stayed at Airbnbs where:

  • I got home-cooked breakfast while my host gave me a chance to work on my Spanish and recommended some out-of-the way jewels in Bilbao.
  • Another host introduced me to her brother who owned a tapas bar in San Sebastiá Free tapas and drinks, as well as amazing interactions with the locals!
  • A wonderful couple welcomed me with maps and tons of fantastic recommendations in La Coruña.
  • A tiny, airy apartment was filled with music from the Lisbon Conservatory of Music across the street.

Because I had my best friend guiding me that first time, I took advantage of her expertise with Airbnb. Let me give you some of the tips she taught me, which all women traveling alone should adhere to:

  • Try to stay with a Superhost. These are hosts who have been vetted by Airbnb and really care about their ratings. This is not their first rodeo, and you will benefit from their experience.
  • Do your homework. Read as many reviews as you can before booking. If a particular critique keeps coming up again and again, there is probably a reason for it.
  • I had more peace of mind when I was staying somewhere with at least ten or fifteen reviews.
  • A female host is preferable. I have stayed with older and younger couples without incident. For the sake of safety, exercise caution about renting from single men.
  • Research the part of town you are staying in. Look at police reports and maps online to determine the safe parts of town.
  • To make your travel budget go even further, look for places that serve breakfast.
  • Don’t let price be your only consideration. Location, host reputation, and degree of privacy are all things to take into consideration.
  • Wifi connectivity is a very high priority on my list. Is there anything on your list that is a deal-breaker?
  • Make sure you carefully read the host’s cancellation policy and descriptions. It helps to be clear on check-out policies and if your host is a night owl or morning lark. Plus, knowledge is power. If you are allergic to animals, you won’t want to stay with someone who has pets.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask your host for recommendations for places to visit and good restaurants. I love going where the locals hang out, not other tourists.

I hope you’ve found some good, practical tips for choosing an Airbnb host. With a little research, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed when staying with a local host. You certainly will get a heartier welcome than any hotel, and you will more than likely be way more comfortable there than at a nameless, faceless hotel chain.

What luck have you had booking lodging online? Comment below!

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