By Rachel Hall
If you have kids or are planning to have to have kids, it's likely that generations above you or even your peers have mentioned the looming "college fund" that we are supposed to have for our children, both born and unborn. And yes, if you come from a family with immense wealth, then perhaps your unborn spawn already have a fully mature, vested, pile of coins set aside for their presumed Ivy League capabilities. For the rest of us mere mortals, whatever you want to call the generation who currently has kids and is somewhere between 30-Something and 40-Something, chances are, we are not going to make the herculean efforts that most people would have go to, to even attempt (and likely not be able to succeed) in order to have a college fund for our mini mammals.
No, it's not that we are trying to raise illiterate, uneducated, anarchists. We are not saving for college because we just don't have the money, and because we see that college "savings" didn't really guarantee us careers that left us carefree about our finances. Most of us are still paying our own student loans (not me, thanks mom), or at the very least, are lucky enough for our families to still be paying them (again, thanks mom). If you are super lucky, likely living pay-check to pay-check, you might possibly qualify for deferment programs, which lowers your monthly payments, but just delays the inevitable. We are the generation that was told, JUST GO TO COLLEGE and EVERYTHING WILL BE FINE. You will get a job, pay back loans, make bank, and boom. Well the joke was on us (and some of our generous parents), if not completely, than at least partially.
Of course it is a privilege to have been able to go to college. I am one of those people who will say that college was some of the best years of my life…though I think 50% of that is manipulated memory. That being said, when my single mother and I sat down with the guidance counselor and she suggested a small liberal arts school across the country, we both said YES, this sounds great! Looks smart! Looks quaint! I want smart and quaint! Well guess what? A degree in Psychology (or whatever liberal arts degree you studied) pretty much only prepares you for another degree. Upon graduating in the early millennium, most of us made less than $40K a year and likely had over $25K to pay back. Factor in cost of living and you have a generation who has no idea what our long-term financial abilities will be. We assumed we would be financially independent, living on our own, and saving money. Clearly that's not the case.
Some folks knew all along that we would seek an additional degree and immediately after graduation signed up for more loans and pushed ahead towards another degree of sorts. We did this in hopes of accessing better jobs, and to gain a leg up on the "lesser educated" and "less hirable" so to speak. Some people just did it because we didn't know what to do after our life had been structured for us for the past 20+ years and we just craved that collegiate container. Either way, yes it was great to be able to write Masters Degree on the 5000 resumes I sent out, and yes I am personally happy and extremely grateful I could be financially supported to receive my degrees. That being said, I think it would be financially irresponsible for our generation to put money in a college fund when we barely have retirement funds, health insurance, or enough (or any) long-term investments. This generation is wondering how they will maintain health insurance, how they will afford rent, and barely can imagine buying a home. Most of us have very little retirement plans and little faith that the government will provide retirement benefits in 25-35 years. This generation needs to figure out how it will support themselves for the rest of their lives. This generation also knows their kids can go in-state to college, take out loans, or even defer college and work until they know what field they really want to get a degree in. So many of us are working in fields that have nothing to do with our degrees, we wonder if we went to college simply because everyone else was going.
Right now, plumbers, contractors, and electricians can make more money than the average teacher and pay much less for their training. We have an expensive and inflated education system and this generation is not sure what the ROI is. We also can't believe we (or our parents) paid thousands of dollars a year for a dorm and a meal plan, just so we could pretend we were independent, while our families footed the bill. Some of us worked in college, which at least brought us closer to reality, but still, attending university at 18 years old often just seemed like the thing to do…not a personalized plan. If one is to invest over 50k in themselves, you would think we would stop and think…is this the best investment for me? It might have been. I just don't think middle class and even working class people stopped to really consider what they were paying for. What is the true cost of college? Before we put our families and ourselves in immense amounts of debt, we should really know.
We can't just assume shelling out tons of money for college will be a great financial decision, particularly, immediately after high school. This is what I assume; I assume my kids want me to be self-sufficient, in good financial standing, and in a place where my financial concerns do not have to be theirs. For that reason, I don't have the extra funds to put towards their college right now. I'm too busy paying for their healthcare, day care, non-toxic organic food, ect… When the time comes for them to discuss going to college, I can offer them free rent, food, a place to study, and they are welcome to commute. If all goes well, I hope to be able to help them pay for school in some meaningful way. However, being able to pay $25k-$55k/year so they can have a go at feeling (but not actually being) independent is not something I am going to save for. Independence is something that can't be faked or funded. Education can be funded, and that I am prepared to help them access and consider. It just might not look like a dorm room shower caddy with a $50k price tag.
By Rachel Hall, Rachel has a Masters in Cultural Gender Studies, and a BA in Communication & Culture. She is a frugal Certified Life Coach, and can often be found hiding in her laundry room from her two children. More about her on her website.
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Airbnb offers an affordable option for people looking to be more comfortable as they travel.
However, there are downsides to staying in a host's home rather than a hotel. Whereas hotels are designed for constant streams of visitors and often have furniture built to last, at an Airbnb, you may be staying on old or cheap furniture that a host is using in order to maximize their profits.
And while most reputable hotels will have regular room inspections from staff to check for any wear and tear, Airbnb damage disputes are oftentimes he said, she said situations. If you are in an Airbnb and something breaks, there are a few steps you should take in order to ensure that you are not on the hook for damages out of your control.
I have used Airbnb for years and have had a grand total of one dispute over damages with a host. But by following these steps, I was able to effectively work with Airbnb to come to a fair resolution.
Step 1: Assess if you are actually at fault. If you are, pay for it.
We have all heard the stories of fat cat Airbnb management companies pulling in millions of dollars from hundreds of apartments, but the reality is that the average Airbnb host makes less than $1,000 a month. These are likely people just like you who are trying to supplement their incomes and stay in their home sasn rents in many major cities climb faster than wages.
If the damage is normal wear and tear, then the guest won't need to pay. But if you broke something through actions outside of regular wear and tear, even if it was unintentional, it is the right thing to do to pay for the damages you didino this person's home. The host will likely take the money out of your security deposit, but you may need to arrange for additional payments for larger damages to their property.
Step 2: Take pictures of the damage right away.
Pull out your phone and take pictures of the damage. Some people take pictures before they enter an Airbnb in case of any damages, but after a long day of travelling I rarely want to peek in every nook and cranny of an apartment. Still, it's always a good idea to take photos the moment damage occurs. You will want to have these photos in case of a dispute with the host.
Step 3: Contact the host through Airbnb immediately.
You should never communicate with a host through a medium other than Airbnb. Remember that communicating through the app is meant to ensure the safety of all parties. Airbnb will put less weight towards screenshots of text messages or your description of a phone call than communication within their app, which they know cannot be fabricated.
I always recommend communicating through written message rather than trying to call as that way there is a clear record of who said what and when. If there are damages to thAirbnb, you should want to contact the host immediately, first to show that you are not trying to hide the damages and second because you are entitled to accommodations that comply with the specifications listed in the ad. If the fridge in your Airbnb is not working, then the host has a responsibility to fix it to provide you with the amenities you paid for.
Keep your communication through Airbnb so there is a record in case of a dispute.
Step 4: If the host does not respond, contact Airbnb
In my own case, I had arrived at my Airbnb in a small beach town for a holiday weekend. When the wooden bed frame came apart as soon as we sat on it, we could not get a response from the host, who was likely enjoying their own festivities.
A host is supposed to be ready to respond to any issues during check-in and when they were not available, I decided to contact Airbnb. The Airbnb bot is available through the app (always go through the app whenever possible!) and I was advised to call Airbnb Community Support. I explained to the representative that the bed had come apart when we had sat on it (certainly normal usage) and was unusable. They advised us to wait while they tried to get ahold of the host, so we sat on the floor and put on a movie while we waited.
After about an hour, they reached out to us through the app and neither one of us had been able to reach the host. If you are still able to use the Airbnb, they will likely have you continue to stay in the accommodation if it is useable. In our case, because it was the only bed in the apartment and there was no room to put the mattress on the floor, they put us in a hotel and paid for half of the difference in price from needing to book a last-minute room.
Step 5: Wait for the host's claim in the Resolution Center
Hosts have up to 60 days to make a claim on a deposit, and you must respond within 72 hours. If you don't respond, then Airbnb will go ahead and process the claim.
Read through the host's claim several times before crafting your response. You will want to respond to any points they make in their claim that you disagree with. The host has to prove that you caused the damage in order to be awarded the money, so you will want to respond to any claims they are making. It doesn't feel good to be accused of doing something you did not do, but do not let emotion come into it. It is best to be professional and matter-of-fact as you go through this contentious situation.
Never pay a host directly. All damage disputes should be handled through Airbnb's Resolution Center.
Step 6: If you hear from the mediator, prepare your response.
If you decide to dispute the claim, then the host can elect to involve a mediator through Airbnb. They will gather information from both sides of the dispute and make a decision. The mediator's judgement is final, and you cannot escalate the situation any further. You must respond to the mediator within 72 hours or they will automatically rule in favor of the host.
A good response will have the following elements:
- Highlights from your positive reviews. If you have dozens of positive reviews all saying you are very respectful of the property, it would certainly be wise to point out your positive prior experiences with Airbnb hosts as a testament to your character.
- A complete and truthful description of how the damage came about. You may be tired of explaining what happened at this point, but this will likely be the last time. Thoroughly explain what happened so that a mediator just coming into the case can be armed with the facts. If the host is making up damages completely, point that out and explain how the items in question worked while you were in the apartment. This is your chance to tell your side of the story.
- Pictures of the damage. This is important for establishing whether the damage could have been accidental and if anyone in the dispute is being less than truthful. In my own case, the host argued that the bed that had broken was brand new and was solid wood, but the pictures I had taken showed that it was made from particle board. I think that was a big part of why I won the dispute, as the host was clearly not telling the whole story.
- All of your communication with the host. This is why you want to only communicate through the Airbnb app. The Airbnb mediator can see that your communications are undoctored, and the host cannot make any claims that you admitted to causing the damage when you did not. Showing that you immediately contacted the host and did not try to cover up the damage at all goes a long way in these disputes.
- A response to any unreasonable charges or claims. If you broke a wine glass and the host starts demanding hundreds of dollars to replace it, you would certainly balk. For my damage dispute, the host asked for $900 to replace the bed, and I expressed that this sounded a bit high for a particle board bed frame. If there is damage to the Airbnb, the host cannot simply make up a number they would like to charge. They must produce receipts for replacements or estimates for repairs.
- The phrases "wear and tear" and "reasonable use". Hosts are providing you a place to stay, but they cannot expect furniture to be in the same condition after months or years of use. If the damages could have come from normal wear and tear, point that out to Airbnb. Normal wear and tear is to be expected; if it's something like small scratches where the dining room chairs meet the floor, then that is to be expected after a while. Also, point out if the damages occurred during reasonable us. A chair should be able to support the body weight of a regular-sized person, a closet door should not come off the tracks when it is slid open, and you should not need to pay for damage that results from using a piece of furniture for its intended purpose. Doing parkour in an Airbnb is likely to lead to some damages that you would be responsible for, but making reasonable use of a piece of furniture should not.
- A response to the host's claim of purposeful damages. In my case, I questioned how the damage to the bed could have occurred if it was not caused by us merely sitting on a cheap wooden frame. I pointed out the bed was close to the wall and questioned how we might have caused the damages outside of reasonable and regular use of the bed. If a host is saying that you damaged the Airbnb, the onus is on them to provide an explanation and proof.
Step 7: Wait for a response
I waited anxiously for a final decision from the mediator but resisted the urge to reach out. The host must take time to draft their own response and the mediator must review all the pictures and evidence that is provided, as well as request any further documentation they need before making a decision.
In the end, because the damages had occurred from regular use of the apartment and I had maintained professional and prompt communication with Airbnb, they found in my favor. However, the whole ordeal did make me a bit more nervous about how I might be making myself vulnerable to spurious claims. In the future, I plan on taking a video of myself entering my vacation rentals and going through the apartment to show the state of the place when I arrive. Staying in a vacation rental may be an affordable alternative to a hotel, but you are certainly much more at risk of running across an unscrupulous host.
If you're keeping tabs on the art and tech worlds, you've probably been hearing whispers about "NFTs" for the past month. Just over the past week they've entered the mainstream lexicon.
Twitter founder Jack Dorsey made the news for selling his first ever tweet. The app has been teasing paid subscription models and newsletter-like features, but tweets for sale is "the next frontier."
just setting up my twttr— jack (@jack)1142974214.0
The 2006 tweet went up for auction as an NFT, and the current bid is $2.5 Million. But what does it mean to own that? Why would anyone want to? And what even is an NFT?
What does NFT stand for?
NFT stands for "non-fungible token." Essentially, it's like a proof of ownership sticker for something that exists on the internet. The NFT is a piece of code that acts like a watermark or a signature — if you own an NFT, you own the rights to that little piece of the internet. Because ownership is embedded into unique code on a blockchain, NFTs are impossible to make fakes of or replicate. The digital asset can be screenshotted or replicated, but the ownership cannot.
An NFT is different from a "fungible token," like a Bitcoin. The main distinction is that fungible tokens are interchangeable. They each have a 1:1 value with each other, but NFTs do not. So while one Bitcoin has the same exact value as another, an NFT of a random Popdust tweet does not have the same value of Jack Dorsey's inaugural tweet.
Talk of NFTs is often intertwined with cryptocurrency jargon, but they are not only the realm of Bitcoin bros. Unlike other forms of cryptocurrency, you don't need to know the specific ins and outs of the market in order to purchase an NFT — making NFTs accessible to those of us who have yet to hop onto Bitcoin, Ethereum, or even Dogecoin.
What Can Be an NFT?
Any digital asset can become an NFT. From a tweet to a gif to digital art, anything that exists on the internet can now be officially owned. NFTs have been around for a while, but only recently have they taken off as a way for digital creators to sell "official" versions of their content.
Anyone can screenshot a tweet or repost an Instagram meme, but NFTs allow consumers to own the rights to trade, sell, or keep and collect them. While digital art and internet ephemera are most ubiquitous as NFTs, the market is growing for more traditional collection fodder to be sold in this new format.
Digital art is now being sold like fine art, and baseball cards are no longer the realm of middle school lunch tables. As the market grows, so does the scale. While an NFT gif can go for around $5,000, recent digital sales have been making headlines for reaching millions and tens of millions.
"Everydays - The First 5000 Days" by Beeple was sold by Christie's as an NFT for $69M
Why Are People Talking About Them?
While Dorsey is not the first to rack up millions for selling digital ephemera, his tweet auction has propelled the market into the headlines. The hype surrounding the NFT market is similar to the recent astronomical trajectory of cryptocurrency and has even been compared to the GameStop saga.
In one way, NFTs are similar to investments like fine art and rare collectibles. And the traditional auction world is taking notice. Digital artist Beeple, who has been creating Everydays for 13 years and amassed millions of social media followers, is finally getting payout for the work he has been doing for free. Internationally renowned auction house Christie's launched its first ever digital-only auction with a Beeple NFT.
It sold for $69 Million.
While the astronomical prices may be driven by hype, the future of NFTs is becoming undeniable.
What's the Future of NFTs?
NFTs are changing the way artists and digital creators interact with followers and get paid. Soon we'll be seeing branded NFTs collected like Jordans or even NFTs to replace tour merch. Music NFTs are already making waves, too.
They're also changing the way we think about investing. Instead of investing in the stock market or in the traditional collectibles, internet fodder can now appreciate in value. And because so many NFT platforms serve crypto users, investors can watch the value of their items and their crypto rise separately to compound their earnings.
However, the unregulated world of NFTs is rising without anyone keeping vigilant watch. The murky waters of internet ownership that NFTs ostensibly solve get muddied when people are stealing art to turn into NFTs in the first place.
And while NFTs are purportedly decentralizing and democratizing art dealing and trading, the reality seems like the people benefitting are already rich and looking to get richer.
Long gone are the days when the majority of Americans dreamed about owning a home with a white picket fence.
The traditional American Dream may be on its deathbed, but that doesn't mean a core component of the vision can't survive. It simply takes a diverse perspective. People can still believe they can attain their own vision of success in society with hard work, knowledge, and risk-taking. Investing in today's American Dream may literally mean investing money in our modern economy, starting with our infrastructure.
Real estate investing in particular is a lucrative method that can boost income and secure a better financial future for many. There's always risk involved, but the payoffs can far outweigh the uncertainty. Selecting solid financial investments is about confidence and competence. If you're looking for some advice on this kind of investment, here are a few savvy tips for new real estate investors.
Stick To a Specific Strategy or Niche
Real estate is a challenging sphere of the business world, one that requires several key skills: groundwork knowledge, networking, perseverance, and organization. True knowledge of the real estate market will come with time and experience, but it's a smart idea to select one area of the market and stick to it. This is the best way to attain in-depth familiarity with your specific niche.
First, choose a geographical area close by and then a niche strategy within it, such as house flips, rental rehabs, or residential or commercial properties. By doing so, you can become aware of current inner working conditions in the market and you'll have a better idea of how these trends may change in the future.
Be Vigilant About Viable Financing Options
While it takes money to make money, you don't have to use all your own money. A common misconception about real estate investing is that you must be wealthy to start off. This isn't straight fact, however. A majority of people can test the waters of real estate investing without a lot of initial cash in their pocket.
Aside from traditional financing options from banks and institutions, private lending options can be worthy solutions. Hard money lenders are popular, reasonable choices, and they tend to have fewer qualification requirements upfront. However, be sure to strategically choose a hard money lender to find the best possible fit.
Master the Art of Finding Good Deals
There may be hundreds of thousands of available properties for sale on the current market, but the bulk of them will never amount to the final money-making result you desire. Another great tip for new real estate investors is to use good math to estimate profit. Taking risks is part of the process, but you have the ability to analyze properties and use networking sources to find the greatest deal. You can't win every deal, but you can steadily work towards a thriving financial future.