Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

By Tom Twardzik

You have a lot to say. You are smart and informed and you have a message or a story that will change people's lives. You've told your friends but this story calls for a large audience. You deserve to share it but you need a place where it can thrive. This is the time to start a blog, to build a home for your stories that will showcase them exactly how you want. There are many options and most of them are free. So which are the best platforms to host your blog? The nominees are…


Wordpress

Wordpress is the obvious choice and, if you've spent much time on the internet, it probably leaped into your mind first. The quick facts: it's free; it has a huge audience (over 300 million); and it powers more than seventeen percent of websites on the internet. That's a significant percentage of the global internet running through Wordpress's servers and an enormous pool of people who might see your post. Of course, that's no guarantee that anyone will read a given post—sharing and marketing blogs are topics for another story. But it is quite an advantage for a beginning blogger.

Wordpress is as free as basically any other platform: that means it's free to write, to use beautiful themes, to publish and to use all of the features most amateur bloggers will need to tell their stories. If your blog takes off, $4/month is a small fee for a custom domain name, 6GB of storage space and an ad-free blog. And if you go professional, you can upgrade to the Premium tier ($8/mo.) for advanced social features and monetization options or the Business tier ($25/mo.) for limited storage, an ad- and Wordpress brand-free blog and many other tools.

Basically, Wordpress is the general, go-to platform for anyone from beginners to small businesses with plenty of free features and enough, affordable premium tiers for most other needs.

Download the Wordpress apps for desktop, iOS or Android.


Blogger

The next best platform for most people is Google's Blogger. Google offers a simple start-up process, many nice, free themes and Google Apps integration. Because of this, it carries over the 15GB of storage from your Google Drive account, which means more free storage space than you would get from Wordpress for almost $100 per year. Blogger is simpler because it has fewer customization options than Wordpress. That means it's a faster process (with less decision-making) from conception to publication but it also means less personalization for those interested as much in the aesthetics of their blog as the writing.

Blogger does not have a premium tier: it's completely free, so what you have at the start you have for all time. This will be great for some and unsatisfactory for others, so be honest about your plans for the blog before you commit to Blogger. It also doesn't seem to have an iOS app or a desktop app, so if mobile blogging is important to you, this might be a problem.

Download the Blogger app for Android.


Medium

Medium is the writer's blog platform. Medium bloggers are not selling things; they are sharing stories and responding to the writing of others. Medium is entirely free to use for authors (it added a Members subscription this year for $5/mo. but it only affects how you read Medium posts) and it is focused on a simple, words-first presentation. You'll get to title, tag and add media to your post but beyond that, there is very little customization. There is no "blog" or webpage to design; writers (who are not publications) simply have profiles with their articles and the other things you'd expect: a profile picture, a list of what the author has liked ("clapped") and a list of their highlights from other articles. Medium is about reading and writing and not much else. If that sounds perfect to you (as it does to me), then you are undoubtedly the target Medium user. If you think you'll want more social features, a custom blog page or more detailed statistics, Wordpress is the way to go.


Postleaf

There is another option that lies apart from this list of blogging companies: it is called Postleaf and it is a completely free, open-source blogging platform that, because you own it, is totally customizable. However, it's bragging point is its utter simplicity. And the feature it brags about most excitedly is inline editing. This means that the post, as you type it, looks exactly like it will when it's published.

Its simple design does not equal a lack of features: it offers "Zen Mode" to focus on the text you're writing; it allows third-party widgets to be easily embedded. And it automatically generates SEO-compatible meta-data that go into those cute preview cards in your Facebook or Twitter feed. It has a file manager, uses dynamic images so an author doesn't have to resize images for four different screen sizes and lets you tag posts to keep them organized.

The installation process involves some coding words that might be intimidating for first-time bloggers and requires a web server. But you can try a demo right on the Postleaf website. Unlike an app, you'll have to download Postleaf's code to install it. But if you're looking for a completely different blogging experience and you're willing to work through a potentially-steep learning curve, go ahead and give it a try.

Download the code for free from GitHub.

Whichever platform you choose, don't get lost in the setup or formatting process. Your story is the reason that you're starting a blog and the words of that story should be the centerpiece. So go, write and share you story with the world.


Tom Twardzik is a writer covering personal finance, productivity and investing for Paypath. He also contributes pop culture reviews for Popdust and travel writing for Journiest. Read more on his website and follow him on Twitter.

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Home garden and porch

As anyone who has ever sold a house will tell you, you must prioritize curb appeal. Before a potential buyer even considers looking inside your house, they notice the outside first. Does it attract the right kind of attention? Does it take away from the feel you're going for? If you plan to sell sometime soon, you must think about these things. Here are some landscaping options to increase your home's curb appeal, so you can get the best price on your home.

Extensive Plants and Greenery

A barren front yard won't get you the price you want on your home. So, invest in at least a little bit of greenery to keep the surrounding area from looking too dead. Shrubs and bushes tie the house to the lawn that precedes it, and flower beds bring a pop of color to an otherwise drab structure. You can also strategically plant some trees to improve the overall feel of your home's exterior.

Lawn Care

As we mentioned, your lawn is one of the most prominent features of your home's exterior. A patchy, dried-up lawn will quickly drive your home's price way down. Some of the best landscaping options for your home's curb appeal involve improving your lawn for the next inhabitant. Overall fertilization, ground aeration, underbrush removal, proper mowing—all of these lawn care tasks contribute to a greener and more lively area that invites people to see your house, rather than stay away from it.

Paved Pathways

There's nothing like a broken and disheveled pathway to make someone think twice about buying a property. Just as you want the entryway in your house to be welcoming, so too should the pathway leading up to the house be inviting. The pathway from the street to your front door provides plenty of real estate to get creative with. You don't have to settle for a boring concrete pathway. Consider something more eye catching, like a cobblestone path or intermittent brick patterns, as a way to better welcome potential buyers.

Usable Outdoor Furniture

Landscaping doesn't just involve the ground you walk on; also included are the items you use as extras to the overall look. Outdoor furniture is one such extra that you don't necessarily need but can look quite attractive if done correctly. Staging is important with outdoor furniture. Old, broken-down pieces will only look like more work to the potential buyer. A few comfortable chairs, a bench, or a table with an umbrella really go a long way to improving your outdoor aesthetics.

A good tip for deciding on curb appeal items is to decide what you personally would want to see as a part of a welcoming home's exterior. You don't need to go overboard, but a little bit of forethought could net you quite a lot of extra cash in the sale.

Unfortunately, giving back can sometimes go haywire. If you're ready to make a donation, first consider common mistakes made when giving back.

Many people strive to support their community by donating their time or their money. When you find a meaningful cause, you might be quick to cut a donation check. Though it's admirable to be quick to act charitably, you should be wary of several common mistakes made when giving to charity. Being mindful of these mistakes and learning tips for making informed charitable choices can help you make the most out of your generous check.

Acting Quickly Out of Emotion

Mission statements are meant to be compelling. If you're an emotionally driven individual, it's natural to pull out your wallet at the sight of a sad puppy on TV or when informed about food insecurity over the phone. Unfortunately, not all charities are as effective or official as they may seem.

Take your passion for helping others one step further by making sure your chosen charity is legit. Speaking with a representative, reviewing their website and social media accounts, and looking at testaments online can give you a better idea of whether the organization is worth your donation.

Forgetting to Keep Record of the Donation

Don't forget that you can reap some financial perks from giving back! With the proper documentation of your donation, you can acquire a better tax deductible.

If you donate more than $12,400 as a single filer or $24,800 as one of two joint filers, you're eligible to deduct that amount from your taxes. So, when a charity asks if you'd like a receipt of donation, always answer yes.

Donating Unusable Materials

Most charities can utilize a monetary donation—it's the physical donations that usually cause some issues. Providing a local nonprofit with irrelevant materials or gifting them with unusable products are surprisingly common mistakes made when giving to charity.

Always check your intended charity's website for a list of things they do and do not accept. The majority of places will provide a guideline to donating or offer contact information to clarify any questions.

Strictly Giving at Year's End

As more and more people get into the holiday spirit at the end of the year, nonprofit organizations see an influx of donations. While it's great to spread holiday cheer via a monetary donation, it's important to keep that spirit going year-round.

With regular donations, charities can more effectively allocate their annual budget. Setting up an automatic monthly donation with the charity of your choosing can maximize your impact. You can account for a monthly donation by foregoing a costly coffee every once in a while.

Knowing how much you should spend on home maintenance each year is hard to figure out and may be preventing you from buying your first home. The types of costs you'll incur depend on the house you buy and its location. The one certainty is that you should start saving now. Read on to figure out how much to start setting aside based on the home you own.

The Age of Your House

Consider several factors when budgeting for home repairs. If you've purchased a new home, your house likely won't require as much maintenance for a few years. Homes built 20 or more years ago are likely to require more maintenance, including replacing and keeping your windows clean. Further, depending on your home's location, weather can cause additional strain over time, so you may need to budget for more repairs.

The One-Percent Rule

An easy way to budget for home repairs is to follow the one-percent rule. Set aside one percent of your home's purchase price each year to cover maintenance costs. For instance, if you paid $200,000 for your home, you would set aside $2,000 each year. This plan is not foolproof. If you bought your home for a good deal during a buyer's market, your home could require more repairs than you've budgeted for.

The Square-Foot Rule

Easy to calculate, you can also budget for home maintenance by saving one dollar for every square foot of your home. This pricing method is more consistent than pricing it by how much you paid because the rate relies on the objective size of your home. Unfortunately, it does not consider inflation for the area where you live, so make sure you also budget for increased taxes and labor costs if you live in or near a city.

The Mix and Match Method

Since there is no infallible rule for how much you should spend on home maintenance, you can combine both methods to get an idea for a budget. Average your results from the square-foot rule and the one-percent rule to arrive at a budget that works for you. You should also increase your savings by 10 percent for each risk factor that affects your home, such as weather and age.

Holding on to savings is easier in theory than practice. Once you know how much you should spend on home maintenance, you'll know what to aim for and be more prepared for an emergency. If you are having trouble securing funds for home repairs, consider taking out a home equity loan, borrowing money from friends or family, or applying for funds through a home repair program through your local government for low-income individuals.