6 Smart, Somewhat Fun Things To Do With Your Tax Return

Looking for financial advice on what to do with your tax returns this year? These fun, basic money tips will get you pointed in the right direction!  Click through for 6 money ideas you can use today!
Ahhh, Spring! When a lady´s thoughts naturally turn to tax returns! Wait, what?
Though not quite as tantalizing as Marc in accounting, tax returns are one of the joys of this time of year. And if you, like me, earn approximately $2, you can count on some serious bank. But since we´re all trying to be grown ups here, how´s a girl to spend that?

6 Smart, Somewhat Fun Things To Do With Your Tax Return

1. Pay off Credit Card Debt
But you knew that already, right? Riiiiight?! It´s not a particularly sexy way to spend your money, but super important and, in the long run, you´ll be really, really glad you did. If the siren song of Visa often overwhelms you, stick those credit cards in a bowl of water in the freezer.
2. Contribute to your IRA or 401K
Yes, again. Deeply unsexy. Super important. Your 65 year old self will thank you!
3. Invest in Yourself
You are your biggest asset, yo! Why not take a class or workshop that will make you a little more pinkslip proof? Maybe you can learn how to write grants, use that software that nobody in the office understands or create a basic website.
If that doesn’t float your proverbial boat, use a bit of this money to buy supplies for your Etsy shop, buy a laptop to help along your freelance writing or get some wicked headshots to kickstart your acting career.
4. Green up Your Living Space
Because I love any excuse to feather my nest. And this excuse is pretty damn valid! Low flow shower heads, fluorescent bulbs, water heater blankets, non-toxic cleaners and compost bins all go a long way towards reducing your carbon footprint.
And after spending money on all that un-fun stuff, you can probably validate a wee shopping spree at global exchange, a fair trade retailer that helps artisans from developing countries sell their wares at fair prices.
5. Donate to Your Local Food Shelf
With the downturn in the economy, more and more people are accessing food shelves, and fewer people are donating to them. Help turn that around with a cash donation or even just donating all those canned peaches you´re never going to eat.
6. Buy Something Fabulous and Frivolous
After all that do-goodery and responsible spending you deserve some tomfoolery! Maybe add a classic piece to your wardrobe that will last forever? Or splash out on a really nice haircut? Or fly to Vegas for the weekend with your girls! Buy yourself something fantastic that will bring you compliments and memories for the months to come.

How are you going to spend your tax return?

P.S. How to pay off your soul-crushing debt a lot faster + You can choose to want less.

photo by Dmitri Popov // cc

Packing Guidelines for the Traveling Fashionista

how to pack for traveling

Packing for travel is one of the most essential travel skills you can learn before going on an adventure. Sal is, hands-down, one of my favorite bloggers in the land. Her popular fashion blog Already Pretty is stuffed with heaps of useful tutorials, laugh-out-loud stories and a fantastic attitude towards fashion and body issues. She’s here today with great tips for packing your bags for adventure while staying stylish! 
I would never be so foolish as to claim that my travel experience equals our dear Sarah Von’s … but I’ve been here and there, hither and yon, and I’ve packed for trips both long and short. My personal travel experiences have led me to believe that packing successfully is darn near vital. Although many packing oversights can be remedied through shopping, sometimes you need to conserve those pennies/Euros/pesos/shekels for things like train fare and lunch. So learning to pack effectively is a valuable skill to cultivate.

Now, packing for a 6-month riverboat journey down the Amazon and packing for a three-week sojourn in Paris are going to be different experiences, obviously. But there are some basic rules you can keep in mind as you’re chucking shoes and undies into your rolly bag, no matter where your journey might take you!

How to Pack to Travel like a Fashionista

  1. Choose a single color palette: If all of your items are interchangeable, you’ll be able to pull together outfits quickly and easily no matter what’s already dirty. Going with black, white, gray, and a single bright color works fantastically. I usually choose fire engine red, because it’s my favorite shade of all time, and one of the best colors for my complexion … but teal, yellow, purple, and hot pink work beautifully, too. Pick a truly vibrant hue, and be sure to bring accessories and shoes in your accent color in addition to tops and bottoms.
  2. Select breathable, natural fabrics: Silk will keep you cool during a long stroll in the Grecian sun, then keep you warm once that sun sets and a chilling breeze moves in off the Aegean. Cotton can be snuggly and warm when you’re hiking in the morning mist, but also allows your skin to breathe if you have to make a break for a fast-moving bus. Sure, polyester washes well and is wrinkleproof, but it keeps you neither warm nor cool and amplifies your personal bodystink. Stick to the naturals, right down to socks and undies as much as possible. (Wool is a possible exception: As it requires hand-washing and takes forever to dry, pack wool sparingly unless you’ll be wearing washable layers beneath.)
  3. Avoid wrinkles … or embrace them: Bring lots of jersey, wrinkle-resistant fabrics (such as twill with a hit of spandex), and knitted items, all of which will bounce back quickly from being crammed into a suitcase. Or, if you love the world-wise and happily-rumpled look, pack your linen tunics and rayon dresses, boho scarves and chunky bracelets. Just make a decision ahead of time: Are you going to pack crumple-proof items and avoid ironing, or go with a laid-back look that includes some purposeful wrinkle-age?
  4. Bring only one pair of heels: Unless you’re going on a journey that involves charitable works, long hikes, and rural travels exclusively, you should be sure to include a single pair of dressy heels. BUT limit yourself to that single pair, and bring only flat shoes besides. Flat boots, Mary Janes, sneaks, ballet flats … if you’re a shoe person, need options, and don’t mind some heavy duty schlepping, pack ’em all. Just make sure they’re FLATS! Travel = walking unless you’re on a cruise. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can make heeled shoes work for anything other than a fun night out.
  5. Invest in disposable jeans: Jeans are a travel must regardless of destination, but I recommend against bringing your best pair. Your favorite jeans likely fit into at least one of these two categories: They set you back a pretty penny, or they took you a hillion jillion years to find. What happens when you spill borscht on them, or snag them on an ornery bramble, or lose them at the laundromat? You CRY BITTER TEARS, that’s what! I prefer to pick up a comfy, slightly beat-up pair at a thrift store for trip usage: I feel free and easy in them, and don’t give a flying rat’s ankle what happens to them once I’m safely back home.
  6. Pack mostly separates, but at least one dress: If you follow rule number one, you’re throwing a lot of black, white, and gray into your duffle, as well as items in your personal favorite bright, cheerful accent color. Generally speaking, you’ll want to pack tops and bottoms: Tees, sweaters, wrinkle-resistant blouses, and tanks as well as skirts, capris, and pants. But make a practice of toting at least one dress. A flattering dress can be paired with your single pair of heels for nights on the town, but if it’s jersey or cotton it can easily transition to day with a pair of flats. Even if you have no fancy events on the docket, you just never know when a dress will come in handy.

I’ve learned most of these guidelines the hard way, and am fairly certain I’ll never violate them again. What
do YOU keep in mind as you pull from the closet and tuck into the suitcase? Ever found yourself stranded in a foreign land, wishing desperately you’d packed differently? Do tell!

How To Go On Holiday Without Leaving Home

Vixel is a lovely, lovely British law student who loves kittehs, Amy Winehouse and working up the nerve to sing Fairytale of New York. Her blog Sparkle and Glitter is regularly inspiring, informative and full of sparkles. I suspect she is the girlfriend you call when it’s all gone a bit pear-shaped because she will give you ice cream and then then talk some sense into you.

 

I’m a big fan of Sarah’s brilliant travel posts, and always find myself wishing I could afford to away somewhere warm and sunny for a week or so! For my guest post, I decided to write about something that has really saved my sanity in these last few years of being a poor student – holidaying at home. Sometimes, when the time off work just isn’t enough but you can’t afford flights and hotel bills, a week at home can feel like a holiday in a posh resort with just a few simple touches! Get a few friends, stay in a house together and make it as holiday-like as possible!

 

* Start the day with a glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice, then go out for breakfast. Have pain au chocolat at a posh cafe, a fry-up at a diner or local hotel, or a takeaway if you like – you are on holiday after all!* Give yourself a facial whilst listening to your favourite music, relaxing with a glass of wine.* Decide that for the week, cost doesn’t matter. You’re saving money by not going away so you can eat all your favourite foods, no matter how decadent!

* Visit your town or city’s tourist traps – you may be surprised how many great things there are to do in your town that you’d never have thought to try! See this article for some brilliant ideas!

* Go swimming at your local pool when there’s a “free swim” time and take a beach ball!

* Wear your favourite clothes and take time to look your best every day, even if you’re just staying in the house.

* Read “trashy” books and magazines, the sort of thing you’d only usually read on the beach or by the pool.

* Write postcards and mail them to your friends and family.

* Forget diets and nutrition, ice cream is a viable lunch option!

* Go clubbing or cocktail-drinking mid-week, it’s cheaper than at the weekends anyway!

* Fresh fruit however, strawberries, pineapple and big wedges of fresh juicy orange can be the perfect snack to make you feel like you’re on a tropical island somewhere!

* Pick a country and gather together all the movies you can about or from that area.

* Photograph all of it and put together an album of your fabulous holiday so that you can remember it for years to come!

How do you holiday at home?

Nice work if you can get it: Dancer

This is part of our work series, in which I interview friends of mine who have fascinating, envy-inducing jobs. I met Mo at my pseudo sister-in-laws wedding and we fell into one of those instant, spontaneous friendships where you find yourself inviting them to your flat in New Zealand before you’ve even moved there. She’s kind and lovely and also possessing of The Best Legs I’ve ever seen.

 

So what’s the deal? What do you do?
I teach, perform, and choreograph modern dance. What is modern dance? I don’t know.Tell us about an average day in life of your job.
Well, in order to make a living in the arts I piece together multiple dance-related jobs. This makes each day different from the next. Right now I teach adult advanced-level modern classes and teen modern classes at Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, as well as serve in the capacity of “Office Manager” fifteen hours per week.

I also teach Dance Appreciation to non-dance majors at the University of San Francisco twice a week. One night a week I have rehearsal for a piece I am choreographing, and work on ideas for that at various times. I perform for two amazing choreographers, Nina Haft and Katie Faulkner, and rehearse with them off and on for upcoming projects. A “typical” day involves some kind of teaching, a little office work, and most likely a rehearsal. I also spend a lot of time preparing for all of these things outside of the actual classroom or studio time.

Did you go to school for this? Or get any special training?
When I was an undergrad I was a dance minor, with no thought of making a career out of it. After four years dancing everyday and performing I was completely hooked, so after a short break from school I decided to go back to graduate school for dance. I spent three years at The University of Iowa getting a Master of Fine Arts in Dance Performance.

How did you get into this line of work?
When I was younger I was a gymnast and the coach suggested I take dance classes to help with grace and rhythm in the floor routine. I took lessons from the only dance teacher in town who taught in the basement of an old masonic building. The ceiling was low, the floors were concrete and covered your shoes in some strange grey powder, and I loved every tap, jazz, and ballet class I took. I never thought that I would make a living dancing or be in a professional dance company or teach dance. It’s something I can’t stop doing, and at some point it became more than just a hobby.

Are there any drawbacks to working in dance?
The biggest drawback for me is the lack of financial stability. Jobs in dance come and go and there are no sick days, vacation days, disability pay, retirement funds, or health insurance. I am constantly trying to piece together enough work to pay the rent and am always juggling different projects and commitments. Another drawback is that people don’t really know what I do because it isn’t very mainstream. It’s difficult to describe and people usually end up saying “that must be fun.” And yes, it is, but it’s a lot of work (both physical and intellectual) as well.

What are the highlights?
There are so many…I love the moment waiting backstage right before performing. The people that I work with are strong and intelligent and creative and caring. Activity and creativity are part of my job. I don’t have a desk. I get to share my love of the art of dance with other people. It’s amazing to stand at the front of a class and watch a sea of people moving together. My schedule is fluid and can be flexible. I get to dance in beautiful works of art!

What are the misconceptions about working in dance?
The most common misconception in my world is what I call the “Center Stage” misconception. I feel that the movies about dance portray it as a world of ego and eating disorders and competition. I think that does exist (more in the world of professional ballet), but there are whole other worlds of dance that aren’t as mainstream that value community, creative collaboration, social engagement, and healthy living. I keep telling my friends that I want Ira Glass to do a This American Life show on modern dance…I think he’d get it right.

Another misconception is that dance is not a valid academic field of study. There are historians and scholars who engage with concepts of movement on a deeper level and apply philosophy and critical thinking to the art of dance. Dance has more layers and can have more significance that people commonly realize.

What suggestions would you give to people interested in becoming a professional dancer?
Here I must refer to my dad’s favorite quote: “Do what you love and do it so well that someone will pay you for it.”

Is anybody a dancer wanna-be? Any questions for Mo?

7 Skills You Should Master Before You Travel

travel skills

After traveling around the globe, I can tell you that travel skills you need to get by are more than just packing light and drinking bottled water! While those travel skills are not to be underestimated, I have learned the hard way that there are a few other travel skills to add to one’s repertoire before skipping around the globe.

Must-Have Travel Skills Worth Learning

Repacking without hating your life

If you’re traveling for more than a few days, you’re probably staying at more than one hotel/hostel/Airbnb. Which means re-packing your suitcase many, many times.

A few tips to make daily re-packing a lot easier:

  • Use packing cubes
    If you learn nothing else from this blog post, let it be this: OMG BUY PACKING CUBES. Fill each cube with a different type of clothing; one cube for underthings, one cube for tops, one for bottoms, one for dirty clothes, etc. Then just pull out the cube you need and re-packing will be a breeze.
  • Pack less 
    Most of us hate repacking because we have to smash everything down and in and eventually sit on our bags while we tug the zipper closed. And then we’re late for the flight and everything falls apart. Just pack less and give yourself and your belongings some breathing room. If you can’t carry your bag around one city block without getting a blister or breaking a sweat, it’s too big.Here’s how to assemble a stylish travel wardrobe!
  • Pack a few items you’ve been meaning to get rid of
    Pack that pair of jeans you don’t love any more. Wear them once and then leave them at the hotel. Voila! More space in your suitcase and you don’t hate repacking so much!

Choosing the right souvenirs

How many times have you spent too much money on a souvenir, meticulously and carefully transported it home … only to send it to Goodwill a few years later?

Yeah, me too.

Here are a few tips that have helped me choose better, more loved souvenirs:

  • Check if the item is actually made locally
    Because who wants a snowglobe from Aspen that’s actually made in China?
  • Ask yourself if it would look at home in your home
    You’re a lot more likely to use that embroidered pillow sham if it would fit right into the boho vibe of your house. But if you’ve got a spare, minimalist vibe maybe you should find a different souvenir.
  • Buy an unexpected souvenir
    You don’t have to buy knickknacks, scarves, masks, or tiny spoons (though if you really love those things, you should buy them!) I like buying perfume, jewelry, and cds by local musicians. They’re all small, cheap, portable and easy to use in my daily life back at home.
  • Remember, you are not required to buy anything
    There are so many other ways to remember your trip! Remember the dishes you ate and learn to cook them at home, take videos and photos, or make a list of 100 memories of your trip on the flight back home.

Communicating in a broken second language/body language

If you’re in a country where you don’t speak the language (or you speak it poorly) it’s very, very tempting to throw up your hands and just go to hotels, restaurants, and tours that feature English.

Let’s not.

I know it’s embarrassing and awkward to bumble our way though another language and culture. Believe me, I know. I once swore in Chinese when I was trying to order noodles! But attempting a second language is good for our brains. It shows our host country that we respect them enough to make an effort. It reminds us of what millions of non-native English speakers experience every day.

You can practice speaking your second language awkwardly at home by taking a language class, finding a language exchange partner, or just going to the [insert country here] neighborhood in your city and attempting to order at a restaurant.

It’s also worth remembering that 99% of the time, locals will be able to look at you and realize you’re not a native speaker before you even open your mouth. They’re not expecting you to be fluent in Spanish/French/Russian! But they’ll be glad you tried and you’ll be amazed how far you can get with a few nouns, some present tense verbs, and a smile.

Squat peeing

What?! Yes, dudes. I know. But squat peeing isn’t just for camping. Millions of people around the world exclusively use squat toilets and if you´re heading to Asia, India or the Middle East (or even parts of Europe) I´m afraid you´ll have to learn how.

When I was living in Taiwan, using the squat toilet correctly (without taking your pants off or getting anything wet) was a much-lauded right of passage. It seriously took me a good month to master. But I´m sure you´re much smarter than I am! Here´s a tutorial if you are, in fact, as inept as I.

Haggling

Most Westerners, myself very much included, turn inside out with embarrassment at the thought of haggling over prices. But it’s an unavoidable part of travel in most countries, and you’ll get stuck with crazy inflated prices if you don´t hone your bargaining skills.

To get the best prices shop around a bit (you’ll find heaps of shops selling the same things) and if you see a local buying something you like, eavesdrop to see how much they’re paying. Don’t be afraid to walk away if you feel you’re being taken, and bring a calculator with you to the shop if you don’t know your numbers in the other language. There’s a good tutorial here.

Sleeping on transportation

Confession: I’m not that great at sleeping on planes or buses, but if you can do it, you’ll exponentially improve your travel experience. Ear plugs will help and I love this eye mask and this dorky-looking but amazing neckpillow.

The “Don’t Mess With Me” walk

Okay, so all those other travel skills? They pale in importance compared to this one, friends. Acting like you know where you´re going, what you´re doing and generally behaving like a force to be reckoned with will save your cute little bum just about anywhere in the world. There will be no peering up unsurely at street signs, skittering away from people or mumbled requests for directions!
There will be only walking like you own this cobblestone street! In all of my travels, I have never been mugged, groped or seriously hassled and I credit my walking skills. When I´m not feeling up to strutting, I channel Charlize Theron’s ‘Murder Walk‘.
What travel skills have helped you to be a better traveler?
photo credit: kazuend // cc

Celebrating Women’s History Month

Hi there, I’m Dollface from Rotten Little Girls. While I’m sure Sarah Von is having fun in South America, in the states (at least the Northeast) it’s very dark and cold. Instead of griping about the massive amounts of snow still piled everywhere, I thought I’d mention that March is Women’s History month! Now is the time to celebrate women’s achievements, focus on women’s issues and discuss feminist topics like abortion and domestic violence. I wanted to share some of my favorite events that will be taking place in and around this month.
  • March 8th is International Women’s Day. Celebrate by getting a “This is what a feminist looks like” button or donate some of your time at a local women’s shelter or domestic abuse center. Check out the official website to search for events and more information.
  • While it’s not exactly a part of Women’s History Month, Eve Ensler has given Valentine’s Day a whole different purpose. If you haven’t heard of her, she is the fabulous woman behind V-Day and the Vagina Monologues. She wanted to bring attention to violence against women, so she wrote an amazing play that theater companies and campus groups perform annually as a part of V-day. Check out the V-Day website to find out how to get involved.
  • Find out if your local library or community center is having any events or guest lectures
  • Activism can be fun, and there are many causes to get involved with. Women’s History Month in particular is a great time to focus on women’s issues. If you’ve always wanted to march with MADD or do a walk for breast cancer, now is the time to look into participating.

Women’s History Month is about empowering women and paying our respects to the strong women who have fought for our rights. However, there’s nothing wrong with being stylish while participating in some of these events. I’ve put together two outfits on Polyvore that I imagine some women wearing this month. I’ve also created a few character sketches to accompany them, although I’m sure they aren’t as awesome as Sarah Von’s!

V-Day Outfit

Lena sat in the dark theater clutching her Vagina Monologues playbill tightly, inspired by the women performing before her. As the other audience members rose to give a standing ovation, she fingered her purple domestic violence pin thoughtfully. When she got home that night she wrote a monologue of her own.

Feminist Rally Gear

Taylor hoisted her sign high above her head while women rushed past her into the clinic. She cringed as men and women heckled the Planned Parenthood employee attempting to break up the protest. Taylor stared straight ahead as someone yelled “Baby murderer” in her face. Her sign read “77% of anti-abortion leaders are men. 100% of them will NEVER get pregnant.”

How will you celebrate Women’s History Month?