Saving + Shopping

Pay Bills Like A Boss with These Two Apps

06.09.17
Budget Apps

The only thing I enjoy less than paying bills is getting slapped with a late fee for accidentally paying bills after the due date. That’s why when Becky B. reached out on the blog and asked about bill paying apps, I jumped at the chance to test a few. 

Becky B. wrote:

“I have looked into both apps to use for bill pay and a more complete up to the moment finance tool to help keep track of what’s available to spend in my checking. I think Prism is more accurate but charges a $2 a mo fee to pay bills. I wonder if you have ever or would compare the two apps? Thx!”

Thank YOU Becky— I tested a bunch of bill paying apps, and identified two— Mint and Prism — to determine which was best at keeping me on top of my bills each month.

To quote Destiny’s Child, what I wanted from a bill-paying app was simple: “Can you pay my bills?” Yet, some made it harder than it had to be. Read on to see which app I’m going to ride or die with. 

Mint Bills

Mint: Personal Finance, Budget, Bills & Money

The Pros. The widely known personal finance app added bill tracking and payment features late last year. Like other apps in the category, it streamlines the bill-paying process by allowing you to organize all your bills in one centralized location and then review, manage and pay them from your phone for free. It sends reminders when bills are due — so helpful! — and checks to make sure you have enough money in your account to cover your bills. Plus, the bill-paying features are just one of many services Mint offers to help you track your personal finance and work toward short- and long-term goals like sticking to a budget, saving money and increasing your credit score. But, on the other hand…

The Cons. Those multiple services can lead to information overload — sometimes I just want to pay a bill, not see it integrated into my overall spending habits. Also, I’ve noticed that the app is sometimes slow to update my account balances and bill payments. There isn’t a version for iPad — annoying when I want to pay bills from my tablet — although the company says that one is in the works.

Download iOS | Google Play

Prism

Prism Bills: Pay, Track, Organize & Remember Bills

The Pros. This app is super-straightforward and easy to use: Once you add your billers, you get reminders when your bills are due and pay them directly from the app. One of the major benefits of Prism is that the biller is paid directly — instead of through a bill pay service or third-party processor — which means you can make same-day or instantaneous payments. Definitely a perk if you’re a procrastinator! Oh, and the tech support is awesome: The response time is typically one business day, which is important when your money is involved.

The Cons. Compared to Mint, there’s no insight or analytics into your spending habits and overall financial situation. It pays your bills… and that’s pretty much it.

Download iOS | Google Play

The Verdict. When it comes to user experience and simplifying the bill paying process, Prism is the best choice. It’s simple, seamless and reliable — all things that I need from an app. If you want your financial app to do more than just pay bills, bills, bills, however, then Mint is a great alternative with tons of extra budgeting features. 

Do you need a bill paying app? Do you use one now that you like? Let me know in the comments!

Family / Security + Safety

Ready to Have “The Smart Talk” With Your Kids?

06.07.17
Lifelock: Online Safety

This post was created in partnership with Lifelock.

If you have a human child of almost any age, you are likely worried about their activity online. When they’re little, it’s about limiting screen time, but as they get older and jump on the internet, things get dicey: Are they sharing things they shouldn’t? Are they being cyberbullied? Are they safe from predators? Is porn or profanity or violence lurking behind the next click?

If there’s a mom or dad who feels like they’re doing a good job in this department, I haven’t met them, and yet according to a recent study conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of Lifelock, nearly 1 in 10 parents say they have never talked to their kids about online safety. Not once. And for kids on social media, the stats aren’t much better— 14% say they only talk to their kids about social media habits once a year… or less.

No judgement, by the way. I include myself among parents who feel like they’re failing when it comes to educating their kids about the perils of online life, even though I do regularly chat with my kids, Annie (12) and Spencer (16), about the rules, boundaries and consequences of online behaviors. In fact, I think that talking to your kids about all this is the most important way to stay connected, stay involved and informed about what’s going on in their online lives.

Lifelock: Online Safety

Tell us what it’s like to grow up with technology?

I regularly take the attitude, “I didn’t have all this stuff when I was little— tell me what it’s like to grow up with it!” Not to pander, but to give them the floor, to make myself vulnerable, to give them the chance to teach me what they’re dealing with— and the results have been shocking. I’ve heard about a classmate who has steered my fourth grader to a porn site, and a minor-yet-legit cyberbullying incident was uncovered. My teenage son has shared the pressures he feels looking at Instagrammed events he wasn’t invited to, and his internal struggle with who to be on Twitter: Polite/kind/uninteresting, or snarky/mean/funny (which gets more likes). Making myself available for these talks has helped us stay close through this time I like to call “online training wheels”… they get to experiment with the internet in age-appropriate ways, and I keep a sharp eye out for trouble.

So what if you’re down for having these regular talks with your kids, but you haven’t the foggiest idea what to talk about? That’s where a powerful tool called The Smart Talk comes in. Co-created by Lifelock and National PTA, it’s your new interactive rulebook and playbook for how to talk with your kids about online safety. Sit down with your kids, choose a juicy topic like “Safety & Privacy”, “Apps & Downloads” or “Social Media & Respect” then move through a series of questions. At the end you create your own agreement about the rules and guidelines you’ve discussed along the way, then memorialize your talk by printing it up and taping it to the fridge, or wherever it won’t fade away.

The Smart Talk: Online Safety for Kids

Software’s a good start

Roughly a third of parents in the survey are using a third-party program to monitor their child’s digital activities, and 58% says they check or set the privacy settings on their child’s phone, social media accounts and apps. And that’s a great start— content filtering is critical for small and big kids alike, and keeping their identities private in apps ensures they can’t be tracked.

Using software, however, should be only part of the defensive game plan. Primarily because it’s not bulletproof. I’ve seen many a website with questionable content slide through a filter, though the majority of them work nicely. Supervision of internet activity is still critical, especially at a young age, in case the wall you’ve built gets compromised. Also, the filters you set up only work on your devices (obviously!) and since by the time kids are 12 many of their classmates have phones of their own, a friend’s device will serve up a buffet of unfiltered content.

Alarmingly, 89% of parents in the LifeLock survey say they trust their child uses the internet responsibly. I know all our children are special angels and everything, but let’s just put that aside for just a minute. Our kids simply can’t, even with the best intentions, use the internet responsibly, for the same reason I suck at chess: They just can’t see that many moves ahead. Their brains aren’t developed enough to know what effect their actions today might cause tomorrow. And (hopefully) they just can’t fully comprehend some of the evils in the world that lurk behind clicks and chats. It’s that simple— we can’t leave this to chance, and hope, and crossing fingers.

The Smart Talk: Online Safety for Kids

Lifelock: Online Safety

Sooo… what are we talking about?

The Smart Talk covers the following topics:

Safety & Privacy

How to protect your kid’s privacy, how to help them not overshare on social media, and set up privacy settings.

This topic prompted a giant discussion with it’s very first question. Since most social media sites require you to be 13 years or older before you join, we debated the severity of lying about your age (pretty much everyone they knew had joined at least one social network before age 13). We also researched the COPPA (Childhood Online Privacy Protection Act) and wondered why 13 would be the cut-off since 14 year olds are still “kids”. Fascinating to hear their perspectives. 

Screen Time

How much is OK, how to get kids to put down their devices, and what to do if screen time starts to border on addiction.

Here’s where we created some screen time boundaries, and discussed the pros (it’s an alarm clock!) and cons (it’s tempting to scroll feeds) of having your phone on your bedside table. Some of their friends use their phones well into the night, and they see texts from the wee hours when they turn their phones on in the morning. We talked about good sleep hygiene. 

Social Media & Respect

Social media basics, avoiding digital drama, cyberbullying prevention, and when a good time is to join Facebook and other social networks.

No shocker here— we talked about how hard it is to see friends getting together without you on Instagram… and I let them know that adults sometimes feel the same way. We all agreed we’d be more sensitive to what we post, because we didn’t want anyone to feel the same way we did (left out). We also talked about Twitter, and how the discourse there is full of mean, hateful people. They agreed to let me know if we saw someone being bullied online, or to reach out if someone was bullying them. 

Apps & Downloads

In-App purchase 101, which apps are great for education, how to find appropriate video games.

Here we talked a lot about profanity, and how tough it is to find content that isn’t X rated, whether it’s video games or movies or music. My kids love rap and hard rock, but they could do without all the explicit sexual content. We also agreed to set limits on how many apps and in-app purchases my kids could buy each month.

Texting & Calling

Healthy communication habits, avoiding problematic phone use.

This one was pretty simple. I’m lucky that neither of my kids calling and texting habits are out of control, but there were simple checklists here to help set limits on the number of texts set per day. Without software to monitor this, I don’t know how you’d enforce these rules, but it was another opportunity to discuss where it is and isn’t appropriate to be on your phone. 

Lifelock: Online Safety

Going through The Smart Talk with my kids, there were a handful of things I realized I had never spoken with them about. And when you go through it together, so many things come up— social pressures, confusion… and it’s a safe place to air questions and get answers. You’re being walked through a healthy checklist of great topics of discussion— this is a no-brainer Thursday evening or Sunday morning activity that I can see our family returning to again and again, as the kids get older and conversations about this stuff take on a different tone.

Kind of like that “other” talk parents dread having with their kids— It’s dangerous to avoid, it’s easy to do when you have a little professional guidance, and it feels so much better when it’s over!

Check out The Smart Talk here. Thank you to Lifelock for sponsoring this very important post! I love it when my sponsors help me share such high value content!

Wellness

Is Adrenal Fatigue Causing All of Your Health Issues?

06.05.17
Adrenal Fatigue

I’m tired all the time.

I have trouble falling asleep.

I can’t remember anything.

I can’t lose weight.

I am super-irritable and jumpy.

Read any wellness blog or ask a holistic coach what’s going on, and they’re likely to suggest “adrenal fatigue.” The diagnosis has essentially become code for “what living a modern, hyperconnected life is doing to your body.” It’s something I’ve been struggling with for years— I feel like I have brain fog all the time, and little energy to make it though the day. And to be honest, anyone I confide in about that feeling seems to have it too (even Gwyneth has developed a special supplement to combat it). 

Of course, you’ve got to question anything that feels like the solution to everything (especially when it comes to your health), which is exactly what I’m doing, here. Here’s what you really need to know about adrenal fatigue.

What is Adrenal Fatigue?

Your adrenals are glands that produce and regulate many different hormones, most importantly the fight-or-flight stress hormone, cortisol. When a stressful situation pops up, the adrenals release cortisol to prep the body for action (i.e. your heart rate and blood sugar spike). When it passes, things should settle back down.

Here’s the problem: Doctors who practice functional and alternative medicine (and other holistic health practitioners) believe that our crazy stressful lives (deadlines! todo list! Insta story!) put our bodies into constant fight-or-flight mode so that the adrenals are continuously pumping out cortisol, instead of powering down. After a prolonged period of time, those adrenals are just spent from all of that pumping and stop producing it altogether, or just function at very low levels. In other words, your hormones are burnt-out, so you are too.

These practitioners claim symptoms of adrenal fatigue include chronic exhaustion, low libido, craving salt and sugar, dry skin and hair, irregular periods, and weight fluctuations.

The Science

Of course, there’s a counterpoint. Conventional physicians don’t recognize adrenal fatigue as a medical diagnosis.

Adrenal insufficiency, also called Addison’s Disease, is a real, serious condition in which the adrenals stop making cortisol. It comes with many of the symptoms mentioned before but at a much more intense level. The controversy is that to be diagnosed, your adrenals have to almost entirely have stopped working, whereas functional physicians say there’s a vast gray area in between “healthy” and “insufficiency” where people are living in “fatigue” mode, causing symptoms.

A systematic review of research published in 2016 disagreed, finding that “adrenal fatigue does not exist,” and most respected medical institutions agree.

The Bottom Line

So where does that leave you and your potentially overworked adrenals?

If you’ve got serious symptoms, it’s time to see a doctor either way. If you do have adrenal insufficiency, you’ll need to be treated.

But if the symptoms are more nagging than awful and you tend to lean towards alternative and complementary approaches, seeing a functional MD may be right for you. Just know going into it that you’re going to be paying for something the medical establishment thinks is bunk, especially since most of these practitioners don’t take insurance.

At the end of the day, he or she will likely prescribe supplements like Ashwaganda, and lifestyle changes to reduce stress in your life. You’ll be told to get more sleep, to eat better, to meditate and disconnect when you can. All of those things are going to make you a healthier, more balanced person no matter what—so you’ll be back to humming happily along with your adrenals.

Have you been diagnosed with adrenal fatigue? What helped? What didn’t? Share your experiences with me in the comments, below. This is seriously something I’m going to be looking into a lot more. Ask questions and I will seek answers. 

From the Shop

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Staub 7 Qt Round Cocotte

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Juicero At Home Cold-Pressed Juicer

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Agent Nateur Natural Deoderant

Home

It’s Easy to Make Your Apartment Smart

06.02.17
Apartment Therapy Video Series

Guys— Apartment Therapy came to shoot my house! And it was awesome. They’re one of my favorite websites for all-things home decor, and I’ve been writing for them for a while. But when I suggested a video series about how to really use smart home products, which ones to pick to create a smart apartment, an energy efficient one, or a family-friendly one, they said YES and I practically did a backflip. The first video is out now— check it out here!

Originally appeared on Apartment Therapy

You want a home of the future, but you don’t own your apartment. Game over? Not at all. There are so many connected products on the market that are perfect for apartments— the price tag is doable, the install is easy and they’re all easily movable to your next place. And I’m thrilled to show off a handful of them in this video, because it’s time for renters to have some of the smart home fun that homeowners have been hogging for years! Each of the products in this video provide quick and easy ways to make your apartment “smart”: That is, a home that you can control and monitor with a smartphone, providing extra layers of security and convenience.

Knock knock

Let’s start at the front door. You might be unsure of how you can swap your deadbolt for something smarter since, according to your landlord, changing the hardware is a no-no. But the August Smart Lock takes care of the problem by allowing you to replace the interior of your lock only, leaving the exterior in-tact. It installs in minutes (peep the video to see how easy it is to install!) and turns your smartphone into a front door key. This lock is brilliant for allowing temporary access to your apartment (like to a dog walker, or housekeeper) without leaving a key under the mat (you’re fooling no one). You can assign “guest keys” that you can revoke at any time, remotely unlock and lock the door (with additional hardware) and best of all? No one on the outside of the door is the wiser. When you’re ready to move, just replace the back half of the old deadbolt, and you’re good to go.

Anyone Home?

Alarm systems are few and far between in apartments and rentals, since they used to require a wired install and costly monthly fees. Simplisafe is a wireless alarm system that turns the old system on its head— each piece is peel-and-stick and is as easy to install as a handful of Post-It notes. Every part— glass break sensors, door and window sensors, motion sensors, even the digital keypad— connects to the base station (that’s connected to your wireless router) so you can operate the alarm system from your smartphone, with police monitoring at a rate that’s a lot more affordable than traditional alarm plans. Anyone can install this and have a safer, monitored home with little effort.

Great Sound, No Wires

Lastly, in-ceiling speakers might seem unattainable in a rented space, but a crafty company called Sengled has figured out how to put great speakers into lightbulbs that are as easy to install as… screwing in a lightbulb. Place pairs of these strategically around your apartment and you’ll have smart lighting and whole home audio that you can (say it with me!) take with you to your next abode.

Although… with all these cool gadgets in your “smart-partment,” you might never want to move.

Wellness

3 Tech-Related Body Injuries and How to Prevent Them

06.01.17
Tech Injuries

I talk a lot about how our hyperconnected world can affect mental health—and therefore how intentionally disconnecting on the reg is important for managing tech-induced stress.

But what about how your tech habits may be impacting your physical body?

Recently, more experts have been talking about how living with smartphones, laptops, and a million other devices is affecting how we sit, stand, and move.

And it’s probably not a huge surprise that “shoulders and back hunched over with neck bent towards a screen” is not the ideal position for your spine. In fact, depending on your habits and self-care practices (or lack thereof), it could lead to issues like headaches, back pain, and injuries during exercise.

Here’s a guide to some of the most common tech-induced body woes and how to avoid them via adjusting your position, incorporating stretches, and more.

The Issue: Text Neck

Not to be alarmist, but this research is a little scary: When you’re standing up straight, the force on your spine is about 10-12 pounds. As you tilt your head and neck forward (you know, to get a closer look at that caramel brownie on Instagram), it increases… a lot. At 15 degrees, the force goes up to 27 pounds; at 60 degrees (the most common angle for texting) it can hit 60 pounds. Of pressure. On your neck. If you’re in that position for hours every day, the numbers start to get intense. Your spine has a lot of work to do to support your fine self over the course of your life, so you really don’t want to make its job any harder.

The Fix

Experts say the best way to prevent text neck is to try to keep your head up with a neutral spine when looking at your phone; just move your gaze downward (and/or lift your phone up higher in your hand). At your desk, make sure your computer is at eye-level and you’re not bending your neck to look down at the screen.

To release tension in your neck, try simple stretches like moving your head from right to left or tucking your chin to your chest a few times a day.

 

The Issue: Bad Posture

Your head isn’t the only thing moving forward as you power through hundreds of emails. Sitting in front of a computer and using a smartphone both encourage a slouched position, with your shoulders hunched forward and your chest collapsed. Not only can bad posture lead to back pain and other body ailments, research shows it can also negatively affect your mood and self-esteem.

The Fix

More time spent sitting and standing up straight is key, but staying in that position is tricky (which is where posture trackers like Lumo Lift come in. More on wellness devices like this here).

The best plan is to work on stretching your chest and opening up your shoulders while also strengthening your upper back muscles.Work some of these stretches and exercises into your gym routine or try a few simple stretches you can do at your desk. Bonus: developing good posture will also help you keep your head up straight, reducing text neck. Whether we’re talking about tech or your body… it’s all connected.

 

The Issue: Wrist Pain

While there’s actually little research showing that computer and smartphone use leads to the oft-mentioned carpal tunnel syndrome, it can lead to other kinds of wrist pain (sometimes called “text claw”). Experts say any fine motor activity (i.e tapping through Snapchat stories) can stress tendons or muscles in your hands, leading to cramping and pain in your fingers, wrist, and forearm. It can also lead to tendinitis, inflammation in tendons caused by repetitive motions.

The Fix

This one comes with good news, since wrist stretches are super simple and easy to work into your workday.

Stretch one hand out in front of you and with the palm facing away, use your other hand to pull back your fingers towards your body. Do it with your fingers pointing down and with them pointing up, as shown here. Yoga’s got some great wrist stretches, too: Try reverse prayer pose (which also stretches out your chest!) and wrapping your arms a la eagle pose.

Oh, and the most important advice in all of this goes back to my very first point about disconnecting. Us tech lovers just have. to. take. breaks. Our ability to enjoy and optimize our techy lifestyles depends on it.

Do you do tech-related stretches? Share your favorites, in the comments, below!

Disconnect

Memorial Day

05.29.17
Memorial Day Weekend

Lately, everyone’s a bit on edge. The end of school is in sight and it feels like everything is culminating— the last big lacrosse game, student council elections, the big band concert, final exams. Plus Spencer’s getting ready to take his driving test (!) and Annie has been dealing with a few health issues that have us a bit perplexed. So things have felt a little dense as we hop from one big event to the other— emotions are running high and it’s been hard to breathe.

So getting to the beach this weekend has afforded me some time to (a) slow the eff down, (b) breathe, and (c) count the ways I feel grateful. For my kid’s health (even though Annie’s been having a tough time, it’s a minor blip compared to what others have been through with their children), for my 20 year marriage (that will never be easy to say— I am officially old, people), and for our life in Los Angeles, which is far away from the extended family that we love, but gives us so many ways to enjoy sun and nature, which feel like an antidote to the screen-shackled life so many of us lead.

Click here to see what I packed for the weekend, BTW.

Memorial Day Weekend

Memorial Day Weekend

So this weekend, I’m earthing— squishing toes into the sand, hopping from one rock to another, breathing the ocean air, and cuddling my family as much as they can stand. Oh, and grilling hot dogs. Because hot dogs.

Happy Memorial Day everyone!

PS Today’s the LAST DAY to enter the contest to win the Nest Learning Thermostat! You’ve got til 5p PST to click on the banner at the top of the blog to enter. Good luck!