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7 Grown-Up Purchases That Are Worth the Money

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The fastest way for a student or graduate to get off on the wrong financial foot is by dropping cash on the wrong kinds of big-ticket items. On the other hand, wise and targeted spending on the right things is an investment that will pay off in the long run. Take a quick look at seven items that are worth spending your hard-earned money on—along with a handful to steer clear of.

1. A GOOD MATTRESS

You might be able to cut corners on a lot of furnishings for a new or rented living space, but opting for an economical crash pad is going to haunt you every night. Good spring mattress and box spring sets can be had for as little as $500, with some online providers offering high-quality memory foam for roughly the same amount. Go cheaper and you risk sleepless nights—or worse, having to buy a replacement in just a few short years.

2. A 401(K)…

You don’t necessarily have to look at it as a purchase—though many do—but a 401(k), or retirement account, is some of the best money you’ll ever spend. Socking away even a small portion of your paycheck every month can pay literal dividends down the road.

… AND/OR A ROTH IRA.

The type of account you use to save for retirement is ultimately up to you—the point is to put as much money as you can away starting as early as you can. If your employer will match your 401(k) contributions up to a certain amount, max that out first (because why would you turn down free money?). However, if your employer doesn’t match funds, a Roth IRA (or other personal retirement account) might be your better bet. With a Roth IRA, it’s up to you to deposit a portion of your hard-earned paycheck. The benefit to that, though, is you’ll be able to withdraw money from the account during retirement tax-free.

3. QUALITY TOOLS

You may not believe you’re that handy, but the time will come when you’re in desperate need of fixing a faucet, hanging a picture, or assembling a new bookshelf. While it might be tempting to pick up the cheapest hammer at the hardware store, spending a little more is likely to get you a tool that will last a lifetime.

4. A CROCK POT

You might balk at paying $100 for a good crock pot when fast food is cheap, but the experience of coming home to a hot, fresh meal after a long day is priceless. It’s not fancy and probably won’t come in amazing colors, but a crock pot is an essential kitchen item that can make food to last you for days—saving you lots of money (and lots of disappointment over sad takeout meals) in the long run.

5. INSURANCE (FOR YOUR HOME, YOUR HEALTH, AND YOURSELF)

It never feels like it’s worth the money … until one day when it is. And trust us when we say that after your upstairs neighbor’s bathroom floods all over your bedroom, or you need emergency surgery, or—God forbid—something terrible happens, you and your loved ones will be glad you shelled out the cash. Life insurance in particular may seem like an unnecessary expense, but even as a young person, it can help shield your family from having to take on any debts you may owe or incurring major funeral costs. And though your company may automatically enroll you in a group policy if you’re employed, that protection generally doesn’t follow you around if you leave your job.

6. A SET OF GOOD TIRES

Giant pieces of circular rubber tend to look the same in a dealer showroom, but opting for a more durable tread can save you more than just breakdown hassles—a proper set of new tires can maintain car-to-road traction, increase driver comfort, and prevent accidents.

7. A SOLID PAIR OF SHOES

Not sneakers—shoes. A well-crafted pair can see you through years of travel, work, social activities, and spare you the trouble of having to keep purchasing the same middling quality pair over and over again. If you need to visit a cobbler to make sure your boots are in good shape a few years from now, it’s a sign you’ve made the right choice.

AND A FEW THAT AREN’T, SUCH AS:

EXPENSIVE HOTEL ROOMS

You shouldn’t knock yourself for taking a vacation, but opting for the most elaborate room when you’re likely to just be sleeping or changing in it isn’t the wisest use of your discretionary funds. Unless you’re paying for close proximity to your destinations, opt for the best room and board you can find that doesn’t have a walk-in closet.

LATEST-MODEL ELECTRONICS

Overpriced and buggy, brand-new electronic equipment can be a money vacuum. Don’t fall for sensational showroom displays or hyped-up reviews: it’s likely that an older model discounted to move will offer many of the same features.

DIAMONDS

The idea that someone should shell out two months of their hard-earned cash for a stone for his or her betrothed? Yeah, that’s the work of a mid-20th century advertising campaign. For the most part, diamonds are terrible investments—in fact, they lose more than 50 percent of their resale value as soon as you leave the store. To sell one back, you’d likely have to offer up your diamond for less than what a retailer paid for it wholesale—which is generally 100-200 percent less than what you, the customer, paid for it.  Diamonds aren’t even especially rare—the only reason they seemed that way is, again, because one major diamond corporation artificially restricted the supply to keep prices sky-high.

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Interactive Chart Tells You How Long It Takes to Get Frostbite
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For many people, winter means dry skin and high heating bills. But if you find yourself outdoors in the right conditions, it can also mean frostbite. Frostbite occurs when the skin and the tissue beneath it freezes, causing pain, loss of sensation, or worse. It's easier to contract than you may think, even if you don't live in the Siberian tundra. To see if frostbite poses a threat where you live, check out this chart spotted by Digg.

The chart, developed by Pooja Gandhi and Adam Crahen using National Weather Service data, looks at three factors: wind speed, air temperature, and time spent outdoors. You can hover your cursor over data-points on the table to see how long you'd need to be exposed to certain wind chills for your skin tissue to freeze. If the wind chill is -22°F, for example (10°F air temperature with 5 mph winds), it would take 31 minutes of being outside before frostbite sets in. You can also look at the time scale above the chart to calculate it a different way. If you bring your cursor to the 40-minute mark, a window will tell that frostbite becomes a risk after exposure to -17°F wind chill for that amount of time. You can play with the interactive table at Tableau Public.

Chart of cold weather conditions.
Adam Crahen, Pooja Gandhi

If you can't avoid being outside in extreme wind and cold, there are a few steps you can take to keep your skin protected. Wear lots of layers, including multiple socks, and wrap your face with a scarf or face mask before venturing into the cold. Also, remember to stay hydrated. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, drinking at least one glass of water before going outside decreases your risk of contracting frostbite.

[h/t Digg]

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Flurry Road: 5 Tips for Safe Driving on Winter Roads
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For drivers in the Upper Midwest, traveling during the winter can range from slightly unsettling to deadly. Between 2011 and 2015, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Auto Insurance Center, an average of 800 fatalities occurred annually as a result of weather-related accidents. Icy roads, poor visibility, and other factors can make cold-weather commuting a dicey proposition.

While we can’t control the weather (yet), we can increase our odds of navigating slush-filled roadways successfully. Mental Floss spoke with American Automobile Association (AAA) driving education expert William Van Tassel, Ph.D., for some key tips on how to get your winter driving in gear.

1. GATHER SUPPLIES.

Before you even start your car up for a trip through inclement weather, Van Tassel recommends you pack a worst-case scenario trunk full of supplies. “In case of emergency, you want things on board like water, a blanket, a flashlight, gloves, and kitty litter,” he says. (That last one is for traction in case you get stuck in a snowbank.) You should also have road flares, a shovel, an ice scraper, and a fully-charged cell phone to call for assistance if needed.

2. SLOW DOWN.

Posted speed limit signs assume you’re driving on clear and clean roadways. If snow or ice has accumulated, you need to adjust your speed accordingly. “In slick conditions, tires lose a lot of traction,” Van Tassel says. “You should be cutting your speed down by half or more.” Unfortunately, a lot of people learn this the hard way. “After a snowstorm, we’ll see more crashes on day one than days two or three.”

Van Tassel also cautions to avoid becoming overconfident on snow tires. While they provide better traction in bad weather, it’s not license to speed up.

3. MAINTAIN A SAFE DISTANCE FROM OTHER CARS.

You should be doing this regardless, but bad weather makes it even more crucial. Keep your vehicle at a safe distance from cars behind, in front, and off to the sides, as well as away from pedestrians or cyclists. If you need to brake suddenly, you need time—and space—to avoid a collision. “You really want more space in front,” Van Tassel says. Try to stay between seven and 10 seconds behind the vehicle ahead. That means seeing a landmark and then counting down until you pass the same marker. If you’re only a few seconds behind, you’re too close.

4. DON’T STEER INTO SKIDS.

“That was an old rule of thumb,” Van Tassel says. “The problem is, by the time I remember to steer into a skid, I’m already in a ditch.” If you feel your vehicle sliding, it’s better to steer in the direction you want to go. “You’ll drive where you look, so don’t look at a telephone pole.”

To help maintain control of the car, you want to focus on doing one thing at a time. “If you’re going through a turn, brake, finish braking, then turn. Don’t brake and turn at the same time.”

5. KEEP YOUR HEADLIGHTS ON.

Yep, even in broad daylight. Bad weather limits visibility, and headlights allow both you and your fellow drivers to orient a vehicle. “You’re twice as visible to other drivers that way,” Van Tassel says. “When people can see you, they can avoid you.”

Van Tassel also recommends that drivers avoid relying on fancy car technology to keep them safe. While blind spot monitoring and lane changing sensors are useful, they’re not there so you can zone out. “The tech is there to back you up if you need it. Drive the car, but don’t rely on those things,” he says.

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