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How to conquer back-to-school shopping

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USAA back-to-school shopping

With summer soon coming to an end, it's time for that yearly ritual: back-to-school shopping.

While most parents look forward to the beginning of a new school year and getting their children back into a routine, few enjoy (and some even dread) braving the crowds and chaos to buy school supplies or new clothes.

Standing in long lines and hunting for the best deals can be draining — both physically and financially. That's why it's important to have a game plan, or more importantly, a financial game plan, to ensure your back-to-school shopping goes off without a hitch. 

Here are a few ways to help keep you from losing your mind — and your money — during your next back-to-school shopping trip. 

1. Make a list. 

As with most things in life, preparation is key. Creating a list before tackling your back-to-school shopping can help you stay focused, cut down on shopping time, and prevent you from making impulse buys. Before heading out, be sure to write down everything you plan to purchase and research the retail stores where you can find them. That way, you can avoid wasting time searching for the items while in the store and keep yourself from making several trips to the same store for items you've forgotten.

If your children are old enough, include them in the planning process as well. Going over the supply list together can help them develop strong organizational skills that will last for years to come. 

2. Stick to the basics.

Don't let your back-to-school shopping become a case of keeping up with the Joneses. It's important to only purchase items your kids need (school supplies and updated wardrobe) rather than things they simply want (a new tablet or the latest video game). You may break a few hearts in your household, but you'll be sparing your bank account unnecessary hits. 

3. Look for deals.

Everybody loves a bargain — especially when it's for items already on your shopping list. Before heading out, scan the paper or go online to find the current back-to-school sales and map out your attack plan. Make sure to keep a lookout for coupons to maximize your saving potential. August is a great month for back-to-school items such as laptops, while clothes see a significant drop in price in October, so plan accordingly. If you can hold off for certain items until a bigger sale comes along, it may be worth it.

Many states offer tax-free weeks leading up to the start of school, which is another great way to save when shopping for school supplies. It's also a great time to buy and stash a holiday gift or two. You'll be able to get the most bang for your buck. 

4. Pay with cash. 

It's easy to get carried away with spending when you're swiping your credit card left and right. That's why the best way to stay on budget during a shopping excursion is to use cash for your purchases. Sure, it may seem a bit archaic, but it will help you keep track of your spending. Before heading out to the stores, decide how much you're willing to spend. Once the cash has run out, commit to putting the brakes on your shopping spree. 

This post is sponsored by USAA.

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A renegade photographer got inside this lawless city 119 times denser than New York

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kowloon1

In present-day China, the ongoing plan is to move 250 million people from farms into its developing megacities.

That might boggle your mind, but the most heavily populated country in the world tends to face mind-boggling issues.

Between the 1950s and 1994, tens of thousands of immigrants constructed a towering community 12 stories high across a 6.4-acre lot in Hong Kong.

It was called Kowloon Walled City.

With a population of 33,000 squeezed into the tiny lot, at its peak the city was 119 times denser than present-day New York City. 

Scroll down to see the city in all its claustrophobic glory.

Though Hong Kong had been under British rule for decades by the time construction began, a clause in an 1842 treaty meant China still owned the property that would become Kowloon. Caught in legal limbo, it was effectively lawless.



By 1986, the Walled City had caught the attention of photographer Greg Girard. Girard would spend the next four years in and out of the city, capturing daily life inside its teetering walls.



The Lego-like city was built over decades, as residents simply stacked rooms one on top of another. The end result "looked formidable," Girard says, "but who knows?"



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How to trick your brain and control your impulses

A Wall Street guide to bar etiquette

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party drunk binge drinking alcohol shots

You can be dumb. You can be rude. You can be incompetent. I don’t really care, as long as it doesn’t impact me. But if you are any of those things in a bar and it interferes with my ability to drink, we’re gonna have a problem.

Read this, absorb it, and the next time you’re out in a bar, imbibe… and abide by these simple rules for bar etiquette, and a few tips for your drinking pleasure:

1. Be a regular at more than one bar. It’s a good hedge, if like me, you’ve been banned from a few

2. Be patient. There’s no line to get drinks in your refrigerator.   

3. Always tip more than you should. Tipping at a regular spot is also a good investment.   

4. Never ask for a ‘good pour.’ That’s asking for something for free, and bartenders can get fired for that. If they like you, they’ll hook you up. 

Pour drink alcohol5. Never tip a bartender on a free round. Thank him or her and tip big on the next round or when you close out.

6.  If you’re having more than one drink, throw a card behind the bar.  You can always settle the tab in cash at the end of the night.

7. Don’t get drunk on beer when you’re trying to pick up girls. When you’re in the bathroom every fifteen minutes, she’s checking out your competition.

8. Never take off your suit jacket. Nobody ever pictures a drunk in a suit and tie. Remove the jacket; destroy the illusion.

9. Don’t treat a bartender like he’s just some guy waiting until he finds a real job. The bartender at the St. Regis has a Range Rover and a beach house.

10. Drink where your wallet is comfortable. When it doesn't matter how much the drinks cost, it's always Happy Hour.

bankers at american cut11.  Don’t whistle, snap, yell, or wave money, unless you want people to think you work at Morgan Stanley. 

12. If you want to buy a woman a drink, ask her permission. If the bartender has to say, “This is from the guy who didn’t have the balls to approach you,” you’ve got no chance.

13. If you are having friends meet you out, clear your tab before they show up. It’s not cool if they end up paying, but more important, it’ll make you look like the drunk that you are.

14. Do what you want to do, not what people expect you to do. If you want to put ice in your Pinot Grigio, go for it. 

15. Don’t try ordering a drink from a bar back. But go ahead and throw him a fiver; he’s taking the bus home at 3am.

16. Don’t argue about a tab. If you’re arguing, it’s probably because it’s over a material amount of money.  And that means you’re probably not sober enough to argue.

Kevin Systrom's birthday party flaming cocktail17. “When in Rome…” Unless you’re on the beach, skip the piña coladas, or anything else that takes the bartender 5 minutes to make on a busy night.

18. Don’t preemptively mention the tip. There’s no need to ever say, “I’ll take care of you tonight, ______.” (Insert: Pal, Chief, Bubba, Hon).

19. Shots generally only serve one purpose, to speed up the effects of alcohol. There’s a time and a place, and that time and place comes around less frequently after the age of 30.

20. Always know what you are going to order ahead of time. Have a go-to drink in your repertoire. An old fashioned, vodka martini, a Budweiser, or even just a house chard. Sit down, take a sip, relax, and then figure out what you really want to drink.

21.  You can get away with a lot more if you’re the one buying the drinks. Your jokes are funnier and your d**k is bigger.

party drunk binge drinking alcohol shots

John LeFevre is the creator of @GSElevator on Twitter, and the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Straight To Hell: True Tales of Deviance, Debauchery, And Billion-Dollar Deals

 

 

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Flying today is much better than it was in the Golden Age of aviation

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boeing 314 clipper meal

It's easy to look at vintage photos from the glory days of aviation and feel a wave of nostalgia, especially if you have taken a plane in the past ten years.

The common refrain is that back in the day, a journey with Pan Am was glamorous. The seats were big. Meals were good and served at actual tables. The bathrooms had urinals!

Today, planes are basically flying buses. Seats are crammed together. The food stinks or is nonexistent. The bathrooms are gross, tiny, and getting smaller.

A flight is something to be endured, not enjoyed. 

But flying today is better than it ever was back in the day, for four key reasons: it's cheaper, it's safer, it's faster, and it's never been more luxurious — if you have money to spend.

It's Cheaper

Yes, airlines are busy packing more and more people into economy class. That's because competition has driven fares down, and it's getting harder to make a profit.

It may be unpleasant, but flying has never been cheaper. In 1958, a round-trip economy flight between New York and Los Angeles went for $208, according to The Wall Street Journal. That's over $1,500 in today's dollars. These days, you can fly the same route for under $500.

It's not just since the U.S. airline industry was deregulated in 1978 that prices have dropped. They drop steadily year after year. This can present problems for airlines trying to remain profitable. But there's no question that it's good for consumers.

Ancillary fees have lately started to push costs up, but even if you drop $50 to check a bag, you're still coming out ahead.

It's Safer

AsianaAnd then there's safety. You may be shoved into your plane like a sardine in a can, but it's very nearly guaranteed you'll be safe when you exit.

Based on numbers from an MIT professor, you'd have to take 45 million flights before one finally killed you.

In his book "Cockpit Confidential," airline pilot Patrick Smith writes that compared to 1980, "flying [today] is an estimated five times safer."

Yes, going through airport security is a pain, and the TSA is often a deserving target for criticism. But there's no doubt that screening passengers for weapons has made things safer. Between 1968 and 1972, more than 130 U.S. planes were hijacked, often by Americans who demanded to be taken to Communist Cuba, according to Wired.

Today, hijackings are exceedingly rare, helping boost commercial aviation's safety rate.

It's Faster

Commercial jets may be stuck flying below the speed of sound, but better routes make air travel faster than it used to be. Again, we turn to Smith's "Cockpit Confidential": "One can travel between almost any two airports in America with, at worst, a single stopover. A few decades ago, flying even halfway across the country often entailed awkward transfers through two or more cities.

"Traveling to Europe or Asia once meant having to depart from one of a small handful of U.S. gateway cities; today, you can fly directly from many smaller hubs (Pittsburgh, Portland, Charlotte), saving considerable amounts of time."

It's Actually More Luxurious

emirates first classFlying is a crummy experience for most people, but it's only because most people aren't willing or able to plunk down the cash for a comfortable flight experience.

In the "golden age," air travel was luxurious — and really expensive. Now that prices have dropped, it makes sense that the fancy menus and hot towels have disappeared, too.

But they haven't really disappeared — they're just beyond the curtain separating economy from first and business classes.

There's a lot of money in business and first class — in 2012, premium seating accounted for 8% of passengers, but 27% of air travel revenue, according to the International Air Transport Association.

So airlines are competing to offer wealthy customers the best possible experience. Buy a first-class seat with Emirates today and you'll spend the flight in a private suite, with a mini-bar, vanity table, mirror, and wardrobe.

You can call in the crew to convert your seat to a fully flat bed, spend some time in the shower spa, hang out at the communal bar, and watch as many movies as you can. No one crossing the ocean in the Pan Am Clipper in the 1940s had anything like it.

There are benefits for economy passengers, too, like in-flight live television and Internet service, for starters.

The ride itself has gotten more comfortable, too. Turbulence is very rarely dangerous, but it is unpleasant. That's less of a problem than it was a few decades ago. Radar systems have gotten better at finding pockets of choppy air, so pilots can avoid them more often.

The fuselage of Boeing's young Dreamliner jet is made from composite materials, so the interior of the cabin can be more humid and more pressurized than in older planes. The result is that the air is less dry, and you feel like you're breathing at an altitude of 6,000 feet, not the standard 8,000.

So next time you complain about how crummy flying has gotten, take a moment to be grateful that while you've lost leg room, you've saved money and are virtually assured you'll make it where you're going in one piece. If you want luxury, pay for it.

[An earlier version of this post was written by Alex Davies.]

SEE ALSO: Jaguar isn’t fooling around with its first SUV

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9 countries that ceased to exist in the 20th century

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Map of ceylon 1692

There's nothing quite like the bragging rights of a new, exotic stamp in your passport. However, that won't be happening with the following countries, which, as of astonishingly recently, no longer exist.

Whether they lost wars, were adopted by other countries, or simply got forgotten, here are nine countries that ceased to exist in the 20th century.​

Neutral Moresnet, 1816 to 1920

After Napoleon's fall in 1815, Europe had to rethink its borders.

This small piece of land, less than 1.5 square milesthat used to be wedged between present-day Germany and Belgium, fell through the cracks when Europe's borders were redrawn, and became a "co-dominium," meaning that Belgium and what was then Prussia shared custody of it: Both had their eye on a profitable zinc mine.

The tiny territory was Dutch-Prussian prior to Belgium's 1830 independence, briefly German when annexed during World War I, and finally formally annexed by Belgium in 1920. Today, it essentially amounts to the Belgian city of Kelmis.

Neutral Moresnet postcard

Republic of Salò, 1943 to 1945

Also known as the Italian Social Republic, Salò was essentially a Nazi satellite state in Italy and run by Mussolini. Or rather "run" by Mussolini, as it was really only officially recognized by Germany, Japan, and the rest of the Axis powers, and depended heavily on German troops to maintain control. While it claimed Rome as its capital and northern Italy as its territory, it really centered on the small town of Salò, which is near Lake Garda and east of Milan. The rickety regime came to an end in 1945 — on what's now known as Liberation Day — when, thanks to the Allied forces, every last German was removed from the country.

Tibet, 1912 to 1951

Free Tibet ProtestersOf course Tibet has a history predating 1912 by thousands of years, but 1912 marks the year it officially became a recognized independent country, proclaimed as such by the Dalai Lama. Under a chain of Dalai Lamas, Tibet was a peaceful country. Communist China invaded in 1951, occupying Tibet until it rebelled in 1959, leading China to annex it. Ever heard the chant "Free Tibet"? Tibet is still calling for its independence to this day, and it has many outspoken advocates.

United Arab Republic, 1958 to 1971

Mostly a political union between Egypt and Syria that hoped to thwart Israel, among other things, the UAR didn't last long, as Syria seceded from the republic after only three years. (The fact that Egypt and Syria don't even share a border didn't help with cohesion.) While Egypt continued to be known as the United Arab Republic for another decade, it was dissolved in 1971.

Sikkim, 1642 to 1975

Yak infront of lake SikkimOnce a tiny Himalayan monarchy (the kingdom of Sikkim was established in 1642 when Phuntsog Namgyal was crowned the first king), Sikkim was absorbed into India as its 22nd state in 1975. Before becoming part of northern India, Sikkim sat along the Silk Road route to China and was bordered by Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, and India's West Bengal state.

Ceylon, 1505 to 1972

1870s ceylon photographThis South Asian country, better known as Sri Lanka, has a pretty international history, having been a trading hub for Arabs in the 7th century before the Europeans took over. After that Ceylon was ruled by the Portuguese, then the Dutch, and finally the British from 1815 until 1948, when Ceylon gained its full independence.

In 1972, it changed its name to Sri Lanka.​

 

Czechoslovakia, 1918 to 1993

Once a sovereign state in central Europe (surrounded by Austria, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, and Hungary) that declared its independence from the defunct Austro-Hungarian Empire, what was Czechoslovakia peacefully split into two countries — the Czech Republic and Slovakia — in 1993.

After the Austro-Hungarian collapse in 1918,Czechoslovakia was created by combining Austro-Hungarian leftovers — mostly Czech and Slovak lands. It was one of the more prosperous European countries, as well as one of the few with a peaceful, functioning democracy — at least until WWII, when it became occupied by Germany. It was then occupied by the Soviets until that nation disappeared, too. Czechoslovakia thrived once more, but since the Czechs and Slovaks had separate histories, cultures, and values, their split was somewhat inevitable.

East Germany, 1949 to 1990

891121c_berlin_potsdamer_platzThe wall that separated Berlin and divided East Germany from West Germany was created after WWII, when the Soviets founded the German Democratic Republic in response to the creation of the Federal Republic of Germany by the US, UK, and France in 1949. The 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall meant the end of East Germany, essentially a Soviet satellite state. It was absorbed into the democratic Federal Republic of Germany when Germany reunified in 1990. East Germans had previously lived under strict communist rule.

Yugoslavia, 1918 to 1992

Former Yugoslavia mapLike Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia was a remnant of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, created after WWI by combining bits of other countries, mostly Hungary and Serbia, and by throwing together a smorgasbord of around 20 different ethnic groups, along with their different cultures, traditions, and values. A kind of democratic monarchy, it was annexed by Germany in WWII until Nazi Germany collapsed. Then Josip Tito, leader of the partisan army during WWII, took over, creating a socialist Yugoslavia under his dictatorship in 1946. Yugoslavia remained socialist until 1992, when it split into Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia, Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro.

SEE ALSO: The most expensive countries for tourists to visit

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20 restaurants that will make you want to book a flight to Spain

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spain

With seven restaurants topping the World's 50 Best Restaurants list, Spain's gastronomic landscape is on the cutting edge of fine dining. 

In cities like San Sebastián, Barcelona, and Seville, food isn't just an art, it's a culture. Thanks to the towering influence of the great Catalan chef Ferran Adria, Spain is home to some of the most genius culinary minds in the world, not to mention pitch-perfect service and dining experiences that verge on theater.  

To find the crème de la crème, we studied Spain's Michelin Guide, the World's 50 Best Restaurant List, and numerous critics' reviews so you don't have to. 

Keep scrolling to explore Spain's culinary universe through its 20 most incredible restaurants. 

SEE ALSO: 20 restaurants in Italy that will give you serious wanderlust

Asador Etxebarri (Atxondo)

Asador Etxebarri is a fine dining exploration of all things smoke and fire. Chef Victor Arguinzoniz has based his entire restaurant (and his entire life) around the grill. Every dish that comes out of this country restaurant (No. 13 in the world) has a hint of smoke, and Arguinzoniz is known to locals as "the Ferran Adrià of the hearth." He's famous for his homemade chorizo, which he often prepares as tartare. 

To learn more about Asador Etxebarri, click here >



Arzak (San Sebastián)

With three Michelin stars, Arzak is ranked No. 17 on the 2015 World's Best 50 Restaurants list. Operated by father-daughter duo Juan Mari Arzak and Elena Arzak Espina, the kitchen turns out modern Basque dishes like its famous "Red Egg," made with piquillo peppers and crispy trotter meat.

To learn more about Arzak, click here >



Azurmendi (Larrabetzu)

Azurmendi chef Eneko Atxa, who has been cooking professionally since the age of 15, puzzles and delights with dishes like an "inside-out" truffled egg and noodles made of squid. A pioneer of ultrasonic cooking, Atxa is also fervent about sustainability. Not only does the restaurant (No. 19 in the world) use geothermal technology to heat and cool its environs, it also recycles its own waste and harvests rainfall. 

To learn more about Azurmendi, click here >



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This is one of the best new beer gardens in the US — and it’s in North Carolina

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raleigh beer garden tapsNorth Carolina has been growing as a hotspot for craft beer lovers.

It's home to about 132 breweries and brewpubs, a wide collection of bottle shops, beer tours, and now one of the top beer gardens in the world.

The Raleigh Beer Garden, located in Raleigh, North Carolina, hosts an unbelievably large collection of draft beers, with a current collection of 378 working draft taps. 

The beer garden, which is currently in the process of getting a Guinness World Record for the biggest collection of beers on tap, is still adding brews to their collection.

From its drinks to its ambiance, see what it’s like inside the new booming North Carolinian drinking spot.

SEE ALSO: How a tiny brewery run by monks came to make the best beer in the world

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The Raleigh Beer Garden, located in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, is becoming a favorite spot for beer lovers...

A photo posted by @ralbeergarden on



That’s because it currently holds what might be the world’s largest number of beers on tap. Right now, they’ve got a total of 378 and they're planning to extend that to 400.

A photo posted by @ralbeergarden on



To keep the beers fresh, they have a short-draw system that pours beers through taps connected to coolers in the back of the restaurant’s wall. If you head to the second floor, you can see this process through a glass wall.

A photo posted by @ralbeergarden on



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DISNEYLAND VS. DISNEY WORLD: Which park costs more to visit?

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The Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California, has long been known as the "happiest place on earth," while Disney World, in Orlando, Florida, is supposed to be the most magical.

Turns out that happiness and magic come at a price.

Hipmunk recently conducted an informal study to see which Disney theme park costs more.

In order to come up with an answer, Hipmunk looked at average prices for flights, hotels, tickets, and food.

They defined a Disney vacation as a four day / four night stay for a family of four with two children ages three to nine — children age 10 and above are considered adults and have to pay full price at the theme parks.

They found that Disney World is the better deal, coming in at $250 less than Disneyland.

Hipmunk also pointed out that it's considerably cheaper at both Disneyland and Disney World for families who choose not to stay at a Disney Resort Hotel.

Take a look at the infographic below for the exact price comparisons:

Disneyland vs Disney World Infographic

 

SEE ALSO: 23 crazy facts about Disneyland

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Here's the $7.2 million castle Taylor Swift was rumored to be buying

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Taylor Swift Castle

Rumors swirled this week that pop star Taylor Swift was purchasing her very own Scottish castle to be closer to the family home of her DJ boyfriend, Calvin Harris. 

She has since denied the rumor with this tweet:

Called "Tower of Lethendy," the historic castle is nestled in the hills — just one hour's drive from Edinburgh, Scotland, where Harris' parents live.

Despite the fact that Taylor is not buying the castle, the publicity she's given the $7.2 million estate is probably music to the listing agent's ears. 

Savills Real Estate is handling the listing. 

SEE ALSO: The 15 most expensive houses for sale in America

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Dating back to the 16th Century, the Tower of Lethendy is steeped in history.



It's surrounded by two private driveways and 39 acres of orchards and gardens.



It was built with local red sandstone under a slate roof.



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13 money secrets from the Amish

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Amish farmer

The number of Amish in the U.S. has doubled since the 1990s.

Though they're typically known for for their traditional, family-based Christian values and austere lifestyles, there's one thing most people probably wouldn't guess about them –– the Amish are a lot better at managing their money than the rest of us.

"Some Amish do quite well and have a lot of success in business," Erik Wesner, founder of AmishAmerica.com, told us. “An Amish millionaire is not something unheard of.”

Their business and financial savvy goes far beyond rebuking modern conveniences like electricity and technology. 

We asked Wesner, along with Lorilee Craker, author of "Money Secrets of the Amish," to let us in on how the Amish have mastered their money.

The Amish value experiences more than material goods.

The Amish make sure they buy things that are built to last, and don't often buy something because of a splashy marketing campaign at the store, Craker said.

"They always have their eye on the big picture and the long-term," she said.

That's not to say they don't spend any money on fun. Many Amish enjoy going on hunting trips, for example, Wesner said. But for the most part, they spend their money on value-oriented purchases.



They're huge savers, often setting aside up to 20% of their income.

In contrast, the average American only saves about 6% of their income.

Craker met one man who had managed to stash $400,000 in the bank in 20 years while renting a farm and raising a family of 14 kidsHe planned to use his savings toward a down payment on a farm and wanted to buy his children a trampoline during the summer.

Another man told Craker he's content knowing he wakes up a little richer every morning from interest accrued on savings, instead of interest accrued on debt.



They loathe debt and try to avoid credit cards.

Though there are some members of less traditional Amish communities who use credit cards, many are "absolutely phobic" toward debt, Craker said.

"They're literally horrified by it," Craker said. "When you and I might be awake at night thinking, 'Oh my gosh, I have so much debt,' they sleep very peacefully."

On the other hand, the average American carries three to four credit cards with an average of  $16,000 in total debt.



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Rupert Murdoch turned this bed and breakfast into a mansion — and now he's selling it for $29 million

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278 West 11th Street

Rupert Murdoch is turning into a property flipping mogul.

First he listed his One Madison penthouse in April (which he'd only bought the year earlier), and now he's flipping a West Village townhouse he bought a mere five months ago.

After purchasing the downtown residence for $25 million in March, Murdoch stands to make almost $4 million if he gets his asking price of $28.9 million.

Located at 278 W. 11th St., the townhouse was originally a bed and breakfast; Murdoch converted it into a four-story mansion. 

Amenities include an elevator, wine cellar, four-person elevator, backyard garden, and roof deck with views of One World Trade Center downtown and the Empire State Building uptown. Dolly Lenz has the listing.

278 West 11th Street278 West 11th Street278 West 11th Street278 West 11th Street

278 West 11th Street278 West 11th Street

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Top Yahoo exec Jackie Reses is selling her Woodside home for $7.24 million (YHOO)

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jackie reses house

Jackie Reses, chief development officer at Yahoo, has listed her four-bedroom home in Woodside, California, for $7.236 million, according to Realtor.com

The home sits on a three-acre lot that has sweeping lawns, rose gardens, orchards, a swimming pool, and a tennis court. According to property records, Reses bought the house for $5.8 million in 2013.

Reses apparently won't be moving far. On Tuesday, she tweeted, "Bought a new home in Woodside. Can't wait to move!" 

SEE ALSO: Vice CEO Shane Smith bought a mansion in Santa Monica for $23 million

The house sits behind a set of gates and is surrounded by trees.



This sitting room has a fireplace in addition to nice views of the landscape.



The kitchen is fairly large, and it has its own skylight.



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How to be happy, according to science

ManServants lets you rent a man for $125 an hour to wait on you hand and foot — here's what it's like to use

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ManServants Service

Last year, a startup called ManServants launched, promising to give women what they really want: a man for hire to anticipate their needs and pamper them.

CEO and cofounder Josephine Wai Lin tells Business Insider her service "started as a joke, and it became way too real."

Last fall, ManServants launched in San Francisco, and then in Los Angeles. Most recently, the very real startup launched in New York City. Soon, Wai Lin says, it will expand to Las Vegas.

When might you need a ManServant? Anytime, really. ManServants gives a few examples on its website: bachelorette parties, girls' nights out, pool parties in need of a cabana boy, just to name a few. Wai Lin says ManServants have been hired for a few same-sex weddings, too.

We were curious about the service, so we decided to round up some friends and try it for ourselves.

SEE ALSO: The 30 most eligible men and women in every major industry

Wai Lin and her cofounder Dalal Khajah were working in advertising last year before ManServants launched. The two were trying to hire a "hot male assistant" for one of their girlfriends' birthdays. After failing to find what they were looking for on Craigslist and TaskRabbit ("There was no handsome help available on TaskRabbit," Wai Lin recalls), they turned to a stripping agency for help.



After the botched attempt to hire a stripper to perform menial office duties, Wai Lin and Khajah's coworkers started asking the two women to help them find and hire more of these men for their bachelorette parties in lieu of actual strippers. So last year, Wai Lin and Khajah quit their jobs to bootstrap ManServants.



ManServants are "not just handsome," Wai Lin tells us. "They're very multidimensional, multitalented. He can't just be good to look at. He has to be hilarious and entertaining as well."



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The most famous band of all-time from every state

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Prince (singer)

Great music can be found all across the country. And every state has a famous band that hails from it.

To determine the most famous band from every state, we looked at reputation, record sales, and awards, considering each band within their own era.

We used the term "band" loosely here, including any musical act consisting of more than one person. We focused mostly on the state where each band originally formed, but also considered where their music was popularized, as well as artists' hometowns.

Check out which band is making your state proud.

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ALABAMA: Alabama

One of the most successful bands of all-time, Alabama has sold over 73 million records and has seven multiplatinum albums and two Grammys. The band sold more records during the '80s than any other bandNot only is their success impressive by any measure, but they also managed to make country music popular in the mainstream.



ALASKA: Portugal. The Man

Portugal. The Man released their debut album, "Waiter: You Vultures!" in 2006 and booked their first headlining tour the next year. The rock band released three more albums — including breakout record "The Satanic Satanist" — before signing with Atlantic Records in 2009. Danger Mouse, known for working with artists like Beck and The Black Keys, produced Portugal. The Man's most recent album, "Evil Friends."



ARIZONA: Alice Cooper

The first of the many shock-rock bands of the '70s, Alice Cooper kept fans entranced with their gender-bending outfits and dark, on-stage theatrics — concert-goers could expect performances to include stunts like Cooper's faux beheading via guillotine. But it's the music that kept fans coming back for more, and their riff-heavy brand of hard rock produced a string of hits including "School's Out" and "Be My Lover." Alice Cooper was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.



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22 beautiful photos of mirror houses disappearing into their surroundings

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mirror home by DMAA

Like tiny houses before them, mirror houses are the latest architecture trend to make design blogs swoon

Though mirror-encased homes have mainly been cropping up in Europe over the last few years, US design minds are taking notice. These reflective homes capture the stunning (and often secluded) environments that surround them, creating structures that seamlessly blend into nature. Most of the mirrors are built with UV-reflective glass — a pattern that is nearly invisible to humans but visible to birds — to help ensure safety to the natural environments in which they stand.

Keep scrolling to see the breathtaking illusion these homes create as they disappear into forests, deserts, and snow-covered expanses. 

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Designed by architect Peter Pichler, these two mirror houses sit side-by-side in the South Tyrolean Dolomites, just outside the city of Bolzano, Italy. The homes were designed as vacation rentals and are available for booking.

Click here for booking information >



Pichler's homes are surfaced with a mirrored exterior laminated in UV coating, which helps prevent bird collisions. Pictured here is the back facade of the homes, which beautifully reflect the surrounding Dolomites mountain range.



Meanwhile, the duplex's west facade captures a panorama of the area's apple orchards.



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Go inside the gorgeous offices of Jessica Alba's diaper company, which reportedly just raised $100 million at a $1.7 billion valuation

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honest company office tourThe Honest Company is a Los Angeles-based startup that makes household products with a conscience.

Founded by actress Jessica Alba, ShoeDazzle founder Brian Lee, and friends Christopher Gavigan and Sean Kane in 2011, the company focuses on creating baby and household goods that use only nontoxic, environmentally friendly ingredients. 

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the Honest Company has raised an additional $100 million in venture capital funding at a nearly $1.7 billion valuation. An IPO is reportedly in the works. 

We recently stopped by the startup's office to get a feel for its culture. We couldn't help but agree with our guide that the space looked just like a Pinterest page that had come to life. 

SEE ALSO: Jessica Alba's startup just raised $100 million at a $1.7 billion valuation

The Honest Company is headquartered in beautiful, sun-filled offices in Santa Monica, California.



Inside, you'll see plenty of Honest products and logos, including this flower wall by the kitchen area.



There's a large common area with long tables in which employees can eat lunch.



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Here are the vainest countries in the world

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South Korea and surgeries

Plastic surgery is big business.

There were more than four million procedures in the US in 2014, according to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.

That represents more than 20% of all the procedures globally. 

Plastic surgery makes up a part of the vanity capital economy. 

Vanity capital spending - which also includes makeup, luxury cars, fitness wear and health supplements - is now worth an estimated $4.5 trillion, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch. That makes it bigger than Germany's economy. 

Here is a graph from the bank showing the top five countries for cosmetic surgery in 2013. Percentages denote the number of surgeries performed in the country, relative to the global figure of 20 million.

Vanity Capital

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These photos show iconic US landmarks as they were being constructed

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empire state building construction workers with ropes

Today, landmarks like the Statue of Liberty and the Mount Rushmore monument attract people from around the world who marvel at their impressive design.  

But before they stood in all their grandeur, these iconic structures went through complex constructions that included risky and fascinating tactics used by its workers. 

We've put together a collection of rare historic photos that display how some of the country's most well-known landmarks came to be, from the meticulous carving of Mount Rushmore to the renovation that helped save the White House from completely collapsing.

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Before the Statue of Liberty stood high and mighty as the iconic figure we know today in New York Harbor's Liberty Island, she was created and assembled piece by piece in France. Many of her parts, including her head and shoulders, were displayed across Paris in places like the Champ de Mars (pictured here).

Source: National Park Service



Lady Liberty was created with an iron skeleton that was plastered with a copper exterior. Over 300 different types of hammers were used to create her copper structuring.

Source: The Telegraph



All of the parts were created in Paris before being shipped to the United States. The statue, which is 305 feet high, was the tallest iron structure to ever have been built when she was first erected in 1886.

Source: The Telegraph



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