What Bloggers MUST Do to Follow FTC Disclosure Laws

There is a lot of false information floating out there on blogland about what disclosures are and how they should work. This is a topic that’s incredibly important to both American brands and bloggers, which are both legally required to make sure the FTC guidelines are being followed correctly. If you do not follow these guidelines, you could have legal action brought against you by the FTC – scary! There’s really no reason not to do these simple steps to protect yourself.

FTC Disclosure Laws

Let’s be clear – if you ever receive monetary compensation, a free service (like dinner or a hotel), or otherwise complimentary item, you must include a disclaimer at the beginning of your post. If a brand ever asks you to not include a disclaimer, do not work with them. Start by politely explaining the FTC requirements and that they (and you) could have legal action brought against you if they don’t. If they still say no, refuse to work with them. It’s unprofessional and just not worth the risk. Disclaimers are something we take very seriously at my social media marketing job, so I know them inside and out. We tell bloggers up front that we will require disclaimers and will be unable to work with them if they don’t comply.

The basic idea behind disclosures is to make it clear to the public what content is unpaid and what is advertising. Think about it – don’t you want to know when you’re flipping through a magazine whether a mascara is loved by the editor without any financial compensation vs. sponsored by the brand? The general rule of thumb is that the disclosure must be “clear and conspicuous.”

These are the exact requirements laid out by the FTC as of 2013:

1. The disclosure must be up front at the very top or first thing in the blog post

Disclaimers must always be at the very, very top of the post before you write anything else. You are not permitted to bury it at the end of the post or put it somewhere on the side. It should always be the first thing your readers see (after the title).

2. There must be a disclosure at the front of social media posts, even if there’s a disclosure in the link

Blog posts aren’t the only type of sponsored post that require disclaimers. You absolutely must include a disclaimer at the front of your social media posts, like tweets and Facebook posts. That means you should always begin the post with the words “Ad” or “Sponsored.” Note that the FTC has specifically said that “Spon” is not good enough. You also are not permitted to put “Ad” at the end of your post. Here’s how a good tweet should look:

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 11.14.41 PM

3. Free items sent for review count as sponsored and must include disclosures at the start of the post

Yes, if a brand sends you a free item to review, that post is still considered to be sponsored. Even if you’re sharing an entire outfit and only one item was sent to you, you must still include a disclaimer at the top of the blog post and in all of the social media posts. It is not enough to just write “c/o” next to the item name in the middle of your post.

4. Even videos must include disclosures at the beginning if an item was gifted or if the video is sponsored

If you’re lucky enough to do a sponsored YouTube video, you also must begin the video with a clear statement that the video has been sponsored or you’ve received compensation. It is not enough to include a disclaimer in the text description – it must be in the beginning of the video itself either in text form or verbally relayed. 

5. It is not acceptable to asterisk, write c/o next to items, or otherwise mark posts that are compensated

As I mentioned above, when you receive a free item, it is not enough to just write “c/o” next to the item name or include an asterisk sign next to it. You must write out, clearly and at the top of the post, that you have received a free item for review or have been otherwise compensated. Sometimes bloggers say “any post that has a star next to it has been sponsored” – that is not legally acceptable according to FTC guidelines. It is also not enough to just tag the post as “sponsored.”

6. The disclosure must include the fact that they are speaking on behalf of a brand, any compensation received, and the fact that it is an honest opinion based on a real experience

You must include these three points in every disclaimer. Here are few examples of acceptable disclaimer language:

  • This post has been sponsored by <brand name> but all opinions are expressed here are my own.
  • I have received a complimentary pair of shoes to review from <brand name>. The opinions here are 100% mine!
  • This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of <brand name>. All opinions are my own.

Have you ever written a sponsored post? Were you already aware of the FTC disclosure laws?

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How I’m Trying to Control My Crazy Spending

The last two months, my spending has gotten out of control. I was never exactly frugal, but it also wasn’t like I was going into debt. I had a nice little nest egg so I had some security, but I never really thought too much about my money either. If I wanted to get dinner out, I would. If I had $200 worth of stuff that I “needed” at Target, I would buy it. You get the idea.

But the last two months have been absolutely ridiculous. With Reg gone, I no longer have much motivation to cook myself meals alone at home, which means a lot more takeout. I’ve been splurging way too much on clothes and jewelry. I’ve also been “buying” some practical stuff like my first trip to the dentist in over a year and a trip or two to the vet, but it’s still be very, very rough on my wallet.

Ice Cream

It’s gotta stop. I’ve gotta start looking more critically at my purchases, both big and small. I’ve got to start telling myself “no” more often. Here’s how I’m going to start:

1. Pay off my credit cards now and stop using them

I started using credit cards because I liked building my credit and that I got 5% back on certain things. The problem is I use them without thinking and don’t have a clear idea about how much money I actually have in my bank account. Yesterday I paid them completely off, even though it seriously depleted my savings. And now I’m going to put them away – from now on, I’ll be using my debit card or cash ONLY, so I can only use what’s actually in my main account.

2. Cancel my subscription services

There are so many expenses that I have that automatically bill my account every month. Without me even swiping my card, I spend well over $100. So I’m canceling my BarkBox, my Stitch Fix (for now), my Scribd, and my Netflix. I’ll get on my mom’s Netflix account, who has generously offered to share hers with me. The only ones I’ll be keeping are Audible, because I seriously feel the $20 a month is worth it, and Hulu for the same reason.

3. Start tracking my purchases

As I explained in a previous post, I mostly just nickel and dime my money away. It’s not that I’m spending $500 on purses, it’s that I buy cocktails here, dog toys there, and the next thing I know (or maybe, I don’t know), $500 is gone. Many people have recommended Mint.com, but in some ways I think that just using a plain old excel spreadsheet will work too. I’ll keep a list of purchases on my phone and every week I’ll plug it in.

4. Stop treating people so often

I’ve been treating my friends to things a lot lately. From offering to buy the pitcher of beer to refusing offers to split a community pizza, I like being able to spend money on my friends. The problem is, that often doubles a regular expense into a pretty enormous cost. I’m not going to be cheap with my friends, but I’ve also got to be more comfortable with accepting their requests to share the bill with me.

4. Ask for tips and advice from friends

I want you guys to tell me – how can I get control of my spending? How do you guys make sure you aren’t going over budget? How do you avoid wasting money on “wants” instead of “needs”? I really want to know!

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Friends Who Borrow and When to Say No

You know those pieces of advice that just stick with you?

Four years ago, I moved into my very special apartment in this bright turquoise building we called the Treehouse. The only adjacent apartment that shared the building with us was (and still is) occupied by three hippie, musician, stoners who had already lived there for three years by the time I moved in. They are very loud, very warm, and pretty much everything you’d imagine hippie, musician, stoner boys living in Berkeley to be. Combined with my apartment of three women and the boys’ extremely large group of friends, we formed this lovely, big community where there was never a quiet moment.

Friends Who Borrow

The summer that I moved in, the boys had a rotating cast of hippie travelers who slept on their couch and occasionally in our backyard. They were a little haggard and a little dirty as you can imagine, but their hearts were so big. They sacrificed stability and material possessions for the freedom of being able to travel, hitchhiking up and down the West Coast. I was enchanted by their lifestyle that was so romantic, yet so far from what I knew.

The problem is when you have so little, you rely on others so much. My neighbors were gracious enough to open up their home sometimes for weeks, despite the fact that they themselves often struggled to make rent. And although I’m always down to hook a struggling veteran up with a few dollars, I’m less interested in financially supporting the 20-something hippies who choose to spend their time traveling. I work really hard for my money and, especially at the time, it’s not like I was making a lot. It’s cool if someone chooses to forsake a job for “freedom”, but I didn’t sign up to fund their adventure.

This came to a head when one of the hippie boys, let’s call him T, asked if he could borrow my nice DSLR camera. They had a big show and he wanted to take some pictures. Now, when I was 17 years old I worked for months and months in an indie bookstore to come up with the $1,000 to buy this camera. It was the biggest purchase I had ever made in my life, and although it was a bit old by this point, it was still important to me.

Many years ago my mom had given me a piece of advice – when a friend borrows something of yours, whether it’s a hundred dollars or a precious object, you need to accept then and there that you might not get it back. Because then if they don’t return it, you’re not going to be angry and hold it against them. If you know that you will not be able to forgive them, then don’t offer it to them in the first place. It’s just not worth ruining the friendship.

Now, I’ve lent a lot of people things over the years. From letting Reg borrow my car to loaning some close friends a grand when they needed to make rent, I really don’t feel like I’m a stingy friend. But here this homeless, completely broke kid who I wasn’t even very good friends with was asking to borrow one of my most expensive, prized possessions. T was going to a concert where it would be very easy for him to set it aside and have it get smashed or stolen. And because he had no money, there was not a chance in hell he would be capable of buying me another one, even if he wanted to.

So I told him no. And you know what, T was a total dick about it. He told me that if he had a camera and I wanted to borrow it, that he would let me. He also told me it was just stuff and stuff was replaceable – easy for him to say, he hadn’t worked for months to purchase it. Basically he completely gave me the third degree, but at that point I was so pissed off, I wasn’t even capable of being guilted.

You know what, when you ask someone a favor, you need to understand that they might say no and that’s their prerogative. After all, it’s a favor – “an act of kindness beyond what is due or usual.” They have no obligation to help you. And it doesn’t matter what the reason is for declining – they don’t owe you anything.

Have you ever loaned someone something precious or said no when they asked to borrow it? Did they return it, and if not, how did you react when they didn’t? What’s a great piece of advice someone has given you?

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Take a Stand, Even When It’s Hard

Take a Stand

As my blog has evolved, I’ve moved away from just recipes and outfits to more complicated and heartfelt subjects. I’ve talked about being pagan and finding out that my ex had cheated on me and my experience with birth control. Writing about these subjects can be cathartic, but it can also be very scary to share them with the big, wide internet.

So I wrote this post on why bloggers should write about controversial topics, and it was one of my best received ones to date. Of course, some people disagreed with me there too, stating that some blogs are just about fashion or beauty and that’s okay too – and it is! But I still think it’s really important that kickass, intelligent women (like I know you ladies are) take a stand about something, even when it’s hard.

It’s really easy to say “I’m pro-choice” or “I’m for gay marriage” or “I’m against breed-specific legislation” when you’re on your Facebook Page and all your friends and family agree with you. You get a dozen likes and everyone says, here here! But it’s a lot scarier to put those beliefs out into the world where a lot of people don’t.

There was a period of time where I was incapable of just shutting up when I saw something I disagreed with online. Someone would share an opinion that I disagreed with, and I would write a long, thoughtful response back. But then I would obsess and obsess over it. I’d check back every ten minutes to see if someone had written back. And it was completely spirit crushing when a group of people would gang up on me to say that I was an uneducated idiot.

I used to do this a lot on Reddit in particular. I made standing up for pit bulls and other supposedly “aggressive” dog breeds my mission, and no one would stand in my way. I had all the facts about why pit bulls were no more dangerous than any other large dog breed. But it was really emotionally exhausting to constantly argue with a group of people who fervently believed you were wrong, wrong, wrong.

I eventually quit Reddit after a particularly challenging “debate” about whether it was appropriate to flirt with people outside of your relationship. I thought holding your partner to the expectation that he never have cute interaction with the girl at the grocery checkout was crazy. But apparently all the 14 year olds on Reddit thought I was wrong, and it was a big pile up on Cat. It’s totally emotionally exhausting to stand up to the sheer weight of a crowd going, “You’re completely self-absorbed and clearly don’t respect your partner and obviously don’t love him if you are EVER ATTRACTED TO ANYONE ELSE EVER.” I swore that I wouldn’t debate people online anymore because I was too emotionally involved to take that kind of criticism.

Guess how long that resolution lasted?

I still (try and) avoid Reddit debates, since they are particularly toxic and futile. But when someone I know posts an article on Facebook about trans rights or the prison system that I don’t agree with, I say something. I try very hard to not be aggressive or accusatory. I just clearly outline my perspective – I figured that if they weren’t open to hearing some mild disagreement, they shouldn’t have posted a controversial post in the first place. 

I hope that I’m able to maintain that tone here on my blog as well. I don’t want those of you who have different beliefs than me to ever feel like I’m attacking you. I understand that differences of opinion are not only a fundamental part of human society, it’s also what makes things interesting. I also understand that some of you will have thought of points and views that hadn’t occurred to me, and I’d like to hope that I’m open-minded to hearing that.

If nobody ever disagrees with you on your blog, then maybe you should try pushing some boundaries a little more. Even if you don’t change the minds of people who are already steadfast in their opinions, you may influence the opinion of someone who had never thought about breed-specific legislation or handicapped parking before.

How are you about standing up for what you believe? Have you ever gotten into a particularly frustrating argument on social media?

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One-Pot Pasta with Sausage

One-pot pastaOne-pot pasta 2

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but the recipes have been pretty sparse on my blog for the last month or two. With Reg being gone, it’s just not nearly as much fun or motivating to cook for one. So I’ve been eating a lot of takeout Mexican and simple salads.

But after going gluten-free for 21 days, all I’ve really been craving lately is carbs. So I whipped up this really simple one-pot pasta and sausage dish that’s enough food for several meals. I know some people like a heavy red sauce, but I think a bit of butter and parmesan cheese can get you pretty far.

Do you guys eat much pasta? How do you typically prepare it?

One-Pot Pasta with Sausage

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 14-16 oz fully cooked smoked sausage (I used kielbasa)
  • 1 small diced onion
  • 2 small chopped bell peppers
  • 3 1/4 cups chicken broth
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 12 oz dry penne
  • salt and pepper
  • grated parmesan cheese (optional)
  • chopped parsley (optional)
  • butter (optional)

Instructions

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook for three minutes.
  2. Add onion and bell pepper. Cook until softened, about three minutes.
  3. Add in the chicken broth and milk, then stir in the penne.
  4. Cover and cook until the pasta is al dente, about 20 minutes. If there is still leftover liquid, pour it out.
  5. Stir and season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the top with parmesan cheese and parsley and top with a pat of butter.
http://oddlylovely.com/one-pot-pasta-with-sausage/

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Paganism, Christianity, Judaism, & the Magic of Spring

Spring

Although I wasn’t raised in a traditionally religious household, we did secularly celebrate some Christian holidays like Easter. I have so many fond memories of decorating colored eggs and going on treasure hunts with my cousins. My family would go all out, and it wasn’t unusual for us to discover a few baby ducks or a rabbit in the horse barn that the Easter Bunny had left for us children.

As I have gotten older, I have come to understand that many spiritual holidays around this time are all about the same thing – celebrating the renewal, new life, and fertility that comes with winter turning into spring. In Passover the Jews were released from their Egyptian rulers, much like green grass and flowers escape from the prison of snow. In the Celtic pagan fertility holiday Beltane, otherwise known as “May Day,” fires were kindled that had protective powers and decorations were hung of flowers in order to celebrate the seasonal cycle’s transformation into spring. And of course in Christianity, Christ arose from the dead, which we have come to represent with bunnies and eggs representing new life.

From a historical perspective, Easter was originally in honor of Eostre or Ostara, goddess of spring. It was celebrated on the Spring Equinox on March 21st, one of only two days out of the year where the hours of light and dark are completely equal. As far as the actual customs go, the rabbit was the symbol associated with Eostre and the egg has long been a symbol of fertility and new life. The Egyptians and Persians even had a custom of coloring eggs during their spring festivals. In Christianity, the egg is also viewed as a metaphor for Christ’s empty tomb.

Cherries

Whether spiritual, religious, or atheist, I think that all of us breathe a sigh of relief when spring finally arrives. Plants bloom, fruit comes into season, baby animals are born, and we can finally pull out our shorts and tank tops to get some much needed Vitamin D.

So although my Easter Sundays are no longer filled with baby ducks or big brunches, I still enjoy doing a little something to say thank you for the world for bringing spring back again, as she always does. Here are some ways that you can celebrate the season of fertility:

1. Plant a new garden

In addition to this just being the right time of year for planting a summer garden, getting your hands a bit dirty and taking care of precious new plant buds is a wonderful way to really think about how important spring is. With all of our plastic wrapped chicken and individually wrapped candy bars, it’s easy to forget that all life and thus all food starts with these tiny little sprouts in the ground. Don’t have much space or time? Even a simple herb garden is a great way to get connected to Mother Earth (she won’t mind if it’s in your 3rd floor apartment).

2. Have a bonfire

There’s no getting around the fact that spring is all about fertility… it has always been the harvest season, and all ancient people have taken spring as the chance to celebrate a rich bounty and give thanks for making it through a cold and sometimes dangerous winter. An bonfire is a wonderful way to honor the season, so bundle up in your scarf and gloves, pull out the hot chocolate and the s’mores, and gather around with friends and family for a little outdoor festival. If you’re really adventurous, you can celebrate Beltane the old fashioned way and jump over the fire for luck in the coming year.

3. Plan a dinner with the bounty of the season

One of the best parts about the warming weather is all the wonderful new fruits and veggies that come into season! Although we can often get produce like strawberries shipped up from South America in the dead of winter, there is just nothing like a deep red, plump berry in a basket at the farmer’s market. This is the time of year that our ancestors would finally get to enjoy some fresh grub instead of eating more canned foods. Try making a big meal with super fresh ingredients, and don’t forget to top the table with a big bouquet of flowers.

4. Clean your home

I know, I know… this isn’t exactly a “celebration.” But spring cleaning clearly shares its origins with a hearth ritual where you sweep out old junk and energy that you’ve been stockpiling through the winter, clearing it all out for a new, bright beginning. Make a list of what you need to do (scrub bathtub, mop kitchen floor, remove clutter) and spend an entire day getting things done and checking them off. When you’re done, burn a floral candle, sit back, and know you’re going into summer with a clean slate.

5. Do a sage smudge

Smudging is the practice of purifying a room with the smoke of sacred herbs in order to clear out negative energy. You can do this in addition to physically cleaning your house, or instead of if you’d rather take the time for a spiritual cleansing than a physical one. Start by setting aside 10 undistracted minutes, then light a candle and say a little prayer or just pause for a few deep breaths. Light the smudge stick with the candle until its caught fire, then gently wave it until the flame is out but still smoldering. Then, move throughout your house, gently waving the smudge stick and dispersing the smoke. Continue to breathe deeply as you do so, and think about all the anger, jealousy, resentment, and other negative emotions you’d like to ask to leave.

What are activities that you love to do in spring? What holiday do you celebrate this time of year and how do you celebrate?

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