Spring Cleaning vs. Spring Spending

Good morning! When I previously tried to write this article, my finger slipped and hit the publish button while in the beginning stages of my first draft. It’s definitely not a best-case-scenario for any writer. Lol. This time around, I’m hoping the final draft is what ends up in your Inbox. Thank you for reading… again!

Spring Cleaning is a phrase we’re all familiar with. Some families take it to the extreme … scrubbing every wall, every bit of exposed tile grout, and even the front sidewalk. Others use Spring Cleaning to motivate themselves to get rid of excess by de-cluttering every room. And then, there are the Spring Cleaners who take this time of year to organize, organize, organize by color-sorting bins in the pantry or clothes in the closet, separating mini craft items into jars, and making the laundry room more accessible. Quite possibly, your family does all OR none of the above during this season of sunshine and renewal.

However, there’s one thing that every family likely has in common during the Spring season: an increase in spending. Data shows that this time of year is HUGE for retailers. Unfortunately, I don’t need research to prove this trend to me because I’ve noticed the spending binge in my own household. I’m definitely not alone; this article and associated charts clearly illustrate the significant Spring spending increase across the country. The Wall Street Journal has also predicted a further increase in spending this year, leading into summer.

So, how does a family that’s eager to take advantage of the better weather and longer days minimize this Springtime splurge?

Take Inventory as You Clean

Taking inventory comes up often in my articles… because it works. Just as tracking every dollar helps you save money and tracking calories helps you lose weight, taking inventory reduces your tendency to collect unnecessary items while out running errands. It’s your hedge against impulse purchases. Imagine yourself walking into Target. Do you gravitate toward the dollar spot right away? If so, being hyper-aware of how many coloring books, floral-covered journals, blue tooth headsets, and tiny vases you already own will hopefully make the idea of picking up another one, even if it only costs $3 or $5, cause you to groan rather than grab.

Make a “Needs” and “Wants” List with a Specific Budget

As you clean and organize each room, make a list of your family’s needs and wants. Maybe you’ll recognize that you need to replenish your supply of shampoo and soap while scrubbing the bathroom. Maybe you’ll notice you’re out of cinnamon and baking soda as you re-organize your spice cabinet. Maybe it’ll dawn on you that your kid’s mattress is nearing its 8-year expiration date. Write these items down on a “Needs” list and estimate what they’ll cost you. Then, do the same with “Wants” in each room, such as a new set of bath mats, an upgraded blender, or a neutral set of sheets to cover that new mattress. Based on your monthly budget, assign an amount you’re willing to spend on these Wants. Keep your lists with you, and then when out shopping, stock up on the Needs and vow only to buy the Wants if a current sale puts them within your set budget. You might even jot down in which month you should buy the Want items based on the best time to buy.

Redecorate as You Clean

Make Spring cleaning a lot more fun and interesting by redecorating your home with the items you find tucked away in cabinets, closets, and even your holiday bins. You could also make use of the crafting and paint supplies you uncover to update and/or create your own home decor. Involving yourself in a project, especially if you get to repurpose your own possessions, can give you a true sense of pride and accomplishment, while also salvaging the cash in your wallet.

Sell, Sell, Sell

Sometimes, a Spring shopping spree is just what the doctor ordered. It’s fun! You get out to see what the stores are offering and come home with new things to refresh your space and your spirit. Even the most frugal folks can identify with that! However, if you don’t want to sacrifice your savings rate by splurging on Spring goodies, unload your stuff in a big sale first. As you de-clutter, separate your items into categories, such as adult and kids’ clothing, kitchenware, sports equipment, tools, toys, baby items, linens, etc. Then, identify the best options for selling the items in each category depending on where those items will garner the most traffic and the highest prices. For example, if you have designer clothing items in good condition, try selling through Poshmark. If you have unique collectibles, eBay might be your best option. If you’ve accumulated dozens of products that you’ve never opened, an Amazon shop could give you the highest return. Tools and kitchen items will likely receive a decent amount of interest on your neighborhood Facebook page or Nextdoor site.

But if you have a large variety of items that span multiple categories, a well-advertised, old-school garage sale will earn you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to put toward that shopping spree. I just recommend that you pay yourself a percentage (to go toward investing/savings) at the same rate you save from your monthly income (10-25%) before you hit the stores.

I hope this beautiful time of year gets you out and about enjoying the changes this season brings, not just into the stores taking advantage of the advertised sales. However, if you do find yourself drawn to your favorite retailers, let us know what tricks you use to spare yourself from falling into the Spring spending trap.

Should I Add My Children As Authorized Users to Build Their Credit Scores?

Something popped up in my Instagram feed that led to a chain reaction this morning. I saw this post on @female.in.finance and took a screen-shot right away.

It seemed like a great idea, but I needed to analyze whether there were potential negative consequences and if it was worthwhile to add my children at their current ages (13, 10, 5, and 3). I’m willing to “play the credit score game” to help my children build credit by the time they enter adulthood but not at the expense of my own credit. So, the research began.

After posting this idea to two personal-finance Facebook groups, there were more questions than answers, but there were also several young adults who said that their parents utilized this strategy when they were teenagers, resulting in a credit score of 800+ for most of them by the time they were 18.

I then called the customer service numbers on both of the credit cards I carry. One is a Southwest Airlines card through Chase Bank, and the other is a Hilton Honors card through American Express. I notified the representative that I’m considering adding my children as authorized users on the card and had a few questions. The table below shows the questions I asked, as well as the answers from each bank.

Questions to Ask Before Adding an Authorized User

QuestionChase AnswerAMEX Answer
How many authorized users can I add?UnlimitedUnlimited
What is the age minimum?None13
Can I set a credit limit or spending limit?Same credit limit as primary ownerCan set spending limit (min $200) – some charges do not apply to spending limit, such as gas station charges
Is a credit inquiry required for responsible party or user to add them?No, SS # not even requiredNo, but SS# required for reporting purposes
What information is reported to credit bureaus?Payment history is reported ONLY for responsible party, not authorized user (Child will just be listed as “authorized user” on account)All payments history will be reported to credit bureaus on both responsible party and authorized users. Authorized users are considered “active”.
Will there be an additional annual fee?NoNo
Are there additional benefits for adding an authorized user?Not at this timeFor some cards, there is a promo offered to accrue additional bonus points after reaching sending amount on additional card. But it’s not currently available on this account.

Here is some additional information for Discover card users as well:

Authorized users for Discover Card
Minimum age: 15. Reported to credit bureaus on authorized user’s behalf: yes. Max # of authorized users: 5

Conclusion

Adding a child can be beneficial to his or her credit IF:

  • The primary responsible party (parent) is fiscally responsible with his/her credit card account by making payments on time, limiting debt accrual, and using credit cards responsibly (only paying for items for which you have the cash to back them up).
  • The primary responsible party has a credit limit of a few thousand dollars or more.
  • The credit card company actually reports payments made under the authorized user’s name/social security number.
  • The child learns key aspects of financial literacy and understands the pro’s and con’s of credit card use before having access to the actual card.
  • The account is monitored regularly, checking for fraudulent charges and ensuring that all payments are made on time. (Don’t just open an account, leave the card in a drawer, and never check the statements.)

Potential Problems:

  • If the account is not monitored or paid on time, this could hinder the child’s credit score, rather than help it.
  • Having excellent credit at a young age could allow for someone to qualify for credit or a loan that he/she is not personally or financially ready for. A child needs to be taught the fundamentals before applying for any loans, credit cards, or housing on his/her own.
  • If a child has access to the credit card or its number, he/she may rack up charges not approved by the parents, and the primary responsible party is liable for those charges.

What I Decided to Do

I added my 13 year old to my American Express card as an active authorized user. I set the spending limit to $200, and I denied access to cash from the card. I confirmed that it would not have an effect on my credit by going through the process of adding her as a user, as there would be no credit inquiries or credit checks to make this addition. She will not have access to the physical card until she has a job of her own and has been taught responsible use of the card.

If you’re looking for the right card for yourself and/or your family members, check out this post on Choosing the Right Card.

I would love to hear your stories related to this decision as well. Did it help or hinder you when your parents used this tactic? Have you done it for your own children? Why or why not?

I found that opening up this conversation in Facebook groups this morning led to multiple opinions and mostly positive reports of how parents helped their children in this way. I’m hopeful it’ll lead to positive results for our family as well.

Date for Free

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action: Day 29

A good friend of mine has set a 2021 goal to go on 52 dates with her husband this year. I really hope that happens for her! It’s a beautiful goal worth pursuing in all relationships.

Sometimes, though, it can be difficult to pull off actually getting out of the house once per week, at least without a child along for the ride. So, inspired by my friend’s goal, I’ve been brainstorming ideas to emulate fun date experiences while staying home, avoiding paying high prices for them or hiring a babysitter to make them happen.

I’ve made a list of several cheap or free (and slightly cheesy) date-night-in options. Maybe a few would work for you as well.

  • Money Date (always my top choice) to discuss big dreams, goals, progress, and new ideas
  • Read together in the bathtub or backyard hammock (find a great free option through your library app)
  • Make a messy homemade dessert or take an online cooking class together
  • Backyard movie night
  • Virtual concert in the living room
  • Flashlight hike on neighborhood trails (leaving older kids in charge for a short time)
  • Play cards with high stakes … maybe loser does dishes for a week, winner gets a foot rub, or best hand earns a night off from helping with the kids
  • Plan a vacation for the near future
  • Download a stargazing app and lie in the grass outside enjoying the constellations and a glass of wine
  • Bust out the fire pit, roast marshmallows, and tell scary stories (good luck keeping the kids away during this date option)
  • Have a spa night
  • Reminisce over old photos and organize them into albums
  • Try palm reading after watching a couple videos
  • Do a difficult puzzle together
  • Try out Yoga with Adriene on You Tube
  • Marie Kondo the master closet together, allowing your partner to comment on his/her favorite outfits on you
  • Set up your own cheese and wine tasting at home
  • Create a beer flight with local brews and make notes on favorite flavors
  • Repurpose furniture or home decor together
  • Paint
  • Build something special for the kids, like a desk or toy chest
  • Make gifts for friends
  • Write a letter to a family member or a couple who has had a big impact on your relationship
  • Have a friendly competition with leg wrestling, thumb wars, and flexibility contests
  • Learn a new dance from a You Tube or Tik Tok video

Many of these options can be great for a fun night at home with the kids too. The more creative you get with what you can do at home, the less money you’ll spend on dates or family outings.

Today’s action step is to plan a few specific nights-in to replace evenings you’d usually spend going out and blowing cash.

DIY, RRR+R, and Buy-Nothing

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action: Day 28

As you get better and better at finding ways to reduce your expenses, make use of what you’ve got, and save a lot of money, it can become a fun game to spend as little as possible on just about everything. This is not a push for becoming cheap, though. Frugality is the goal. A frugal person lives simply and economically, focusing on value over price and quality over quantity.

I watched a few episodes of Extreme Cheapskates with my daughter over the weekend. Every time I watch one of those shows, my jaw is on the floor almost the entire time. Reusable toilet paper?! Cooking a lasagna in the dishwasher?! Using one lightbulb for the whole house?!

I can’t imagine that these “tricks” actually amount to significant savings, and at that point, quality of life is surely affected in a negative way. To me, financial freedom is about living life to the fullest now while also setting ourselves up for an even better future.

Not only does this require a change in mindset, lifestyle, and habits, but it can also require a new set of skills and a bit of ingenuity. While walking this journey, an appreciation for what I already own and a desire to maintain it have truly developed.

DIY

What can you do yourself to reduce large (and small) expenses? With the help of free books from the library, countless blogs, Pinterest hacks, and You Tube videos, your options are endless. You can do home repairs and full remodels yourself. You can build anything from gardens to treehouses to furniture. You can sew your own clothes, make your own gourmet meals for date nights, decide on investments without professional help, and even provide music and dance lessons for your children in your home. All it takes is finding the best method of learning for yourself and the confidence to try.

Reduce, Re-use, Recycle, and Rent

A few key aspects to frugal living are reducing what you need/want, reusing what you have, and recycling goods between yourself and others. It sounds so simple, but this shift in lifestyle can be very difficult to make.

I have to admit that I am not very good at the first R. I tend to have multiples of many items. I have dozens of serving dishes and platters, at least 6 cookie sheets, 2 coffee makers, over 30 adult plates and at least as many kids’ plates, plus 3 cabinets full of a variety of cups. And that’s just in my kitchen! I don’t even want to admit how many toys we have or how much clothing (mostly hand-me-downs) we’ve collected for our children. I will admit, however, that at one point, I had 8 strollers in my garage! Because of this slight tendency toward collecting (ahem… hoarding), I plan to challenge myself this year to work on purging and living a more minimalistic lifestyle. Plus, I’d like to reduce as much food waste as possible in my home.

On a positive note, though, I LOVE re-using/repurposing. We have salvaged so many valuable items by finding another purpose for them, another location in the house, or another look for the items.

I have a particular dining table in mind. It was purchased at a reasonable price about 12 years ago, and it served its purpose in the dining room for many of those years. However, its style and color were somehow not changing with my tastes. A few coats of chalk paint and a coat of wax brought that table (and 6 chairs) up to date with the rest of my home decor, giving it a few more years in my dining room. Then, we moved… and my table got damaged. My tendency was to give it away or trash it, but I’m so glad I didn’t. We repaired the table to the best of our abilities, and then we moved it outside. It now serves as our patio table, and my husband built a new, bigger, sturdier table for our dining space, which only cost a few hundred dollars to build. Had we decided to trash the original table and not considered DIY-ing a new one, we would have spent a whole lot of money to buy one table for indoors and one for out.

If you don’t feel particularly skilled at repairing or updating your own items, there are actually some groups willing to help you for free out of the kindness of their hearts and their commitment to zero waste. Look up “Fix-It Clinics” in your town. (You might also look into whether you qualify for grants or very low interest loans through the government to make repairs on your home that are related to structure or safety.)

With regards to the third R, I am so fascinated by the push toward zero-waste in many communities and the trading that goes on between neighbors. “Recycling” doesn’t have to refer to dumping your item in a bin and hoping that a large corporation can make use of the scraps. With sites like Freecycle, you can recycle your items by letting someone else in your community have it and make use of it. Bonus: you may find an item yourself that you’ve been searching for.

I’ve added a 4th R to the famous trio to represent “Rent”. Instead of buying a large ticket or rarely-used item, such as a tool for a specific project, a kayak or tent for a camping trip, a bike for an upcoming race, or furniture for a short term living arrangement, consider renting or borrowing instead. It saves money, saves storage space, and saves you the headache of selling or giving away that item when you realize you may never use it again.

Buy Nothing

As mentioned in the previous paragraph, there are many groups and websites dedicated to passing items along rather than throwing them out and/or buying new. If you haven’t already, join a few Swap or Buy-Nothing groups in your area. You can usually find multiple options in Facebook Groups.

Today’s action step is to make a commitment this year to live a lifestyle with less waste, less hoarding, and more repurposing.

Take a look around your home. What could serve a different purpose? What could serve a better purpose for somebody else? What can you clean or repair to make it last that much longer? What skill can you develop to save money and/or add value to what you already have?

Travel Well on a Budget, Part 3

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action: Day 27

Today’s post is all about maximizing vacation fun without blowing your budget. After putting in all that time to get the best value on transportation and lodging, you don’t want to let activities put you over the top. The good news is that every town and city has free or cheap things to do. You just gotta know where to look.

Check Local Blogs

Bloggers offer all kinds of information for free. 😉 You can find the best playgrounds, hiking spots, beach access points, climbing hills, swimming holes, and bike trails by reading a local blog. If you search “free things to do in _____”, scroll down past the Google maps, Trip Advisor, and big magazine publisher suggestions. You wanna hear from the locals! Once you find blog articles, check the dates to make sure it’s a recent post. It’d be pretty disappointing to head to a local swimming hole only to discover it’s been covered by a parking lot since the article was written. Also, search for a few other kid-friendly favorites, such as “free museum days in (location)” or “free festivals in the month of ______”. If you’re traveling to the Austin area or Texas Hill Country, I recommend Dripping with Kids!

Use the Yelp App for Dining Out

I don’t usually use Yelp when I’m at home, but I find it useful while on vacation. Not only does it help me to find restaurants that are highly recommended or great for a family, but because these are places I’d be checking into for the first time, I might get a free appetizer or BOGO offer for trying them out.

Order the Souvenirs in Advance

If you know your kids will want a sweatshirt or a magnet or a stuffed animal as a souvenir from the amazing place they’ve visited, look for great deals online BEFORE you go. The souvenir shops are usually over-priced, and once you set foot inside, you’ll likely cave and buy a lot more than you budgeted for. Who can really resist a cheesy painted sign that says, “Resting Beach Face” or an ornament with Santa riding the ski lift??

Deals on Tickets

This is a tough one! If you’ve planned your vacation around going to a theme park for several days or a week-long music festival, you have no choice but to spend a big chunk of your travel budget on tickets. Right?

I’m still working on how to get the best deals in these areas, but if I can’t find discounts directly through the venue’s website, I always check Groupon. It often offers discounted tickets for festivals, small amusement parks, museums, or concerts.

I’m also a big advocate for zoo memberships if you’re like us and enjoy checking out the local zoo while visiting a new city. Most zoo, botanical garden, and aquarium memberships offer reciprocal admission, saving you 50% to 100% on admission fees.

Another tip is to check with other memberships you have, such as PTA, AAA, AARP, etc. or with your hotel concierge. My final tip is to compare the cost of a season pass to day passes. If you’re planning to visit an attraction or resort (such as for skiing, fishing, or boating) for more then 2 days, it might be cheaper to buy a season pass.

Save on Parking

Many attractions charge high parking fees. Look for ways to skip that added expense. Your hotel may have a shuttle or public transportation nearby. Or there may be street parking a little further away, so most of the family can get dropped off at the front and then Mom or Dad can go park the car.

Save on Food

Check the food and drink policy for the venue or park before you travel. Many will allow you to bring in your own snacks and drinks. If not, though, most have picnic tables for you to enjoy a cheap meal just outside their gates and save the rest of your cash for something better.

Today’s action step is to jot down on your travel budget spreadsheet some of the activities you would want to do on vacation. Place a star next to the ones you could potentially do for free (or really cheap). Then, do a little research to estimate costs of the other activities. When you actually book the trip, do a deep dive to try to find discounts on them.

Travel Well on a Budget, Part 2

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action: Day 26

There are so many options on where to stay while on vacation these days… from luxury hotels to extended-stay motels to RV resorts to cabins to vacation home rentals to tent-camping. Even with a large family, many hotel rooms can now accommodate everyone. It can be really hard to narrow down the choices and make a decision.

The good news is that when there are various options and abundant supply, the buyer often benefits from all that competition. You just have to be prepared to do the research.

Once you’ve settled on which type of accommodations will provide the best value and experience for your trip, the following list can help you save money on them …

Check Rewards First

Just like shopping for airfare, check with your credit card rewards and/or your hotel chain membership to determine whether you have enough points to book a night or two at a hotel. If you don’t have a hotel card or rewards membership, but your trip is several months away, consider applying for a card with a great bonus offer so you can collect and redeem miles at least a month before your travel dates.

We recently applied for the Hilton Honors AMEX, thinking ahead to two destinations this year with excellent (but expensive) family-friendly Hilton resorts. Because of the bonus offers and by using the card to pay for part of the stay (thus maximizing the points per purchase), we should be able to get 4 nights covered with points this year.

Get the App

Hotel apps can also help you earn free nights faster or offer upgrades and discounts. I like the hotels.com app. I’ve earned two free nights (1 free after 10 nights) and taken advantage of significant savings due to “secret prices”. Also, if you access hotels.com through the Ibotta app, you can earn cash back for your hotel purchases.

Map It

When searching for a hotel or vacation home, I always use the map function to make sure I understand where a hotel is located before clicking to find out more info. The maps on the search sites often show tourist attractions, the airport, and parks in the area so it’s easy to determine how close the hotels are to everything.

If your goal is to minimize transportation costs, stay close to it all. If your goal is to minimize lodging costs, stay a bit outside the city or in a small town nearby.

Take Advantage of Filters

When it comes to a hotel, I look for at least 3 stars, a very high review rating, and amenities that will save us more money, such as free breakfast, free wifi, free parking, in-room kitchen/ette, free airport shuttle, etc. Bonus if there’s a nice pool, water park, playground, and/or hiking trails onsite… something that can entertain kids between other planned activities.

Keep Your Options Open

When I find a great hotel at a decent price, I book… but only at the free-cancellation rate. Then, I set an alert/reminder in my phone to go back and check hotels again just before the final cancellation date. I re-do my hotel search then to see if the hotel we booked has a better deal or if another one has dropped in price.

Alternatives to AirBnB/VRBO

Looking for a vacation home rental but don’t want to pay the excessive fees? Ask your friends or put up a post in Facebook groups. Often times, a vacation home owner will be willing to rent it out without going through these sites (especially if you’re a friend or acquaintance).

You can also try local property management companies or Vacasa to find the same homes listed on AirBnB or VRBO at slightly cheaper rates (and fewer fees).

Another tip is to find a few homes you like in the area on the major rental sites, then reach out to the owners directly to negotiate a lower rate, especially if the homes are still available less than a week before your travel dates. Send an email to 4-5 owners offering the price you’re willing to pay. Chances are, at least one will agree to take less than their listed rate rather than make nothing on a vacant home.

In summary, finding great deals on vacation lodging requires a bit of time, research, comparison shopping, and possibly some negotiation. It’s worth it, though, to save that money to put toward activities while on your trip or to have enough left in the budget to book your next vacation!

Today’s action step is to continue to do research on the places you’re interested in traveling to this year. Add estimates for accommodations to your travel budget spreadsheets.

Travel Well on a Budget, Part 1

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action: Day 25

Living life on a budget doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice living well. Our family has a savings rate of about 25%, of which a large portion goes toward investing for our future. However, we’re still able to maintain a healthy travel budget so that we can enjoy life now while still prioritizing saving for retirement.

We have an annual travel budget of $12,000. That can go fast with a family of 6, but we find ways to make it stretch. In 2020, we took the following trips as a family (while following mandated protocols and state-specific restrictions):

  • A week at Disney Land and Universal in Feb (pre-pandemic)
  • 6 days in New Mexico and Colorado in March (departure just before pandemic closures)
  • 5 days in Colorado (again) in July
  • A week in Wisconsin in July
  • Several weekend trips to the beach and to see family over the year
  • 2 days camping at a state park in Sept (plus several day trips to other state parks)
  • 5 days in Lake Tahoe in October
  • 6 days in Wisconsin (again) in December

In addition to trips with the kids, my husband and I spent a weekend alone in Boston in January and a weekend in Charleston in November. I was also able to do a short getaway with my mom and sister for their birthdays in November.

That equates to over 50 nights away without going over budget! Strategically earning and taking advantage of credit card points, as mentioned in yesterday’s post, helped a lot. We also stayed with family for about 20 of those nights, saving money on hotels or vacation rentals. But being flexible with travel dates and doing the right research also led to big savings.

Today’s post will focus on tips for the transportation aspects of travel. The following 2 days will be focused on accommodations and activities.

Airfare

Check credit card miles and what they might “buy” you first and foremost. If you don’t have a travel card, but your trip is several months away, consider applying for a card with a great bonus offer so you can collect and redeem miles at least two months before your travel dates. (Advice from yesterday’s post applies here.)

If the above option is not actually an option and you need to find the best prices on flights, check the Google airfare search tool first. All you have to do is type in “flight from _________ to _______” in the Google search bar, and you will be provided a calendar of fare prices for multiple airlines. If you can be a tad bit flexible with when you travel, you can simply choose the cheapest dates to fly when looking at the calendar.

Certain days of the week are often cheaper to fly than others, usually Tues, Wed, and Saturday depending on the location. (It can be cheaper to purchase on Tuesdays and Wednesday as well.) For popular tourist destinations, avoid weekend travel. For popular business destinations, avoid weekday travel and morning flights around 8-10 am, especially on Mondays and Fridays. Choosing off-season months to visit a specific location can also save hundreds or even thousands of dollars, such as visiting Boston in winter or traveling to a popular beach in early November.

I also search nearby airports for better prices. I’ll do a comparison of 3 to 4 airports within a 3-hour drive from where we live, as well as from our final destination. I’ve saved hundreds many times by selecting an airport just 1 to 3 hours away. For example, when we go to visit family in the Green Bay area, we often fly into Chicago, then rent a car to drive the rest of the way. Even after paying for the car, we usually save $500 – $1000 on the airfare.

Additional Savings Tip: Take advantage of flight times to give you *more* days on vacation. If you want 3 full days for your trip, book the earliest outbound flight in the morning and a return flight late in the evening. The airfare is usually cheaper at these times, and you get 3 full days while only paying for 2 nights of hotel.

Transportation in your Final Destination

Rental car or public transportation? Walk it or Uber? The decision on whether to rent a car or use other forms of transportation has to be based on not only the cost of the car but other factors as well.

Are you staying in a walkable city? Will your hotel charge parking fees? Is gas especially pricey where you’re staying? Do you need a car because you feel safest with your kids in car seats instead of in your lap? Is Uber or Lyft readily available in that destination? Will you be taking any long day trips from your location or did you fly into an airport that’s a bit of a drive from where you’ll be staying?

If, after this analysis, you decide you need to rent a car, use these tips to get the best rates.

Road Tripping

Taking your own vehicle definitely saves on airfare and a rental car in your final destination, but it can help save on many other expenses as well. It might be helpful to factor in these additional savings and skip air travel altogether.

However, you may decide that the added savings aren’t worth the extra time you spend in the car, especially if you’ve found incredible deals on flights and a rental car using the tips listed above. Before determining that driving is the best value for your trip, do a comparison of gas costs to airfare. Use this calculator to get a good estimate.

Today’s action step is to make a list of where you want to travel this year. Download (and print) a travel budget spreadsheet for each major destination on your list. Use some of the tips above to determine the best dates for those trips based on airfare prices or to decide whether driving would be a better value. Jot down a few scenarios including traveling to/from nearby airports or staying in a location that limits transportation needs once you’ve arrived.

Keep those spreadsheets nearby because tomorrow, we’ll dive into saving on accommodations.

Pick the Right Credit Card

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action: Day 24

Many personal finance gurus recommend not having any credit cards at all, but I subscribe to the newer recommendations… get the right card and make the most of those rewards!

Disclaimer: The credit card suggestions linked below will ONLY be beneficial if you are in a financial position to pay off your balance each month on time.

When it comes to choosing the right credit card for you, it’s best to decide what you’d want to use card rewards for. Travel (airfare, hotels)? Cash back? Restaurant gift cards?

Once that’s been identified, check out these websites for a full comparison of the best cards out there this year.

  • The Points Guy will break down the best cards per category, based on what benefits you’re hoping to get from your card.
  • Nerd Wallet shares their top 8 choices for 2021.

If you’re ready to take the card rewards game to the next level, you can try travel hacking. Many travel/credit card hackers claim to have traveled the world for free. Early last year, we earned tens of thousands of bonus miles through the Capital One Venture card by enrolling when there were multiple offers overlapping. The points we quickly collected covered airfare and part of our hotel stay for a family trip to Disney Land and Universal Studios (before the pandemic hit)!

Today’s action step is to audit your wallet. Get out all of your credit cards and determine whether they’re carrying their weight by providing you the rewards you’re seeking. Put the ones you rarely use or that don’t fit the bill in a drawer. It’s ok to keep the account open if you’ve had the card for a long time because that can help with maintaining a high credit score; just don’t use it anymore.

Also, if any of your current cards carry a balance or if you have a card with an annual fee, call the number on the back and prepare to negotiate. Ask if you can get your interest rate lowered or your annual fee waived. (You may have to request to be sent to the retention department.) Many companies will offer some sort of discount or assistance if you just ask.

If you have kids, there’s one more action step today. Read about whether you should add your children to your credit card to build their credit scores?

Consider Real Estate Investing

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action: Day 21

Don’t wait to buy real estate, buy real estate and wait.

– T. Harv Eker

My husband and I just started our real estate investing journey by closing on our first rental property last year. We decided that because we were starting late in life on maxing out our retirement accounts, we needed to add real estate investing to help us reach FI a little faster. I read, researched, and studied several free resources, such as the Bigger Pockets Podcast and books from the library, for almost a year before we purchased our first (non-primary) residence.

It was not a quick process, and finding our second deal in today’s competitive market is proving to take longer than we had planned as well. We’re determined to add two more properties to our portfolio this year, but we’d rather pass on several good deals than buy one bad one. So, we’ll continue to follow Gary Keller’s advice in The Millionaire Real Estate Investor: “Persistent Effort, Patient Money”.

Although we’ve decided to slowly start with buying rental properties, there are many additional options and opportunities in real estate investing. It can be as easy as selecting a fund through your online broker or putting a couple hundred dollars into a pre-vetted deal on a crowdsourcing website like Fundrise.

Today’s action step is to read about these 5 ways to get started in real estate investing. Determine whether any of these are worth adding to your overall investment portfolio and retirement plan. If so, make a list of resources to dig a little deeper into your preferred method. I highly recommend the book and podcast linked above.

Invest for Retirement

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action: Day 20

It’s hard to picture yourself getting old. It can be difficult to imagine a day when you won’t be capable of or motivated to work in some capacity. However, it’s not that hard to picture yourself spending every day exactly as you choose without the pressure of earning money to cover bills. Hold that thought!

Let’s talk about retirement planning. I am not a financial planner, nor an advisor, but I think about investing for retirement quite a bit. There is A LOT of information out there on how best to invest your money long-term. There’s no way I can cover the mountain of advice I’ve read and listened to in a short blog post. Instead, I’ll share the best tips I’ve heard from my favorite finance peeps.

Start as early as possible!

Let’s illustrate this with two extreme cases… Early Ellie and Late Larry. Both start working at 20 and both want to “retire” at 60. The market returns 7% a year, compounded monthly.

  • Early Ellie diligently invests $100 a month for ten years. She stops contributing when she turns 30 but leaves the money in the market for the next thirty years until she’s 60.
  • Late Larry waits ten years before he starts investing $100 a month into the stock market for the next thirty years until he is also 60.

Who ends up with more money… Ellie who has personally contributed $12,000 or Larry who has personally contributed $36,000?

  • Ellie – $141,303.76
  • Larry – $122,708.75
Source: Wallet Hacks

The early bird almost always catches the worm… first. But don’t take this to mean that if you’re starting late that you shouldn’t start at all. Today is still earlier than tomorrow!

Also, remember that more time in the market is better than timing the market. My husband and I were nervous about purchasing more shares of VTSAX during the week of the inauguration, not knowing what kind of response the stock market would have to the change in administrations. Well, I wish we had purchased last weekend as planned because the stock market had the biggest rise on Inauguration Day in 36 years! 🤦‍♀️

Identify the Right Investment Accounts

This article from Nerd Wallet summarizes the 4 types of accounts you need to know (brokerage accounts, retirement accounts, education accounts, and kids’ accounts).

Diversify your portfolio.

Many planners suggest using the bucket approach: hold some cash savings along with investments in stocks and bonds to balance out your funds. Many also add other investments, such as real estate, commercial ventures, and personal lending to diversify further.

Simplify Investing with Index Funds

If you’ve read JL Collins’ book, The Simple Path to Wealth, you know that his main piece of advice is to choose index funds and then leave them alone. Here’s an example of a simple portfolio that would be easy to execute and have you well diversified in stocks and bonds within your accounts mentioned above.

  • Total Stock Market Index
  • Total International Stock Index
  • Total Bond Market Index

The stock index funds allow you to invest in every stock within that index in proportion to the size of the company. You own a piece of all the companies. No need to pick just one or a few companies. If the whole stock market index goes up, so does your portfolio! It’s also recommended to balance out your domestic holdings with some international ones, just in case the US economy takes a nose dive. Many recommend that 15-30% of your stock holdings be in international markets.

Bonds typically carry less risk (and lower returns), but they balance out the more risky stock investing. Owning a bond index saves you from trying to decide which bonds are the best. Own them all instead.

(The portfolio above is only ONE example of thousands of options for a retirement investment portfolio. )

Beware of High Fees

Another reason why index funds have become so popular is because they come with very low fees, usually under .5%, which is significantly less than actively-managed mutual funds. This way, you can keep as much of your interest earned as possible.

Rebalance your Portfolio over Time

Rebalancing refers to adjusting your asset allocation based on your current risk tolerance and how close you are to retirement. For a young person who has many years before retiring, her portfolio will likely be heavy in stocks. For someone who is within a few years of retirement age, her portfolio will likely be heavier in bonds to minimize risk and preserve wealth.

Choose a Fee-Only Financial Advisor or Planner

Advisors working on commission are quickly becoming a thing of the past. According to Investopedia.com, “fee-only advisors have a fiduciary duty to their clients over any duty to a broker, dealer, or other institution. In other words, upon pain of legal liability, they must always put the client’s best interests first. In contrast, a commission-based advisor’s income is earned entirely on the products they sell or the accounts that are opened. Commission-based advisors can be fiduciaries, but they don’t have to be.”

When looking for advice on retirement planning and setting up the best investment portfolio for your specific situation, a fee-only advisor is likely your best choice.

No matter what you decide are your best options, just make sure you’re prioritizing a significant part of your savings to go toward investing in retirement. If the infinitude of information prevents you from getting started or scares you from making a necessary change to your portfolio, keep your strategy as simple as possible.

Today’s action step is to review all of your investment accounts.

  • Identify what percentage is going into your 401K and make sure it’s at least at the match your company offers (if they do) but preferably closer to the max allowed.
  • Pay attention to whether you’re maxing out your IRA’s, if you have any, and if not, can you? Decide if you’re eligible for a ROTH IRA. If so, might that be a better choice than a traditional one?
  • Review your asset allocations in each account and determine whether those represent your risk tolerance and age.
  • Assess the fees you’re currently paying to a financial advisor and/or through an actively managed mutual fund. If they’re high (>1%), consider passive investing through index funds.
  • Discuss what percentage of your income you want to invest moving forward, in stocks, bonds, and other potential opportunities.

There is a lot to consider, and it may be worth scheduling another money date to go over the many questions and options regarding retirement planning. I admit that this is likely not a one-day action step. Mark your calendar to dive in deeper and cover all the bullet points listed above.