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ByCurtis Watts

2020 Business and Life Review

Welcome to my 2020 Business and Life Review!

Usually, I separate my travel and business annual review content into two separate blog posts, but this year I’ve decided to combine it into one.

2020 was a different kind of year, and I’m sure nearly everyone would agree with that statement.

It was a tough year for a lot of people, and I completely understand.

I feel very grateful for the life that I get to live, but it was a hard year for me as well. I lost two important family members in my life, my grandma as well as my dog who was my best friend for almost 14 years.

 

Family

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to include this section in this life update, as I’m also talking about travel and business, and honestly, it just seems odd to have it all in one.

I went back and forth so many times, and I’m still unsure of it.

But, it just doesn’t seem right to me to not include it, as this is all a part of my life.

Good and bad things happen, and will happen throughout a person’s lifetime.

I do feel guilty writing about the passings of two of my favorites, and at the same time also writing about business and travel. Anyways…

Me and my grandma around 4 years ago.

My grandma passed away in the summer of 2020. She passed away at the age of 97.

I spent a lot of time growing up with my grandma, as she watched us everyday after school when we were kids and lived in Chicago.

She lived in the building just behind us, so I saw her all the time.

She didn’t speak much English (and I don’t speak Korean), although she took daily/weekly English classes even in her old age so that she could at least make hand gestures and talk to us as best as she could.

I remember as a kid, she would make me plain ramen (with no seasoning!) and I was always so confused as to why she would throw the seasoning packet away and make it taste bland. But I couldn’t tell her easily because I didn’t know how to tell her in Korean. After months of eating noodles in plain water, I figured out how to tell her. She thought it was weird that I liked watery noodles but she made it because she thought I liked it, haha. That is a story that always makes me laugh.

She was also a world traveler, and went to so many amazing places.

Also the kindest woman ever, and she was so great to us. I will forever miss her.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

 

This picture was taken about one week before she passed away.

My favorite girl passed away – Sailor. My best friend, the sweetest sweetie pie, the best adventure buddy, passed away in December of 2020.

We adopted Sailor when she was just two months old. I had just turned 18 about a week earlier, and just graduated from high school. Wes and I were moving in together (we were crazy kids), and decided to adopt a puppy that a friend was trying to find a home for.

Shortly after, I found out that my dad had brain and lung cancer, and that he did not have much time left. Sailor was there through all of the tears and sadness (I leaned heavily on her), and always brought me joy.

She has climbed some of the tallest mountains in the U.S., sailed to many islands, and been to some of the most scenic spots around.

It was very sudden, and before she could get to a vet (the vet was actually on her way to the boat). The vet thinks it may have been a fast moving cancer, as she didn’t show signs of it when she was just at the vet shortly before.

I’m still processing what this means as she was such a huge and beautiful part of my life for the past almost 14 years.

I am heartbroken and miss her so much. I was dreading this time for awhile, as I knew she was getting older, and it’s been much harder than I could have ever imagined.

Now, I’m not really sure how to transition to the next section, but below I will be switching to my travel and business review for 2020.

Like it was for nearly everyone – 2020 was a weird year, full of highs and lows.

 

Hanging out during lockdown on the boat in Puerto Rico.

Travel in 2020

2020 started with us in the Exumas in the Bahamas. We have spent a decent amount of time in the Bahamas the past couple of years on our boat, and it’s an amazing place to be, especially on a boat!

We then sailed to the Dominican Republic in February and spent around a month. We saw whales, went up the only cable car in the Caribbean (and it goes up around 2,500 feet!), rented a car and drove around the country, and more.

Then, we sailed to Puerto Rico in March. Shortly after we arrived, the lockdown started, and it was very strict. It has loosened since, but the first several months they had some of the strictest rules in the world. You could only grocery shop on certain days according to your license plate, you weren’t allowed to go outside (not even to let your dog use the bathroom), and more.

We had planned on hopping down the island chain and spending hurricane season in Grenada, but everything changed.

We stayed in Puerto Rico for around 3 months, pondering our next move.

Since we live on a boat, we had to figure something out, as hurricane season was approaching and we are not allowed to stay in the “Hurricane Box” during hurricane season because of our boat insurance policy.

So, we had two options, sail to Grenada or sail to the U.S. The sail to Grenada would have been about 3 days.

We decided to sail to the U.S. as we weren’t sure what the state of the world would be like, especially after being in such a strict lockdown for 3 months in Puerto Rico. Plus, we wanted to be outside of the Hurricane Box, and if you’re going north then that means heading all the way back to the U.S. Also, we had a lot of boat work that we needed to get done, so going to Annapolis seemed like an easy choice.

It was a 1,300 nautical mile sail and took us 9 days. It was our longest passage, and it was just me, Wes, and our two dogs. Our highest speed was 14.5 knots, and we hit 12 and 13 quite often. We caught fish, saw a submarine, dealt with Tropical Storm Bertha, and more. Our dogs did amazingly well on the passage, and it was a wonderful time.

We spent several months in Annapolis, Maryland for hurricane season and got a ton of work done on SV Paradise, including a major electrical refit. We can now run everything off of our lithium batteries and our solar, including running the watermaker, our washer/dryer, water heater, and more. Since I know I’ll be asked, the company we used for our electrical refit was Marine Electric Systems in Annapolis, and I highly recommend them.

Hurricane season ended in November, and then we’re required by insurance to head south to avoid winter weather on our boat. We did some offshore hops and we’re now in sunny Florida!

We’re not sure what we’ll be doing in 2021, but decisions have to be made eventually because hurricane season comes every year. We have a few ideas but I won’t be sharing anything just yet – you’ll just have to wait and see! 🙂

Fortunately, we’re fairly off-grid and self-sufficient on SV Paradise, so we can safely live on our boat, even in a time like this.

Note: If you want to follow my travels and life more, please follow me on Instagram. 

 

2020 Business Year In Review

2020 was definitely a weird year for businesses.

Many businesses failed, while many others thrived. Working from home and/or starting your own small business is now at an all-time high as well.

I am very grateful for the business that I get to run, and I am excited to grow it well into the future.

While I no longer disclose exact income numbers due to privacy reasons (and so that I, as well as others, don’t feel the need to “keep up” with others), income was at a good level in 2020.

Here’s what my income has looked like in the past:

  • In 2013, my business income totaled $116,519. This was the year that I quit my job to blog full-time.
  • In 2014, it totaled $163,929. This was my first full year of being self-employed with no day job.
  • In 2015, I made $320,888. I think this was the year where I fired all of my freelance clients and started just working on my blog. This helped me to grow my income significantly because I was FOCUSED!
  • In 2016, I made $979,321. This is the year where I created my first product (Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing).
  • In 2017, I earned $1,536,732.
  • In 2018, I earned over $1,500,000 (I stopped disclosing exact numbers in 2018).

It’s crazy to think that I have now been blogging for over nine years. What started as a fun little blog with no goals (I was even anonymous!), has turned into a great business for me.

If you want to start a blog of your own, I have a free How To Start a Blog Course.

2020 was a weird year, as we all know.

Even though I had a ton more free time due to lockdowns, I didn’t get as much work done as I had hoped. My mind was all over the place a lot of the time, which led to me wasting a lot of time.

But, I have heard that was normal for a lot of people for 2020. So, if you experienced the same – do not feel bad about yourself!

I didn’t take part in many interviews, didn’t release any new projects, and I was barely on social media. I really don’t know what I spent so much of my time on, to be honest.

Luckily, around 2019, I slowed down significantly when it came to working, and it helped tremendously. I wasn’t feeling burned out or anything with Making Sense of Cents. But, I knew that I needed to be more mindful of how I use my time online. I no longer want to be hooked to my laptop and phone for both personal and business social media browsing/blogging.

And, after several years of blogging full-time and spending 100+ hour weeks on my blog, it’s been nice to relax and focus on other areas of my life.

I will be completely honest – income did not grow in 2020 over 2019 – but it was still a great amount.

Thankfully, all of the hard work that I’ve put in over the past several years has paid off.

In case you are new to this blog, the main areas I earn a living from include:

  • Affiliate Marketing – This is the largest chunk of my income.
  • Sponsored Partnerships
  • Courses – Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing Course and Making Sense of Sponsored Posts
  • Display Advertising – I use Adthrive. Another great option is Mediavine.

Three articles that I recommend reading:

  • How I Successfully Built A $1,000,000+ Blog
  • How I’ve Made Over $1,000,000 From My First Course Without a Big Launch
  • 10+ Of The Best Free Blogging Resources

Thank you to all of my readers for being here with me on this journey! I’m so glad that I can share everything with you.

 

Anchored in Puerto Rico.

Affiliate marketing results in 2020.

Affiliate income was at a great level this past year.

Not much changed from the previous year, and everything is fairly passive when it comes to affiliate marketing income on Making Sense of Cents.

I am hoping to start ranking for more blog posts through SEO, which will hopefully increase my affiliate income further and grow my audience on Making Sense of Cents.

The areas that I am working on to improve my affiliate income include:

  • Planning out 2021 for affiliate offers. I’m not really much of a big planner, so this is something I’m always working on. This will help to keep me organized and better prepared.
  • Learning about SEO and applying techniques to my blog. This past guest post has made me super interested in taking SEO seriously – The exact template that helped my site earn $95,000 in affiliate income last year.
  • Continuing to improve and build a high-quality funnel. I want to have a high-quality funnel where I continue to give valuable information to my readers, and keep them happy for the times when I may not have the greatest wifi.
  • Continuing to grow the reach of Making Sense of Cents. Traffic has been a little stuck lately, and I want to change that! I want to see what I can do to grow the traffic, as that will help me to reach new readers.
  • Analyzing popular blog posts to see how they can be improved for the future.
  • Seeking out new affiliate products to promote, and seeing what else my audience is interested in.

If you want to learn more about affiliate marketing, I recommend getting the free guide 10 Easy Tips To Increase Your Affiliate Income. With this time-saving cheat sheet, you’ll learn how to make affiliate income from your blog. These tips will help you to rapidly improve your results and increase your blogging income in no time.

 

Sponsored partnership results in 2020.

Sponsored partnerships were great in the first few months of 2020. But, when the world’s events hit in March, things slowed down drastically. This is because companies were waiting to see how everything would play out.

But, in the summer of 2020, it all picked up like crazy.

I had so many offers in my email inbox that I actually had to turn good offers down.

I believe that 2021 will be a great year for sponsored partnerships, and I already have many lined up for the year.

Plus, the first few months of each year are usually the best for me, as that’s when advertisers tend to be looking for a lot of bloggers.

You can learn more about sponsored partnerships in my free guide 8 Easy Tips To Make Money From Sponsored Posts On Your Blog.

 

Hiking in Puerto Rico (before the lockdown).

Goals for 2021.

I’m hoping that 2021 will be the year of growth for both myself and Making Sense of Cents.

After taking much of 2019 off, and a lot of 2020, I’m ready to get back to it for 2021.

My goals for 2021:

  1. Grow Making Sense of Cents. I’d like to grow in terms of readers and income, and there are two main things that I plan on doing in order to help with that (see #2 and #3 below)
  2. Get featured in the media more. I’m currently taking a course on this subject and I’ll be sharing more information on it soon! In the meantime, you can sign up for the freebie –  2021 Publicity Calendar – This contains 179 story ideas, dates, and hooks to help you create endless media attention and buzz! If you want to get featured in magazines and popular websites, this is something that you will definitely want to sign up for.
  3. See growth from SEO. I took an SEO course that I really enjoyed, and ever since then I have been soaking up all of the SEO knowledge that I can. I am hoping that 2021 is the year of explosive growth from SEO for Making Sense of Cents. The free course I recommend taking is The SEO Starter Pack (FREE Video Training).
  4. Get at least three months ahead on Making Sense of Cents posts. I’m currently around 3 months ahead in content, and I’d like to continue the streak that I am on.
  5. Be more present. My main goal in 2021 (just like with previous years) is to be more present.
  6. Read 5 books. I have only read one book lately that wasn’t work or sailing/boat-educational related. I would like to get back to reading books that have nothing to do with trying to learn something, haha.
  7. Start learning a new language. I know I won’t be fluent, but I’d love to learn a new language. I took 3-4 years of French in high school, and that’s the one I’m trying to learn right now through Duolingo. It’s a good language to learn when sailing about the world, so wish me luck!
  8. Learn how to dive. We would possibly like to add scuba equipment to our sailboat so that we can explore the water further as we sail about the world. So, that means I actually have to learn how to do it. This is definitely a huge goal of mine for this year!

I hope you enjoyed this 2020 year in review blog post. It’s always interesting putting these types of blog posts together so that I can reflect on the previous year.

And, it’s nice to take a look at it once this next coming year is over as well.

How was 2020 for you? What questions do you have for me? Share in the comments below!

The post 2020 Business and Life Review appeared first on Making Sense Of Cents.

Source: makingsenseofcents.com

ByCurtis Watts

Let the Roaring 2020s Begin

First some great news: because of your support in reading and sharing this blog, it has been able to earn quite a lot of income and give away over $300,000 so far.

The latest $100k of that happens at the end of this article. Please check it out if you want to feel good, learn more, and even join me in helping out the world a bit.

As I type this, there are only a few days left in the 2010s, and holy shit what a decade it has been.

Ten years ago, a 35 year old MMM and the former Mrs. MM were four years into retirement, but not feeling very retired yet. We stumbled out of 2009 with a precious but very high strung three-year-old, a house building business that was way more stressful than it should have been, and a much more rudimentary set of life skills. It was a time of great promise, but a lot of this promise was yet to be claimed.

Ten years later, despite the fact that I have one less marriage, one less surviving parent, and ten years less remaining youth, I am in an even better place in life right now, and would never want to trade places with the 2009 version of me. And on that measure alone, I can tell it has been a successful decade.

This is a great sign and it bodes well for early retirees everywhere. Compared to the start of the decade, I am healthier and stronger physically, wealthier financially, and (hopefully) at least a bit wiser emotionally. I’ve been through so much, learned so much in so many new interesting fields, and packed so much living into these 3653 days. A big part of that just flowed from the act of retiring from my career in 2005, which freed me up to do so many other things, including starting this blog.

It has not always been easy, in fact the hard times of this decade have been some of the hardest of my life. But by coming through it all I have learned that super difficult experiences only serve to enrich your life even more, by widening your range of feelings and allowing you to savor the normal moments and the great ones even more.

Ten Years of Learning in Three Points

I think the real meaning of “Wisdom” is just “I’ve seen a lot of shit go down in my lifetime and over time you start to notice everything just boils down to a few principles.

The books all say it, and the wise older people in real life all say it too. And for me, it’s probably the following few things that stand out the most:

1) This Too Shall Pass: nothing is as big a deal as you think it is at the time. Angry or sad emotions from life traumas will fade remarkably quickly, but so will the positive surprises from one-time life upgrades through the sometimes-bummer magic of Hedonic Adaptation. What’s left is just you – no matter where you go, there you are.

2) But You Are Really Just a Bundle of Habits: most of your day (and therefore your life) is comprised of repeating the same set of behaviors over and over. The way you get up, the things you focus your mind on. Your job. The way you interact with other people. The way you eat and exercise. Unless you give all of this a lot of mindful attention and work to tweak it, it stays the same, which means your life barely changes, which means your level of happiness barely changes.

3) Change Your Habits, Change your Life: Because of all this, the easiest and best way to have a happier and more satisfying life is to figure out what ingredients go into a good day, and start adding those things while subtracting the things that create bad days. For me (and quite possibly you, whether you realize it or not), the good things include positive social interactions, helping people, outdoor physical activity, creative expression and problem solving, and just good old-fashioned hard work. The bad things mostly revolve around stress due to over-scheduling one’s life, emotional negativity and interpersonal conflict – all things I am especially sensitive to.

So while I can’t control everything, I have found that the more I work to design those happiness creators into my life and step away from things that consistently cause bad days, the happier and richer life can become.

Speaking of Richer:

I recently read two very different books, which still ended up pointing me in the same direction:

This Could Be Our Future, by former Kickstarter cofounder and CEO Yancey Strickler, is a concise manifesto that makes a great case for running our lives, businesses, and even giant corporations, according to a much more generous and person-centric set of rules.

Instead of the narrow minded perspective of “Profit Maximization” that drives so many of the world’s shittier companies and gives capitalism a bad reputation, he points out that even small changes in the attitude of company (and world) leaders, can lead to huge changes in the way our economy runs.

The end result is more total wealth and happier lives for all of us – like Mustachianism itself, it really is a win/win proposition rather than any form of compromise or tradeoff. In fact, Strickler specifically mentions you and me in this book, using the FIRE movement as an example of a group of people who have adopted different values in order to lead better lives.

Die with Zero*, by former hedge fund manager and thrill seeking poker champion Bill Perkins sounds like a completely different book on the surface: Perkins’ point is that many people work too long and defer too much gratification for far too long in their lives.

Instead, he encourages you to map out your life decade by decade and make sure that you maximize your experiences in each stage, while you are still young enough to enjoy each phase. For example, do your time in the skate park and the black diamond ski slopes in your 20s and 30s, rather than saving every dollar in the hopes that you can do more snowboarding after you retire in your 60s.

Obviously, as Mr. Money Mustache I disagree on a few of the finer points: Life is not an experiences contest, you can get just as much joy from simpler local experiences as from exotic ones in foreign lands, and spending more money on yourself does not create more happiness, so if you die with millions in the bank you have not necessarily left anything on the table. But it does take skill to put these truths into practice, and for an untrained consumer with no imagination, buying experiences can still be an upgrade over sitting at home watching TV.

However, he does make one great point: one thing you can spend money on is helping other people – whether they are your own children, family, friends, or people with much more serious needs like famine and preventable disease.

And if you are going to give away this money, it’s better to do it now, while you are alive, rather than just leaving it behind in your estate, when your beneficiaries may be too old to benefit from your gift anyway.

So with this in mind, I made a point of making another round of donations to effective causes this year – a further $100,000 which was made possible by some unexpected successes with this blog this year, combined with finding that my own lifestyle continues to cost less than $20k to sustain, even in “luxury bachelor” mode.

And here’s where it all went!

$80,000 to GiveWell, who will automatically deliver it to their top recommended charities. This is always my top donation, because it is the most serious and research-backed choice. This means you are very likely doing the most good with each dollar, if your goal is the wellbeing of fellow human beings. GiveWell does constant research on effective charities and keeps an updated list on their results – which makes it a great shortcut for me. Further info in my The Life You Can Save post.

Strategic Note: I made this donation from my Betterment account where I keep a pretty big portion of my investments. This is because of tax advantages which multiply my giving/saving power – details here at Betterment and in my own article about the first time I used this trick.

$5000 to the Choose FI Foundation – this was an unexpected donation for me, based on my respect for the major work the ChooseFI gang are doing with their blog and podcast and meetups, and their hard-charging ally Edmund Tee who I met on a recent trip. They are creating a curriculum and teaching kids and young adults how to manage their money with valuable but free courses.

$2000 to the True Potential Scholarship Fund, set up by my inspiring and badass Omaha lawyer friend Ross Pesek. Ross first inspired me years ago by going through law school using an extremely frugal combination of community and state colleges, then rising to the top of the pack and starting his own firm anyway. Then he immediately turned around and started using some of the profits to help often-exploited immigrant workers in his own community with both legal needs and education.

$1000 to plant one thousand trees, via the #teamtrees effort via the National Arbor Day Foundation. I credit some prominent YouTubers and Elon Musk for promoting this effort – so far it has resulted in over 20 million trees being funded, which is a lot (roughly equal to creating a dense forest as big as New York City)

$5000 to Bicycle Colorado – a force for change (and sometimes leading the entire United States) in encouraging Colorado leaders and lawmakers to shift our spending and our laws just slightly away from “all cars all the time” and towards the vastly more effective direction of accommodating bikes and feet as transportation options. Partly because of their work, I have seen incredible changes in Denver, which is rapidly becoming a bike utopia. Boulder is not far behind, and while Longmont is still partially stuck in the 1980s as we widen car roads and build even more empty parking lots, these changes slowly trickle down from leaders to followers, so I want to fund the leaders.

$5000 (tripled to $15,000 due to a matching program that runs until Dec. 31) to Planned Parenthood. Although US-centric, this is an incredibly useful medical resource for our people in the greatest need. Due to emotional manipulation by politicians who use religion as a wedge to divide public opinion, this general healthcare organization is under constant attack because they also support women’s reproductive rights. But if you have a loved one or family member who has ever been helped during a difficult time by Planned Parenthood, you know exactly why they are such an incredible force for good – affecting millions of lives for the better.

And finally, just for reasons of personal and local appreciation, $1000 to the orchestra program of little MM’s public middle school. I have been amazed at the transformation in my own son and the hundreds of other kids who have benefited from this program. They operate a world-class program on a shoestring (violin-string?) budget which they try to boost by painstakingly fundraising with poinsettia plants and chocolate bars. So I could see that even a little boost like this could make a difference. (He plays the upright bass.)

You could definitely argue that there are places that need money more than a successful school in a wealthy and peaceful area like Colorado, and I would agree with you. Because of this, I always encourage people not to do the bulk of their giving to local organizations. Sure, it may feel more gratifying and you may see the results personally, but you can make a much bigger difference by sending your dollars to where they are needed the most. So as a compromise, I try to split things up and send the lion’s share of my donations to GiveWell where they will make the biggest difference, and do a few smaller local things here as a reward mostly for myself.

So those are the donations that are complete – $99,000 of my own cash plus an additional $10,000 in matching funds for Planned Parenthood. But because environment and energy are such big things to me, I wanted to do one more fun thing:

$5000 to build or expand a local solar farm.

This one is more of an investment than a donation, but it still does a lot of good. Because if you recall, last year I built a solar array for the MMM Headquarters coworking space, which has been pumping out free energy ever since. My initial setup only cost me $3800 and it has already delivered about $1000 in free energy, more than the total amount used to run the HQ and charge a bunch of electric cars on the side.

So, I plan to invest another $5000, to expand the array at HQ if possible, or to build a similar one on the roof of my own house, possibly with the help of Tesla Energy, which is surprisingly one of the most cost-effective ways to get solar panels installed these days. These will generate decades of clean energy, displacing fossil fuels in my local area while paying me dividends the whole time, which I can reinvest into even more philanthropy in the future.

What a great way to begin the decade. Let’s get on it!

* Die With Zero is not yet released, but I read a pre-release copy that his publisher sent me. The real book comes out on May 5th

** Also, if you find the scientific pursuit of helping the world as fascinating as I do, you should definitely watch the new Bill Gates documentary called Inside Bill’s Brain, which is available on Netflix.

Source: mrmoneymustache.com

ByCurtis Watts

4 Inexpensive East Coast Destinations to Travel to With Your Family

It’s amazing how things change when you have kids. Before kids, weekend getaways and trips were fairly easy. When we needed to take a break, I remember we could look at the calendar and twenty minutes later, have a few dates to run by work for time off.  Even the destinations would already be top of mind and after looking for deals on travel sites and asking around, we’d settle with whatever had the best price. Pretty easy.

Fast forward a few years and now we’re parents of an eight-year-old and a four-year-old.  

Those first few years with our little ones were honestly rough. We’re trying to coordinate between two jobs and one school schedule. It was tough finding the perfect time to take a week or so off. Once we had our dates, we’d then have to make sure that we could find a deal. Thankfully, we’ve gotten a little bit wiser. We found our footing and came up with our little system for timing our vacations and snagging some good savings. We’ve also found some spots that allow us to unwind without breaking the budget.  

Affordable Family Vacations to Take This Fall 

While school is back in season, that doesn’t mean you have to write off the rest of the year.  You still have time to take one last getaway to recharge your battery, have some fun, and connect as a family.  

To make things easy for you, I want to share a few of our favorite spots that both we and the kids enjoyed. The cherry on top? They’re also affordable spots!  

Daytona Beach, Florida 

If you’re looking to escape and have some beach time, then Florida is the way to go. However, staying in Orlando is not on the list if you’re looking for a chance to relax and actually save money. Instead, soak up some beach time before the weather gets too cold and hang out for a bit in Daytona Beach.  

When we did our trip last October in Florida, it couldn’t have been more perfect. The weather was still warm, the large crowds of tourists were gone (along with the overpriced hotels), and there were plenty of things to do around.  

Racing fans can enjoy the Daytona International Speedway or if you’re in the mood for stars, you can head over to MOA’s planetarium.  And if your kids really want to visit the Magic Kingdom or Universal Studios, you can make it a more affordable day trip rather than blow your budget by spending your whole time there.  We once went to Universal right after Thanksgiving and were able to skip waiting in line because it was so quiet.  

Charleston, South Carolina 

We took trips to Charleston for the last few Decembers and I have to say, we’ve enjoyed every one. While the temperatures have cooled down a bit, making beach time minimal, we still managed to be out and about. Throw on a jacket, wear your fall layers, and you’re all set to hit the town and enjoy some history and food.  

You have to visit The Tavern at Rainbow Row. Besides being the oldest liquor store in the country, the vibe there is incredible. It’s small, but the selection is wide. Want to have an incredible lunch that’s still cheap? Try out The Blind Tiger. The truffle duck, bourbon bread pudding, buffalo cheese curds are delicious.  

Asheville, North Carolina 

One of our favorite low-key trips we’ve taken was a camping adventure with some friends just outside of Asheville. Being able to see the mountains shift into autumn colors was incredible. If you’re a photographer or love being outdoors, you have to take a trip here. It’s so peaceful and the views are amazing. For the parents, Asheville is the hot spot for fantastic food and a wide array of awesome breweries.   

After spending your days enjoying the parks and maybe getting some tubing in, treat yourself and the kids to Double D’s Coffee and Dessert. It’s a cool double-decker bus in the city that’s also nearby Wicked Weed brewery.  

Tuxedo, New York 

If you absolutely love New York City but also relish some peace and relaxation that a more rural spot gives, then you should check out some of the small towns upstate.   

I may be a little biased since I lived here for a few years, but fall is pretty much the best time to visit. You can truly have the best of both worlds with renting a spot in a town just outside the city.  The Metro-North Railroad means you can take a train to New York City, allowing you to enjoy a scenic ride and skip put on the nightmare of driving in Manhattan.  

Have your day trips to shop, visit the museums, and explore some of the best restaurants. You can then head back to your affordable getaway spot and enjoy some of the local events including celebrating autumn with exquisite apple cider.  

Saving Up for Family Trips 

While you hunt for the deals, you can start now saving up for your trip. You can create a vacation fund as separate savings to keep you motivated.  

Using a tool like Mint makes it easy to track your progress and help you find ways to trim your budget a smidge so you have more money for fun during your trip. Knowing our money leaks allowed us to try some fun monthly challenges to sock away an extra couple hundred dollars.  Keep your vacations debt-free also means there’s less stress as you don’t have to worry about a bill afterward. Double win in my book!  

If you’re looking for tips, please check out my post on how to shift gears and become a savvy saver.  It’s much easier than you think and you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish in one month.  

Your Take on Family Getaways 

Wherever you go, I hope you have a wonderful time together. Now that you know my favorites, I’d love to hear about your spots.  What have been some of your best vacations together?  

 

 

 

The post 4 Inexpensive East Coast Destinations to Travel to With Your Family appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

ByCurtis Watts

Cheap Ways to Keep Kids Entertained During Holiday Break

Cheap Ways to Keep Kids Entertained During Holiday Break is a post originally published on: Everything Finance – Everything Finance – Its all about Money!

During the winter, it can be difficult to keep our kids entertained. Depending upon where you live, it can be really hard to entice them to stay outside for any length of time. And during the holiday break, it seems to be even worse because they don’t have school work to keep them distracted. So, we have found some cheap ways to keep kids entertained during the holiday break and the winter. Some of these ideas won’t cost you a penny, while others may cost a tiny bit of money if you don’t already have items to work with.

Volcano Fun!

If you ever went to a school science fair, I am sure you have seen a homemade volcano at least once in your life. While there are plenty of different ways to make a volcano, there is one that I ran across on accident that I prefer.

One of my favorite ways to keep my drains clear is with baking soda and hydrogen peroxide. The two of them create a chemical reaction that burns away all of the gunk that may be stopping up your drains. And when my kids were younger, they loved to watch me do it because it created a really cool effect.

Which gave me the idea to start using just those two ingredients (and sometimes food coloring when I want to get really crazy) to create homemade volcanoes for them. If you have some playdoh lying around, then that and a plate will do the trick for a volcano vessel.

Just have your kids create a volcano out of the playdoh on the plate, or even on an old piece of wood from the yard. Put a couple of spoonfuls of baking soda into the volcano. Add food coloring for effect, if desired. Then take the volcano outside and add baking soda until you start to see a reaction.

We have done this with snow also, and it was pretty cool to watch the eruption change the shape and color of the snow volcano. However you choose to create the volcano, the kids will love it and it shouldn’t cost you anything to create.

Lego Contest

If you are anything like us, then you probably have some Legos lying around somewhere. In fact, we have two huge bins of them, so there is no shortage of Leg’s around here. During the holidays, one of our favorite things to do with the surplus of Legos is to create a Lego contest.

If you have a ton of them, then the contest can get fairly creative and elaborate. And, depending upon the ages of your children, the contest will vary also. However, some of our favorite Lego contests have been:

  • Best Lego house
  • Most elaborate Lego swimming pool
  • Most creative Lego car
  • Craziest Lego family
  • Biggest Lego city
  • Best Lego luxury boat

These are just a few ideas to get you started, so get creative and have fun!

Treasure Hunt

Having a treasure hunt is always a crowd pleaser and is sure to keep kids entertained. Creating a treasure hunt is similar to the Lego contest, in that it can easily be varied based on the ages of your kids and the environment. If it is too cold outside, then you can keep the treasure hunt inside.

I like to create our treasure hunts so that they are both inside and outside, so the kids can get some fresh air. The easiest way to do this is to create a simple map and create clues to where you have hidden the treasure. The treasure can be anything, really. Hiding candy for pretend gold doubloons are always a favorite of our kids. But, you could also hide a deck of cards, a pair of warm fuzzy socks, or a small set of Legos.

I like to try and find things that we have lying around that the kids have forgotten about to hide as treasure. Sometimes I’ll throw a lollipop or piece of candy in the treasure also, for added excitement.

The treasure can be hidden in an old bag or something more elaborate like a plastic pirate treasure chest with a lock. If you use something like this, then they will have to find the key along the way before they get to the treasure. This is a ton of fun!

Make Your Own Games

Making your own games can also be a lot of fun. Especially if you put the kids in charge of making them. We happen to have a couple of artists in our house who love creating and drawing, so this is a great plan for them.

Just give them some blank paper, scissors, and crayons, markers or colored pencils to get started. Then have them create their own Snakes and Ladders, Candy Land or Pin the Tail on the Donkey game. And it doesn’t even have to be a donkey, but any animal they’d like to pin the tail on.

Let them get creative and really work hard to create their own versions of the games. Once they are done, then comes the real fun for everyone. Making and playing these homemade games can keep kids entertained for hours. Which I am a huge fan of!

Obstacle Course

And last, but definitely not least, creating an obstacle course is always a ton of fun. We like to use things such as:

  • Old boards
  • Chairs
  • Buckets
  • Planters
  • Hammock
  • Garden hose
  • Plastic bins
  • Rakes
  • Shovels

Creating an obstacle course is something that we usually prefer to create outside, just so there’s less chance of slamming into walls or furniture. But, it could be created indoors also, if the weather outside simply won’t comply.

Have your kids work on finding the raw materials around the house or yard to create the obstacle course with. Then have them create the obstacle course, which needs to be realistically doable. Then, you can time each kid running the obstacle course to see who the winner is.

After the course has been run a few times, then have the kids rearrange to create a completely different course. This is an activity that can not only keep them busy for hours but help burn out some energy and get them some fresh air. Bonus!


These are some fantastic, cheap ways to keep kids entertained!
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Keep Kids Entertained Summary

When it comes to the holidays and too much free time, there are many ways to keep kids entertained. And they don’t have to cost you very much if any, money. Use what you have at your disposal first, so you don’t have to buy anything extra. So, creating a volcano or an obstacle course might be great first choices. After you’ve tried those, I would suggest having your kids make their own games and a Lego contest, followed up by a massive treasure hunt. No matter which options you choose, your kids are sure to be entertained, which makes everyone’s life much easier.

What ideas do you have to help keep kids entertained during the holidays this year?

Cheap Ways to Keep Kids Entertained During Holiday Break is a post originally published on: Everything Finance – Everything Finance – Its all about Money!

Source: everythingfinanceblog.com

ByCurtis Watts

Seven things college freshmen don’t need — and ten they do

This article originally appeared on NerdWalletThose ubiquitous checklists of “dorm room essentials” for college freshmen are filled with items that will be ditched by the end of first semester.

Some parents “go to the store and grab a list like they did when their kids were in elementary and high school and just go straight down the list,” says Lisa Heffernan, mother of three sons and a college-shopping veteran. Or they buy things they only wish their students will use (looking at you, cleaning products).

You can safely skip about 70% of things on those lists, estimates Asha Dornfest, the author of Parent Hacks and mother of a rising college sophomore who’s home for the summer.

What Not to Buy or Bring

Freshmen really need just two things, says Heffernan, co-founder of the blog Grown and Flown: a good mattress topper and a laptop.

Here are seven items you can skip:

  • Printer. Don’t waste desk space or, worse, store it under the bed; printers are plentiful on campus.
  • TV. Students may watch on laptops or on TVs in common areas or in someone else’s room. Bonus: Your teen gets out and meets others.
  • Speakers. Small spaces don’t require powerful speakers; earphones may be a good idea and respectful of roommates.
  • Car. Some colleges bar freshmen from having cars on campus or limit their parking. You also may save on insurance by keeping the car at home.
  • Luggage. If you bring it, you must store it. Heffernan suggests collapsible blue Ikea storage bags with zippers.
  • Toiletries to last until May. Bulk buying may save money, but you need storage space.
  • Duplicates of anything provided by the college, such as a lamp, wastebasket, desk chair or dresser.

Items left behind when students pack for the summer are telling. Luke Jones, director of housing and residence life at Boise State University, sees unopened food — a lot of ramen and candy — and stuffed animals and mirrors.

Jones says many students regret bringing high school T-shirts and memorabilia and some of their clothes (dorm closets typically are tiny).

What Can You Buy, Then?

Before you shop, find out what the college forbids (candles, space heaters, electric blankets and halogen lights are common). Have your student check with assigned roommates about appliances (who’s bringing a fridge or microwave?) and color scheme if they want to set one. Know the dimensions of the room and the size of the bed. And most of all, know your budget. Not everything has to be brand new.

Ten things — besides the all-important mattress topper and laptop — that many students consider dorm room essentials include:

  • One or two fitted sheets in the correct bed size, plus pillowcases. Heffernan says most students don’t use top sheets.
  • Comforter or duvet with washable cover.
  • Towels in a distinctive pattern or light enough for labeling with laundry marker, plus shower sandals.
  • Power cord with surge protector and USB ports.
  • Basic first aid kit.
  • Easy-to-use storage. If it’s a lot of work to get something out, your student won’t, Heffernan says.
  • Cleaning wipes. Students might not touch products that require multiple steps, but they might use wipes, according to Heffernan.
  • Reading pillow with back support for studying in bed.
  • Area rug. Floors are often hard and cold.
  • Comfort items. Dornfest says it could be a blanket or a picture of the dog — something from home that will make the space a bit more personal.

Afraid you’ll forget something important? You might, Heffernan says. But chances are, you or your student can order it online and get it delivered. Consider doing this with some items simply to avoid the hassle of bringing them yourself, and remember that “dorm necessities” often go on sale once school starts.

Do a Reality Check

If you or your student still want to replicate the rooms you’ve seen on Instagram and Pinterest, think about how the room will actually be used.

Once your son or daughter moves in, the room will never look like that again. Opt for sturdy items and be realistic. Will throw pillows make the place look more homey and inviting, or will they be tossed on the floor until parents’ weekend?

Dornfest, a co-host of the Edit Your Life podcast, offers a compelling reason not to make things too comfortable. “A freshman needs to be encouraged to get out of the dorm room,” she says. “Anything that pulls you into campus life can be good.”

She’s not advocating a monk-like environment, but rather one that encourages breaking out of routines. College should be a time to try new things and meet people from different backgrounds. Dornfest advises making the bed as comfortable as possible and keeping a few reminders of home. The ideal dorm room is more launch pad than cocoon.

More from Nerdwallet

  • Budgeting for College Students
  • How to Build Credit at 18
  • How to Choose a Student Credit Card

The article 7 Things College Freshmen Don’t Need — and 10 They Do originally appeared on NerdWallet.

Source: getrichslowly.org

ByCurtis Watts

What to Know Before Taking Out a Subsidized Loan

Attending college or university is a dream for a ton of people. Yet higher education can be expensive, seemingly putting that dream out of reach for many students and families.

Tuition at American schools has steadily increased for decades, so it can be hard for your average student to afford it. But it’s not only tuition costs that you need to consider: fees, room and board, off-campus living, meal plans, textbooks, living essentials and other supplies all cost money.

Fortunately, there are many different types of financial aid available to help you meet the total costs of attending school.

Grants, scholarships and government programs can all be used to aid your pursuit of higher education. Student loans, including private and federal loans, are also commonly used to fund college. But taking on debt requires more financial planning than other types of aid.

If you’re ready to find the right loan for you and your unique financial situation, we’ve got you covered. We’ll go over everything and anything we think you need to know about subsidized student loans—the basics, how they’re different from unsubsidized loans and much more. 

Student Loans and Rising Education Costs

Having a plan for how you’ll pay for college is pretty important. That’s mostly because the tuition continues rise: 

  • According to The College Board, tuition and fees for a public four-year institution in the academic year of 1989–90 were $3,510, in 2019 dollars. 
  • For the academic year 2019–2020, those costs exceeded $10,000. In the same time span, tuition and fees for a private four-year institution rose from $17,860 to nearly $37,000. 
  • In the last 10 years alone, tuition and fees for four-year public schools have increased $2,020, while costs for four-year private schools have grown $6,210. 

But as we mentioned, total costs include a lot more than tuition, and these other cost items have shown the same upward trend:

  • Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows college textbooks costs increased 88% from 2006 to 2016.
  • Average dorm costs at all postsecondary institutions were $6,106 in 2017, per data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Boarding costs, including meal plans, were $4,765. A decade earlier those costs, respectively, were $4,777 and $4,009.
  • Costs rose 24% for students living off-campus at public four-year universities between 2000 and 2017, according to The Hechinger Report.

The growth in college costs has occurred rapidly, outpacing wagegrowth. This has made a degree unaffordable for many. That’s where student loans come in.

The biggest source of these loans is the federal government. According to Sallie Mae, more than 90% of student loan debt today is tied to federal student loans. While the government offers several loan types, often based on financial need, private lenders such as banks and credit unions also make student loans available.

Find the right student loan for you today!

What is a Subsidized Loan?

To better understand your loan options, let’s explore the specifics of one of the government’s most popular offers: the subsidized student loan.

Officially, a subsidized loan is a type of federal loan offered through the U.S. Department of Education’s Direct Loan Program and referred to as a Direct Subsidized Loan. They are made exclusively to undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need and can be used to pay for college, university or a career school.

Subsidized loans work like most other student loans. They allow college goers to borrow money as they learn, paying the principal and interest back later. Most loans don’t require repayment while you attend school, and provide a grace period of six months after graduation for you to find a job. 

The most notable feature of subsidized loans is that the government pays the interest while you attend school at least part time. This is a quality that’s pretty much unique to federal subsidized loans. 

The government will also pay the interest during the grace period and during periods of loan deferment. You eventually assume responsibility for paying the interest, and principal, once you enter the repayment plan. 

The bottom line for subsidized loans is they carry a lower lifetime cost, because the government pays interest while you’re at school.

Who’s Eligible to Take Out a Subsidized Loan?

Subsidized loans aren’t available to everyone, however. In addition to meeting basic requirements for getting a loan from the federal Direct Loan Program, applicants for subsidized loans must:

  • Demonstrate financial need.
  • Be an undergraduate student.
  • Be enrolled at least half time.

Anyone considering a subsidized loan must fill out and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. This is how the government will establish whether you demonstrate financial need that is sufficient for taking out a subsidized loan.

What Else Should You Know?

There are two other main points to discuss about subsidized loans—loan limits and time limits. Ultimately, your school will decide how much you can borrow. But there are annual limits to what you can borrow through subsidized loans, as well as a maximum for the entirety of your college career.

  • In your first undergrad year you can borrow up to $5,500 through federal loan, no more than $3,500 of that amount can be through subsidized loans.
  • In your second year you can borrow up to $6,500, no more than $4,500 through subsidized loans.
  • In your third year you can borrow up to $7,500, no more than $5,500 through subsidized loans.
  • The limits for your third year apply to your fourth year, and any year after that for which you are eligible to borrow through federal subsidized loans.

Factors influencing what you can borrow include what year you are in school and whether you are a dependent or independent student. 

Importantly, you can only receive subsidized loans for 150% of the published time of your degree program. That means if you attend a four-year bachelor’s program, you can only receive a subsidized loan for six years.

What’s the Difference Between Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans?

Unsubsidized loans are the other type of loan the government offers. While unsubsidized loans and subsidized have some similarities, unsubsidized loans have some major differences.  

Interest rates for both subsidized and unsubsidized loans are controlled and set by Congress. This makes the interest rates for government student loans among the lowest you will be able to find.

While the federal government pays interest on subsidized loans, you’ll be solely responsible for paying interest on unsubsidized loans. You’ll have to pay interest while you’re in school and during the grace/deferment period.  Here are some other key differences:

  • Unsubsidized loans are available to undergraduate students, as well as graduate and professional students.
  • Students don’t need to demonstrate financial need to apply for an unsubsidized loan.
  • There is no maximum time limit for how long you can receive unsubsidized loans (compared to the 150% rule for subsidized loans).
  • Annual and aggregate loan limits are generally higher for unsubsidized loans.

Private Loans vs. Federal Student Loans

Interested in how private loans stack up to government loans? In a nutshell:

  • Private loans can have variable interest rates, which may make them lower in some cases than even fixed interest rates on government loans.
  • Annual loan limits don’t apply to private loans, as you and your lender will work out a package that is best for you.
  • Being approved for a private loan means submitting to a credit check, or having a parent as a consigner.
  • Often, private loans require payment while you attend school, and may not have the allowance for forbearance and forgiveness as government loans do.

Taking the Next Steps Toward Taking Out a Student Loan

If you or your child is nearing college age, it’s time to start thinking about how you’ll pay for higher education. It’s a good idea to look into a few options, including student loans, scholarships, grants and other sources. 

If you want to get started on applying for a subsidized loan, get started on your FAFSA form. And if you’re taking a closer look at private student loans, you can find help here.

Infographic outlining what to know about subsidized loans, including their structure, requirements, and qualifications.

The post What to Know Before Taking Out a Subsidized Loan appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

ByCurtis Watts

5 Legal Documents You Need During a Pandemic

As Americans grapple with how to stay physically and financially healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s critical to make sure you and your family have the right emergency documents. It’s much easier to prepare for a potential disaster than to recover from one that blind-sides you. After a tragedy occurs, it may be too late to make critical decisions.

Let's talk about the different emergency documents and why you may need to create or update existing paperwork. If you get COVID-19 or have another unexpected illness or accident, these documents will help you manage your finances and make essential decisions with more clarity and less stress.   

5 emergency and legal documents to have during a pandemic

Instead of being caught off guard during a difficult time, consider if you should have these five legal documents.

1. Last will and testament

The purpose of a will is to communicate your final wishes after you die. Too many people don’t have one of these incredibly important documents because they mistakenly believe it’s something just for old rich people.

The fact is, every adult should have a will. If you die without one, the courts decide what happens to your possessions, not your family.

The fact is, every adult should have a will. If you die without one, the courts decide what happens to your possessions, not your family.

And once you have a will, don’t forget to update it periodically to make sure it addresses all your wishes, assets, and beneficiaries. Critical life events—such as getting married, divorced, having a child, or losing a spouse or partner—should trigger you to update your will.

If you’re starting from scratch, make an inventory of your assets—like bank accounts, investments, real estate, vehicles, expensive belongings, and sentimental possessions—and decide what you want to happen to them. You can list beneficiaries for specific items, like who gets a piece of heirloom jewelry or an artwork collection. You can also create distribution percentages, such as 50 percent of the value of your assets go to your partner and 50 percent to your only child.

In addition to dealing with your possessions, a will allows you to name a guardian for your minor children.

In addition to dealing with your possessions, a will allows you to name a guardian for your minor children. And don’t forget to leave instructions for what you want to happen to your pets, digital assets, intellectual property, and business assets. You can create a plan for your funeral, such as where you want to be buried and whether you want your organs donated.

Someone must carry out your final wishes and legal details. You can name a designated family member, friend, or attorney to be your “executor” and handle all the arrangements. Depending on the size of your estate, this can be a challenging and time-consuming task. So, make sure they’re capable and willing to do the job.

The bottom line is that having a will makes death easier for the loved ones of the deceased. It can help keep peace in your family by settling disagreements, minimizing bureaucracy, and even saving your heirs from unnecessary expenses. You don’t need a lawyer to create a will, but if you have a high net worth or many different types of assets, it’s a good idea to hire one.

2. Living will

In addition to a last will, you also need a living will. This document specifies what you’d want to happen regarding your end-of-life care. It would help if you were unresponsive for an extended period or in the final stages of a terminal condition.

Having a living will makes your wishes clear when you’re facing death. It’s an essential guide for family and doctors who might need to know if you’d want to extend your life by artificial means or to die without any interventions.

3. Health care proxy

When it comes to your health care, another critical document is a health care proxy. You might also hear this called a health care power of attorney or a health care surrogate. In it, you designate someone to make medical decisions for you when you can’t.

Imagine that you’re in an accident or come down with a severe illness and become mentally incapacitated. Having a health care proxy allows the person(s) you choose as your representative to make medical decisions for you or admit you into a health care facility.

Having a health care proxy allows the person(s) you choose as your representative to make medical decisions for you or admit you into a health care facility.

You might want to name two proxies in case one isn’t available when you need them. Consider who you’d trust with your care and discuss the responsibilities and your wishes with them.

Some hospitals won’t allow medical professionals to disclose any information about you—even to your health care proxy—unless you have a HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability) medical privacy release. Your family needs to speak to your doctor about your medical situation without creating a legal problem for the doctor, so consider having this legal document as well.

4. Power of attorney

Even if you don’t need a designated proxy to make medical decisions for you, you likely need someone you trust to help with other types of decisions, such as managing your finances or legal affairs. Creating a power of attorney (POA) allows another person to stand in for you as an agent if you’re incapable of making routine transactions, such as paying bills or signing contracts.

You can use it power of attorney any time you’re not capable of doing something like selling real estate, making insurance claims, filing taxes, or making financial decisions.

There are different kinds of POAs, but the most common is a durable power of attorney. You can use it any time you’re not capable of doing something like selling real estate, making insurance claims, filing taxes, or making financial decisions. You can also create one or more limited powers of attorney, which name people to act on your behalf for specific transactions during a limited period.

Having a POA is how the financial end of your life can run smoothly if you become incapacitated. It’s also a tool for giving someone the authority to manage nearly any aspect of your life if you’re unavailable or don’t have time to handle it yourself.

5.  Childcare authorization

If you’re the parent of a young child, you should have a childcare authorization. This document can address a variety of situations, such as whether your child’s school or daycare can release them to another individual.

You can use this authorization to allow someone else, such as a partner or nanny, to temporarily make decisions for your child in your unexpected absence.

Do you need emergency documents if you’re married?

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you don’t need emergency or legal documents because you’re married. While a spouse may be able to make some crucial decisions for you, you could both die or become incapacitated at the same time.

Let’s say your spouse is in a coma in the hospital due to a disease or accident. If you had a financial hardship and needed to sell assets, such as jointly owned investments or real estate, it could be difficult. Each of you would have to authorize the transaction.

Married couples and domestic partners should give each other power of attorney to avoid having financial restrictions during a crisis. And each of you should have wills and healthcare proxies.

Therefore, married couples and domestic partners should give each other power of attorney to avoid having financial restrictions during a crisis. And each of you should have wills and healthcare proxies.

Also, consider what would happen to your minor children if you and your spouse were in an accident together. It’s critical to name a guardian in your will, so the court doesn’t appoint one for you that you may not like.

Where should you keep emergency documents?

Keep your original signed legal documents safe, such as at your attorney’s office, in a fireproof safe, or a bank safe deposit box. Also, maintain copies of everything at home in case you need them at night or on the weekend. You should scan and upload them to a cloud-based storage service, such as Dropbox or Evernote.

Do yourself and your family a favor by getting all your emergency documents created as soon as possible. If you already have them, put an annual reminder on your calendar to make any necessary updates. You’ll feel at ease knowing you’re as prepared as possible for the unexpected. Your emergency documents make sure that you and your children’s future is protected no matter what happens.

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

ByCurtis Watts

Dear Penny: How Do I Save for Retirement on a Teacher’s Salary?

Dear Penny,

I’m 51 years old and don’t have a large nest egg. I’m a single parent with three kids. I’m a second career middle school teacher, so there is not a lot of money left over each month. 

How much money should I be saving to be able to retire in my 70s? Where should I invest that money?

-B.

Dear B.,

You still have 20 years to build your nest egg if all goes as planned. Sure, you’ve missed out on the extra years of compounding you’d have gotten had you accumulated substantial savings in your 20s and 30s. But that’s not uncommon. I’ve gotten plenty of letters from people in their 50s or 60s with nothing saved who are asking how they can retire next year.

I like that you’re already planning to work longer to make up for a late start. But here’s my nagging concern: What if you can’t work into your 70s?

The unfortunate reality is that a lot of workers are forced to retire early for a host of reasons. They lose their jobs, or they have to stop for health reasons or to care for a family member. So it’s essential to have a Plan B should you need to leave the workforce earlier than you’d hoped.

Retirement planning naturally comes with a ton of uncertainty. But since I don’t know what you earn, whether you have debt or how much you have saved, I’m going to have to respond to your question about how much to save with the vague and unsatisfying answer of: “As much as you can.”

Perhaps I can be more helpful if we work backward here. Instead of talking about how much you need to save, let’s talk about how much you need to retire. You can set savings goals from there.

The standard advice is that you need to replace about 70% to 80% of your pre-retirement income. Of course, if you can retire without a mortgage or any other debt, you could err on the lower side — perhaps even less.

For the average worker, Social Security benefits will replace about 40% of income. If you’re able to work for another two decades and get your maximum benefit at age 70, you can probably count on your benefit replacing substantially more. Your benefit will be up to 76% higher if you can delay until you’re 70 instead of claiming as early as possible at 62. That can make an enormous difference when you’re lacking in savings.

But since a Plan B is essential here, let’s only assume that your Social Security benefits will provide 40%. So you need at least enough savings to cover 30%.

If you have a retirement plan through your job with an employer match, getting that full contribution is your No. 1 goal. Once you’ve done that, try to max out your Roth IRA contribution. Since you’re over 50, you can contribute $7,000 in 2021, but for people younger than 50, the limit is $6,000.

If you maxed out your contributions under the current limits by investing $583 a month and earn 7% returns, you’d have $185,000 after 15 years. Do that for 20 years and you’d have a little more than $300,000. The benefit to saving in a Roth IRA is that the money will be tax-free when you retire.

The traditional rule of thumb is that you want to limit your retirement withdrawals to 4% each year to avoid outliving your savings. But that rule assumes you’ll be retired for 30 years. Of course, the longer you work and avoid tapping into your savings, the more you can withdraw later on.

Choosing what to invest in doesn’t need to be complicated. If you open an IRA through a major brokerage, they can use algorithms to automatically invest your money based on your age and when you want to retire.

By now you’re probably asking: How am I supposed to do all that as a single mom with a teacher’s salary? It pains me to say this, but yours may be a situation where even the most extreme budgeting isn’t enough to make your paycheck stretch as far as it needs to go. You may need to look at ways to earn additional income. Could you use the summertime or at least one weekend day each week to make extra money? Some teachers earn extra money by doing online tutoring or teaching English as a second language virtually, for example.

I hate even suggesting that. Anyone who teaches middle school truly deserves their time off. But unfortunately, I can’t change the fact that we underpay teachers. I want a solution for you that doesn’t involve working forever. That may mean you have to work more now.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to AskPenny@thepennyhoarder.com.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

ByCurtis Watts

Mint Money Audit: Making the Most of a Side Hustle

This week’s Mint audit introduces us to Selena, 48, a mom of two living in San Antonio, Texas. She is a community college director and her husband, 51, is a full-time graphic designer who also manages a booming side hustle in the same industry.

Selena and her husband have already achieved some impressive financial accomplishments, thanks to tracking their finances on Mint, leveraging coupons and shopping at thrift stores. They’ve paid off $52,000 in student loans and invested in a piece of land next door for $26,000, which they believe has appreciated by nearly 40% since purchasing it a few years ago.

But with retirement looming and two children (currently ages 9 and 12) to possibly put through college, Selena wants to learn about additional money moves that could better prepare them for future expenses. She would also love to pay off the family’s 30-year mortgage before she retires in the next 10 to 12 years. Currently they’re on track to pay it down by 2030.

First, a breakdown of their finances:

NET INCOME

  • Hers: $56,000
  • His: $40,000 plus an additional $40,000 in freelance work
  • Total: $136,000 per year

DEBT

  • Just paid off student loans and a property loan (for the lot next door)
  • Credit Card Debt: $0
  • Mortgage: $163,000 (Monthly payment, including real estate tax, is $1,985)
  • Car note: $5,300 (should be paid off within the year)

RETIREMENT SAVINGS

  • Selena’s teacher pension: Roughly $5,000 per month at retirement if she retires in 12 years ($3,800 if she retires in 6 years).
  • Various IRAs between the two of them: $65,000
  • Estimated social security payments: $2,500 to $3,000 (combined)
  • Husband does not have a 401(k)

RAINY DAY SAVINGS

In an emergency, the family has at least six months of expenses saved up or roughly $35,000.

COLLEGE SAVINGS

Selena and her husband haven’t specifically saved for their children’s college education. They’re concerned that a 529-college savings plan might limit their children’s options, if they didn’t choose to attend a traditional college program.

Recommendations

Leverage the Side Hustle

All in all, I think the family’s finances are in solid shape. But if they’re interested in further securing their future, I would suggest investing the annual side hustle income (which currently sits in a bank account earning no interest) to advance retirement savings and carve out an account for their two children.

Starting that side hustle was a very smart money move because it effectively boosted the family’s net income by 40%. And according to Selena, the business, which they operate out of their living room, is only growing, with profits expected to grow another 30% in the future.

Income from side hustles is how I managed to pay off debt in my 20’s and boost savings. Today, it’s more prevalent among working Americans. More than 44 million Americans have a side revenue stream, according to a recent survey by Bankrate. “Having a side hustle is fiscally responsible,” says Susie Moore, founder of the program Side Hustle Made Simple and the new book, “What If It Does Work Out: How a Side Hustle Can Change Your Life.” “It’s an economic hedge that mitigates disruption to wealth building and future planning. There is no such thing as a fixed income,” she says.

So, let’s do some math and see how far this $40,000 per year side revenue stream can go using a compound interest calculator.

Retirement

The couple’s retirement nest egg is not too shabby. Not including their existing IRAs, the couple has about $8,000 a month coming to them in retirement between social security and Selena’s pension. That amount, alone, basically replaces their current full-time income. (And I do recommend Selena wait 12 years before retiring so that she can take advantage of the maximum pension payment.)

But with all the uncertainty around social security and future health care costs, it can’t hurt to save a little more, right? By placing $6,500 in a Roth IRA each year for the next, say, 15 years (Selena’s husband can qualify for the catch-up contribution since he is 5- years old), they’ll have an additional $142,000 for retirement that won’t be subject to taxes. This assumes an average annual return of 4%. They can open a Roth IRA at any bank.

Future Savings for Children

While a 529 plan may not be the best fit for this family, Selena still would like to carve out savings for her kids’ future endeavors, be it to start a business or attend an alternative school. For this, I’d recommend opening a 5-year certificate of deposit or CD and placing $25,000 in it this year. The going yield right now for a 5-year CD at that deposit level is averaging a little more than 2%.

Then, every year, as income rolls in from the side hustle, create a new 5-year CD and deposit $25,000 in it. Do this for the next four or five years. All CDs will have matured by the time her youngest is starting college (or pursuing something else). And they’ll have at least $100,000 plus interest reserved for their kids. If they do choose to go to college, the family’s prepared to help pay for in-state tuition at one of the fine Texas universities.

Mortgage Payoff

After funding the Roth IRA each year ($6,500) and the annual CD contribution ($25,000), the family’s left with $8,500. They could choose to put this toward the mortgage principal to knock a few years off their payoff schedule. Or, they may want to just hold onto it for that annual family vacation. And if I’m being honest, I’d say, go for the vacation! They deserve it!

The post Mint Money Audit: Making the Most of a Side Hustle appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com