An Appreciation of My Father


I’m pretty sure that my father will read this sometime today or tomorrow, or else my mother will read it aloud to him. In either case, I’ll start off with the most important thing: thank you, dad, for everything I’ve written about below and so much more.

My father is in his mid seventies now, and simply typing that is almost unbelievable to me. I have a lifetime of memories and experiences and lessons from him, but an awful lot of them come from my memories of him when he was approximately the same age I am now, so I guess that realizing this lately – that my earlier memories of him are from when he was roughly the same age that I am now – has caused me to think a lot about him, the kind of person he’s been, the life he’s led, and the lessons that I’ve learned from him.

My most vibrant memories of him from when I was young was that he was pretty much constantly busy with something. He had a factory job where he seemed to be constantly switching shifts and alternating between working overtime and having periods where he was laid off. Almost every moment when he was at home and not sleeping, he was doing something. He was a part-time commercial fisherman. He had multiple very large gardens, some summers having four or more that were several hundred square feet each. At various times in my childhood, we had a goat, several pigs, a chicken pen and shed full of hens and a rooster, and a bunch of rabbits, all raised for our own food, and he was largely responsible (outside of specific chores he handed down to myself and my brothers) for keeping those systems going. He knew how to handle a lot of different repairs on older cars and would often handle those repairs in our driveway or our garage. He was a pretty good welder. He was really good at foraging for berries and mushrooms in the woods. That’s just a partial list of the things he had going and could do.

Part of the reason he was able to pull all of this off is that he typically worked an evening shift at his factory job, which he did most of the time when I was growing up. This meant that he would go to work each day around 2 in the afternoon, work a roughly 3 PM to 11:30 PM shift, and get home slightly after midnight each night. He’d collapse in bed and then wake up around 7 or 8, spending the morning tackling a seemingly endless list of chores from all of those side gigs, eat lunch, take a brief nap, and then head to work again.

What did I learn from all of that? Work ethic. He kept busy until he was genuinely tired, and then he would rest at the end of the day for a while. There was never much downtime with him; he was constantly doing something, whether it was going to work or working on some project.

Of course, this meant that during the school year, I’d usually only see my father for perhaps a brief moment in the morning each day if he happened to wake up before the bus got there, but usually I wouldn’t see him from Sunday evening until Saturday morning when he was working a full week. My mother was often the only parent around during the week when I was in school through all of elementary school and well into high school when he had enough seniority to consistently get on the day shift.

I knew that he was always working hard for us in an incredibly reliable way. He’d get up, go into work, never be late, and do his job well. He always had plenty of overtime opportunities, too. He never missed work unless he seemed to be on death’s door due to illness. He taught me, through his actions, that a big part of success was showing up reliably and doing what you’re supposed to reliably. When I look at life through that lens, it’s pretty apparent that simply showing up and being reliable in terms of what you say you’ll do is an enormous part of being valued and trusted by others.

When I was younger, I understood why my father wasn’t always there, but I didn’t like it. Whenever I had some sort of event after school or something like that, he was almost always working; the person in the crowd was always my mother and sometimes my maternal grandmother. I recognize now that this experience was part of my motivation to find a flexible career path.

This does not mean my father was absent, oh no. What it meant was that weekends and summers tended to be a giant blur of activity. My childhood involved a lot of mushroom hunting, a lot of fishing, a lot of gardening, and all kinds of things of that nature. On the weekends, I would often tag along with him on whatever he might be doing that day, and I saw the number of things he always had going on.

What really stuck with me about all of this was that my father was really just balancing a number of streams of income for our family all the time. He made a blue collar income from the factory, but when things were good (particularly in the summer), that was supplemented by his fishing income, by having a ton of fresh produce for “free” from the garden (and some of the excess would be sold), and by a few dollars here and a few dollars there from all kinds of things, from collecting aluminum cans to doing a bit of spot welding.

This really inspired me to have a lot of side gigs of my own for just that purpose – to diversify my own income to provide further stability for me and for my family, regardless of what may come. The Simple Dollar started as a side gig. I had (and still occasionally have) a side gig of repairing computers for people in my community. I’ve written books and freelance articles as a side gig. My wife and I have a decent vegetable garden that keeps our food costs low in the middle to late summer. I’ve dabbled in many other side gigs over the years as well, with varying degrees of success. If I suddenly were out of work, my family would not have to suffer without an income for very long, as there are lots of ways I can immediately amp up a different income stream.

At the same time, having a lot of side gigs means developing a lot of useful skills. You have to develop some time management skills. You have to develop some personal interaction skills. You have to develop technical skills for whatever your specific side gig happens to entail. I watched these skills at work all the time as I watched my father growing up, and I’d like to think that, at my best moments, I possess a lot of these skills, too. I can design a website. I can catch a fish. I can grow pretty much anything from seed. I can write a treatise. I can write complex computer code. I can fix a ton of different devices. I can converse with all kinds of people and get along with them. I’m good at managing my time. I’m good at solving the problems life has put before me. I’m good at learning things quickly. Much of that is due to side gigs, and the inspiration for all of that is my father.

My father was very careful with his money in many ways. He was a bit of a collector of random items that he found for free, and he could find uses for all kinds of stuff. He never liked to throw anything away and sometimes that meant an overly cluttered garage and shed, but when something needed doing or fixing, he usually had a tool or an item that would fit the bill. We always used stuff until it broke, and even when it broke, we’d often fix it up and keep on going with it.

I particularly remember my old Nintendo Game Boy, which was a faithful companion of mine on road trips. I used and abused that thing and, over the years, it broke in several different ways. Many families wold have just tossed it out after the first breakage, but not us. My old man would go out in the garage, find some super glue, and get the thing back in working order, or he’d mess around in the battery compartment until the batteries would again stay in place and deliver a charge. It wasn’t junk until it broke and he couldn’t fix it, and even then, we might hold onto the item for spare parts.

Another thing that my father did that didn’t really click with me until I was older was that he boxed out time for genuine leisure. He didn’t like to just sit around doing nothing, but he made sure there was time for doing things that he genuinely enjoyed doing. He would go squirrel hunting. He would go fishing (for fun with a pole, not commercially). He absolutely loved puzzles, both then and now; jigsaw puzzles and logic puzzles like sudoku are his wheelhouse (I actually think this scratches a mental itch for him similar to how strategic board games scratch an itch for me). Camping was a consistent part of growing up; most summers involved at least one camping trip of some length at least until I approached high school age. The important thing to note is that he really blocked off time for these things. There might be things left undone, but if he was planning to spend a few hours fishing one day, that time was sacrosanct and we went fishing.

Perhaps more than anything, though, his love for reading and learning new things has rubbed off on me. He’d read the newspaper virtually every morning, and still does. He’d dive into articles and editorials on things he knew little about just to learn what they were about. Most evenings, when he was physically tired but his mind wasn’t ready for bed yet, he’d kick back with a book of some kind for half an hour or so – often it was a western, but it could be some nonfiction book about gardening or, sometimes, a magazine on any sort of topic.

What do I do when I get up each morning? I usually read for a while, usually for the purpose of learning something, to get my mind going. What do I do before I go to bed basically every night? I read for a while, usually a novel of some kind. Those kinds of patterns rub off, and it’s why I make it a point to read where my kids can see me reading. Now, all three of my kids often read in the last half an hour or so before they go to sleep – usually a novel of some kind.

There’s no denying that we didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up, but my parents always made sure that there was enough to go around for the things we needed. There were always nutritious meals on the table and clothes on our backs. We didn’t travel much; most of our summer “vacations” were camping trips not too terribly far from home. I only remember two real “vacations” in my childhood, and they were both just two or three day affairs. When I was young, my mother was a stay-at-home mom that made the most out of the money that my father earned, meaning that together they found ways to transform even the leanest money moments into meals and clothing and security and togetherness, the things I most needed as a child.

That doesn’t mean I went without things that I wanted. They made absolutely sure that I always had books to read and things to occupy my mind, as I was an endlessly curious kid.

I also remember a few moments of unexpected splurges and surprises, but it was the rarity and surprise of those moments that really make them stand out. I remember that when I was very young, around six or seven years old, I was very into Masters of the Universe action figures. A local five-and-dime store was going out of business and my father and I went to see what was on sale there. They had a bin that had a whole bunch of Masters of the Universe figures in it and a sign that said $1 each. I didn’t even ask for any – I was just looking through them a bit while my father looked at some other items, but when he came back, he just stood there for a minute, probably figuring out what he could afford in his head, and said, “Get five of ’em.” You never saw a happier seven year old toting around bags with his new action figures in them.

I remember vividly one winter when my father’s factory almost went out of business and they had to lay off almost everyone for several months. Wintertime was really hard on my father’s side gigs, too, so there wasn’t much money to go around. Christmas was really lean that year, without many presents, and I remember sensing that my parents were really worried. I know my father was doing everything he could to bring in money, including doing some rather dangerous ice fishing where he would cut large holes in the ice and dredge for fish. He was using virtually every trick he could think of to keep enough money coming in so that there was food on the table and the mortgage got paid.

When the factory finally started up again, I actually didn’t know about it at first because my father started working a really unusual overnight shift; he would actually leave for work after I went to bed and get home just after I went to school and sleep during the day, getting up about the time I got home from school. From my perspective, things hadn’t really changed at all.

What I do remember is that after about two weeks of this, my father came home from being out and about on some errand and he came into the room with a huge grin on his face and pulled out from under his coat a video game that I had wanted for several months and had hoped to get for Christmas but didn’t.

When I was younger, I just remember the utter surprise of the gift and how excited I was. Now that I’m older, I see how much care went into it. My parents obviously knew what I wanted for Christmas and they couldn’t afford it, but they didn’t forget. They just made Christmas perfectly wonderful anyway, even though they had little money and couldn’t afford the video game I wanted, and then when they could afford it, they remembered and surprised me with it. It wasn’t the video game that mattered, it was the care and thought and love behind it. They loved me deeply, wanted me to be happy, thought about me, and made tough choices in the background so I wouldn’t have to think about them at all. I was loved and cared for even when we didn’t have much, and that’s really what the memory of that video game was all about.

My dad is older now; as I mentioned earlier, he’s in his mid seventies and, like everyone, he doesn’t get around with the speed and vigor that he’s used to. He’s still there for me, though, offering little bits of advice to me here and there and being a wonderful grandpa to my kids. I love watching him sort through coins with my oldest son (the child I have who has an interest in coin collecting), marveling at the growing artistic skill of my daughter (who I firmly believe has the potential to be a professional fantasy artist), having surprisingly deep conversations with my youngest son, and laughing at all of their shenanigans. He won’t always be here, and the thought of my life without him around is just a little sadder, but I know from my own life routines that there will still be a lot of him in the world when he’s not here any more.

There are so many threads from all of these stories that tie directly into the life that I’m leading right now. There are so many great examples and lessons that he gave me that I put to use literally every single day in my life, from how to be a good father to how to keep our spending low, from keeping up a lot of side gigs and projects and hobbies to using stuff until it wears out, from never getting tired of reading and learning new things to being a good husband, much of what I am today comes from him, to knowing how to love and care for your children and your wife without much money by putting care and thought first, and many of the lessons and ideas I’ve shared on The Simple Dollar comes from a awkward little kid with glasses making muddy trenches in the garden with his father or riding alongside him in a pickup truck.

Thanks, Dad, for everything.



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Summer Vacation!


Well, apparently I need a vacation after my European vacation! I’ve come home to a Real Life in which I have too much to do and not enough time to do it. The yard needs pruning, the house needs cleaning, my body needs exercise, friends need visiting, and this website needs lots of work behind the scenes.

Rather than try to spread myself to thin — my modus operandi — I’m going to do the wise thing: I’m going to take a break. For the next two weeks, I won’t be publishing anything new here at Get Rich Slowly. (I will, however, continue to send out the Friday emails. And I’ll continue to update the Spare Change section on the front page with cool links from other sites.)

While this isn’t an ideal solution, I think it’s best for the long-term. I have a lot of travel coming up later this summer. (I’m basically on the road from August 15th to October 15th.) If I don’t make time now to take care of things, I’ll wish I had.

So, go outside and enjoy the summer sun! I’ll see you again on July 1st.

Author: J.D. Roth

In 2006, J.D. founded Get Rich Slowly to document his quest to get out of debt. Over time, he learned how to save and how to invest. Today, he’s managed to reach early retirement! He wants to help you master your money — and your life. No scams. No gimmicks. Just smart money advice to help you reach your goals.



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How to Lower Your Internet Bill


Photo by WAYHOME studio / Shutterstock.com

Whether you use the internet for business or pleasure, there’s a chance you’re paying too much for it.

The cost of internet service is only going up — even with lower-tier plans.

If you can’t live without the internet, here are some of the best ways to cut your costs:

1. Use a service to lower your bills

Companies like BillCutterz and Trim will evaluate your monthly bills — for internet and other services — and call your providers to negotiate lower prices on your behalf.

If the company succeeds in lowering your bill, it takes a cut from the money it saved you. Since you don’t keep all your savings, first determine whether it’s worth your time to do the negotiating yourself or better to get someone else to do it.

2. Review your bill

If you opt to lower your internet costs on your own, start by reviewing your bill. You’ll have a hard time finding ways to save if you are unsure how much you’re paying.

Check out your internet speed, which is measured in megabits per second, or Mbps. The higher the Mbps, the faster your internet.

Also, look at your data usage. You should be able to find it by logging into your account. If not, ask your internet service provider (ISP) how to find it.

Understanding your usage patterns is the key to knowing whether you can get by with a lower internet plan — which might mean a decent cut in your bill.

Just be mindful of data caps — limits on how much data you can use each month. If you switch to a plan that has lower data caps and you go over the limit, your ISP might charge you overage fees.

3. Shop around

After you know how much speed and data you need, you can also see which providers offer the best deals. Check with your current provider and competitors. Many times, companies will offer deals for people looking to drop their current providers.

Many companies can create plans tailored to your usage. Try visiting provider websites and putting in your address to see what your desired speed will cost. Then, compare the prices of providers in the area.

Make sure you know which companies offer plans for where you live. The closer you are to a city, the more options you’re likely to have.

4. Haggle hard

If you get a good offer from another company, tell your current service provider about it and see if they can counter-offer.

It’s best to remain calm and patient when chatting with the company. If you’ve been with your provider for a long time, mention how much you love their services and want to keep using them but that it’s straining your budget. See if there’s any wiggle room.

Don’t be afraid to end the call if you don’t find something that works for you. Sometimes it’s all in the customer service representative you get in contact with, so calling more than once can do the trick.

5. Bundle your services

Consider looking for bundled packages. Many companies provide cable TV and internet packages — or cellphone and internet packages — for a cheaper price than if you bought the two services separately.

Just make sure you’re adding products you want. If you add a TV package and only watch three channels, it might not be worth it.

6. Set up auto-pay

Sometimes companies give price breaks if you set up auto-pay for your bills. Ask your internet provider if it offers a discount — such as a percentage off your bill every month — if you set up recurring payments.

7. Create reminders

Internet plans may have six-month or one-year terms on the initial offer. Once they expire, they often go back up to their old price or full price. If you aren’t paying attention to your monthly bill, you might not realize when the bill goes up.

To avoid that, set a reminder on your calendar to check your bill every six or 12 months.

8. Look for subsidized programs

Nonprofits like EveryoneOn seek to connect low-income households and people in certain other situations with affordable home internet service. If you qualify for one of the organization’s offers, you could get service for as little as $10 per month.

Visit the EveryoneOn offers webpage to find out if you are eligible.

How are you saving money on your internet bill? Let us know by leaving a comment below or on our Facebook page.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.



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What to Know About This No-Collateral Option


At NerdWallet, we strive to help you make financial decisions with confidence. To do this, many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. However, this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

Unsecured loans are not backed, or secured, by an asset such as a house, car or savings account. Personal loans are commonly unsecured loans used to consolidate debt or cover a large expense. Qualifying depends mainly on your creditworthiness rather than the value of an asset you pledge.

If you’re considering an unsecured personal loan, learn the pros and cons, where to get an unsecured loan, how to qualify, and typical rates and terms.

Pros and cons of unsecured loans

Unsecured personal loans make sense if you qualify for an affordable rate and you don’t want to put up collateral. They work best for specific one-time needs, such as consolidating debt or funding home improvements. Here’s a look at the pros and cons of unsecured loans.

Pros

  • Expect to get your money more quickly with an unsecured loan than with a secured loan, which may require additional documents, such as proof of title for a car. Online lenders offering unsecured personal loans provide funding as fast as the same day.
  • Unlike with a secured loan, the lender cannot seize your property if you stop making payments.
  • Borrowers with excellent credit scores (720 to 850 FICO) may qualify for rates as low as those on secured loans. Annual percentage rates for unsecured online loans start at around 5%.

Cons

  • For lenders, unsecured loans are riskier and therefore can have higher interest rates, especially for bad-credit borrowers. Available loan amounts may also be smaller than for secured loans.
  • There are still consequences to defaulting on an unsecured loan: Your credit score will suffer; the unpaid loan balance can be sold to a debt collection agency, prompting collections calls from an unfamiliar company; and you may be sued in an attempt to collect on the debt.

Before taking an unsecured loan, consider the rate as well as the monthly payment. Use a personal loan calculator to compare estimated rates and payments based on your credit score.

» MORE: When should I get a personal loan?

Where to get unsecured personal loans

Rates, terms and loan amounts for unsecured loans vary, so it pays to compare offers from multiple lenders. Here’s where to shop for loans.

Online lenders

Most online lenders offer pre-qualification, a short process that involves submitting basic personal information and, within minutes, getting a preview of the loan you may receive, including the loan amount, estimated rate and terms.

Online lenders usually do a soft credit check with pre-qualification, so your credit score won’t be impacted.

» MORE: Compare unsecured personal loans online

Credit unions

Credit unions are nonprofit financial organizations that may provide better rates for borrowers with fair or bad credit scores (689 or below). Federal credit unions cap APRs at 18%.

Shopping for credit union loans can be more time-consuming than online loans, and there’s no option to pre-qualify.

However, shopping for credit union loans can be more time-consuming than online loans, and there’s no option to pre-qualify.

You must also be a member of the credit union to be eligible for a loan. Membership typically requires living or working near the credit union or being associated with a particular group the credit union serves, and paying a small fee and one-time deposit up to $25.

Banks

If you have an existing relationship with a bank, it’s worth checking if it offers unsecured loans. Your bank may be able to offer a larger loan amount and lower rates for customers in good standing.

The downsides are bank loans typically do not let you pre-qualify with a soft credit pull, they often accept only borrowers with strong credit scores, and they may require you to apply in person.

» MORE: Where to get a personal loan

How to qualify for an unsecured loan

Here’s how you can improve your chances of qualifying for unsecured loans.

Build your credit: Lenders weigh your credit score more heavily if there’s no collateral securing a personal loan. Work on improving your credit before applying.

Check your credit reports for errors that may be hurting your score, and if you find any, dispute them. You can get your credit reports for free once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com.

Pay down debt: In addition to building your credit, paying off debt also reduces your debt-to-income ratio, which some lenders use to evaluate your ability to take on a new loan. A low DTI ratio indicates you’re not overwhelmed by debt.

Add a co-signer: If you have bad credit or don’t meet a lender’s minimum qualifications, adding a co-signer can help you qualify and get a better rate. The co-signer should have strong credit and meet the lender’s requirements.

» MORE: Ways to boost your odds of getting approved for a personal loan

Rates, fees and terms on unsecured loans

The average APR on unsecured personal loans for excellent credit is 13.9%, and 27.2% for bad credit, according to a NerdWallet survey of online lenders.

The loan’s APR includes any upfront fees, including origination fees, which some lenders charge for processing a loan.

The loan’s APR includes any upfront fees, including origination fees, which some lenders charge for processing a loan. Origination fees typically range from 1% to 8% of the loan amount. Other loan fees may include late fees, prepayment fees and fees for unsuccessful payment.

Unsecured personal loans are typically repaid in fixed monthly installments over one to five years, with loan amounts ranging from $1,000 to $50,000.

» MORE: Current personal loan interest rates



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Shopkick Review: An easy way to earn gift cards! (Plus, get a $5 gift card when you sign up!)


This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here.

Have you been interested in trying Shopkick but you’re just not quite sure how it works or what it’s all about? If you’re looking for honest Shopkick reviews, this is your go-to post on all things Shopkick!

And be sure to scroll down to the bottom of this post for a special Shopkick promo code that will give you a FREE $5 gift card upon sign-up!

{Looking for other ways to earn gift cards? Check out our list of The Best Legitimate Paid Online Surveys!}

Earn gift cards with the Shopkick app

What is Shopkick?

Shopkick is an app that you can download to your mobile device and use to earn gift cards.

And the best part of Shopkick? You don’t even have to buy anything to earn gift cards!!

All you have to do is walk into stores and scan products (if you want to) — and it can be done when you’re already out and about running errands and doing your shopping.

Is Shopkick Legitimate?

Yes, Shopkick is 100% legitimate. I’ve been using Shopkick for a couple of years now and love it!

And many readers have commented in the past with positive Shopkick reviews, too! (See a couple of those reviews here and here.)

If you’re looking for a legitimate way to earn some extra gift cards without much extra effort, Shopkick is a really great app to try.

Earn Kicks in Shopkick

How Does Shopkick Work?

To get started with Shopkick, you simply download the app, turn on Bluetooth, and look under the “Earn” tab to see what kind of kicks are available at stores near you!

If you look in the photo above, you can see the three different symbols that represent the three different ways to earn: walk-in, scanning, or kick bates.

Many stores will give you “kicks” just for walking in! {Hint: Sometimes you don’t even have to walk all the way in. You can just walk by the store and you’ll earn your walk-in kicks!}

You can also earn kicks for scanning product barcodes — no purchase necessary! There are other ways to earn, such as purchasing products that offer “kick bates,” but I don’t bother with linking up my debit card to the account.

So that you don’t waste a lot of extra time, I recommend that you only Shopkick at stores that you’re already planning on shopping at or that you’re nearby when you have a few extra minutes to spare.

Sign up with Shopkick to earn free gift cards!

How Do I Redeem Kicks on Shopkick for Gift Cards?

It’s super easy to redeem your kicks for rewards in the Shopkick app. Just select which reward you want to try to earn kicks towards, and the app will let you know when it’s time to cash in! It’s SO simple.

And there are some great rewards to choose from, including Amazon, Starbucks, TJMaxx, Target, Walmart, Old Navy, Best Buy, Lowe’s, Macy’s, Barnes & Noble, and more!

When you’ve earned enough kicks to redeem for a reward, here’s what to do:

  1. Go to the “kicks center” in your app by clicking on your number of kicks at the top center of your screen.
  2. Click on the image of the gift card you’ve chosen as your reward.
  3. Click on “redeem kicks” at the bottom of the screen.
  4. (Or you can choose to “change goal” if you’d like to keep earning towards a higher valued gift card.)

You can find all of your rewards under the “my rewards” tab in the kicks center! When you’re ready to use one, just have the cashier scan the barcode of the gift card right from your Shopkick app!

Download the Shopkick app to earn gift cards

How Much Can You Realistically Earn With Shopkick?

Here’s the cool thing! By simply walking into stores and scanning products, you can easily earn at least one $5 gift card per week!

Shopkick is one of the quickest and easiest ways to earn gift cards of just about any app I’ve tried.

And you could choose to spend your smaller gift cards on splurges as you receive them OR save them up throughout the year to stretch your Christmas budget! (If you earn $5 per week, you’ll have almost $250 to use for Christmas gifts when December rolls around!)

And honestly? You can definitely earn more than that, but I like to keep it simple and not waste extra time. I only use Shopkick when I’m already out and about, shopping in a particular store, or have some extra time to kill. I never go out of my way to get kicks!

Some Final Shopkick Tips

Here are just a few more tips to make you even more successful on your Shopkick adventures:

  • Walk-ins are often the most prevalent and highest in value on the weekends.
  • Pay special attention to the holiday weekends, because they often offer higher value bonus walk-in kicks on those weekends!
  • Consider getting a group of frugal-minded friends together for a fun, free afternoon of Shopkicking. It also gives you good exercise from walking around shopping centers!

Shopkick Bonus

Get a $5 Gift Card When You Sign Up!

If this Shopkick review made you curious to try it out, I have a special bonus opportunity for you!

Shopkick is currently offering MSM readers an exclusive FREE $5 gift card when you sign up!

If you’re ready to get started, here’s what to do:

  1. Go here to download the app.
  2. Register and use promo code MOM5 during the registration process.
  3. Scan a product in-store to earn scan kicks within 7 days of signing up.
  4. A bonus of 1250 kicks will be added to your account when you earn kicks within the first 7 days.
  5. The 1250 kicks can be traded in for a $5 gift card of your choice!

This is a super rare offer (and one that I’ve honestly never seen). Typical referral Shopkick bonuses are 250 kicks, so this is a really GREAT deal to get a FREE $5 gift card just for signing up and trying the app once!

Note: If you miss inserting your promo code during the initial registration process you can still add it by clicking on the gear icon and then adding the MSM5 code in the “add friend code” box.

Sign up here with Shopkick to get started.

What’s your experience with Shopkick? Leave your Shopkick reviews in the comments! I’d love to hear!



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Should I Get a Credit Card? Here’s How to Know if You’re Ready



Credit cards: Good or evil?

Whether you’ve shunned credit cards in the past for fear of diving into a debt oblivion or you can’t wait to score some sweet plastic freedom — and the accompanying perks — deciding to get your first credit card is a big decision.

Or at least, it should be, according to Todd Christensen, an Accredited Financial Counselor and education manager with MoneyFit.org.  

“I always recommend people understand they need to be ready for credit before they just go out and apply,” he said. “I’m not a fan of credit for credit’s sake.”

The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act Act of 2009 was supposed to help reduce the number of young people getting credit cards the second they hit the college bookstore by making it harder for consumers under the age of 21 from getting credit cards.

However, if you can prove your ability to pay — and that income can include scholarships and grants — it’s still possible to get a credit card at the age of 18. And there are plenty of cards that are marketed specifically to college students, who may or may not be ready for a card.

Of those college students with credit cards, 36% already have more than $1,000 in credit card debt, according to an EVERFI and AIG survey of more than 30,000 college students from across the country.

“For really young people who don’t have the discipline or haven’t built the discipline yet, it is better to have no credit than to have really bad credit,” Christensen said.

But for those trying to build credit, whether to buy a house or even rent an apartment, a credit card can be the first chance to establish a history. So how do you know if you’re ready for your first credit card?

Should I Get a Credit Card?

The most important question you need to answer is whether you even need a credit card.

Just because you hit a milestone age or event doesn’t mean it’s automatically time to apply, according to Christensen. In fact, the best reason to get a first card is as a means for reaching a bigger goal.

The average Annual Percentage Rate (the yearly fee you pay for borrowing money) is 16.91%, according to the latest Federal Reserve Consumer Credit Report.

“Credit tends to be overemphasized for young people whether it’s by their parents or by their peers,” he said. “A first credit card is really meant to be a way of starting down the road of building credit with an idea of making a major purchase on credit.”

If you’re not sure whether you’re ready to handle the power of plastic, here are four questions to determine if you’re ready for your first credit card.

1. Do You Have a Good Reason for Wanting a Credit Card?

Ask yourself why it is you want a credit card.

If it’s to establish a history for future employment or to raise your credit score, you’re proving your financial maturity, Christensen explained. If there isn’t a reason in the here and now, think further down the road.

“Don’t worry about building credit until you’re about two years away from making a major purchase,” he said. “And for me, that is buying a home.”

However, if your reasons include racking up credit card rewards or wanting the convenience to snag deals on items you can’t yet afford, you are setting yourself up for failure, according to Christensen, who speaks from experience.

“I was 21, 22 when I got my first credit card, and I was not ready,” he said. “I maxed it out — a $2,000 credit card — in 36 hours. I bought a professional grade keyboard and two studio monitors.

“I was in credit card debt for almost 10 years.”

2. Do You Have Proof You’re Ready to Handle Credit?

Instead of applying for the card with the hopes that you’ll be able to manage your money, reverse those steps, Christensen advised, who offered the following minimum criteria before you apply for your first card:

  1. Build a three-month emergency savings fund. “If you don’t have that savings fund before you get a credit card, you’re likely never going to have one,” Christensen said.

  2. Have a regular income for 12 months. Either a part-time or full-time job is acceptable, according to Christensen.

  3. Create a written budget. You can find ideas for creating a budget here.

  4. Use a debit card for 12 consecutive months without having a purchase denied. Although a debit card doesn’t help you establish a credit history, it’s a great way to gauge your self control when there’s a card in your wallet.

3. Have You Done Your Research?

How well do you understand credit cards? If your financial literacy is lacking, you could end up paying for it — with interest. (Sorry, just a little financial humor.)

Understanding the basics about how credit cards work is essential, including knowing the myths about credit.

“If you think that carrying a balance on a credit card is normal, you are not ready for a credit card,” Christensen said.

Beyond that, you should also investigate a card’s terms, conditions and fees before jumping at the first offer.

If you think that carrying a balance on a credit card is normal, you are not ready for a credit card. — Todd Christensen with MoneyFit.org

“If you don’t even know what the typical rate is on a credit card, you’re going to end up with a very high-interest rate credit card,” Christensen said. “Do some research and shop around.”

By comparing credit card features like interest rates, annual fees, credit limits, penalties and rewards, you can decide what is the best card for your needs at this point in your financial life.

4. Can You Get Approved for a Credit Card?

This might seem like the first question to ask when deciding if you should get a credit card, but addressing the prior three will help make this one easier to answer.

You’ll need to gather all your relevant financial information, including your annual income, employment information and your credit score, which you can track through credit-monitoring sites like Credit Sesame (check out our Credit Sesame review here).

Pro Tip

Apply online and you could be notified within a few minutes that you’ve been approved — or receive word that the lender needs more info. Upon approval, you’ll find out your credit limit and APR.

Even if you have credit mistakes in your past — or no credit history — you still have options, including applying for a secured credit card.

With some preparation and a little patience, a credit card can be the beginning of a beautiful credit history. Or something like that.

Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Read her bio and other work here, then catch her on Twitter @TiffanyWendeln.



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Capital One Platinum Credit Card Review


Advertiser Disclosure: This post includes references to offers from our partners. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. However, the opinions expressed here are ours alone and at no time has the editorial content been provided, reviewed, or approved by any issuer.

Learn more about this card and find out how you can apply here.

The Capital One® Platinum Credit Card is a no-frills, no-annual-fee credit card designed for consumers who wish to build their credit. Although it’s not a secured credit card and thus doesn’t require an upfront deposit, it has a fairly high regular APR and comes with a low initial credit limit. However, when used responsibly, Capital One Platinum is a useful bridge to higher spending limits and more generous rewards credit cards.

Capital One Platinum is comparable to other unsecured credit cards for consumers with average credit, including Capital One’s own QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards. It also competes with a host of secured credit cards designed to build and improve credit, including the Capital One Secured MasterCard and the BankAmericard Secured Credit Card.

It’s important to note that this card is stripped-down and devoid of many of the perks that more generous credit cards offer as a matter of course, such as cash back or travel rewards and early spend bonuses. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not a potentially game-changing card for people who need to improve their credit standing.

Key Features

Credit Line Increase

If you make your first 5 monthly payments on time, you’re automatically considered for a credit line increase. Further credit line increases are possible with continued timely payments.

Important Fees

This card has no annual fee, balance transfer fee, or foreign transaction fee. The cash advance fee is the greater of $10 or 3%, and the late payment fee ranges up to $39.

Capital One CreditWise

Thanks to Capital One’s CreditWise suite, you’re entitled to a free credit score with your paper or online statement each month. You can also access your score at any time in your online account dashboard. Additionally, CreditWise includes a host of credit-building tools and educational content.

Credit Required

The Platinum card is for consumers with fair credit and is actively marketed as a tool for building credit. Even if your credit history is checkered or spotty, you’re welcome to apply.

Advantages

  1. No Deposit Required. The Capital One Platinum Card doesn’t require an upfront deposit to secure your account. That’s a big advantage relative to secured competitors, some of which require $200 (or greater) minimum deposits before you can use your card. Most also cap your spending at the deposited amount, forestalling the possibility of a credit line increase until you scrounge up more funds.
  2. No Annual Fee. This card has no annual fee. Many of its closest competitors, including the BankAmericard Secured Card ($39) and the Citi Secured Mastercard ($25), do carry annual fees.
  3. No Balance Transfer Fee or Foreign Transaction Fee. Capital One Platinum doesn’t charge balance transfer fees or foreign transaction fees – rare perks in the credit-building category. That’s great news for cardholders who wish to transfer balances from other cards or use their Platinum cards outside the U.S.
  4. No Penalty APR. This card doesn’t carry a penalty APR, which is an excellent benefit if you occasionally miss a payment. The OpenSky Secured Visa and Citi Secured Mastercard both carry penalty APRs.
  5. Opportunity for Credit Line Increase in 5 Months.
    If you make timely payments on this card, you’re eligible for a credit line increase in as little as 5 months. Many competing cards make you wait as long as 12 months to request an increase. If you’re planning to make a large, time-sensitive purchase, or simply want more month-to-month spending flexibility, a year is a long time to wait.
  6. Useful Credit-Monitoring and Credit-Building Tools. The free credit score other Capital One CreditWise tools are super-useful for cardholders committed to building – and understanding – their credit. Some competing cards, including the BankAmericard Secured Card, don’t come with free credit scores.

Disadvantages

  1. No Rewards. Capital One Platinum doesn’t have a cash back or travel rewards program. If you want a card designed for building credit and earning rewards, consider Capital One’s QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Card ($39 annual fee) or the Navy Federal Credit Union nRewards Secured Card (no annual fee).
  2. High APR. Even by credit-building card standards, this card comes with a high regular APR. If you intend to carry a balance from month to month, consider lower-cost options such as Navy Federal Credit Union nRewards or DCU Visa Platinum Secured, both of which have lower regular APRs.
  3. Pre-approval Credit Check Required. The Capital One Platinum application requires a credit check. While substantial credit blemishes aren’t likely to disqualify you, you probably won’t be approved for this card with a recent bankruptcy, foreclosure, or pattern of delinquency on your record. Some competing cards, such as Merrick Bank’s Secured Visa ($36 annual fee) and OpenSky Secured Visa ($35 annual fee), don’t run your credit during the application process.

Final Word

Let’s address the elephant in the room: This credit card has a highly misleading name. Platinum is a precious metal that’s worth hundreds of dollars per ounce. Travel loyalty programs’ platinum tiers are often at or near the top of their frequent traveler hierarchies, conferring luxurious benefits worthy of true VIPs. The best-known “platinum” credit card is the legendary American Express Platinum, one of the credit card world’s original status symbols.

Needless to say, the Capital One® Platinum Credit Card is a not an exclusive card. However, when used responsibly, it’s absolutely worth its weight in gold – or platinum. If this Platinum card is what ultimately teaches you the value of making timely payments and spending within your means, you might just find a “real” Platinum Card in your wallet one day.



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How Women Can Regain Lost Financial Ground


When it comes to personal finance and money management, women need to talk more.

To be more specific, Natalie Elisha Gold, author of Money Momma: The Women’s Wealth Bible for the Digital Age, says women are not getting educated about money and that often has a lot to do with the fact that it’s seen as a taboo subject.

“Women are not talking about money and they don’t know where to turn,” begins Gold. “Women don’t feel confident asking questions like, ‘I don’t understand the concept of compound interest,’ or ‘Why do I need to take advantage of the employer match in a 401(k),’ and our parents are not teaching us these things.”

Women, she adds, are not given as much education about money matters as men are, and we’re not being proactive about learning what we need to know. “We’re not Googling, ‘What do I need in my financial toolbox to make sure I’m okay?’” says Gold.

All of which is particularly relevant because 39% of millennial-age women admit to not paying their bills on time, according to a 2018 financial literacy survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC). Meanwhile, 35% of women over the age of 18 have no savings outside of retirement accounts and, among millennials, men are more likely (70%) than women (56%) to have at least some savings.

In other words, as Gold sees it, women have fallen behind when it comes to financial security.

“As Ruth Bader Ginsburg says, the gender line serves not to put women on a pedestal but in a cage. Let’s release ourselves from the cage once and for all,” Gold says. “It’s time for us to empower ourselves, and you cannot be in control until you have control of the money.”

A powerhouse in her own right, Gold survived a near-death drag-racing car accident at the age of 15, when she was struck as a pedestrian in her Queens, N.Y., neighborhood. When no one was found culpable for injuring her, Gold resolved to become a lawyer.

She went on to become an attorney at just 23 years old, and graduated from school debt-free, after which Gold founded a seven-figure law firm. All by the age of 26.

Based on all of this experience, Gold says there are several actions a woman can take to help regain ground financially, many of which she explains in her new book. During an interview with The SimpleDollar, Gold discussed some of these key steps in more detail.

Ensure to Insure

“While we’re young, most of us don’t think much about life insurance. After all, we’re young and healthy, so why worry? Sadly, that’s not the right mindset to have,” says Gold in Money Momma.

You must make insuring yourself a priority, Gold added during an interview. Why? Because you will never be this young again, and life insurance will never again be this inexpensive.

An important part of this tip, Gold explains, is ensuring that the right beneficiary is named in your policy, too. She suggest double- and triple-checking that whatever policy you ultimately obtain lists the proper recipient.

“We send so much money to wrong people,” she continues. “Do you know how much there is in in unclaimed funds in just New York? Billions.”

And finally, don’t be intimidated by selecting life insurance if you don’t understand how the various policy options work. Ask questions, speak up, and find out what’s right for you and your needs.

“Here’s the thing — any life insurance person needs to take the time to educate you and answer all of your questions,” adds Gold. “Ladies, we are the customer and the client, get your questions answered. Don’t be shy to ask, this is your financial future.”

Create a Life and Legacy plan

“A Money Momma… is a woman who plans for the future and defines her legacy,” states Gold in her book. “In order to do so, we must at a minimum have a number of very important documents filled out. This is not the end all, be all, of a life well lived. Just as the Ten Commandments are the bare minimum to live a good life, so too are the basic documents a bare minimum to plan an amazing life and legacy.”

What are those basic documents?

The way Gold sees it, everyone needs a last will and testament, power of attorney, and health care proxy (advanced directives), all of which she calls non-negotiable.
“Make sure you have that will in place,” she urges, even if it costs a bit of money to set it up. “How much money do we waste on stuff we don’t need like that one hundredth piece of jewelry or another pair of leggings?”

Increase Your Earnings

Women need to start making more money so they can save more, notes Gold, who coaches negotiation teams.

“I tell my students, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. And for women, we have never been taught that. We don’t have a class called Negotiation 101,” says Gold. “Men ask for more. Women are generally nurturers, we want to love and be loved. But we need to go into salary negotiations with wit and research. Women are scared that if they ask for $5,000 more, they will lose out on the opportunity.”

Gold says you can ask for more by being “hard on the issues, but soft on the people.” And without missing a beat, Gold switches into a full-on example of what exactly that means, as if she’s in the midst of salary negotiations herself — but she does so in a tone of voice that’s practically purring, oozing as much welcoming warmth as you might hear talking to your best friend.

“I’ve looked around and done my research and it’s more like a $110,000 salary I should be expecting. I would love to work to with you, is there some way to bridge this gap together?” she says as an example.

Need more help beefing up your negotiation skills? Gold suggests checking out Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher, a book that she says nearly every negotiation course uses as required reading.

Trust the Trust

Many people think trusts are reserved for the super wealthy, Gold notes in her book. But that notion is absolutely false.

“A trust is for anyone who cares about protecting their legacy. What are the benefits of a trust? There are many, but to name a few: probate avoidance, keeping your legacy private and not airing your dirty laundry to the whole world (which is what happens with a will), naming trustees to protect your children’s money, and protecting your wealth from long-term care costs and estate taxes (utilizing a special kind of trust in either scenario).”

Bottom line, according to Gold, if you care at all about your financial legacy, you can’t afford to not have a trust in place.

Enlist Three Key Players: CPA, Lawyer, Financial Advisor

Ideally, says Gold, every woman should have a team that includes a CPA, a lawyer, and a financial advisor.

“We all pay taxes, we all want to leave legacy of some sort, and everyone is working to make a few dollars to invest,” explains Gold.

Teaming up with a CPA in particular, she says, is particularly critical, because the right one can save you a lot of money on your taxes.

“A CPA is a must. It will cost you a couple hundred dollars, but it is well worth it,” Gold says.

Negotiate Everything

An approach to life I use myself as a single mother, Gold urges women to begin negotiating everything, from the amount you pay at your favorite blowout bar to the annual dues for memberships to your cable bill.

“If you go to a blowout bar and pay $45 a pop, plus a tip and you do that twice a month, the next time try saying, ‘I’ve been a client forever. Can I pay $85 every month? And you just saved a tremendous percentage,” Gold explains. “The pink tax is real. My husband gets one haircut and it is $10. At a minimum I pay $110.”

Negotiate with everything. Start thinking like a business owner, and if you have recurring expenses, begin actively looking for ways to cut costs.

Find People You Can Talk to About Money

Beyond the CPA, lawyer, and financial advisor, Gold suggests it’s also a good idea to identify people you can talk to when you have questions, whether that’s a peer or a mentor.

“Pick up a phone and talk to your peers or even someone who is a generation above you,” she stresses. “We have to go bigger. We need a movement. Me too? I say ‘We too.’ We have to come together and start educating each other. We have to do better for our girls and our women. Nine out of 10 of us are surviving our husbands and at 80 years old are learning to survive.”

Ultimately, as Gold notes in her book, women have fallen behind in our savings and ability to establish our own nest eggs.

“Why? Three main reasons: lack of education, not asking for more, and relinquishing our power to our spouses when it comes to the finances. So, want to know how to empower yourself? Learn about the money and watch how everything else falls into place.”

Mia Taylor is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. She has worked for some of the nation’s best-known news organizations, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the San Diego Union-Tribune. 

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How much I spent during two weeks of travel


I like to travel. Over the past decade, I’ve probably made an average of two international trips per year. But you know what? Never once in that time have I tried to track how much I spend while exploring the world. Sure, I log my numbers in Quicken (as I do for everything), but I’ve never analyzed the cost of an individual trip.

This month, I flew to Europe to hang out with my cousin Duane again. He and I enjoy traveling together. Because I was curious, I decided to be diligent about tracking my expenses for this trip.

Note, however, that I didn’t try to do anything different. I didn’t adjust my normal behavior simply because I knew I’d be reporting to GRS readers. I did what I always do. I spent in ways that felt normal to me.

I don’t need a fancy hotel, for instance. Neither does Duane. We’re happy with cheap, simple lodging. And because most of the time we don’t book rooms in advance, we don’t hunt for the best deal. When we decide to stop for the night, we look for a place to stay. When we find something reasonable ($50 per person per night is our target) and available, we book it. We don’t continue to search. We’d rather use our time to explore our surroundings.

On the other hand, we’re both willing to splurge on food from time to time. Our rooms aren’t important to us, but what we eat is.

Similarly, we’ll pay to see special sites, but mostly we’re happy visiting free museums and/or walking around a city. We don’t pay much for tours, etc.

So, how much did I spend for two weeks in Europe? Let’s find out!

Chateau Chenonceau

Chateau Chenonceau in France’s Loire Valley

Booking Flights

This trip was sort of spontaneous. Remember, Duane has throat cancer. We expected our trip in December to be the last adventure we had together. But his health has held steady — and his doctor is making hopeful statements that he might be around for Christmas! — so we decided to make another trip.

Generally, I try to book flights several months in advance. I feel like I find cheaper options that way. This time, though, I didn’t book my flight until April 19th, less than a month before our trip.

Also, I’m fussy about flights. It’s not that I need to sit in business class — I’m perfectly happy in coach — but I don’t like layovers. I’m willing to pay extra for a direct flight.

Unfortunately, when I searched for flights from Portland to Paris, I couldn’t find any direct flights. I could, however, find a non-stop to London. I like London. It’s a pleasant city. “What if,” I thought, “I flew to London a few days early and used that time to get some work done? Then I could take the Chunnel train across to Paris to meet Duane when he arrives.”

So, I booked a flight to London. It cost me $996.63 and each leg took roughly 10.5 hours.

(I don’t know how much Duane paid for his plane ticket. I think it was around $600, but he had to fly from Portland to Las Vegas to Los Angeles to Paris and it took him almost 24 hours. Yuck. I’m happy to pay a premium to avoid crap like that.)

I made a small mistake when booking my ticket. In the past, I’ve always traveled economy. That’s what I thought I was doing this time. Nope. Apparently, there’s a new(-ish) airfare class called “basic economy”. This is a massive “screw you” from the airlines to their customers. It’s a little bit cheaper, but you’re not allowed to make any changes to your ticket once you’ve booked. No option to upgrade. Plus, you board dead last. And you can’t choose your seat. And if you check a bag — as I did for my return flight — it costs a ton.

Edinburgh

I flew into London with no real plan for the first few days. Brandon (the Mad Fientist) had invited me to visit him and his wife in Edinburgh, Scotland, but I felt like I oughtn’t do it. I felt like I should stay in London and work.

When I landed, though, I changed my mind. “Is it still okay if I come up to see you?” I asked. “Sure!” Brandon said. So, I hopped on Trainline (an awesome app that Duane and I used to buy train tickets during our December trip) and booked a ticket from London to Edinburgh. Cost: $101.92.

While waiting for my train at Kings Cross station (and watching the tourist throngs at Platform 9-1/2), I withdrew £200 for spending money, which is about $252.31. I used this cash to buy things like coffee and snacks and souvenirs. I brought home £141.15, which means I spent £58.85 (or about $74.24) cash while in the U.K.

I had a great time hanging out with Brandon and Jill. They showed me everyday life in Edinburgh, one of my favorite cities. They put me up in their spare room, took me to pubs, and we wandered together through the streets and the parks.

While there, I spent:

  • $45.76 at Brewdog for beer and snacks. (Did you know that low-alcohol beer — like 0.5% to 2.0% — is a thing in the U.K.? I wish it was a thing here in the U.S. I’d buy it.)
  • $17.74 at Whiski Bar for an hour of music and Scotch.
  • $9.91 at Cairngorm Coffee, where Brandon and I spent a morning working.
  • $33.78 at Mother India restaurant, where the three of us had a fine meal of “Indian tapas”.

In all, I spent a total of $283.35 during my three nights in Scotland.

Picnic in the Meadows

Picnic in the Meadows with the Mad Fientist and friends

Paris

When it came time to meet Duane in Paris, I was faced with a choice. Originally, I had intended to take the train from London to Paris. But when I looked at times and prices to get from Edinburgh to Gare du Nord, I didn’t like what I saw. The trip would take about 12.5 hours and the total cost would be over $350. Yikes!

“You should book a flight on EasyJet,” Brandon suggested. I’ve never used EasyJet, but I looked into it. For $199.45, I could fly from Edinburgh to Charles de Gaulle airport (CDG) in Paris — in less than two hours. I booked a ticket. Then, using Chase Ultimate Rewards points, I booked one night at the Hotel ibis, which is attached to CDG terminal 3. My cost: 7718 Chase points.

In Paris, I paid €17.99 for a one-day train pass, which gave me unlimited access to all Metro and RER routes. (The metro lines are the subway and local trains. The RER routes are the commuter trains that run deeper into the suburbs, going places like Versailles and the airport.) I also withdrew €200 in cash (about $222.50) to use for incidental expenses, such as snacks and souvenirs.

While I waited for Duane’s flight to arrive, I visited Notre Dame to see what it looked like after the fire. (I was startled to note that when the wind was right, you could smell the ashes!) I bought an extra travel shirt. And I met my friend Amy for champagne and charcuterie. (Amy lives in Houston but happened to be in Paris for work.)

Amy and J.D.

Amy, J.D., and random amused French woman

At around 18:00, I returned to the airport to pick up our rental car. I was worried this might not go smoothly, but I was wrong. Estelle, the young woman at the Avis counter, was amazing. It didn’t take long for her to get met set up with a Peugot 208. Plus, she was kind enough to phone ahead to our hotel to let them know we’d be a little late. I booked the car with British Airways points. My cost: 16,600 Avios — a bargain!

As I was finishing at the rental car, Duane cleared immigration. Perfect timing! We hopped in our little car, braved Paris traffic and made our way to the garden spot of Giverny.

In Giverny, we checked into our B&B (booked with 8154 Chase points), then hurried to the only restaurant in town that was still open. Duane spent €51.00 on our dinner of duck breast and red wine.

During two nights in and around Paris, I spent $199.45, €17.99, 8154 Chase points, and 16,600 Avios (BA points). Duane spent €51.00.

Normandy

The next morning, Duane and I started our driving tour of northwest France. I’d been worried that all French drivers would be like the ones in Paris. They weren’t. On the country roads, people were much more mellow. Thank goodness. (I drive like an old man. I hate speeding and tailgating.)

First, we toured Rouen, the town where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. We saw our first cathedral of the trip, visited the (free) Museum of Fine Arts, and browsed the weekly market.

Duane and I both enjoy markets. We’re happy to pass time looking at fruits and vegetables and meat and fish. For real. Plus, this gave us a chance to buy cheap food for the road. I picked up a paper sack filled with twenty baby chorizo sausages, for instance, and it cost only €5. (I think there were more than 20 sausages in the bag too. That thing lasted me almost the entire trip, and I was eating several sausages per day.)

In the afternoon, we drove to Honfleur with no plans about where to stay. The first hotel we visited was perfect: cheap and efficient. I paid €100.00 to book a room. Duane spent €54.00 on our dinner at a local pub.

On our second day, we meandered along the coast. We stopped to taste calvados (an apple brandy made in Normandy), nibbled goat cheese in Deauville, and stopped to visit the Grand Hotel in Cabourg, the site of Proust’s famous memory-inducing madeleine.

Meat and Cheese

Buying goat cheese and “bacon” in Deauville

In the late afternoon, we reached Bayeux. Our first hotel choice was booked, but the second had two cheap rooms available. We paid €49.00 each. For dinner, we chose an expensive restaurant (I can’t remember why) that cost Duane €94.00.

After dinner, we wandered around town. It was a magical evening in mid-spring. We happened to hit the city during its “festival of lights”, and when we stopped by the cathedral, an American choir was performing a concert. We stopped in to listen.

In the morning, we visited the Bayeux Tapestry, a 70-meter long work of art that’s nearly 1000 years old. In dozens of scenes, it depicts the Norman conquest of England. People think I’m joking when I say this, but I’m not: This tapestry is like a very early comic book. (And, in fact, the drawings used to plan tapestries like this are referred to as cartoons. No joke.) This visit cost me €19.00.

Bayeux Tapestry

Seriously, the Bayeux Tapestry is like a primitive comic book

While in Bayeux, we visited Omaha Beach and the nearby American Military Cemetery. After that, we drove backroads to reach Mont-Saint-Michel, one of the most famous tourist sites in all of France (and formerly one of the top three destinations for Christian pilgrims). This island used to be isolated from the mainland by ocean tides. Now there’s a causeway that leads to it, but even that sometimes floods over (as it did during our stay).

I used 14,538 Chase points to book a room on the island, and I’m glad we did. During the day, the place is packed. After 18:00, the crowd disperses and things become peaceful. It’s fun to wander the ramparts with nobody to disturb you.

Here, Duane paid €89.00 for dinner.

During our time in Normandy, I spent a total of €168.00 and 14,538 Chase points. Duane spent €286.00.

Mont Saint Michel

Mont-Saint-Michel at high tide

Brittany

The next morning, after a quick tour of the Mont-Saint-Michel abbey, Duane and I packed up to drive to Brittany. (The island actually sits on the border between the two regions.)

As we entered Brittany, we got our first taste of fuel prices in France. To put 38 liters (about 10 gallons) in the Peugot 208, I paid €60.00. Holy cats! That’s nearly $7 per gallon, or about twice what we pay here in the States.

In the early afternoon, we stopped for a couple of hours in the walled city of Dinan, which is built on a hillside overlooking the river Rance.

Dinan

Looking from the ramparts of Dinan to the valley below

By early evening, we’d reached Carnac on the Atlantic coast. Carnac is famous for its “standing stones”, a collection of 3000+ domens and menhirs in the region. I love sites like this (and Avebury and Stonehenge in England), so was pleased to visit. (If you’ve ever read any Asterix comics, you’re familiar with the stones of Carnac.)

The first hotel we visited had a cheap room available (€66.00), so we booked it. Our dinner next door was…an adventure.

Brittany, as you may know, is the source of the crepe. It’s also the source of the galette (a savory crepe). Crepes and galettes everywhere in this region. Because we like to try local food when we travel, Duane and I decided to eat galettes for our evening meal. “You should get the andouille,” the restaurant owner told us, smiling. So we did.

Well. It turns out that American andouille is not the same as French andouille. French andouille is simply sliced pig intestine that has (ostensibly) been cleaned very, very well.

“This tastes like ass,” Duane said as he ate his galette. He couldn’t finish. I did finish, but was a little mortified when I looked up the ingredients later. Our host seemed to take pity on us for being such good sports. When I ordered a glass of calvados after the meal, he gave me a huge pour.

I paid €46.00 for our dinner of pig-gut pancakes.

During our 24 hours in Brittany, I spent a total of €172.00. Duane spent nothing.

The Loire Valley

After a quick breakfast of coffee and crepes (€12.00 paid by Duane), we made our way to Angers, former capital of the Anjou region. (Angers is the source of both anjou pears and Cointreau liqueur.) Here, we visited our first chateau. Did you know that a chateau is a castle? I didn’t — not until this trip.

Anyhow, the Chateau d’Angers is home to the amazing Apocalypse Tapestry, a 600-year-old visual retelling of the apocalypse story from the Bible’s Book of Revelation. Like the Bayeux Tapestry, it reminds me of a massive comic book made from cloth. It cost us €12.00 each to see the chateau and its art. (Duane paid this.)

Apocalypse Tapestry in Angers

The Apocalypse Tapestry at Chateau d’Angers

In the evening, we experienced our big splurge of the trip. Based on a GRS reader recommendation, I had booked a night for us at the Royal Abbey of Our Lady of Fontevraud, a former monastery founded in 1101. Although many old buildings remain (and guests are free to explore them), the site is no longer an abbey. It’s a fancy upscale hotel and a Michelin-star restaurant.

Going in, I’d told Duane to ignore the costs for our night at Fontevraud. “I’m paying for the hotel and dinner, and it’s not part of our trip accounting. Don’t try to balance it out,” I said. “I’m making a deliberate decision to splurge.”

Our room at the abbey cost us €172.00. Our meal cost €239.00. As I mentioned earlier this week, the food was fine and I’m glad I experienced it. But I wouldn’t do it again.

In the morning, we traveled country roads to visit another chateau: Chenonceau. We each paid €19.00 to tour the grounds of this beautiful old estate.

In the afternoon, we moved to nearby Amboise, where Duane paid €73.00 to book a hotel. We hiked up the hillside, then tasted wine in a cave. We ate dinner at the tiny Restaurant L’Ilot, where the woman waiting tables chided us for not making a reservation — then was playfully grouchy the rest of the evening. This meal cost Duane €94.00 because he insisted we order a bottle of wine.

The next day, we stopped briefly in Blois to visit the church of St Nicolas. This place is barely mentioned in the guidebooks, but we loved it. During World War II, most of its stained-glass windows were destroyed. They’ve been replaced by modern windows with modern glass. The results are amazing. When light shines through them, color spreads throughout the church.

St Nicolas Church in Blois

The light show from the stained glass at St Nicolas Church

We next stopped in Chartres to visit its famous cathedral, which is especially known for its stained-glass windows. And while yes, there are many of them (176!) and they’re impressive, I liked the ones in Blois better.

During our time in the Loire Valley, I spent a total of €430.00, most of it for my splurge at the abbey. Duane spent €281.00. (He filled the car with gas at one point.)

Wrapping Things Up

After touring the Chartres cathedral, we didn’t know what to do. We found ourselves on the southwest side of Paris, but wanting to reach the northeast corner by the following evening. We couldn’t make up our minds, so I simply drove east.

Eventually, we reached Fontainebleau, which we decided might be fun to visit. But the town was packed and we were tired. Instead, we drove on until we found a budget hotel (aptly named Budget Hotel), where Duane paid €86.00 for a room. For dinner, we each paid cash at a French fast-food chain.

The next morning, we returned our rental car. I was sad to say good-bye to the Peugot 208, which had served us well. Before we turned it in, Duane paid €32.00 to top off the fuel tank.

For logistics purposes, I’d used 11,182 Chase points to book us separate rooms at the ibis Hotel once again. (It’s handy having this place next to the airport train station.) We each paid €17.99 for one-day train tickets, then we rode into Paris.

With several hours to kill, we decided to walk the city. But we didn’t walk the downtown tourist core. We’ve both done that before. Instead, we chose the Coulée verte René-Dumont, an elevated greenway akin to New York’s Highline. From there, we made our way along the canal. This 5k stroll made for great people-watching.

Here, we said our good-byes. Duane wandered off to spend time on his own. I met up with my pal Matt Kepnes (a.k.a. Nomadic Matt) for a couple of beers.

In the morning, I took an early flight back to London (booked with 4500 Avios and $27.50), then boarded my Delta flight back to Portland.

On this final day, I spent a total of $47.48, 4500 Avios, and 11,182 Chase points. (At some point, I withdrew another €200.00 in spending money. I returned home with €102.66, which means I spent €97.34 of that — or about $108.41.) Duane spent €86.00 and $19.98.

The Bottom Line

After all of that, how much did I spend on this trip? Let’s crunch the numbers. For two weeks (three nights in Scotland and ten in France), I spent:

  • $996.63 for my flights from and to the U.S.
  • $573.65
  • €637.98 (about $710.63)
  • 19,336 Chase points
  • 21,100 Avios (British Airways points)

Converting all of my expenses to dollars, my total cost was $2277.91 plus rewards points. That’s an average of $175.22 per night. (I spent $1284.28 plus points if you ignore the flight, for an average of $98.79 per night.)

If I hadn’t splurged €411.00 for the abbey experience (and instead paid €100 for dinner and lodging that night), my costs would have been €311.00 less.

During our nine nights together in France, Duane spent a total of €670.99 (about $747.40) plus whatever his flights cost him (about $600, I think). That’s $83.04 per night ($149.71 with his flights). Together, not counting flights, we spent the equivalent of $2031.68 and points for this vacation.

Because I’ve never tracked my trip spending before, I have no frame of reference for our costs. I feel like we did a good job of using money wisely — spending only on things that brought us value — but who knows? I’m sure plenty of people would spend much less on a trip like this. That would probably require advance planning, though, and half the fun for us is making this up as we go.

Here’s the thing, though. How much have I been spending simply to live here at home? About $5000 per month, right? (And I’m aiming to get that down to $4000 per month.) When you compare the cost of travel to the cost of simply maintaining my lifestyle here in the U.S., it’s shockingly affordable. Cheaper than living in Portland, even.

That’s food for thought.

One final note: In Edinburgh, Brandon showed me how to use Apple Pay. Believe it or not, I’d never done this before. Now, though, I’m hooked. Even back here in Portland, I’m using my phone to pay for things, not my actual credit card. I think this is awesome. Duane is less convinced. But that’s a subject for a future blog post…

Author: J.D. Roth

In 2006, J.D. founded Get Rich Slowly to document his quest to get out of debt. Over time, he learned how to save and how to invest. Today, he’s managed to reach early retirement! He wants to help you master your money — and your life. No scams. No gimmicks. Just smart money advice to help you reach your goals.



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How Baby Boomers Are Earning an Extra $573 a Month


Photo by sirtravelalot / Shutterstock.com

Baby boomers across the nation are earning hundreds of extra dollars a month working for one gig-economy platform. And so can you.

Wonolo — which describes itself as an on-demand staffing marketplace that “connects businesses which have temporary staffing needs (Requestors) with workers who can meet those needs (Wonoloers)” — says the average boomer who uses the site makes $573.55 a month supplementing existing income.

That beats Generation X ($501.02), millennials ($454.35) and Generation Z ($342.48).

A.J. Brustein, cofounder and chief operating officer of Wonolo, explains in a blog post:

“Baby Boomers — folks currently aged 55-73 — have quietly become the winners of the gig game. Some might be retired and picking up gigs for fun or a little extra cash, and others are still working other jobs in their spare time and choose flexible gig work to supplement their income.”

Nearly one-third of boomers on Wonolo work more than three gigs a week. And companies love the work boomers are doing.

Brustein says businesses give boomers the highest rating as workers — an average 4.86 stars out of 5. That ties them with Generation X workers, and puts them ahead of millennials (4.82 stars).

The types of jobs most likely to be filled by boomer Wonoloers include:

  • Fulfillment/warehousing
  • General labor
  • Administrative gigs

How you can earn more, too

Joining Wonolo is just one way to earn more cash if you are a boomer — or anyone else.

There are numerous other platforms through which you can find gig work, such as FlexJobs, Fiverr and Thumbtack. Some will likely suit you better than others, as there are more ways than ever to bring in extra money.

For example, you can get paid to:

We also round up a slew of additional ways to stash more cash — from renting out a room to raking in money via peer-to-peer lending — in “12 Ways Retirees Can Make Money Without Un-Retiring.”

Finally, check out ways to earn money without leaving home sweet home in:

What is your favorite way to earn more cash on the side? Share your tips in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.



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