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[Survey] 56% of Americans Are Overly Optimistic About Their Insurance Coverage

When it comes to auto insurance coverage, American drivers are feeling optimistic. We used Google Surveys to question more than 2,000 drivers across the nation about their confidence in accident coverage and satisfaction with policy prices. 

Key survey takeaways 

  • 56% of drivers believe that their insurance will provide full coverage in an at-fault accident 
  • More female drivers (54%) believe their insurance will provide full coverage in an at-fault accident than male drivers (46%)
  • 50% of drivers believe that their insurance premiums are fairly priced
  • More female drivers (55%) believe their insurance premiums are fairly priced than male drivers (45%)
  • 50% of drivers support laws requiring liability insurance

Drivers overly optimistic about accident coverage

If a driver gets into an accident that is their fault, the majority believe that their auto insurance provides full coverage for any damages that occur. 

Over half of drivers (56%) believe that if they are in a car accident that is their fault, their auto insurance will provide full coverage.

Of course the amount of coverage depends on your policy, but if you do not carry adequate auto insurance for the level of damages incurred in the accident, experts agree you could be personally liable for the costs. 

Gender gap in auto insurance optimism 

Of those drivers, women are more optimistic than their male counterparts about how much coverage their auto insurance provides in accidents that they cause. 54% of female drivers believe that their auto insurance will provide full coverage, compared to 46% of male drivers with the same belief. 

Optimism increases with age

For drivers surveyed, older drivers are more likely to believe that they will have full coverage in an at-fault accident, compared to younger drivers. 

70% of Americans ages 55-64 think their auto insurance will provide full coverage if they are at fault in an accident, compared to only 45% of Americans ages 18-34. 

Full coverage largely depends on the type of auto insurance policy you select. If you only have minimum liability car insurance, you will only have coverage up to a certain point. To ensure full coverage, it’s best to select an auto insurance policy that goes well beyond the minimum requirements. 

Drivers believe auto insurance premiums are fair

When it comes to the cost of auto insurance, most drivers feel that their auto insurance premiums are equitable.

In fact, 50% of respondents characterized their premiums as fairly priced, compared to 31% of drivers who feel that their premiums are too expensive.

Female drivers more likely to believe auto insurance is fairly priced

55% of female drivers believe their insurance premiums are fairly priced, compared to 45% of male drivers with the same belief. 

This may be because female drivers are less risky drivers than their male equivalents. In 2017, 73% more male drivers died from speeding-related motor vehicle fatalities than female drivers. The same data also indicates that many more men than women die each year in motor vehicle crashes. Male drivers typically drive more than female drivers and also engage in more risky driving practices, such as not using safety belts, driving while impaired by alcohol and speeding. 

Older drivers more likely to feel insurance prices are fair

Survey results indicate that older drivers are more likely to feel their auto insurance is fairly priced when compared to younger drivers.

56% of drivers ages 55-65+ believe their auto insurance policy price is fair. On the other hand, only 44% of drivers ages 18-34 share the same belief. 

Drivers are spending more on car insurance

According to the most recent data on auto insurance, the nationwide average for auto insurance spending rose 17% from 2007 to 2016.

The positive disposition drivers have towards insurance premiums and auto insurance legislation could impact this willingness to purchase insurance that goes beyond the minimum requirements. 

In 2017, 1% of people with liability insurance had a bodily liability claim, while 4% of those with liability insurance had a property damage liability claim, according to the Insurance Information Institute

With such a low frequency of claims, this could indicate that people are willing to pay more for insurance even if the number of their claims is not increasing. 

Who actually pays in a car crash

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, approximately 7% of all car crash costs are paid from public revenues. Federal revenues account for 6% of total crash costs, while state and local municipalities cover just around 3% of the costs involved.

Private insurances pay just about 54% of all motor vehicle crash costs. Individual crash victims pay around 23% of all costs, while third parties (like uninvolved motorists delayed in traffic, charities and health care providers) pay around 16% of total costs. 

Those not directly involved in crashes pay for nearly three-quarters of total crash costs, mainly through insurance premiums, taxes, and travel delay.

While private insurance does provide coverage for accidents you may be involved in, relying on this coverage exclusively may not be enough. 

States with the highest minimum insurance requirements 

It’s a good thing that most drivers support laws requiring liability insurance because most states across the nation mandate some variation of basic coverage. 

The following states represent those with the highest minimum insurance requirements: 

  1. Maine
  2. Maryland
  3. Minnesota
  4. New York
  5. North Carolina 
  6. Texas

In Maine, the minimum auto insurance coverage required for drivers is: 

  • $50,000 bodily injury per person per accident
  • $100,000 bodily injury for all persons per accident
  • $25,000 property damage liability per accident 

For Maryland drivers, the minimum auto insurance requirements for drivers are:

  • $30,000 bodily injury per person per accident
  • $60,000 bodily injury for all persons per accident 
  • $15,000 property damage liability per accident 
  • $30,000 bodily injury per person per accident for uninsured motorists 
  • $60,000 bodily injury for all persons per accident for uninsured motorists 

In Minnesota, the minimum auto insurance coverage required for drivers is:

  • $30,000 bodily injury per person per accident
  • $60,000 bodily injury for all persons per accident
  • $10,000 property damage liability per accident 
  • $25,000 bodily injury per person per accident for uninsured/underinsured motorists
  • $50,000 bodily injury for all persons per accident for uninsured/underinsured motorists 
  • $40,000 personal injury protection 

For New York drivers, the minimum auto insurance requirements are: 

  • $25,000 bodily injury per person per accident
  • $50,000 bodily injury for all persons per accident
  • $10,000 property damage liability per accident 
  • $50,000 liability for death per person
  • $100,000 liability for death per accident
  • $50,000 personal injury protection 
  • $25,000 bodily injury per person per accident for uninsured motorists
  • $50,000 bodily injury for all persons per accident for uninsured motorists  

In North Carolina, the minimum auto insurance coverage required for drivers is:

  • $30,000 bodily injury per person per accident
  • $60,000 bodily injury for all persons per accident
  • $25,000 property damage liability per accident 
  • $30,000 bodily injury per person per accident for uninsured motorists
  • $60,000 bodily injury for all persons per accident for uninsured motorists 
  • $25,000 property damage liability per accident for uninsured motorists 

For drivers in Texas, the minimum auto insurance minimum auto insurance requirements are: 

  • $30,000 bodily injury per person per accident
  • $60,000 bodily injury for all persons per accident
  • $25,000 property damage liability per accident 

Each of the states above set high limits of car insurance coverage in the event of an accident. For example, if you are involved in an accident that results in bodily injury to yourself in the state of Texas, your coverage will provide you with up to $30,000 per accident.

Regions with the most confidence in coverage

The Simple Dollar’s survey also revealed that American’s in the South and Midwest are more likely to believe their insurance will cover them if they are at fault in an accident. The Northeast region, on the other hand, has the most pessimism about insurance coverage in the U.S.

Average price for minimum coverage is lower in high requirement states

For the states with the highest minimum auto insurance requirements, the average policy prices for minimum coverage are: 

  • Maine: $359
  • Maryland: $710
  • Minnesota: $579
  • New York: $812
  • North Carolina: $347
  • Texas: $465

The nationwide average cost for minimum coverage policies is $937. With most of the states listed above (outside of New York and Minnesota) well below the nationwide average.  

Location is critical when it comes to policy rates. Rates differ from state to state because insurance is regulated at the state level. 

These states may have lower average costs for minimum coverage policies because they have more extensive mandatory protection. But, it should be noted that there are other factors at play when it comes to determining auto insurance rates by state. Conditions like property crime rates, weather, and even wildlife may also impact average rates. 

States with the lowest minimum insurance requirements 

New Hampshire stands out as the only state where car insurance is not mandatory. In fact, there are no minimum car insurance requirements in New Hampshire

But, even without minimum requirements, state law requires drivers to pay for any bodily injury or property damage that results from drivers operating vehicles that they own. 

Florida also ranks as one of the states with the lowest minimum insurance requirements. The minimum auto insurance coverage required for Florida drivers is: 

  • $10,000 personal injury protection 
  • $10,000 property damage liability per accident 

In 2017, the average auto liability claim for property damage was $3,638, while the average auto liability claim for bodily injury was $15,270. Comparing these averages to Florida’s minimum liability requirements, we can see that the cost of these claims on average is well outside what’s covered with minimum liability. Florida drivers may find that purchasing additional insurance, outside of the minimum requirements, is the safest bet for insuring themselves on the road. 

Outside of New Hampshire and Florida, Arizona makes the list with its unique insurance requirements. Arizona requires all drivers to show financial responsibility for damages that could arise in an accident. 

This financial responsibility can be either proof of liability insurance or certificate of deposit of $40,000 assigned to the Office of the Arizona State Treasurer. 

For a lot of drivers, it’s simply much easier to acquire liability insurance in place of a certificate of deposit. If a driver does purchase insurance (instead of a certificate of deposit), the minimum auto insurance requirements are: 

  • $15,000 bodily injury per person per accident 
  • $30,000 bodily injury for all persons per accident 
  • $10,000 property damage liability per accident

Average policy prices for minimum coverage higher in low requirement states

For the states with the lowest minimum auto insurance requirements, the average policy prices for minimum coverage are:

  • Michigan: $2,012
  • Florida: $884

When comparing these policy prices to the national average, $937, we see that these rates are significantly above average. These states may have higher policy costs because they do not have as extensive mandatory coverage requirements. 

Most expensive states for auto insurance also have high average insurance expenditures

Looking at the most recent data on car insurance rates by state, we see that the national average for car insurance is around $1,457. 

In terms of the states that top the charts in terms of car insurance costs, it is reported that the top five most expensive car states for car insurance are: 

  • Michigan: $2,611 average cost
  • Louisiana: $2,298 average cost 
  • Florida: $2,219 average cost 
  • Washington D.C.: $1,876 average cost 

When compared to the national average for car insurance, data indicates that: 

  • Michigan is 79% above the national average
  • Louisiana is 58% above the national average
  • Florida is 52% above the national average
  • Washington D.C. is 29% above the national average 

These states also have some of the highest average expenditures for auto insurance when compared to other states. The average expenditures for auto insurance were:

  • Michigan: $1,270.70 average spending
  • Louisiana: $1,302.11 average spending
  • Florida: $1,259.55 average spending
  • Washington D.C.: $1,246.80 average spending 

This indicates that states where it is more expensive to purchase insurance also experience higher auto insurance spending on average. 

When setting insurance policy rates, insurers review a number of factors to set their premiums. Factors like population density, the number of uninsured drivers, and weather are just a few of the things that go into determining the rates of auto insurance from state to state. 

Due to the specific conditions in each state, drivers may elect to spend more on auto insurance to make sure they are protected wherever they drive.

Least expensive states for auto insurance also have low average insurance expenditures

Data indicates that states where most drivers are insured and reside in more rural areas had the least expensive auto insurance rates and spend less on average when it comes to auto insurance. 

For example, it is reported that the top 5 least expensive states for car insurance are:

  • Maine: $845 average cost 
  • Wisconsin: $951 average cost 
  • Idaho: $1,040 average cost 
  • Iowa: $1,047 average cost 
  • Virginia: $1,063

When compared to the national average for car insurance, data indicates that: 

  • Maine is 42% below the national average 
  • Wisconsin is 35% below the national average
  • Idaho is 29% below the national average
  • Iowa is 28% below the national average 

The states also have some of the lowest average expenditures for auto insurance when compared to other states. The average expenditures for auto insurance were: 

  • Maine: $650.38 average spending
  • Wisconsin: $688.32 average spending
  • Idaho: $599.77 average spending
  • Iowa: $628.10 average spending 


If you’re driving a vehicle, or plan on driving a vehicle, you need insurance. While minimum auto insurance coverage gets the job done, it’s important to parse through all your insurance options to find a policy that fits your unique needs. 

If you are considering a new auto insurance policy in your state, we’ve compiled a list of the best car insurance companies of 2019 for you to find the coverage you need at a fair price.

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Earning supplemental income in retirement with a part-time job

Could you pay your mortgage, groceries, rent, insurance, medical expenses, and other bills on $2000/month? If you could, what kind of lifestyle might you lead?

Millions of retirees across America live it every day.

The Social Security Administration reports that 50% of elderly married beneficiaries and 70% of singles rely on Social Security for more than half of their monthly income. Considering that the average Social Security check is around $1361/month, this is a really tough place to be in for so many of these retirees.

And I’ve met them. Many of them.

Every year at my insurance agency, we meet thousands of baby boomers aging into Medicare at 65. We often see their shock, dismay, and confusion when they realize that the cost of their healthcare in retirement will easily eat up at least 20% to 30% of that Social Security check every month.

No matter how you slice it, even the best of the retiree budgeters out there are likely to have trouble making ends meet on Social Security income alone.

Sometimes when it comes to personal finance, budgeting isn’t the problem.

Sometimes income is the problem.

Fortunately, there’s good news on that front, because we live in an age where there are more opportunities to earn extra money than ever before. Our digital world has made this possible, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

When you’re on a fixed income and struggling to make ends meet, a side hustle that pays you even a few hundred dollars a month can be a tremendous help.

At Boomer Benefits, we polled our Facebook fans – largely baby boomers and seniors – to ask what kind of side-hustles they are rocking out there in the real world. What we learned is that there’s a wide array of ways in which creative retirees are supplementing their Social Security income.

Polling people about working in retirement Side hustles in retirement

Today, I’ll share a few of their stories to give you some ideas for your own possible side-hustle that could potentially help to reduce financial worry and afford you a better lifestyle in retirement.

Teach From Home

Did you know that you can get paid to teach English without leaving your house? That’s right, and this is a perfect example of a retirement side hustle that exists today that would not have been possible ten years ago.

Valerie Heidel shared with us that she uses an online teaching platform called Cambly to teach English to students in Saudi Arabia, China, Japan, and even Brazil. She found this job opportunity by searching online for work from home part-time jobs. This work-from-home part was a must so that she could make her own schedule and work only when she feels like it.

What was also important to Valerie in finding a side hustle was the sense of purpose and productivity. And, because she has quite a few repeat weekly students, the job gives her spending cash. She earns $0.17 per minute that she is online with a student, which comes out to $10.20/hour.

Not bad for a job that doesn’t require her to leave her house. And this part-time gig doesn’t require a degree either. You can be approved for teaching gigs like this one in as little as two days (although for some applicants it can take up to two months).

Another retiree we spoke with shared how she used her part-time teaching income to transition into retirement. Our client Nancy was teaching full-time at one college while also teaching health courses part-time online as an adjunct instructor. When she was laid off from her full-time job unexpectedly, she was able to transition into semi-retirement by keeping the part-time health teaching.

J.D.’s note: When Kim’s father retired from teaching high-school English, he too picked up some extra cash by teaching college-level English classes online.

Nancy shared that she has a physical disability which would make it difficult for her to teach in a classroom or report to an office for work. The ability to teach right from her laptop through the school’s Learning Management System has even allowed her to work when she was hospitalized. Once the courses are created, her main duties are to respond to emails and grade assignments.

She loves that it keeps her active and says that she would be bored without this job, so she plans to continue teaching for as long as she possibly can.

Nancy shared that she and her spouse currently use her part-time income to supplement their Social Security income benefits so that they can avoid dipping into their retirement savings for as long as possible.

Takeaway: Nearly everyone has a skill that they could turn into a tutoring, teaching or mentorship position. In addition to Cambly, you can check for opportunities that fit your skills at sites like Tutor, Skooli, and Yup.

Turn Your Passion into Part-Time Income

Billy makes extra money by dressing up as SantaJeanine Handley has been a creative artist all her life and worked in graphic design. Now that she’s retired, she does remote graphic design work for clients out of her own home.

She’s also managed to turn this passion into a business right in her own neighborhood. Several years ago, when she relocated to Florida, she moved into a 55+ community. Many of the residents there are active seniors who want to learn and explore new things in their own retirement.

Jeanine noticed that many residents didn’t know how to use the camera and editing features on their smartphones. She helped one woman in her eighties with picking out a new smartphone and iPad and began weekly lessons to show her how to use both.

This blossomed into a course there in the community in which Jeanine helps to introduce other folks to smartphones and smartphone photography. She can communicate and teach these skills in a manner that other seniors understand and appreciate.

Jeanine charges a small fee for this and the money she earns helps to supplement her income and be able to afford some of the extra things like travel, entertainment, and dining out.

As an artist at heart, she doesn’t plan to ever retire this side hustle. Think about your own hobbies and passions. Could there be a way for you to turn that into an income-producing side gig?

Another side-hustler who plans to never retire is our client Billy who is a professional Santa Claus.

That’s right. Santa Claus! How cool is that for an income booster?

As a member of three professional Santa Claus organizations, Billy appears everywhere from schools and restaurants to big city events to spread the holiday cheer. He stresses that this side-hustle is one that really comes from your heart and not from the boots and suit that you wear.

He enjoys talking to children of all ages and listening to their needs. Sometimes the job can require emotional fortitude as the requests aren’t always about gifts or toys but sometimes may include a plea that Santa helps a child’s father find a job.

Yet even so, Billy admits that what he enjoys most is visiting homes of children who are either chronically ill or home-bound. These visits fulfill his heart while the side income he earns helps he and his wife to pay some of their expenses in retirement.

Being Santa can be a serious business both emotionally and professionally. Billy must pass a criminal background check each year and has regularly attended schools and seminars to perfect his craft. He’s also a member of three professional Santa Claus organizations.

Takeaway: Think about the things in your life that you absolutely love to do. Could your passion benefit someone else? How could you monetize that so that you can earn some income while performing activities that hardly feel like work at all?

Become a Contractor for Your Former Employer

When Roberta Baciak retired from working in a local school lunchroom, she felt so bad about leaving them that she volunteered to be a fill-in worker whenever they are short-staffed. They were quick to take her up on her offer, so now she works one day a week every week and sometimes gets called in on other days.

She also works from home 15 hours a week as an administrative assistance for a coffee shop and roasting company owned by her daughter and son-in-law. She takes care of their invoices, payroll, entering expenses into Quickbooks, sending statements and things like that.

Her side hustles have afforded her the ability to pay off some medical bills and to have some pocket cash to spend on little things her grandsons. She also loves the honor of helping her family with their growing business.

She plans on working as long as she can for her family and probably another year or so at the school lunchroom because she enjoys seeing her co-workers and the kids at school.

Roberta recommends that other retirees looking for side-income check with their local schools because lunchrooms are often looking for people who are willing to fill-in on an on-call basis.

Takeaway: Consider negotiating part-time employment with your last employer before retirement. You never know when they might agree! If that’s not an option, who do you know that has a business? Are there any part-time services that you could offer to them with your skills?

Get Financially Fit with Furballs

Even older people can use technology to enhance their incomeI honestly can’t think of a side gig I would enjoy more than getting paid to hang out with some fur kids. Busy working professionals are using pet sitting services more than ever – J.D. tells me he frequently uses Rover to book walks for his dog — and what’s great about this particular job is that you could work contract though a pet sitting service, or you could just post your services in neighborhood sites like Nextdoor.

This side hustle is really flexible because you can work only when you want to, and you can pet site in your own home or in someone else’s home for a little more cash.

I myself am a busy entrepreneur, working long hours at the office and frequently traveling for business. When I’m going to be gone overnight, I pay a friend’s mom, who is retired, to come and spend the night with my fur babies.

It helps me sleep at night to know that someone is caring for them, but I also know love that my pet sitter is a retiree who can really use the money to help her make ends meet. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Not sure about overnights? You could start with some day visits or dog-walking, both of which are other pet services that many working people willingly pay for.

Takeaway: This one is possibly the easiest side gig of all to get started in. Post on your favorite neighborhood app or sign up as a pet sitter or dog walker with sites live Rover or Wag.

What Will Your Next Side Hustle Be?

These are just a few of the fun and creative ways to earn extra retirement income that some of our own social media followers at Boomer Benefits have shared with us. No matter what type of work you used to do, there are endless opportunities for new things that you can do once you are retired to supplement your income from Social Security and investments.

If teaching or pet sitting aren’t your thing, check out our post on 50 Ingenius Ways to Earn Money in Retirement for additional inspiration. You might also check out Ryan Helms’ Hustle to Freedom podcast, which is one that I’ve referred dozens of people to when they’ve shared that they want to work part-time but aren’t quite sure doing what.

The key is understanding that our digital world really does make it easier than ever to put a few extra dollars in your pocket each month and sometimes just that little bit makes all the difference.

Happy Hustling!

Author: Danielle K. Roberts

Danielle K. Roberts is a founding partner at Boomer Benefits, a national agency specializing in Medicare-related insurance products since 2005. Boomer Benefits helps baby boomers learn the ropes regarding Medicare. Danielle also writes frequently about Medicare, retirement, and personal finance topics and has been published or quoted in Forbes, Business Insider, CNBC and other media outlets. She is a member of the Forbes Finance Council.

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5 Upgrades That Help Seniors Grow Old in Their Own Homes

mavo /

More than three-quarters of Americans age 50 or older want to retire in their current community, preferably in their current home, according to AARP.

Staying could require homeowners to make some changes to maintain their quality of life, but many already know this.

A 2018 AARP survey found that 63% of adults own their homes and about one-third expect their homes to need significant updates to enable them to age in place.

Following are some practical upgrades to consider if you’re planning on aging in place.

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5 Things to Know About the Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card

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.

Small-business owners who want a new credit card and who are continually flying out of Atlanta, Boston, Cincinnati or other strongholds of Delta Air Lines might shortlist the Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card.

It offers airport lounge access, progress toward elite status and other perks. The card is scheduled to get better — and pricier — in 2020, but you can lock in a lower annual fee now.

For entrepreneurs who enjoy comfort and productivity benefits while traveling, this Delta decision is as easy as alpha, beta, gamma.

Here are five things to know about the Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card.

1. It’s mostly about the airport lounge

Excellent premium travel cards abound. The reason to get this one is that it includes a full membership to Delta Sky Clubs, the airline’s airport lounges, where you’ll have access to a slew of amenities, including complimentary drinks, Wi-Fi, showers and more.

The card’s annual fee of $450 might seem high, but considering a Sky Club membership costs $545, it makes sense.

The card also allows you to bring up to two guests at $29 per person per visit.

Starting Jan. 30, 2020, lounge benefits expand. In addition to Delta Sky Clubs, your card will also get you into highly regarded American Express Centurion Lounges when you’re flying Delta. And every year you’ll get two one-time guest passes to Delta’s lounges. The price for additional guest passes rises to $39 each and must be charged to the card. Terms apply.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s best credit cards for small-business owners

2. Spending rewards are weak …

Earn 2 miles per dollar spent on eligible purchases made directly with Delta and 1 mile on everything else.

Often business credit cards will have either higher flat-rate rewards for all purchases, or for certain spending categories — such as advertising and office supply stores — that earn bonus rewards and are relevant to small-business owners. And consumer airline cards have started adding useful bonus categories, like restaurants and hotels.

Even after Delta spruces up the card in January 2020, rewards will be better but unexciting. You’ll earn 3 miles back on purchases made directly with Delta and 1 mile per dollar on everything else. However, you’ll earn 1.5 miles back on non-Delta purchases after you spend $150,000 on the card in a calendar year, which is nice for high-spenders.

Terms apply.

» MORE: Who can apply for a business credit card?

3. … but benefits abound

With a card of this caliber, you expect some perks, and this card has ’em. Besides airport lounge access, you get:

  • Companion certificate.You receive an annual companion certificate upon renewal. The benefit is good for one round-trip domestic flight in first class, Delta Comfort+ or main cabin for someone traveling with you, less taxes and fees.
  • Free checked bags. An especially generous benefit that waives the first checked-bag fees on up to nine people on the same reservation.
  • Priority boarding.
  • Expedited Sky Priority security line. However, this benefit goes away on Jan. 30, 2020.
  • 20% discount on in-flight purchases. You must use your card, and the discount comes in the form of a statement credit.
  • Baggage insurance.
  • Car rental loss and damage insurance.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • Miles do not expire.
  • Terms apply.

4. Big spending helps achieve elite-flyer status

The new-cardholder bonus is expressed as: Earn 40,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. With Miles Boost®, you can earn 15,000 bonus miles and 15,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $30,000 or more in eligible purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Earn an additional 15,000 bonus miles and 15,000 MQMs after you spend $60,000 in eligible purchases on your Card in a calendar year for a total of 30,000 bonus miles and 30,000 MQMs. Starting January 30, 2020, you will no longer earn bonus miles with this benefit. Terms Apply.

Not all airline credit cards allow you to spend your way toward elite status, often coveted by frequent flyers. But the Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card allows high-spenders to rack up qualification miles toward a status, which Delta calls Medallion Tiers.

On Jan. 30, 2020, the Miles Boost program will be renamed Status Boost and will no longer include additional miles for higher spending levels. You will continue to earn status miles, however. For reference, the lowest elite tier, Silver, requires 25,000 Medallion Qualification Miles.

» MORE: Delta Air Lines SkyMiles program: The complete guide

5. Major changes are coming in January 2020

The card will relaunch on Jan. 30, 2020. Changes are mostly positive, but there are both pluses and minuses for consumers. The main changes:

  • Earn 3 miles back on purchases made directly with Delta and 1.5 miles back on purchases after you spend $150,000 on the card in a calendar year.
  • Receive a credit of up to $100 for the application fee for either Global Entry or TSA Precheck.
  • Complimentary access to American Express Centurion Lounges when you use the card to book a Delta flight. (This is in addition to the access the card gives you to Delta’s own Sky Club lounges.)
  • Two one-time guest passes to Delta Sky Clubs annually, and additional passes are $39 instead of $29.
  • Up to four status boosts annually, plus access to complimentary upgrades even if you don’t have elite or “medallion” status in Delta’s frequent-flyer program.
  • You’ll no longer be able to use Sky Priority Security Lane Access.
  • The Miles Boost feature is changing its name to Status Boost, and its rewards are being reduced so that the boost earns only Medallion Qualifying Miles and not bonus miles.
  • The annual fee increases by $100.
  • Terms apply.

Delta and American Express also offer other cards for small business, the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express and the Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express, as well as a comparable high-end card aimed at consumers, the Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express.

For those considering the top-tier Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card, perhaps the most important question is: Does this card offer enough now — and with the later changes — to justify its hefty price, which is only rising higher in the future? For high-spending Delta devotees, it very well could.

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LEGO Replay Program: Donate Your Used LEGO Bricks!

October 12, 2019 | Gretchen

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If you have use LEGO bricks laying around the house, check out this new LEGO Replay Program — a great way to donate to kids in need!

Psst! Love LEGOS? Check out all of our latest LEGO deals!

LEGO Replay Program

This is SO cool!

The LEGO Group has announced a brand new pilot program called LEGO Replay — which allows you to easily donate your used LEGO bricks to children’s non-profits across the country!

To donate to the LEGO Replay program, simply place your used LEGO bricks in a cardboard box and go here to print out a free UPS shipping label. Once LEGO receives your donation, they’ll do all the work to get your used LEGO bricks into the hands of kids in need.

You can donate LEGO bricks of all sizes, including Duplo, big, and small bricks. And feel free to throw them all in one cardboard box together — no need to sort them!

Go here for more information.

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How Long Does It Take to Improve Your Credit Score?

Dear Penny,

I have been reading articles for months about how people have had these huge credit score increases, yet since April 2018, we have paid off approximately $22,000, yet my score has gone from about 503 to 575.

With paying that much off, it would seem my score should be higher. So what are we doing wrong?


Dear T.,

You’ve improved your credit score by 72 points. You’ve paid off $22,000 worth of debt. You asked me what you’re doing wrong. I’d counter that you’re obviously doing something right.

Your credit score isn’t the GPA of your finances. It’s not a measure of your overall fiscal health. It’s simply a number that helps lenders gauge your likelihood of becoming delinquent or defaulting on debt. 

Sometimes what’s good for your finances has a minimal effect on your credit score. Paying off debt, in some cases, is one of those moves: Sure, it’s smart, but it won’t always cause your score to skyrocket.

With credit scores, not all debt is treated equally. Racking up — and subsequently paying off — debt on a credit card or line of credit — will have the most effect. The amount of credit you’re using is a key factor too. Known as your credit utilization ratio, it accounts for 30% of your FICO score, which is the scoring model most lenders use. 

Keeping this number below 30% will help your credit score, though 0% is the ideal number.

So yeah, if you told me you’d paid off $22,000 worth of credit card debt, I’d be somewhat surprised that you haven’t gotten more of a boost, provided that your limits haven’t changed.

But loans don’t factor into your credit utilization ratio. So if you’ve reduced your car loan, mortgage or student loan by $22,000, you could expect less of an impact to your score.

In fact, paying off loans can even hurt your score in the short term by lowering your average length of credit and changing your credit mix when you close your accounts. (Ignore your score for a few months in this scenario. It will bounce back.)

But the factor that matters most of all to FICO is your payment history, which determines 35% of your score. There are no quick fixes if you’ve made late payments or missed them altogether, because the negative information stays on your credit reports for seven years. 

Harsh? Yes. But the good news is the effect on your credit score is most acute in the first two years. Assuming that you’re now making on-time payments, your score will gradually improve as you build positive history and the damage fades.

In the meantime, here are a few suggestions for jumpstarting your score.

Apply for new credit — either through a new credit card or raising the limit on an existing one — and pay off the balance in full each month. Increasing your overall credit while chipping away at your balances will lower your credit utilization ratio. 

You may be denied for a traditional credit card since your score is still in the 500s. If that happens, apply for a secured credit card. You’ll have to put down a refundable deposit and use that as your credit limit. If you make on-time payments for a year or so, your bank will probably let you switch to an unsecured card.

If you’re paying off both credit cards and loans, you might want to prioritize the credit cards. Just keep the accounts open after you finish paying off the balance.

Also, make sure you’ve checked your credit reports and not just your score. About 1 in 5 credit reports contain errors, and getting inaccurate information removed is one of the fastest fixes for your score.

A final piece of advice: For now, try not to focus too much on your credit score. Focus instead on your overall financial health, which is no doubt improving as you pay off debt. A healthier credit score will develop over time.

Robin Hartill is a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder and the voice behind Dear Penny. Send your questions about credit scores to [email protected]

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18 Best Dude Ranches in the U.S.

The pinnacle of my pre-adolescent travel career was a weeklong visit to a rustic dude ranch in Wyoming’s high country. Years later, most of the details are fuzzy, but two distinct memories remain: riding horseback along a bubbling, sun-dappled creekside and perching at the edge of the stables on a warm afternoon, watching the ranch hands go about their business.

I realize today how fortunate I am to have those childhood memories. My dude ranch experience was unquestionably the vacation of my childhood; a similar vacation may well be the most memorable getaway of your adult life.

Open a Simple Account by 10/31/19 4:59 PM PT and get up to a $500 bonus and 2.15% APY (with qualified activities).

After setting out a rough budget and researching options that fall more or less within it, use these pre-vacation savings tricks to get the ball rolling. Since popular ranches and resorts take high-season reservations a year or more out and book up quickly, you’ll want to reserve your spot as soon as you’ve saved enough to make the booking deposit – typically 25% to 50% of the total lodging rate. Consider paying by cash or check; some properties pass credit card processing fees of up to 3% on to customers, potentially adding hundreds to the final bill.

Can you see yourself at any of these top-rated U.S. guest ranches?

Top Dude Ranches in the USA: Best Luxury Vacations

These dude ranches and ranch-style resorts are best described as “luxurious.” You can still rough it in these locales if you wish, but it’s by no means expected or required.

Since pricing is subject to change by property, season, and demand, nightly or weekly rates aren’t included below. However, guests should expect to pay at least $400 per person, per night, at any time of year, and significantly more during the high season, which typically stretches from June through September. Mind minimum stay requirements too; four nights is typical during the off-season, and many resorts require six- or seven-night stays during the high season.

1. Brush Creek Ranch, Wyoming

Sprawling across tens of thousands of acres and a seemingly endless variety of landscapes in the Sierra Madre Mountains of southern Wyoming, the Brush Creek Ranch Luxury Collection encompasses three stunning properties:

  • Brush Creek Ranch Lodge & Spa. This 30,000-acre spread is not your typical working ranch. Luxurious finishes and uncommon privacy unite the 33 individual units, which range from cozy two-person cabin and lodge rooms to four-person cabin suites. Although horseback riding is not the main attraction here, the property’s 55 miles of single- and double-track trails will keep even the most committed riders busy. Choose from guided rides, cattle drives, barrel racing lessons, pole bending, and classic equestrian-style riding. Non-horseback activities include yoga hikes, fly and float fishing, and ATV excursions. Most activities are included in the nightly per-person rate, but some – such as overnight glamping excursions – may require an additional fee.
  • French Creek Sportsmen’s Club. The French Creek Sportsmen’s Club is an exclusive enclave that gives new meaning to the term “sportsman’s paradise.” The place has room for just 12 guests in four creekside cabins oriented around a clubhouse with a stocked bar, big-screen TV, and spacious outdoor fire pit, making it a perfect retreat for a luxurious destination bachelor party. But most guests devote their time here to exploring the 15,000 acres of expertly managed wilderness and 22 linear miles of fishing territory on three creeks. On land, choose from driven bird hunts, big game hunts, and waterfowl hunts, or try your hand at a variety of non-game shooting sports.
  • Magee Homestead. Magee Homestead is Brush Creek’s answer to an all-inclusive, adults-only destination resort – one that’s more than worthy to stand up against the planet’s top tropical honeymoon destinations. World-class dining and spa treatments are par for the course here, but what sets Magee apart are opportunities to rub shoulders with elite culinary talents such as winemakers Alex Gambal and Jesse Katz at multi-day, guest-only events.

Summer 2019 marks the debut of The Farm at Brush Creek Ranch, an ambitious homage to farm-to-table cuisine and artisanal refreshments. Its centerpiece restaurant, The Cheyenne Club, features Wagyu beef raised on site, a rare delicacy that alone may be worth the trip. Other Farm components include a craft brewery, craft distillery, bakery, creamery, a vast greenhouse that makes the most of the region’s harsh climate, and a 94-yard wine cellar featuring some of the world’s rarest vintages.

2. The Ranch at Rock Creek, Montana

As the world’s first Forbes Travel Guide five-star guest ranch, The Ranch at Rock Creek may be first among equals at the top of the luxury dude ranch list.

Despite its comparatively meager 6,600 acres, the Ranch at Rock Creek boasts an endless assortment of traditional rustic ranch activities, including guided horseback rides, fly fishing excursions, hikes, shooting sports, wildlife viewing tours, and rodeos. It has plenty of non-traditional offerings too, including yoga, ropes course, geocaching, and mountain biking.

Virtually none of these on-resort activities carry any out-of-pocket cost, thanks to the property’s expansive all-inclusive policy. You’ll only pay extra for treatments at the Granite Spa and select off-ranch excursions, such as helicopter tours, guided ATV rides, whitewater rafting, and kid-friendly sapphire mining adventures. Unlimited drinks, dining, on-resort entertainment, and airport transfers are included in the nightly charge; the 20% ranch fee covers state tax, staff gratuities, and extras such as Wi-Fi and in-room refreshments.

3. Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa, Colorado

Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa bills itself as “The Colorado Experience” – which, if you’re familiar with Colorado, you’ll know is quite the boast.

There’s certainly enough here to make an unforgettable vacation. Choose from a la carte on- and off-ranch activities – many of which are included in the Ranch Relax & Play Getaway package – such as:

  • Three-season zip line tours
  • A variety of horseback riding options, from quick out-and-back family rides to all-day adventures
  • A slew of winter activities, such as Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, and fat biking
  • Yoga
  • Fly fishing
  • Stand up paddleboarding
  • Mountain biking

Roughly 90 minutes from downtown Denver on a good day and an even two hours from bustling Denver International Airport, Devil’s Thumb isn’t tough to reach, weather permitting. If you have a couple of extra days, check out our guide to fun and cheap things to do in Denver and add a dash of cosmopolitan flair to your Colorado Rockies ranch vacation.

4. Triple Creek Ranch, Montana

Part of the exclusive Relais & Chateaux hospitality network, Montana’s Triple Creek Ranch is an all-inclusive ranch resort tucked away in the thickly forested Bitterroot Mountains. The main lodge and its environs feature a tennis court, heated pool, dry sauna, fitness center, and disc golf course. Golf carts appear outside farther-flung cabins once the snow melts, offering easy access around paved portions of the property.

Triple Creek Ranch’s all-inclusive package is generous, even by luxury ranch standards. You’ll only pay extra for off-ranch activities outfitted by third parties (think destination fly fishing and high-country excursions), premium beverages, laundry, and airport transfers. Everything else – including potentially pricey activities such as Alpine skiing, guided nature safaris, on-ranch fly fishing, sapphire panning, and guided mountain or snow-biking excursions – is included in your nightly rate.

5. Vermejo Park Ranch, New Mexico

Vermejo Park Ranch is the largest and most luxurious of the four eco-friendly Ted Turner Reserves. The media mogul’s crown jewel sprawls across 550,000 private acres in the mountains of northern New Mexico, stretching from grassy bottomlands to alpine highlands that only briefly lose their snowcaps in summer.

With 19 fishable lakes and 30 miles of crystal-clear streams comprising the better portion of the Rio Grande’s headwaters, Vermejo is an angler’s paradise. It’s not bad for experienced hikers, either; if you’re an avid summiteer, come in June for the annual “4 Peaks in 5 Days” tour, a grueling guided hike covering some of the southern Rockies’ most beautiful terrain. For a gentler wilderness experience, opt for a signature nature photography tour. “Babes and Blooms,” for instance, is an unforgettable menagerie of tender wildflowers and newborn big game, all captured in their natural elements.

6. Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort, California

The Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort sits on 10,000 prime acres in southern California’s gorgeous Santa Ynez Valley, about three hours west of Los Angeles, traffic permitting. It’s undoubtedly the most temperate luxury ranch destination on this list; you can play the resort’s two championship golf courses, including one exclusively for guests and club members, year-round. Alisal is also one of the most genteel; for male guests, dinner is a no-jeans, jackets-on affair.

The quality of the food more than makes up for the inconvenient location. Even among gourmet ranch experiences, Alisal stands out for its thoughtfulness and attention to detail, and the periodic BBQ Bootcamp package is a treat for serious outdoor cooks. Another only-in-California perk: complimentary guest tastings at nearby wineries.

7. The Home Ranch, Colorado

Back to the alpine zone we go – or, technically, just below it in a stunning high-country valley near Steamboat Springs. Blending the luxury of Relais & Chateaux affiliation with the familiarity of a family-friendly dude ranch, The Home Ranch is a great place to leave the kids in good hands and enjoy some couples time.

The comprehensive children’s program includes horseback riding, pond and fly fishing, mountain biking, and nature hikes. For the adults, on-ranch activities include hiking, horseback riding, fly fishing, yoga, and pool swimming. Off-ranch activities not covered by the all-inclusive nightly rate include road cycling, rock climbing, and whitewater rafting.

Also worth noting: Despite harsh high country weather, much of The Home Ranch’s fare is grown or sourced on site or nearby, thanks to the ranch’s startlingly productive farm and close, decades-long relationships with local producers.

8. Dunton Hot Springs & Dunton River Camp, Colorado

Tucked away in the shadow of Mount Wilson some 8,600 feet above sea level, Dunton Hot Springs and Dunton River Camp are Dunton Destinations’ signature luxury ranch properties.

At Dunton Hot Springs, the eponymous water feature, now tamed in an old-school bathhouse-type spa, is the main attraction. Unlike most of the luxury ranches on this list, Dunton Hot Springs wasn’t built from the ground up. Rather, it’s a meticulously restored old ghost town; there’s silver, gold, and other precious metals galore in these hills, and charm flows as readily as the springs.

At Dunton River Camp, the serene sounds of a bubbling creek meld with a calming forest-and-field backdrop and stunning peak views. With just eight luxury tents on 500 secluded acres stocked with resort-grade creature comforts, Dunton River Camp is your classic glamping destination – a quiet slice of nature that’s just the right amount of natural.

Even among high Rockies ranches, Dunton stands out as a true four-season destination. The staggering summer activity menu is just the start; a full slate of cold-season activities, from Nordic skiing and snowshoeing to world-class downhill skiing and riding at nearby Telluride, beckon winter visitors.

One drawback: Many activities included in comparable guest ranches’ base rates are priced a la carte here, meaning busy visitors can rack up quite the activity tab. Some outings, such as guided mountain hikes at $170 per person for a half-day and $200 per person for a full day, seem downright overpriced.

9. Smith Fork Ranch, Colorado

Three hours north of Dunton on a series of white-knuckle mountain roads, Smith Fork Ranch delivers an altogether different brand of luxury – all-inclusive, family-friendly rusticity that emphasizes environmental stewardship and sustainability over pulse-pounding adventure.

Not that there isn’t plenty to get the blood pumping here. Guests enjoy standard on-ranch activities such as fly fishing, sporting clays, archery, and horseback riding, all included in the base rate. Signature off-ranch activities, which typically cost extra, include paddleboarding and whitewater rafting on the legendary Gunnison River, forays into Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park, and tours of nearby wineries and orchards (the Western Slope is an underappreciated fruit-producing region).

10. The Resort at Paws Up, Montana

If its marketing team is to be believed, The Resort at Paws Up invented glamping. True or not, one night here should dispel any lingering doubt about its upscale camping bona fides. This 37,000-acre resort’s stunning montane environs are surpassed only by its attention to detail after luxurious detail – attention all the more impressive for the 275-guest resort’s unusual spaciousness. Each camp, for instance, has a dedicated camping butler – essentially, its own concierge – and camp chef.

Paws Up has wood-walled accommodations too, and they’re impressive. If you can’t decide between a luxe tent and a luxe house, opt for the “ultimate week-long vacation at Paws Up”: four nights in a home and three nights in a tent. Just be prepared to pay out of pocket for activities considered core at most all-inclusive guest ranches, such as horseback riding and on-ranch fly fishing.

Cowboy Horse Dude Ranch

Top Dude Ranches in the USA: Best Affordable Stays

Although they all have modern conveniences such as running water and guest telephones, these dude ranches are a bit rougher around the edges than their luxury counterparts. Pricing reflects their relative modesty; during the off-season, some of these properties offer nightly rates well under $200 per person, subject to minimum stay requirements and supplemental pricing for items such as alcoholic beverages or signature activities.

11. Tanque Verde Ranch, Arizona

Sprawling across more than 60,000 acres just beyond Tucson’s eastern city limit, Tanque Verde Ranch may be the most accessible dude ranch destination on this list. Despite the encroaching urbanity, Tanque Verde somehow manages to maintain the semi-rustic vibe that’s kept families coming back for decades, at a price point that fastidious families can afford.

Its parched surroundings and lack of TVs aren’t all that differentiate Tanque Verde from more luxe high-country guest ranches. Even compared with upscale family resorts, this place has an inclusive, accessible vibe that speaks to guests looking to revel in Arizona’s famed Sonoran hospitality and maybe make new friends in the process.

Don’t worry; if things begin to feel too familiar, the entrance to the eastern portion of Saguaro National Park is literally across the street. Talk about an escape.

12. C Lazy U Ranch, Colorado

Don’t let the head-scratcher of a name fool you. C Lazy U Ranch is an old-school guest ranch with a well-deserved reputation for family-friendly fun.

If five-star luxury is your thing, C Lazy U isn’t for you. But if you’re looking for an expertly curated dude ranch experience featuring a full slate of traditional activities, fantastic Western-style fare, and an excellent kids’ program that offers invaluable peace of mind when you’re out on the trail, this place should be on your shortlist.

Not that C Lazy U hasn’t kept up with the times. Suspended over a mountain stream, the Lazy You spa blends the sort of first-rate service city slickers expect with only-in-Colorado novelty treatments such as the Cowboy Soak, an after-dark copper tub bath complete with champagne and strawberries.

13. Red Rock Ranch, Wyoming

Nestled in the impossibly picturesque Gros Ventre Valley less than an hour northeast of Jackson Hole, Red Rock Ranch ticks all the rustic dude ranch boxes. Sweeping vistas? Check. Miles of single-track trails? Check. Grizzled ranch hands? Check. Classic, locally sourced Western fare that tastes way better than it should after a long day on the trail? A robust kids’ program? Check and check.

What Red Rock doesn’t have is many frills. Here, “luxury” is a cushioned seat, cold beverage, and juicy steak – and only after you’ve worked the day for it. The modern pool is the only communal amenity that would look out of place in the Old West; even the ranch’s self-proclaimed “highlight of the week,” a square dance, is old-school.

14. A Bar A Ranch, Wyoming

In continuous operation since 1922, A Bar A Ranch is another old-school guest ranch where rustic charm is the point, not something to be paid lip service.

A Bar A covers nearly 100,000 acres of pristine southern Wyoming wilderness, making it one of the country’s largest guest ranches; it’s about half of New York City’s land area, with much fewer occupants. It’s open June through September only, making no effort to phone in cold-season activities. And it’s one of a shrinking number of American guest ranches where experienced guests can ride horseback without guides – though this distinction is probably one unfortunate mishap from going the way of the telegraph.

A Bar A isn’t totally off the grid. Decidedly non-rustic amenities include a shooting sports program, heated pool, nine-hole golf course, and tennis courts. It’s also fairly unique among fellow old-school dude ranches for the quantity of commissioned sculptures on its grounds, courtesy of the late owner.

15. Mountain Sky Guest Ranch, Montana

A quick drive from Yellowstone National Park’s north gate, Mountain Sky Guest Ranch boasts uncommonly beautiful surroundings, even by the high standards of the guest ranches on this list. Guided Yellowstone excursions are a major draw here. Though they’re not included in the base tariff, they’re cheaper than a return trip to this remote corner of the American West – that is, if you can tear yourself away from the ranch grounds.

Along with standard on-ranch fare such as horseback riding, fly fishing instruction, yoga, massage, and traditional Western fare brimming with locally sourced ingredients, Mountain Sky is notable for a guests-only, 18-hole golf course that happens to be the first Montana course certified as an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary by Audubon International. If you must golf in the shadow of the Yellowstone caldera, you must manage your environmental impact.

16. The Hideout Lodge & Guest Ranch, Wyoming

The Hideout Lodge & Guest Ranch sprawls across 150,000 acres of pristine northern Wyoming grassland, badlands, and forest. Thanks to its proximity to the Bighorn National Forest, its backyard is even larger – some 650,000 acres.

Despite all that space, The Hideout has capacity for just 25 riding guests, give or take. It’s far more intimate than most of the other ranches on this list, and with a multi-generational wrangler crew, there’s a distinct “extended family” vibe here. Generosity is part of the Hideout ethos; most activities are included in the base rate, with rodeo night excursions to nearby Cody the notable exception.

One drawback: The Hideout has no formal children’s program, a bummer for parents looking for space.

17. White Stallion Ranch, Arizona

White Stallion Ranch may offer the best value on this list – temporarily, at least, thanks to a management change and a rolling “experiment” to test new programs and activities. There’s definitely an effort to balance loyalty to tradition with appealing to younger visitors; White Stallion is more like an amenity-rich desert resort with horses than a guest ranch that happens to have a pool and fitness center.

For families with small kids, the petting zoo is a nice touch. And like Tanque Verde, White Stallion buts up against Saguaro National Park, offering even more natural space to spread out. You can also check out our guide to fun and cheap things to do in Tucson and add a couple days to your stay off-ranch.

18. Triangle X Ranch, Wyoming

Many dude ranches abut protected lands such as national parks or forests, but Triangle X Ranch is the only guest ranch located inside a national park, thanks to an age-old concession agreement with the National Park Service.

Beyond bragging rights, Triangle X’s unusual location affords guests unparalleled views of the immediately recognizable Teton range – a worthy backdrop for first-time riders and experienced wranglers alike. Not surprisingly, off-ranch activities are big here. Triangle X’s National Park Float Trips is an authorized NPS vendor, meaning it has nearly free reign on the pristine upper Snake River. The evening dinner float is not to be missed after a tough day on the trail.

Final Word

These are some of the most luxurious guest ranches in the United States, along with some of the oldest and most venerated. You’ll have a hard time going wrong with any of the choices here.

And this list is by no means the last word on the U.S. dude ranch experience. The country’s western third boasts dozens and dozens of upscale and not-so-upscale guest ranches, some with working cattle operations and others fully given over to tourists. No two are quite alike; all have something to offer adventurous solo guests, couples, and families looking to break the daily routine for a while.

Happy trails!

What’s your favorite dude ranch in the United States? What do you like about it?

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Inspiration from Seneca, Rhiannon Giddens, Babish, and More!

Once a month (or so), I share a dozen things that have inspired me to greater personal, professional, and financial success in my life. I hope they bring similar success to your life. Please enjoy the archives of earlier collections of inspirational things.

1. Seneca on happiness

“Happy the man who improves other people not only when he is in their presence but even when he is in their thoughts.” – Seneca

I can tell you from personal experience that one of the best feelings you can have is a realization that someone you’ve helped and influenced in a positive way has gone on to do good things without your involvement whatsoever.

You don’t have to be a teacher or a social worker to have this kind of experience, either. Just be an example of the kind of person you want society to be filled with. Have a set of core values, share them when asked, and most importantly, live by those values every second of the day. Listen to the other person when in conversation with them and don’t just use the time when they’re speaking to formulate your response.

Those kinds of things are easier said than done, of course, but those who do them have an outsized positive impact on those around them, and that positive impact often has ripple effects of positivity. The moment when you realize those ripples exist and you had nothing directly to do with them is a moment where you feel really, really good.

This is a powerful episode of a very good podcast that’s managed to stay in the 20 or so podcasts I listen to for a few years now. The subject of this episode is the value of setting standards for yourself so that you know exactly whether or not you’re living up for what you expect from yourself. The hosts get to this point by going through the personnel review standards that the Navy and Marines use for evaluating service members and discussing the value of standards-based review and how to apply it to yourself.

In short, the episode suggests that you strive to become a better person in every area of life and take steps to do so every single day. In doing this, they propose coming up with clear standards with which to evaluate yourself in terms of today’s performance, meaning you do it every day.

This is actually very much in line with the ideas discussed in the books Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith and Atomic Habits by James Clear, both of which I have lauded in the past couple of years on this site. I’ve spent time over the last few weeks combining all of these ideas into a system of my own of sorts that takes elements from all three.

What I’m trying to do is define what a truly great person is in each of the different spheres of my life and how that great person lives out a day in their life, in detail and in terms of things that are applicable to me. What does a physically healthy person do each day? What does a fit person do each day? What does a taekwondo master do each day? I’m just writing out what kinds of things those roles embodies. Then, I’m using that to figure out what a “10/10” day is for me as I try to fulfill that role or at least move in that direction to the best of my ability, with my primary interest being effort and gradual refinement. In the end, I aim to reach a point where I’m scoring myself each day on a healthy handful of categories, then revising the standards every few months so that I continue to get better in all areas.

I’ve found that trying to develop this kind of personal standard for myself has filled up a ton of journal entries as I work out the details of everything. It’s been enlightening, and it’s also made me realize that I’m not always choosing the best goals and targets for what I want out of life.

To me, this kind of stuff is pure inspiration. Anything that makes you think about the life you want to live and the person you want to be in great detail is hugely inspirational.

3. Eric Thomas on the next 24 hours

“Don’t think about what can happen in a month. Don’t think about what can happen in a year. Just focus on the 24 hours in front of you and do what you can to get closer to where you want to be.” – Eric Thomas

Focus on today. Today is literally all that matters. Make today great. Worry about tomorrow when it comes, but make it great, too.

What does it mean to make a day “great”? That’s up to you to decide, of course. Most of us have a good sense as to what makes a day pretty worthless, but what makes a great day? You really have to define that for yourself.

Then, aim to get as close to that great day as you can every single day. If you do that, your life is going to be really good in the short run and the long run.

If you’re an avid reader like me, this extension for the Google Chrome web browser is an amazing thing. Whenever you visit a page for a specific book at several different websites, including Amazon, it pops up and lets you know automatically if that book is available at a library near you. It picks a few nearby libraries by default and you can change those libraries in the settings.

In the last few weeks alone, this popup has kept me from three different unnecessary book purchases that I was considering (not sure I would have actually bought any of them, but I was thinking about it). Rather than whipping out the credit card, I whipped out the library card instead.

Of course, right now I have more books on hold at the library than I can probably read in the time that I’ll have them.

5. Joseph P. Kauffman on being judged

“Any time you worry that someone is going to judge you, that is really you judging yourself.” – Joseph P. Kauffman

The idea that someone else will judge you is simply the assumption that other people will think the way you think and that other people will give you the same level of consideration that you give to yourself. Neither one of those things is ever true.

First of all, no one thinks in the way that you do. The things you notice and value in other people is a set of things that’s different from everyone else. Thus, your opinion on things is likely to be somewhat different than everyone else, and that includes your opinion of yourself.

Second, no one is ever going to go over you in the detail in which you go over yourself. They’ll usually pull out two or three traits about you and stop there.

The things you’re judging yourself over are things that likely won’t be noticed, and if they are, the other person likely won’t think negatively about it. Worrying about it is doing nothing other than bringing down your mood, which will definitely impact how you present yourself and is more likely to be noticed than whatever it is you’re worrying about.

You’ve got this. Don’t worry about what other people think. You got this.

6. Lao Tzu on time

“Time is a created thing. To say ‘I don’t have time’ is like saying ‘I don’t want to.’” – Lao Tzu

Whenever you say you don’t have time for something, what you are really saying is that something else is a higher priority in your life for your time use.

Look around your life. Is everything you’re doing a higher priority than this? Are you sure you’re not just committing to things because they’re urgent and not actually important? Are you sure that you can’t actually commit time to this thing or this person?

My philosophy is this: if something is really important to me, like doing something with a friend, and I am really booked up right now, I flat-out tell them that and I try to schedule something in a week or two right then and there so that they know that they’re actually important to me. If I just say that I can’t because I’m busy, it doesn’t matter how important they actually are to me or how important this particular matter is to me, I’m giving off an indication to others that it’s not important to me.

Similarly, when people never seem to want to do things with me, I eventually stop asking.

From the description:

There is an intensity to Rhiannon Giddens I could feel from the moment she arrived at the Tiny Desk, and her songs reflect that spirit. “Ten Thousand Voices,” the first song in the set, was inspired by Rhiannon reading about the sub-Saharan slave trade. The follow-up piece was inspired by the American slave trade and a New England newspaper ad in the late 1700s of a young woman “for sale” and her 9-month old baby who was “at the purchaser’s option.” Rhiannon Giddens’ thoughts of this young woman and how her life and her child were not under her control prompted the song “At the Purchaser’s Option.”

Despite its weightiness, Rhiannon Giddens’ music is entertaining, and her voice, the melodies, and her accompaniment are engaging. But it is music infused with lessons and deep purpose — something all too rare in popular music in my opinion.

Three of the songs performed at the Tiny Desk are from her recent release, There Is No Other, recorded with her musical partner Francesco Turrisi. Francesco plays banjo, piano and frame drum here and is joined by Jason Sypher on upright bass. Rhiannon picks up a replica of an 1858 banjo for “I’m On My Way,” which she says helps her access her ancestors. “So much beauty and so much horribleness wrapped up together seems to be our story,” she says.

For her closing number, she focuses on the beauty. “You can call it whatever you want, ‘gravity,’ ‘God,’ whatever. There’s a force that I believe in, and that’s what I focus on.” And with that the band takes us out on the beautiful gospel tune, “He Will See You Through.”

SET LIST “Ten Thousand Voices” “At the Purchaser’s Option” “I’m On My Way” “He Will See You Through”

MUSICIANS Rhiannon Giddens: vocals, banjo; Francesco Turrisi: banjo, piano, frame drum; Jason Sypher; upright bass

Rhiannon Giddens is one of my favorite musicians of all time. Her wonderful voice, unquestioned skill on the banjo and other instruments, and the way she uses her music to deeply explore issues makes her more than deserving of the MacArthur Genius Grant she received recently.

Please, have a listen.

8. C.S. Lewis on pain and happiness

“The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That’s the deal.” ― C.S. Lewis

I believe the opposite is true, too. Often, the happiness I feel now is the pain I had before.

Why? There are a lot of reasons. Things change. The things you love don’t stay the same, and you don’t stay the same, either. It takes work to keep that relationship alive, and if you don’t invest, it’ll fade. You’ll wake up one morning thinking that things are as they always were and … it isn’t. That can hurt.

Even when things don’t fade away, they can suddenly be lost. I’ve lost loved ones very abruptly, and it hurts. That thing that was happy just yesterday is painful today.

The reverse is true, too. If you take something that’s important to you and you pour a lot of yourself into it, it builds into something that you can be proud of, something that does bring you happiness.

Even more than that, I don’t think you can feel happiness without pain. If your life never has difficulty or pain or challenge, it’s hard to feel happiness. It’s hard to feel the joy of something if your life is loaded with it. Treats become rote and routine and ordinary if you repeat them constantly.

From the description:

The more we rely on technology to make us efficient, the fewer skills we have to confront the unexpected, says writer and entrepreneur Margaret Heffernan. She shares why we need less tech and more messy human skills – imagination, humility, bravery – to solve problems in business, government and life in an unpredictable age. “We are brave enough to invent things we’ve never seen before,” she says. “We can make any future we choose.”

Modernization has been so effective at taking away a lot of the dangers of daily life for most of us that we don’t confront the unexpected all that often, and we often don’t know how to handle it well. Yet it’s that ability to confront unexpected situations that often separates success from failure.

Unexpected events are messy, but so are the tools for handling them. I think this video gives a great look at those skills and why they’re valuable.

10. Susan Ertz on immortality and a rainy afternoon

“Millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.” – Susan Ertz

A rainy Sunday afternoon is a wonderful thing to me. It’s a time to play a game with my family or some friends. It’s a time to read a book. It’s a time to make a batch of fermented food. It’s a time to pull out a cookbook and find something interesting to make. It’s a time to learn about a topic I’ve always been curious about. It’s a time to call my mom. It’s a time to write a letter to someone. I would love to have more lazy rainy Sunday afternoons.

To me, the sadness in this quote is that people don’t know how to fill those afternoons. Time is the most precious resource we have and the desire to live forever is purely a desire to have more time, yet so often we waste that time.

Don’t waste those rainy Sunday afternoons. If nothing else, spend it curled up next to someone you love, or if they’re not nearby, call someone you love and catch up.

From the description:

Poutine is the stuff of legend to our Northern neighbors…so let’s hope I don’t screw it up too bad! Even if you can’t find yourself real cheese curds, this rich and savory sober-up-snack is worth adding to your cheat day menu.

I’ve shared a few videos from Babish over the past year or so. Not only does he prepare dishes that are enticing and still achievable in a normal home kitchen, he does it with production values and humor that are just absolutely perfect for what I want out of an instructional cooking video on Youtube.

His videos achieve that level of getting everything so right that it looks effortless, half-convincing me I could make good cooking Youtube videos because it looks easy. It’s not. There are so many details in this video that are just perfect.

As I’m admiring that, at the same time, I’m learning how to make really good poutine. That’s excellence all around.

12. Jon Stewart on values

“If you don’t stick to your values when they’re being tested, they’re not values: they’re hobbies.” ― Jon Stewart

The time when values really matter is when they’re hard to stick to. It’s those moments when you feel really conflicted, where part of you wants to go one way and another part wants to go another way. It’s when you hear that everything is fine but something inside of you is saying it’s not fine and you feel conflicted. That’s when values matter.

If you walk away from your values during those moments of conflict, are they really your values? No, they’re not. If you have to really twist a situation to try to halfway convince yourself that something is in line with your values, are you really living in line with your values? No, you’re not.

We all have a sense of right and wrong inside of us. It’s not necessarily exactly the same from person to person, but many of the broad strokes are the same. The question is, do we live by those values? Or do we abandon them whenever it’s expedient to do so or whenever someone says something appealing to us?

The choice is up to each of us, but let’s not kid ourselves: when we do things and believe things and buy into things that aren’t in line with the values we supposedly hold, those values aren’t really our values.

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What happened to Early Retirement Extreme? An update from Jacob Lund Fisker

Today, I’m pleased to present a guest article from one of my favorite money bloggers of all time: Jacob Lund Fisker. Fisker founded Early Retirement Extreme in 2007. It quickly became an influential voice for the nascent FIRE movement. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that FIRE wouldn’t be what it is today with his work.

Fisker retired from blogging in 2011. Since then, he and I have exchanged long emails on sometimes arcane subjects. Occasionally I ask him for advice. Recently, I asked him if he’d be willing to update people on where he’s been and what he’s been doing for the past decade. He agreed.

Here, then, is Fisker’s story of life after Early Retirement Extreme (and extreme early retirement). Be warned: His story is not short.

Early Retirement ExtremeStarting in 2007 (and largely finishing by 2011), I formalized a philosophical alternative to consumerism in the form of a 1000+ post blog and 100,000+ word book [J.D.’s review], which I mistakenly called “Early Retirement Extreme” (or ERE in acronym form). These days, I stick to the acronym form. 😛

Central to my philosophy was the renaissance ideal of spending your life mastering a productive level of competence in a broad range of subjects. This arsenal of “renaissance skills” would then be combined into a mutually reinforcing web-of-goals, which made living more interesting and balanced — but also more cost- and resource-efficient and resilient in the face of the growing complexities and uncertainties of the 21st century.

Being a theoretical physicist by training (and remaining one in spirit) compelled me to present all of this as a theory of everything, rather than the more typical format of a light non-fiction autobiography or overview. As I didn’t really figure on a general audience — it was fairly non-existent back in 2008 — that also meant using graphs and equations when applicable.

The benefit of that format was that others could use the ERE design principles to construct their own particular plan according to their own individual circumstances and goals instead of retracing the footsteps of one particular individual.

Retiring from blogging

Eventually, I considered the problem of “How to escape the earn-buy cycle in order to live a more interesting life” solved and sufficiently “communicated”. In 2011, I stopped blogging. I continued to follow the ERE principles in the spirit of the renaissance ideal with the goal of solving other big problems. Being financially independent (FI), I no longer require any compensation even if I still appreciate it — if nothing else than just to keep score or divert the lucre towards more useful purposes (e.g. supporting people on Kiva or Patreon).

Career workers who don’t know me typically ask me what I do for a living, expecting an answer in the form of a job title. (That tends to get awkward and I still don’t have a clever response.)

Similarly, people in the FIRE community (and the media that now covers it since they discovered it a couple of years ago) expect a curriculum vitae in the form of instagram-friendly bucket-list of accomplishments. However, following the systems-based web-of-goals approach, it’s really hard to answer that in a way that satisfies linear formats.

I follow many different leads and do many different things — often concurrently — and sometimes in ways where they combine and result in new, unexpected opportunities (the serendipity effect). It’s therefore difficult to summarize the last ten years of my life in chronological order, so let me instead attempt it as a “skill” or activity-based resume in no particular order.

This format makes more sense since the ERE strategy is to learn something and add value to the process and its environment, a side-effect of which is that I usually don’t have to pay to solve problems and that I sometimes get paid. As a consequence, my spending also remains ridiculously low. (I’ll get to that near the end of this article.)

I apologize that this is long and boring, but ten years is a long time and one can get a lot done in ten years — not all of which might be as interesting to the reader as it is or was to me. So, for the sake of completeness and in no particular order, and perhaps with the hope that I don’t have to write another autobiography for the next ten years, here’s a first-hand answer to the question: “Whatever happened to Jacob Lund Fisker?”

My Sporting Years

The first years of any retirement are often filled with activities that one never had time to pursue when working. For most, this means travel. But I had travelled a lot as a part of my career already, so the missing ingredient for me was sports. So, initially I played a lot of sports.

I spent three or four days each week practicing Japanese swordfighting for three years. So, I know a little bit about swords now. Swordfighting is a complex skill that is hard to put into words. It also resists incremental learning because it doesn’t make sense or flow until all of the ingredients are known and snap together. (Much like the ERE philosophy!)

Note: After moving to Chicago, I wanted to continue swordfighting, but the nearest dojo is too far away. The take-away here is that if one wants to move around, it’s better to pick an activity that exists everywhere and is easily accessible.

Jacob as a team playerI also played a lot of inline hockey in the local city league. My talents were mostly in passing, winning faceoffs, and scoring garbage goals, so I played the role of center forward. Our team won four seasons in a row. Growing up, I was a competitive swimmer, so this was the first time I played a team sport and I thoroughly enjoyed competing with others instead of against myself.

These days, I’ve sacrificed hockey and risky sports in general because I want to avoid acquiring any long-term injuries. Now, I mainly do BeachBody-type workouts: Insanity, Max30, Asylum, Tapout. It’s free, easy, and it keeps me active. I achieved six-pack abs for the first time in my life in my early forties! Another fun exercise is jump roping. I can do double unders, running crosses, heel taps, boxer step, and seamless forward backward reverses. (J.D. loves jump roping too, although he says he’s too fat right now to do it without injury.)

Meanwhile, I taught myself bicycle repair. I eventually served as the unofficial mechanic for a women’s shelter thanks to someone I met via Freecycle. I mostly used Park’s Blue Book, Zinn’s guides, and youtube videos to teach myself. Bicycle repair is fantastic for those of us who come from a white-collar background with zero practical skills, because bicycle repair is mostly solving closed-end problems.

Speaking of cycling, I did a lot of riding in the bay area and was planning a ride across the United States. That is indefinitely postponed, but I did ride a few centuries (100-milers) and trained enough to reach a [20 minute] functional threshold power of 3.7W/kg for those who know what that means.

Jacob's dog!My connection at the shelter owned a boat and one of my hockey mates also knew a guy with a boat. They connected me with the sailing community in the San Francisco bay.

I think almost everybody who first gets into sailing dreams about sailing around the world, but I found that I didn’t enjoy cruising as much as I liked racing. So, I joined a couple of racing yachts out of the Berkeley marina serving as the mainsail trimmer on my primary boat. We won two regattas while I was on that boat.

I sailed about 50 times per year and have sailed around Alcatraz or under the Golden Gate Bridge more times than I can remember. Lots of stories here including force 6 winds facing 12ft+ rolling waves in the Pacific, losing the rudder (snapped right off), losing the engine, shrimping the spinnaker, shredding the mainsail, taking on water and bailing with a bucket, pulling other boats off of cliff shores. Exciting stuff!

The RV years

From 2008 (before I retired) until 2011 (when we left for Chicago), we lived in a 34-foot motorhome (class A a.k.a. “autocamper” — looks like a bus) that we permanently parked in a nice mobile-home park (we also looked at some not so nice parks before finding a good one) within biking distance from my work and eventually former colleagues.

This allowed us to live in the East Bay Area spending less than $14,000/year for the two of us (including health care, a car, a dog (he’s 15 now!), and of course the RV).

Originally, I wanted to live in a boat or a tiny house, but my wife vetoed it in favor of an RV, which she was more familiar with. I must admit that I wasn’t too keen on our home and worldly possessions possibly sinking either. Also, I didn’t know the first thing about carpentry and building, but that doesn’t seem to hold other people back. If we had to do it again, we’d get a 21-25′ travel trailer. (See the frequently asked questions section on my blog for the reasons.)

Moving to Chicago

In December 2011, we sold the RV and moved into a one-bed/one-bath apartment in Chicago. This was the easiest move ever. It only took 17 days to get the RV sold, drive 2000 miles across the US, find an apartment, and move in. Thanks #minimalism for making it easy to accept opportunities when presented!

For a while, it was strange living in a place where furniture, switches, and doorways were all much farther apart…and how the floor didn’t sway during wind gusts. [J.D.’s note: This is how Kim and I felt after returning from our fifteen-month RV trip around the U.S. Such culture shock going from a tiny space to a huge one, especially one so removed from the outside environment.]

Why did we move? I had received an offer (actually via one of my blog readers) to work in a financial firm in Chicago as a quant on the buy-side. (This had been something I wanted to try for a long time. I first tried in 2008 after reading up on all the details, but then the credit crisis happened and hiring froze!)

I worked there full time until I quit in 2015. It was interesting to see how the markets’ plumbing really works. And how the people working in high finance were some of the most widely-read and intellectually curious people I’ve ever met. I do think maybe academics might be inherently more curious, it’s just that “publish or perish” doesn’t leave enough time to exercise it anymore. I’ve seen so many stacks of unopened books and magazines on the desks of professors bogged down by administrative and grantseeking duties, it makes me sad.

Here’s another big lesson I learned, one that might surprise you.

You know how the standard refrain amongst personal finance gurus is how nobody can predict or beat the market? Well, I met and now know a lot of nobodies who regularly beat the market.

These folks have no desire to start a blog, get a paper published, explain the details, or debate the possibility with the internet. Rather, the attitude is one of “live and let live”. I think some of that attitude rubbed off on me. Why bother explaining if the audience always sees it as a starting point for a win-lose debate rather than an opportunity to learn?

It’s also possible that I’ve just grown tired of arguing. I’ve thought a lot about how we all take roles in that particular dynamic on social media thereby affecting what it’s possible to learn from each other. I feel less inclined to share insights than I used to.

Home and Homesteading

In 2014, we bought a house. We paid cash, of course. (Fun fact: Before I learned about investing as a means of using money to make more money and the whole financial independence thing, I was just saving so I could entirely avoid the interest payments on a mortgage.)

Our house is a roughly 1000-square-foot brick fixer-upper that we live in and that we’re still “fixing” up. Rationally, flipping fixer-uppers you live in is an ideal combination of investing and working that checks many FIRE boxes. However, I’ve found that it’s not really something that I enjoy. To me, a house remains a big container that’s mostly used to shelter myself and my stuff while I do other things. I wish I could enjoy the maintenance aspect of homeownership, but I don’t. Maybe someday I will.

I taught myself woodworking using hand tools, which is mentally different from the machine-thinking I was used to. This process developed slowly and took years, but it came in handy being a homeowner. I can design and build properly-sized furniture and I can make replacement parts and fix free furniture.

Jacob can build his own furniture

For example, I furnished our bathroom with a new DIY vanity and built-in cabinet spending only $50 on materials total. Lately, I’ve been interested in toolmaking. I think being able to build one’s own tools is the real measure of mastery of one’s field. Most recently, I have built a lathe from scratch. It cost me less than $10 in materials. [J.D.’s note:: Holy cats! And I thought my father was handy…]

We plowed up (actually laboriously double-dug with a spade) much of our backyard lawn to install a vegetable garden. The ultimate goal is to develop some level of self-reliance beyond just having access to free organic vegetables every summer/fall. This has been a good reminder that we (or at least I) definitely don’t want to be homesteaders. It’s funny how buying a homestead is so popular in the FIRE community that it almost seems like a rite of passage. Maybe homesteading attracts exuberant personalities in search of projects? We almost bought one in rural Oregon in 2011. I’m glad we didn’t because maintenance is just not for me.

Who Watches the Watchmen?

Taking apart a watchFor a while, I messed around with mechanical watches. I can now take one completely apart and reassemble it back into a working unit.

Similar to bicycle repair, this skill allows one to fix things for oneself, neighbors, and friends, but it is hard to make real money on it due to the competition. And if you do, it will mostly come from buying and selling at the right price or simple fixes like changing batteries and fixing flat tires. There’s little profit in doing difficult technical work!

Also how many people do you know who still wear watches? They’re both great hobbies though. Recently, I’ve started building a mechanical clock out of plywood. For real!

My general prescription for a successful job-free life is to find activities that cover the combination of meaning+fun and theoretical+practical — albeit not necessarily at the same time. But it’s important to touch all of those dimensions from time to time even it it involves a job.

For example, building a working clock out of plywood is practical and fun and perhaps a bit theoretical as well…but definitely not meaningful in the grand scheme of things. However, it checks some of the checkbox combinatorics. In the long run, meaning is more important than fun though!

Many (but not all) who work a job ultimately come to think working their job is meaningless beyond receiving their paycheck. Filling out TPS reports, designing or selling apps and widgets and thneeds that nobody wants because nobody needs. Or just increasing one’s net worth highscore or falling victim to the syndrome of one more year.

The search for meaning (over comfort) was a big reason I quit my physics career. I wanted to focus on writing the ERE blog. With physics, I was researching arcane details about neutron stars that were only interesting to maybe five other people in the world. I wasn’t exactly curing cancer, but see below…

When blogging, I was breaking new ground (many aspects of commonly accepted FIRE philosophy today were still pretty original ten years ago) and changing peoples’ lives on a daily basis. (At least, that’s what the comments and emails told me!) Quitting astrophysics to write about early retirement thus checked the box of meaningfulness that my academic research lacked.

The Search for Meaning

One of my buddies from high school — who is now a professor at my alma mater — asked for my help doing some numerical research on enzyme reactions that are actually relevant to cancer research. After bridging the interdisciplinary communications gap, it was fun to see what could be done.

The numerical tools used in computational astrophysics are maybe 40 years ahead of what is apparently state-of-the-art in molecular biology. It’s always fun to blow someone’s mind with a little bit of applied math. It doesn’t just happen with the shockingly simple math of extreme early retirement! 😉

The very first thing I engaged in after retiring from physics was signing onto a non-profit startup with the aim to facilitate interdisciplinary solutions for a brave new green economy. As is tradition in Silicon Valley-area startups, we gave each other fancy titles. I was the “associate director” (basically “number one” in Star Trek terms) and served on the board of directors as a founding member.

However, I eventually found that I didn’t agree with the speed and indirect impact of this format. I would much rather focus on solutions that could be immediately implemented at the field level, like ERE, than advise, debate, research, educate, or engage in activism. Ultimately, “big change” needs people filling all roles, but now I have a better idea of the role I optimally fill.

Most of my ERE readers/forumites don’t know it, but before ERE back in the early 2000s, when I was still a grad student in physics, I ran a highly-ranked website on the limits of energy resources that drew more traffic than the rest of the entire physics department combined. A very astute person recently tweeted that ERE is a peak oil blog in disguise. This is correct.

Thinking back, I faded from the energy resource scene for similar reasons that I left the non-profit. Sticking to thinking up actionable solutions at the individual level just works better for me. I’m writing this down as a reminder to myself to stay focused on my current project. Tempting as it is to focus on different ways of solving problems — raising awareness, etc. — I am fundamentally interested in individually actionable solutions.

J.D.’s note: This reminds me of our recent discussion about politics and personal finance. Ultimately, I concluded we need people to fill all roles. Some folks — like Tanja from Our Next Life — are generals. They want to formulate political strategy. I don’t. I want to train the troops in day-to-day financial combat skills.

The Downsides of the Renaissance Ideal

In a given year, I read more than 100 books. Most of these are technical/non-fiction in order to gain useful insights or learn more stuff.

After reading a few thousand, the ROI of reading or “book learning” is near the top end of the S-curve for me. This is also the case for striving towards being a master of many trades in general.

The downsides of the renaissance ideal as measured at the 10-year milestone in my experience? It becomes harder to enjoy being a spectator. It’s also harder to appreciate bought experiences along with and in the company of others. This is not necessarily a virtue or a good thing by the way!

I find myself unable to enjoy watching sports, for example. J.D. can do it; I can’t. Courtesy of my high-finance stint, I got to experience watching the Blackhawks play from the box suites at the United Center eating catered food. I bet that was all very expensive and I appreciate the gesture — I understand that it was meant as a reward — but watching professionals play is a far cry from the full experience of playing hockey yourself even as a competent amateur.

I think this holds true for all kinds of experiences.

Learning new skills. Making things yourself. Earning money in new and different ways like hourly, salaried, royalties, investing, trading. Interacting with other people whether it be by helping, getting helped, giving, getting, selling, buying. I could go on, but you know what I mean, right?

I have the same problem with going out to eat. Those $150/person restaurant meals — again, I appreciate the gesture — become hard to enjoy once you’re able to create a superior meal (as measured by your personal preferences) for far less.

What My Wife Did

I’ve now been married for more than thirteen years. Both my wife and I suffer from itchy feet on a three to five year basis. She gets it from growing up military. I get it from an early career as a metic academic ever since I left Denmark two decades ago when I was 24. Temperamentally, the idea of “doing time” in a job or being a “career lifer” is just unappealing to both of us.

When I received the job offer in Chicago back in 2011, I of course asked my wife if she was okay with leaving the east bay and wanted to go too? (Veto rights are always implied in our relationship.) She said yes.

In Chicago, she interviewed with a couple of companies in her old field of environmental remediation but she could no longer find any spark of joy. Essentially being on a sabbatical, I insisted on her doing our taxes (something that had previously been under my purview) to get a hands-on feeling for how they worked should I ever get hit by a bus. Strangely, she liked doing the numbers very much and thus decided to go back to school for an associates degree in accounting which she quickly finished (piece of cake when you come in with a STEM PhD).

This led to her being hired by a certain tax preparation company that everybody probably knows. (Free semi-retirement tip: There are a lot of overly-educated, semi-retired people working in tax-prep because it’s seasonal, reasonably well paid, and the co-workers tend to be interesting!) She spent a few years working her way up the ladder until she was responsible for the day-to-day problems of ~100 offices. Then she decided it wasn’t worth it anymore and quit. Now she works for a non-profit in the legal field.

Spending Money as a Failure of Imagination

My spending has remained around the $7000 per year mark for almost twenty years now. Since we got married thirteen years ago, my wife’s spending has also hovered around the $7000 per year mark. In other words, our combined expenses total about $14,000 per year.

The continual addition of new skills and skill-synergies has allowed us to stretch each dollar further and further in terms of what we get from spending it. We still tend to specialize individually, but as a unit comparative advantage works for us.

I can do many things competently. Ditto my wife for many other things. Together, we’re rather self-reliant (to put it mildly). Spending money mainly serves to resolve friction from inefficient lifestyle design. And for us, there’s just not a whole lot of friction left anymore except real-estate, taxes, and insurance premiums, which account for nearly 60% of our budget. We consider spending money a failure to solve our problems by smarter means.

Jacob's graph of skill vs imagination

But our failure rate is getting quite low at this point.

J.D.’s Note
Whoa. This is my biggest take-away from the 5000 words that Jacob wrote here: “Spending money is a failure to solve problems by smarter means.” This hits home hard.

Last week, my dog broke her retractable leash again. She lunged hard at a squirrel and destroyed the internal mechanism. I threw the leash away and bought a new one. This is a failure to solve the problem by smarter means. I’m willing to bet that I could have opened the leash and repaired the sprung spring. But I was too lazy. Or, more precisely, it didn’t even occur to me.

Spending money is a failure to solve problems by smarter means. Wow.

Our present situation could easily be confused for a mundane suburban middle-class existence…except most of what we own has not been acquired by spending. Some get disappointed by that optic expecting the (typically expensive) Instagram-worthy minimalist designs often portrayed in the media as they try to sell eyeballs to those who want to buy the newest fad.

114 Years of Savings (and Counting)

For historical reasons, my wife and I have kept our savings separate while splitting our income. There are lots of different ways to arrange financial matters, and attitudes vary a lot depending on whatever antediluvian norms anyone grew up under. This is just what we decided back then — mainly because it made tax accounting easy — and we’re still happy with it.

For the record, my cumulative income contribution still remains the larger one by a skodge. So we could have chosen differently, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway at this point since we’re both way beyond the standard FI numbers (and have been for several years).

Currently, I have saved 114 years worth of spending. That’s way beyond the 25 years required for the so-called 4% rule for safe withdrawals in retirement. My wife has 62 years worth of savings. At this point, earning more money doesn’t matter anymore.

Both of us have contributed much more to society producing things than we’ve taken out by consuming them. Neither of us need to work anymore. Nor do we feel any reason to spend more. It’s not money but skills and imagination that comprise the limiting factor when operating at this level.

However, whereas it has ultimately become clear to me that I function best as a self-employed intellectual gunslinger for short-term hire to solve complex problems, as mentioned above, my wife still enjoys the structure of a traditional job as long as she’s free to change it from time to time. As a couple, both of us being FI makes it a lot easier to solve the “two-body” problem that academics are annoyingly familiar with: In choosing where to go, we take turns with who gets to do a “location-specific project” next.

What Is FIRE For?

Starting in 2017ish, FIRE began to go mainstream.

Hundreds of new FIRE blogs have been started in the past few years. The handful of us who have been around since the beginning have spent more time than we probably like getting interviewed by journalists.

While social media reactions and the general understanding has improved (especially when talking to journalists who are also pursuing FIRE on their own), the media narrative of the FIRE model often remains a story with two separate parts:

  1. A working phase of money earning accumulation followed by…
  2. A spending phase of consumerist entertainment.

Basically, this is an old-fashioned retirement with younger people, where travelling, eating out, and going to concerts substitute for playing bingo. Given this, it’s not uncommon that young FIRE people eventually get bored and go back to their old jobs.

With little or no widespread experience outside of consumerism, it seems there’s a certain lack of imagination in terms of what to do with all of this unlocked financial freedom (time).

While FIRE solves the freedom-from problem, ERE’s renaissance concept also solves the freedom-to issue, because the limiting factor in enjoying post-work life is seldom money but skill, connections, and the amazing opportunities they generate.

ERE was designed as a continually-evolving system that aims at efficiency and resilience for the 21st century. Within this system, FI just happens as a side-effect of being compensated for adding value to the system while reducing the need and desire to spend. Basically, a two-fer.

Focusing on adding value creates plenty of experiences and things to try and do, which I hope to have illustrated above. Effectively, it looks very different from traditional forms of retirement — whether they be early or late. Indeed, it’s been our experience, both personally but also from the other early adopters from 10+ years ago, that the ERE concept works as intended.

Author: Jacob Lund Fisker

Jacob Lund Fisker wrote the first popular blog on financial independence and extreme early retirement while demonstrating how to achieve a savings rate of over 75% on a median income. His trailblazing 2010 book on applying systems theory to personal finance has sold over 40,000 copies. Formerly an astrophysicist before retiring at age 33, he now focuses on the practical aspects of individual adaption to the impacts of energy resource and climate breakdown.

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Morning Deals: Thursday, October 3

Every morning and afternoon we publish a list of the latest and best deals from our partner, DealNews. To learn more about the discounts and details, click on any of the deals for more information. To have this list, along with our latest news and stories, delivered daily to your inbox, sign up for our free newsletter. For links to deals as they’re published, follow @mtndeals on Twitter.

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