Category Archives: financial

How I’m fighting chronic depression and anxiety

Hello, friends! I have four money articles in progress, plus I’m editing several guest posts for future publication. But today I want to give a brief update on my mental health. My depression and anxiety have been tough this year but it feels like I’ve turned a corner, and I want to share what’s helped.

Each week when I go to therapy, I complete a survey regarding my recent mood and attitude. It’s about what you’d expect. There’s a list of maybe a dozen statements, and for each I fill in a bubble indicating how strongly I agree (or disagree) based on my experience during the previous seven days.

From memory, sample statements include:

  • I feel nervous and/or my heart races.
  • I feel anxious in social situations.
  • I have friends and family I can ask for support.
  • I have trouble finding motivation to get things done.
  • I’m able to complete everything I want to do.
  • And so on.

At my first therapy session in April, my score on this assessment was awful. I felt anxious all of the time. I was having trouble with increased heart rates. (Thanks, Apple Watch, for constantly flagging that.) And by far my biggest problem was getting done everything I wanted to get done. I wasn’t doing anything. I was too deep in my anxiety and depression.

Last week, I visited my therapist for the first time in a month. As always, I completed the mental health inventory before our appointment started.

“Whoa!” my counselor said when she saw the results. She pulled up my past scores on her computer. “This is the best you’ve been since we started working together. You marked that everything’s fine except for your ability to get work done. That’s great. What happened?”

“What happened is that I got out of my routine,” I said. “I’ve been on vacation. Plus, I’ve been doing a lot of the things you and I have talked about. They’ve helped. Right now, the reason I can’t get done everything I want to do has nothing to do with depression and anxiety. It’s just that I have so much on my plate that I can’t figure out how to prioritize it!”

During our time together, my therapist and I have explored a variety of steps I can take to improve my mental health. When I actually implement these things, life is great. (I have a tendency to talk about making changes without actually doing so. This was especially true early on.)

Here are three changes that have helped me cope with my depression and anxiety.

Spending More Time with People

When Kim and I lived in a condo in the city, I got plenty of social interaction on a daily basis. Now we live in a house in the country. Unless I make an effort to reach out, I can go a week without having a meaningful conversation with anyone but Kim.

Plus, I lost touch with many of my old friends when Kim and I embarked on our fifteen-month RV trip around the U.S. When I returned home, I didn’t resume the relationships (and my friends didn’t either).

Some people have social interaction built into their lives. They’re surrounded by co-workers on weekdays. They attend church on Sunday. They take their kids to school events and/or participate in community organizations. I don’t do any of this.

For many years, I had a built-in social group because I took Crossfit classes. I got to interact with my fitness friends several days each week. But I haven’t attended classes in a long, long time, so that network has vanished too.

This summer, I’ve deliberately taken steps to reconnect with old friends. I invite them to join me at Portland Timbers games. I have lunch or dinner with them. We walk dogs together. Although I haven’t joined any community groups, Kim and I are both looking to do so.

There’s still more work to be done here, but I feel as if I’m moving in the right direction. It feels good to reconnect with people.

Exercising and Eating Right

Speaking of exercise, this is another area where I’ve let things slide.

I used to be fat. I ate poorly and I didn’t exercise, so naturally I gained weight and then maintained it. My poor choices were reflected in my (lack of) physical fitness.

In 2010, I resolved to change. I reduced my calorie intake and made better food choices. More importantly, I started cycling and discovered Crossfit. Within two years, I was the fittest I’d ever been in my life. I was lean. I was strong. It felt amazing.

No joke: Being fit and knowing that you’re fit is one of the best things you can do to boost your confidence and to fight depression. I’d always heard that. For a few years, I lived it.

I maintained my fitness until 2015. When Kim and I left for our RV trip, however, my health began to erode. At first, she and I made time to exercise but gradually our motivation vanished. At the same time, we were eating more unhealthy food (we wanted to try the regional cuisine!) and drinking more alcohol (we wanted to try the regional wine and beer!). We packed on the pounds.

Since returning to Portland in 2016, I’ve made intermittent attempts to exercise and eat right but nothing has stuck. “I had to buy fat clothes for our trip,” I told my therapist before we left for Italy in August. You can bet she had a chat with me about (a) my word choice and (b) my inability to follow through with fitness.

Now, I have a plan. My crazy summer schedule becomes less crazy on October 15th. After that, I have no travel planned. I will sign up for Orange Theory classes and attend them early every morning. (I have to exercise first thing or it won’t get done.)

In the meantime, I’ve already begun reducing my calorie intake and making healthier choices. My goal is to lose weight this winter instead of gain it.

Lowering My Expectations

Perhaps the biggest change I can make to improve my mental health is this: lowering my expectations for myself. I am a perfectionist. But perfectionism leads to both procrastination and disappointment.

“J.D., why are you forcing yourself to publish so much when you know that doing so is stressful?” my therapist asked in June. “This is an expectation you’ve placed on yourself. Nobody else has done this to you. You are making yourself unhappy.”

Good point. And, you know what? This was one of the primary reasons I sold Get Rich Slowly back in 2009. Ten years ago, I was deeply unhappy because of the publication schedule I had imposed upon myself.

So, Tom and I have been s-l-o-w-l-y transitioning to a different model here at the website.

  • I will write when I want to write (about what I want to write).
  • He and I are working together to revise and expand older articles. We’ll publish new and improved versions from time to time.
  • We’ve been publishing articles from guest authors and from places like NerdWallet.
  • We’re in the process of hiring a staff writer. (Maybe more than one?) If you’re interested, you should apply for the position.

But it’s not just here at the blog that I have to fight my high expectations. It’s everywhere in my life: my relationships, my health, my home — even my expectations of what I do in my spare time.

Yesterday, I was talking with my former Crossfit coach about returning to the gym. “J.D.,” he said, “I know you. And if I could offer one piece of advice, it’d be this: Set your bar for success very low. If you go in and expect to be where you were six years ago, you’re going to give up. For now, you should count it a success if you simply show up.”

“Showing up” seems like a low bar indeed, but my coach is right. If my expectations are too high, there’s no doubt that I’ll fall short. And when I do, I’ll be discouraged. It’ll stop me from starting! So, my first fitness goal will simply be: get to the gym each day.

It’s going to take some time for me to shed all of my expectations. (And, truthfully, I’m not sure discarding all expectations is even desirable.) But that’s why I’m working with a therapist.

Here’s an example of my expectations in action. Although I’ve agreed with my counselor that I should not adhere to a publication schedule at GRS, I begin to get antsy as days pass and I don’t have something new ready for readers.

In fact, this very article is a result of that. For the past seven days, I’ve been working almost non-stop even though there’s nothing new to show for it. It’s been a week since I published my last piece and it’s stressing me out.

When I sat down with my coffee this morning, I started writing a journal entry about how this expectation was making me unhappy. That journal entry turned into this article. I still have work to do on this haha!

Everything I Already Know

The funny thing about therapy (to me) is that my counselor’s advice is stuff I already know. I have a psychology degree, after all, and at one time I intended to become a therapist myself. The things she says and does are all very familiar to me. (She’s always telling me not to worry about things I cannot control, which is hilarious because that’s what I’m always telling you folks.)

But there’s a difference between knowing and doing. You can have all of the book knowledge in the world, but if you don’t put that knowledge into practice, what’s the point? My counselor’s job is to move me from words to action.

Honestly, I feel great right now. This is how I used to feel most of the time — and how I want to feel in the future. I’m enjoying life and getting shit done. The darkness is currently at bay. All I see is light.

Yes, I feel overwhelmed by how much work I have to get done — next Thursday, I leave for another 20 days on the road! — but instead of shirking the work, I’m doing it. And the workload isn’t due to negligence on my part. It’s just a perfect storm of deadlines and travel.

But in the back of my mind, I’m worried about what might happen this coming spring. The past few springs have been miserable for me. I’m dreading a return to the days of lying in bed, the lack of desire to talk to anyone about anything. I don’t like myself when I spend all day in my underwear playing videogames. Yuck.

I’m making the right moves now, though. I’m being proactive. I’m being a grasshopper, not an ant. While everything seems rosy and bright, I’m working to lay a foundation for future success, working to create systems that will help me maintain a positive direction even when the depression and anxiety come creeping back next year.

Fingers crossed that all of the preparation pays off!

Author: J.D. Roth

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

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How to Get the Best Kohl’s Black Friday 2019 Deals

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.

NerdWallet is here to help you win Black Friday while leaving your budget intact. We spend the time, you save the money. Visit regularly for holiday shopping tips and announcements about your favorite retailers. Black Friday is Nov. 29.

Kohl’s Black Friday deals 2019

Waiting for this year’s Black Friday deals at Kohl’s? So are we. Keep checking back, because we’ll share the 2019 deals as soon as they’re released. In the meantime, here’s a look back at what happened last year.

Kohl’s Black Friday deals 2018

Along with Macy’s and J.C. Penney, Kohl’s is one of the major department store chains that delivers big deals on Black Friday. In 2018, stores opened on Thanksgiving Day at 5 p.m, but online deals began before that.

Discounted products ranged from jewelry to TVs, and shoppers could rack up Kohl’s Cash with qualifying purchases.

Some of the biggest deals included:

  • Samsung 58-inch 4K smart TV for $549.99 (get $165 Kohl’s Cash).
  • Instant Pot for $69.99 (get $15 Kohl’s Cash).
  • Select toys for $4.99.
  • 50% off select games.
  • 70%-75% off select fine jewelry.
  • 50% off LC Lauren Conrad handbags, slippers and slipper socks for her.
  • 40% off celebrity fragrance gift sets.

Kohl’s also offered a coupon for an extra 15% off, but it was important for shoppers to read the full details, because certain products and brands didn’t qualify. If Kohl’s offers a similar coupon again this year, make sure the item you’re buying qualifies for it.

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15 Ways to Eat Out on the Cheap

Want some tips on how to eat out on the cheap? Here are 15 tried and true ideas to help you enjoy restaurant food — on a budget.

How to Eat Out on the Cheap

Love eating out? Don’t love how much it can cost? Here are 15 ideas to save money on eating out:a

1. Go out to lunch instead of dinner.

2. Always use restaurant coupons.

3. Order water instead of beverages that cost.

4. Split an entree with someone else when possible.

5. Sign up for Birthday Freebies and use those when you eat out.

6. Go out for dessert instead of a full meal.

7. Use restaurant gift cards that you bought discounted.

8. Sign up for restaurant apps and email lists to be notified of great coupons and specials — or even freebies!

9. Earn free restaurant gift cards from Shopkick, Fetch, and Swagbucks.

10. Go on Kids’ Eat Free nights.

11. Eat a snack before you leave the house so you’re not as hungry.

12. Don’t order appetizers or desserts.

13. Eat out at Costco or IKEA instead of a restaurant.

14. Apply to be a mystery shopper and you could get paid to eat out! (I have done this many times in the past!)

15. Go to a fast food restaurant with a dollar menu and let everyone choose 1-3 items off the dollar menu!

What are your favorite tips for saving money on eating out? Share them in the comments!

P.S. For more ideas, check out this post on How to Save Money on Eating Out.

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5 Money Milestones for Parents of Young Kids

We get it. You’ve been busy since you found out you were expecting.

Baby preparations turn into sleepless nights turn into homework-filled afternoons…

So when it comes to money, you’re probably just trying to pay your bills on time, right? That’s a good move, but you’re probably forgetting about some bigger milestones you should achieve before your kid gets too old.

No need to overwhelm yourself and do these all today. We set these up in order of priority, so let’s start with the easiest — yet, arguably, most important — first.

Before They’re Born: Secure Their Future

Have you thought about how your family would manage without your income? Without your support? Maybe you’ve worried about this a little too much since your little one has entered the picture.

That’s totally normal, but you might be able to tame a few of these anxieties by securing life insurance, which will help ensure your family is finally secure if anything happens to you.

You’re probably thinking: I don’t have the time or money for that. But your application shouldn’t take more than about five minutes — and you can secure a policy starting at $5 a month through a company called Bestow. Yeah, no need to pay hundreds of dollars a month.

“The biggest mistake I see millennials making is being duped by insurance salesmen,” says Andy Yadro, a financial planner with Googins Advisors in Madison, Wisconsin. “Everyone needs insurance, but a very small subset of young people need the insurance that is sold by most financial advisers.”

So if you’re under the age of 54 and want to get a fast life insurance quote without the medical exam, pushy sales calls or even getting up from the couch, check out Bestow. The company is built around one concept — helping you get the term life insurance policy you want, simply and fast.

It just takes five minutes to answer some basic lifestyle questions, and you can get quotes for up to $1 million in coverage without a medical exam. If you’re approved, you can personalize your coverage to fit your budget. You can change or cancel your plan at any time.

Now you can rest a little easier tonight.

When They’re 2: Open a High-Yield Savings Account

Remember when you turned 18 and jumped ship into adulthood? Errr, well, tried to jump into adulthood? For many of us, that was a tough time. If you want to give your kid a little boost, set them up with a savings account.

You don’t have to contribute anything major. Think about it: If, when they’re 2, you start putting $25 into an account once a month until they turn 18, that leaves them with nearly $5,000. That’s enough to help with the cost of college living, starting a small business or backpacking through Europe.

And if you stash the money in a high-yield savings account, the balance will grow even more, thanks to that sweet, sweet compound interest.

When They’re 6: Talk to Them About Money

If you’re going to work hard to build your kid’s savings, then you probably want them to use it responsibly, right? That’s why it’s important to teach them the value of a dollar early on.

One fun way to do this? Take them grocery shopping. Give them a mini-cart or basket, and let them walk through the store with you. Point out what’s considered a want and what’s considered a need. Fresh doughnuts from the bakery? That’s a want. That loaf of bread? That’s a need.

Another classic way to teach kids about money is to set up an allowance for chores. Of course, they’ll want to spend this money on a toy. That’s OK! This exercise helps them understand the value of a dollar.

Before They Turn 10: Involve Them in Financial Decisions

As your kid gets older, they’ll want to participate in every after-school activity, attend every summer camp and buy every new piece of technology.

Instead of feeling guilty — or caving and overspending — let your child hear and participate in your household conversations about money.

“Classically, parents will go behind a closed door to talk about saving, budgeting and investing,” says Maggie Johndrow, a financial adviser at Johndrow Wealth Management. “But psychologists have found that will make your children think finances are scary, taboo and something that’s not to be talked about in the open.”

Instead, Johndrow encourages parents lay it all out there. Let your child know your budget for after-school activities, for example, then work together to choose what’s affordable.

“Empower them and teach them by giving them that choice,” Johndrow says.

Now, that wasn’t so bad, right? Almost easier than remembering to pay your bills each month.

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5 Reasons to Stop Watching TV and How to Do It

Have you ever thought about how much of your time is spent simply watching television? It’s probably more than you think.

If you’re like a growing number of people, you might suspect, deep down, that watching hours of TV every day isn’t the best use of your time. And a growing number of scientists and researchers are saying the same thing: Spending hours a day glued to a screen is robbing us of having a life – you know, that thing where you exercise, make things, connect face-to-face with friends, and follow your dreams.

TV is also expensive. You pay monthly for cable or satellite, but you also pay more when you make unnecessary purchases as a result of an advertisement or product you saw in a show.

If you’re ready to cut down on your TV consumption, or even stop watching entirely, it’s important to have a plan in place before you do it. Read on to find out why your physical, emotional, and financial health might benefit from cutting the cord – and how to go about doing it.

Our Addiction to the Tube

According to the most recent Nielsen data, Americans now spend 11 hours per day interacting with media. This includes watching TV, surfing the Web on a smartphone or tablet, and listening to podcasts.

Out of those 11 hours, we spend over 4.5 hours just watching TV. That doesn’t count the additional hour we spend watching content on devices like smartphones and tablets, giving us a total of 5.5 hours of daily watching. We’re also more likely to engage in binge-watching than we used to be. According to data from Netflix cited by TIME, it now takes the average viewer just 3 days to watch a show’s entire season.

All that being said, watching TV isn’t inherently bad. Watching a show with your spouse or family can be a great way to relax, relieve stress, and bond. Some TV shows are highly educational and introduce you to perspectives and ideas you might never have considered otherwise, while other shows can help you learn new skills such as cooking or home improvement.

The problems creep in when you spend hours, every day, glued to a screen.

Why You Should Cut Down on TV Watching

Consider these five reasons why you might want to consider cutting back on your TV time – or giving it up altogether.

1. It’s Bad for Kids’ Health

All of this watching isn’t doing our kids’ health any good. A Japanese study published in the journal Cerebral Cortex found that children who watched more TV had more gray matter in their frontal lobes, an area associated with verbal reasoning ability. However, despite having more gray matter in their brains, the children who watched more actually had lower IQs.

Children are also negatively affected by scenes of violence they see on TV. This violence can make them feel fearful or cause them to emulate it.

Too much television also turns kids into consumers at an early age. They see food, toys, and candy they want – and, being kids, it’s hard for them to hear you say no. All too often, parents fold and end up buying their kids things they don’t need. That’s especially true with food that, according to Stanford Children’s Health, can lead to poor eating habits.

Countless studies continue to have similar findings, and scientists and pediatricians are sounding the warning bell that less is better when it comes to kids and screen time.

2. It’s Bad for Adults’ Health

Unsurprisingly, your health is just as vulnerable to the harmful effects of TV as your kids’. According to a study by researchers at Georgia Southern University, college students who engaged in binge-watching showed a higher likelihood of depression and anxiety. Another study, cited by The Washington Post, found that young adults who watched a lot of TV – more than 3 hours per day – had lower physical activity and worse cognitive function when they hit middle age than those who watched less TV.

After all, watching television is a sedentary activity. A study published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) Network found that a sedentary lifestyle could be worse for your health than smoking. A lack of frequent exercise has been linked to obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and a long list of other health conditions and diseases. Sitting all day at work and then sitting most of the evening in front of the TV is just plain bad for your health.

It can also affect your health later in life. A study published in the journal Brain and Cognition found that increased TV watching is positively linked with a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease. According to the study,  for every additional hour of TV you watch every day, your risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease increase by 1.3 times.

Alzheimers Disease Brain Decaying Memory Loss

3. It Can Be Addictive

TV watching, especially binge-watching, can create feelings of addiction. According to NBC News, watching your favorite TV show feels good because it causes your brain to release dopamine, the “pleasure” chemical that can be highly addictive. When the show is over, you want to watch more of it, but what you’re really craving is that dopamine release. And as Dr. Renee Carr tells NBC, binge-watching starts the same process in our brains that occurs when a drug or other type of addiction begins. The more we watch, the more we want to watch.

4. It Can Cause You to Spend More

Television can also be bad for your financial health in a few different ways. According to USA Today, the average cost for cable is now up to $85 per month, and satellite TV is over $100 per month. Add in Netflix at $10.99 per month and Hulu at $7.99 per month, and you’re looking at some significant savings throughout the year if you cancel.

The constant advertisements you see on TV also affect your finances. These ads have one goal: to convince you that what you have isn’t enough. You need whatever they’re selling if you really want to be happy. And whatever that is – a new car, designer jacket, or the latest smartphone – it’s usually expensive.

Even when it’s not expensive, it’s often something you don’t really need to buy. How many hundreds or thousands of dollars do you fritter away each year on things you bought because of ads, or things you wanted after seeing them on a show? You could be saving a good portion of this money if you simply stopped watching television.

5. It Can Be Isolating

Watching too much TV can contribute to feelings of isolation, especially in older adults. According to Nielsen data published by Marketing Charts, people aged 65 and older watch 48.5 hours of live television per week. And while seniors watch more television than any other age group, a study conducted by the University of California – San Diego found that they enjoy it less.

Having a TV on all day often makes seniors feel less lonely, especially when they live alone in a quiet house. Unfortunately, by sitting at home watching shows, they’re not going out and interacting with friends and neighbors. All that sitting also has negative effects on their physical and mental health. Watching more means that seniors are moving less – which, in turn, can speed up physical and mental decline. It can also lead to feelings of depression.

Why My Family Quit TV

My husband and I quit watching television almost 10 years ago. I’ve never seen an episode of “Orange Is the New Black” or “The Big Bang Theory.” I have no idea what “Russian Doll” and “Game of Thrones” are about. In fact, I had to Google “most popular TV shows” to even find out what people are watching these days. To say I’m out of the pop culture loop is an understatement.

Are we crazy? Some people might think so. After all, if we don’t watch TV, then what do we do? How do we relax and unwind?

Well, without television in our life, we have time to do yoga and go hiking in the woods by our home. We draw and do crafts with our kids in the evenings. We cook dinner at home every night, read stories, listen to music, talk, and play.

Without daily doses of TV, our kids get plenty of exercise. In turn, this positively affects their behavior and ability to focus on their homeschool lessons the next day. We still have movie night on the weekend, but during the week, we’re screen-free. For us, ditching TV has enabled us to create a life that’s full and rich with experience and connections. And we don’t miss TV a bit.

Was it easy? At first, no. When we first canceled our cable and Netflix, my husband and I were left twiddling our thumbs in the evenings. I didn’t know what to do with all this time I now had. It took a few weeks to adjust, but I quickly realized I now had the opportunity to learn things, and do things, I never thought I had time for before. Instead of watching TV, I learned how to can food. I learned to knit. I wrote more fiction. I started exercising frequently. I baked bread. We planned a major life change of moving into an RV and traveling the country.

My life became better, richer, and more interesting when I stopped investing all that time in passive watching.

Now, almost a decade later, we use our evenings for quality family time with our kids and to prepare for another adventure: selling our house, getting rid of most of our possessions, and moving into an RV to travel the country, this time with our kids. This transition would be impossible if we were spending four or more hours every day watching TV. In fact, it likely wouldn’t have even occurred to us to do this again if we were watching other people do cool stuff every night on the screen rather than thinking about cool stuff we could do ourselves.

What do you think you could do with your life if your time was freed up in this way?

How to Stop Watching Television

So, ready to give life without TV a try? Here’s how to do it.

1. Make a Plan

I’ll say it again: When you’re used to filling your evenings with television, it can be difficult to just stop. If you don’t have a plan in place, you’ll be tempted to turn it on for lack of anything better to do.

So, before you officially cut the cord, make a list of what you’d like to do with your evenings instead. What friends would you like to connect with or meet for dinner? What hobbies have you always wanted to learn? What household projects have you been putting off?

Consider some of these ideas:

There’s no end to what you could do with an extra four hours or more in your day; you’re only limited by your imagination here.

Woman Reading On Bed

2. Take the TV Out of the Picture

When we stopped watching TV, we decided to hide it from view so it wouldn’t stare at us, silently asking why we weren’t turning it on. We bought an inexpensive television cabinet with double doors that hid the screen and tucked it into the corner – out of sight, out of mind. Eventually, we donated the TV and the cabinet, and now we have a lot more space in our living room. (We use a laptop for our weekly movie night.)

Hiding your TV, or taking it out of the room entirely, can help you adjust to not watching it every night. If you don’t see the screen, you’re less likely to be tempted to turn it on. At the least, it can help to readjust your furniture so that all the chairs are pointed away from the television. Set up your living room to promote conversation and play, instead of watching a screen.

If you have TVs in multiple rooms, consider storing or donating these and only keeping one TV in the living room, where everyone in your family can watch a movie together.

You might also want to fill your living room with things you and your family can do instead of watching every night. For example, stack some books you’ve been wanting to read on the coffee table, put some games on the floor by the couch, and place a craft bin in the corner.

3. Work for Your Screen Time

If you can’t quit cold turkey, then try earning your TV time instead.

Eric Braverman, founder and president of Path Foundation NY, a nonprofit that studies brain health, has an excellent rule of thumb to live by. In an interview with Fast Company, he says that you should never watch more TV than the amount of time you exercise. So if you exercise for an hour, you can watch an hour of television. Put in two hours of exercise? You can watch for two hours.

That said, some studies have found that watching too much TV is bad for your health, even if you do get enough exercise. A study conducted by the American Heart Association found that the risk of fatal blood clots increases the more you watch, even in people who get enough exercise. This risk is significant; study participants who said they watched TV “very often” were 80% more likely to develop a fatal clot, even though they were getting the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week.

You don’t have to join a gym to fit more exercise into your day; there are plenty of exercises you can do at home without any equipment at all.

4. Set a Timer

How many times have you sat down an hour before your favorite show came on and mindlessly channel surfed, then kept the TV on after your show was finished, looking for something else to watch? This mindless viewing is deeply unsatisfying, and before you know it, your entire evening can be gone in a haze.

Curb your watching using the timer on your phone. Set it for a couple of minutes before your show comes on, and set it to go off again when your show is finished. The audible alarm will remind you not to stay on the couch watching, but to turn off the TV and go do something else.

Final Word

It’s amazing how much more you notice when you stop watching television. And by this, I mean that once you go a while without watching, you might be shocked at how noisy, distracting, and irritating TV actually is.

My parents watch a lot of TV, and when we bring our kids over for a visit, I’m astounded every time at how brash live TV is. The constant cuts and scene changes, which occur every four seconds or so, are overstimulating and annoying, as are the frequent volume changes. They’re designed to hold our attention, which keeps getting shorter and shorter.  But they overload the senses and, in turn, can subtly increase your stress levels.

It’s important to realize that you don’t need to cut out TV entirely to experience a greater quality of life. Again, television isn’t inherently bad; it only becomes a problem when you use it as a substitute for a life. Cutting back to an hour a week, or even an hour a day, can motivate you to create a richer, more fulfilling life.

What are your thoughts on watching TV? Do you feel like you have control over your watching? Do you ever wish you watched less?

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Inspiration from Mario Quintana, Natalie Fratto, Mark Twain, Pan Pizza, 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. Mario Quintana on chasing butterflies

“Don’t waste your time chasing butterflies. Mend your garden, and the butterflies will come.” – Mario Quintana

This is true for virtually every way you might want to improve your life. You can’t chase things like “happiness” or “wealth” directly – you’ll never achieve them. Rather, what you can do is cultivate your life such that those things are a natural outcome.

If you want lasting happiness, tend to your life so that the elements that seem to bring you happiness are well supported and the elements that bring you unhappiness are pulled out like weeds. Don’t chase happiness – focus on constructing a contented life that bubbles up with happiness.

If you want financial success, tend to your life so that you have good control over your spending choices and a good pattern of positive steps in your professional life. Financial success comes naturally once you have constructed a daily life with those elements.

Build your life into a beautiful garden and the butterflies you want will come. Spend your time chasing them with a net and dragging them to your garden and they’ll just fly away.

From the description:

When venture investor Natalie Fratto is determining which start-up founder to support, she doesn’t just look for intelligence or charisma; she looks for adaptability. In this insightful talk, Fratto shares three ways to measure your “adaptability quotient” — and shows why your ability to respond to change really matters.

Her three main signs of adaptability are the ability and habit of asking “what if” questions and answering them well, having a beginner’s mindset about everything and never relying on or assuming expertise, and exploring new things as a basic life habit. Those things point to success in many areas of life.

If you want to be able to more easily handle unexpected events in life, one of the most powerful things you can do is simply make exploring new things a completely normal routine for yourself. Consciously choose to try new things, even if they seem scary and difficult. Make that a normal and consistent thing in your life.

What you’ll find, over time, is that new things start to come easier to you, no matter what those new things are, because you’re wiring your mind to be adaptable. At that point, unexpected events and crises are much easier to handle than they were before.

3. Jackson Brown on time

“Do not say you don’t have time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein and Mother Teresa.” – Jackson Brown

When you say you “don’t have time” for something, what you’re actually saying is that “this particular thing is not a priority for me and not important to me.” When you tell someone that you don’t have time right now to do something together, you’re telling that person that they’re not a priority in your life – it’s just a nicer way of saying it.

How you use your time is an expression of what’s actually important to you. If you spend three hours a day watching television, then that’s what is important to you. If you spend two hours a day exercising, then that’s what is important to you. If you spend three hours a day reading, then that’s what is important to you.

Look at how you actually spend your time very carefully. Keep an honest time diary, then look at it after a few weeks. Are these the things that are actually important to you? Compare that to the things left undone, the friends you didn’t see, the family members you didn’t check up on. Are those things less important than some of the stuff that you actually did?

No one is perfect here, but at the same time, improving in this direction is always a powerful move.

4. The Ten Things

As many of you know, I was really inspired a few months ago by the book The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. The core idea of the book is that you tend to get the most value out of a day when you choose one small thing (that serves as an element of a bigger goal, ideally) and you just nail it, and that strong success creates a domino effect of positive impact on your broader goal (and your life as a whole). For example, my “one thing” today might be to write an absolute killer article for The Simple Dollar.

The only caveat with that idea is that I’ve discovered, over time, that there is a limit to my productivity in a certain area of life in a given day. I can only write for so long before my writing quality rapidly declines. I can only exercise for so long before I feel dead and my arms are rubber. We aren’t robots.

So, what I’ve been doing lately is really focusing on the week ahead rather than the day ahead, and I’m creating a list of ten discrete tasks I want to absolutely nail this week. Most days, I try to nail two of them, but in very different areas so I don’t burn out.

I’ve found that this has been working incredibly well. For example, part of my list this week has been:
+ Conduct a dry run of my black belt test in taekwondo (it’s still pretty far off, but I want to be incredibly prepared for it)
+ Brainstorm and outline a week’s worth of articles for The Simple Dollar
+ Script, record, and edit a podcast episode (I’m involved with a podcast on tabletop gaming)
+ Do a double meal prep session (which should result in 7 full dinners in the freezer)
… and six other items.

Try it yourself. This Sunday, make a list of ten significant tasks you want to accomplish in the coming week. If you’re on a career path, make three or four of them career related, but also make some of them about other spheres of your life. Make it your goal to nail all of the items on the list this week.

5. E.B. White on explaining a joke

“Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog. You understand it better but the frog dies in the process.” — E.B. White

One of the interesting things about parenting is the need to sometimes explain jokes, particularly when kids are younger. The purpose of this isn’t to make that particular joke funny, but to enhance their understanding of and appreciation of humor so that future jokes are funny and they learn to cultivate their own humor.

This becomes awkward with other adults, though. If I tell a joke that completely whiffs, I usually just self-deprecate with it. “Oh, never mind… that was just an awful attempt at humor.”

Explaining a joke is rarely worth it, and should be avoided at all costs. White spells it out beautifully.

From the description:

This week on Basics, I’m taking another look at our beloved pizza and showing you how to make great pan pizza at home using a cast iron skillet, glass pie pan, or rimmed baking sheet.

I know how to make pan pizza, but I learned – at my count – seven little things to apply to my own homemade pizza making process from this video, and that’s why I wanted to share it.

This video manages to do everything that a good teaching video should do. It’s informative while still being entertaining. Not only that, it explains things in a way that a beginner could follow while still offering tips that a person familiar with the topic could find valuable. For me, for example, the single most valuable tip was that, when you’re trying to “stretch” pizza dough across a pan, stretch it a lot, then let it sit for a while, then you’ll be able to stretch it even further.

This is what I try to do – and on my best days, succeed at doing – with my writing. I try to write articles that are approachable to a beginner but include some useful stuff for regular readers and try to keep it interesting by weaving in anecdotes of my life. In this video, Babish pulls that all off really well.

Another thing worth noting – a video like this looks so effortless and clean when it’s done and you’re watching it, but I know from experience that a ton of work went on to make this video. This is something I’m going to touch on again in a bit.

7. Leo Tolstoy on changing the world

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” — Leo Tolstoy

How do you want to change the world?

I found that when I was younger, I wanted to change the world in the sense of being some kind of great leader or accomplishing something that would garner a bunch of media attention.

Today, I’d far rather change the world by improving a lot of lives in my community, or helping even a small portion of my readership actually improve their own lives.

I moved from someone who wanted to save all the starfish to someone who was perfectly content to throw back a starfish at a time.

I’ve learned over the years that the best route to being able to throw back a starfish at a time is to have your own life in good order first, to have a sense of what your strengths and weaknesses are, and to really focus on the individual you’re trying to help rather than focusing on making yourself into something “great.”

8. Plato on progress

No one should be discouraged […] who can make constant progress, even though it be slow.” – Plato

If you make it your aim to be just 1% better today than you were yesterday, and you keep that up for an entire year, then at the end of the year, you’ll be 35 times better than you were at the start of the year. Seriously.

Heck, if you make it your aim to just be 0.1% better today than you were yesterday, and you keep that up for an entire year, then at the end of the year, you’ll more than double your current state.

If you get exhausted after two minutes of running, strive to add 1% to that run each and every day. Run two minutes today, then two minutes and one second tomorrow, then two minutes and two seconds the day after that. After a while, you’ll start adding two seconds a day, then three seconds, then four, and so on, whatever 1% of your time is. In about four months, you’re running a 5K without a break. In about six months, you’re running a 10K. By the end of the year, you’re doing a marathon.

Strive to do a bit better at anything in your life, every single day, and you’ll find yourself approaching greatness with surprising speed.

Over the last several months, I’ve gotten more book recommendations from this site than I can even count. I’ve wound up looking for and requesting an incredible number of books from the library because of delves into this site.

The site basically conducts interviews with people in which they suggest five key books related to their career path or area of focus in life. For example, David Allen, the writer of Getting Things Done (a seminal productivity book), offered a list of five great productivity books and Joe Posnanski, a great sportswriter, recommended five books on baseball.

The thing I’ve found interesting is that, if I go to one of the interviews on a topic I’m interested in and I find that I’ve read one or two of the five suggested books and really enjoyed them, my interest in the other three skyrockets and I’m immediately requesting books from the library. This is far more likely to happen if I know I’m on board with one or two of the books than if I’ve never heard of any of the choices.

This is just a great place to dive if you’re looking for recommendations.

10. Michelangelo on genius

“If you knew how much work was put into it, you wouldn’t call it genius.” – Michelangelo

Quite often, what we think of as genius is actually the result of almost countless hours of incredibly focused work and deliberate practice. We see a basketball player make an astounding play, but what we don’t see is the fact that he or she spends several hours each day, every day, prepping for that moment, shooting baskets and running sprints and lifting weights and making passes and shooting turnarounds and on and on and on. We see a truly breathtaking piece of art, but what we don’t see is the many, many hours that went into every tiny speck of detail in that piece, and the many, many, many hours of practice and effort that went into building up the skill even needed to attempt it.

The best part is that a lot of that stunning stuff seems almost simple, like we could almost do it ourselves. We could make that basketball pass. We could make that creative play. We could bake that cake. Often, absurd high levels of skill make something very difficult look very simple.

If you want to get good at something, there’s nothing like hard work and deliberate practice. There is no real shortcut.

11. The “reading hour”

At the start of this current school year, I decided to start doing some of my heaviest reading right in front of my kids when they got home from school for about an hour or so. When they get home, I greet them and talk for a bit, set up shop on the kitchen table, put on noise-cancelling headphones, and read for a while. I do this at the same time that they’re doing after school chores or homework.

My original aim here was just to set an example for them of how to study. I wanted to demonstrate best studying practices for them in a very clear and tangible way and also make it clear that deep reading is part of a healthy adult life.

What has happened has been wonderful. Not only have I had more time to dig through some pretty challenging books, the practice has already rubbed off on the kids after just a few weeks. Once a few after-school chores are done (mostly related to taking care of pets and a few really straightforward household chores), they use that same exact time to camp out at the same table and dive into their homework, or if they don’t have anything, they start reading on their own as well. They’re not turning to the Switch or to online games or Youtube or anything like that. They’re either studying or reading.

I’ve started to call this the “reading hour,” and it has quickly become one of my favorite parts of the day.

12. Mark Twain on information

“If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re misinformed.” – Mark Twain

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve largely stopped reading or watching “the news” aside from a brief one or two minute scan of the headlines that I mostly do so I can follow conversations. This doesn’t mean I don’t read about current events, but I find that “fast” reporting is so error-prone and usually so full of bias that it usually puts the wrong idea in my head – something that’s either factually wrong or incredibly biased. I’d rather wait for detailed quality reporting, and that takes time.

So, does that mean I’m uninformed? In terms of headline news, I probably am. However, does the headline news ever actually change anything about my life? Am I ever going to take action on it? Almost never, and if I were to take action, it would probably be a bad action. Good quality reporting, on the other hand, often spurs me to do something, or at least helps shape my way of thinking.

The world seems to want quick reporting, but I’d rather have slow reporting with fact-checking and quality. It feels good to know that Mark Twain seems to agree.

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The flywheel of wealth (and the importance of patience)

His name is Dave. A retired Naval officer, he’s written two novels and about to publish his third. His books (thrillers in the style of Dan Brown and John Grisham) have been well received and even won awards, yet he’s still a relative unknown in the competitive world of fiction.

Her name is Michal. She’s a residential and commercial painting contractor in central Ohio. She’s a natural artist, a trait she inherited from her father and passed on to her daughter. She’s truly gifted, yet has struggled to grow her young business.

His name is Rob. He wants to achieve financial freedom at a young age. Yet, fresh out of college, he has mountains of debt. He makes a good salary, but most of it goes to paying school loans and everyday expenses. He manages to save and invest $100 a month, but feels like he’s making little progress.

These are all true stories.

  • Dave is Dave Grogan, a friend of mine. You can find his books here.
  • Michal is Michal Cheney, my sister. She owns and operates No Drip Painting, a company that has enjoyed tremendous growth, but only after years of hard work that seemed to go nowhere.
  • Rob is, as you might have guessed, me — 25 years ago. What started as $100 a month turned into early retirement at the age of 49.

What do these stories have in common? The Flywheel.

A flywheel is a mechanical device designed to efficiently store rotational energy. Well, that’s how an engineer would describe a flywheel. I majored in English. To me, a flywheel is a wheel that’s really hard to get started. Once it gets going, however, it’s really hard to stop.

Anybody who has taken a spin class and tried to stop the pedals with their feet has learned firsthand just how much a moving flywheel wants to keep moving!

Today, I want to tell you about the flywheel of wealth. Like any flywheel, it can be slow to get started. But once it’s moving, it’s almost unstoppable.

The Flywheel and Business

Most young entrepreneurs experience the flywheel. The new realtor struggles to get her first sale. The second sale is just as hard. So is the tenth. As she struggles, she watches long-time realtors get new clients with ease.

An online entrepreneur struggles to get visitors to his new website. He publishes great content, yet watches as long-established websites, even those with lesser quality content, get gobs of visitors.

I can remember publishing my first article on my personal finance site, The Dough Roller. I was terrified. I knew that as soon as I clicked publish, the entire world could see my ideas, my thoughts, my opinions. How would they react? With adrenalin aplenty, I clicked publish and sat back and waited, and waited, and waited. Nothing happened.

In hindsight, my fear was comical. Why? Absolutely nobody, and I mean nobody, read that first article published on 27 May 2007. I was pushing against a flywheel that was at a dead stop. It didn’t budge.

Up at 5:30 am seven days a week to work on my blog, I kept pushing against that flywheel. On the subway going to work I pushed some more. I pushed against the flywheel at lunch. I pushed against the flywheel at night after the family went to bed. It didn’t move.

Then the inner voice we all have spoke up. “Keep pushing if you want, buy you’ll never get this flywheel to move. You don’t have what it takes. Just give up. Life will be easier and you won’t embarrass yourself.”

I kept pushing.

Adjustable Flywheel Patent

It took six months following this schedule before the flywheel begrudgingly moved ever so slightly. I kept pushing. And pushing. And pushing.

Fast-forward eleven years and what started out as a blog with one post nobody read had become a multi-million dollar business. The flywheel was humming along so fast I couldn’t stop it if I wanted to.

What accounts for the success? I didn’t quit. I kept pushing and, importantly, learning how to push against the flywheel. In my case, it was learning the art and science of online publishing.

Note: I sold the blog in 2018, but continue to record the Dough Roller Money Podcast. Here’s my interview with J.D. about how to manage your money as the CFO of your own life.

The Flywheel and Financial Freedom

All of this brings me to the flywheel of wealth. I’m on a mission to motivate young people to save and invest. It’s not easy.

Many people in their twenties see saving money as:

  1. A huge sacrifice,
  2. Having no short-term benefit, and
  3. A long-term benefit they may never get to enjoy.

I challenge these beliefs in my new book, Retire Before Mom and Dad, which was published last week. [J.D.’s note: I read Rob’s book a few weeks ago. It’s fantastic!]

Here’s the thing. Most young people can’t see past the seemingly immovable flywheel of investing.

Let’s imagine you read my book and I’ve convinced you to start saving and investing today. Excellent! So you give up cable TV to save more money. You take the $100 monthly cable fee and invest it in a low-cost index mutual fund. You feel good about your decision, although you miss some of the shows you use to watch on TV.

Now let’s fast forward one month. You’ve suffered through withdrawals from the lack of cable. You’ve yelled at your kids a bit more than usual. Surly would best describe your “I gave up cable to invest” mood.

To ease your pain, you decide to check your investments. You log into your account, and if we assume the month was an average month for the stock and bond market, you earned about one-twelfth of 8% — or .67%. (Over the long term, the U.S. stock market returns about 8% per year.)

Your $100 investment has turned into the princely sum of $100.67. The flywheel didn’t turn much!

At this point several things happen.

  • First you curse me and the day you bought my stupid book or read this article.
  • Second, you kick yourself for giving up a month of Property Brothers for a lousy 67 cents.
  • And you’re at a loss on how to respond to your significant other who went through his own cable TV withdraws and wants to know how the investment is performing.

Welcome to the world of investing. Yeah, it starts really, really slow. (Maybe that’s why J.D. named this site Get Rich Slowly?)

Greasing the Flywheel

And that brings me to what I call the “Nine Year Rule of Compounding Magic”. Here it is:

It takes about nine years of investing the same amount each month for the monthly returns to equal the amount you’ve been investing.

Let’s use our example of investing $100 a month. If we again assume an 8% return, after nine years we’ll have $15,742.96. If on an average month we earn about 0.67% (which is 8% divided by twelve), our $15,742.96 will be generating an average monthly return of $105.48.


Now our investments are generating more than our monthly contributions. And if we continue to invest our $100 a month plus the income generated by our investments, our wealth continues to compound . The flywheel picks up speed.

Now let’s take it to the next level.

It took about nine years at an 8% return for our wealth to generate monthly income of about $100. How long will it take to increase this income to $200 a month? If you’ve been following along, you know it will be fewer than nine years given the magic of compounding.

Let’s do the math. Using an Excel spreadsheet, we can quickly calculate that after another five years, our balance rises to $30,802.26. That amount of wealth will generate about $200 a month in income at an 8% return ($205.35 to be exact).

Magic again!

It took us nine years saving $100 a month to have enough to generate another $100 in monthly income. But it took us just five years to double the monthly income to $200.

We can keep going:

  • 9 years: $100 a month
  • 5 more years: $200 a month
  • 3.5 more years: $300 a month
  • 2.7 more years: $400 a month
  • 2.3 more years: $500 a month
  • 1.9 more years: $600 a month
  • 1.7 more years: $700 a month (26.1 years total)

Here’s the key point. The first $100 of income is the hardest. It took us nine years.

As the power of compounding grows, it gets easier and easier. In our example above, we jumped from $600 of monthly income to $700 in just 18 months. And in case you were wondering, our $100 monthly investment grew to $105,195.67 after 26.1 years.

Why is this important? It’s important because we need to set realistic expectations. M. Scott Peck in his bestseller, The Road Less Traveled, makes this point in a different context. He says that life is tough. And as soon as we realize that life is tough, life gets a little easier.

Building wealth is slow at first. It can even be discouraging at times. But once we realize this, once we set realistic expectations, it gets a little easier.

Keep pushing on that flywheel!

Author: Rob Berger

Rob Berger is an investor, entrepreneur, blogger, husband, father, and Buckeye fanatic. He founded the personal finance site in 2007, retired from the practice of law at the age of 49, sold and retired again in 2018, and now is a Deputy Editor at Forbes Money Advisor. You can reach him at

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10 Amazon Purchases We Are Loving Right Now

Photo by Monkey Business Images /

What better way to find your next great purchase than to consult financially savvy consumers much like yourself — you know, the kind of people who read Money Talks News?

We couldn’t think of a better way, which is why we rounded up the Amazon products that were most popular last month among Money Talks News readers, including our own staff and contributors.

Don’t worry: We have no idea what items you — or any other individual — buys online. We can only tell you which products Money Talks News readers as a group purchased on Amazon after reading our stories.

Following is a look at the most popular items from August.

Just note that although prices you see here will almost always be accurate, they sometimes differ slightly from what you will find when you check Amazon. We also suggest that you compare prices around the web before buying anything online to confirm you’re getting the best price available at that time.

What was your favorite recent purchase? Let us know why by commenting below or on the Money Talks News Facebook page.

Elizabeth Lotts and Melissa Neiman contributed to this report.

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Is the Southwest Premier Credit Card Worth Its Annual Fee?

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.

If you’re asking yourself whether the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card is worth the annual fee, the answer should be based on two questions: “Is the annual fee worth it for the first year?” and “Is it worth it for the second year and beyond?”

Here’s how to evaluate both questions so you can decide whether this card is right for you.

Is the annual fee worth it for the first year?

Whether the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card’s annual fee of $99 is worth it during the first year depends on the sign-up bonus and whether you end up earning it. Here’s the current offer: Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

As long as you meet the minimum spending requirement in the given amount of time, you’ll earn these bonus points. We estimate the sign-up bonus to be worth between $600-$700 based on NerdWallet’s valuation of Rapid Rewards points.

Because of this value, you’ll almost certainly come out ahead for the first year. To make your points go further, book Southwest’s cheaper “Wanna Get Away” fares. (Southwest’s redemption rates vary with the cash price of their flights, so you’ll shell out fewer points when cash prices are low.) And be flexible if you can.

For instance, at the time of publication, a one-way “Wanna Get Away” flight from Indianapolis to Los Angeles on Oct. 3 was 6,145 points. But the price to fly roughly two weeks later, on Oct. 16, was more than double: 15,142 points.

To figure out what flights you might be able to book with the points from your sign-up bonus, use the Southwest website to check points prices for several destinations.

Is the annual fee worth it for the second year and beyond?

Whether the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card’s annual fee is worth it after the first year is a bigger question. First, consider that you’ll receive 6,000 points every year on your cardmember anniversary, which may cover the value of the annual fee outright if you redeem them well.

However, the real value of this card in the long term comes from flying Southwest Airlines on a regular basis with paid tickets, and spending enough on your credit card to really rack up points. The card earns 2 points per dollar spent with Southwest Airlines and Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partners. These aren’t exactly stellar bonus opportunities if you don’t plan to fly Southwest Airlines regularly.

If you want to try to earn the Southwest Companion Pass, you’ll need to earn 110,000 Rapid Rewards points in a year. This means you’ll likely need to be dedicated to flying Southwest Airlines regularly and charging your daily expenses to the card. If you plan to do this, the card may absolutely be worth it, since you can bring someone with you on every flight for at least a year just by paying taxes and fees.

Other travel rewards card options

Whether a card is worth its annual fee isn’t just about what the annual fee is compared to the value of any rewards you earn. It’s also about the opportunity cost of not having used another card instead.

For instance, if you value hotel points more than airline miles, the versatile IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card usually offers a higher sign-up bonus with the opportunity to earn points more quickly (as high as 40 points per dollar on IHG hotel stays during your first year). But keep in mind that hotel points often have a lower value; NerdWallet currently values these IHG points at 0.6 cent each. The annual fee on this card is $89. IHG has a range of hotels where you can redeem points, from Holiday Inn Express to higher-end Kimpton and InterContinental hotels.

The bottom line

There’s no question that the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card’s annual fee can be worth it for your first year. However, the annual fee may not be worth it after that if you don’t plan on flying with Southwest Airlines or making purchases with their car and hotel partners — or if you value hotel points more than airline miles.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2019, including those best for:

Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice:
Find the best travel credit card for you
Snag these hotel loyalty perks, even if you’re disloyal
Earn more points and miles with these 6 strategies

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