Frugally Awesome…Or Awkward: Part 4

Awkward 4There’s something about money: It brings out the best, the worst, and the most awkward side of people. Since I’ve dedicated a fair amount of time this summer to side hustling, I’ve had to do some explaining for how I’m spending my time. I get it. A lot of people think teachers have summers off and spend time eating bonbons ice cream straight out of the carton. But even fellow educators have had some really interesting things to say when they hear about my hustling. As usual, my interactions lean more towards awkward rather than awesome. Continue reading “Frugally Awesome…Or Awkward: Part 4”

Frugally Awesome…Or Awkward: Part 4

Free Cirque Shows and Other Ways to Make Vegas Cheap

Free CirqueFree tickets in Vegas aren’t a thing of the past. You don’t have to know a guy. You also don’t have to be a high roller or a big spender. In fact, a clever combination of My Vegas Rewards and Groupon allowed Mr. P and I the opportunity to take in a show and spend a day out in the desert for $75 total. Here’s how: Continue reading “Free Cirque Shows and Other Ways to Make Vegas Cheap”

Free Cirque Shows and Other Ways to Make Vegas Cheap

3 Investment Mistakes I’m Trying to Fix

Investment MistakesSince this is a post on investments, let’s get the platitudes out of the way: You’re in it for the long-haul. Look at the market’s performance over time. It’s just a bump in the road. That many Bogleheads can’t be wrong. This also isn’t going to be a post about how my dividends are now another income stream or how my returns are outperforming my spreadsheet estimates by six months on my FIRE journey. Why? Because that isn’t my reality right now.

Right now, my savings account is outearning my Roth IRA for the current year and year-to-date. My Roth is only .2% ahead of my savings since inception. The numbers are bleak. But I get it. I understand the power of compound interest. I think the estimates are far too generous, but I get the principle. I’m sold on investing. Since my big goals for the year centered on investing, I thought I’d share three mistakes I’ve worked to correct this month: Continue reading “3 Investment Mistakes I’m Trying to Fix”

3 Investment Mistakes I’m Trying to Fix

5 Money Lessons from Dad

DadMy dad’s been teaching me lessons my whole life. Whether it was showing me how to dry the floor with a towel underfoot only to be busted by Mom or helping me build a sarcophagus to scale for a history project, my dad’s wisdom knows no bounds. And with Father’s Day fast approaching, I thought I’d share some of my favorite finance lessons from my dad.

You get what you pay for. File this under the “told you so” category. Like that one every boyfriend except my husband who my dad seemed to have a sixth sense about, he was also a master at anticipating which of my purchases would end in disappointment. From cheap toys when I was growing up to even cheaper clothes in my teens, he spent a lot of time predicting the soon-to-be casualties of a single day of play or one go-round in the spin cycle. Of course, there are happy exceptions. But he’s been right more than he’s been wrong (grumble, grumble) when it comes to this adage.

Get your hands dirty. When something breaks, my instinct is to look for a new thing on sale. My dad’s inclination, though, is to meticulously dissect whatever has broken and then tinker around with it until it is fixed. In the spirit of full disclosure, he is a mechanic by trade. But I’m not talking about cars. Whether it is the riding lawnmower that the previous homeowner was trying to junk, a washing machine that suddenly refused to spin, a toilet that never sounded quite right, or anything in between, he operates on it all. Every once in awhile, he gets stymied or realizes the cost of replacement parts simply isn’t worth it. However, by and large, being willing to tinker and developing an understanding of how most things work has served him–and me!–incredibly well.

It would cost $0 if you didn’t shop. Growing up, my mom was my accomplice when it came to hitting up all the best sales. My dad? Not so much. Still, I would do my best to infect him with my enthusiasm for shopping. After unleashing a deluge of shopping bags across our kitchen table, I would root around for my best purchase to showcase. My claims of scoring yet another pair of super-clearance shoes for $13 would be met with a pause and a standard reminder that not shopping nets 100% savings.

Your time is worth something. Now, there are times when I think my dad takes this mantra a little too far. Grocery shopping at the corner store for example. I really do think my time is valuable, but I’m not about to pay $1 for a banana. Sorry, Dad. Still, when I recently found myself planning a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles to renew my license plate sticker in person in order to avoid a $2 online processing fee, I stopped myself. I could be blogging, I could be side hustling, I could be relaxing. Really, anything is probably a better use of my time than navigating the mile-long lines overrun with soon-to-be-new-drivers, apprehensive guardians, and cranky state workers.

If you’re going to work that hard, work for yourself. When I was three, my dad bought an automotive repair. For essentially my entire life, I’ve watched him toil away, strategizing when the economy was strong and sacrificing for his few employees when it wasn’t. While my dad would never try to talk me out of teaching, he would watch me spend hours planning lessons, hosting meetings, and agreeing to all sorts of extra, unpaid duties. He’d smile, but he’d also ask when I was going to run a school, become a writer, or work for myself in some capacity. It wasn’t until I started looking for different income streams like tutoring that I really started to see what he meant.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads, grandpas, uncles, and nephews out there. May your weekend be full of family, relaxation, and a little wisdom.

So Tell Me…What is your favorite lesson–finance or otherwise–that a family member taught you?

 

5 Money Lessons from Dad

Purposeful Positivity: Why I Joined the Tip Yourself Team

Tip Yourself (1)Though it seems entirely too much like a dream to be reality, I’m part of the Tip Yourself team. I alluded to it when I discussed my summer side hustle plan. And before I tell you what I’m doing and how you can help, I thought I’d tell you why I’m doing it. It turns out, a little positivity goes a long way. I just needed to be reminded of that. Continue reading “Purposeful Positivity: Why I Joined the Tip Yourself Team”

Purposeful Positivity: Why I Joined the Tip Yourself Team

How We Did Vegas for $250 Out-of-Pocket: Part 1

Vegas 1Tony Curtis once said, “If you know how to live in Las Vegas, you can have the best time.” Say what you want about the gaudiest light show on earth, but there’s something truly captivating about a city where everyone is hoping to get lucky. The fast pace. The bombastic shows. The glamorous nightlife. The never-ending neon. There are so many reasons why my husband and I drawn to the Strip. And the fact that we continually take this trip so inexpensively doesn’t hurt, either.

It’s often said that anything goes in Vegas. And that goes for vacation price tag as well. This past trip, we managed to clock in at $250 out-of-pocket. Here’s how we did it with some help from our credit cards, MyVegas Rewards, and some other clever tricks:

The Hotel & Flights – $0 – Credit Card Rewards

If I were a really savvy travel hacker with the ability to travel any week of the year, we probably could have found an even better deal. However, given the fact that I’m side hustling away my summer meant that we only had a small window of opportunity to travel. And it turns out, no one was going to Vegas after Memorial Day. Or that’s what I assume because they were practically giving the place away. A vacation package from Southwest that included two roundtrip, nonstop flights and a two-night stay at MGM was $500. Our Discover credit card cash back rewards footed that bill entirely.

Originally, we had planned to stay for three nights, but I had to tackle a day of meetings that I couldn’t reschedule. Still, considering we landed at 8 AM Tuesday and didn’t fly out until 6PM on Thursday, we really had three full days to explore the Strip and beyond. Even if you don’t have credit card rewards or miles, $500 for three days for two people isn’t a bad deal.

The takeaway: My affinity for the Southwest Low Fare Calendar knows no bounds. Explore different options. Check different seasons. And if you’re headed to Vegas, definitely consider going midweek. The only drawback to scheduling anything in Vegas is the fact that shows and nightclubs have different days on which they are dark. Timing really is everything.  

Bonus tip: Virtually every hotel — no matter the number of stars or bedbugs — now charges a resort fee. It covers the cost of the pools, the workout centers, wifi, and other amenities. It also allows hotels to advertise much cheaper rates than what you’re really paying. Brace yourself for an extra $25-$35 a night. And bring a swimsuit. You’re paying for the pools. You might as well use them!

The Food – Tips Only – MyVegas Rewards & Gift Cards

How we dine out in Vegas isn’t for everyone. I get that. There are no $200 caviar appetizers or $100 steak dinners here. That’s not our speed. In fact, I could have easily picked up gift cards to numerous steakhouses or other fine dining restaurants on the Strip, but that’s too much red meat and white tablecloths for my taste.

To start, we actually pack breakfast in our suitcase. For me, that usually involves some kind of snack bar or fruit squeeze. For Mr. P, bagels. Because he can never have too many carbs. I’m also a big fan of using my Starbucks gift cards to pop down for some tea in the morning. Since most hotels in Vegas will charge you extra for a mini-fridge, if you plan on packing or buying any kind of snack foods on the Strip, you’ll have to plan accordingly. Or get creative with your ice bucket.

For our lunches, we used My Vegas Rewards for two buffet comps: one at the Mirage and one at Aria. And man, did Mr. P eat the prime rib and crab legs. Though there were many people who did not tip at all, we tipped about $20 total for both lunch buffets. We wanted to take care of the table attendant who cleared the many, many plates at Aria. But we also wanted to tip the bartender who poured Mr. P’s beer, which flows limitlessly at the Mirage.  

Since we only had two nights, we did not really plan to get too crazy or elaborate with our meals. I used a combination of Bing rewards and Amazon gift cards to order a PF Chang gift card and a Brinker gift card. The closest PF Chang is a good 45 minutes away from us at home, and Mr. P’s love for their lettuce wraps knows no bounds. So I knew this would be on his list. Plus, they have a fantastic outdoor patio dead center to all the action on the Strip.

As for the Brinker card, we had originally intended to eat at Maggiano’s, but then we stumbled across a Chili’s that had some amazing happy hour specials and a second-story patio with glorious misters and fans. Plus, we wanted to be able to eat over the Strip. You truly can’t put a price on people watching. Since both restaurants had happy hour specials, we actually were able to put the cost of the food, the drinks, and the tip on the $50 gift cards. In fact, we actually tipped about $12 at each restaurant simply because we didn’t want gift cards with $2 on them since we virtually never go out to eat at home.

The takeaway: Dine however you want and in whatever way fits your budget. Remember that there are plenty of different options at a variety of price points. If you’re looking for a deal, scour the signage for happy hour specials. We noticed that most restaurants and bars had some sort of early evening happy hour or late-night reverse happy hour specials. You can also get creative with comps if you gamble with real money at casinos or from My Vegas if you gamble with imaginary money online. And pack snacks.

Next Up

In the next installment, I’ll talk about how our day trip to the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, the nightlight, parking, and even gambling clocked in at under $250. No luck involved, I promise! In the final installment, I’ll share some of the specifics for how I score all of these gift cards throughout the year in case you’d like to copy our Sin City style. Stay tuned!

So Tell Me…What are your money-saving vacation secrets? Would you ever put bagels in your suitcase?

How We Did Vegas for $250 Out-of-Pocket: Part 1

A $14 Robbery Ruined My Neighborhood

RobberyThere goes the neighborhood. Over the past month, there have been a string of break-ins in our neighborhood. It all started with a singular incident in which $14 was stolen from someone’s kitchen. When I heard the news, I was nervous. But it seemed like an isolated incident, and I brushed it off as teenagers, or possibly even residents of the house. But then, there were more. A string of homes was hit all in one night. In one home, one of the burglars was caught on a nanny cam. He remains unidentified. Our normally quiet subdivision was stunned, but my neighbors have been anything but silent about it. And my neighbors have made it really clear the type of neighborhood we live in: Continue reading “A $14 Robbery Ruined My Neighborhood”

A $14 Robbery Ruined My Neighborhood

Iced Tea & The Strip

Iced TeaI did something in Vegas that made quite a few passersby uncomfortable. In a city known for tolerating proclivities of all kinds, I take pride in the fact that I literally stopped foot traffic on the Strip. Most people froze; some continued walking but executed a wide berth. A few mouths went slack jaw. One person pointed while another shook his head.

All because I gave money to a homeless person. Never mind Chewbacca and Yoda dressed up in costumes too matted to pass muster at an actual theme park. Ignore the women posing for photos in g-strings and pasties while families scoot their children down the sidewalk. Pay no mind to the men snapping stiff cards dotted with promises of a good time that is one 800 number away. Acknowledge someone’s humanity, though, and you’ve clearly crossed the line. Continue reading “Iced Tea & The Strip”

Iced Tea & The Strip

We Paid 3.5x Our Mortgage Payment…and Will Do It Again!

MortgageLast month, we paid 3.5 times our mortgage payment. In part, it was a good month for side hustling — hello, tutoring before finals — and in part because it was one of the two months a year when I score an extra paycheck. While I didn’t put my entire paycheck towards our mortgage*, I did put a large chunk of it. And now that we’ve got this momentum going, it’s going to be really hard to return to our standard double payment each month.

While I’ve talked a lot about mortgages in general here and I’ve generally alluded to the payments we make both on the blog and on Twitter, I thought I’d lay out all the hairy details in this post. So, if you’d like some more insight into the $200,000+ 30-year mortgage we’re trying to tackle in ten, this post is for you:

The Deadline

We took out a 30-year mortgage at 3.5%, which amounts to just under $1000 a month. This number does not include property taxes since our taxes are not in escrow. We also didn’t pay PMI. Having to pay the bank interest was painful enough. I was not going to put us in a position where someone else got to keep my money until tax time. And PMI seems like an easy way to help people overextend themselves. So, we owed the bank over $200,000 in the span of 30 years. When you crunch the numbers, though, it’s actually more like $350,000 over the span of 30 years. Ouch.

The Realistic Goal

Since paying an extra $150,000 is absolutely dizzying to me, we committed to trying to always double our payments. Essentially, we were going to take a 30-year mortgage and have it paid off in 15 years. Since we bought the house almost a full year before we got married and moved in, we made standard payments for the first year. We had a wedding to pay for, I was in grad school, and we both had new cars. I know, I know. But once we moved in and paid off both of our cars, we started doubling our payments and didn’t look back.

The Dream

Paying off our mortgage in fifteen years would put me at 42 years old. Not too shabby to own a home free and clear in my early forties. I can live with that. But the thing is, I don’t want to. When I first started blogging, I mentioned how whatever money I make side hustling also goes towards our mortgage. It’s not particularly fun, but it’s very addicting. I love seeing the number plummet. There’s something so satisfying about imaging the bank crying when they see a young couple doubling or tripling each payment. Seriously, they do cry, right?

We Won’t Refinance Right Now

There are so many unknowns in our lives right now. Both Mr. P and I need to complete more graduate work to max out our pay scales. Having a house can be a huge money pit. My work might get their act together and actually let me invest in a halfway decent 403b company. We might even trade in our DINK status one day.**

Because our interest rate is fairly low at 3.5% and we’re cruising along with repayments, the fees and hassle of refinancing don’t quite add up. Additionally, if we ever found ourselves in a place where we had to be less aggressive with our repayments, we could simply recalibrate our budget without having to jump through any other hoops. It may not be everyone’s ideal, but it’s what works for us based on our situation and our number crunching.

*I got you, Vanguard.

**This is why I have to blog anonymously. If my mother ever heard me utter these words, there would be a nursery in our guest bedroom before I made it home today.

So Tell Me…Do you own or rent? Have you ever had to tackle a mortgage? What was your strategy? Feel free to leave links!

We Paid 3.5x Our Mortgage Payment…and Will Do It Again!

5 Things to Do Today Besides Buying a Mattress

WeekendI’m not entirely sure how it happened, but mattress sales on Memorial Day are ubiquitous across the United States. Then, there are the home good sales. And the linen sales. And the lawn furniture. And the list goes on. While I have nothing against scoring a bargain on something you actually need, no one should feel that shopping–or spending–is a requisite part of a three-day weekend. If you need a little inspiration, check out these no-spend ideas: Continue reading “5 Things to Do Today Besides Buying a Mattress”

5 Things to Do Today Besides Buying a Mattress