Geocache to Find Treasure with a Dork Machine

Need a hobby that's not going to make you broke? Learn to geocache. This sport gets you outdoors as you search for treasure with a dork machine.
Yeah, that’s pretty much what geocaching is. And its fantastic. The “dork machine” is a GPS (Global Positioning System) device that, after you type in some coordinates, will tell you which way to go to find your “treasure,” which is the cache (or container holding a log book for those who found it at the least, and full of goodies ranging from a McDonald’s toy to a Gameboy Color my brother once found at the most.)
Sculpture gardent

An amazing sculpture garden I never would have known existed had there not been a cache nearby.

This activity is FREE. It gets you outside. You can choose to do incredibly easy or incredibly difficult caches, making it great to do with kids or a group of intensely active adults. You might not have a GPS device. The one I have is incredibly basic. Pretty much I can type in the coordinates for the cache and set a marker for my car so I can find my way back. If I really wanted to, I could probably figure out the two other functions that it has. But it works.

Have a GPS system in your car for directions or a cell phone where you can download apps? Odds are you can use them to geocache, as well. While most car GPS systems are not so great for off-road hiking, there are a few models that can do both.) Or, if you have a cell phone, odds are it has a GPS chip in it already. All you need to do is download the Geocaching Live App.

While initial investment can be extravagant, it probably doesn’t have to be.

You go to the official geocaching website and create a FREE account with your email address to find caches in your area. When you in your zip code, it will find a ton of caches (treasures) close to you.

You find one that fits your desired difficulty and goals (there are historical caches, eco caches, themed caches, the list goes on…) and plug the coordinates on the website into your GPS device (if you’re using the app, it’s a different but nonetheless easy process.) A lot of caches will also have parking coordinates so you’re ready to go.

Showing our travel bug some classic Pittsburgh at Primanti’s.

Geocaching is a very new and green sport. When you’re visiting the site, leaving nature better than you found it is more than encouraged. When you find the cache (which will be hidden under a rock, inside a stump, inside a crack in the cement, another endless list…) you will undoubtedly find a log to sign.

You may also find treasures. When you take something out, you MUST put something back in! Trade a pack of cards for a bracelet, or a pokemon toy for a batman figurine. Just try to keep your item equal to what you’re taking. I’ve used McDonald’s toys, cheap little things from tourist shops I’ve picked up while on vacation, and dollar store items to keep my caching cheap. Once you’ve started, you can also recycle items you’ve found but don’t necessarily need to keep.

If you find an item inside with a tag on it, it’s a trackable. These items should be logged into the geocaching website and be moved on to a new cache. My favorites are the travel bugs, which are little toys that you can take pictures with to upload onto the site. Then when they’ve passed on, you can continue to follow them and see where they’ve traveled after you’ve let them back out into the wild.

Geocaches are hidden WORLDWIDE so I’ve seen some of the travel bugs that have come into my posession make it to Australia, Guam, and all over Europe. It reminds me of Flat Stanley from Kindergarten.

Starfish at The Ovens.

The best part of geocaching is the adventures. One time we rescued a starfish and saw a seal on a cache. Another time we found a teepee someone had built in the woods.

It can also force you to be a tourist in your own town. I’ve been so many places in Pittsburgh that I never would have even known existed without geocaching.

One time we were visiting family in Maine, and found a cache in a place called the Ovens, which is a series of amazing rock formations that is covered by the tide during certain times of the day. Our family was amazed that they had lived in the area for 10 years without knowing this place existed.

I’d love to hear about your adventures and do my best to field your questions or help you get started!

For more information:
Geocaching Website
More Info on GPS Devices

Financial Psychology Worth Sharing

This tip is really healpful to get around your own negative financial psychology.!

The other night, I fully intended to workout after I put my kids to bed. I had my playlist cued up, my stationary bike was waiting….everything I needed to fulfill this intention.

Then I came out of the bedroom. It had been a long day. I’ve been on this TED Talk kick lately, and entertained the idea of plopping on the couch and watching one instead of working out. I knew I shouldn’t, but the more I thought about it, the more appealing the idea sounded.

Eventually, this was my inner dialouge:

“I love me, and want me to be happy. Screw the workout. I’m going to watch something interesting.”

My YouTube search turned up a talk by Monica Lewinsky on public shame and cyber bullying. Was actually pretty darn interesting and heartbreaking.

At this point, maybe I should have gotten off the couch. But I didn’t. I had already committed to mindlessly doing what I wanted that night.

The next talk that automatically cued up was this one:

At 14:28, she says this:

“If we do that which we are not supposed to do, then we feel like we are really doing what we want.”

I paused the video.

I got all Neo and was like, “Whoa.”

She was talking about me! No, I’m not cheating on my husband or even considering entertaining the idea, but that night, I had fallen into the same behavior pattern as adulterers.

What was I supposed to do?

Get on the freaking bike.

Did I do it?

No.

Why?

I wanted to do what I wanted to do.

But did watching TED Talks really line up with what I wanted?

No. Because what I really want is to get fit.

But because I knew I wasn’t supposed to sit on my butt and watch TV, it enticed me. I convinced myself that was really what I wanted, even though it didn’t align with my goals.

Then I realized that this happens to people a lot. This one, simple thought process can deter us from getting what we actually want out of life, and, of course, there is an application to our finances.

Shopoholics

I’ve never been a big shopoholic, but from what I understand, the behavior develops because buying stuff is perceived as a type of therapy.

Even if you’re a shopoholic and know you shouldn’t hit up the mall for new clothes you don’t need, you’re probably going to do it anyways.

In fact, because it is a no-no, you may be more drawn to do it. You convince yourself that you’re exercising your free will as an adult, and it’s going to make you happy.

But just like a cheating spouse doesn’t like the consequences of a destroyed marriage, you’re not likely to be happy with the credit card bill you receive later that month.

Long-Term Savings

Saving for a goal that’s a long way off is hard. You don’t see immediate rewards, and may get distracted along the way.

Let’s look at saving for retirement. You know you should be doing it. You know that 65-year-old you will be so happy that you consistently contributed in your youth, allowing compound interest to make you rich.

But Beyonce is touring. And Lemonade was mind-blowing. Tickets are expensive, and you don’t have enough in your budget this month to both go to the concert and contribute to your IRA in the amount you’ve promised yourself you would.

You know you should sacrifice current wants for future needs, but it’s so much more appealing to do what you shouldn’t. You really want to go, so you do. You have a great time.

And then something comes up next month.

And the month after that.

Your youth was full of immediate gratification, but by the time you’re 65, you’re broke with massive health problems you can’t pay for. Heck, you can barely afford rent.

Is that what you really wanted? Or did you only pursue immediate gratification in your youth because you knew you shouldn’t? Because it was a forbidden fruit you just couldn’t resist?

Recognize the Thought Process Beforehand

By being aware of this psychological pattern, we can stop ourselves in the moment. We can ask ourselves, “Do I really want to go on a shopping spree right now to buy more things I don’t need and get stuck with a crazy huge credit card bill later? Or do I only want it because I’m not supposed to do it?”

When we recognize how our brain is framing things, we can circumvent our potential bad behavior and get on the damn bike.

15- vs. 30-Year Mortgage–Which is Best?

Wow, I never thought of it this way. Why paying less interest on a 15- vs 30- year mortgage can be good OR bad.

Some of you may remember that my husband is taking a course in calculus. It’s going really well for him.

A few weeks ago, his class was working on amortization tables. They were given an assignment to find a house they’d like to buy then figure out the difference in interest if they took out a 15-year mortgage versus a 30-year mortgage.

He was sitting there doing his work when I heard, “What the heck?!”

“What’s wrong?”

“Why would anyone ever take out a thirty-year mortgage?”

Here’s what he was looking at:

 

We ran the numbers to see which was best---a 15- or 30-year mortgage.

Click to enlarge.

15-Year vs. 30-year Mortgage

That’s a $44,616.60 difference in the amount of interest you’d be paying over the term of your loan. The interest rate is the same for both loans: 3.8%. And the cost of the home is $158,500 after assuming the seller came down $5K. (Yay for the Pittsburgh housing market!) There is also an assumed down payment of 20%, or $31,700.

Literally the only thing that caused that $40K+ difference was the length of the loan.

Want to run your own numbers without having to do calculus? PenFed has a great tool to compare the two mortgage lengths; just enter your own parameters!

This led us into a pretty in-depth conversation about our housing situation. We’re currently saving for a home, but don’t yet have the 20% needed to avoid PMI. While we could totally afford a 15-year mortgage in the given price range, we also have pretty hefty property taxes in our county which may or may not take us outside our desired budget.

In his paper, he chose the 15-year mortgage. Because obviously. It’s way cheaper.

When a 30-year Mortgage is Smarter

Just because it’s cheaper doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a better decision, though. Our income is notably variable. Let’s say we could afford a 15-year mortgage at $933.79 per month and the additional $250-$400 per month in property taxes. And then home owners’ insurance on top of it.

What happens if we have a bad month? We could obviously draw cash out of savings. But what if we had a bad quarter? What if, like last fall, an income stream suddenly dried up? (This last one could happen to anyone, regardless of if they have a variable income or a “steady,” every other week paycheck.)

In that case, we’d be glad to have the longer mortgage with the lower monthly payments of $590.83. It would give us $342.96 of wiggle room per month, and, as long as there’s no pre-payment penalty, there would be nothing to stop us from paying off the mortgage early.

Which is exactly what we would do. Let’s say we made the same $933.79 monthly payment every month, but got the 30-year mortgage. We’d still save $39,222.71 in interest. And we would have given ourselves flexibility should we meet a lean month.

The Investment Argument

There’s an argument out there that says because interest rates are so low at the moment (3.8% in this example, and even lower for us with our preapproval,) that you stand to build more wealth in the same period of time by investing the difference between a 15-year and 30-year mortgage.

In our example, $342.96 invested monthly over 15 years adds up to $96,614.64 if we assume a 6% annual rate of return. We’d still owe roughly $81,635 on the house and have $76,865 in equity. If these were our only sources of net worth, our wealth would equal $91,884.64. If we had paid off the mortgage only via a 15-year mortgage, our net worth would all be tied up in our house, and it would equate to $158,500.

Not a strong argument, unless we used the investment to pay off the home. Then our home equity would be $158,500, plus the $15,664.64 leftover in investments. This calculation is generous in that it doesn’t include the tax bill we’d have to pay for pulling that money out of the market.

Investing the difference would make us more than $15,000 richer and give us more diversity in our investments. Investing the difference and using it to pay off the mortgage 15 years down the line would appear to be the clear, best answer.

But assuming a 6% return is dangerous on a short-term basis. (I consider 15 years a short-term timeframe given my age and risk tolerance.) Then there’s the fact that no matter how it’s classified on paper, we will not be viewing our home as an investment. For many, the mental burden of debt will win out even over solid numbers that show they will be building wealth. (We’re not of that ilk, but it’s another thing to take under consideration.)

What’s the best answer?

Should you get a 15-year mortgage to save on interest? Should you get a 30-year to give yourself some flexibility, combined with an early pay-off plan? Or should you get the 30-year and invest the rest?

So much of it is personal. It depends on your financial situation. It depends on your money philosophy.

We haven’t quite decided yet. Admittedly, we probably won’t go the investment route. While the husband picked the 15-year on his assignment, the flexibility of the 30-year mortgage with an early payoff date is an enticing option, too.

What would you do?

 

*This post is in partnership with PenFed Credit Union.*

 

Eating Healthy on a Budget Without Coupons

Want to start eating healthy on a budget? This online marketplace saves me 30%+ when I shop for organic, gluten-free and otherwise healthy foods.

Heads up! This post contains affiliate links. I was also given a discount on my first order in order to facilitate this review. Regardless, all opinions are 100% honest and my own. Thank you for supporting Femme Frugality, and I hope this helps you rake in some major savings on your grocery bills!

For the past couple of years, we’ve been on a quest to eat better. A lot of times that means organic. A lot of times that means sourcing food locally. Heck, we’ve even toyed with gluten-free eating because we have a suspicion it could help alleviate some health concerns.

There’s been one overwhelming problem with our quest: cost. Eating healthy on a budget is not something that’s inherently easy. While we’ve found that shopping at our local co-op for fresh, GMO-free and hormone-free meats and vegetables is only slightly more expensive than shopping at the normal grocery store because of Pennsylvania’s high food prices, we have struggled with everything from the middle of the store.

While eating fresh everything would be the healthiest, doing so at all times is not realistic for our busy family. So we buy snacks. And don’t make our own sauces. And sometimes buy food for convenience.

But when we shopped the middle of our co-op, we were finding prices to be cost-prohibitive. That goes the same for all the organic/natural food stores in our region; our co-op just happens to be the cheapest.

The Solution to Eating Healthy on a Budget

Enter the internet. We’ve discovered Thrive Market, which is essentially an online Costco for organic, healthy, natural everything. Membership is $59.95, and the typical member makes their membership fee back in the first two orders.

It sounded awesome. But not being one to take things at face value, I decided to try it out myself to determine if the membership fee was worth the cost.

Two days after I placed the order and our package came, we excitedly tore through all of this, taking joy in the fact that we could put food in our cupboards without having to pile into the car and go grocery shopping:

Annie’s Organic Grass Fed Classic Mild Cheddar Mac & Cheese

Check out this awesome way to start eating healthy on a budget and save 30%+ on your food!

Price through Thrive Market: $2.95
Price Locally: $3.29
Savings Percentage: 12%
Verdict: I know, I know. Mac & cheese isn’t the healthiest meal no matter how the cows are fed. But my kids love it, and I love how easy it is to get together. If we’re going to eat it anyways, we might as well eat it better. This stuff was bomb…so glad we ordered 2 boxes!

Bob’s Red Mill Almond Flour/Meal

Check out this awesome way to start eating healthy on a budget and save 30%+ on your food!

Price through Thrive Market: $9.45
Price Locally: $12.99
Savings Percentage: 27%
Verdict: Funny story about almond flour…you have to keep it in the fridge after you open it. And ours bit the dust recently when one of our children turned the fridge off and we didn’t realize until hours later. I was so glad to find some more at such a steep discount!

Madhava Pure Organic Honey

Check out this awesome way to start eating healthy on a budget and save 30%+ on your food!

Price through Thrive Market: $4.95
Comparable Price Locally: $8.99–Apparently Madhava’s not available in Pittsburgh. I searched high and low. This was the closest thing I could find.
Savings Percentage: 45%
Verdict: Our favorite brownie recipe ever is gluten-free. Honey and almond flour are two of the main ingredients. This did the trick beautifully on our latest batch.

Calbee Snapea Crisps

Check out this awesome way to start eating healthy on a budget and save 30%+ on your food!

Price through Thrive Market: $1.45
Price Locally: $1.99
Savings Percentage: 27%
Verdict: In all honesty, I couldn’t take the aftertaste of these. But my husband and kids gobbled them right up. We may have lied to the children and told them they were a new kind of potato chip. Judge not: at least they’re eating greener vegetables!

Snikiddy Eat Your Vegetables Veggie Chips

Check out this awesome way to start eating healthy on a budget and save 30%+ on your food!

Price through Thrive Market: $2.75
Price Locally: $3.49
Savings Percentage: 21%
Verdict: We’ve totally forgotten about Doritos in our house. These are amazing.

Lundberg Farms Organic Brown Rice Cakes (Lightly Salted)

Check out this awesome way to start eating healthy on a budget and save 30%+ on your food!

Price through Thrive Market: $2.85
Price Locally: $3.99
Savings Percentage: 29%
Verdict: Even before Thrive Market entered our lives, this had long been Mommy’s favorite snack. Especially when combined with….

Santa Cruz Creamy Organic Peanut Butter

Check out this awesome way to start eating healthy on a budget and save 30%+ on your food!

Price through Thrive Market: $4.95
Price Locally: $6.49
Savings Percentage: 24%
Verdict: This peanut butter is made without hydrogenated oils, which is great for the size of my butt. It’s not crunchy, but has a bit more texture than the peanut butter you’re probably used to. It does need to be stirred before you use it, and then refrigerated after the first use. It’s delish and worth the tiny bit of extra effort, though!

Rufus Teague’s Honey Sweet Barbecue Sauce

Check out this awesome way to start eating healthy on a budget and save 30%+ on your food!

Price through Thrive Market: $4.95
Price Locally: $5.99
Savings Percentage: 17%
Verdict: Truly gluten-free sauces can be a little harder to come by. We tried this one out on our favorite ribs recipe and fell in love. Even if GF doesn’t end up being a requirement in our household, we’d pick this sauce over the glutenful one we were using previously any day of the week.

Tate’s Bake Shop Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

Check out this awesome way to start eating healthy on a budget and save 30%+ on your food!

Price through Thrive Market: $3.95
Price Locally: $5.29
Savings Percentage: 25%
Verdict: A major obstacle to our gluten-free efforts previously has been texture and taste. Nobody wants to eat cardboard. The husband gave these the stamp of approval as tasting “home-baked.” While they’re crunchy, they’re flavorful. I thought the chocolate itself tasted gourmet.

More Than Just Food

Thrive Market isn’t just an online grocery store; they have tons of health and beauty products, toys for kids, housewares and even everything you need to raise your pet healthily. (This is a big deal because while pet food is regulated by the FDA, there’s no regulating agency over things like pet toys, etc. It’s not only a concern for your pets, but also young children who may, at one point, end up mouthing your pet’s toy.)

We’ve been wanting to try aluminum-free deodorant for a long time. It all started when the husband found out that the aluminum we use in all of our anti-antiperspirants is actually a known carcinogen. Breast cancer, anyone?

He tried powders before, because that’s all he could find, but they didn’t really work. So we were thrilled to find aluminum-free stick options on Thrive Market. Here’s how our experiment went:

Kiss My Face Active Life Deodorant Stick

Aluminum is a known carcinogen in most deodorants. Buy aluminum free to reduce your odds of cancer, and save on your purchase by buying from Thrive Market.

Price through Thrive Market: $3.55
Price Locally: $5.99
Savings Percentage: 41%
Verdict: This works really, really well for me. It smells great, and as long as I apply again about halfway through the day, I’m fully protected.

Herban Cowboy Maximum Protection Deodorant Stick

herban cowboy wild scent price comparison

Price through Thrive Market: $4.95
Price Locally: $8.99
Savings Percentage: 45%
Verdict: This one’s not as clear cut. Before we started this little experiment, we read up and found that it can take about a week for your body to adjust to more natural deodorants. While I didn’t have that problem, my husband did. (Part of that may be that, thank the Lord, I don’t stank like a man.)

And then the problem continued after the one week mark. It’s not like he’s unbearable to be around, but this particular deodorant masked the smell rather than eliminated it. He says it’s like wearing cologne…but still producing BO. We’ll have to try another brand. Luckily there’s no shortage of them.

Drum roll, please…

The total numbers for our shopping trip were:

Price through Thrive Market: $49.70
Price Locally: $70.78 (And that would have involved going to at least two separate stores.)
Savings Percentage: 30%

That’s pretty incredible if you ask me. I didn’t have to clip one coupon, or even step inside a store, and I saved 30% on food products that were better and healthier for our family. I figure we’d need a similar, though not identical, order every three weeks. We’d make up the membership cost and then some within three orders, and stand to save almost $400 per year. For us, that’s like eliminating the cost of an entire month’s worth of groceries.

So we’re joining. When our membership is fully processed, Thrive Market will also be donating a membership to a family in need so they can save on food that’s good for them, too.

Want to join with me? You can join Thrive Market for just $59.95 here, and you’ll directly sponsor a free membership for a low-income family, too.

Have you been eating healthy? On a budget? Would love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

Put Your Credit Cards to Work!

You hear plenty of horror stories about credit cards, but they can be very useful personal finance tools. The trick is to use them responsibly and know how to work the rewards.

You hear plenty of horror stories about credit cards, but they can be very useful personal finance tools. The trick is to use them responsibly and know how to work the rewards. That’s easier said than done if you don’t know the essentials.

Today we’re taking a look at ways to use a credit card so that it improves your financial well being instead of ruining it.

Balance Transfers

If you’re in the bad situation of having a balance you can’t pay off at the end of the month accompanied by high interest rates, a balance transfer can be beneficial.

Balance transfers allow you to shift the amount owed to another credit card. There is a fee for transferring a balance, so you’ll need to do the math to see if a lower interest rate on another card will be worth the cost. The best credit cards to transfer balances are those offering 0% interest intro periods. You’ll need to make sure the regular interest rate isn’t too high once the intro period ends in case you aren’t able to pay the balance off before interest takes effect.

Cash Back

It may seem like wishful thinking, but it is possible to actually earn money by using a credit card. The idea of getting free money for buying things is so popular cash back was ranked #1 for credit card rewards in a Fidelity survey. However, the survey also found that many people don’t make the most of their cash back rewards.

The trick here is to use your cash back credit card instead of your checking account for regular monthly payments. That way you’re earning cash back on things you’d be buying anyway, not making extra purchases you don’t really need. You also have to pay the balance off in full every month or the interest could cost more than the cash you get back.

Two good ideas for using the cash you get back are paying off debt and using it for investments. You could use the money for splurges or regular purchases, but paying off debt or investing they money can improve your personal finances.

Typically the cash back amount is 1%, but a few years ago some banks began to offer 2% cash back. But you may not get the second percentage point until you make a payment (that’s not late).

Airline Miles

Frequent flyers are always on the look out for credit cards that offer free miles. But for people who travel less often choosing between cash rewards and airline miles can be difficult.

A few things to watch out for are:

  • Blackout dates when you can’t use the miles.
  • Expirations on the miles earned.
  • Limitations on which airline can be used.
  • How many seats an airline makes available.

Most cards offer one airline mile for every dollar spent. If you plan ahead and minimize the points needed for a free plane ticket it could be more valuable than a 2% cash back reward.

Rewards Programs

Most financial institutions now have special rewards programs connected to their credit cards. The programs award “points” for purchases that can be used for things like plane tickets, gift cards, merchandise, etc. But (yes, there’s a but) reaping the rewards usually comes with stipulations.

I myself have taken advantage of credit card rewards programs to create an emergency travel fund with the points I’ve accumulated. The stipulation with one of the two cards was that I had to spend $3,000 in the first three months to get thousands of points in one fell swoop.

Each program will have its own stipulations. Make sure to read the fine print in full before choosing a credit card specifically for its rewards program. Also, be careful not to let the points expire or hold onto them so long they’re devalued. Another consideration is how many points are earned based on the purchase. Some cards offer more points for certain types of purchases like gas or groceries.

Sign Up Bonuses

In order to attract more customers, some credit card companies offer hefty sign-up bonuses. This is just about the easiest way to earn rewards because all you have to do is qualify for the credit card in most cases.

Again, you’ll need to take a look at the fine print, because you may have to do more than just open a credit card account. Often the company stipulates that purchases or balance transfers must be made in the first month in order to get the bonus.

Insider Access

Many credit cards come with additional perks that don’t seem too important until you need them. One of those perks is being able to get advanced access for things like concert tickets that are sure to sell out. The Citi Private Pass is one example of this type of perk.

You can also leverage the clout of your credit card provider to get dining reservations, presale sports tickets and concierge services.

If you choose your rewards carefully and use credit cards responsibly you might just be able to turn credit card usage into financial gain.

*This post is brought to you and contributed by Abby Locker.*

Save on Darien Lake Season Passes

Get discounted Darien Lake season passes through May 30th!

You guys know of my love for upstate New York. From Niagara Falls to Ithaca to The Baseball Hall of Fame to visiting old haunts, it’s a place that brings me peace and happiness.

When I was younger, we used to visit Darien Lake, which is located between Buffalo and Rochester. It’s a crazy fun amusement/water park, and this year I’ll be bringing my own kids along.

I haven’t been there since I was a teen and was trying to convince my parents to let me get my belly button pierced, so this will be quite a different experience! (Hopefully I have a few more years before I have to worry about that request with my own kids.)

But I’m not telling you this just to brag about my travels. I’m telling you because they have a deal going on right now where you can get season passes for only $64.99, plus some extra freebies like no-cost parking and a mug. Especially advantageous if you live in the Western New York region! This deal only runs through May 30th, though, so hop on it.

Here’s a little bit more about the park:

Darien Lake’s wide variety of entertainment has made it “destination fun” since 1964. Located 45 minutes from Niagara Falls between Buffalo and Rochester, N.Y., today the park boasts more than 50 rides, including six world-class roller coasters; dozens of family-friendly rides; the region’s largest water park complete with wave pool; a 20,000-seat performing arts center, operated by Live Nation; and world-class in-park entertainment. Schedule your visit today!

What’s your favorite amusement park memory? How do you plan to save when you hit these places up for fun during the summer months? Student passes? Holiday discounts? Employer days? Whatever your methods, we want to hear about them in the comments section!

 

*This post is in partnership with USFG.*

The One Money Tip You’re Not Looking For

Want to make more money? Save on your next big purchase? Well, here's one money tip you're not looking for, but actually need. Read on to find out what it is.

Part of my job as a content producer is researching what people are looking for on the internet. That way, I can make content that will actually get some eyeballs on it. On this site, I sometimes implement that methodology, but sometimes I write whatever the heck I’m thinking about or respond directly to my reader’s concerns.

During a recent research fest, I found something alarming. When people are searching for money tips, there’s one major strategy they’re glossing over.

People want to know how to make more money. A singular term in that strand has upwards of 300,000 people searching per month.

People want to know how to save money on the purchases they’re already making. The internet wants to know that a little over 100,000 times per month. (Again, for one singular term.)

But what aren’t people looking for?

The Money Tip You’re Not Looking For: Reduce Your Spending

When you look up “cut spending” or “reduce spending” or variants thereof, you’ll find that only hundreds of people are looking for advice. That number is in the low hundreds.

Coincidentally, a lot more people are looking for ways for the government to cut spending. A single term in this category turns up tens of thousands of hits per month. People are concerned about how the government is spending their money, but less concerned about how they themselves are spending their own income.

Why is this alarming?

As a personal finance blogger, and one who got her start in the realm of frugality, I find this disturbing. Making more money is awesome as long as you’re managing it properly. Saving money on the things you already purchase is pretty rad, too. I do it all the time.

But a massive aspect of managing your money is reducing your spending. If there are things you can learn to live without, you’ll never incur that cost again for the rest of your life. Then, when you implement those fab money-making tips you found online, you’ll be able to pocket more of it for your emergency fund, retirement account or whatever else you may be saving for.

It’s not surprising that in a country where 60%-70% of the GDP comes from consumption that the populace isn’t overly concerned with consuming less, but rather is focused on saving on the things that they consume or making more money, presumably so they can consume more.

But with all that consumption comes a cost. That cost is your future. That cost is your kids’ college education. That cost is your retirement. That cost is the difference between paying for your next vacation in cash and putting it on an interest-bearing credit card. That cost is being wiped out when an emergency arises because you’re living paycheck to paycheck.

How to Cut that Spending

I’m not an echelon of righteousness when it comes to cutting expenses. While we did effectively cut our yearly costs by over $4,300 with just a few life adjustments like cutting cable and switching to a low-cost phone carrier, I’ve also documented our struggles to stop spending for convenience when we found ourselves short on time.

It’s not all about being perfect, though. It’s about adjusting your sails when real life happens. There are two basic strategies I’ve implemented to help us correct course when we’re not happy with our habits or money situation.

The Band-Aid Method

When we cut our cable, it was really painful. Being from a sports town, we have three sports to watch, and games on just about year round. Football is the only one that’s always available on broadcast TV.

So when we decided to cut the cable, there was no getting around it. It was going to hurt. We were going to have to give up something we loved suddenly, but it had to be done. The savings was just too huge.

We ripped that band-aid off. Yes, there was initially pain. There may have even been screaming, if we’re honest. But eventually, we started listening to hockey games on the radio. We downloaded a baseball app that shows us what’s happening, including where the pitch hits in the batter’s zone, which is pretty cool. We also found a way to go to games in person for super cheap.

It sucked to pull that band-aid off. But now that we’re over that initial pain, we’re thrilled to have over $1,400 back in our pocket every year.

The Track-Your-Spending-in-the-Moment Method

I’ve always tracked my spending. It’s a good way to gauge your financial habits and health, and can help you write realistic budgets moving forward.

We did reach a point for a while there, though, where retroactive tracking just wasn’t doing it for us. It wasn’t helping us make better decisions in the moment. At that point, we tried Moven, an app that beeps at you right after you make a purchase to let you know if your spending is normal, below normal, or holy-crap-you-need-to-stop-right-now-because-you’re-going-to-be-broke high.

You know what? It worked. It alters your behavior because you know there will be immediate accountability. Before you buy all the things at Target or stop to grab some food on the way home, you know you’re going to have to deal with that beep and the ensuing notification about how good or wretched your spending habits are. It’s enough to make a girl put that adorable toddler outfit we don’t actually need back on the rack.

What You Gain When You Reduce Your Spending

I’m not saying you have to go all extreme with your frugality. (Though I certainly know and respect people that have.) What I am saying is that for every dollar you unnecessarily spend, you’re giving up some of your financial stability.

You’re giving up the opportunity to have the money ready to go in your emergency fund when your tire blows. You’re giving up the ability to save some cash in your child’s college fund. You’re giving up savings and the compound interest that comes with investing for retirement. You’re also giving up time as you have to spend some of it taking care of all the crap you bought. Or working off those calories from dining out.

It may not be a money tip you were looking for, or even one you like hearing, but if you can learn to cut your spending, everything else in your financial life will become so much easier.

 

 

 

*This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting Femme Frugality, and I hope you have fun slashing your spending!*

If Money Were No Object…

Before you start your financial journey, you have to have a strong "why" and be able to answer the question, "What would I do if money were no object?"

Okay, so it wasn’t actually Emerson that said this. But it’s great food for thought regardless of attribution.

A big part of establishing your financial goals is determining your “why.”  I hadn’t asked myself this in a while, so recently I decided to sit down and reevaluate.  I’m not sure if asking why is the right question, though.  Because here’s what I came up with when I asked myself why:

  • Why do you want to improve your finances?  Because I want to buy a house and retire before I’m old and decrepit. 
  • Why do you want to buy a house, and what are you going to do when you retire? I want to buy a house so I own something and don’t have to pay rent to make someone else rich.  Very vague idea of retirement.  Would love to travel and be a snowbird, but might have some other obligations that make the future kind of fuzzy in that regard.
  • Why does it bug you so much to make someone else rich?  Does a house really make you rich? And why do you want to be rich? I guess someone being made rich at my expense makes me a little spiteful.  I want what they have.  I don’t really know why I want to be rich other than comfort and a feeling of security.  I know I don’t want to overwork myself and neglect other areas of my life to get there, though.  I have a strong work ethic, but don’t want to spend my entire existence stressed.  And, no, silly, a house doesn’t make you rich.  If you pay it off you no longer have a monthly payment due every month, but the house in and of itself is a place to live.
  • If you’re doing this out of spite to get something you’re not sure you want at the expense of time and stress you don’t want to exert, then why are you doing it? I DON’T KNOW!

There were quite a few other justifications I didn’t include in there for your sake, but that’s the general picture.  By asking why, and digging deep, all I found was uncertainty.  A worship of work abounds in our culture, but the more I live my life the more I realize I want to build other aspects of my life.  I don’t want to be a lazy  mooch, but I’m not quite sure why I put all the pressure on myself that I do.  Because this is what happens when I ask myself this question:

What would you do if money were no object?

  • Travel.  Though I’ve done this on a budget almost every time I’ve gone.
  • Spend a ton of time outside.  Especially with my kids.
  • Do genealogy.  Because it’s like solving a mystery and I have some weird thing about remembering people after they’re gone…I feel like people aren’t truly ‘dead’ until people stop speaking of them, and that all of our stories are important…I’ll spare you the full spiritual rationalization.
  • Serve.  Take care of the people in my life that need help, but that time disallows me from reaching out to in the way I want to right now.
  • Take my kids to do all the coolest things.
  • Have date nights at least once a week with my husband.  Right now we’re sitting at once every few months.  It’s a mess.

Want to know the crazy thing about all of that?  Almost none of it requires tons and tons of money.  The thing about taking my kids to do cool stuff reveals more about my insecurities as a mother than their interest in crazy expensive experiences.  At this point in their lives, spending time with mommy anywhere is more important than participating in the coolest parts of pop culture.  I guess I should average out for that changing in coming years, though.

But everything else requires time.  So what I actually want isn’t money; it’s time.  And my lifestyle of preference apparently doesn’t require as much financial maintenance as I had previously thought.

Have you ever evaluated your “Why?”

 

How Almost Anyone Can Go to Disney World for Free

This guy teaches you how to go to Disney World for free including park tickets, hotels onsite, and planes. Totally taking this course!

Today I’m super excited to bring you an interview with Brad Barrett. Brad runs Richmond Savers, a personal finance blog with an emphasis on travel hacking. He’s currently running a challenge to help 500 families make it to Disney World for virtually free. But we’ll get to that in a minute. Brad, first of all thank you for being here!

Thank you! I’m very excited to be here.

For those readers who aren’t overly familiar, can you explain a little bit about what travel hacking is?

Absolutely. I think people hear the word “hacking” and it sounds kind of nefarious and a little bit scary, so I usually use the phrase “maximizing travel rewards.” Most people generally refer to it as travel hacking, so we’ll go with that for now.

Essentially, it’s opening up various, targeted credit cards to get these massive signup bonuses that the banks offer, and then turning those signup bonuses into free travel, or close-to-free travel, across the globe. Obviously, this is credit card related, so it’s not for everybody. Clearly, millions of people get into credit card debt. This is not for those people at all.

This is for people who pay their credit card on time and in full every single month and have a strong credit rating. Many of these people have a rewards card that might get 1% or maybe 1.5%. That’s kind of a normal thing; at the end of the year you get a couple hundred bucks in cash, and you’re happy about that, right? Just like me: I didn’t know any better. So I was thrilled with my $300 check at the end of the year.

What travel hacking does is it targets these very specific credit cards. For instance, a card everybody’s heard of: the Capital One Venture card. I’m sure you’ve seen Jennifer Garner and Samuel L. Jackson on TV hundreds of times. That’s a nice card. It has a signup bonus that you can really turn into about $460 worth of free travel.

By using that card for a couple months with just your normal spending and paying it off on time and in full every month, you can turn $3,000 of just your regular spending that you probably would have gotten maybe a $30 check for at the end of the year, into $460 of travel.

People who are into travel hacking go from card to card like that and rack up these enormous bonuses. That way you can put together trips that you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do. It’s a pretty fun hobby.

fly for free

Our family loves free travel. We’ve only done it on a smaller scale. I wouldn’t call us travel hacking “experts.” We’ve gone to the beach for almost free, we had a family emergency one time where we were able to go and have free accommodations, but when we find ourselves doing this, we also find ourselves putting a lot of thought and planning into every single move we make. Opening the right card, strategizing the minimum spend…. Are we making this way too hard on ourselves?

It can be overwhelming. There’s no doubt about that. When I started this 4+ years ago, I was overwhelmed, and I’m a CPA who loves getting into the nerdiness of numbers.

Luckily, I kept with it. I knew some other personal finance bloggers who I trusted and respected who did this, so at least I knew it was real. I had that going in the background.

I did a ton of research and figured it out. You kind of overthink every move. There are probably 10-15 cards that you could open that are just fantastic cards that are applicable to just about anyone. There a lot of these cards that offer very flexible points like the Chase Ultimate Rewards Points from the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. Those are very flexible because they transfer to a bunch of different airlines and hotels.

Instead of closing your eyes and saying, “I’m going to go for…American Airlines!” That’s very restrictive to just have miles in one program. If you instead went for a more flexible set of points, like with Chase, you have points that are applicable to ten different airlines and hotels.

That would be my recommendation: start more general, and then drill down into it as you know what your trips might be. If you were going to Hawaii, you would look into particular hotel cards that would be good for Hawaii as opposed to just closing your eyes and picking, “Oh, I don’t know…Hilton!”

Get those really broadly general points first and build up a base of these points where you can get airline points, which are the hardest part generally. Then dive deeper into specifics as you know your exact trip.

We started a site called Travel Miles 101 for people like us. This isn’t travel hacking advanced or PhD level. This is, “How can I get up to speed quickly?” You can be part of community where you feel safe and comfortable asking all those newbie questions.

I remember feeling overwhelmed when I was getting started with this, being overwhelmed, but knowing it could be so cool. That’s why we created that site. We have a free course. There’s no reason not to sign up for it. It doesn’t cost anything. It takes a couple of minutes to read an article every day, and you’ll be up to speed. That’s my pay-it-forward contribution to the travel hacking world.

238H

So we know that there’s the minimum spend, and some cards will have annual fees, but are there any other unexpected costs you should look out for?

Honestly, not really. Like you said, the annual fee is really the big one. The vast majority of  these cards waive the annual fee for the first year. You can use the card, get the bonus, and then make the decision at the end of that year to close it instead of paying the annual fee. So annual fees aren’t really an issue.

As I mentioned before, and I want to reiterate this because it’s so important, pay your credit card. Pay your credit card on-time and in full every month. You won’t have any interest expense. There really are no hidden expenses that I’ve encountered and I’ve earned millions of miles doing this.

The one caveat is that people use the term “free travel.” I hate that being a stickler. This is not free. It’s pretty darn close to free.

You’ll take a round trip in the US for instance. You have to pay $11.20 worth of totally unavoidable taxes and fees to the government. To get a $400 round trip from my house in Richmond to California for $11.20 is pretty amazing. Nobody’s going to complain about that, but is that free by a technical definition? No, it’s not. But it’s $11.20.

If you go on international flights, each country has their own different fee schedule. Sometimes you’ll pay about $100. But to get a roundtrip to Europe or Asia for $100 is not too shabby.

You could still open a card like the Venture card. You could pay for the fees with that card, and then still knock it down to zero. So there are ways to do it entirely free if you were so inclined.

free japan

That’s actually what we’re working towards right now: a trip to Asia. I know you have a family, and I think that’s one of the biggest obstacles we’ve come across: airline tickets for x amount of people.

Oh, I hear you. Not only the cash requirement or point requirement, but finding availability for a family of four. We have two young daughters. It can be somewhat challenging. This is a really important side bar conversation. “Oh, these are frequent flier miles! Aren’t there blackout dates?” There is some validity to that. There are limitations on these award seats.

I’ve found that if you can be just a little bit flexible it makes a big difference. Plus or minus a day or two even helps. We have young kids. We can travel in the summer. The summer is the highest season for travel, but that’s still a huge period of time to be flexible with. I’m pretty confident that we can find four seats to Europe or Asia in that time frame.

My brother just moved to Santiago, Chile and we’re going to go visit him next year. I don’t think I’m going to find tickets every single day, but I’m positive I can find tickets for our family of four if I’m a little bit flexible.

disney-world-978134_1920

While we’re on family travel, I’ve been reading up on your Keys to the Magic Kingdom Challenge. You’re helping 500 families get to Disney, saving them a cumulative $2M. It’s free, and participants will only have to spend about 30 minutes strategizing. Can you tell us a little more about that?

It’s exciting! It’s definitely the most exciting thing we’ve done on Richmond Savers. Our little personal finance blog turned into a travel hacking site with this trip that our family took to Disney World. We have two young daughters, most American families are going to end up in Disney World someday, but it’s expensive. It was going to cost us like $5,000 to go on this trip and that just wasn’t doable.

But our girls were dying to go. I did a ton of research and tried to figure out if I could take this love of travel hacking and find a way to turn it into a trip a Disney World. I found a way to get the airfare, the hotels onsite at Disney and the Disney World park tickets, which was a cool little trick I found. We got some press attention for that article. Big time, like New York Times and things like that.

At that point I realized I could help other families like ours who have either never heard of travel hacking or don’t have the time to research it. I started helping people of the past couple of years, and then I started this challenge very recently just to formalize it. To get people who are serious, really.

It’s a free group to join, but I have an application on there. It’s a real application process, but I’m not turning away people if they’re serious. I’m looking for people who can pay their credit cards on time and in full, and have a credit score significant enough that they’ll be able to open these cards, which is usually above a 700. I’m just looking for people who I can help. People who are excited and going to follow through on this.

I’m willing to invest as much of my time as possible to help another family save $4,000 each. The hope is to get 500 people in this group to save $4,000 each which would be $2 million across the whole group. I think it’s a lofty goal, but I think it’s something we can hit. I’m definitely excited to embark on it.

Honestly, the Disney trip, of all of the travel hacking trips, is one of the easiest. So for people who are looking to get started, it sounds like a lofty goal, but it really is pretty straightforward. It takes some planning time. You have to open the specific credit cards and hit those minimum spending requirements, so this is not “Hey, it’s May right now, let’s go in July.”

But if you wanted to go next May, or maybe even this Fall, you could put together a good bit of savings. That’s kind of the cool thing. It’s not an all or nothing thing. If you want to go for five nights, you could open up two credit cards and get five nights at a hotel. So $1,500 worth of hotels for really, very little work.

how will travel hacking affect my credit score

I think one of the biggest questions out there is, “How will this affect my credit?” So how will travel hacking affect your credit, and do you have any tips to keep your score on an upward trajectory?

That’s a great question. It’s another one of these things where I would say, let’s take a step back and ask, “Am I the right type of person to get into travel hacking?” Somebody without a great score? Don’t even think about it. This is the CPA side of me. Get that one credit card for life that has no annual fee, use it a couple times a month, and pay it off in full every single month. Your credit score over time is going to go up. Somebody who can’t pay their credit card on time and in full should run screaming from travel hacking. This isn’t for you.

Somebody that’s probably going to get a mortgage in the next year or so—I don’t think there is going to be much of an impact on your actual score, but you’re introducing another element for your underwriter to look at and say, “Oh, that’s a risk. Let’s ask some questions.” It’s one of those things you probably just don’t want to get into. That’s the conservative, accountant side of me. I usually caution people who are going to get a mortgage, or a car loan to a lesser extent, that this probably isn’t the right time to do this.

It’s also a matter of where you are in your life. My wife and I were in our mid-30s, we had a house, a mortgage and really good credit scores. I had a 797 when we started. I remember that number precisely. I read hundreds of hours on this stuff. It seemed legitimate. There was no one online saying, “Oh, my credit score go decimated! I wish I never got into this!” Still, it sounds great, but you need to see it in action.

My wife and I literally sat down and said, “Okay, what if our credit score does go down? What if our scores drop 50 points? Even to a 750? Will that matter to us?” And the answer was no. It didn’t matter at all. We’d still be in the excellent range. We don’t need it, per se, because we won’t be getting a mortgage anytime soon. That was our mental approach to it. We had this risk tolerance where even if it does drop, it’s okay.

That was how we approached it. I don’t work for the bank. I don’t work for the crediting agencies. So take this for what it’s worth as my anecdotal experience. My score started as 797, and the lowest it ever dropped was 25 points. It could’ve been a variety of factors. It could have been that I opened a couple cards recently, or it could have been that I had a balance that I hadn’t paid yet that month because the due date hadn’t come. Things do fluctuate a little.

Right now, and I just checked yesterday, my score is at 809. I’m up 12 points. I’ve earned over 2 million miles and points that I estimate are worth about $40,000 if I play my cards right, and my score has gone up by 12 points. I’ll take that.

We’ve put 4,500 people through our Travel Miles 101 course, and I have yet to hear somebody come back and say, “Hey, Brad, you destroyed my life. My credit rating went down and everything’s crumbling around me.” I just haven’t heard it. I’ve yet to hear of anybody whose score really dropped dramatically.

Of course, the caveat is you have to just wait and see what happens, which is why I usually advise people to dip their toes in. You’ll see a lot of these crazy expert travel experts open all these cards at once and for a regular family, that’s just not realistic. I go one card at a time, we take it easy, put all of our life spending on there, and when we’re done with that minimum spend, we go to the next card. It’s nice and easy and measured. That works for my family. For other families, they want to do it more aggressively, and that’s fine.

The moral of the story is just do what you’re comfortable with. That’s how I approach it.

How to go to Disney for free

If someone wants to sign up for the challenge, is it open on a rolling basis or is there a deadline?

For The Keys to the Magic Kingdom Challenge, I’m limiting it to 500 families because that’s pretty much the max that I think I can handle. It is rolling. It’s not for a certain time period. We’ve had people roll in for about the last month or so since it’s been open.

So far it’s gone great. We have a private Facebook group where people can ask questions…this is really 1:1. I’ll jump on the phone with people, I email with them. I’m here to help, really. Once I get to that 500, I plan to close it down.

The Travel Miles 101 course is completely free, completely open to anybody. Just go to the site and type in your email address and we’ll send you out an email every day for two weeks. At the end of it, you’ll be pretty much up to speed on travel hacking. I think that’s a good way for people to get started regardless of whether they want to do the Disney thing or not.

I think it’s so cool that you not only do this on such a big scale, but also bring it to others. I mean, a free trip to Disney World? You’re literally making people’s dreams come true.

That’s really kind. Like I’ve said ad nauseam here, I’m an accountant. I sat at a desk my entire career and filled in tax returns, which is not that psychologically satisfying. This has just been the most amazing experience..really helping people save a ton of money. I just can’t tell you how great it makes me feel. It’s definitely the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my whole life professionally. It’s a fun thing for sure, and I appreciate the kind words.

Thanks so much to Brad for taking the time to educate us today! If you want to join The Keys to the Magic Kingdom Challenge, you can sign up here.

Brad receives no compensation for those participating in the challenge; he really is just that passionate about helping others!

If you want to travel hack, but don’t necessarily want to go to Disney, be sure to sign up for Travel Miles 101.

If you’re one of those people that shouldn’t be travel hacking, but still want to save money on Disney, start a conversation with my affiliate Laura. She’s a Disney travel agent that finds you the biggest money-saving methods on your booking at zero cost to you. Let her stress for you so you can save more without lifting a finger.

This is Why You Need Insurance

Yikes! I guess you really do need insurance! Even though I hate paying the premiums, I'd be glad I had it if I were in her situation.

This past weekend I got sick.

Really sick.

Felt like I was on my deathbed sick.

By the time my mom convinced me to go to the hospital, I had tried all kinds of ways to get it out of my system. I hydrated. I attempted sleep. I tried sweating it out. Taking a cold shower. Taking OTCs. Moaning on my bed.

None of it was working. So to the hospital we went, health insurance in hand. Honestly, it was kind of scary. They interviewed me. Shoved something up my nose to test for the flu. Had the test come back negative. Then they drew my blood.

They started talking about all of these potential diseases and deficiencies. Kidneys and liver. Family history.

And then they left the room while I was hooked up to an IV bag.

Later, my husband told me that at this point, the first thing he found himself thinking was:

If my wife dies, how the heck am I going to take care of the kids?

Fair question. Though he was probably smart to keep it to himself in the moment.

We split our tasks pretty equitably in our house. Whenever one of us has “free” time, we’re watching the kids so the other can go to work or school. We’re getting dinners ready, driving around to activities and doctors, or just flat out entertaining the most tireless of audiences.

I’m also the primary bread-earner in our household at this moment in time. So losing me would mean losing more than a decent chunk of our income.

I was still kind of surprised with his concern, though.

I have life insurance.

This is exactly why I have life insurance. The policy would replace my income, plus get some platinum childcare, for about four years. That’s definitely enough time for him to finish school and then have a good bit of time to look for employment.

I get it, though. It’s not all about money. It’s not all about income and childcare expenses. It’s an emotional toll. It’s the relief we provide each other. It’s about parenting being the hardest job ever if you give a damn about it, and the fact that losing your partner in your joint vocation would be devastating.

I’m not dead yet.

After much testing, they eventually found out that I had something that could simply be treated with an antibiotic. It was an emotional journey to arrive at a simple answer. But I’m on the mend.

And I swear I’m going to get to all of your emails.

While I was there, though, waiting for those tests, waiting for a diagnosis, I had some time to think. (In between repeated cringes of pain, that is.)

As I was contemplating my mortality, money didn’t pop into my head once. My biggest focus was on recovery. On just getting the heck better.

But what if I didn’t? I wanted more time with my kids. More cuddles. More smiles. More years.

I wanted more time with my husband. More cuddles. More smiles. More years.

I wanted the people in my life. Not more cash. Not more stuff. Not even any specific, monumental experience. It’s those social ties that are important above any other desire.

I also had in the back of my mind that while I was scared, my fears were probably irrational. No tests had come back positive yet. As far as I knew, I’d most likely live.

And I did. I’m recovering like any normal, young person would from a minor illness, even if it felt like a huge one during the days it invaded my body.

I really should get on top of the whole disability-insurance-for-the-self-employed thing, though.

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