Author Archives: femmefrugality

Free Entrance to National Parks in 2018

This is incredibly useful and is going to save me some money! It tells you how to get into national parks for free--in the US and Canada.

Over four hundred of America’s national parks are free everyday.  But 118 of them aren’t.  Luckily, the park system does offer free days, so you can go enjoy our beautiful country while remaining completely and totally frugal.

National Park Free Entrance Days for 2018

In 2018, there are a severely stunted number of free days compared to years past. So if you want to get in on one of them, you’re going to have to plan a little more carefully.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Fees will be waived on January 15, 2018 in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

First Day of National Park Week

Last year, there were five free days in the month of April recognizing National Park Week. This year, you’ll only get in for free on the first day of the celebration: April 21, 2018.

National Public Lands Day

Admission will be free on September 22, 2018 in honor of National Public Lands Day.

Veterans Day

Last year you got two free days for this holiday, but this year you only get one. You can get into national parks for free in celebration of Veterans Day on November 11, 2018.

Which National Parks require an entrance fee?

I’ve been lucky to travel a good bit in my time. National parks always bring such a sense of awe and wonder. It’s one thing to wander around in the wood in your backyard. It’s a completely different thing to spend time in pristine, protected wilderness.

Some of my favorites national parks that will be waiving their fees on free days are:

There’s a ton of others, too. I was surprised to find the ones in my own back yard that I never knew existed. To find some near you, you can check out the National Park Service’s website.

Free Entry to National Parks Year Round

If you fall into any of the following demographics, you can get a free national park pass. You only need on per vehicle to get into the park, so if anyone in your family falls into one of these categories, you could theoretically get the entire clan in for free.

  • You are a US citizen with a documented disability.
  • You are a 4th grader. Eligibility starts on your first day of fourth grade and ends on your first day of fifth grade.
  • You are a member of the military or a military dependent.

You can learn more about each of these programs here.

Free National Park Admission in Canada

Last year Canada was giving away free national park passes in honor of their nation’s 150th birthday. That program has ended, but there are still a couple ways to get in for free.

The first is via a Cultural Access Pass. These are reserved for those who have become Canadian citizens in the past year.

A new program that has been rolled out for 2018 allows anyone under 17 years of age into national parks for free. Find out more about the new youth program here.

 

We’d love to hear about your national park experiences! Tell us about them in the comments section.

How to Get Paid to Save Money

Wow! This nonprofit matches your savings! Definitely checking out their tax refund challenge, too.

Do you all remember my post from way back in June last year, when I talked about why financial health matters to me? That post won me a free trip to FinCon in Dallas last October. It was a great opportunity for me to reconnect with lots of other financial bloggers, meet new members of the financial media, and connect with an amazing nonprofit, EARN.

Here we are six months later in the new year. This time of year presents a great opportunity for us to revisit the topic of financial health and savings.

Matched Savings Accounts

EARN–the nonprofit I met at FinCon–is all about savings. For the past 15 years, EARN has been the largest national provider of matched savings.

What is matched savings, you ask?

It means that EARN pays you to save money. Believe it or not, there isn’t a catch. EARN is a nonprofit dedicated to helping working Americans build a strong financial future and financial stability.

Here is the story of just one of the many people they have helped:

SaverLife

Since I met them in October, I’ve been exploring all the different paths to savings EARN offers. My favorite is a FREE online program called SaverLife, which rewards you for setting aside money in your own savings account. Even if you’ve never saved before, or have only ever set aside a few dollars here and there, SaverLife is a great way to kick-start and grow your savings in just six months.

All you have to do is commit to saving $20 or more in your own savings account a month and SaverLife will reward you with a $10/month match for six months. Save for your children’s education, your emergency fund, your next vacation—the sky’s the limit. You choose whatever goal you want. EARN’s matched incentives help you build a savings habit as you watch your bank account grow.

To participate, you will need:

  • An email address
  • An account at a bank or credit union you use for savings
  • Access to your savings account online

There are no income limits. There are no fees to get started. Getting set up with SaverLife is 100% free, and gives you a financial incentive to get those dollars into your savings account.

Committing to Saving Your Tax Refund is Winning

With the massive identity theft that has happened in the past year, it’s incredibly important to file your 2017 tax return as quickly as possible so that no one else gets your refund or files a fraudulent return in your name.

Also important is using your tax refund dollars wisely. Rather than spending every last one of them, I’d encourage you to set at least a portion of your refund aside to put in savings.

EARN encourages you to do the same thing. Simply take the pledge and save at least $50 of your tax refund and you’ll automatically be entered to win one of fifty weekly $100 prizes via their Savers Win campaign. If you’re willing to tell your financial story, you’ll be entered to win a $5,000 grand prize, too.

It’s the new year. Let’s get it started on the right financial foot. Save some of your tax refund. And get paid for saving your own money by signing up with SaverLife.

My 2018 Savings Goals

This post is in partnership with SmartyPig. Regardless, all opinions are 100% my own and 100% honest.

What a nifty savings tool! Actually excited to use it so I can achieve my 2018 financial money goals.

As the year comes to a close, I’m forced to look back on my financial progress in 2017. Progress probably isn’t the right word. I struggled with money management over the past 12 months. While I renewed my resolve to get back on top of things, I’m still not where I’d like to be.

So I’m setting some savings goals for 2018.  Because there’s a lot of them, I’m using SmartyPig to break them all down and prioritize. This lets me put money into each bucket rather than having one big “savings” pot which may or may not end up allocated correctly.

Here are my priorities—in a very specific order:

Saving for Emergencies

Using Smarty Pig to save an emergency fund.

My emergency fund needs some TLC. Nuff said.

Saving for a New Place

Using Smarty Pig to save for a move.

We’ve been talking about moving for a while now. We seriously considered it after our last child was born, but decided we could learn to live with less space.

Now we’re looking to move not to upgrade our space, but to enhance the educational opportunities available to our children. Off to the suburbs we go.

I am considering using Jetty to help with the security deposit, but I’ll still have to have cash on hand to deal with a truck and all the other little expenses that come up when you’re moving house.

Saving for Japan

Using Smarty Pig to save for a trip to Japan.

I’m incredibly excited to visit my childhood friend in her hometown of Osaka. I’ve been saving miles for years, and this year I’ll finally be making the trip. Airfare was free as even the fees were covered by travel points, but I’m thinking a JR Rail pass and money for things like food will be important.

Saving for Disney World

Using Smarty Pig to save for a Disney World trip.

I lucked out and ended up with some free tickets to Disney World after our last trip. We have 20 years to use them, but my kids are at some of the perfect ages to go and can’t stop talking about the experience.

With tickets taken care of, I just have to focus on either airfare or gas, accommodations and food. I figure I can find a way to hack the airfare or accommodations, so we’ll primarily be saving for food and whichever aspect of the trip I decide is less travel-hack-worthy.

All in all, it will be an incredibly cheap Disney trip. But we’ll still need to have some money on hand.

Saving for a Home

Using Smarty Pig to save for a house down payment.

After I kick this nasty debt to the curb, I’m going full throttle on this goal again. Pittsburgh’s housing market is stable, but I’d rather not wait too many years to enter the market. Interest rates are moving up. I’d like to get in on the action before they get too high.

Goals Help You Establish Priorities

As I sat down to look at my goals this year, I realized pretty quickly what’s important to me and what’s not. First, I’m trying to get on solid financial footing again. You won’t see it above because it’s not a savings goal, but I want to get rid of my debt even though it’s sitting at zero percent interest. Another aspect of financial health I want to reestablish is that emergency fund.

After that is my children’s education. The only reason financial health comes before that is because I know I’ll need to be financially fit to facilitate that education long-term. Choice few things are more important to me.

Then, travel. It is a priority in my life and always has been. I have itchy feet. After having decided to permanently live in Pittsburgh, I need to know I can get out and see the rest of the world every once in a while.

That doesn’t mean I’m going to blow my budget doing it. I’ve figured out so many ways over the years to travel on the cheap and still see amazing things. But if I spend $1,000-$2,000/year on travel, I’m not freaking out. There are other areas where I spend virtually nothing like clothing and makeup and music and home décor. My one vice will not ruin me, and it will help me stay sane.

The house goal is last because it is long-term. I will save for it regularly, but I need to be okay with the fact that I’m not going to pull 20% out of thin air in a single day, month or year. I’m frustrated that there have been financial setbacks over the past year that thwarted the savings we already had towards this goal, but I’m also determined not to give up.

What are your financial priorities?

I love that SmartyPig lets me separate my goals into individual buckets, prioritizing my goals and tracking my progress.

What would your SmartyPig buckets look like?

 

 

 

Femme Frugality was compensated by Sallie Mae for the content in this post. Any requests for personal information are not associated with Sallie Mae, nor will any information be collected, be used or maintained by Sallie Mae.

Free Rides Home to Prevent Drunk Driving

Sending this to my friends---free rides to prevent drunk driving!

I had an interesting conversation with my Japanese friend while she was visiting a few years ago. We were driving through an area laden with bars and night life.  Which can be a fun area if drinking is what you’re there for.

But that wasn’t what we were there for, and it got us talking about drunk driving. I related the lives I’ve known that have been lost to the horrible mistakes of both themselves and others while under the influence and behind the wheel. I lamented the lack of consequences for those who do drink and drive.

She looked shocked. “It is not like that in Japan. If I did that, my father would lose his job.”

Hell, yes, Japan.

Costs of Drunk Driving

Our system is way too lenient. But that doesn’t mean there are no consequences. Here’s some of what you face if you do drive drunk:

  • A night in jail.
  • Bail money.
  • A fine.  And a big one. They get bigger the more offenses you have, but the first one is nothing to laugh at.
  • Possibly extra time in jail. Upwards of six months.
  • A misdemeanor on your record.
  • Might have to attend AA.

Honestly, a DUI with its accompanying consequences would be good news. The fact that the cops caught you means that they got your drunk butt off the street, preventing you from killing someone else.  Or yourself.

Free Rides Home When You’re Drunk

Believe it or not, there are quite a few ways to get a free ride home when you’re drunk–especially on major holidays. Here are some of the best:

Cheap and Frugal Alternatives to Driving Drunk

Maybe you can’t get a free ride home, but you can use one of these options instead. Every single one of them is a heck of a lot cheaper than a DUI:

  • Public Tranport– This one is best if you plan to use it before you leave. On New Year’s and other holidays, cities usually leave their public transport open much later than usual so you won’t have to drive at all.
  • Sober Rides– AAA has created a compilation of programs across the country that offer DD services. They do charge a fee, but most of them not only drive you home, but also send a second driver out to get your car home, too. Check them out here.
  • Tell Siri you’re drunk. She’ll immediately offer to call a cab for you.

Cheaper Than a Funeral

Even if you pay for a super long, super overpriced taxi fare and get your car towed, the costs will still be less than that of the average funeral: $7,000. And that’s if only one person dies at your hands, not including additional damages awarded in the sure-to-happen law suit and the deep, painful remorse you’ll experience for the rest of your life.

It’s okay to have fun–as long as you’re responsible.

I hope everyone has fun Sunday night–truly!

But I hope even more that you’ll do so responsibly. 2017 has sucked enough.

 

 

How to Make Investing Personal and Beat Your Retirement Goal

Today’s post is contributed by my friend Joseph Hogue. He worked as an equity analyst and an economist before realizing being rich is no substitute for being happy. He now runs five websites in the personal finance and crowdfunding niche, makes more money than he ever did at a 9-to-5 job and loves building his work from home business.

 Not taking blanket investing advice after reading this one. Definietly going to make my investments more personal so I can reach my retirement goals.

Making investing personal with an investment plan will help you avoid the worst mistakes investors make.

Turn on the TV to any financial news program or click through to any investing website and you’re likely to get bombarded by generalized investing advice.

Buy this stock, don’t buy that one. This sector of the economy will benefit the most from the current economic trends while another sector will languish.

It’s a mass-market approach to investing, designed to reach the absolute largest audience possible. The problem is that this mass-market approach to investing is just as likely to leave you penniless as it is to make you rich.

Investing advice made for everyone serves no one at all.

Just as a prior article on asset allocation pointed out, there is no one-size-fits-all investment plan. Investing advice may fit us all into cookie-cutter strategies for the sake of convenience but it isn’t the advisor that has to pay for your retirement when you come up short.

The solution, realize just how personal investing is and start asking yourself the questions that will help you build the perfect investing plan for YOU!

Investing is More Personal than You May Know

Everyone loves to talk stocks and that next hot investment. From traditional financial news channels to investing blogs, it’s all about beating the stock market.

But let me ask you a question, does that percentage return on the stock market have anything to do with your retirement goals?

Whether the stock market rises or falls doesn’t change the fact that you’ll be retiring some day or paying tens of thousands for your child’s education.

Investing is about YOUR needs and YOUR goals, not about finding the stocks that will produce double-digit returns on your money. Making sure you’re able to reach your goals, avoid a growing retirement savings crisis or send your kids to college, means understanding what investments will get you there.

That starts with asking yourself some personal questions to find the best investments for you.

What Investing Questions Should You Ask Yourself?

The one thing you usually won’t get when you turn on your favorite investing show are the most important questions you should be asking yourself. It’s these questions that get drowned out in the constant noise of picking stocks to beat the market.

These questions are where investing starts. It’s these personal questions that will be the foundation of your personal investment plan that will help you reach your goals with the least amount of stress possible.

  • How old are you and at what age do you plan on retiring?
  • What does retirement look like for you and how much will it cost?

Saving for retirement? That’s great but if you don’t know what retirement looks like, it’s going to be impossible to stick to your saving. Make a mental image of what you’ll do each day. This will not only keep you motivated to reach your goal, but you’ll also have a better idea of how much it will cost.

  • How much do you have saved now and how much can you reasonably save each year?

Be realistic with how much you can save each month. Who wants to be a millionaire at 65 if they had to live on oatmeal for their whole life? Enjoying your money now is just as important as enjoying it later.

  • What else do you want to do with your money? Will you use some of it to pay for your kids’ education or for other large expenses?

Because some of these large expenses come at different times, it might change how you invest for them. You’ll have less time to recover from stock market losses for tuition savings you need in a few years so best to hold them in safer investments.

  • How important are your financial goals? Are some less important than others or are there alternative ways to meet some goals?

You may want to invest must-reach goals like retirement and education in less risky investments, but you can take more risk, and maybe get higher returns, in less important goals.

Taking Your Investment Plan Beyond the Numbers

Using a retirement calculator will give you the rate of return you need on your investments to reach your retirement goal but making your investments personal is more than just the numbers.

One of the biggest factors in your personal investment plan is called your risk tolerance. Rather than all the numbers, this is your personality and how you react to risk. Do you tend to stress out easily? Do you prefer the slow and steady or are you a thrill-seeker?

You can take a risk tolerance questionnaire online, but it really comes down to two questions.

  • How much time do you have to invest before your goals?
  • How would you react to a 20% drop in your investments?

If you have more than five or ten years to retirement, you can withstand the ups-and-downs of the stock market. Even if a stock market crash wipes out a lot of your investment, you’ll have time to see your portfolio bounce back.

If you don’t tend to stress out over big changes in your portfolio’s value, then you can take a little more risk in the stock market and enjoy a higher return over time. If a 20% drop would cause you to lose sleep or panic-sell at the wrong time, then you might want to hold less in stocks and more in bonds.

Using Your Investment Plan in Asset Allocation

Once you know the annual return you need to meet your investing goal and your risk tolerance, you can put them together for an asset allocation that will reach your goal with the least amount of stress possible.

As a general rule, stocks provide a 7% to 9% annual return when averaged out over a decade or more. Bond investments provide 3% to 5% returns but are much less volatile than stocks.

If you get stressed out easily or have only a few years left to retirement, you’ll want to invest more in bonds than stocks. On the other hand, if you have a high tolerance for risk and many years to your goals, you can afford to take more risk in stocks for a higher average return.

The percentage you hold in stocks versus bonds will give you an idea of the average return you can expect. For example, if you have half your portfolio in stocks and half in bonds, you can expect an average return of 6%.

NOTE: These percentages are general rules and are not a guarantee of a certain return.

The problem many investors confront is they need an average return above 8% so they invest everything in stocks with no consideration to how a stock market crash will affect them emotionally. At this point, it’s better to either find ways to save more or lower your retirement goals a little so you don’t need such a high return rather than take more risk than is appropriate.

You don’t have to be a professional financial planner to make the right investing decisions. Investing according to your personality and needs will help you avoid bad investing behaviors and fit the best investments for your goals. Listen less to what the TV tells you about investing and more to what your own goals are telling you.