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Alternatives to Cable TV: Roku 3

couple money roku 3 review

If you’re looking for a way to still have some entertainment options, but don’t want to go the cable or satellite tv route, you may want to try out the Roku 3.

We cut our cable subscription I think last year when the price rose and we weren’t getting much out of it. Besides not being big TV watchers, we also don’t like having to keep up with a certain schedule for shows. We’d rather watch on our time.

We are fans of streaming services as the prices seemed more reasonable and we could watch shows whenever we were in the mood to catch them. After hearing some good reviews about the Roku 3 and the some of the free connect included, we bought one.

Roku’s Content Versus Cable TV

What appealed to me about Roku is that there is no monthly fee for the basic service. You buy a unit and out of the box your Roku comes with a lot of free channels and content.

One of my favorites is PBS. I’m enjoying watching the Roosevelt documentary series on my own schedule, which is an necessity with an active toddler.

Looking for more options, simply go to the channel store and only add the ones you want.

Potential Additional Costs

Even though there is plenty of free content to enjoy with Roku if you’re looking for something comparable to having a cable or satellite plan, you’ll probably need to pay for streaming services like Netflix, HuluPlus, or Amazon.

We’ve used Netflix for a few years now and have enjoyed it. They have a huge selection of tv shows and movies as well as some of their own original content like House of Cards. Currently streaming is available for $8.99/month and an additional $7.99 if you want to receive a single DVD at a time from their vast library.

When we set up our Roku, we were offered a two month trial to HuluPlus, which we are using right now. With the Plus, members can get subscription service with the full current season of many TV shows, access to to content on their electronics such as computers, iPod Touch, and TV. Hulu offers less ads for their shows, but they are still included with a paid subscription.

Amazon Instant will stream TV shows and movies as well. It’s included with out Prime membership, so it’s wonderful to have more options on the Roku. If you’re not a Prime member, you buy or rent a la carte, which can be pricy if you tend to watch a lot of shows.

There are also specialty sports channels, with some of them requiring a fee  (~$1.99- $3.99/month) to access live games.

Thoughts on Roku 3

For us, we keep mostly to the free channels and just added our current streaming subscriptions to roku and it’s perfect for us. We can catch the shows we enjoy and the cost is cheaper than our previous cable bill.

I’d love to hear from those who have used the Roku for awhile. What do you think of it? What channels do you recommend? Are there any features that you just love?

Versatile Blogger Award

getting to know elle couple money

I hope everyone is had a wonderful weekend. We went out of town and it feels good to be back home. On top of the fun we had this afternoon, I discovered that I’ve been nominated by Deb from DebtDebs for the Versatile Blogger Award. After reading Deb’s, I decided to go ahead and do it. For those who don’t know about the Versatile Blogger Awards, it’s a fun meme where you get to know more about bloggers. The rules are:

  • Tell 7 things about yourself (Debs asked me to give some tidbits about pregnancy and parenting).
  • Nominate 15 bloggers

Here are my 7 details:

  1. During my first pregnancy I had no food aversions (though I had bad morning sickness for the first 14 weeks). This time around I spent about a month avoiding meat, coffee, and ginger. Coffee has become a treat, I eat less meat, but ginger is pretty much off limits.
  2. Now that I’m a parent, I’m catching up on some of the kid shows on Netflix and have discovered remakes of my favorite shows growing up like Strawberry Shortcake, Ninja Turtles, and My Little Pony. It feels so weird so I skipped out on most of them.
  3. First baby was a summer one and she was born during a heatwave. This time around we planned a winter baby.
  4. No cravings with either pregnancy. Perhaps I should pretend so I can get some more cakes and pies :)
  5. We like to have fun and play around as parents, sometimes with unexpected consequences. Thanks to a joke from her daddy, whenever we pass a large patch of shadow she points at it and says ‘Batman is in the shadows’. My husband think it’s awesome.
  6. Speaking of superheroes, my daughter likes to mash up her dress up. Two of favorites of mine are ‘Batman Princess’ and ‘Dancing Ninja’.
  7. I exercise with my little girl by playing Just Dance. If it were up to her we would dance to the same 3 songs, but as her mom, I have her try at least a few new ones.

Here’s my nominations for the Versatile Blogger Award:

For those nominated, share whatever you like.Take care and I’ll get back to financial posts this week!

Introducing the Couple Money Podcast

couple money first podcast

I’m proud to announce that the first episode of the Couple Money Podcast is up! This has been a project I’ve been working on behind the scenes and I’m so happy to have Brian from Debt Discipline join me as the first guest.

It’s a weekly podcast that I’ll be hosting to cover money questions and situations couples may have as they try to build their net worth together.

Why Start the Couple Money Podcast?

I’ve been hearing from readers and others about starting a podcast, but my shyness held me back. This summer with some encouragement, I finally decided to go ahead and take the plunge. I’d love to reach out and connect with you in a new way.

I decided that the first episodes would be based on some of the biggest money questions and topics on Couple Money, such as:

  • How do I start talking about money with my spouse?
  • How can we dig ourselves out of debt?
  • How can we manage our money without counting every single penny?

It’s my hope that the podcast will help you two reach financial freedom together.

Learning from One Another

Even though podcasting is so different than writing here on Couple Money, I’ve discovered that it is incredibly fun.  I’ve had some great chats and hearing from others how they accomplished their financial goals as a couple and family.

Brian and his wife paid off over $100k in debt! I spoke with Julie about how they paid for their daughter’s college so she’d have no debt (and neither would they). Real people, real stories – that’s my favorite part of the podcast right now. It’s a feature that I hope will be the backbone of the show.

Need Your Help

I want to build a podcast that inspires and offer practical advice on how to communicate better about money AND grow your net worth. I can’t do that without you. I’d love to hear from you about this episode and the podcast. What topics and money questions do you want to see covered on the show? What stories do you want us to cover?

Please check out the first episode here and leave your thoughts in the comments!

Make Your Debt Payments Automatic

automate your finances relax

Today is the last in the Pay Off Your Debt Faster series. Over the last month, I shared step by step how the two of you can speed up your debt free plan. The last step – automating your payments – has been touched on briefly, but it has such a huge impact on your success, I want to take a few minutes to focus on how you can do it today.

Why You Should Automate Your Debt Payments

It’s no secret that I love automating finances, whether it’s for debt, savings, or investing. It’s a solution that has helped us tremendously with reaching our money goals.

One of the biggest reasons why automating your finances makes sense is that most couples I know live full (and sometimes hectic) lives and their payments already scheduled lets them focus on more important things. We have had times where work or family have kept us busy, but because our payments were already schedule, our cash flow didn’t suffer and we avoided getting it with late fees.

How to Set Up Your Debt Payments

Most banks and credit unions offer this money and time saving feature for free. If yours doesn’t or they are slow with their bill pay system, it’s time to switch for your joint accounts. Your bank should be helping you build your finances, not make it harder. We made the switch years ago to Capital One 360 and we’ve been happy with their service and the nice little bonus of earning some interest with checking. Always a plus in my book!

Getting your debt payments started is as simply as getting the minimums and debt snow ball payments up with them schedule early enough so you don’t ever have to pay late fees again.

We only needed around 20 minutes to set things up and we spend like 15 minutes each month just to review things.The goals is to make it easy for us to maintain and monitor so we can focus on more important things. You can also use services like Personal Capital, Finovera, or Mint to keep you up to date of your progress.

So how do you do it?

  1. Log into your checking account and go to your bill pay section
  2. Schedule your minimum and snowball/avalanche payments
  3. When scheduling payments give your bank enough time to process so you don’t ever get hit with late fees. (If they have really slow service, go ahead and switch banks. You shouldn’t have to stress over bills getting paid on time.)

And just like that, you’re done!

The only time you’d probably need to mess with things is when you have to increasing payments (huzzah!) or when you’ve paid off your debts (score!).

Thoughts on Paying Debt Off Faster

I’d love to get your take on how you manage to stay the course for your finances. How much of your financial system is automated?  How many of you have scheduled your debt payments? Which bank or credit union do you recommend? Which ones do you avoid?

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Setting Up Your Retirement with the Right Tools

How to Become Financially Compatible for Retirement

This post is a part of #RetireeNextDoor movement, where bloggers are sharing stories and advice from those who have successfully retired. If you enjoy today’s post, please check out the others at Retiree Next Door.

Retirement can seem intimidating to some couples as the choices seem vast. Today I want to review some retirement tools you can use to build your portfolio and I’ll interview Doug Nord, a successful retiree, on how he create a plan that worked for him.

This post is designed to get you off just planning for your retirement and into building the retirement plan you two have always wanted.

Retirement Tools to Build Your Portfolio

One of the biggest advantage of getting your retirement started is the amount of choices you have. There are great tax advantaged accounts like 401(k)s and IRAs that give you a chance to stash and grow your money. However, which tools are right for you?

Like much in finances, it depends on your goals and investment styles. While I can’t give you absolute rules for retirement, I can offer information that has helped others make the transition into retirement.

MoneyTips recently ran a survey that examined how successful retirees reach their goals. One of the questions looked into the retirement tools they used and here’s what they found:

  • Traditional IRA
  • 401(k)
  • Defined Benefit Plan
  • Roth IRA
  • Tax Sheltered Annuities
  • Rental Properties
  • 403(b)
  • Other
  • Health Savings Account

As you may have noticed, there are quite a bit of different tools to use when saving and investing for retirement. If you’re not familiar with the tools themselves, I’ve included links to more detailed articles on them.

Where Should I Start for Retirement?

Assuming that you’ve gotten out of high interest debt, now’s the time to contribute and grow your money.  As a general rule of thumb, you want to start with the account that will give you the biggest bang for your money. As time passes that advantage snowballs in your favor, another reason for you to start now rather than later.

I’m going to use as an example someone who  works for a company that offers a 401(k) and whose income also allows them to have a Roth IRA. Both accounts can be incredibly powerful when used correctly, but with your contributions limited for now, you want to optimize them. Which do you start off with? Here’s what I would do and why:

  • 401(k) up to the employer’s match
  • Roth IRA up to the year contribution limit
  • Rest into 401(k)

That 401(k) offers you some free money that over time will help you get to your retirement goal quicker. Once you have that match, though, the freedom Roth IRAs and the tax free withdrawals when you retire can offer you is something you can use to your long term benefit.

If your employer doesn’t offer a match, then you may want to contribute your money to the Roth IRA’s maximum and then any additional to your 401(k).

If you have a unique situation or you want to bounce ideas with a financial professional, I’d suggest finding a a fee-only, independent financial advisor through an organization such as The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) to help you come up with a practical and affordable  game-plan.

Who Should I Invest With?

The good news is that there are plenty of options when it comes to opening an IRA. Banks, brokerages, and credit unions typically offer them as a part of their services. Some charge a flat fee for the year, some take a fee for each transaction made, others can take a percentage, and some do all of this.

Our personal choices for our Roth IRAs have been Vanguard and Betterment. Both offer low cost index funds that allows us to passive invest our money and keep expenses much lower than with other providers. It’s an investment strategy that we have looked into and fit our financial philosophy.

Vanguard is known for having great customer service and being a valuable resource when it comes to investing.  I currently use them for my Roth IRA and I’ve been quite happy. Being with Vanguard means I can buy their ETFs free. Since I already buy these it would save me some money. If you’re interested, you can sign up for a new account at Vanguard.

Betterment fits my husband’s investment style -his contributions are automatically invested and re-allocated to make sure he stays on target to the growth plan selected. If you’re interested, you can sign up for a new account at Betterment here.

I definitely like Vanguard and Betterment as places to invest your IRA contributions. They are both some great no hassle, low cost options that make it simple to invest in your future.

Managing All Your Accounts Easily

Now that you have a plan and you’ve sign-up for your contributions, your job is making sure your investments are working for you. If you’re looking for a way to track all of your bank accounts and watch your retirement portfolios, Personal Capital offers a free portfolio check-up.

To me, Personal Capital is like Mint (easy to set up and use), but on steroids (more features).  I believe Mint is more suited for general purposes and Personal Capital is focused on investments and growing your portfolio.  Personal Capital does have cash flow report and there are some wonderfully useful tools that can help you optimize your investments such as a 401(k) fee analyzer and asset allocation examiner.


How to Start Your Retirement and Finish Early

I’m also excited to share how couples can succeed together with their financial goals. Today, I’m proud to share Doug Nordman’s story about retiring early, what tools did they use to invest, and what lessons has he learned and wants to pass on to his daughter and others?

Doug  was kind enough to talk to me this week about how he successfully retired at 41 after serving 20 years in the U.S. Navy. Now he’s helping others plan for early retirement through his blog The Military Guide and book The Military Guide To Financial Independence & Early Retirement (All royalties are donated to military charities including Wounded Warrior).

Doug, when did you start investing for retirement? What retirement accounts did you use and why?

Doug is enjoying his retirement

Doug is enjoying his retirement

When I finished college and started my Navy service, I had very little free time.  I was frugal and kept a tight budget, but I had no idea what to do with the money.  I eventually stumbled across a nice young broker from Paine Webber (whose tag line in 1982 was “Thank You, Paine Webber”) and ended up in a nice bond fund.  Interest rates had just hit a peak so that turned out to be a sensible recommendation, but I had no idea what I was doing and I was paying hefty fees.  This went on for four years until I finished my sea duty, married, and started shore duty.

(Note: The Thrift Savings Plan had been just a recent development, so when Doug retired from the service he only had accrued about 5 months of savings. His wife, who also served, accumulated about 6 years. )

When my spouse and I consolidated our finances in 1986, she had equity mutual funds.  (She’d learned much more about investing from her parents than I had from mine.)  My Dad suggested a copy of Business Week’s annual mutual funds guide and said that he’d been happy with Fidelity.

After a few weeks of phone calls and mailed forms, we were finally with Fidelity and 20th Century (they later became American Century). Back then you paid a 2% sales charge to buy Fidelity mutual funds– and if it was a popular fund then you paid 3%.  But they had great customer service, they were an easy answer, and I had other interests.  Every two weeks I’d write out a few checks and deposit slips, stamp the envelopes, and drop them in the mail.

I’m drawing a military pension now, which includes an annual cost of living adjustment.  We’re still frugal and that pension covers half of our expenses.  We acquired a rental property along the way, and that finally has cash flow.  Because those two assets cover the majority of our spending, the rest of our savings is aggressively invested in equities– over 90%.  (The rest is in a money market and CDs to cover two years of spending for bear markets.)

We have exchange-traded funds in domestic dividend stocks, international dividend stocks, and small-cap value stocks.  We also have a portion of our portfolio in Berkshire Hathaway “B” shares.  There are no more sales charges, of course, and our overall portfolio expense ratio is about 0.23%.

What were some of your biggest challenges? How did you overcome them?

My biggest obstacle back then was ignorance– I’d never been raised with investing skills and I didn’t really take the time to learn them until the 1990s.  If I was starting over today then I’d read about investing from books like the Boglehead Guides or Rick Ferri or William Bernstein.

As parents, what knowledge have you passed to your daughter?

Our daughter just finished college in May and started her own Navy career.  She has no free time either but as you can imagine, she’s had quite a bit of investing education during her life.  She’s turned out to be at least as frugal as her parents, and she keeps a budget too.  However she started out with the military’s Thrift Savings Plan, which has expenses as low as 0.02% (lower than Vanguard).
She maximizes her contributions to that and then maximizes her contributions to her Roth IRA.  That’s invested in Fidelity’s Spartan index funds– the U.S. extended market index, an international fund, and a dividend fund.  She’s investing even more of her money in taxable accounts with Fidelity in the same funds.  She’s set up all of this online and it’s automatically deducted from her pay (and her checking account).
She knows that if she wants to be financially independent in her 40s then she needs to save at least 40% of her gross pay for 15-20 years.  She’s set up her budget, chosen her asset allocation in passive index funds, and put all of the decisions in autopilot.
She knows that every year she’ll try to maximize her TSP and IRA contributions and then do the rest of her savings in taxable accounts.  Her biggest decisions will be remembering to boost her contributions whenever she gets a pay raise, and to occasionally rebalance.
(Doug and I wholeheartedly agree that automating your contributions makes things so much easier and can help you stay on track for your retirement.)
When she becomes part of a couple, she already understands the basic investing concepts.  If she wants more then I’d point her toward the books & websites.  We’d spend more of our time talking about investor behavioral psychology, too.  But I think most of our time will be spent showing her (them) how to sort through all the information to arrive at a few choices, make a decision, and automate it.

Thoughts on Retiring as a Couple

I hope Doug’s story and tips help you two to create a retirement plan that you want. As Doug showed, you don’t have to have a perfect building to finish early. You just have to get started and be willing to learn as you go.

I’d love to hear about your progress so far, whether you’re new or a long time reader. How far along are the two of you with retirement?