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Travel Safely!

California Redwood Road Trip

We just recently got back from a business trip to Chicago for the Financial Blogger Conference. We had a wonderful time and it was our first adventure as a family. We decided to do a road trip up there. We broke the travel time into two days, to give our baby girl a bit of a break. The extra time also gave us an opportunity to enjoy the drive up and take cheesy family pictures.

baby in the hotel room

Yep, one of my baby pics from the trip

I didn’t think I’d be that mom taking pictures of her baby everywhere. Anyways…

We had a fantastic time in Chicago meeting other personal finance bloggers and chatting with them in person.

Hotel Safety Tips

We stayed at the Marriott in Schaumburg, a wonderful place if you’re in the area. After receiving our keys and settling in our room, I noticed some helpful information printed on the key holder. The American Hotel & Lodging Association had some tips on having a safer hotel stay.

I thought that they would handy to share and I’ve included my thoughts.

  • Don’t allow stranger into your room. If you’re in doubt if a person is an employee of the hotel, ask for ID or call the hotel desk to confirm.
  • Do not leave your valuables in your vehicle. We had a friend who had his car broken into when he left his GPS holder out on the dash. Someone correctly assumed he’d have his device inside as well. While you can’t always protect yourself from thieves, you can try to make your car less tempting.
  • Don’t draw unwanted attention to yourself by displaying large amount of cash or other valuables like jewelry. I feel like this is common sense, but sometimes we are stressed out when something goes wrong and we get sloppy.
  • When you return to the hotel at night, use the main entrance. Even if the side entrance is much easier, taking the main entrance is usually the safer option. As a woman, I strongly suggest this to other women who are traveling.
  • Use all the locking devices provided in the room. It’s better to be safe than sorry. In the middle of the night, you may need extra time to get your cobwebs cleared out so you can call for help, like 911.
  • Please report any suspicious activity.
  • If you need special assistance, please inform the staff in case of an evacuation. I didn’t think about this, but it is vital for those who have special needs.

I hope that advice above helps you and your family to have a safe trip next time you go on vacation or on a business trip.

Thoughts on Having a Safe Road Trip

I’m a big fan of road trips; how about you? How many of you take road trips for your vacations? Have you ever had problems? What tips did I miss?

Photo Credit: photopaige

How to Save on Your Cell Phone

cell phone

If you are like one of the countless American’s who have to deal with the monopolistic telecommunications, you’ve probably dealt with the same problem I had today. I walked into the local Verizon store and purchased a two year contract with the iPhone 4. I have seen everyone walking around with the little black device and felt like I should get in on the commotion. The first thing I do when I get home is check out some blogs about how to use my new device. I should have guessed at the store that the first thing I would see is an ad for the iPhone 5.

Most people feel like their cell phone contracts take control of their communications options. While it may be tempting to always buy the flashiest new mobile apps, it can come back to hit your budget. Here are some ways to make sure your communications equipment doesn’t have to involve two cans connected with a string:

Purchase Within Your Price Range

Phones have become a necessity in our modern society. While most companies hit you with exuberant fees and hidden charges, there are some ways to get around paying too much.

You can always purchase prepaid phone plans for your family. This allows you to have control and use only the minutes and data you actually use. Having 500 minutes a month sounds great, but if you only use a hundred, prepaid phones give you the chance to only buy a hundred so give them some consideration.

Buy a phone that doesn’t do as much stuff. Smartphones are cool, but they break and require a lot of maintenance. If you purchase a non-smartphone, you will have a more reliable and sturdy device.  Finding specials can be a huge help for a tight budget.

Take it to eBay

If you have already made a commitment to a phone company by signing a contract, chances are the device that came with it is obsolete. If you want to purchase the newest version of a smartphone, you might be spending over six-hundred dollars on the latest innovation. If you visit a site like eBay, Amazon, or even Facebook marketplace, you can find excellent deals on the newest technologies. Be careful because most companies will not offer insurance on devices purchased off-site.

Get a Family Plan

If you have an individual contract with your phone company, your bill can skyrocket up to a hundred dollars. By pooling together with your husband, wife, children, family members, or even friends, you can bundle together and purchase a family plan. This can save you up to forty percent on your monthly bill. It’ll create a little extra headache, especially if you involve friends, but the savings should merit the extra effort.

Buy Fewer Apps

Playing Angry Birds and watching movies through Netflix is an awesome way to use your smartphone. While these apps may say they are free in the Android Market or App Store, they can cost you money at the end of the month in data charges. Verizon and AT&T are starting to charge customers going over their data plan while Sprint is still sticking to the unlimited plan. Be sure to watch what you are downloading and how often you are using your apps.

Consumers need to become smarter about how to deal with telecommunications companies. By treating the employees who work at the retail locations with courtesy and respect; you can always get the best offers and deals.

Photo Credit: John.Karakatsanis

Net Worth Review: September 2011

money update

It’s the beginning of a new month, which means it’s time for me to examine last month’s finances and see how it’s affected our net worth. While I do get excited to see the numbers move up, I’m not devastated if they decrease. We’re more concerned with learning where our money goes. It’s a great exercise to help us see where we’re doing well and what we can improve on.

Our Spending Habits in September

I already know we’ve spent more than normal this past month. The biggest expenses involved the Financial Blogger Conference. Besides hotel and car rental expenses, we also grabbed some time to sight-see in Chicago, pick up some clothes for the chillier than we planned weather, and eat out with friends while watching knights (Medieval Times).

Here are our 3 biggest expenses last month as calculated by Mint:

  • Housing: $1,176.71
  • Food/Groceries: $508.23
  • Shopping: $370.23

Housing expenses have remained the same, but food and shopping increase sharply last month. We ate out a bit more this month due to the trip to Chicago and for a game night we hosted at our place. We haven’t had one in almost a year. I didn’t want to do one while I was pregnant and after the baby was born I needed time to just recuperate. Now that we’re getting used to our routine we’ll be trying to host one each month. I’m going to plan ahead more so we can keep our food expenses lower. I shopped last minute for this one and paid too much for the supplies.

As for shopping much of it was for a few items for the house that we wanted for awhile, but were waiting for sale to appear. We bought a small gas grill for our little place and since it’s the end of grilling season we saved some good money with this purchase.

We also found a fantastic deal on Newegg for office chairs. Don’t laugh- having new office chairs has been a wonderful upgrade. My back has been bothering me and when I sat in the new chair, it felt so good. I can’t describe the awesomeness of having a chair that adjusts so well. Our old chairs were hand me downs and pretty much were uncomfortable if you spent a significant time sitting. Since I work from home, this was a problem.

Next month will hopefully look a little better and have our spending more in line with our previous average.

Checking & Savings

In case you missed my earlier post, my husband’s company came through and reimbursed a big portion of the deductible. We’re happy they took care of it promptly and my husband immediately scheduled a transfer into the joint savings.

Retirement Accounts

It looks like our retirement funds took another hit in the market last month. Happy to report it wasn’t anything tragic, but I do hope to see it improve soon.

We’re still not planning on making any changes to our retirement contributions as we have some more immediate financial goals we’d like to reach this year. We took care of our savings for the baby and now we’re saving up for our next vehicle.

I believe once we have some idea of how we’re going to handle our finances as new parents, we’ll look at our retirement accounts and contributions some time in 2012 and adjust accordingly.

Cars and Auto Expenses

Our cars are still moving and no repairs this month. That’s helping us as we saving up to pay cash for the next family car. We hope to get a car sometime next year so we have to get our car replacement fund goal before then.

In case you’re wondering how I calculate the vehicles’ values, I used Kelly Blue Book. Every quarter I’ll update the values to account for depreciation.

Student Loans

We have one student loan between us. Right now we’re continuing with the automatic monthly withdrawals for the student loan payments. This gives us a slight discount on the interest rate as an added bonus. It’s been relatively easy to keep up with them; we just confirm payments have been made each month from our joint checking.

If we have any savings in December after reaching our other financial goals for the year, we’re hoping to pay it down. Since this is a reach goal, I’m shooting for $2,000. If we don’t make it we won’t be disappointed, but if we do, it’ll be icing on the cake.

House and Mortgage

The mortgage payments are chugging along. As part of our usual routine, our automated extra principal payment (now $175) was sent in on the 15th of the month. When deciding on how much we were going to send in to our lender, our main focus was creating something sustainable and had some impact with the mortgage.

Here’s where we stand today with the mortgage:

  • Total Loan Amount: $109,380.34
  • Interest Rate: 5.00%
  • Loan Term: 30 years, fixed rate

Our goal is to pay off our mortgage years before we retire.  Right now our timeline is about 15 years, instead of the 30 years we signed up for. We wanted some wiggle room in case we ever hot a financial speed bump. Once our mortgage payoff is accomplished, we’d love to be able to direct that money into other interests and goals of ours down the road.

Monthly Summary

Now that everything has been summarized, it’s time to look at the numbers. Here’s our net worth from the spreadsheet:

Net Worth (as of September 30, 2011): $63123.99 (+3,095.42)

Your Net Worth Update

I shared my progress; now I’d love to hear from you. How are you doing with your finances? How are you doing in 2011 so far?

Photo Credit: The Cleveland Kid

 

Introducing The Amazing How to Get Out of Debt Calculator

cat coffee

Every single day I help people for free to find good solutions for problem debt. Not long ago I was talking with some friends and it occurred to me there was no one single tool people could use to better understand all of their options to tackle their debt. Why not?

So in collaboration with the smart technology people at USDR we created just such an online calculator to give people a somewhat personalized side-by-side comparison of the options, costs and payments of the different approaches to eliminate their debt.

We’ve just launched the How to Get Out of Debt Calculator and I think it gives people an impartial and detached view of what they can do to tackle their debt.

The use of the calculator is free and does not require people to share any personal identifying information.

Each option for getting out of debt certainly has plusses and minuses. But through education and awareness each person can make a better choice about the approach that’s right for them.

The calculator is not designed to be the creator of a final plan to implement, in fact we don’t sell any debt relief services at GetOutOfDebt.org.

At GetOutOfDebt.org what we do is provide information, education, free help and resources for people dealing with debt. This new free online educational tool helps us to further that mission.

The unique online calculator is designed to give people a wider eyed view of the logical solutions available so they can have an educated discussion with any for-profit or non-profit debt relief provider they ultimately choose to work with.

And now, without further fanfare, I invite you to try and enjoy The Amazing How to Get Out of Debt Calculator. I think you’ll find it to be pretty amazing in the distilled education it presents users.

Feel free to link to the How to Get Out of Debt Calculator in an effort to help people better understand their options. Your link to the calculator simply helps us to help people.

And in the interest of educating consumers further I’ve also just recently released another online tool that provides comprehensive information to show consumers the regulation, licensing, and registration required of debt relief companies on a state-by-state basis. It’s yet another free resource available through GetOutOfDebt.org to protect consumers looking for debt help. You can find links to this in the resource section at GetOutOfDebt.org.

This guest post is by Steve Rhode. Steve is a consumer debt expert that helps people for free to learn about getting out of debt and how to avoid scams. Feel free to report a scam if you know of one.

Source: Introducing The Amazing How to Get Out of Debt Calculator

PHOTO CREDIT: DENNIS WONG

 

Money Q & A Interview

money Q and A interview

As a member of the personal finance community, I’m amazed at how many people are a part of it. Unfortunately that often means that I can’t always keep up with everyone. It’s a shame because there are some wonderful bloggers with their stories and advice on handling finances responsibly and with fun.

To counteract that and get the word out on other bloggers, I’ve started the Sunday Blogger series. It’s my hope that you’ll discover some new voices in the series.

Hank Coleman from Money Q & A was kind enough to answer my questions this week.

Money Q & A Interview

Why did you start Money Q&A?

I started the blog because I wanted to answer people’s questions about money, investing, retirement, debt, or anything personal finance related. I know that tons of people had questions and wanted or needed help with their finances in plain English. I’ve always loved reading and writing about money topics. It was my major in college, and helping people through the blog has even driven me to start studying to become a Certified Financial Planner.

How long have you been blogging? Hank from Money Q&A

I’ve been blogging for about three years now off and on with different websites and blogs. I’ve spent the past year and a half primarily focusing on writing for other people and their blogs instead of for my own site. But, recently I’ve plunged back into writing on my own personal finance blog, Money Q&A, full force.

Favorite Posts On Money Q&A

I love answering any and all money questions from the blog’s readers. I often get a wide range of different questions or topics which is great.

How do you handle your own finances? Do you have a formal budget or a more informal system?

I know that it sounds totally weird, but my wife and I use our American Express charge card as a way to budget. It is a crazy informal system, but it works for us. We have all of our main expenses such as our mortgage, car payments, insurance, investments, etc. taken out of our checking account automatically every month. But, for the variable costs of our budget such as gas, food, entertainment, we have a set amount that we can spend, and we buy all of these things with our American Express to earn rewards points. And, almost every day or every other day, my wife checks the AmEx balance to see how much more we can spend for this month on those other items in our budget. Once we hit our monthly limit, it is rice and beans or Raman noodles for the rest of the month. It’s not a budgeting system for everyone, but it definitely works for us.

What’s your biggest financial mistake?

I’ve definitely made a few, and I always think that they are particularly embarrassing since I have a formal education in finance. But, the worst mistake that I ever made was taking out a loan from my 401k. I paid it back over three years, but I still kick myself over how much future interest that I lost by not having that money growing in my account. I also graduated college with a lot of credit card debt like many people. It took years for me to clean up that mess. I also bought whole life insurance one time. It took over twelve months of me paying over $100 per month in premiums for only $100,000 in coverage before I came to my senses and cancelled the policy. I guess that the most important thing is to recognize the mistakes as early as possible before they become completely devastating.

What are my goals for Money Q&A over the next year?

I want to continue to grow the site of course, and I want to help as many people as possible and answer as many questions as I can. So, if anyone has any questions, definitely send them my way.

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If you want to find out more about Money Q &A, please check out the site. You can also chat with Hank on Twitter and Facebook.

Joining the Sunday Blogger Series

If you’re interesting in being interviewed as part of the Sunday Blogger series, I have a few requirements.

  • You’ve been blogging for 3 months.
  • You’ve publish genuine content. I want to connect to genuine bloggers, not linking to a spam site. I review all the sites before sending out interview questions to make sure you’ve been a regularly creating content.
  • You’re willingly to promote other bloggers in the series. I don’t expect you to tweet  ever interview, but I would like interviewees to spread the word on their favorite bloggers. By the way, I don’t want others to just promote the posts, please share posts from your favorite interviews. They are some wonderful bloggers out there.