budgeting · Earn Money · Lifestyle

Easy Travel Hacks Anyone Can Use

We’ve all heard about those people that travel the world for free or next to nothing using a ridiculous amount of airline mileage and hotel points. But if you’ve actually looked into it, it can be as complicated as trying to figure out your own taxes or calculating the next digit in pi. Even so, there’s still plenty of ways to travel hack that the common non-mathematician can easily do without having to spend hours reading or watching online tutorials.

Everyone that knows me knows that my favorite thing on the planet (next to cats and wine, of course) is traveling and exploring new places. In fact, I side-hustle and work several extra jobs just so that I can afford to travel (read my previous article about side-hustling here). Even though I haven’t figured out how to completely beat the travel system like those crazy awesome travel hackers, I’ve still managed to earn plenty cash back and even fly to Hawaii twice for free.

My favorite way to get free flights is by signing up for credit cards that offer airline miles. Seattle is Alaska Airlines’ home city, so naturally Alaska Airlines is my airline of choice. I signed up for their credit card several years ago when they were offering 40,000 miles just for enrolling mid-flight. That got my Hawaii trip #1. I regularly use my Alaska Airlines credit card as my debit card (paying it off every month, of course) so that I can earn one mile with every dollar I spend. It’s an easy way to rack up frequent flier miles without doing a damn thing.

I signed up for a credit card with Delta Airlines once when they were offering 50,000 miles after spending a certain amount within x number of months. They also waived the annual fee for the first year, so it didn’t cost me anything. Because I used the credit card for my every day purchases, I easily hit that mark and earned free Hawaii trip #2. Side note, just remember to cancel your credit card after your trip but before your year is up so that you don’t have to pay an annual fee.

Most recently, I’ve been saving to splurge on a big family vacation for my mom, brother and I. (I won’t say where though, because it will be a Christmas surprise for them). Once I had the money saved up, I looked online for cards offering airline miles with purchase, and found the American Airlines AAdvantage card with Citibank which was offering 60,000 miles when you spend $3000 in the first three months. (Again, please keep in mind that I will pay the balance off in full once I receive the statement in the mail.) So while I paid full price for my tickets this time, I’ll be able to take another free trip again in the near future. I’m sorry to say there won’t be a free Hawaii trip #3 though…I’m ready to explore somewhere new!

In addition to earning miles, most airline credit cards offer other perks for travel, simply for participating in the program. For example, many airlines will give cardholders and their travel companions free checked bags, complimentary travel insurance, complementary auto insurance for car rentals, and discounts on food and drinks while on your flight. Make sure you check your card’s website so you don’t miss out on any awesome perks like these!

I also will never book any type of travel online without using Ebates. I just go to the Ebates website, then click on the link to Expedia or hotels.com, my two favorite websites to purchase travel on, then it reroutes me to those websites. The websites look exactly how they would look if I had instead typed in the URLs, but somehow Ebates keeps track of my purchases and gives me a percentage of cash back. For example, I spent around $4000 purchasing this big trip on Expedia yesterday, and Ebates gives me 10% cash back on purchases made at Expedia. Voila! I just earned $400 for booking a vacation. The only downside is that they won’t send me the check until after I’ve completed the travel, but I’m still totally OK with that!

So there you have it! Super easy ways to earn free trips and extra money without doing anything too crazy. Happy travels!

budgeting

Paying Yourself First: What, How, and Why

Don’t forget to pay yourself first. You’ve likely heard this old adage, but have you ever wondered what it actually means? And more importantly, why it’s so important? Paying yourself first essentially means placing money into savings before spending it, and there are two very easy ways to accomplish this.

Direct Deposit

If you have a direct deposit option in regards to your paycheck, take advantage of it and have a portion of your earnings deposited into a savings account while the remainder is deposited into a checking account used for paying bills. You could choose to have a percent of your earnings deposited into savings, or you could choose a set amount.

Along those same lines, having a percentage of your earnings deposited into a 401k retirement account is another great way to pay yourself while saving for your future. Trust me, your RV travel-loving 70 year old self will thank you.

 

Writing Yourself a Check

OK, physically writing a check to yourself is definitely a dated way of paying yourself. You could choose to withdraw cash from an ATM and either deposit it into a separate savings account or stash it under your mattress (which is definitely not advisable). You could also choose to transfer the money to a separate account via computer or smart phone. In order for this method to be successful, you will need to discipline yourself to transfer or withdraw the money as soon as your paycheck hits the bank. Otherwise, you’ll have spent your monthly savings budget on a new Summer wardrobe before you even realize what you’ve done.

 

Why Bother?

Have you ever looked at your bank statement at the end of the month and wondered where all of your money went? That is exactly the reason why paying yourself is vital to financial independence. It is far too tempting to overspend when you have extra money burning a hole in your checking account. It is also far too easy to mindlessly spend that extra money on lattes or margaritas if it isn’t already accounted for.

Paying yourself and not allowing that money to ever sit idle in checking is a surefire way of bulking your savings or getting yourself better prepared for retirement. Figure out which of these two methods works best for you, then start envisioning all those exotic vacations or that dream house you’ll be able to afford!

budgeting

Let’s Talk About the B Word: 4 Common Budgeting Methods

Let’s take a minute to talk about the “B word.” A word that makes grown women and men alike cringe. A word with an undoubtedly negative connotation. A word most people never want hurled at them. I’m, of course, talking about the word “budget”. I suspect most people would prefer the other B word, to be honest.

I’m not so sure why budgets get such a bad rap. I suppose most people think of budgets as restricting and a surefire way to sit at home on a Friday night with nothing to do. But in all actuality, budgets are a vessel designed to carry you where you want to be and allow you to do more of what you want to do.

Essentially, a budget is just you telling your money where to go. Many people earn their monthly paychecks, spend their money, then wonder where the heck all of their money went. But simply by paying attention to where your money goes and directing it to the right places, you can give yourself freedom that you probably never imagined was possible.

The most important piece of budgeting is obviously sticking to it month after month. But the only way to do that is to find the budget that works best for you. Below are the four most common budgeting methods.

The Zero Sum Budget

With the zero sum budgeting system you take the total amount of money that you will earn during a month and simply subtract your expenses until you end up at zero. The easiest way to do this is to start by subtracting all of your fixed monthly expenses. By fixed expenses, I mean monthly bills that cost the same each month. Your rent or mortgage, car payment, car insurance, phone bill, and minimum payments on credit cards are all fixed expenses. Then you subtract all of your variable expenses (expenses that change every month) until you get to zero, which leaves no wiggle room for those “Where did all my money go?” moments.

Cash Envelope Budget

With the cash envelope budget, you hide your credit and debit cards away and pay for everything in cash. Obviously you can pay your fixed expenses with your debit card or by automatic withdrawal, but you will only spend cash for your variable expenses. Create separate envelopes for each of those variable expenses (groceries, eating out, entertainment, clothing, etc.). Figure out your budget for each of the categories, then put that amount in your envelope (in cash, of course). If you mess up and go over in one category, you’ll have to take that money out of another envelope, thus forcing you to spend less in whichever category you’ve taken it from. If there’s any cash left in your envelopes at the end of the month, that means you’ll have a little extra for the next month to really treat yourself, or to give your savings account a little boost.

50-30-20 Budgeting

The 50-30-20 budgeting system suggests that 50% of your income should be spent on needs, 30% on wants, and 20% on savings or repaying debt. This isn’t necessarily a system I agree with, as I think 30% on wants is too high, but it could be a great jumping point if you aren’t ready to totally scale back or you don’t have very much debt to repay.

The Snowball Method

The snowball debt repayment method, which was made popular by personal finance expert Dave Ramsey, means paying the minimum on all of your debts, then throwing anything extra into the debt with the lowest balance. Once you pay that off, that minimum payment plus anything extra goes towards the next lowest debt, and so on and so forth. It’s a highly effective method and is an excellent way to gain momentum and confidence as you see the balances on your debts decrease each month.

You can take the same theory and use it for budgeting. Create your monthly budget with all of your fixed expenses, do your best at minimizing your variable expenses, then take everything that’s left over or any extra earnings and put it towards savings or debt repayment. Pretty simple.

Tips to Get Started

Before even putting a budget into place, I think the easiest way to start is by tracking your current spending habits. It is also imperative that you continue to do the same after you’ve started budgeting. For a long time I kept a spreadsheet which indicated every dollar I earned and every dollar I spent, but that was just too difficult and time consuming. Now I use budgeting apps. Personal Capital, Mint, and Clarity Money are my favorites. I have all of my spending accounts (including my credit card) linked, and at the beginning of every month I go in and check on my spending in each category. Before I began budgeting, I thought I had everything under control until I realized I was spending $300 on going out to eat, $300 on clothes, plus all sorts of other frivolous expenditures every month.

Once you’ve started tracking your spending and have a general idea of what you have coming in each month vs. your output each month, you can start to sift through what your wants and your needs are. Your wants are those things that you don’t need in order to survive. Once you’ve identified your wants, challenge yourself to spend half of what you normally spend, or even less than that if you’re feeling super motivated. If you only glean one piece of advice from this entire article, it should be to treat your savings and your retirement savings (yes, those should be separate) as a fixed monthly expense. This is what is meant every time you hear someone say “pay yourself first.”

Extra expenses, whether unexpected or planned, are a fact of life. Incorporate those into your budget as well. If you know your 6-month car insurance premium is due this month, write that into your budget and tighten the belt in other areas. If you know you’re going to attend a fancy dinner for your best friend’s birthday, by all means include that in your restaurant budget. Just make sure you take that out of your vacation or clothing budget that month.

Budgeting isn’t a way of making you needlessly suffer, as so many people seem to think. Rather, it’s a way for you to learn to prioritize areas of your life so that you have more resources for you to do or own the things you love most. If you resolve to give it a shot and stick with it for even just a few months, I can guarantee you won’t look back and regret it.

 

 

Earn Money

The Art of the Side Hustle: Make Extra Money in Your Spare Time

I’m a natural-born hustler. I pretty much came out of the womb scheming ways to make extra money, and not a whole lot has changed in the last 29 years. I have a regular full-time job working in the senior living industry, and I make decent money with that. I also work at a coffee stand a few days a month on the weekends (I only fill in when someone needs a day off), and I just recently started working as an usher at Cirque du Soleil while they’re in town for 7 weeks. On top of all that, I had an appointment this morning to sign paperwork for another part-time job that I’ll be working during the month of June. I’ll be staying up all night on my weekends, feeding and hydrating high school seniors during their all-night graduation parties.

My friends and family all think I’m crazy, but the truth is that I really do think of side hustling as my hobby, and I really do enjoy it! More than the enjoyment of experiencing new things and meeting new people though, I enjoy the extra money and the freedom that gives me. I enjoy traveling, and all of this extra money usually goes right into my vacation checking account. I have never paid anything other than cash for a vacation, and that’s something to be proud of. Plus, sunbathing by the pool with a mai tai in hand is much more relaxing without the dark cloud of debt looming overhead.

I realize that working three jobs isn’t plausible or enjoyable for most people, but there’s still plenty of side hustles you can do in your spare time to create a little more cash flow.

Run away and join the circus

OK, I know that sounds ridiculous, but hear me out. I mentioned that I’m working as an usher at Cirque du Soleil for 7 weeks while they’re in town. It honestly sucks working from 7pm-11pm three night a week when I have to get up at 6:30 in the morning and work until 6 at night, but it’s only for 7 weeks! Plus, I LOVE Cirque du Soleil! I fell in love with Cirque du Soleil several years ago after watching a show in Vegas. I make it a point to see another show every time I go back. I’m so excited to be able to watch it day after day…and get paid to watch it! If the circus isn’t your thing, find another type of show or event that you love, and figure out a way to get a job working there. Love baseball? Get a job selling beer and hot dogs at the stadium. Love the ballet? Work as an usher at your local ballet venue. If you’re looking for something even shorter-term than that, major cities constantly have trade shows, seminars, and other one or two day events. Find one relating to a topic you enjoy, and get a job working the registration table.

Find a part time job in the evenings or on the weekends

If you’re looking for consistent and stable extra income, you can deliver pizzas after work or mix a few drinks on the weekends. You could drive for Uber or Lyft in your spare time. I used to know a woman that worked at Starbucks every weekday morning from 4am to 8am, then went to her office job. The opportunities are endless

If you’re worried about getting burnt out, try to find something seasonal or per diem. The coffee stand gig I work is per diem, and it works great because I have the flexibility of saying either yes or no when they call. As for seasonal jobs, they’re everywhere if you actually look for them. There are more than enough retail jobs available from Thanksgiving thru Christmas, most will work around your regular work schedule. Work at a costume store during the month of October. Sell elephant ears at the county fair or pick berries at a farm during the Summer. Every season has its own unique seasonal jobs to choose from.

Participate in market research

Many companies want to know why people do what they do or think what they think so that they can figure out how to get you to buy their product or use their service. Some companies have their own employees that conduct this research, and many hire independent market research firms to gain this information for them. Either way, participants can earn a nice chunk of change just for sharing their opinions.

I’ve participated in more market research studies than I can remember. I’ve tested apps, played video games, and given feedback on website designs. I’ve taste-tested lunch meats, almond milk, and cereal. I’ve rated songs from 0-100, listened to morning radio show segments, and talked about my favorite books. I’ve also listened to actual court cases, planned vacations, and did some virtual reality driving. Most studies range from 1-2 hours and pay $50-$200 for that time. Many are offered in the evenings so you don’t have to miss any work, and some will actually feed you dinner or lunch.

Don’t forget about the flip side of market research

What I mean by this is there are plenty of opportunities to be the person administering the market research, so to speak. For example, my mom and brother go to a local movie theater every Friday night and ask movie-goers if they have heard of or plan on seeing any upcoming movies. They get paid $3 for every survey they fill out, plus $10 bonuses for every 10, and they average 40-45 surveys for the night. Product demonstrators could also be classified as market research (although technically it’s advertising). You can work for companies that send you to different stores to give out samples of all types of products, or you can work for a particular store. Costco, Whole Foods, and many pet stores have their own in-house demonstrators. Many wine and beer distributors also employ demonstrators to conduct tastings in different stores.

Do some housesitting or pet sitting

Pet sitting was my go-to side hustle in middle school and high school. I had a neighbor with three cats that worked long hours, and I would stop by every day on my way home from the bus stop to feed the cats and play with them. I think I made something like $20 a week, but that was a lot of money to a 12 year old! When I was older I got into housesitting. I was more excited about getting to live alone for a week or two, since I lived with my parents until I was 24, but I also made $100 a week. Plus, one couple in particular would buy me a huge bottle of Grey Goose and tell me I wasn’t allowed to come back if it wasn’t gone by the time they got home, and I thought that was a nice perk.

Housesitting doesn’t make sense for me anymore, since I live alone and have two cats that need me. But my brother’s girlfriend, who doesn’t have any pets of her own, housesits constantly and charges $40 per day. Not a bad deal for something that could essentially be considered a stay-cation.

Babysitting

I’ll be honest, this was never my favorite job. I’m not someone that’s ever spent much time around kids, so they kind of make me uncomfortable. But if that’s not the case for you, then more power to you. You can go the traditional route and let friends and neighbors know, but they’re more likely to employee a teenager they know. However, there are plenty of websites out there that connect you with parents eager for a night out that want the comfort and security of knowing they’re hiring someone with credentials that have passed an extensive background check.

Side hustling opportunities are endless. For me, the key is finding something that will work around my schedule that I don’t have to commit to for longer than a few weeks (this prevents me from getting too burnt out). I’ve found several side hustles just from word of mouth, talking to friends , coworkers, and even my hair stylist. The majority I find on Craigslist, though. I know there are a lot of people out there that think Craigslist is full of scams and people trying to lure you to their homes so they can chop you up and keep you in their freezer, but I’ve never had any problems (knock on wood). I check the “etc. jobs” and the “gigs” sections every day, and they are absolute gold mines for me. I will offer this Craigslist disclaimer to you, though: If anything just doesn’t sound right or makes you feel even remotely uncomfortable, please listen to your intuition and don’t do it! With that said, happy hustling!