All posts tagged saving money

How To Prefer What You Have.

By Brad Beckstrom

Years ago I had a vision for what I’d like my future home to look like. It included stylish mid-century modern furniture, expensive rugs, artwork, and beautiful lighting. It doesn’t look like that and I’m happy about it. Instead of replacing and upgrading furniture over the years, we decided to keep the furniture we had. This included things like our original coffee table that’s been destroyed by kids, dogs, spilled beverages. I kept my furniture from my college dorm room, now in my son’s room and still going strong. We kept various IKEA classics from my various bachelor pads and wife’s early post-college years.The IKEA dressers had to be repaired and in one case reassembled. A few years back, we had a fun day running down to IKEA to dig through the parts bins for pegs, knobs, and brackets. I also grabbed a few Swedish meatballs. We’ve received a few pieces of furniture from relatives over the years, proudly displayed next to the IKEA stuff in the living room that we repurposed as a library.

With all this old furniture populating our home, something interesting began to happen. The furniture began to develop its own personality. Chew marks from pets that are no longer with us, wild rings, marks, and divots in our coffee tables that come along with raising two boys and having pets. I guess you could call them scars, but the good kind. We’ve actually created that distressed, weather battered look the people pay for. I like to think of it as sort of a slow motion destruction. Read more…

Are You Paying a Sucker Tax?

It may surprise you that most taxes and fees people pay are voluntary.

By Brad Beckstrom.

Did you know the sales tax rate in the city of Chicago as of Jan 2017 is 10.25%. The 10.25 percent rate includes sales taxes assessed by the state, county, city, and local transit agency.

I felt like that was high compared to taxes where I live, until I took a closer look. The state of Virginia has a 5.63% sales tax, then Arlington County adds an additional 1.07%. Not too bad until you look at the personal property tax of up to 5% that you pay every year on personal vehicles including cars, trucks, boats, RVs etc. for as long as you own them. You pay the tax even if you’re leasing them, based on assessed value determined by the state. This is separate from property tax on real estate which in my county in Virginia is about 1% of home value annually.

I’ve always thought that kind of sucked until I took it look at the total tax burden by state. The folks over at Wallethub put together this cool sortable chart, with tax burden by state based on personal taxes, property taxes, sales, and excise taxes as a percentage of income. That’s where things really get interesting. As it turns out, Virginia is ranked 40th in total tax burden. That means people in 39 states may have it worse than we do when it comes to state tax burdens. See how your state ranks. Read more…

How I earn over 4% back on all credit card spending.

By Brad Beckstrom

You read that correctly, over 4% return on credit card spending. This includes rewards points on business and personal spending. Quick disclaimer: if you carry debt on credit cards, or don’t pay your bill off (in full) each month, any gains you have from points will be likely negated by interest charges. Once you have zero credit card debt and are ready to use cards to earn rewards points/cash back, then you’re ready to put together your rewards points plan. Here’s mine.

To keep this simple, I’m going to use Chase credit cards as examples. They have one of the best rewards programs out there that meet both my business and personal credit card needs. This program can be put together with other cards, but my best experience so far has been using a combination of Chase cards to get the 50% point bonuses and benefits, I’ll describe here.

Like many cool things, I stumbled upon the Chase Ultimate Rewards program while reading about travel hacking on personal finance sites. I was consistently seeing the Chase Sapphire cards and their Ultimate Rewards Program listed at the top of most lists for high reward, high credit rating cards.

My Ultimate Rewards set up

My setup with Chase utilizes one personal card and two business cards. The personal card is the Chase Sapphire Reserve that came with a monster 100K point sign up bonus. Normally I would not pay annual fees over $95 for a reward credit card, however, this high fee card applies $300 of the of the $450 annual fee to the first $300 in travel expenses each year. It also includes 3X bonus points on all travel and dining with another 50% point boost when you book travel through Chase. It includes an additional $100 credit for TSA Pre / Global Entry programs, travel insurance, sky clubs, and other perks. So after doing the math, this is a great value. See points bonus calculation red boxes.  Read more…

Tax-Free Investing. The True Secret Behind Health Savings Accounts.

By Brad Beckstrom

Why would I waste a perfectly good Thursday morning writing about health insurance and health savings accounts? Well, politics has made paying for healthcare a national obsession.

There’s been a lot in the news recently about the spiraling costs of healthcare and Republican promises to cut the costs of health insurance for individuals and families. While no formal plan has been presented, one key component mentioned by both Republicans and Democrats is the Health Savings Account or HSA. The fact is, tax-advantaged HSAs have been around for years. In many ways they are also one of the best ways to save for retirement. I’ll explain why.

What is an HSA?

An HSA used in conjunction with a high deductible health insurance policy allows users to save and spend money tax-free to use for medical expenses. Contributions to an HSA can be made pre-tax directly from your paycheck or you can make contributions on your own that are 100% tax-deductible, up to $3300 for individuals and $6550 for families and, if you’re over 55, you can contribute $7550 per year. For example, a family in the 25% marginal tax bracket could save you over $1600 a year in taxes.

How does it work?

Once you have money in your account, you can then use it to pay for all types of medical expenses, including things like new glasses, prescription drugs, medical and dental visits, and any medical expenses not covered by your high deductible health plan. To be eligible, you need to have a health plan that qualifies as a high deductible plan. (Example a minimum deductible of $1300 for singles or $2600 for families). A high deductible plan means you will pay more out of pocket before meeting your deductible. The advantage is that the premiums on these plans are lower. Due to the high cost of health care, many employers are now offering only high deductible plans, or versions of it, as an option.  For entrepreneurs, these plans are also available through healthcare.gov and labeled as HSA or through most health insurance brokers at comparable rates. Read more…

The Home Swap. A grand experiment in international travel.

By Brad Beckstrom

The proposition I made to my wife was pretty simple: “If you could spend two weeks in Europe every summer, would you be interested?” Of course I got an enthusiastic “yes”, until I brought up home exchange. Home exchange is just what it sounds like. It’s a website with over 65,000 homes in 150 countries. You list your home on home exchange, include all the countries you’d like to visit, and wait for opportunities to appear in your inbox to swap homes in places like Spain, and Italy, Brazil, and all over the world.

It’s vastly different than Airbnb as you are not paying a stranger to stay in their home. With Home Exchange, you are simply staying in their home while they stay in yours: a true exchange. The network is large enough to match up eager travelers from around the world who want to visit your town. Larger homes tend to attract like-minded families, while tiny apartments attract singles and couples. What they have in common is a sense of adventure and openness to meeting new people and trying new things.

As I started to browse through some homes along the Amalfi coast in Italy, or the Le Marais neighborhood in Paris, I started to realize our home is just not ready to attract the type of visitors we would like to exchange homes with for a two week trip. At this point, I am no more near ready to do this than I would be to start renting a room out on Airbnb. There is so much to do before I would even post some photos or create a profile. Sure, our house is in a great neighborhood less than 4 miles from DC, but it’s a big step to make it ready for some long-term visitors.

That is, unless I look at this as an opportunity. The great thing about the opportunity is at the end of the project, my reward is two weeks abroad. Not just this year, but nearly every year. That’s something worth working towards.  It’s also a grand experiment in the sharing economy.  So far we have truly enjoyed our experiences using Airbnb and saved tons of money using UBER and Lyft all over the world.

I was a bit discouraged when I started looking at some beautiful spotless homes in Italy and France, but then I looked up some US properties, even some in our neighborhood. I could spot the familiar clutter that didn’t seem to deter these folks from listing their homes. If we can just get our home somewhere between good and great that would be a start. I’ve always been adept with frequent flyer miles but found that hotels drain them too quickly, especially after you’ve coughed up enough miles for 4 transatlantic tickets. Doing a once a year home swap would be a perfect solution. Adding 14 nights of free accommodations to free airfare can really put some punch behind your travel plans. The great thing is we don’t have to accept any offers for a home swap if we aren’t interested. Read more…

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