All posts tagged family of four spending

Super Airfare Travel Hacks for Families and Groups

By Brad Beckstrom

There are a ton of great travel hacking tools and adventure travel blogs out there. The blogs include lots of great tips like maximizing use of frequent flyer miles, credit card point programs, traveling during off-peak periods to less popular destinations and top 10 lists of great online tools and apps to use.

Despite the abundance of advice out there, one area that’s rarely mentioned is travel hacking for a family of four (or a small group of friends.)  Planning for four or more people takes travel hacking to a whole new level. Keep reading if you’re traveling solo since these tools can also work when traveling alone or as a couple.

When planning for four people, you’re often not only dealing with the worst time of year to travel, like spring break or the holidays, but you’re also trying to use up some of your frequent flyer mileage. This goes against the grain of what most travel hackers recommend, including efficient use of frequent flyer miles and traveling at off-peak periods. Read more…

Let’s Clean This Mess Up.

What you can learn from a minimalist lifestyle even if you’re nowhere close to adopting it.

By Brad Beckstrom

Minimalism is hard. After five years of working on it, I’m not even close to my original goal of a vastly simpler lifestyle. I’ve worked on applying minimalist ideas in everything I do. I’ve slowly realized that for me there is not some ultimate minimalist goal or destination. The reason is that there’s always stuff coming into our lives. And it’s not just our stuff, it’s our family stuff, our work stuff, stuff related to our home, our hobbies, our kids. The average American home has 300,000 things in it.  So, I guess my family’s making progress — we’ve gotten rid of about 50,000 of these things over the past five years.

I think part of the reason adopting a minimalist outlook is hard is that many of us have lived our lives doing the opposite. It’s only much later, after decades of accumulating stuff, that we realize it’s all really just weighing us down. Given this, it’s going to take some time to unravel all that.

One of the interesting things I’ve found is that you can apply minimalism to a lot more than just cleaning out closets and garages. Over these past five years I’ve developed everything from minimalist investing strategies, work habits, and exercise routines.

As I’ve been working to apply minimalist principles, I look around and notice people adding more more more. Like spending 30 minutes driving to and from a CrossFit Gym to spend hard-earned dollars on increasingly complex workout routines. Constantly bringing complexity into life with high-tech toys often built into expensive new vehicles and smart appliances. Using social media, news apps, and productivity apps to create more and more urgent notifications. Complex volatile investment schemes involving everything from crypto currency to weed stocks. Utilizing multiple tools and technologies that were designed to lighten the load, but instead end up adding hours to the average workday.

Let’s simplify this stuff.

I don’t think anyone will ever look at me and my home or family and say “Oh, that guy is a minimalist”. For me it’s not about that, it’s about applying minimalist principles to one part of your life at a time and making small improvements. So, in the spirit of minimalism, if we could apply just one idea across everything we do it would make a big difference. Here’s one idea I use: 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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