Yesterday was Mardi Gras, which means today is Ash Wednesday. That also means that as a Catholic I feel compelled to give up something as a sacrifice during Lent.
I’ve decided to give up drinking anything but water.
Those who have been around this blog since the beginning will remember I drank only water for 30 days back in 2011. Not only did I feel great but I also probably saved a little bit of money.
So I’m doing it again. I will be drinking only water for the next 6.5 weeks. I don’t drink alcohol or coffee which may make people think this is a simple challenge. However I drink a lot of soda, juice, and chocolate milk. This won’t be easy.
Here are the benefits I’m hoping to achieve.
1. Be More Mindful of Jesus
Every time I eat a meal or grab a snack, I’ll be tempted to grab something to drink as well. That means I’ll have 5-10 opportunities a day to reflect on my minor sacrifice and think about God. I don’t preach on this blog, but obviously this is the most important part of drinking only water for me.
2. Lose Weight
By drinking only water I estimate I’ll reduce my daily calorie intake by at least 400-500 calories a day. Not only will I reduce calorie intake, but apparently there are other weight loss benefits provided by water.
I do need to shed 5-10 pounds before the wedding (which is less than 3 months away) so hopefully this will help.
3. Become Healthier
This obviously follows very closely with losing weight, but I want to be healthier overall. My cholesterol and blood pressure has been rising slightly over the last few years. I know I need to eat better and exercise more, and getting rid of all the sugar in soda and juice should be a step in the right direction.
4. Save Money
Finally, water is free. Let’s pretend I’m buying a $2 fountain soda at a restaurant three times a week, and I’m also buying a gallon of chocolate milk or juice per week. That’s about $10 per week of savings.
Obviously $10 per week isn’t going to have much of an impact on my personal finances, but it doesn’t hurt.
Readers: Are you giving up anything for Lent? P.S. You don’t have to be religious to spend 40 days doing something to better yourself.
A few weeks ago I decided to try to grow a beard.
There were so many good reasons to grow a beard. It makes me look older. It’s manly. It keeps my face warm. I don’t have to pay for razors.
And there was one good reason to get rid of it. A beard just isn’t comfortable.
I’ve actually gotten the idea to grow a beard multiple times, but I can never do it because beards are just so itchy and uncomfortable. Plus Tag doesn’t like kissing me when I have a beard so that’s pretty much the nail in the coffin.
The problem is I’m always shaving with dull old razors because I don’t want to spend the money to buy a new set of razors. They are too dang expensive. Or at least they were. Enter the Dollar Shave Club.
$1 (+$2 s&h) Razors from the Dollar Shave Club
You may have heard of the Dollar Shave Club. They send you razors straight to your door every month, include a free handle for the razors, and they cost either $1 (plust $2 shipping and handling), $6 or $9 (free shipping and handling) depending on how comfortable you like your shave.
And they have this amazing video:
I’m a huge fan of products that make shaving easier and/or less expensive. The best $10 I’ve ever spent was on a shaving mirror for my shower, and now combined with the Dollar Shave Club my facial hair doesn’t have a chance!
The Dollar Shave Club solves all of the following problems:
- Razors are affordable and come with a free handle.
- 4 or 5 razors are shipped directly to your house every month free of charge for the 4x and Executive, or it costs $2 for the basic razor.
- You never have to decide between buying more razors or having an uncomfortable shave.
I’ve always said when you work hard for your money that it’s important to spend that money on things that make you happier and make your life better. And if you’re a guy there’s a good chance you’re buying razors anyway that cost about twice as much as you can get from the Dollar Shave Club.
I used to use the Gillette Fusion, which costs $16 for a pack of 4 and I have to go to the store to get it. I can get the Executive from Dollar Shave Club for just $9 a month (a pack of 4) delivered to my house.
Finally, if you’re like me and don’t have to shave every day, you can sign up for a few months. After 5 months you’ll have stock piled 20 razors. That could very well last me 1-2 years without wearing them out. You can cancel your subscription at any time with no penalty, so there’s really nothing to lose.
Plus their video is still just awesome.
A few months ago I got a very disappointing letter in the mail telling me that the rewards for my credit card were changing. A card that used to earn me as much as 2.5% on all purchases would now earn only 1% on most purchases. As someone who loves credit card rewards, that wasn’t acceptable.
After looking long and hard for a new credit card, I finally found the best rewards credit card to replace my Citi ThankYou Premier. I am a proud cardholder of the Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard.
The Barclaycard Arrival is one of the best credit cards available today. You can find my full review of the Barclaycard Arrival on Reward Boost, but I’ll give you some of the highlights here.
2.2% Back on All Purchases
I earn 2 miles for every dollar I spend on the card. 10,000 miles can be redeemed for a $100 statement credit against any travel purchases.
Then if any miles are redeemed for travel, I get 10% of those miles back. That means if I use 10,000 miles for a $100 statement credit, I’ll immediately be credited with 1,000 miles that can be used for my next redemption.
My old credit card earned ThankYou points which limits me to using their travel center or getting gift cards from a limited number of companies if I want to maximize the value of my rewards. Being tied to only the items offered by ThankYou.com really limited my ability to maximize my rewards.
However, now I can shop for the lowest prices on any plane tickets, hotels, car rentals, or anything else. I can go to Priceline, name my own price and save 40%, and then use my Barclaycard Arrival miles for a statement credit. This is MUCH better.
$440 Sign Up Bonus and 0% for 12 Months
I can’t forget two other great benefits with this card. First, I get a 40,000 mile sign up bonus. Again, I’ll get 10% of my miles back when they are redeemed, so it’s really like a $440 sign up bonus!
Second, I have a 0% APR for 12 months. Normally I would never carry a balance on a credit card, but with my wedding coming up in just under 3 months, there might be a few expenses that I’ll want to pay off over a few months. At 0% APR, I can pay something over time and never pay a dime of interest.
The only downside is the $89 annual fee, but that is waived for the first year. Plus the $440 sign up bonus pays for almost 5 years of the annual fee.
Free FICO Score Every Month
As if this card wasn’t awesome enough already, they also give my my FICO score free every month. This is a really valuable benefit if you care about your FICO score.
If you go to myFICO.com and pay for your score, it will cost you $15 a month. That’s $180 a year just for your monthly credit score. The Barclaycard Arrival gives a free FICO score every month as long as you are a card member.
Their Website is Great
This may not be a big deal for some people, but I love a good looking and intuitive website. With this being my first Barclays credit card, I didn’t know what to expect.
I was pleasantly surprised. The site is easy to navigate and looks great. With this being my new main credit card, I’ll look forward to logging in to check my account every few days.
I Love My New Rewards Credit Card
I have a lot of wedding bills to pay over the next few months and I can’t wait to put them on this card and earn double miles for every purchase. By the time my wedding and honeymoon are paid for, I might have enough points to pay for my next vacation!
If you are interested in adding the Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard to your wallet (including the $440 sign-up bonus), I encourage you to read my full review over at Reward Boost, and if you still think it’s a good idea then go for it! Just make sure you pay off the balance at the end of every month!
If you are planning a wedding then first of all, congratulations! It’s a really exciting time and planning a wedding is one of the most fun tasks you will ever do. Having said that, it is all too easy for costs to spiral and for your budget to become overblown if you’re not careful.
So if you are on a tight budget and want to ensure that you don’t end up in debt for the sake of one (albeit very important) day, make sure you follow a few simple budgeting tips for making your wedding fabulous and memorable without breaking the bank.
First of all, consider what you really, really want and what you are absolutely are not prepared to skimp on. For some people this will be the photography, others the venue, others still the dress or the entertainment. Ring-fence the cost of your number one priority for the day and don’t compromise on it. Now you can get down to the business of cutting costs elsewhere.
The easiest and best way to cut costs on your wedding day is to call in favours where possible from friends and family. So, if you have any family members or friends who are arty and crafty, get them involved in your wedding day by making wedding favours, place names or table plans. Do you have anyone who is a dab hand at cake making? How about any budding make-up or nail artists for the bride on the big day? Close friends and family members will be delighted to play a part in your special day and it makes your celebration all the more personal and memorable.
And of course, if you are a crafty couple then you can make elements of the wedding day yourselves. From save the dates and invitations to do-it-yourself cake toppers, there are lots of tips and hints online for DIY weddings that will not only save you money, but will add a personal touch to the day too.
As many private employers slowly reign in the cushy retirement benefits your parents might have seen (and retired on) back in the day, individual investors are becoming more involved in the planning and maintenance of their portfolio assets. Employer contributions are going the way of the dodo, making individual investment decisions more important than ever. Luckily, economists generally agree there are five ways to boost portfolio growth and give you more bang for your buck.
Use ETFs to Diversify
A handful of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) across vast sections of the market could make your portfolio resemble an overall benchmark index for the entire market. This investment decision doesn’t necessarily guarantee increased growth simply by growing faster, but acts as a diversified buffer that will most likely safeguard you from sharp declines by individual companies or commodities. In other words, ETFs can indirectly help your portfolio grow by lowering the volatility of your investments.
Remember, ETFs work best over the long haul, since growth will be more stabilized and slower-moving. Besides, you might as well just go with a straight market index. If the entire economy tanks at a rate of about 30 percent, there’s not much you would’ve been able to do had you done it alone.
Think Small for Big Gains
Established companies with large capitalization tend to move up or down the ticker at a slower pace than small cap companies. Small cap stocks work with a mindset similar to what you’d see with bonds rating below a C — there isn’t as much as a proven track record for success, they have higher risk, and tend to be dwarfed by those large cap companies.
But similar to those low-rated bonds, there’s a chance for big returns. On average, small cap US companies average 2.1 percent higher annualized returns compared to large cap companies since 1926. If you start dabbling in small caps overseas, you could expect to see an average annualized return of 5.8 percent over large caps from those same nations since 1970.
You might have a stellar portfolio full of nothing but blue chip stocks, high returns, and big dividends. But no amount of market success can excuse unreasonably high management expenses. Whether you’re trading by yourself, working with a broker to analyze and study the market, or leaving the decisions up to a mutual fund manager, you’re going to end up paying fees that eat into your earnings. What good are high returns if you lose a significant portion of them to things like commissions and administrative costs?
Keep those expenses down; don’t pay for fees that don’t have the interest of the portfolio at heart. Consult the Forbes profile of Ken Fisher, CEO of Fisher Investments for more details on how to cultivate your investments intelligently.
Think Like a Woman
UC Berkeley professor of banking and finance Terry Odean published a revealing report: women make better trading decisions than men. Single women beat single men by 2.3 percent when making investment decisions, and investment groups earn 4.6 percent more on average when the women call the shots. Women make more than men because they trade far less than men, and they’re patient in terms of adversity. Odean’s findings seemed to indicate men tend to make decisions somewhere between the realms of irrationality and overconfidence. Think like a woman, avoid the chatter, and cut back on impulse decisions.
Do Your Homework
The stock market is like a language. It changes over time, it can be misunderstood, and it has a certain cadence to it. Financial alchemy is a peculiar science, one which requires a good deal of study into its history, jargon, and great leaders. The more you understand fundamental analysis tools, the better you’re going to average year after year. Before you invest in an ETF, mutual fund, or REIT, take time to review its history and prospectus. If you want to know where something is going, find where it’s been before. Investors benefit when they take their time to review trends and past market indicators.
Carefully review your financial situation and long-term goals when making investment decisions.
As we approach the end of January you’ve probably gotten your W2s in the mail and are thinking about filing your tax return. If you are expecting a refund, you might even be well on your way towards completing it by now.
But what if you feel like you are paying too much in taxes. Maybe your refund isn’t as big as you were hoping. Or maybe your tax return says you have to write Uncle Sam a check. Nobody likes to do that.
There are ways you can reduce last year’s tax burden, even though last year is long gone. Here are two ways that you can either decrease your tax bill or increase your tax refund immediately.
Contribute Money to a Traditional IRA
If you haven’t already maxed out your IRA contributions for 2013 then you can contribute money to a traditional IRA that will be considered a 2013 contribution. You can make 2013 contributions all the way up until April 15th, 2014.
Every dollar you contribute to a traditional IRA reduces your taxable income for that year. Lower taxable income means you pay less in taxes. Let’s look at an example to clarify:
Pretend you make $70,000 a year (as a married couple), which probably places you in the 25% tax bracket. Let’s also pretend that you’ve looked at your taxes and you are supposed to pay the federal government $250.
You could write a check for $250 and move on with your life. However, you could also contribute $1,000 to a traditional IRA and put that money away for your retirement.
This would reduce your taxable income by $1,000, which would decrease your tax bill by $250. Now you don’t have to write anyone a check.
So basically you can either pay the government $250 or pay yourself $1,000 (which will be taxed later once you reach retirement age).
It is very important when you are adding funds to an IRA that you make sure to specify that the contribution is for the 2013 tax year. If you don’t specify the year, you could end up contributing towards your 2014 IRA, which will decrease your tax bill a year from now but won’t do anything for your current tax bill.
Also, it’s important to talk with a tax professional (that’s not me). Depending on whether you are single or married, if you have a retirement plan at work, and/or how much money you make during the year, you may or may not be eligible to take a deduction on IRA contributions.
Contribute Money to an HSA
Another option that may be available to you is contributing money to a health savings account. This is available to fewer people because you must have had a HSA last year and it is only available to people with high deductible insurance policies.
However, if you are like me and have an HSA then you can do the same thing here. Every dollar you put in the HSA for the 2013 tax year will reduce your taxable income, and therefore, your tax bill.
I might want to put $1k or so in there to pay myself back for my root canals and crowns. I actually prefer the money in my HSA because it’s like a retirement account that can also pay for medical bills today.
Again, I’m not a tax advisor and this may not apply to your situation. Please consult with a tax professional if you want to explore this option.
Pay Yourself to Lower Your Tax Burden
You can use one of these two methods to lower your tax burden. That means either writing a smaller check to the government or increasing your refund.
Oh, and you’re also saving money for retirement, health care expenses, or both. Sweet!
Readers: Do you have any other tips for decreasing last year’s tax burden?