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2018-01-21T00:48:22.195Z
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Over the summer, my family went on a road trip vacation to Yellowstone. On the way out and on the way back, we used quite a lot of mobile data – uploading pictures, downloading park-related apps, looking for roadside attractions, and so on. At one point, my son watched a Netflix movie without realizing that it wasn’t wi-fi. I forgot to turn off background downloading for my podcast listening app. You get the picture.

For the first time ever, we hit our data cap, which, with our plan, basically slows our data to a crawl unless we upgrade our plan. This was kind of a frustration, as it either meant an extra expense or else a lack of data for the remainder of the trip, so we talked it over and forked out the cash for more data.

We were gorging on data, and it was costing us. We needed a data diet.

Mobile data is expensive, no matter how you slice it. Depending on your provider, it can easily cost anywhere from $1 to $3 per gigabyte unless you buy a large quantity at once as part of a broader plan. If you’re using that much data, it’s usually to access paid services anyway.

What makes it worse is that, most of the time, mobile data is chiefly used for entertainment and distraction. You check social media or watch a video or listen to streaming music or visit a few rich websites and,...

Imagine that tomorrow – or your next day at work – you go into your workplace only to find a pink slip waiting for you. You’re done. Your employer heard some horrible rumor about you, or maybe your organization is downsizing, or maybe you made a big mistake recently and it’s caught up to you. Whatever it is, your job is no longer yours. You have 15 minutes to clean out your desk and half an hour at HR to sign some papers and then you’re out on the street.

What now? What do you do?

For many Americans, this scenario is a total nightmare. Remember that 78% of Americans live a paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle – they’re running into major financial trouble if they miss just a single paycheck (here’s the scoop on that frightening statistic). The idea of a sudden job loss can feel almost overwhelming, and it’s often those big overwhelming things that we push to the side and try not to think about.

As with most big fears in life, however, an unexpected job loss can be made much more tolerable by having a plan in place for what to do if and when it happens, and then taking action on some of those steps now rather than later, because actions on those steps will often help you now.

Here are six things you can do right now to prepare yourself for the possibility of a job loss and make the impact far less painful. These steps lead directly to...

The latter half of January each year brings a lot of people who are finding that it’s difficult to stick with a New Year’s resolution. Often, breaking a big resolution that you thought about a lot and tried to keep requires some internal justification. Why are you giving up on this big plan?

I see this effect occurring in the form of messages from readers, who typically write in with reasons for why they should give up on their big financial plans and seem to want me to approve of their change in direction. They’ll tell me that being financially responsible is adding a great deal of misery and even suffering to their lives. I’ll hear about how their lives are now devoid of all fun and pleasure. Some will ask if it’s okay to just go on a giant spending spree, as though I am responsible for giving permissions in their adult life; others will just tell me that any information I’ve shared about financial success is misleading or a lie or something.

Whenever I hear from someone who has made an effort to find a new financial direction but has found it to not be enjoyable, I point them to six key principles. Not all of these principles will ring true for everyone struggling with a better financial path, but at least some of these principles will hit home.

Here are six principles to think about when you’re finding that you want to “live” and “have fun” rather than be...

When I have questions about money, I just Google the answer. My Mint app tracks my budget, Digit stashes money away for me automatically, Wealthfront invests some money for me here and there, and I can check websites like The Simple Dollar to figure out what an IRA is and how I’m supposed to get one started.

My mother, meanwhile, had no such guidance when it came to money. She was about my age now when our family immigrated to the United States from the former Soviet Union. Although it was only a 10-hour plane ride to JFK in New York, when we landed, my mother said it felt like a different universe.

She suddenly found herself in one of the biggest, brightest cities in the world, with limited English, a hysterical child to consider (that would be me), and a new life to navigate.

For the first few years while we were figuring things out, my family shared a studio apartment. I sat outside my mother’s English classes because we couldn’t afford childcare – I had only ever heard of “babysitters” on TV. Despite having a college degree, my mother picked up shifts cleaning houses so we could make ends meet. Forget Google or budgeting apps; she’d never even seen a credit card in real life.

Stories like this one are pretty common — immigrants make up nearly 14% of the U.S. population — that’s 42 million people who are likely unfamiliar with the nuances of American...

Not too long ago, I spent an entire workweek without writing a single word for The Simple Dollar or any other writing project for that matter. Yet, this wasn’t a week of vacation or sabbatical or anything like that.

What did I do, then? I spent an entire week reading a few relevant books and a stack of articles. I took a lot of notes. I did a lot of brainstorming and very vague outlining. I tried out a few interesting things that I thought were perfectly suited for articles.

From a short-term perspective, this was a disaster. This produced nothing in terms of having articles for The Simple Dollar, and an entire week was down the tubes. However, it was incredibly valuable and efficient in terms of a longer-term perspective. I had the raw materials to quickly finish a good month’s worth of articles fairly quickly.

The truth is that the “deep priority” of The Simple Dollar – or at least my part of it – is ideas. What can I observe or write or learn about that is an interesting or useful perspective on the challenges of personal finance? The core idea and the basic outline is the really valuable part, and it’s the long-term value of the site. It’s why readers seem to come back.

Here’s the kicker: Everything has a “deep priority.” Everything has one or two key elements to it that makes the whole thing move over the long term, and when you really focus in on those...

You may have heard that the cost to raise a child to the age of 18 have surged to a staggering $233,610. That’s according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), who has meticulously tracked the prices of everything from housing to healthcare and childcare throughout the years.

If you don’t have kids, this statement probably sounds preposterous – or even impossible. If you do have kids, on the other hand, you’re likely keenly aware of just how realistic this outrageous, nearly quarter-of-a-million-dollar figure is.

Between paying for a larger home to make room for extra bedrooms, a bigger car to haul your kids (and their gear) around, more food, childcare bills, clothing, school supplies, and the crazy costs of kids’ sports, it may even be surprising that it doesn’t cost more to raise your little ones.

How to Save on Raising Kids Every Step of the Way

But, here’s the thing: The numbers from the USDA and other organizations are just averages. Depending on a wide range of factors such as where you live and your spending style, you could pay a whole lot more – or a lot less – to cover the costs of child-rearing to age 18.

If you live in an expensive city like San Francisco, you can only imagine how your housing costs would dwarf those of someone living in St. Louis, for example. And if you’re the type of parent who buys their kids designer clothes and a new car on their...

Like many American households, we dealt with some seriously cold weather over the last week or two. We had multiple school delays and closings primarily due to the cold weather and it wasn’t uncommon to see temperatures far below -10 F, even during the midday.

Cold weather can be a challenge. The simple solution, of course, is to just crank up the heat and not worry about it. That certainly works, of course, but then the huge energy bill comes in a month later, leaving you with a drained checking account and frustration about the expensive energy costs.

Clearly, there is great value in figuring out ways to combat the cold without turning up the heat. How can you keep the chill away without spending lots of money on energy bills?

Here are 18 things that our family does to keep energy costs low, even during the coldest months.

#1: Lower the temperature at bedtime; only raise it when you feel the need to do so.

Before bedtime, we turn the temperature in the house down quite low. After all, we’re all climbing into warm beds with plenty of blankets and covers over us to keep us warm. So we simply turn down the heat so that we’re not heating the house when we’re all in bed snuggled under blankets.

In the morning, when we get up, we raise the temperature a little, but we’re mostly warm in our pajamas, so we don’t raise it a whole lot. We only raise it if someone actually...

We all know that the rich – and even “Millionaire Next Door” types – handle their money differently. Instead of looking for ways to flaunt their wealth, they actively keep it hidden. And instead of accumulating “stuff,” they strive for financial independence and seek out targeted opportunities that help them earn even more money.

And even though wealthy folks don’t necessarily need to use credit cards, they still do. A 2015 poll by CreditCards.com noted that, out of 800 wealthy families surveyed, three out of five used rewards cards with a preference for cash-back. Meanwhile, households with investable assets of $100,000 or more were twice as likely to say they prefer frequent flyer miles over cash.

That brings us to the first reason the wealthy use credit cards, even when they don’t need a temporary loan. They do it for the rewards. Since many cards offer 1% to 2% cash back for every purchase you make, it’s not too hard to rack up meaningful rewards if you spend a lot on your cards. And if you’re savvy with airline miles, you can easily save thousands of dollars on airfare every year.

But the thirst for rewards extends far beyond affluent soccer moms pursuing airline miles for a family trip to Hawaii, as even the ultra-rich love their rewards points. Maybe you read about the billionaire who used his American Express credit card to buy a $170 million-dollar painting in 2015. Why would he do such a thing? His wife told...

What’s inside? Here are the questions answered in today’s reader mailbag, boiled down to summaries of five or fewer words. Click on the number to jump straight down to the question.
1. Money focused only at work
2. Peak of the stock market?
3. Emergency fund or Roth IRA?
4. Home security system thoughts
5. Figuring out next career step
6. 401(k) or 403(b)?
7. Handling social spending with grace
8. Feeling deprived
9. Cheap roommate; is this stealing?
10. Found $50
11. Struggling with daily gratitude
12. Car search update

Since the start of the year, what one thing have you done that you’re most happy with in your life and why? It’s an interesting question to think about, particularly at a moment when many of us might be struggling with our resolutions for the new year.

For me, I’m probably happiest about establishing a strong and much better morning routine. It takes time but it is actually making me a lot more efficient in everything else I do during the day and ends up saving me time.

What does my current routine look like? I get up, drink a big glass of water, and do some stretching to limber myself up (mostly, I just lift my foot up on the back of a chair and stretch to touch my toes). I pour myself a cup of cold brew coffee and read for...

It’s a brand new year, and with it comes a brand new opportunity to get your investments on track.

And here’s the good news: You don’t necessarily have to make big changes in order to have a big impact. In fact, the sooner you start taking action, the less you’ll actually have to do, since each action will have more time for its benefits to compound.

The flip side is that procrastinating will only put more pressure on you later on to make even bigger changes. All the more reason to start now!

With that in mind, here are five practical steps you can take to improve your investments in 2018.

1. Get specific about your goals.

The standard investment goal is “retirement.” You know, that thing you’ll finally get to do when you’re old and gray and no longer have to drag yourself to a job you hate.

Exciting, huh?

There are a lot of problems with the standard view on retirement. First, it assumes that everyone follows the same linear path. Second, it’s not inherently tied to anything you actually want to do — it’s all about getting rid of something you don’t like. Third, it’s incredibly vague and distant, which makes it hard to stay motivated.

That’s why I like to talk about financial independence instead.

Financial independence is simply the point at which you’re free to make decisions based on what makes you happy rather than what makes you money, and it has a few big advantages as your major investment goal:

  • You can...

Any parent who has flown with a toddler or endured a 12-hour car ride with a screamer can tell you that, no matter how glamorous family travel seems, it’s not for the feint of heart. Even worse, family travel is usually a lot more expensive than single or couples travel.

Why? Because taking the kids means more plane tickets, bigger rooms or condos, and higher costs for basically everything you book. Then, there’s food. Obviously, your family of four is going to eat more – and maybe even a lot more often – than a couple of adults.

There are some ways around the added costs, of course. Many airlines let infants fly for free in your lap if they’re under two years old, for example. And many regular hotels offer a room with two queen beds or will gladly roll in a cot for an extra kid.

Still, there are some costs you just can’t get around – especially as your kids get bigger. If you need to fly your family of five to Orlando for a Disney trip and your kids are on the older side, you’ll have to pay for five plane tickets. And if you’re staying at an all-inclusive resort, you’ll need to pay a child supplement unless the property lets kids stay free.

And kids are just going to eat a lot – period. Pack snacks and bring a cooler for sure, but you’ll still pay out the nose.

Six Ways Rewards Credit Cards Can Make Family Travel Frugal

The...

A few months ago, I briefly wrote about how to download and read free books from Project Gutenberg on your phone, tablet, or computer. For those unaware, Project Gutenberg is a collection of books in the public domain, made available for convenient reading on digital devices completely for free. Here’s what I wrote:

The Project Gutenberg website isn’t too bad to navigate once you know a few tricks (it’s vastly improved from some of the earlier versions). My preferred way to find and read classic books from there is to visit their mobile site, http://m.gutenberg.org/, which has a very nice mobile interface. I prefer it to the desktop one by a large margin unless you’re actually at a computer with a huge screen and, honestly, even then, I still use the mobile site and just make my browser window small.

When visiting the site on mobile, you actually have a lot of options. Let’s say you’re looking at the mobile page for Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Essays. The easiest way to read immediately is to just click on the “HTML” link, which opens the book in your web browser and you can instantly start reading it by scrolling downwards. The full book is one giant HTML page.

A much better option, if you’re on your phone or a tablet, is to click on the “Kindle (with images)” link. If you have the free Amazon Kindle app on your phone or tablet already, you’ll...

Once upon a time, I had a very cognitively intense “nine to five” job – in truth, I worked from about 7:45 AM to about 4 PM many days – and, when work was over, there were many days in which I was completely mentally spent. Even on days when I didn’t feel that way, I could still tell that I was no longer on top of my game mentally.

On my route home, I passed by a number of businesses, but one that always tempted me was that bookstore. Once or twice a week, I’d stop at that bookstore on my way home, just driving into the lot and walking in there without any real conscious thought process involved in the decision.

Once I was in there, my brain would almost completely turn off in terms of good decision making. I’d find two or three books that looked interesting and walk them to the checkout almost in a daze, without really considering seriously whether I really wanted them or not or whether there was a better way to buy them or whether I should just go to the library.

This was ego depletion at work, which is a topic I’ve touched on before at The Simple Dollar. In the words of Wikipedia:

Ego depletion refers to the idea that self-control or willpower draws upon a limited pool of mental resources that can be used up. When the energy for mental activity is low, self-control is typically...

Several months ago, I made an offhand reference to the amazing article Escaping Poverty Requires Almost 20 Years of Nothing Going Wrong by Gillian White in The Atlantic. It was one of those articles that just hit me in the gut and significantly redirected my thinking. I found my mind slipping back again and again to the ideas in that article.

Last summer, I ended up reading the book The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy by Peter Temin, which is heavily referenced in the article. The book largely expands upon the issues in the article, which can be summed up as saying that the factors that put someone in an impoverished situation keep them in that impoverished situation.

I want to go over a few quotes in the article. First,

Temin identifies two types of workers in what he calls “the dual economy.” The first are skilled, tech-savvy workers and managers with college degrees and high salaries who are concentrated heavily in fields such as finance, technology, and electronics — hence his labeling it the “FTE sector.” They make up about 20 percent of the roughly 320 million people who live in America. The other group is the low-skilled workers, which he simply calls the “low-wage sector.”

Temin basically divides America into two groups based on the type of job they have. Does the job require significant personal skill and tech savvy, or does it require very few skills going in the door? That’s the key...

At the start of a new year, I always want to listen to a lot of new music. I’m a total sucker for the slew of “best album of the year” lists that drop every December. As I read them, I find myself making lists of artists and songs I’m excited to check out.

If you’re anything like me, you might be interested in trying out a streaming music service. The radio is great and all, but the lack of control is a big minus. There are now tons of great options for those of us who want a steady stream of new music that can be customized to our exact tastes.

Here are the five top options for streaming free music online today, along with the prices for each service’s premium offering. If you go premium, you unlock more features — the most important of which is that you don’t have to listen to advertisements.

Spotify

Best for: those who want the biggest selection, the smoothest interface, and also enjoy collaborating on playlists.

They’re the current market leader among streaming music services, and for good reason. They have the biggest selection of songs and the best user interface. As was the case when the iPhone burst onto the mobile phone scene, people are drawn to the service because it’s just downright intuitive.

They’re also quite good at recommending new music, as their “Discover Weekly” series gets great reviews. This is a feature where Spotify’s machine learning algorithm sends you a few songs you...

Ever since the start of the recent boom in free online college classes several years back, I have almost constantly been enrolled in or following at least one course, and often two or three at once.

Free online college classes are exactly what they sound like. A college simply records the lectures of a particular class and puts most of the materials for the class online for anyone to use for free. The catch, of course, is that they don’t actually advance you toward a degree; instead, they’re typically used for personal enrichment. Many courses offer the ability to pay a small fee in order to earn a certificate demonstrating that you successfully completed the course, which is nice and perhaps useful for a resume in a specific area, but most courses are available completely for free without a certificate.

My reasons for digging into these were straightforward. Sometimes, I dug into a class because it enabled me to gain a broad overview of a subject that I didn’t understand well, such as music theory. At other times, I dug into a class because it enabled me to start digging deeper into a few specific areas of personal interest, such as machine learning.

Along the way, I took some very good courses with instructors who did a great job of explaining topics and an abundance of materials online to read and follow. I also took some really awful courses with poorly recorded meandering lectures and no materials to help.

What follows are...

I remember the day we hired a housekeeper like it was yesterday. It was a Saturday and I should have been spending time with my kids. Instead, I was busy quietly mumbling and crying while I cleaned toilets, dusted blinds, and completed chores I’ve loathed for years.

I worked full-time then just as I do now, but I didn’t think we could afford to pay for bi-weekly or monthly housekeeping. I was also stubbornly resistant to the idea of paying someone to do work I could do myself. By cleaning my own house, I was saving at least $80 or $100 every two weeks.

But, on this particular day, I totally snapped. I was angry that I was cleaning while my family sat cozily on the sofa downstairs. I was angry at my husband for not helping, even though I knew deep down he was a hard-working man who deserved a day off, too. I was angry that, in addition to that weekend morning, I had already cleaned up a few times that week.

Most of all, I was just angry at my life. I worked too hard to spend my Saturdays scrubbing floors and cleaning counters, or at least I thought I did. And I was tired of doing the bulk of household chores just because no one else would.

Revelation #1: Maybe I Was the Problem

At one point on that particular day, I remember seething at my husband for playing UNO with the kids while I slaved away on our home upstairs. If I...

Over the years, I’ve written several different lists of inexpensive food staples with an eye towards looking for foods that are incredibly inexpensive and yet are flexible enough to go with lots of different meals and foods. I particularly like this one that focuses on foods sorted by cost per calorie.

However, I rarely go beyond that and actually talk about how to really use them at home to save money. Sure, you might know that it’s cheap to buy some of the items on this list, but transforming that into anything tasty, convenient, and meaningful in your kitchen is another story entirely. Particularly for people new to home cooking, a big bag of uncooked rice or a pile of fresh produce seems intimidating. What do you do with it?

Today, I want to talk about six inexpensive staples I actually use all the time at home and some of the simplest ways I know of to prepare them. I hope this guide will help you get started with making foods at home in an inexpensive way.

Rice

Rice is the most important grain in the world in terms of caloric intake, making up one fifth of the calories consumed by humans worldwide. For many, many people, it forms the backbone of their diet. Yet it’s often overlooked in America, which doesn’t have a major agricultural or culinary tradition centering around rice.

Yet, rice is an incredibly inexpensive and incredibly flexible food that works so well...

Businesses both small and large take on commercial debt as a way to finance projects, expand, or even to make payroll. Commercial credit cards are also popular among businesses due to the many conveniences and perks they offer.

But if you’re a small business owner who’s considering applying for commercial funding, there are a number of things you’ll want to consider before filling out any applications. While you’re researching the best rates and most attractive terms available, don’t forget to factor in the impact your new business account might have on your personal credit.

Business or Pleasure: Two Different Credit Reports

As a business owner, your company generally has credit reports that are separate from your personal credit reports. The three major business credit reporting agencies in the United States are Dun and Bradstreet, Experian (Business Credit), and Equifax (Business Credit), though there are others.

Of course, your business credit reports could be blank slates if you’ve never established commercial credit in your business name.

Business debts typically do not show up on your personal credit reports, because they aren’t personal debts. This is good news, since if those commercial debts did appear on your personal credit reports, they could lower your personal credit score and blow up your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. Either of these could make it more difficult for you to qualify for personal financing in the future, such as a mortgage or car loan.

However, there are certainly some exceptions to this rule, and sometimes commercial accounts do find their...

What’s inside? Here are the questions answered in today’s reader mailbag, boiled down to summaries of five or fewer words. Click on the number to jump straight down to the question.
1. Trailer home dilemma
2. Rolling annuity into IRA
3. Political encouragement
4. When to replace rechargeable batteries
5. Upgrading electronic devices
6. Maintaining electronic devices
7. Mobile device security
8. Dave Ramsey and his courses
9. Buying house with temp job
10. Small car for commuting
11. Seasonal affective disorder advice
12. Wedding advice

One of the most consistent problems I’ve found in my life – something that is also a pretty big inherent flaw in myself – is that the instincts I have in the moment don’t always line up with the best intentioned conscious plans that I have in my head.

If I give something a lot of rational thought outside of the heat of the moment, I’ll often recognize that certain behaviors and choices are really what’s best for me in the long run. In fact, it often seems obvious.

Then, in the heat of the moment when I am faced with a choice regarding that aspect of my life, I don’t always make the choice that is consciously the best one for me. Usually, this comes in the form of a short term desire subverting a long term desire or need (or, as my wife likes to call them, cookies).

The...