Should you travel in your 20s?

When my mom was in her early 20s, she took a few months to travel abroad with a few of her college friends. I wouldn't call it an around-the-world trip since they only visited a few regions, but I would call it amazing.

So amazing, in fact, that my mom shared numerous stories of her travels with me as I was growing up. I remember those stories well. At the time, it all sounded so exotic, so mysterious. To this day, she even has the letters she sent her parents from abroad, many of which share vivid details of what it was like to travel internationally some 45 years ago. My mom grew up poor -- with seven kids in a two-bedroom household -- so you can imagine how thrilling it must have been for her to fly overseas and experience other worlds.

Fast forward 30 years and I was intent on traveling much like my mother did. But then life happened. I spent my 20s busy with school and my social life and then, all of a sudden, I wound up married with a good job, a house, and more than enough responsibility. Kids followed shortly thereafter and, consequently, the thought of travel became the furthest thing from my mind.

Continue reading...
More about...Travel

How to dispute credit card charges

According to a 2013 Nilson report, credit and debit card fraud were the cause of over $11.2 billion in losses in 2012. And if you think that sounds bad, just wait; it's expected to get much worse.

As USA Today reported last year, hackers and scammers have turned stealing credit card numbers into an art form. By focusing on major retailers such as P.F. Chang's, Target, and Home Depot, they can score thousands of credit card numbers in one fell swoop -- numbers that are then packaged and resold for a profit.

And stolen credit card numbers aren't as cheap as one might think; they often pull in big profits. According to Neal O'Farrell, founder of the non-profit Identity Theft Council, stolen numbers are often sold for $120.

Continue reading...
More about...Banking, Credit

Best way to redeem travel points: Why hoarding points is a bad investment

For most people, pursuing credit card rewards is a game of cat and mouse. You keep a watchful eye on your credit score, seek out the best offers, and strike when the iron is hot.

But that is just one component of the hobby; the other part of the equation is that it can be extremely exciting to watch your point balances climb. Obviously, the more credit card rewards offers you sign up for, the more sign-up bonuses you earn, and the more spending you complete over time, the more points you accumulate.

If you love to save like I do, it can be tempting to do the same with your points and miles and hoard them in the same fashion as you would your monthly paycheck. But there are a number of reasons why you shouldn't treat your airline miles and hotel points like cash in the bank. Here are a few:

Continue reading...
More about...Travel

Wedding savings accounts: How I saved for my wedding

When my husband proposed to me on July 10th, 2005, I was ecstatic. In fact, I'm pretty sure I screeched "Yeeeeeeeeessssssssssssssssssssssssss" before he could even pull the ring out of his pocket.

Our plan was to move into the little apartment above his work -- it was part of his compensation package -- then get married the following summer. Unfortunately (fortunately?), a few of the older ladies in the company didn't like the idea of an unmarried couple living together, and they ended up changing the terms so we couldn't both live there until we were married.

I was crushed ... until, of course, my mom suggested something novel. "Get married this winter," she said. "Why not?"

Continue reading...
More about...Banking

Do credit card rewards count as taxable income?

Over the past 12 months, I have used credit card rewards to finance the bulk of our trips to Jamaica, Las Vegas, Denver, New Orleans, London, Paris, and St. Maarten. And in the process, I've also cashed in a five-figure sum of hotel loyalty points, airline miles and rewards. Of course, I blame part of this on my love of family travel, but it also has to do with how I make a living. Since I'm a points-and-miles blogger for Frugal Travel Guy, it would be pretty weird if I never went anywhere.

Aside from the questions I hear about earning points and miles and booking award travel, I get a lot of questions on the financial aspects of these trips. Are credit card rewards counted as taxable income? How about bank bonuses? If the fine print isn't all that specific, how can I tell?

Are Bank Bonuses Taxable?

We've all gotten at least one of these offers in the mail. They say something like, "Open a new savings account with XY Bank and receive a $300 bonus after setting up direct deposit" or "Earn a $250 bonus after making 10 qualifying transactions with your bank debit card."

Continue reading...
More about...Credit, Taxes

Get a good workout without a gym membership

Recently, my sister and I were discussing our love/hate relationships with exercise when she told me something that struck me as funny. Apparently, she has trouble convincing herself to jog as long as she should, so she devised a plan.

"When I know I'm not very motivated, I'll have my husband get in the car and drop me off a few miles from home," she said with a snicker.

Once dropped off, she had no choice but to push through whatever issues she was trying to overcome that day, she explained.

Continue reading...
More about...Health & Fitness, Budgeting, Frugality

What can I do with the gift cards I don’t want?

Chances are, you'll get at least one gift card for Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa this year -- whether you like it or not. If you are lucky, your card might be something you could use right away -- like an Amazon gift card or one for your favorite store. But you might not be that lucky. You might end up with a gift card to a store or restaurant you unquestionably dislike. Even worse, you might get an inexpensive gift card to a place where nothing is cheap -- like a $10 gift card to a restaurant where entrees start at $19. Those are the worst.

Fortunately, there are a few ways to get the most out of the gift cards you receive, whether it involves trading them, selling them, or maximizing their benefits.


Here are some gift card strategies everyone can use:

Continue reading...
More about...Shopping

Is living without credit cards the best way to stay out of debt?

Americans might be more responsible now than they were in the early 2000s when it comes to the use of credit. At least, that's what the evidence from a Gallup poll taken earlier this year seems to suggest.

The Gallup poll, which was based on random telephone interviews with 1,026 adults, shows that a full 48 percent claim to pay their credit card balances in full when the bill comes due. Not surprisingly, the opposite group, those who carried a balance each month, came in at a record low percentage since Gallup began recording this metric in 2001.

But the poll went further to reveal more about the secret lives of credit card users in the United States, and how the use of credit affected overall debt levels. For example, it showed that the average American carries 2.6 credit cards on average, but the figure jumps to 3.7 when you remove those who don't carry a credit card at all from the equation. Furthermore, the average American carried $2,426 in credit card debt when this poll was taken. However, exclude those without a credit card and the figure quickly jumps to $3,573. So, what does this mean?

Continue reading...
More about...Planning, Credit

Can getting one month ahead save your budget?

There are usually ways to save money each month -- believe it or not.

For instance, once upon a time, my husband and I were pretty clueless when it came to how we spent the money we earned at our 9 to 5 jobs. We made a decent income but struggled to keep track of where it was all going and, more importantly, why it always managed to disappear into thin air. I won't bore you with the details again, but we ultimately discovered that we were spending ridiculous sums of cash on groceries and eating out, home repairs, and miscellaneous frivolous purchases. But how did we find that out? Now, that is the interesting part.

Using a Zero-Sum Budget

Once we decided that we needed to make a change, we poured through bank statements from previous months and began tracking our current spending. This led to a plethora or discoveries -- including the realization that we were eating out more than we were eating at home and were much deeper in debt than we knew. Still, we kept digging through data and strategizing a plan for debt repayment and escape. However, as we put all of our efforts into figuring out how to create some sort of budget, I realized something. Our incomes were fluctuating -- a lot. With that juicy detail in mind, we talked endlessly about what we were going to do about it. After all, how could we budget without knowing how much money we would make in any given month? And how could we create a plan of action when the most crucial piece of data (our income) was missing? My light-bulb moment came when it dawned on me that, instead of budgeting on this month's income, we could build a budget based on what we earned last month instead.

Continue reading...
More about...Budgeting

Buying rental property: Sometimes getting rich means taking it slowly

I have two second cousins who serve in the military -- both brave young men I am proud to call my family. We don't always talk much, though. The age gap can be a roadblock and those boys are always traveling around, serving overseas and living on bases in order to fulfill their military duties and finish school.

Still, social media makes it easier than it used to be, and emails are a quick and painless way to stay in touch. So I wasn't surprised to receive an email from my cousin, Michael, asking for advice on his future financial goals.

So, what's the deal? As part of his military compensation, Michael will soon start receiving $2,124 per month for housing and wanted ideas on how to parlay that money into long-term wealth.

Continue reading...
More about...Planning, Home & Garden, Investing