Categories
Financial Independence

We Joined the Mr. Money Mustache Cult!

We have been looking for guidance, looking for a guru and, finally, we found him. He was right in front of us all along.

 

Mr. Money Mustache, our frugal leader.

Our majestic FIRE king.

We all bow to the supreme badassity emperor.

We are the Mustachians!

 

Our charismatic leader; Mr. Money Mustache

Mr. Money Mustache has increasingly become an object of worship for us. Throughout the years, Pete Adeney Aka, Mr. Money Mustache has guided millions out of financial mediocrity. His devotion to help and spread the good word has had drastic effects on the masses and has reached about 1 in 200 Americans.

 

People think of a cult as a bad thing, because they’re thinking of Waco, Texas and Kool-aid, but, really, it’s just a social organization structure which is a basic built-in thing to human beings, and it’s what allows us to live together and cooperate. – Pete Adeney Aka, Mr. Money Mustache.

 

Our majestic leader has three major goals:

  1. To make you rich so you can retire early.
  2. To make you happy so you can properly enjoy your early retirement.
  3. To save the whole Human Race from destroying itself through overconsumption of its habitat.

 

Our manuscripts

JL Collins Simple path to wealthFrom the historic manuscripts by MMM – to the investment bible by JL Collins – to the community scriptures from the Boggleheads,  Mustachians have plenty of teachings to read through. The beauty of our cult is that, although very simple concepts are preached, one can go deep into minute details and optimize his lifestyle to the last little facet.

 

Our process

The coercive persuasion of our supreme leader had us reduce our spending, save over half of our income, and enjoy the simple things in life. Based on the ancient principles of Stoicism, he enlightened us on the detriments of living an overly-materialistic life and helped us focus on freedom and happiness instead.

 

Wealth. Freedom. Self-actualization. Learning. Generosity.

 

By depriving ourselves, living way under our means, we are able to save a large portion of our income and invest towards our financial freedom. We, Mustachians, value material things less and avoid Hedonic Adaptation to optimize our happiness.

 

A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone. –Old-time Mustachian H.D. Thoreau, 1817-1862 

 

Here we stand.

Riding our bikes through town, rain or not.

Living on the border of poverty, saving towards the million.

 

How to follow Mr Money Mustache Principles

 

Oh! And happy April Fools everyone.

Mr. Money Mustache is not a cult. It is in no way brainwashing or pushing certain beliefs but it is an amazing resource and Pete has shared great thoughts and concepts over the years. He is far from a manipulative cult leader. His fans may be vocal and adamant but it is only with the best intentions.

In our case, we do follow a few key principles shared by Pete and adapted a few others to our own situation.

 

The bikes

First of all, riding your bike everywhere in town is one of the teachings of MMM. He is a strong proponent of the car-free lifestyle – combining bikes and bike trailers, with car sharing, carpooling, rentals, and Uber/Lyft rides – even if he recently bought one himself.

For us, living car-free sounds like a great idea but it is not nearly as practical. Even living in the city, we greatly enjoy the outdoors and like to drive out to mountains, national parks, and explore our country. We currently own two cars, which we bought used, and could live with one.

We currently live close to work and only drive long distances for activities which bring us happiness. Of course, we still own bikes, bicycles are fun.

 

Living under $30,000

Pete and his family live on a small budget, nearing under 30 thousand dollars every year. Quickly glancing at our $50,000+ spending it seems like we are burning through the dollar bills like fire. However, Pete does not have a mortgage. If we deduct the $18,000+ we send away in mortgage payments, we come out much closer to his yearly budget.

He is doing a great job and his frugality has definitively inspired us to cut down our spending. Over the last few years, we saved tens of thousands by simply living a simpler life and detaching ourselves from materialistic possessions.

 

The rule of free

Once early retired, MMM shares that most of us will continue to generate some sort of income and will continue to be productive. Reaching financial freedom is simply a tool to quit working on the boring things and start working on things you truly enjoy and makes the world a better place.

 

I try to make all spending decisions as if the price were $0.00

And I make all work and income decisions as if the wage were $0.00

Pete

 

Once you have saved away enough to sustain your lifestyle indefinitely, there is no more need to endure the office politics or slowly die in your hour-long commute.

You are free to pursue projects you enjoy, even if they do not generate any income.

This is exactly how we plan to spend our retirement once we reach our number. We are currently pursuing a few side-hustles and hobbies but would like to devote more time to them if we did not have the 9 to 5.

 

Your debt is an emergency

Finally, one more thing Pete advocates is the urgency of paying down debt. We discussed this topic before and truly believe living a debt-free life is possible, accessible, and will benefit anyone who tries to do it. Consumer debt is a huge problem in America and, while more and more people take on debt, we are trying to pay off every last penny we owe.

 

The interest savings could also be used to shave decades off of your mandatory working career. – Pete

 

At this point, we do not hold any debt, except for our mortgage. We are currently doing accelerated payments to pay it off as soon as possible but we are still focusing on investment contributions since the interest rates are at all-time lows.

We hope you are having a wonderful Easter and if you did not know about them yet, check out the Mustachians cult. 😛

 

 

Categories
Traveling

Flying Around the World on Points for Free!

We finally took the plunge.

Last week, we booked our biggest and longest trip ever! It has been a few months we are thinking of this and hinted about it previously in a few articles but now it is official, we used our travel hacking know-how to fly around the world with our little baby girl in less than five months.

All-in-all, we will explore seven countries, over three continents, spanning through a five-month period. To start, we are flying to British Columbia, Canada, to see family out east and explore the coast.

Then, flying to Zurich, Switzerland, and exploring parts of Germany, Austria, and Italy by land. Afterward, we will fly to Bangkok, Thailand and explore Northern Thailand for a month before flying to the South.

Finally, we are hopping on a flight to Tokyo, Japan, for a little week of city-fun before heading back home. For simplicity, all dollar amounts will be shown in Canadian Dollars.

 

Cheap around the world trip

 

First Stop: British Columbia, Canada

We begin our journey in August to British Columbia, Canada, where we will land in Victoria and, from there, drive around the coast of BC. We will start with a few spots around Victoria before taking the ferry to Vancouver. From there, we want to explore the Garibaldi and Gold Ears Provincial Parks and stop by a friend’s place near Gibsons. Including time we will stay with family, we will stay a total of 28 days in BC.

 

Planning an around the world trip

 

For the flights, we booked with rewards points through Aeroplan. Looking through Google Flights, the cheapest direct flight that matched our dates was $1628 for two plus an infant.

 

Flight to BC with Aeroplan

 

Knowing this, we then compared the price when using Aeroplan rewards instead of paying for the flight directly. In the end, we ended up saving over $1,250 on our flights by using rewards and still managed to get direct flights.

The beauty of Aeroplan is that it allows you to book flights through all of the 27 airlines in the Star Alliance.

This flexibility is the secret to our success.

Unfortunately, 9 of these airlines charge carrier surcharge. Whenever you purchase a ticket, you can notice taxes and a charge for YQ, those are carrier surcharge.

 

How to fly for free

 

When booking our rewards flights, we always try to avoid these airlines since booking through them adds hundreds of dollars to the total cost of our tickets.

 

Airlines with low carrier surcharges

  • Air New Zealand
  • LOT
  • TAP

Airlines with the highest carrier surcharges

  • Air Canada
  • ANA
  • Asiana Airlines
  • Austrian
  • Lufthansa
  • Thai Airways

 

This makes a stunning difference when booking international flights. Booking our flight to Zurich through Air Canada, for example, would have added over $600 to the bill.

However, sometimes we do not have any other options and need to book through expensive airlines. For this flight to BC, we booked a round trip flight with Air Canada since they are the only Star Alliance partner to fly within Canada. The surcharges were minimal ($84 per person) so the total bill, for us three, ended up being $376.40 Canadian.

 

Redemption details Miles Amount $
Total for 2 Adults – Economy 50,000
Infant – Economy $50.00
Carrier Surcharge $168.00
Taxes and Airport Fees $158
Subtotal 50,000 $376

 

For this flight, our total cost was $376 plus 50,000 Aeroplan points. Counting the total return per point, we saved 2,5¢ per point, which is a pretty good redemption for seats in Economy class.

 

$1251 Saved on flights  ÷  50,000 points redeemed  =  $0.02502 per point

 

To put this in perspective, 50,000 points is the equivalent to a single sign-up bonus we received for signing up for an American Express card. With a single credit card, we were able to accumulate enough points for a trip for three, saving us $1,250.

 

Find your card today and start earning those SWEET miles!

 

For accommodations, we will mainly be staying with friends and family but there are a few nights we wish to stay in Vancouver which we will book through Airbnb or with our SPG rewards.  If you would have any recommendations for us, leave it in a comment below.

 

Second Stop: Europe

For the following three stops we booked a multi-city flight through Aeroplan which allows two separate stops (in our case, Zurich, and Bangkok), plus a stopover (in our case, Tokyo).

 

How to fly to Europe for free

 

Looking up the same flights, the cheapest direct flight that matched our dates was $8587 for two plus an infant. There was also an option with a layover in Iceland for $5962 but this would add a few hours to our trip.

 

Aeroplan booking travel hacking

 

Seeing this, we knew from the getgo that this would end up being an amazing redemption. Aeroplan charged us a total of 90,000 points and for these flights and $0 in carrier surcharge so we ended up paying $454.00 after all taxes and fees.

 

 Redemption details Miles Amount $
Total for 2 Adults – Economy 180,000
Infant – Economy $50.00
Taxes and Airport Fees $404.00
Subtotal $454.00

 

For these flights, our total cost was $454.00 plus 180,000 Aeroplan points. Counting the total return per point, we saved 4,5¢ per point, which is an amazing redemption!!!

 

$8133 Saved on flights  ÷  180,000 points redeemed  =  $0.04518 per point

 

Alternatively, even if we compared the non-direct flights priced at $5962, we would still save over 3¢ per point.

 

$5508 Saved on flights  ÷  180,000 points redeemed  =  $0.03060 per point

 

To put this in perspective, this would value a single sign-up bonus from American Express to over $2,250!!! Pretty amazing value if you ask me.

Sheraton Zurich

So this covers all our flights starting from Montreal to Zurich, then Zurich to Bangkok, Bangkok to Tokyo, and finally, Tokyo to Montreal. These are all direct to minimize time wasted in airports and optimize comfort.

Once we land in Zurich, we are staying 5 nights at the Sheraton Zurich Hotel for free using our SPG rewards points. This is where travel hacking becomes interesting!

The going rate for our dates was $483 per night, which is expected for a 4-star hotel in Switzerland, but there was no way we could afford to stay for so long if it wasn’t for SPG rewards. Our total redemption for these 5 days was 40,000 SPG points, deeming the total value to be over 6¢ per point. This is a particularly amazing redemption given that SPG points are usually valued between 2¢ and 3¢ per point.

 

$2415 Saved on hotels  ÷  40,000 points redeemed  =  $0.06037 per point

 

SPG free night redemptions  Amazing hotel spaHow to stay in hotels for freeFour Points by Sheraton Panoramahaus Dornbirn

 

We are then taking a train to Dornbirn in the Austrian state of Vorarlberg where we will be staying 6 days at the Four Points by Sheraton Panoramahaus Dornbirn for a total redemption of 35,000 points. This stay would have cost $180 per night, deeming the total value to be over 3¢ per point.

 

$1080 Saved on hotels  ÷  35,000 points redeemed  =  $0.03086 per point

 

Four points Sheraton BolzanoFour Points by Sheraton Bolzano

 

Afterward, we are heading to Bolzano in northern Italy. Staying 5 days at the Four Points by Sheraton Bolzano for a total redemption of 19,000 points. This stay would have cost $196 per night, deeming the total value to be over 5¢ per point.

 

$980 Saved on hotels  ÷  19,000 points redeemed  =  $0.05158 per point

 

AC hotel Padova by Marriott

From there, we are taking another train to Padova. We want to explore Venice and the AC Hotel Marriott Padova offered a great redemption while neighboring Venice city. Since this hotel was more than half the price as the ones in Venice, we will take the train or rent a car to explore the city while staying in Padova. This hotel would have cost $183 per night but we used 20,000 SPG points for 5 nights instead. This brings up the value of this redemption to over 4.5¢ per point.

 

$915 Saved on hotels  ÷  20,000 points redeemed  =  $0.04575 per point

 

Find your card today and start earning those SWEET miles!

 

The Westin Grand MunichThe Westin Grand Munich

 

Our next stop will be Munich, Germany. From there, we will be able to explore a lot of the city and do a few excursions in the neighboring towns. We booked 5 nights at the amazing Westin Grand Munich for 40,000 points. Given that this hotel goes for a whopping $635 per night, we are saving a ton of money on this redemption. This is our best redemption so far with a value of over 7.9¢ per point.

 

$3,175 Saved on hotels  ÷  40,000 points redeemed  =  $0.07937 per point

 

Finally, we are coming back to Zurich to catch our next flight and staying another few nights at the Sheraton Zurich Hotel. All-in-all, we are spending a full month in Europe, where accommodation prices are often exorbitant, and paying a total of $0 for our whole stay!

 

Third Stop: Bangkok, Thailand

By mid-October, we are flying to Thailand for a two-month stay in this South-East Asian paradise. We are landing in Bangkok but will be starting our journey with a month in Chiang Mai, a beautiful city in mountainous northern Thailand.

 

 

We cannot wait to explore the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. This 700 years old temple stands at the heights of Doi Suthep mountain. Then, we would like to checkout the Doi Inthanon National Park (pictured above). There are so many things to do in, and around, this small city!

We are planning to rent an apartment in Chiang Mai for a whole month before flying down south to the magnificent beaches of Thailand.

 

Rewards points travel

 

Once down south, we are thinking of staying around Krabi, Ko Lanta, or maybe Ko Phi Phi. We have not yet decided on the exact spots we want to visit, as long as it has sandy beaches and endless amounts of Pad Thai, we will be happy.

 

Marriott Hotel in Thailand Marriott Hotel in Thailand

 

There are a few, super nice, 5-star Marriott hotels in Rayong, Phuket, and Pattaya which are affordable. They are all under 10,000 SPG points per night so we might stay a week or two there. Otherwise, we will simply pay for a local hotel or an Airbnb. If you would have some suggestions for us, please leave us a comment below.

 

Fourth Stop: Tokyo, Japan

Finally, our last stop in this around-the-world trip is Japan. We are taking a direct flight from Bangkok to Tokyo. Then, will be exploring the city by metro or train for a total of 5 days. For accommodations, we booked our stay with Airbnb right in between the Minato and Shibuya districts. It is a great, central, location to explore the National Art Center, Tsukiji Market, or the amazing downtown of Tokyo.

 

Tokyo flight plan

 

To conclude, we will explore seven countries; Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Italy, Thailand, and Japan over a 5-month span. We are just starting to plan this amazing trip and are trying, as much as we can, to use travel hacking to our benefit to minimize our costs.

With the flight and hotel bookings we made so far, we are saving $17,949 by using rewards points! We are still planning a few hotel redemptions so we might get up to $20,000 in savings by the time we finalize everything.

For now, we are very grateful and cannot wait to fly off!

Mr. and Mrs. Xyz

 

 

Categories
Investing

Personal Capital vs Mint – Honest Review

There are a few options if you want to start tracking your spending and investments. You could always write things down on paper or start an Excel spreadsheet and track everything manually. However, this method has its complications.

  1. How to keep a proper budgetFirst of all, it is very time-consuming,
  2. secondly, it is too easy to forget things,
  3. and lastly, you then need to constantly update it manually if you want to keep an accurate representation.

Even if you get everything right and don’t forget anything, you will need to go back to it every month just to keep it up to date. I can easily think of better things to do with my time and I am sure you can too!

 

Investment Tracking SpreadsheetYou can easily see how this can get out of hand…

 

Thankfully, there are better options out there!  Two of the most popular web-based personal finance trackers out there are Personal Capital and Mint.

They offer similar services, but they each specialize in key areas. On one hand, Mint offers great budgeting tools, automatically tracks your expenses pretty accurately. It can help you track all your accounts under one simple dashboard.

On the other hand, Personal Capital offers hyper-accurate expense and income tracking and aggregates all of your accounts on one page but also offers one of the best retirement calculator and tracking tool available, focuses on investments with top-of-the-line portfolio management tools, and offers advisory and wealth management services. Another huge plus is that, although both services are absolutely free to use, Personal Capital does not run on ads.

 

Personal Capital vs Mint

Mint tool review

Mint is a free web service to aggregate all of your financial accounts, including bank accounts, investment accounts, credit cards and other loans.

Once you completed the integration, Mint will automatically track your income and expenses and alert you when things are out of your normal activity. They offer a great tool to see your entire financial situation in one glance.

The sign-up process is extremely simple, all you need is a valid email address and a strong password and you are up and going! You can then link your bank accounts, credit cards, and investment accounts, and then they will update in real time.

Their bill reminders are pretty useful and email alerts let you stay on top of your finances. Alerts will be sent when there is a large purchase, an upcoming bill payment, late fees, loan rate changes, and when you may be in danger of going over your budget.

Mint.com`s strong suit is their budgeting platform. Once you sync your accounts and transactions, it will automatically sort them into appropriate categories going forward. Below, you can see how our transactions automatically got assigned to specific categories. This gets really useful once you want to create a budget or simply track your spending.

 

Mint Alternatives

 

For any transaction which does not get sorted properly (which can happen a lot with Mint) you can go select the proper category manually. Personal Capital offers the same thing, however, it has much fewer reported synchronization issues. They use a different aggregator (Yodlee) and it runs much smoother.

 

Proper budget with Mint

 

Our annual Spending

Once all of your transactions are properly categorized, you can then budget (planning future expenses). Another option is to look at your spending trends (looking into the past expenses). We prefer looking at trends to discover where we can do better rather than imagining a budget and trying to follow it.

What is better than a budgetIt is never fun to plan a budget and see how miserably

you failed only halfway through the month…

 

Another useful tool on the Mint application is goal-setting. This can include saving money for specific purposes like college, retirement, a vacation, or paying off debt. Personal Capital also offers a goal-setting tool which goes even more in depth.

 

Mint Goals

 

Mint’s business model is to recommend new products and, hopefully, make you save on credit cards, investing, insurance and loans. However, we have found these suggestions to be irrelevant to our situation and clearly just advertising.

 

How to get free credit score

 

Other cool features Mint offers are credit score monitoring and bill payments. You can pay bills directly in the app and never be late on a payment again. What is nice about their credit score monitoring service is that it even shows you the impacting factors, and how to use them to improve your score.

 

Pluses of Personal Capital

Personal Capital offers free tools to aggregate your finances and help you track and master your money. Once you have signed-up, simply link your investing, savings, checking, credit cards and other loan accounts and let it do its magic.

Where Mint excels at budgets, Personal Capital excels at wealth management tools. Their focus on investments is what makes them, according to the many awards they have won, one of the best financial tools currently on the market.

The sign-up process for Personal Capital is free and super simple. All you need is a valid email address and a strong password and you are up and going! You can then link your bank accounts, credit cards, and investment accounts, and then they will update in real time. However, they do not offer tools for Canadian yet.

 

Personal Capital vs Mint

 

They have a growing community and their support staff is very responsive. Unlike Mint, Personal Capital offers quick responses to any questions you might have. They are very responsive and usually fixes issues under 24h.

Just like with Mint, you can easily track your income and expenses with Personal Capital and create a budget. Their spending tool allows you to monitor your spending habits and adjust your lifestyle to achieve your goals.

 

personal capital spending tracking

 

On that note, their goal setting tool is great to forecast planned spending events.  The functionalities are pretty similar to Mint but they go more in-depth in the execution. Their array of tools actually guide you towards your goals rather than simply tracking them.

 

Goal setting in Personal Capital

 

Made by investors, for investors

Unlike Mint, they analyze your investments and can tell if you are on track. Using their retirement planner, for example, helps determine your ideal asset allocation and lets you play around with different scenarios.

Using real data and Monte Carlo simulations they estimate realistic financial scenarios for your retirement. If you have a 401(k), they can also analyze it to make sure you are not overpaying in fees and that you are in line with your risk tolerance.

 

Free retirement planning advice

 

Personal Capital determines your risk tolerance, life’s goals and personal preferences to determine how much risk to incorporate into your investment portfolio.

 

 

One of our favorite features is their fee analyzer which helps you look at your portfolio holistically. This makes is much easier to see if you are overpaying.

 

Investment fee calculator

 

Their focus on investments really makes it the best platform available for DIY investors like us. It even automatically analyzes your current portfolio and compares it to an ideal target allocation designed to maximize your returns while minimizing risk. Pairing this with their fee analyzer is a great way to build a strong portfolio in line with your goals.

 

Free asset allocation analyser

 

For a quicker view, their dashboard is a great way to glance at your portfolio and follow your asset allocation.

Using all these free tools, you can manage the risk and fees of your portfolio but if you are looking for a more hands-off approach Personal Capital’s Wealth Management program can take direct control of your investment portfolio and an investment advisor can actively manage everything for you.

They mainly invest in broadly-diversified ETFs supplemented by a portfolio of stocks to benefit from tax loss harvesting strategies to minimize the negative impact of income taxes.

 

Proper asset-allocation

 

Personal Capital is in line with our values

Personal Capital recently announced a new service that caught my eye. If you are using their robo-advisor, you can now choose their Socially Responsible Personal Strategy® portfolio which focuses on sustainable investments.

 

There has been a surge of investor interest in aligning their money with their values. –  Craig Birk, Executive Vice President of Portfolio Management at Personal Capital.

 

Their investment methodology screens U.S. equity holdings based on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors to find best-in-class companies in each domestic peer group. Ratings are provided by Sustainalytics, a global leader in ESG and corporate governance research with a history spanning 25 years.

Just like with any of their portfolios, the socially responsible component of Personal Strategy® portfolios will be managed with automation and investing tools including; tax loss harvesting, tax location, rebalancing and fully transparent reporting.

 

 

You can even exclude any stock or sector you do not want to hold and customize your automatic portfolio. This is a really cool feature if you want to exclude certain companies that might be green or ethical but still not in line with your values. We explored this topic before and having this customizable portfolio really helps.

 

We’re excited to give our clients the ability to select a personalized socially responsible investment strategy with our signature promise of a single flat fee as an alternative to paying high fees for an actively-managed portfolio or a tax-inefficient mutual fund. – Craig Birk

 

What others are saying about Personal Capital

 

Business Insider feature

Business Insider calls it; “an excellent robo advisor for its target audience of high net worth investors.”

 

Should I download Personal CapitalSam from the Financial Samurai shares; “It’s my belief that Personal Capital is hands down the best free financial tools you can find online to help manage your finances and achieve a more secure retirement. I’ve tried everything from Excel, to Mint, a plethora of other financial apps, and nothing comes close to Personal Capital’s tools.”

 

Mr Money Mustache review

Pete from Mr. Money Mustache tried it and admitted; “After five months of skepticism and trial, I have to reluctantly admit that this company is a worthwhile addition to the modern financial landscape.

While not a clear win over Mint in all areas, I feel that Personal Capital is a much better investment monitor, and works as an interactive teacher in that area as well.”

 

Jeff Rose Good Financial CentsJeff Rose from Good Financial Cents compares Mint to Personal Capital and mentions; “if your primary emphasis is on budgeting and monitoring your credit, then Mint is the clear winner. But if you’re looking primarily for investment expertise and management, then Personal Capital should get the nod. This is especially true for high net worth individuals, who may be particularly interested in wealth management, private banking services, tax optimization and estate planning.”

 

J money reviewJ. Money over at Budgets Are Sexy shares;

“I stumbled into this amazing tool over a year ago and I find myself using it almost every day.”

 

The Mad FientistMad fientist thoughts on Personal Capital free asset management says; “For years, I’ve used Mint.com to track and categorize my spending. Since Mint is primarily a budgeting tool, it works great for those purposes but it isn’t as great for portfolio management. I’ve been searching for a better investment management tool for a long time and a few weeks ago, I finally found one – Personal Capital”

 

Jim Wang reviewJim Wang over at Wallet Hacks agrees with us that; “Personal Capital is better than Mint if you are focused more on investing than budgeting. If you’re looking for a budgeting tool, Mint is better.  [..] Personal Capital was built as a tool to facilitate long-term planning and investing, with budgeting tools added later.”

 

David Weliver Financial App ReviewDavid Weliver from Money Under 30 mentions; “Over the years, I’ve used and tested dozens of different personal finance apps, but most lose their novelty after a while. I keep coming back to Personal Capital because it’s the one program I’ve found that gives me insight into my entire investing portfolio, which is spread across several different brokers.”

 

GCC budget app reviewJeremy from Go Curry Cracker shares; “After 20+ years of practice and experience, I now rely primarily on Personal Capital to do it all for me. It does everything that my old spreadsheet did in a fraction of the time. It’s great… plus, you know… free.”

 

Joe Retire by 40Joe from Retire by 40 says; “They are bringing financial planning to the masses through their website.” And thinks; “this will help many regular people who are unsure about financial advisors to understand financial planning better. The main website and portfolio analysis tools are free which is awesome for most of us.”

 

NerdWalletNerdwallet budgeting app review praises Personal Capital’s free tools and rates them service a 4 out of 5.

“Personal Capital targets high-balance clients by offering a service that combines robo-advisor algorithms with human advisors. [..] Separate from its managed accounts service, Personal Capital also offers a slew of financial and investment planning tools that are completely free. Users can link their existing accounts and track spending, net worth, portfolio performance, retirement progress and fees.”

 

The verdict

All-in-all, we think Personal Capital is everything we could have dreamed of. They do offer pretty much the same features as Mint, but with the investment tools cranked up to the max. On a fun-to-boring scale, their service is right up there with ice cream and hula-hoops.

OK, maybe not that fun but give it a try, it’s free!

 

SIGN UP FOR FREE TO PERSONAL CAPITAL

 

 

Categories
Budgeting Investing

Our Investment Portfolio Example and Spending

A lot has changed over the past 12-months. Mainly; Mrs. got pregnant, we started investing in cryptocurrencies, and planned for a long-term leave from work that will start really soon. In this update, we will share our latest portfolio strategies and our spending for the previous year.

We built our own investment portfolio but if you are looking for a more hands-off approach, we suggest Wealthsimple.

Given everything that is coming up soon and the slight changes in income that will follow, we beefed up our emergency fund and are holding most of our investments in non-restricted accounts to be able to withdraw if needed.

By holding most of our investible assets into TFSAs (Roth IRAs) we benefit from tax-free growth and do not have to pay any taxes on the dividends we receive. The best thing is that we can withdraw any amount at any time, tax- and penalty-free.

 

What does our investment portfolio look like?

Currently, we are each holding our targeted asset allocation and do not plan to withdraw anytime soon but still like to have the option.

For Mr., we try to keep a portfolio holding in 40% American stock market, 30% in the Canadian stock market, 25% in international equities, and 5% in bonds.

For Mrs., we try to keep a portfolio holding in 40% American stock market, 30% in the Canadian stock market, 25% in international equities, and 5% in bonds. Within these, we include small play money investments such as cryptocurrencies in our American allocation and more recently, a cannabis index fund in our Canadian allocation.

 

Below is a breakdown of my whole portfolio, as of February 25th, 2018:

VTI ♦ 28% of my total portfolio is invested in the Vanguard Total Market ETF. I did not contribute any more money to the U.S. Total Market since our last installment in the series so my allocation actually dropped from 31% to 28%. In addition, the American market has also dropped considerably this month so I am not surprised my allocation is lesser now.

VCN ♦ 22% of my total portfolio is invested in the Vanguard FTSE Canada All Cap Index ETF. This fund also dropped considerably since the beginning of the year. Both sides of the border got hit pretty bad lately but we are not worried about our long-term prospects. We are investing for decades to come and daily movements are the last of our worries.

VWO ♦ 13% of my total portfolio is invested in the Vanguard FTSE Emerging Markets ETF. This fund performed well in the past few months, keeping our allocation steady since our last installment.

ETH ♦ 6% of my total portfolio is invested in cryptocurrencies and tokens such as Litecoins and Etherium. I started investing in cryptocurrencies with only 3% of my portfolio but this quickly grew to 8% of my total asset allocation. Even after the large swings we saw in January, my crypto portfolio is up almost 200% since last November. It now constitutes 6% of my asset allocation.

&&& ♦ 6% of my total portfolio is invested in my Employee stock option. Since this is my current employer, I will not share the ticker symbol or name of this holding. I have set up an automatic investment plan with my employer and they offer a 50% match so I went for the maximum contribution allowed.

VBR ♦ 6% of my total portfolio is invested in the Vanguard Small-Cap Value ETF. This is a purchase I have made a bit more than a year ago to tilt my portfolio towards small-caps. It worked out great so far and even if it does fluctuate more than the S&P 500, for example, it does grow over the long-term. I have not made any new contributions to this fund since it has risen beyond my expectations and kept up with my desired asset allocation.

HMMJ5% of my total portfolio is invested in the Horizons Marijuana Life Sciences Index ETF. This fund seeks to replicate the performance of the North American Marijuana Index and provides exposure to the exciting marijuana industry starting in Canada. This fund goes against all our requirements for a good ETF; it holds very few stocks (only 28), it is sector-centric, it is speculative, and it has a high MER of 0.75%. However, it is the first exchange-traded fund in Canada to focus on the cannabis industry and seemed like a fun play to make. I do not recommend this as an investment and that is why I only invested 3% of my total portfolio in this gamble. It grew to 5% of my allocation within the past months but it stays a gamble.

BND ♦ 4% of my total portfolio is invested in the Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF. My views on bonds have not changed much and I am keeping this low allocation for the foreseeable future.

VGK ♦ 3% of my total portfolio is invested in the Vanguard FTSE Europe ETF. This fund has been performing great since I bought it and have no plans to sell anytime soon.

Investing with ETFVEA ♦ 3% of my total portfolio is invested in the Vanguard FTSE Developed Markets ETF. This is an international, developed world index fund very similar to VGK since so much of it (54%) is invested in European companies.

VRE ♦ 2% of my total portfolio is invested in the Vanguard FTSE Canadian Capped REIT Index ETF. I did not invest any more into this fund yet simply because of our current exposure to the residential real estate market but plan on increasing this allocation gradually. The American version of this ETF is symbol VNQ.

 

Our final asset allocation

I try to keep a strict asset allocation and rebalance my portfolio about once year. I always re-invest dividends and automate most of my investment contributions on each payday but any contributions I do manually gets invested in sort to rebalance my allocation.

 

Current Asset Allocation Desired Asset Allocation
  • 42% ♦  US Market
  • 35% ♦  Canadian Market
  • 19% ♦  International Market
  • 4%    ♦  Bonds
  • 40% ♦  US Market
  • 30% ♦  Canadian Market
  • 25% ♦  International Market
  • 5%    ♦  Bonds

 

In my current situation, I should either sell some of my Canadian holdings to reinvest into the International market or I should make a new contribution and put it all into the International market to stay in line with my desired asset allocation.

 

Mrs. Xyz investment portfolio

My wife has a very similar asset allocation as me and has kept it fairly simple. Ever since she started her investing journey, she has held four index funds with Vanguard (VTI, VCN, VWO, and BND).

  • 34% ♦ Vanguard Total Market ETF (VTI)
  • 32% ♦ Vanguard FTSE Canada All Cap Index ETF (VCN)
  • 11% ♦ Vanguard FTSE Emerging Markets ETF (VWO)
  • 4%    ♦ Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF (BND)

These still represent the majority of her holdings. However, she recently made a few plays which literally exploded and now represent a huge portion of her portfolio.

Instead of focusing only on the main cryptocurrencies like me, she explored many smaller, lesser-known, coins and token. She took a bigger gamble for, hopefully, bigger returns. In a few months, her small initial investment grew to a whopping 16% of her total asset allocation. She is still following it closely and thinking of rebalancing soon.

In addition, 3% of her portfolio is now invested in the Horizons Marijuana Life Sciences Index ETF.

 

Mrs. Xyz Current Asset Allocation Desired Asset Allocation
  • 50% ♦  US Market
  • 35% ♦  Canadian Market
  • 11% ♦  International Market
  • 4%    ♦  Bonds
  • 45% ♦  US Market
  • 40% ♦  Canadian Market
  • 10% ♦  International Market
  • 5% ♦  Bonds

If all of this sounds too complicated, we suggest Wealthsimple.

Start your automatic investment account today!

 

How much are we spending?

With today’s online tools such as Mint or Personal Capital, it is super simple to track our spending and tracking is the first step to a good financial plan. How can you improve if you do not know how you are doing?

Looking at our Big 3 categories, we are still spending most of our income on Housing, Food, and Transport. Controlling these is the key to financial freedom. Once you understand that cars are much more expensive than they seem to be, restaurants are a luxury and housing costs can make or break your savings, you are golden!

 

How to track your spending

 

What our spending looks like for the past 12 months (in Canadian $)

Home $21,758
Food & Dining $8,285
Auto & Transport $5,014
Shopping $3,297
Taxes $3,102
Bills & Utilities $2,590
Uncategorized $1,134
Health & Fitness $1,591
Pets $1,401
Travel $1,174
Business Services $558
Personal Care $450
Total $50,354

 

Let us go through these expenses one by one. To begin with, our total House spending includes the $21,758 (mortgage, renovations, and maintenance) and the annual property Taxes of $3,102. This brings our total housing costs to $24,860. Almost $2,000 less than the previous 12 months.

In our Food and Dining category, we roughly spent five thousand dollars on groceries and the rest on restaurants. We cook most of our meals at home and eat out roughly once per week.

 

Budget Planning

 

To continue, our Auto and Transport category includes the maintenance, gas, and repairs of our two cars and the subway tickets we sometimes purchase to skip traffic. Each car costs us about $2,500 per year, which is amazing considering that similar cars would end up costing us over $10,000 per year in payments alone if we bought them brand new!

Our spending on Shopping is pretty high, however, this also includes all store purchases we did as gifts. We bought a few things for the Baby off Amazon and bought a new laptop this year which bumped that figure a bit. Unfortunately, my new employer does not pay for my work clothes so I had to buy a few suits this year.

 

What is your yearly spending budget?

 

On the Bills side, we include our two cell phones, home internet, and electricity. Our heating is all electric so the utilities go up considerably in the winter. Last month, we switched Mrs. cell phone plan and saved $30 per month opting for a lower data plan and my contract ends this summer so both our plans should be much cheaper for the year to come.

The Uncategorized category includes all the smaller categories not represented here. (Entertainment, Education, ATM withdrawals, or any purchase that was not automatically categorized.) The good thing is that our entertainment expenses are pretty low; we pay $10 per month for Netflix and rarely go out for expensive activities. Most other expenses in this category were very small amounts.

The Health and Fitness category represents Mrs. yoga, pharmacy purchases, and Mrs. massages. That one is pretty straightforward.

Furthermore, Pets represents cat food and one large veterinary expense incurred this year.

For the Travel category, it gets really interesting. Not too long ago, we were spending almost $10,000 per year on travel but now that we started using travel rewards for flights and hotels, we were able to drop this ten-folds! The thousand dollars we spend this year represents taxes on rewards flights and a few hotels we could not find for free.

 

Travel for free

 

Under Business Services, only products and services purchased to run this blog are included. Finally, in the Personal Care category, we included hairdressers, salons, and spas for Mrs.

Even after all of this, we still had a good chunk of change leftover. We invested most of it following our desired asset allocation mentioned above and kept the rest to beef up our emergency fund. Our future income might slightly drop and we want to have enough saved up to cover that gap.

How about you? What is your Big 3 spending categories?

 

 

Categories
Financial Independence

How to Become a Better Person

The count-down is on;

we are having our little baby girl in about a month from now!

With so little time left before this life-changing event, we decided to write down an action plan with quick and simple improvements we could do to be better people, and ultimately, better parents. A little self-help is always good.

 

Becoming a better person

With a few weeks left before the birth of our new baby, our short-term action plan revolves around being as prepared as we can be, without getting over-paranoid about it. By breaking it down in a few weeks and repeating the motions, we should get a few key things accomplished.

This week, for example, we are reading a lot of books on delivery and parenting and are getting ready for the big day. We changed our diet slightly to accommodate the higher needs of Baby. Mrs. also started to follow a series of exercises and is taking pre-natal yoga classes for a few weeks now.

We simply want to stay healthy and be ready to welcome our baby into this wonderful world.

 

Finding your better self

 

Once we go on parental leave, we will have the time to practice things, learn new skills, and work on certain traits we would like to improve. One thing we would like to practice is our third language; Spanish.

Since it is the second-most widely spoken language in the world, after Mandarin Chinese, with 400 million native speakers around the globe, being fluent in Spanish seems like a great way to expand our horizons and help us along in our future travels. Our current Spanish level is pretty basics, we traveled to Spain, Guatemala, Belize, Mexico, and Costa Rica without any problems but we could not fully communicate our thoughts if we had to start a debate about Star Wars vs. Star Trek if we had to.

At least, it is closely related to French so the learning curve will be much easier. Going forward, we will try to step up from our tourist level to a quasi-fluent level in the next few months. Using apps like Duo-lingo, Speak Tribe, or Memrise, we should be able to advance pretty quickly.

 

Self-improvement plan

 

Another thing we would like to improve is our current sleep schedules. We are both late risers and our current work schedule allows us to go to bed late and wake up late. However, the recent changes Mrs. has been going through gets her in bed before 10 p.m. and she usually wakes up early due to baby kicks or soreness. Going forward, Baby will keep us up all night and wake up before sunrise.

To get enough sleep, we need to get in the habit of going to bed earlier and getting up sooner. Not only for our own good but also for our future grade-A student. A recent Texas University study found that students who were early risers scored better grades than late risers.

Getting up early makes you happier and more productive. Even millionaires tend to be early risers so why not join the crowd? Looking at some of the most financially-successful people around, 89 percent wake up between 4:30 and 7 a.m. while only 11 percent slept in until 8 a.m. With our current anywhere-between-8-and-9 a.m. uprise, we are far from 4:30 a.m.

 

Source: Forbes

 

Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise” – Ben Franklin

 

Our action plan is to gradually wake up about 15 minutes earlier for the next 4 weeks and, by then, we will wake up a whole hour earlier. By minimizing the use of the snooze button and trying to get up as soon as the alarm goes off, we want to put this hour to good use. Over the long-term, an earlier schedule will be better aligned with our kid’s schedule and allow us more time with her or more time to be productive before she wakes up.

Further on, we would really like to improve our time management system. We are pretty good at getting things done and we both use to-do lists to follow up on things. A great new app we discovered recently is this calendar Countdown widget. It lays out your calendar events in a to-do list fashion with a countdown timer beside each event. This way, we can input everything in our calendars without the need for multiple apps. We used to get lost with separate notes, to-dos, and calendar apps.

Obligations will only increase with a kid and we want a good way to manage appointments, bills, chores, and other tasks between two phones and computers. If you have any suggestions, comment them below.

With better systems, we hope to improve our time management and get more things done in less time. Once we master that, we will end up with more free time to do things we enjoy playing with our little girl.

 

Raising a good person

We want to pass along as much knowledge as possible to our daughter and raise her to be a well-rounded, thoughtful, grateful, amazing human being. Raising kids is not an easy feat, we personally do not have any experience in child upbringing yet but, as any new parent, we are jumping in the game and hoping for the best. Of course, there are a few things you can do to help your child become a better person.

One thing we wish to teach our kid is to be open to multiple cultures and languages. When they are young, kids can easily learn new dialects and quickly absorb knowledge. At home, we speak both French and English and wish to raise her to be fluent in both languages.

As part of our own personal growth, we plan on elevating our fluency level in Spanish and wish to teach it to our daughter too. Starting with basic words, reading bed-time stories in Spanish, to fluent conversations, there is plenty of room to learn together. Since it is so widely-spread around the globe, we think it would be a great language to teach her.

Learning together like that will be a great way to connect and learn more about her. Howard Gardner, a researcher from Harvard, established eight ways kids learn best, which include musical, logical-mathematical, linguistic, and interpersonal traits. By paying attention to our little girl and spending time learning with her, we can try to identify her specific learning style and help her grow even more.

 

Being a better parent

 

Jointly with these efforts, traveling will also be a mind-opening experience for our little one. With over 195 countries in the world, there is so much to see. So much to learn. So much to explore.

We are planning to apply for her passport shortly after birth and bring her along a few trips before she even turns one.

We want to raise a caring, grateful, respectful daughter and plan to provide all the love and attention she needs but also act as models and mentors for her. This is why, not only do we have plans for her, but we also have plans to improve and develop ourselves as persons.

Do your best, be your best.

 

 

Categories
Budgeting Debt-Free Living

How to Spend your Tax Return the Smart Way?

Here it is again; tax season!

While some of us, or some companies, do not have anything to pay to the taxman, most people will get a tax return once they file their taxes, although we’re still trying to pinpoint how the tax bill for 2017 is going to pan out. About 75% of American receive refunds or in other words, most American have too much taxes withheld from their paychecks every year. Most people actually plan to receive a refund each year and imagine these grand spending sprees as if it was free money.

Some companies even jump to the occasion to promote stuff like this eBay ad I have noticed last week:

 

What to do with your tax refund

 

It argues that it is time to treat yourself and holds the slogan: Turn your tax refund into your next favorite thing. This is absolutely the wrong way to approach all of this.

A tax refund is not free money from the government, it is your money you simply gave, in excess, to the government. Here is how it works:

 

tax refund tips

 

The first step is pretty straightforward; you work and earn a wage. From that said wage, your employer then takes off source deductions, in other worlds; withholds your taxes, according to your projected earnings and sends those taxes to the government. Once you file your taxes and made all your deductions, the government then compares the taxes you paid with the taxes you should have paid. If there is an excess, you get a tax refund. If there is a deficit, they ask you to pay that difference.

It is not you who should thank Uncle Sam, he should thank you!

The IRS, for example, gladly takes your money all year long and then, once you file your return, it has 45 days to process the return and issue your refund if you are owed any. All of that without owing you any interest. Tax refunds are just interest-free loans to the government.

Actually, if you are receiving a huge refund, you are probably having too much taxes withheld at source. For Americans, you can check your W-4 form and adjust your federal income tax withholding allowances. For Canadians, you can use this calculator to see the proper payroll deductions you should have.

When eBay is promoting how this is the perfect time of the year to treat yourself, it is completely ignoring the fact that this is just your hard-earned money you overpaid the government which you are getting back.

 

What should you do with your tax return?

Now that we have established that a tax refund is simply your own money, we can start exploring better ways to use it. Instead of spending on more stuff you do not need from eBay, you should treat this money as extra help to reach financial freedom. Splurging on lavish vacations or gadgets only sets you back and, most likely, would only make you temporarily happy without many long-term benefits.

 

Tax refund ideasSource: _AJL

 

Get a grip on your money

The first thing to do with your refund if you have high-interest loans, credit card balances lingering or old bills due is to pay those off. Put your refund to work and buy yourself some peace-of-mind with some big-time debt repayment.

The same goes for high-interest student loans. You could always refinance at a lower rate with companies like SoFi but the best would be to pay them off completely. The average individual income tax refund was about $3,050 in 2016, according to the IRS. This kind of money could really put a dent in your debts.

The next best thing to do, if you did not already address this, is to have at least 3-months-worth of expenses in an emergency fund.  Most people go up to 6 or 9 months-worth but this would take months and months of diligent savings to get there. Putting your tax refund towards your savings not only builds up a good pillow for you to fall back on in case of emergency but also puts your money to work in a good interest-bearing account.

 

12% of those receiving tax refunds will spend it on a vacation, and 13% on a major purchase such as a car or television. Meanwhile, 42% say they’ll save at least part of their refund. – National Retail Federation.

 

Invest in your future

Once your basics are covered, start investing in yourself and try to max-out your tax-sheltered investment accounts like your TFSA (Roth IRA) or your kids RESP (529) plan.  If that is already done, invest in a taxable account with brokers like Vanguard or Ally.

By investing in properly-diversified, low-cost, investments such as exchange-traded funds, you can get your tax refund to work for you and start generating long-term returns for your future self. For example, if we took the average refund of $3,050 and invest it in a simple S&P 500 fund such as Vanguard’s VOO, it would have grown to $7,655 over the last decade. That is a total return of over 151% since 2008 and that is including one of the biggest crash in American history.

If the stock market is not your thing, you could also put some of it towards your mortgage or invest in bonds, even in this low-rate environment. This is a great, secure, way to get your money working for you without taking on as much risk as an equity fund would entail.

 

Treat yourself

Finally, if you really took the time and steps to improve your financial picture, maybe it is time to treat yourself a little. Instead of spending frivolously on a $1000 phone like this eBay ad suggests, spend on a something that will stay with you and make you happy.

Spend on a memorable experience or something that will change you like books, courses, or adventures. Get a new outfit, get a new haircut, or take your loved one out for a nice lunch. It does not need to be much. It does not need to be expensive. Just do something you do not do too often, something special.

This way, your tax refund will be memorable and you will never forget all that excess money you gave your government interest-free, for a whole year. 🙂

 

 

Categories
Traveling

Who knew a Trip to Mexico Cost so Little?

For Christmas, I called my friend and offered him a gift he simply could not refuse: a free trip to Mexico!

We spent 5 days on the beaches of this little paradise called Playa Del Carmen, in the Yucatán Peninsula’s Riviera Maya strip of the Caribbean shoreline. It is located in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico and known for its sandy beaches and good times. We really had a blast and in the end, it barely cost anything.

If you are wondering how to save on travel, check out how we got a 5-day vacation for two for only $230.

For the flights, we found cheap ones on American Airlines for only $320 and used reward travel-dollars to pay the whole amount. Cards like the TD Visa Infinite First Class, for example, give travel-dollars which can be spent on travel expenses. For this trip, the sign-up bonus alone was enough to pay for a ticket.

 

Find your card today and start earning those SWEET miles!

 

On top of that, we used the sign-up bonus from the BMO World Elite card to book 5 nights at a nice little hotel right off the beach. It was not anything fancy but was clean, close to everything, and safe. Unlike most people traveling to Mexico, we did not opt for the all-inclusive packages. They are over-priced and it can quickly get boring if you are always eating at the same buffet.

We prefer booking our flight and hotel, then exploring for the rest. We discover new restaurants, new flavors, new activities, and explore the city like locals rather than simply following the crowd.

 

I’d like to live as a poor man with lots of money. -Pablo Picasso

 

In a country like Mexico, we can afford a lot of things we do not do back home such as eating out every day and going out to clubs. Fortunately for us, Mexico is relatively cheap compared to our standard cost of living. For simplicity and ease of reading, all amounts have been converted to U.S. Dollars at a rate of 19 Mexican Pesos per USD.

 

UNO

On day one, we took an early flight and had a stop in Charlotte, North Carolina. This small airport was rather boring considering that the only lounge available was an Admiral Club and we could not access it with our Priority Pass. We waited at our gate until boarding and watched Netflix. Since our stop-over was early in the morning, we did not need to buy any food, the airplane snacks were enough.

When we landed in Cancun, we then haggled with a driver from $50 U.S. Dollars down to $30. Not that bad for the hour drive to Playa Del Carmen. Once at our hotel, we settled down and set off on a taco quest.

From the last time I was in Playa, I could not forget this amazing local taco spot serving the best taco el pastor in town. They are amazingly delicious and only 14 Pesos (73¢) for two. Unfortunately, I could not remember where this marvel was and we simply started walking around town with only a vague idea of where we were going.

At one point, we simply asked a hostel host where to find the best tacos in town. We had given up on this magical place but at least, we would get a good recommendation for some tacos. In his almost perfect English instructed us:

 

Walk down 30th and told us we would see a restaurant with a bull logo, skip it! We would see one with a yellow interior, go there!”

 

Well guess what, this yellow restaurant was exactly the one I had enjoyed years ago! Taqueria El Fogon del May on the corner of 30th and 32nd is simply the best tacos in town and we found it on day uno.

On our way out, we noticed a local soccer game held in the city’s stadium so we stopped and watched for a bit before heading on the 5th avenue, which is the main tourist street in Playa Del Carmen and enjoyed walking around in the cacophony before hitting the beds in the wee hours.

 

Spending for day one:
Transport

$30

Food

$20

Drinks

$10

Total

$60

 

DOS

On day two, we were well rested and ready for the adventure so we hit the waves and stayed at the beach for most of the day. We body surfed, swam, jogged in the sand, and got a little sunburned but it was worth it.

We ate a whole meal, with drinks, for only $14 each and went out to a nightclub on Centro that night which was quite amusing. At the dance club, drinks were highly over-priced but still much cheaper than back home. The beers were $5 each, almost the cost of a meal at most restaurants in Playa.

 

Spending for day two:
Food

$28

Drinks

$10

Total

$38

.

TRES

On our third day, we took a collectivo to Akumal. Collectivos are shuttle buses which can take you pretty much anywhere for less than $3. The half-hour ride to Akumal only costs 35 Pesos each way ($1.84).

 

Budget transportation in Mexico

 

They are comfortable, quiet, and safe. You simply need to walk to the terminal on Calle 2 and hop on the one which is leaving in your desired direction.

The public beach in Akumal has white sands, a large coral reef, and giant turtles. There is a lot of fake “agents” or “official guides” who will try to charge you to get in or offer you life jacket rentals at exorbitant prices but if you simply walk straight to the beach, you can see the marine life for free.

 

Cheap Akumal Trip

.

We brought our own snorkels but if you do not have enough space in your luggage, you can always buy one at Walmart or Mega in Playa Del Carmen for about $12. Buying one will still be cheaper than renting one from those “guides”. The price for a snorkeling set (mask + snorkel) ranges from $40 U.S. to over $100 on the beach itself.

Once we dived in, we saw turtles, plenty of colorful fishes, and stingrays. The coral reef isn’t super colorful but still attracts plenty of marine life.

 

Cheap travel to Mexico

 

For lunch, we ate at Imelda’s Ecocina slightly off the beach. We had an amazing, authentic, lunch home cooked in there small kitchen. The food was truly amazing and only cost us $10 each for our whole meal.

That night, we hung around Playa, ate tacos, bought a bottle of tequila at the convenience store for only $8 and enjoyed the night.

 

Spending for day three:
Transport

$7

Food

$35

Drinks

$8

Total

$50

 

QUATRO

For our fourth day, we took a collectivo again but this time, dropped off at the Cenotes Azul. In Spanish, Cenote is a sinkhole that contains groundwater. These freshwaters are often clear as crystal and come out of caves. We got dropped off on the side of the highway, beside the big sign for the place, and it was hard to see just how amazing this place would be. Once we walked a bit through the forest, we discovered this beautiful and magical place.

 

Amazing cenote in Mexico

 

Once in the water, there is even fish that will nibble at your toes like at the fish spas! There are many little parts, caves, and corals all over the place. Some people even jump off a cliff into the water but we did not dare. All-in-all, a great activity, and the entrance fee was only $6 per person.

After this fun little adventure, we came back to Playa Del Carmen and found a nice little Thai place called Wok Playa on our way to the beach. We ate like kings, ordered multiple appetizers, beers, huge mains, and the bill was still only $23 for both of us. This was one of the best restaurants we ate at and it was still super cheap.

After that, we stayed on the beach until dusk then ate nachos and guacamole we bought at the grocery store.

 

Spending for day four:
Transport

$7

Activity

$12

Food

$23

Drinks

$5

Total

$47

 

CINCO

On our last day, we woke up in the late AM and the sky started to turn grey so we decided to head to the airport for our afternoon flight. We haggled with the taxi driver from $50 down to $35 and got to Cancun airport in less than an hour.

We had bought some nice tequila to bring back home since the prices are about ten times cheaper and the quality twice as good. Unfortunately, we forgot that our efficient carry-on-only traveling style would not allow us to transport any liquids on board unless we bought them at the duty-free inside the terminal. We finally checked one bag on the plane and did not have to pay the $25 fee given the status I get as an American Express holder.

Once in the terminal, we headed to the Mera Business Lounge for some nice sushi, rest, and drinks. This was a super nice lounge, offering Wifi, open bar, coffees, tea, soft drinks and juices, canapes, massage chairs, and an overall quiet spot to wait for our flight. Of course, all of this was free with the American Express Platinum card.

 

Cancun business lounge

.

Since we booked our flights a bit last minute, we did not have direct flights and now had a short stop in Miami before heading home. In the terminal we were in, the only lounge available was the Corona Beach House. This is the first time I have experienced something like this, it is actually a restaurant which gives you a tab when you are a lounge member (Priority Pass). We ordered a beer, a sandwich, grilled salmon, and since we were in Florida; Key Lime pie. The best thing is; it was all free!

We then flew back home to our cold and icy climate.

 

Spending for day five:
Transport

$35

Total

$35

.

All in all, we spent only $230 for 5 days in Mexico, for two people. Pretty hard to beat! Happy travels, Xyz.

 

 

 

Categories
Financial Independence Saving

How to Organize your Finances and Stop Wasting Time

We invest for our future and our family’s future, but why? We are building wealth for a greater purpose, to buy ourselves financial freedom, but to what point?

Some obsess about money while others are oblivious to it. We try to live a calm and relaxed life without focusing on money too much while still looking at our finances enough to optimize it properly. Just like with anything, there is a balance to be found.

 

If we command our wealth, we shall be rich and free. If our wealth commands us, we are poor indeed. – Edmund Burke

 

Being completely blind when it comes to your finances, might get you to miss a few payments, pay interest you could avoid, and miss out on proper investment returns. On the other hand, if you are obsessed with your financials, you might make bad investments decisions, or miss out on more productive opportunities because of all the time you spend looking at your finances.

 

Are you financially blind?

 

The financially blind might:

  • Overpay almost everything he buys since he is never price-shopping.
  • Be late on credit card payments, or worse, keep a balance and pay interest.
  • Invest in products most marketed to him such as actively-managed mutual funds and end up paying high management fees on his investments.
  • Overpay his taxes.

 

On the other hand, the financially obsessed might:

  • Spend hours couponing to save $1 on a product he does not need.
  • Get emotional with his investments since he is following news and looking at price movements every day and end up making bad decisions.
  • Spend hours looking at his investments instead of enjoying life.
  • Spend sleepless nights and stress about small corrections in the markets.

 

The secret here is to find a balance. Even if finances are not your favorite subject, you do not want to completely close your eyes to them. And on the other hand, if you cannot get enough of it, you do not want to obsess about your finances to a point where it takes away from your quality of life. In the end, it’s just money.

Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto introduced the Pareto’s Principle back in 1906, better known as the 80/20 Rule. The 80/20 Rule means that in any situation, 20 percent of the inputs or activities are responsible for 80 percent of the outcomes or results. This is a great way to organize your life and dedicate your energy to the most productive tasks at hand.

This can be applied to so many things in personal finances. For example, you can get 80% of the rewards focusing on only the top 20% credit card offers. Travel hacking does not need to be complicated if you focus on what is really worth your time. You can also get 80% of the savings with 20% of the price-shopping efforts, and so on… Trying to optimize every single aspect of your life can be tiring (if not impossible) so focusing on what is most important is crucial.

In a given month, our time can be allocated to various “tasks” like looking up the current credit card offers or reviewing your investments. We structure these tasks to optimize our own time, stay efficient and avoid going crazy over finances.

 

How to organize your finances

Credit card offers

These activities should not take more than an evening. We check deals sites and a few bank websites to compare current credit card offers less than once a month and apply for the best ones. We also follow a few travel blogs and track our current cards but do not spend more than an hour per month on travel hacking.

 

Shopping

When it comes to shopping, we shop for our groceries once a week and buy most items on sale. We do not use coupons but rather use credit cards to maximize our rewards and lookout for in-store promotions. We try to avoid the convenient, higher-margin, grocers and rather shop at discount stores for most of our basics. Time-wise, we are pretty efficient in a grocery store and know where the good stuff is located.

 

How to save on groceries

 

The secret is to only shop outside the aisles. You can quickly get all your produce, milk, meats, fish, bread, and get all your shopping done relatively quickly. Most grocery stores are configured that way. All the processed food is in the aisles, shopping the outside will keep you healthier and the save you a lot of money.

The other shopping we do is done online or at particular stores when we know exactly what we are looking for. In both scenarios, we price-shop quickly online to make sure we are getting the best deal. Clothes or everyday essentials can always be found on sale.

 

Investment check

Once a month, we check our investments, review our contributions, and adjust our asset allocation in an hour or so. Whenever we have some investment play we want to do with a small portion of our portfolio, we might spend a few extra hours researching a certain stock but this is not part of our 80/20, that is just for fun.

Most of our gains come from boring investments which never need additional research or even frequent price checks; index funds. Our 20 is mainly to keep our portfolio at our desired asset allocation and make sure we contribute enough to reach our goals. Since we want to reach financial freedom in less than 10 years, we are trying to invest at least 50% of our income.

 

Bills review

We also keep an eye on all our bills to make sure everything is in order. With apps like Mint or Personal Capital, we verify all our expenses to make sure we did not overpay anything. We review our bills to make sure everything is up to date and call any provider that might have overcharged us.

We end up saving a lot on our cell phone, internet, and other recurring bills simply by being aware of what they charge us every month.

 

Stop being late on your bills

 

Credit card payments

Finally, we set up all our credit card bill payments to pay the full balances and never pay a cent in interest. This is a crucial step in our financial plan. There are no rewards worth paying 20% interest on credit cards.

The minimum payment is not the required payment to avoid interest charges. By the end of each month, we pay our bills in full and on time by electronic bill payment through our bank.

 

Are your late paying your bills?

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Stay organized and once everything is in place, it should not take much of your time to optimize your finances and spend more of your time doing things you truly enjoy. Financial freedom is attainable, you simply need the right mindset for it.

Xyz.

 

 

Categories
Financial Independence

7 Ways to Reach Financial Independence – From Barista FIRE to Fat FIRE

There are so many ways to reach financial independence. You don’t need to make millions to FI, anybody can reach barista FIRE in a few years. Climbing up the stages of FI with a simple nine to five and reaching financial freedom relatively quickly is possible. If you work a steady job with good security and simply save until your nest-egg is sufficient to support your expenses, you can retire early or move on to work on projects you enjoy. From the barista FIRE to fat FIRE, there are so many ways to reach financial independence.

If you save about half your salary, even with only minimal rises, it will take roughly 15 years before you could safely live off your investments given that your current annual expenses equal your annual expenses in retirement.

 

Ways to get richSource: Networthify

 

Of course, that is not the only wait to reach financial freedom, there are endless ways to live, and just as many ways to become financially free.

 

How to reach FI

Get to FI

 

 

The Steady way to financial independence

The first way to get there is the regular nine to five. The Steady Worker is content with minimal rises, as long as his salary is keeping up with inflation. He is good at his job but never volunteers for overtime or extra projects. Even if he does not work any more than necessary since, even without big rises and promotions, he knows that he can reach his goals in a reasonable timeframe.

With a high savings-rate, this is a safe way to reach financial freedom, since he is less dependent on job switches, bonuses, or commissions. He knows that if he keeps on doing what he is doing, he is going to reach his goals no matter what.

 

How to reach financial independence

 

The fast lane

On the other side of the employee spectrum, there is the Top Performer. He has big goals and works hard to reach them. Working at a company only one or two years before switching to the competition is something he often does to get big salary bumps. He is always kissing the bosses behinds to get that big promotion and maximizing his bonuses every year.

This might get him where he wants to be faster but it does demand a lot of him. His health might suffer, his career satisfaction might take a hit, but at least his income is increasing rapidly.

 

PROS

CONS

Changing companies often

increase total compensation

Changing companies often is a career risk.

It might get harder to find a new job

Being a Top Performer

can pay more

Being a Top Performer can get

exhausting and lead to burnouts

Chasing the next promotion

increases compensation

Chasing the next promotion can

get you in positions you dislike

Moving up quickly

increases compensation

Moving up quickly can lead to costly

mistakes due to lack of experience

 

In addition, the higher stress and high life might give rise to lifestyle inflation. Making a lot of money is great but he cannot attain his goals faster if he does not keep up his savings rate.

Like everything in life, a good balance needs to be attained here. If he wines and dines to schmooze or gets that nice fancy car to impress his boss, he is just turning in circles.

 

This is how you can reach financial freedom

 

Building your own path to freedom

Now, if you are not the kind to work for the man, there is always the entrepreneurial way. The Entrepreneur works in his own business, building his empire, and hoping to strike it rich along the way. There is always the slight chance you get bought out by Google or, better yet, become the next Google but the traditional journey usually consists of very low income in the early days, until the business takes off.

He usually puts in a lot of hours and only sees considerable income once his business becomes profitable. He is confident that this is a great way to accelerate his earnings but there are much more risks involved than being a salaried worker. If he wants to minimize his risks, he can become a consultant and continue a job he was already paid to do in the past or he can start a business in a related field. He can also buy an existing business to start off profitable but this investment adds financial risks.

 

Start a business to reach FI

 

Finding a middle ground

To meet right in the middle, the Side Hustler keeps his salaried job and starts a small business on the side. He might be a blogger, Uber driver, Airbnb super host, or a custom-made hand-knitted sock seller on eBay but every month he is able to increase his net income with his side hustle. Since he has the security of a fixed paycheck and can take the risks his business needs to grow and succeed.

His workday might not be ideal, boring at times, but at least he can thrive on projects he is passionate about at night and earn a good side income while doing it. Over time, his side hustle might grow so much that the income generated from it surpasses his salary. At this point, he can choose to stop working his day job and become a full-time Entrepreneur.

The Side Hustler will reach his goals quicker than the Steady Worker but it does involve more hours of work and can involve some financial risks. At the end of it all though, he is more likely to enjoy a Barista FIRE type of retirement, where one still holds some kind of laidback job once reaching financial independence, since he has always been a busy bee.

.

Start a side hustle

 

The slow and steady path to the good life

Then, there is the Minimalist Worker. He does not want to accumulate huge wealth or retire early. The Minimalist Worker is happy with his simple lifestyle and enjoys his leisure time. He works part-time or a seasonal job and only earns enough to maintain his lifestyle. Even if he does not have the option to stop working anytime soon, he still enjoys a life of leisure all through his working career. This is a great way to enjoy the Now rather than putting things off to years later.

.

Reach Early Retirement

 

Knowing when enough is enough

Another version of this lifestyle is the Glider. He has a high-paying job and works hard, early on in his career, until he has a sufficient cushion to glide until retirement while working part-time or a job he truly loves even if it does not pay as much.

Often referred as reaching Barista financial independence (Barista FI, or FIRE), the Glider has the safety of a good nest-egg, even if it is not enough to fully sustain his lifestyle, so he can relax and enjoy a less-demanding career until he finally reaches his goals.

Even if he stops contributing to his nest-egg, it will continue to grow since he is staying investing and not withdrawing anything just yet.

 

How to reach Financial Freedom

 

The mini-retiree

Finally, the Gaper works and enjoys taking multiple mini-retirements all through his career. He is working only for a few years or months, and then taking some time off for another few months or years before returning to full-time employment.

By using his savings to enjoy time off he is missing out on most of the compounding his wealth would have enjoyed otherwise. However, this small sacrifice allows him to enjoy life while he is young.

In addition, these gap years makes him enjoy his job even more and might even save him from burnouts. It can be difficult to find employment after a long-term leave in certain fields but the rewards can be life-changing.

 

Get to Financial Independence quicker with these tips

 

Whichever way works for you is amazing! We all have our own path to financial independence and they all lead to similar outcomes. As long as you take the time to enjoy the journey and enjoy life. 🙂

Do you have another way to do it? Share it along.

 

 

Categories
Financial Independence

The 7 Stages of Financial Independence

We talked about it in the past; we want to reach financial independence in less than a decade. There is no secret to reaching financial freedom; work hard, spend less than you earn, and save a large portion of your income.

For every dollar you save, you are slowly buying yourself time. If you are saving 75% of your income, you are buying yourself three years of retirement for each year you work.

Now, if you are investing in the markets and putting your dollars to work, the actual time you will need before reaching financial freedom will be minimal.

Once you have a considerable portfolio, you can start withdrawing 4% of your portfolio, valued at the first year of withdrawals, and then adjust for inflation (see Trinity Study). This four percent rule (or 3%, or whichever safe withdrawal rate you are comfortable with) can be adapted to your risk tolerance and appetite but four percent has generally sustained early retirees and has been well back-tested throughout the recorded history of our stock market (100 years or so). Once your safe withdrawal rate can completely cover your expenses and beyond, you have reached financial freedom!

We briefly talked about the stages of financial independence in the past but Joshua Sheats did a podcast about the 7 different stages of FI where he goes even deeper into the subject. We will go through his stages and expand on a few points we took to heart.

 

Stage 0: Financial Dependence

He starts by explaining how we all start as a dependent of our parents. They pay for all our expenses at first, and slowly, we start flying by our own wings.

If you are an adult and financially dependent, it is O.K. there is plenty of ways to get yourself out of it. Maybe you spend more than you earn or are struggling with student loan debt but whatever the reason, you have to pay off that debt as quickly as possible.

If your student loan interest rates are too high, consider refinancing to a lower rate through companies like SoFi. If you accumulated credit card debt, SoFi can also help you consolidate at a much lower rate with a personal loan.

Cut your expenses and start living within your means. There is no reason to keep up with the Jones. The Jones don’t even care about you or your finances. This will greatly accelerate your debt repayment timeframe and get you to stage 1  faster.

 

Grow your personal wealth towards financial freedom

 .

Stage 1: Financial Solvency

Once you are able to support yourself on your own income without the aid of others and all of your bills are paid on time, you are financially solvent. This is where your own path to financial independence really begins.

To make you do not fall back to stage 0, make sure you track your spending, keep your main expenses in line, and keep a healthy emergency fund.

We use apps like Mint or Personal Capital to track all our spending and try to keep our Big 3 in line; Housing, Transport, and Food expenses.

Try to keep your total housing cost under 30% of your total income. This means someone making $50,000 per year should not spend more than $1,250 a month on rent or roughly $1,000 on mortgage payments considering all the additional costs of homeownership.

As for transportation costs, the best way to keep those to a minimum is to live car-free but this is certainly not a reality for everyone. We own two cars but we never had a car loan, never paid a premium for a brand new car, nor do we ever live hours away from work.

Try to buy slightly used cars and buy only what you can afford, not what the dealership is ready to finance for you. Pay cash and know that depreciation is a true cost that is often overlooked but cannot be ignored.

To keep your food costs low, learn how to cook and make lunches instead of eating out all the time. By shopping for fresh produce and quality meats, you can easily prepare restaurant-quality meals for a quarter of the cost.

Finally, keeping a healthy emergency fund is crucial to reach financial stability. The first step is to have enough in your checking or savings account to cover 1 month of expenses plus $1,000 as a buffer for unexpected emergencies.

 

Stage 2: Financial Stability

Once you are comfortable with this, you can increase your savings to  3-month’s worth of expenses. We suggest using online savings accounts like CIT Bank to get better returns on your money.

Having healthy savings and being able to respond to the curve balls life throws at you makes you financially stable.

At this point, or slightly earlier, you can start investing for your future self. Start with any free money offered out there. If your employer offers an RRSP (401k) with a match or an employee stock purchase plan, jump on the occasion.

Using low-cost index funds and tax-advantaged accounts puts all the chances on your side to grow your wealth and reach financial freedom.

Just to give you an idea, over the last 20 years, $10,000 invested in an S&P 500 index fund would have grown to $65,225 after a 0.05% annual expense ratio. The earlier you start, the better.

This is also a great time to start taking small risks with your time. You can start a side-hustle or participate in the sharing economy to start making a little money on the side. Start a blog and share your passion with the world or start a Youtube channel. Who knows, you might be the next big star and fast-track your progress.

 

Get a grip on your finances

 .

Stage 3: Debt Freedom

This stage is about freedom. The freedom from creditors and the burdens of high interest.

If you have student loans, car loans, or credit card debt, now is the time to dump much more than the minimum payments and get those paid off.

For student loans, consider getting a lower rate through companies like SoFi if you did not already refinance your loans. Unless your rates are ridiculously low, increase your payments to pay them off faster.

For car loans, depending on your car, you could always downgrade to a car you could afford to pay up front. It might not be as new or as nice but it will get you where you need to go without breaking the bank. Over a five year period, a 5% interest rate means that about 12% of the monthly payments go towards interest. This really adds up over time.

If you accumulated credit card debt, you can uses services like SoFi to consolidate at a much lower rate or use repayment methods to get rid of that high-interest debt ASAP.

There are a few debt repayment methods out there, we will cover two super-efficient ones today. The Snowball method consists of listing all of your debts in order of smallest to highest dollar amount and then using any extra dollar to pay off the smallest balance while only paying the minimums payments on the others. Continue to do this until all of the debts are paid, the largest being the last one to go.

 

Source: Tempss co-lab

 

The other popular repayment method is the Debt Avalanche., For this one, list your debts in order of highest to lowest interest rate, regardless of the dollar amount of the debt, and pay the highest interest-rate debt as fast as you can. Continue to do this until all of the debts are paid, the lowest interest rate being the last one to get paid.

This method makes more sense mathematically but like anything money, psychology plays a big role in your debt repayment journey.

The Debt Snowball offers faster results since you will pay off the smaller balances first but the Avalanche method will pay off the totality of your debts faster.

To complete this stage, most people will still keep good debt such as a mortgage,  super-low interest-rate loans, or business loans. Anything that would hinder your financial independence, however, should be paid off.

Investments should also become a greater focus. You should try to max out your tax-advantaged accounts such as RRSP (401k) and TFSA (IRA). Automating everything with companies like Wealthsimple is super easy. Another way to start investing is with brokers such as Ally or Vanguard to keep your fees to a minimum but these are more DIY. If you have any more money to invest, you can even start investing in a non-registered account.

 

Start your financial journey

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Stage 4: Financial Security

Once your investment portfolio has grown enough, there will be a stage where your basic living expenses will be completely covered by your investment income. Now, whether you work or not, the bills can get paid and you can survive layoffs or job switches.

At this point, you have security but a change in your income would still affect your lifestyle. To get to this stage, and to keep growing, your savings rate should be high in the double digits by now. We save over 50% of our income and keep our spending low to keep this savings rate as high as possible.

 

Stage 5: Financial Independence

When your investment portfolio can safely support your current lifestyle with a safe withdrawal rate within your risk tolerance, whether 3%, 3.5%, or 4%,  then you have reached financial independence. This represents 25 times your current spending (using a 4% withdrawal rate) so a $1,000,000 stocks and bonds portfolio would be needed to support $40,000 per year of spending.

 

It is appropriate to advise […] a stock allocation as close to 75 percent as possible, and in no cases less than 50 percent. – William P. Bengen

 

For the 4% rule to work, your stock allocation should stay quite high, even once retired. We covered this in the past and discussed different portfolios but personally, we hold 95% stocks with only a 5% bonds allocation. You can see our exact asset allocation in our Open Book series.

At this stage, you can retire or work on projects you are truly passionate about without worrying about the income they generate, or not.

 

Stage 6: Financial Freedom

Now, these last two stages are where things get interesting. Financial freedom is when you can actually afford more than your current lifestyle permits.

 

This might be things you desire to buy, experiences you desire to have, or philanthropic goals you wish to meet. – Joshua Sheats

 

At this stage, you are no longer restrained to such a strict budget and you can spend a bit more on things that truly make you happy. This might be attained by working, even after reaching financial independence, great investment returns, or income generated by one of your projects.

 

Master your finances

 .

Stage 7: Financial Abundance

At this point, you have accumulated more wealth than you need to fund your lifestyle expenses and have a comfortable margin of safety. This would be the case of successful bloggers who started out as a fun project but who are now making hundreds of thousands of dollars per year or entrepreneurs who become hugely successful. By then, you must enjoy what you are doing, otherwise, there is no reason to keep working at it.

Hopefully, one day, we will all reach financial abundance but there is much work to be done.

Everyone can do it, just conquer one stage after the other and never look back. Stay constant with your personal finances and try to constantly grow. Best of luck, Xyz.