Sunday, March 18, 2018

What Separates Us From What We Want?

What's the wall that separates us from our dreams & goals? Is it fear (of success or failure?)? Responsibility? Lack of support? Lack of a clear vision?

I've been thinking for a while about turning this blog solely into a FI or FIRE blog. For those of you unfamiliar with the terms it means Financial Independence or Financial Independence and Early Retirement. I'm not sure I'm on target to retire early. Many of those that are in the FIRE community are saving 40% or upward of their take home pay, as well as having other avenues of passive income. Last year I saved 27% of my paychecks. While being better than the average American of saving 5% a year, it is still a far cry from the 40% savings rate many would say one needs to become financially independent.

I have set a saving goal of 33% for this year.  And hoping to increase to 40% and 50% in the very near future. Two prime objectives are putting most of my savings towards my fully funded ROTH (yearly limit of $5500) and then additional savings towards paying down my mortgage. I have one very large expense of over $11,000 involving a roof on my home coming up next month, I will take from my previous savings from years past.

However, obstacles remain for me in my path to FI and this is the short lists of those obstacles:

1) I don't want to deny myself of every luxury I have. While many of my friends would describe me as frugal, I still feel like I indulge in eating out, donating money to causes I believe in, and purchasing things that aren't really "necessary". Can I "up" my savings rate and still partake in these things that give me joy?

2)I don't feel like I have the support of friends or family. While my immediate family has always been financially conservative they are not big on non-traditional life-styles. Working over 30 plus years for one company and receiving a pension seems "safe" to them. (I"m in year 22 of working in my career.)

3) At this point, I don't really have a defined plan for what I would do if, indeed, this would ever happen and I'd get to retire early and become financially independent. I love to create- in whatever fashion that takes on. I love to give to causes I believe in, though the causes seem diverse and unrelated at the moment. I love the thought of the freedom to do whatever I feel like doing rather than continuing the hamster wheel of the daily grind.

Not sure where my dreams might take me, but keep reading as I figure out how to overcome the obstacle that I face and define the future that lie ahead.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Free Money End of the Year 2017 Review

I am pleased that my expectations were exceeded in my Free Money Adventure for 2017. Originally, I believe my goal was to acquire between $1,500-$1,800 in what I considered free money for the year. At about the mid-way point I adjusted my goal to be between $2,000-$2,500. Giving the goal a range instead of an exact number helped me to be realistic and not be fixated on a  particular number.

I've attached a snap shot of my excel chart below:

Again, I know that some people may argue that some of these categories aren't actually "free". However, I felt like I included the topics in which required some effort on my part, but where money was actually on the table to receive. 

Obviously the largest category of free money was bank promotions. These were easy to find due to websites I had mentioned in my earlier blog, but at times tricky to redeem due to the conditions of the promotion. I also learned that while soft inquiries do not effect your credit score, you may exceed a particular amount of soft inquiries for opening up new accounts which would result in being declined. I kept my new accounts to reasonable amount (6) for the year. I could have possibly gone higher, but I wanted to error on the side of safety.

 As I set my goals for my 2018 Free Money I may continue to keep the new accounts I open on the low side. Many of the bank promos have a restriction as to "one redemption per calendar year" or "only open to new accounts within the past 90 days". Currently, I am thinking of a number between $1,500-$2000 because I'm not sure realistically if I can continue to keep up a $2,700 with the avenues I've been pursuing. It's a fun challenge and continues to amazing me how with a little effort there's always money out there. 

I've also found helpful the web presence and podcasts of the FI (Financial Indepences) or FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) community. I'll come back and add the links. These endeavors have both been helpful and inspiring. You don't have to be conventional in your thoughts about money and career. Financial independence is not greed, but very much the opposite... freedom. 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The In-Between Times

Yesterday, on the rainy September 2nd of 2017, I came to the realization that I feel stagnant. At this point in my life I am feeling the need to see progress. Tangible, visual progress. I feel like I’m going through life without much success. I’m sure we all feel that from time to time, but at this moment in my existence it is more evident.

I surveyed my home inside and out, did a personal internal inventory as well. I have several bare spots in my yard, a handful of craft projects in various stages of completion, two to three writing works in progress that have been immobile, and a small home mortgage I have come to define as burdensome.

Recognizing my earning for visual signs of growth I decided to take action. I recognized three projects in various stages, beginning, middle, and end and made mental and photographic evidence of each.

1) Beginning- I planted an all-in-one grass seed, fertilizer mix into two bare spots in my yard.
2) Middle- I made a trip to the bank to physically pay, by old-fashioned check, both extra principle and an early monthly payment for next moth (October). I need to see the number of  my home mortgage subside.
3) Ending-  I completed one knitted scarf that I'm replicating from my own existing scarf. 

During my fluster of action, I also made myself pause and took stock of the changes
and evolution that has transpired in my life in recent months and years. It’s very easy for me to lose perspective of the longevity of the journey and hone in only on the here and now.  

I’m hoping the growth of the grass from seed to blade will enable me to gauge the tiny increments of growth from beginning to end in a relatively short amount of time. And, whether it be in my writing, larger word counts of works in progress, or simply checking the bucket list of published, a decrease amount on my home mortgage as I implement a recent strategy to be debt free, I believe surrounding myself with visual results will encourage my soul. Starting is the first step to any successful endeavor, and the actual finishing is so satisfying, yet the laborious in-between times are where many people lose their way. I’m hoping my action steps aid me to reclaim the motivation and inspiration to make it to the finish line.

*I’m curious, how do you keep yourself engaged in the process of growth? If you read this blog, share some tips and insight in the comment section. I’m sure we all can use a little nudge. Thanks in advance.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

Free Money Update 2017

Coins, Pennies, Money, Currency, Cash

Over half-way through 2017 and I wanted to update you on my "free money" journey.  My initial goal for this year was $1,300-$1,500. I'm happy to say that I have surpassed that and reset my goal to between $2,250-$2,500 for the full calendar year.  The following is the break down of my current journey:

$900- Bank Promotions

$84*- Savings & Gift Cards through Gasoline Promotions through Speedway (Speedy Rewards) Kroger (Kroger Plus Card) I should be able to increase this by at least another $50 before year's end.

$60- In Store Gift card Speedway Promotion for purchasing Gasoline Gift Cards (twice this year)

$25- Saving from Cardpool Dick's Sporting Goods Gift Card

$110- Test Drive Ford Promotion/ And a Subaru Promotion

$15- My Coke Rewards Program- for Amazon & iTunes Gift Cards ( they have now re-named and re-branded) 

$50- Various Visa Gift Cards through Rebates (P&G and Mobil Oil) 

$100- Meijer Wellness Gift Card through a health insurance promo through work.

$150*- Scottrade Dividends (this is ongoing and I'm counting this for the year.)

$200*- Discover Card Cashback Bonus (I haven't collected this yet, but this is usually my average.)

$40- Swagbucks Rewards

$20- Dick's Sporting Goods & Best Buy Reward Programs

$23- Four Bills a month I am now paying online each month stamp savings.

$30- Recycle Aluminum Cans & Other Metals June of 2017

$17- Stash Cash Promotion (An online saving and investing platform)

By year's end I hope to redeem at least one other bank promotion worth $200. I like the ones that do not require a direct deposit. However, I did fulfill one bank bonus recently that allowed me to direct deposit money coming from my PayPal account what counted for their bonus- so even with some banks there are ways to circumvent directly depositing money from your employer to achieve the promotions. Thanks again to Doctor Of Credit and Hustler Money Blog for helping me easily find the bests bank promotions.

I'd also like to collect another $30 from Swagbucks. A platform that rewards you for taking surveys, watching videos, and doing internet searches. If you're interested in Swagbucks (it's free to sign up you can email me for a promotion that rewards me for referring you or you can check it out on your own at their website.)

I feel pretty confident I can reach the $2,000 milestone, but getting to $2,250 to  $2,500 will be a challenge. I'm up for it. What about you? Do you have any money challenges you're embarking on this year, or this month? Leave me a comment and let me know about those. We learn and inspire each other.  

I also wanted to note that I've talked to a few people that disagree with my categorizing of the above list as "free money", they venture to say I'm paying for some of the products to receive the gift cards. My rationale is that I'd be buying those items anyways regardless of the rewards. And there is the argument of is savings vs. actual gift cards or physical money the same thing. ie- the stamp savings for paying bills online. It works for me, but I understand the other side of that argument. 

I must admit I've done some pretty crazy promotions to get "free money" and I stress nothing in life is free, but if you're willing to jump a few hoops and have patience you'll find money where you never thought to look. by the way don't forget to check those cushions of your couch or look under the seats in your car. Until next time . . . May your pockets always be full and may you always have loved ones to share it!  

Monday, March 27, 2017

Free Money???


 Okay, we all know there's no such thing as free money. However, there ARE ways to retrieve promotions and get rebates with little effort and time. I've been researching for the past few years and I have a list of websites I frequent that alerts the public to these kinds of opportunities. Here are two of the  many websites that have useful information:

Hustler Money Blog (Not to be confused with just Hustler websites;)


Doctor of Credit

     Last year, 2016, I tracked over $800 of what I refer to as "free money" and this year my goal is to acquire between $1,300 and $1,500. On most banking promotion there tends to be a direct deposit requirement, but I tend to go after the ones that do not have the direct deposits as a stipulation because those are more of a hassle for me.
Below is my projected list for 2017: (x marks those promotions already achieved.)

$350   (X)  HSBC Bank Promotion- I had to deposit and keep $1,500 in the account and make two online bill pays for consecutive three months. I have to keep this account for 120-180 days. This promotion is now expired. I found this relatively easy and I saved stamps on bills I normally paid via snail mail.

$200      Huntington 5 Checking Promotion- I began the process today. I previously had an account with Huntington, but its been longer than 6 months ago so I'm good for this promotion. To qualify, I have to have $1,000 of new money to the bank. However, I want to be exempt from the $5 monthly maintenance fee so I will need to keep $5,000 in the account for the next 6 months.

 $50   (X) Northpointe Bank in Grand Rapids Michigan-
 There are some additional hoops to jump through if you want a higher interest rate, but the basic level was good for me. I had to fund this with $100 and I received a $50 promotion. This account must remain open for 120 days.

$100  (X)  United Health Care EPC Insurance Wellness Gift Card- This is set up through my   school's insurance. Members have to take a medical survey and either track their exercise for a four weeks or take online workshops that are supposed to educate for better health.

$50  (X) Speedway Bonus Points-  By swinging by Speedway Gas Stations and scanning my Speedway card before I pump my gasoline I can usually acquire enough points to redeem a $50 Speedway Card each year.

$100    Kroger Fuel Points-  Watching advertisements and digital coupon offerings when gift cards  are 4 x fuel points along with weekly shopping I can save $100 on other gasoline purchases not made at Speedway during the calendar year.

$200    Discover Card Rewards- I realize credit cards can be dangerous if you do not pay off the balance every month. Many experts will preach against using them because its so easy to buy on credit and only pay the monthly minimum. However, I have found this to be a useful tool to acquire "free money". I make sure I pay off my balance EVERY month and look to redeem my cashback near the end of each year.

$150     Scottrade Account-  I have a small Scottrade Account that I buy and sell stocks. While I haven't been able to quit my day job by trading stocks the last 5 years, it has helped me understand the markets and its been a hobby that has brought me nearly $150 in dividends since the inception of the account, along with a few nice gains when I sold profitable company stocks. However, stocks are not for the faint of heart and becoming too obsessed with the gains and losses can drive me nuts. But I've learned to only put money in the stocks that I KNOW and UNDERSTAND.

$100     Test Drive Promotions- I was able to do a test drive for a GMC Terrain in 2016 and received a $20 gift card. And while researching these opportunities I have found that car manufacturers rotate specific types and amounts of gift cards. Some of these are targeted opportunities, meaning they send out mailers to consumers that are more likely to purchase a new car. However, with a quick search of google or other search engines, one may find promotions from various car manufacturers ranging from $20- $50 depending on the time of year and make and model of vehicle.

If I'm able to accomplish the above list I will be $1,300 in the green. Right now I have a solid $550 of the $1,300. I'll come back and update this blog or write a recap blog towards the end of the year to see if I'm able to achieve this endeavor. Soft credit pulls are used for most of the bank promotions. Read up on soft credit pulls to decide if this is a good method to use for your own personal finance. Money is out there, its not quite free, but still some of it might be in your grasp if you're willing to jump through hoops and wait a handful of months. A few more dollars in your bank account can always help. Let's face it we all could use extra dollars:) May your pockets always be full and may you have loved ones to share it!


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Operation: Recycle Scrap December 2016

     There were over 400 pounds of metal, circuit boards, and consumer waste. Much of this electronic material had been around for years and its usefulness had vanished with the passing of time. The devices were stagnant and collecting dust. Recycling was a must. Sure, it would've been easier to just throw it all to the curb and let the garbage truck haul it off to the dump. However, with the challenge of my brother for me to take his "junk, get rid of it, and get something out of it," I was bound and determined to turn this pile of unwanted material into cash. In the process I hoped that the items would be recycled into something useful instead of taking up space in a landfill miles away.

     The day before last a small army; consisting of myself, my three nieces and sister-in-law, meticulously packed my suv. Treading up and down my brother and sister-in-law's basement steps with full arm loads of computers and power suppliers was indeed laborious. The younger nieces holding open doors in the cool winter air as the older niece, my sister-in-law, and myself made trip after trip to the belly of their house and up to the blacktopped landscape of their driveway created space in their basement floor and filled space in my vehicle.

     After I drove to my home I opened the back hatch and the both back doors of my vehicle to survey the unlikely loot. There were a few boxes I hadn't been able to see well in my brother's basement. I extracted a cardboard box or two and took them into my house for an even more close inspection. I discarded items I knew couldn't be recycled and disassembled other electronics that I believed would make the recycling process easier. Three phone calls later to recycle centers I found the one that acknowledged they accepted computer towers, hard drives, and power cords. I also threw into the stash a bag of aluminum cans I'd been hoarding and also took my father's disregarded truck rotors he had laying in his garage.

     A short 25 minute drive with a friend and then I helped unpack the materials as the workers at the recycle station tossed the items into a large bin sitting on a commercial scale. An operator would input the type of metal or electronics into a computer while the scale calculated its value. Less than 5 minutes at the recycle station and I was more than $74 richer. Saving the planet and my bank account one recycled piece at a time. Mission Complete.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Hope is a Muscle

This post originally posted 3/2/2016 on

I’m not sure exactly who coined the phrase, but I read a book several years ago entitled “In These Girls, Hope is a Muscle” written by Madeleine Blais. The non-fiction book followed the journey of a high school basketball team in Massachusetts with its defeats and triumphs. I used the expression to encourage and challenge my own varsity basketball team I coached years ago and I reference the phrase to my current students in my government and psychology classes.

For any skill to improve one must practice to enhance or make it stronger. It is not unique to only athletics. My own personal writing journey has had its ups and downs. I’ve had moments where I’ve wondered and questioned if what I was doing with my time and if my commitment to the craft was merely a lofty dream. 

It’s easy to be renewed by the promise that things will get better when the sun is shining and the atmosphere is pleasant. But, what about the dark days? How do you conjure up the courage to continue the pursuit of your dreams? I believe that’s where faith and hope become essential. Perhaps if you remember the phrase, hope is a muscle, when you’re feeling doubt and when you’re banging your head up against the wall because you see no progress you’ll remember every step forward is progress. Every word you write is moving forward. Life is cyclical. The more you give, the more you get. Maybe not immediately, but in the long haul. Keep believing. Keep doing. Hope is growing.