Showing posts with label international stock market. Show all posts
Showing posts with label international stock market. Show all posts

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Finding Inspiration for Financial Success

At first glance, it can seem quite easy to find inspiration for financial success. Just turn on the television, right? You can’t even flip through the channels without finding some show with someone in their mansion or rolling around in their luxury car or going on some super-expensive and super-exclusive trip.

The problem is that such things aren’t actually financial inspiration – they’re consumption inspiration. The people spending $5 million on their home or $500,000 on their car or $300,000 on their destination wedding aren’t making decisions that will preserve or optimize their financial future. They’re making consumptive choices, spending money on luxury experiences that are over quickly or buying items that require tons of maintenance and taxes and still likely depreciate in value fairly rapidly.

Finding actual financial inspiration is a bit harder. Financial inspiration is inspiration and examples that encourage and lead you to build a strong financial foundation in your life, and that kind of example can be hard to find. It’s not nearly as flashy or shiny as the things one might see on reality television.

How does one seek out sources of inspiration on their financial journey? The key isn’t so much where to look, but to know what you’re looking for.

Be Inspired By People Who Achieve Things…

Make a conscious decision to seek out people based on their personal achievements – not what they were given or the possessions they have, but what they’ve actually done with their lives. Have they created things? Have they built things? Have they made the lives of people around them better? Have they worked hard and channeled that work into a good life for themselves and the people around them? Those are the people well worth looking at and using as your personal inspiration.

Read biographies and personal profiles. A great place to start with this type of inspiration is between the covers of well-written biographies. Read the stories of people have done these things. Find out how they started out, how they turned the little that they had to start with into something much greater, how they stuck to principles, and how they made hard personal sacrifices along the way.

Look at people like Howard Schultz, who started life in low income housing in the New York City Housing Authority, worked hard at sports to get into college, leveraged that college education into a career in sales, found himself selling equipment to a nascent Starbucks Coffee in the early 1980s, joined them as Director of Marketing, and eventually became their CEO, turning them over the decades from a tiny West Coast chain into a global phenomenon. Not bad for a kid from low income housing.

How did he do it? Being careful with every dime was a big part of that story, particularly up to the point where Starbucks really took off. Before that, he often didn’t have a dime to spare, and it was his care with those dimes that managed to make things work.

Schultz is just one example; there are many more. Find ones that click with you. Read lots of biographies of people who made things, built things, discovered things, and turned very little into something much more.

Build friendships with the pillars of your community. Often, some of the best financial inspirations exist already within your own community. They’re the people who seem to be on the board of every local event and in lots of organizations. They often run a local business. They’re the people everyone knows and virtually everyone thinks highly of.

Learn from those people. Make an effort to become their friend. Get involved with the community and work with them and, as you get to know each other, invite that person to lunch and pick their brain. Find out how they got from point A to point B. Listen. Be inspired.

Join civic groups. A big part of finding that local inspiration is simply getting involved in your community. It’s much easier to meet people in your community who have done amazing things if you actually get involved yourself.

Seek out civic groups who are doing positive things. Find out about joining up. Go to their meetings and see what they’re all about. Don’t just retreat into your turtle shell – stick your neck out a little bit. Volunteer for things. Get to know as many people as you can.

The people you meet in such organizations will surprise and inspire you, every single time. These are people who tend to have their lives organized and their hearts in the right place. They tend to be doing a lot of good things with their life, often starting in a difficult place. In short, they can be a real inspiration.

… and Not By People Who Possess Things

A big house might be a nice place to visit or live, but it makes very little commentary about the values and achievements and stability of the person living there. The same goes for a shiny car or an expensive suit. Such expensive trappings of wealth might be held by a wonderful person who has done much for society, or it might be held by an empty suit who cut every moral corner along the way.

Don’t value or devalue people by the house they live in or the clothes they wear or the car they drive or the gadgets they have or anything like that. That’s just an expression of how that person happened to use the money that happened to flow through their hands. Maybe they earned it through hard work. Maybe they were handed that money via inheritance. Maybe they committed nefarious acts to acquire it. Maybe they’re so leveraged in debt that their blood pressure is through the roof.

Look past the stuff. It’s irrelevant. Look at the person underneath the stuff.

Don’t pay attention to people who are primarily known simply for having wealth, particularly inherited wealth. There’s nothing whatsoever wrong with being wealthy, but when you have accomplished so little in your life that your wealth overshadows it, what have you really achieved?

Look for actual achievements. Consider how the person actually made the world a better place for those around him or her. Do you admire that person because of their big house and shiny car? Let go of that. Instead, admire the person because of the lives they improved and the self-discipline they exerted and the values they expressed through their actions.

When you feel jealous of someone else’s possession or experience, consider what effort that person had to put in to be able to earn that possession or experience. What did this person actually do to have the things that you’re feeling jealous of? Did that person do great things while practicing self-discipline? That’s something to be admired, but the admiration should be aimed at the person, not at the stuff.

On the other hand, maybe that person was simply handed those possessions or experiences and did little to earn them, or maybe they had to do things that would leave you feeling very uncomfortable or unhappy to get there. Perhaps the acquisition of those things was a bargain that you would never, ever want to make. Again, it comes back to the person inside, not the expensive stuff on the outside.

When reflecting on people, consider the words of Martin Luther King Jr. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Consider people first and foremost by the content of their character, not by their skin color or the clothes that they wear or the things that they have.

Remember, anyone can wear a fancy set of clothes, but few can win the respect of their community. Anyone can live in a nice house, but few can bring about positive change in lots of lives. Value the character, not what’s on the outside.

Be Inspired By People Who Have Less Than You…

On one hand, I’m talking about people who are making ends meet with less financial resources than you have. How exactly are they doing it? I’m also talking about people who have turned extremely humble backgrounds into personal and financial success. How did they do that?

On the other hand, I’m also talking about people, regardless of financial specifics, who have committed to a simpler and more minimal life, with fewer possessions and fewer distractions. What is their journey like? What values are they seeking? How are they resisting distraction and temptation?

There are valuable things to be learn and inspiration to be gained from people who make do with less, regardless of how they do it.

Do volunteer work. One great way to start down this path is to actually interact in meaningful ways with people who have to make do with very little in their lives. Volunteer work virtually always brings you in contact with the realities of life on the edge, and it quickly becomes clear that many of those people struggle with burdens far beyond what you might expect and yet still manage to make it through.

The first time you help a single mother with two jobs carry groceries out to her car from the food pantry, only to meet her very well mannered children and catch a glimpse of the careful organization of her life and how she’s always on stage, you can’t help but feel inspired.

Study minimalism and decluttering. Take a look at the lives of people who live with very few possessions. How do they do it? Why do they do it? What is their life like?

What you’ll often find is a surprising amount of joy in a life lived without a lot of stuff. Rather than seeking out more things to own (and more space to store them), they seek out experiences and relationships and learning to create fulfillment for themselves, and those things often are far less expensive and require far less maintenance than a big house full of stuff.

Study people who elicited great things with few possessions and little wealth. This circles back to the idea of reading biographies, particularly of people from very humble backgrounds. One of my favorite stories is that of Gregor Mendel, one of the most influential early geneticists for his discovery of independent assortment and genetic segregation. He was pretty close to poverty for much of his life, working as a low-paid friar and raising pea plants and bees both for his own food needs and for the faith community he served.

Yet, even with those very limited means, he was able to devote much time and thought to his studies of how pea plants inherited traits from their parents, and those studies ended up becoming a fundamental part of the field of genetics.

You don’t need a lot of stuff to explore what interests you. You don’t need much to have a mind forever voyaging. You don’t need a great number of possessions to change the people around you or to change the world.

… Rather Than People Who Have More Than You

It might be nice to daydream about having the big amazing house with lots of elegantly decorated rooms, but consider what that would actually mean for your life. How much upkeep would be required – vacuuming, dusting, cleaning, and so on? How much would the insurance and property taxes devour? When that much of your time and money is gulped down, what’s left?

The desire to have a big home full of lots of possessions is a treacherous one, because it’s actually just a short term desire. To own such a home in the long term would either devour a lot of your free time and a lot of money, or if you had to hire help to maintain it, it would gobble down incredible amounts of money, leaving you strapped and unable to do the many other things you might want to do in life.

A good way to cut down on those dreams is to simply stop focusing on the things in your life that are nudging you to have those kinds of dreams.

Avoid media that focuses on the possessions and homes of others. If you see television shows that include lots of long drawn out shots of houses and cars that you could never afford, and particularly if the show involves extensive discussions of those things, just skip them. You’re only missing out on a sliver of the content out there and you’re skipping a particularly pernicious set of programming in terms of helping you channel your inspiration in a healthy direction.

Remember, our aspirations and goals and desires are influenced greatly by who we surround ourselves with and what kind of media we take in. Cut back on the media that points us toward heavy spending.

Don’t spend your time in appreciation of other’s possessions. Watch yourself for situations where you find yourself staring longingly at a neighbor’s car or daydreaming about someone’s house or driving slowly through an expensive neighborhood. Those are daydreams focused on spending money rather than building a stable financial foundation.

Instead, spend your time in appreciation of personal freedom, of people who may not have an abundance of material items but have a strong foundation and can thus make a lot of different life choices that enable them to do what they want with their time without the constant pressure of work and money needs. Admire freedom, not stuff.

Focus on how your life might be improved by your own financial success. Consider what your life might be like if you no longer had any debt. What would it be like to not have that constant pressure? Think about what it would be like to have enough saved up that you no longer had to stay at your current job and could take one with lower pay and more meaningful work. Think about what your life would be like if you didn’t have to work at all.

A lot of stress would just disappear. You’d have much more freedom to do the things you want to do. You wouldn’t be tired all the time.

Keep that visual fresh in your mind. Reflect on it often. Let it inspire you to better choices.

Be Inspired By People Who Exhibit Self-Control…

Self-control is one of the most valuable traits that a person can have on the road to financial recovery and financial independence, but it’s not a trait typically lauded by popular culture or social media.

Self-control is what builds a financial foundation, not impulsiveness and hedonism. It’s the ability to recognize that, sure, you desire something, but there is more value in not giving into every desire.

There are actually a lot of inspirational tools for this kind of thinking.

Read books about stoicism. Books on stoic thought are incredibly valuable for this kind of thinking, as stoicism is all about reflecting on one’s desires and making more rational decisions.

I highly recommend Meditations by Marcus Aurelius as a starting point. Marcus Aurelius was one of the last great emperors of the Roman Empire and Meditations is his personal notebook, where he reflected on how to be a wise steward of the wealth of the empire and how to handle both his inner circle of advisors and the citizens of Rome.

For a more modern take on the idea, check out How to Be a Stoic by Massimo Pigliucci, by William Irvine, or my own article covering how stoicism’s principles can help you transform your financial life.

Fill your social circle and build friendships with people who practice self-control. Look for people who don’t regularly succumb to unhealthy routines like substance use, who don’t seem to constantly have a flood of new possessions, and seem to have a good grasp on their physical health (at least to the extent that it’s under their control in terms of lifestyle choices). People who exhibit self control in at least some areas of life often have some degree of self control in most areas of life.

Remember, as Jim Rohn said, you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Elevate people in your life who naturally practice self-control over their temptations and find other healthier and more productive channels to spend their time, money, and energy.

Study people who achieved successes through willpower and sustained effort. One great way to keep yourself focused over the long haul is to regularly remind yourself of how great things are achieved by people who give long-term sustained effort to something.

Michael Jordan didn’t wake up one day as the greatest basketball player in the world. He got there because of sustained effort over many years. Winston Churchill wasn’t born a legendary orator. He practiced his speeches constantly, tweaking his delivery style and seeking improvement in getting his message across. John D. Rockefeller didn’t stumble into the enormous success of Standard Oil – rather, he spent countless years running around oil fields in Pennsylvania, balancing ledgers, and tweaking manufacturing and extraction processes. Sustained effort and willpower led these people to success, not momentary luck.

Don’t confuse a single three point shot made at a key moment as the sign of success. Rather, consider all of the practice and effort that went into building that person up to the point where they would have the opportunity and courage and ability to take that shot.

… Rather Than People Who Revel in Hedonism

It can be fun on some level to watch a pleasure seeker buy endless piles of clothes, go out to clubs constantly, buy tons of expensive foods and meals, and so on. The problem is that when the cameras turn off and people look away, that person’s usually left with nothing at all.

If the joy in your life is centered around the fleeting joy of consumption right now or in the very near future, you’re going to struggle mightily when your bank account is empty and those opportunities aren’t there any more. If you find yourself falling into that cycle of joy based on the pleasures of the moment, especially when those pleasures cost your money and your health, consider backing away from that and from the influences that got you there.

Avoid reality television, especially centered around the lives of the wealthy. A large portion of reality television is centered around hedonistic living, where people chase the latest pleasures, whatever they might be. They go shopping for new clothes constantly, go out to the clubs constantly, gawk at expensive houses constantly.

Turn that stuff off. It makes up only the tiniest sliver of content available to you anyway. Look for something else – anything else – to watch.

Minimize your relationships with people who consume their money and time in wasteful and harmful ways and center their time and energy around further consumption. If you know people who rely on alcohol and drugs to enjoy anything, people who constantly turn to “retail therapy,” people who can’t seem to find any joy unless they’re going out to an expensive restaurant or bragging about their expensive stuff, they’re living a hedonistic lifestyle, one that’s in almost direct opposition to financial success, and that lifestyle and mindset is likely to rub off on you at least a little.

Rather than following along with it, intentionally seek to find other friendships and relationships in your life to accentuate and minimize your relationships with people who are strongly hedonistic.

Tune out of the social media of people who constantly post about their consumption and possessions. If you tune into the social media feeds of people who are always showing off their latest stuff and their latest expensive experience, tune out. Such feeds are less about the person themselves and rather about the stuff they’re buying and consuming. (Better yet, tune out of social media entirely.)

There can be value found on social media, but it involves following people who use social media, at least in part, as an act of self-reflection or as a method for sharing the things they’re doing to bring themselves closer to their life goals or their true internal values. Focus on those people, not the product placement people.

Be Inspired By Dreams of Achievement…

Often, the most powerful inspirations we have come out of our own head. We visualize things that we want in our own future and keep coming back to those visions, crystallizing them until they become a guide for our actions.

Let your own imagination and dreams inspire you and become the basis for your actions and choices.

Set meaningful goals for yourself and develop plans for achieving them. We all have daydreams, but it’s when we sit down, figure out which ones we can actually achieve, and then translate them into actionable goals for ourself that they become real and tangible.

What can you do this year to achieve something you really want? What part of that can you tackle this month? What part of that can you tackle this week? What part of that can you finish off today – right now, hopefully? Ask yourself that over and over again, because that’s a path connecting your dreams of achievement to your actions today, and you’ll feel inspired to take that action.

Study the goal-setting practices of others, particularly those who have a history of achievement, and see what you can emulate. I read a lot about goal setting and planning, not because I deeply enjoy productivity busy work, but because I want to deeply understand how others translate their big dreams into actionable goals and then into things they can do today to move toward those goals.

Spend time reading books and articles that are about that very subject – how different people organize the big goals they have for themselves and break them down into steps that they can actually follow. There are lots of different variations on this and I find each of them inspiring. Often, they end up helping me tweak what I myself do.

Practice envisioning a future for yourself where you’re doing things rather than possessing or consuming things. When you’re daydreaming about the future and transforming it into goals, focus not on the things you’ll own (or, if you do, keep them really modest) and instead focus on the things you want to be doing with your time that, for whatever reason, you can’t do right now.

What do you want to do in the future? It probably requires some skill building. It probably requires a financial foundation, too. Start figuring out how you get from where you are to where you can be doing that thing to the level that you dream of.

… Rather Than Dreams of Possession and Consumption

Even though some of our daydreams are very inspirational in terms of a “big picture” view of our lives, an awful lot of daydreams fall into the short term “desire” picture. We envision things that we want right away (for me, for example, those daydreams right now tend toward an Apple Watch and a pasta machine).

We all have those dreams. The key is to recognize them as false inspiration and figure out how to handle and de-emphasize them.

Avoid “retail therapy” or situations where you shop as a form of entertainment. Putting yourself in situations where you’re in retail or online stores for any purpose other than making a planned purchase is an exercise in whipping up material desires. Kill those financially damaging “inspirations” by simply avoiding them. Don’t engage in “retail therapy.” Don’t shop as a form of entertainment.

If you’re struggling with this, just consider things that you enjoy doing that don’t involve an outlay of money. What hobbies do you have? What things have you always wanted to try? Focus on those things, and strive to fill your spare time with them instead.

Avoid media that seems centered around the latest products. An astonishing portion of news coverage is centered around hyping new products: the newest Apple gadget, the newest car, the newest clothing trends, even stuff as ludicrous as the hottest paint color.

If you’re watching a television program or reading a website or checking out a social media posting and all it’s doing is telling you about a new product of some kind, check out. That “news story” isn’t helping you in any way; it’s just cultivating desires that aren’t helpful for your bigger goals in life.

When you find that you want something and are tempted to spend money on it, ask yourself what experience you hope to gain from that expense and then look for better ways to gain that experience or something similar. In other words, identify what things you actually want out of life, recognize that the product you’re tempted by probably won’t get you there, and then look for the actual ways you might get to that goal.

You’re shortchanging false desires and inspirations by seeing that they won’t actually get you to where you want to be. Don’t despair in that – instead, use that as fuel to find things that actually will take you to where you want to be.

Be Inspired By Meaningful Experiences…

Every single person’s life is made up of an infinite multitude of experiences. Most are pretty ordinary and relatively meaningless, but some of them provide deep meaning to us. They’re the experiences that stick in our minds, building up our motivation and convincing us to change how we act.

Meaningful experiences are valuable, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Many of them are absolutely free. Some cost just a pittance. Others, yes, are expensive. If you seek out experiences based on their meaning, first and foremost, you’re likely to gravitate toward the abundance of low cost and meaningful experiences that the world provides for us.

Check out free or low cost activities that many other individuals have described as deeply meaningful for them. For me, the most meaningful experiences I have regularly are times when I meditate, when I write meaningful things, when I exercise, and when I get lost in the moment of whatever I’m doing. During those times, it feels almost like a different switch flips on in my head, one that I can’t ordinarily access, and I feel somehow different, somehow better.

Try lots of ordinary experiences that others have identified as meaningful. Try meditation – it might click with you or it might not. Try getting more exercise. Try reading powerful books. Try going to a free concert and just getting lost in the music. Try going to a powerful religious service. Try things – there’s a wide variety of human experience out there and when something clicks, it can be incredibly inspiring and life changing. It can change almost everything you do.

Look for great experiences you can have closer to home that you may not have explored before. People often seek inspiration in experiences that go beyond the everyday of their life. They’ll go on trips or other adventures in order to seek out some meaningful peak experience.

The truth is that there are thousands of unexplored places relatively close to home that might provide meaningful or inspirational to you. You don’t have to travel halfway across the globe to find inspiration or a deep meaningful experience. You might find it on a backwoods trail at a nearby state or national park. You might find it at a religious meeting of some kind in your very community. You might find it on stage at a local theater. Great, novel, inspirational experiences can be found everywhere if you simply look a little closer to home.

Try lots of variations on experiences that you’ve found meaningful in the past. If you’ve found, say, prayer to be inspirational in the past and now it’s faded, try a new way of praying. Go from simply saying what’s in your heart to reciting a short prayer or a mantra many times. If you’ve found journaling your day to be meaningful in the past but that’s faded, try writing three morning pages.

You may just find that the new variation breathes life into the old practice or even carries it to a more meaningful level than before. Such new practices can inspire you onward to greater things in life.

… Rather Than By Expensive Ones

It’s often easy to fall into the trap that expensive experiences are inherently the most meaningful ones or the “best” ones, but that’s often not the case at all. You can pay hundreds of dollars to have a dreadful meal. You can pay thousands to go to a seminar that’s so dull you fall asleep. Even a toilet can be gold plated.

The trick is to not simply substitute “expensive” for “meaningful” or “inspirational” and instead look for what might actually have an impact without prejudging how great it is based on the price tag.

Skip over costly activities and experiences unless the evidence of their value is overwhelming. By default, I tend to skip expensive experiences unless it is extremely clear that there will be a great deal of value to be found there. Why? There are many, many, many inexpensive or free experiences that I know will be meaningful to me that I haven’t engaged with yet, so why throw money at expensive ones?

I find a great deal of inspiration from being in an amazing natural place. I’ve visited maybe 20% of our national parks at all and, out of those, I’ve spent enough time to truly explore and enjoy and be inspired by exactly zero of them. Why do I need to fly to Kilimanjaro to be inspired when there are so many opportunities at far less price closer to home?

Avoid travel media. Travel media is almost singularly designed to convince you that the only good experiences are in remote places with a hefty price tag, which isn’t true at all. It’s an illusion created by travel magazines and television shows and radio programs.

Turn those things off. Instead, look within yourself for what you’d like to see. Discover things by serendipity in the other things you read and hear about. Let those guide you, not glorified travel brochures.

When learning about the travels and experiences of others, look for how they grew, not what they specifically did and where they did it. I almost always ask people what the best part of their trip was – not the best thing they saw or the most amazing place they went, but what moments they’ll really remember from all of it. Often, it’s a moment spent with a travel companion, or an ordinary moment on an unfamiliar street.

Why is that so important? It reveals the truth of peak experiences – they’re all around us, in the people we spend time with and in the relatively ordinary places we go. Those moments of inspiration can strike anywhere; you don’t have to go to a sacred site in Bolivia to find them.

Look for the elements of meaningful but expensive experiences that you can replicate in a free or inexpensive way. What kinds of experiences are really being offered by those expensive experiences? An exquisite natural setting? An appreciation of the effort of humans past? A deep religious or spiritual experience? What’s drawing you to this?

Once you figure out what kind of experience is drawing you in, ask where else you can find a similar experience. Perhaps there’s something similar in the next state rather than halfway around the world. Perhaps there’s something similar for free if you head west rather than incredibly expensive at a tourist site in the east. Look for that inspirational experience you desire elsewhere.

Final Thoughts

People seek and find inspiration in a wide variety of ways, but, particularly with financial inspiration, it’s easy for that experience to be misguided or the sticker price of that inspiration to be incredibly high.

You don’t need a mountaintop on the other side of the world to be inspired. You don’t need a several thousand dollar seminar to believe you can do great things. You just need good material around you, good people in your life, and an open eye and an open heart.

Good luck!

The post Finding Inspiration for Financial Success appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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Why I Don’t Recommend Individual Stock Picking

One frequent question that readers ask me is advice on whether or not they should invest in the stock of a particular company.

“Is it a good time to buy Google?”

“Should I invest in Amazon?”

“Thinking of putting some of my retirement money into Citibank shares. Thoughts?”

Almost universally, I respond to such folks like this:

“No.”

“No.”

“No.”

Why? What do I have against investing in individual stocks?

It’s simple. Unless you are investing with money that you are literally never going to need in your life, the risk of individual stock investing is simply too high for me to recommend it, no matter how amazing the company seems. There are a lot of sources of risk in individual stock investing and they add up to too much risk for the vast majority of individuals to use as an investment strategy.

Let’s walk through some of the many issues of investing in individual stocks.

First, you’re probably behind the curve of when you should invest in a company or sell shares. By the time a piece of information becomes general public knowledge so that an individual investor can act on it, it’s already been acted upon by large scale investors and the market price has already been adjusted.

Let’s say the company issues a really good quarterly earnings report and it seems like that company is hitting on all cylinders. By the time you’re even aware of this, the value of that company’s stock has already taken off.

Similarly, let’s say some minor bad news comes out about a company and you think it’s time to sell. By the time you can even take action on it as an individual, the company’s stock will have already fallen in value.

Why? Not only do large scale investors often hear such info before you do, their computer systems react to such news instantaneously. You have no chance whatsoever of beating them.

In short, you’re not going to be able to take advantage of information in any real way, because by the time you hear about it, the company’s share price will already account for it.

Second, you can’t predict the future. You have no way of knowing if the economy is going to keep rolling like it is or if it’s going to fall off the tracks in the next two years. You have no way of knowing if a company has a great product about to come out of R&D or if they’re running on eggshells and about to collapse. You have no idea whether some other company is about to revolutionize that sector and push your company aside, or if your company’s going to be the one to revolutionize it. You just don’t know.

Investing broadly takes care of these kinds of risks. By investing in lots and lots of companies at once, you’re going to have some shares that are taking off like a rocket, some that are kind of idling in place, and some that are dropping. On average, throughout history, they’ve gone up at a pace between 7% and 10% over the long haul, but there have certainly been years during economic downturns where the average value has dropped.

On the other hand, individual shares have years where they triple in value and years where they lose all value, and as an individual, you have little ability to tell which is which. In late 2000, Enron looked like a great investment in one of the biggest companies in the world. By late 2001, it was a penny stock.

Why is this bad? In general, individual investors can’t really afford to lose their entire investment unless they’re already financially set for life and they’re investing with the excess. If you don’t have a financial fortress of at least enough to keep food on the table for yourself and your immediate dependents, you shouldn’t be taking on extreme risk with that money.

Third, it takes time to do this well. To actually invest and not just gamble based on what you heard on CNBC or from your buddy at work, you have to spend time reading earnings reports and SEC filings and other things like that. (If you’re not doing that, you’re going to be eaten alive by those who do because those who do that extra work are going to blow you away in terms of knowledge.) If you’re invested in a number of companies, that’s going to be a lot of time and effort.

Let’s say, however, that you still think it’s fine to invest in individual stocks because you still believe it’s financially prudent. There are still several mechanical reasons why it’s a bad idea.

For starters, it’s expensive to invest in individual stocks. To do this as an individual, you’re going to have to work through a brokerage. A brokerage is going to charge you for each and every buy and sell that you make. If you buy shares, you have to pay a fee. If you sell shares, you have to pay a fee.

Now, if you’re buying and selling shares in large quantities, the fees aren’t a big deal. If you’re buying $100,000 worth of shares of a single company, a $9.99 buy fee is only 0.01% of your investment. However, if you’re not dealing with such large sums of money, the percentage shoots right up. If you buy $1,000 in shares of a company, that $9.95 fee is 1% of your investment gone, right there, and then if you sell those shares later, that’s another 1% of your initial investment that vanishes. You have to get a 2% return on your investment just to break even. Similarly, if you wish to diversify your investment at all, you’re now executing multiple buys and sells, each of which comes with a brokerage fee.

Another issue is emotional attachment. When you’re investing in individual stocks, it’s incredibly easy to get emotionally attached to one company. You likely know a lot about this company. You probably believe in this company – or else why would you be investing your hard-earned money in them? When you have those kinds of connections, it’s very easy to believe that genuinely bad news is just a speed jump and minor good news is huge, great news.

Because of this, it’s often really hard to see when you should be dropping an investment in a company. Individual investors will often stick with a company long past the point where they should have sold their shares because they know that company and they believe in that company and that often blinds you to warning signs and little problems. We’re human. We can’t help but wear rose-colored glasses sometimes.

Finally, diversification is really, really hard. A single investment in the shares of an individual company is a really really risky move. You can mitigate that risk by investing in lots of companies in different industries, but by doing so, you multiply the amount of time you have to invest in studying all of those companies (the annual reports and quarterly reports and SEC filings and other materials mentioned earlier). You are also multiplying the fees you’re paying at your brokerage.

Again, as I said earlier, you could simply skip all of that work and just trust your “gut” or the advice of some guy at work. If you do that, though, you’re going to be eaten alive by those who are very informed on the subject and actually do the homework. You’re hoping your “gut” beats them. Hint: you won’t unless you’re incredibly lucky.

Now, multiply all of that effort across lots of companies.

What you’re looking at is something that’s akin to a full time job. It might be enjoyable, but it is going to gobble up a lot of time and energy. Even then, you’re still not going to be able to get ahead of the large scale institutional investors.

Given these factors, I simply can’t advise individual investors to put any money into individual stocks. Instead, I point individual investors toward index funds, which basically amount to investing in the stock market as a whole (or, as I like to think of it, an investment in capitalism in general). By doing this, you’re basically buying all the companies, which means there’s no real need to study individual companies at all. Put your actual investment money into things like the Total Stock Market Index, not into individual shares of Google.

But what if this whole thing just seems really exciting to you and you really want to invest in individual stocks? If you feel that way, I strongly encourage you to find other ways to channel that energy. Seek out a local investment club where people will discuss investing. Look for online stock picking forums. Look for stock picking contests to enter. What you’ll quickly see is that while it can be quite fun, it’s also incredibly risky, the type of risky that you don’t want to commit your life savings to.

If you really insist on investing, budget for it and treat it solely as entertainment, not as an investment. I buy things with my entertainment budget that retain value and sometimes increase in value, plus I get to enjoy them as entertainment. Treat your stock picking in the same way. If money goes in, budget it as entertainment. If it comes out, great! Use it for something useful or else just reinvest it.

If you’re not extremely wealthy and you’re thinking of buying individual stocks as a genuine part of your future investment portfolio, don’t. Instead, invest in something more diverse or, even better, clean up your financial life by eliminating debt or saving for upcoming big expenses. Your life will be in much better shape if you choose that path.

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Friday, September 21, 2018

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Three Ways to Remove a Charge-Off From Your Credit Report

If you fall far enough behind on your bills and eventually default, you may start seeing or hearing the term “charge-off.” The term charge-off can be a little misleading, and some people even believe that a charged-off debt is one that is no longer owed. Yet, despite many hopeful wishes to the contrary, that is not the case whatsoever.

Charge-off is simply an accounting term that signifies that a creditor has written off your debt for tax purposes. The debt, however, is still very much owed, and the creditor may continue collection efforts on the account. Often, though not always, charged-off debts are turned over to third-party collection agencies and even collection attorneys.

Charged-off debts can also be reported to the credit reporting agencies. In fact, they have been a part of consumer credit reports for decades. As you can imagine, charge-offs are considered to be negative credit events, and they can lead to lower credit scores.

If you do have a charge-off or multiple charge-offs on your credit reports, you may be wondering if there are any ways to have them removed. The answer is: Yes, it’s possible. Here are your three options.

Option #1: Dispute

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) gives you a number of rights when it comes to the information on your credit reports. One of those is the right to dispute any information on your credit reports that you believe to be inaccurate or unverifiable.

This means if you disagree with how a charged-off account is appearing on your credit report or you don’t believe the company furnishing the information can actually verify it, you have the right to dispute it and possibly have it removed.

When you dispute a charge-off, the credit reporting agencies (CRAs) are legally obligated to investigate your claim. The CRAs will generally have 30 days to process your dispute, though in some cases it can be as long as 45 days. If a disputed account cannot be verified as accurate, the law requires the CRAs to remove the item from your credit reports at the conclusion of their investigation and send you a copy of the results.

Option #2: Pay-for-Delete

If you acknowledge that the item is correct and verifiable, then a dispute may not be the most effective option. But, a “pay-for-delete” settlement is another potential way to remove a charge-off from your credit reports.

A pay-for-delete agreement refers to a deal you make with a lender, where they agree to remove an account from your credit reports if you pay an agreed-upon amount. Make sure to get whatever deal you’ve negotiated in writing. Otherwise, you could pay the debt and still be stuck in a he-said-she-said situation if the charge-off remains on your credit reports with a zero balance after payment.

It’s worth noting that persuading a lender to remove a charge-off from your credit as part of a settlement agreement is a long shot, as it runs counter to their agreement with the credit bureaus to only delete items that are incorrect. Lenders aren’t supposed to remove items just because they’ve been paid.

Option #3: Run Out the Clock

If you’re not fortunate enough to have a charged-off account removed from your credit reports early through one of the above options, the only thing you can do is to sit back and wait.

A charged-off account can remain on your credit reports for a full seven years from the date the original account first went late leading to the default. The good news is that your charge-off will generally impact your credit scores less and less as it ages.

More by John Ulzheimer:

John Ulzheimer is an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring, and identity theft. The author of four books on the subject, Ulzheimer has been featured thousands of times over the past decade in media outlets including the Wall Street Journal, NBC Nightly News, The Los Angeles Times, CNBC, and countless others. With professional experience at both Equifax and FICO, Ulzheimer is the only credit expert who actually comes from the credit industry. He has been an expert witness in over 230 credit related lawsuits and has been qualified to testify in both federal and state courts on the topic of consumer credit.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Saving for Tomorrow versus Living for Today

One of the hardest experiences of moving toward middle age is that I have to watch my parents enter old age. Those two people have been the absolute rocks in my life for as long as I can remember. I remember them clearly at the most active and vibrant times in their lives, when they seemed infinitely strong and their energy seemed infinitely boundless. Now they’re growing old together and while they still get around and still travel and still do a lot of things, they don’t get around as fast as they once did and, eventually, they won’t be around any more. Words can’t describe how much I’ll miss them when they’re gone.

I know quite well that the same thing will eventually happen with my own children. They’ll reach middle age and they’ll look at Sarah and myself and think similar thoughts to themselves. They’ll remember Sarah and I running around in the park with them and playing soccer with them and going to taekwondo with them and having seemingly endless energy to work all day and make meals and clean the house and spend time with them and all of the stuff we do now and that I remember my parents once doing. And, inevitably, we will have lost a step, as humans do.

And they’ll wonder, as I sometimes wonder about my own parents and frankly about myself, whether or not I should be living life to the absolute fullest today instead of saving for tomorrow.

There are so many things I could do in my life right now if I simply stopped saving for the future. We could go on some downright amazing trips. We could spend our entire summers abroad until the kids are out of school. We could live in an utterly amazing house, much larger and nicer than the one we live in now. There are so many amazing, wonderful things that we could do today if we weren’t saving for tomorrow.

Let’s say that I did decide to go that route. What would I really gain out of it?

I’d gain some wonderful memories of experiences with my family. I’d have a little bit bigger house to live in with a bigger yard. I’d probably be able to check some things off of my “bucket list.”

Here’s the thing, though. I already have a ton of wonderful shared memories with my kids and my wife and my parents. I already have a plenty big house to live in. I already have checked a bunch of stuff off of my bucket list.

Sarah and I have a little “bucket list” of places on Earth that we someday want to visit together, flung all across the globe. The truth of it, though, is that those trips would just serve as a backdrop for her smile; it really doesn’t matter too much to me where we are as long as we’re there together. Why not spend a week or two on a road trip together for a few hundred bucks rather than a trip halfway across the world for thousands? Maybe we’ll go on a big trip once in a while, but the magic of any trip is the people you’re with and the serendipitous things that happen. I’ve been on countless trips in my life and the most unforgettable vacation I’ve ever had in my life was a camping road trip to Yellowstone. Why? It was the people I was with and the serendipitous moments. The “once in a lifetime” moments can happen anywhere as long as you’re with people you care about.

I live in a perfectly nice house. Sure, it could have nicer furnishings. Sure, it could be bigger. But what exactly would I do with a bigger home office? Would that suddenly make me have better ideas? Of course not. Would that make even a whit of difference to how I actually pass my days? Not really, except I’d probably have to spend more time on property maintenance.

The whole “save for tomorrow or live for today” dichotomy just seems silly to me. I live for today every single day of my life, and I save for tomorrow pretty hard, too.

I live for today every time I put down some relatively unimportant task and instead go to the park with my kids and toss a frisbee around with them.

I live for today every time I sit down with one of my kids and really listen to what they’re saying.

I live for today every time I get lost in my work or lost in a great book.

I don’t need a flashy trip to live for today. I don’t need a huge house to live for today. I don’t need to do something dangerous to live for today. I have a ton of things in my life right now that are well worth living for today.

That’s the secret.

I live for today when I get lost in someone else’s eyes or in their story.

I live for today when I get so engaged in a task that I lose all track of time and place.

I live for today when I create something.

I live for today when I feel love or when I give love without strings attached.

I live for today when someone’s creative work takes my breath away.

None of those things require you to spend tons of money or to walk away from your responsibilities or to destroy your future.

But, still, why save for tomorrow?

I save for tomorrow so that the stress stays away. I don’t want to have to worry about money for any reason.

I save for tomorrow so that when I’m the age my parents are at right now I don’t have to worry about where the money is coming from.

I save for tomorrow so that if God forbid something happens to me tomorrow, my children and my wife are well taken care of and never have to really worry about much of anything.

To put it simply, I save for tomorrow so I can live for today with almost no worry.

Do you want to live for today? Here are a few things you should try.

Tell someone you love them, out of the blue, right now. Send someone a text, or just turn to them and say it.

Write a note in your own handwriting to someone who really had a positive impact on your life, thanking them for that impact.

Do something to get your blood pumping in your veins and get yourself just a little out of breath, then see how it feels.

Eat your favorite snack, but do it slowly and enjoy each little flavor.

Watch the sun go down on the horizon and marvel at each color change.

Take a big task on your plate, turn off all distractions, and just get lost in the work, focusing on it and doing it well.

Take a long shower and scrub every inch of your body.

Watch something that makes you laugh.

Read something that makes you think.

Hear something that makes you cry.

You’ll have a pretty amazing day if you do all of those things.

Save for tomorrow, and you’ll be doing it with low stress and preserve your ability to do those things for the rest of your days.

Save for tomorrow? Live for today? I’d say do both.

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Asking Someone for a Favor? Five Tips to Write a Better Email Request

Like many liberal arts majors, I didn’t waltz right into a good career when I graduated from college. The challenges of a real-world job hunt hit like a tidal wave, and I scrambled to find a foothold.

It was during this time that I learned how important it is to be able to write a good email asking someone for a favor. I needed help, but I needed to ask for it in ways that weren’t annoying, desperate, or rude.

I’m now much further along in my career, but I still periodically find myself asking things of my mentors, friends, former co-workers, and even complete strangers. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about how to write emails in a way that gets a positive response.

This article will detail some best practices when it comes to making a request by email, with advice mined from my own experience as well as from experts in email communication. I’ll focus on a situation in which you’re asking for career advice from someone you don’t know that well, but the principles can be applied widely.

Always keep in mind that it’s easier to ask for a favor from someone who’s in your social circle, or from someone for whom you’ve already done a favor in the past. That’s why it’s so important to build and maintain a good social network and to treat others the way you want to be treated.

Provide Value

Sure, you’re the one asking for a favor, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be additive to the person you’re reaching out to. This advice is admittedly tricky to follow if, say, you’re a new grad and you’re emailing a vice president at a big company. What can you possibly offer them?

Maybe it’s a gesture as small as offering to buy them a coffee, beer, or lunch should they meet up with you. That might not seem like much, but it demonstrates you’re willing to put some of your (likely meager) resources on the line for the chance to pick their brain. People respect that.

Alex Birkett, marketing manager at HubSpot, has written extensively about the importance of providing value when asking for favors. He writes that providing value could mean “many different things: friendship and favors, the draw of future reciprocity, cold hard cash, stimulating conversation, an introduction, etc.”

Not all of those suggestions will be applicable in every case, so you might have to get creative.

  • Bad example: “Can we chat about my future sometime? I swear it will be worth your while.”
  • Better example: “I’m just starting out, but I’d love to buy you a coffee and pick your brain.”

Be Confident and Credible

Just because the person you’re reaching out to is more established than you doesn’t mean you have to act meek. People don’t respond well to tentativeness or false modesty. Act like you’re deserving of their time, and they just might give it to you.

That being said, confidence without credibility won’t get you far. You’ll want to quickly establish that you have done your research on this person and that you have something specific to talk about. “‘Why should I care?’ is the tacit question hovering in most people’s minds as they open an email, especially if it’s from someone they don’t know,” writes Jocelyn K. Glein in her book Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distractions, and Get Real Work Done. “That’s why establishing your credibility early on in the message is critical.”

  • Bad example: “I know you probably never respond to people like me, but I figure I’d take a shot in the dark. I’d really love to hear from you so I can tell you more about myself.”
  • Better example: “I’m very interested in your industry (I interned in the same field sophomore year), and I’d be very excited to learn more about it from someone like yourself. I look forward to potentially talking further.”

Use Some Flattery (But Not Too Much)

Flattery is scientifically proven to generate favorable reactions, even when it’s insincere. You don’t want to be obnoxiously sycophantic, but it makes people feel good when you show that you have an appreciation for what they do.

Just make sure to be genuine about it. You can get a reply from someone even if you’re disingenuous, but I firmly believe that people will identify with true passion. I can’t prove that, but it’s my impression as the sender and receiver of many of these emails.

Just make sure you don’t go straight from obvious, fake flattery to demanding something of the person. Inc. magazine columnist and social media maven Dakota Shane hates it when “people reach out with artificial flattery (complimenting an article I wrote, etc.), and then they immediately dive into their canned pitch or ask for a favor.”

  • Bad example: “Your work has changed my life and your recent article completely blew my mind! You are a legend! Can we meet up?”
  • Better example: “I’ve been a fan of your website for a long time and I try to implement some of your strategies in my own life. I’d love to buy you a coffee sometime and get your advice.”

Be Realistic

No one’s going to give you exactly what you want after a single email, and it would be rude to ask for too much all at once. It’s much better to start small. People generally want to help those who are just starting out, but they’ll be less inclined to do so if it seems like you’re going to hoover up a lot of their time.

Part of being realistic is providing an escape clause in all of your emails. This means giving the person a chance to politely decline your request. Great on the Job author Jodi Glickman suggests using the line, “If you can’t help out, I completely understand.”

  • Bad example: “I see you have a job opening at your company that I’m interested in exploring. Can we talk sometime? Can you help me get an interview?”
  • Better example: “Your company is the exact kind of place I’d like to work at one day, so any advice you have on breaking into the industry would be tremendously valuable to me. But if it’s not a good time, I completely understand.”

Be Concise

One thing you learn when doing sales for a living is that bigger is not always better. You might think the recipient of an email wants to hear every detail of your life story, but trust me: they don’t. They’re busy, and email is a time suck. You will greatly increase your odds of a response if you get right to the point.

Try to add some value, show your interest, give a compliment, ask for help, and sign off.

  • Bad example: [Writes out an entire resume, makes multiple jokes, asks six questions, rambles for three paragraphs.]
  • Better example: [Plainly states the reason for the email and quickly makes a case as to why the recipient should respond. The whole thing is no more than five sentences.]

Summing Up

Treat these emails like you’re a salesperson selling a product. The only difference is that you are the product. You want to come across as respectful, unobtrusive, and useful. If you remember to be honest, additive, and concise, you’ll go a long way toward convincing people they should help you.

Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. We all do it, and those of us who get asked for a favor by polite people usually treat it as an honor. So, get out there and email! As the old cliche goes, “You’ll never know if you don’t ask.”

More by Drew Housman

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Keeping Food Spending Low When You Live in a Food Desert

Last week, I published an article entitled How to Find – and Get the Most Value Out of – Your Local Discount Grocer that tackles head-on one of the tougher frugality challenges we all face: how does a person find the cheapest grocery store in their area and, once they do, how do they really get the most value out of it?

This article generated far more feedback than I expected, with people asking for advice in situations that went beyond the boundaries of the article. One of the best questions was a simple one: how does this advice translate to places where there just aren’t many stores, period? In other words, how does a person keep their food spending low in a food desert? To clarify, a “food desert” is simply the term for any area in which there is little or no access to nutritious low cost food, and “food desert” is the term I will use for such a place going forward.

Food deserts are most commonly found in low income areas in cities (where the only grocery retailers tend to be high-priced convenience stores) and in rural areas distant from large cities (where there are often no grocers at all). In both cases, it’s pretty tough for a grocer to earn a good profit, so there tends to be a small number of stores and those that do take root often charge high prices and offer a pretty poor selection of highly processed foods that can stay on the shelf for a long time.

What can a person do in these situations? As is always the case, the reasons that people find themselves stranded in a food desert vary widely. They might simply live in a small town where there isn’t a real grocery store for many, many miles. They might live in a low income urban area and not have a car available to get to other areas with more grocery selection. In both cases, they might be struggling with the financial resources necessary to even buy many groceries.

The solutions in this article won’t work in all food deserts. Some work quite well in rural food deserts but won’t work in urban ones; some will work well in urban food deserts, but won’t work in rural ones. Some will work in both, depending on the exact situation.

Also, my focus is on practical solutions that will help people in food deserts right away, rather than social solutions to the overall food desert problem. While it would be wonderful for food deserts to no longer exist for anyone, chasing that dream doesn’t help the hungry family in a food desert right now. I’m interested in helping that family put food on the table sooner rather than later.

Many of these strategies came from my own childhood, where we lived a healthy distance from the nearest grocery store. The nearest grocer that I can identify using Google Maps was about nine miles away from our house and required use of a toll bridge to get there; there were two other very small and rather pricy grocers a little further away than that in a different direction that didn’t require toll. While that wasn’t a complete food desert, it pales compared to having a discount grocer within easy walking distance of my home as I have today. In other words, I am personally more familiar with strategies in “rural” food deserts rather than “urban” ones, though most of these strategies will work in both situations.

Here are some strategies to employ if you find yourself living in a food desert.

Carpool

Whether you simply have to drive to another part of the city to get discount groceries or you have to drive 50 miles tot eh nearest city of any real size to do so, one way to make that trip much more cost effective is to carpool with others in that situation. Make that trip with one or two other people who also have to buy groceries and you halve the cost of transportation for each of you.

It’s easy. If you don’t have a car, ask someone who might drive out of the area for groceries if you could carpool with them for $5 or $10 toward the price of gas. If you both have cars, suggest alternating trips to keep the price low. The carpool driver simply picks up the other person (or people) on the trip and then goes to wherever the store is, then both people shop for whatever groceries they need, then the driver drops off the passenger and his/her groceries.

This also effectively adds a social element to your grocery trips. I remember when my great grandmother, who lived in a bit of a food desert herself, would look forward to going to the grocery store with her oldest son, who would come and pick her up and they would go to the store together, both of them buying their food for the week.

Practice Careful Meal Planning and Trip Planning

My basic strategy for cost-effective grocery shopping is as follows:

Step 1: Get a Flyer
Step 2: Find Sales on Fresh Ingredients
Step 3: Do Some Recipe Research
Step 4: Create a Week-Long Meal Plan
Step 5: Make a Shopping List from the Meal Plan
Step 6: Go Grocery Shopping – And Stick to Your List

This list still applies in a food desert, except that your planning might be longer than a week – you may even be planning two or three weeks of meals, depending on the availability of a ride to the grocery store (as noted in the above section). You also can’t rely on easy availability of staples.

This means that you need to be particularly careful when it comes to meal planning. You need to plan out at least some meals that don’t rely on fresh produce and ensure that you are either buying or already have every single ingredient on hand for all of those meals. This takes some time.

A grocery list in this situation is absolutely essential, too. Once you’ve assembled that long meal plan and figured out, meal by meal, what items you have on hand and which ones you need, you simply must have a big list of all of those necessary items. In areas where there are a lot of stores, a grocery list is simply a useful tool to avoid a redundant trip and to keep you focused on what you have to buy. In a food desert, a grocery list does those things, but since a grocery store isn’t convenient, it’s probably the difference between actually being able to make some meals or not.

If you live in a food desert, every trip to a discount grocer in another area should involve a detailed meal plan for the next week (or few weeks) as well as a grocery list that was carefully checked to ensure that nothing’s missing. This ensures that you’re actually able to carry out that meal plan without the convenience of a grocery store.

Buy Shelf-Stable Foods in Enormous Bulk

One of the most effective strategies to live by in a food desert is to have an abundance of common shelf-stable foods on hand, particularly if you live in rural areas with harsh winters. Don’t shy away from giant bags of dried rice or dried beans, or entire boxes of things like tomato sauce.

Besides the fact that having huge quantities means that you’re unlikely to run out between grocery store visits, the advantage of buying such things in huge quantities is that such bulk buys are usually pretty cheap. If you have to drive 50 miles to the nearest city of any size and that city has a warehouse club (Costco or Sam’s Club or BJ’s), you can probably save quite a bit of money by simply buying many of your nonperishable items there in bulk. Be aware that the first time you do this, you may wish to have a large vehicle available as you’re stocking up on bulky things like toilet paper and large sacks of rice – that can take up a lot of space.

Don’t rely solely on a warehouse club, however; while they’re typically quite good on prices, they rarely beat the loss leaders at other stores. So, when you’re preparing a meal plan and grocery list, use the flyers from the discount grocers in the area you are heading to and focus on buying those items and other items you don’t need in large quantity at the discount grocers, then buy many of your remaining bulk items at the warehouse club.

Practice Preservation

What about fresh foods? It can be hard to find fresh foods in food deserts, so the obvious solution is to buy fresh foods in decent quantity when you can find them during your trips out of the food desert.

The only problem is that fresh foods can go bad quite easily. That’s why preservation techniques are really important to learn if you’re in a food desert.

Whenever you bring home a healthy quantity of a particular type of fresh produce or fresh meat, you should be asking yourself what you can do to preserve the extras for the future. With many items, you can simply freeze them with almost no additional effort. I consider a deep freezer to be a vital purchase for people in food deserts, as you can simply fill up freezers with meat items and many vegetable items with minimal effort.

Another good option is canning. Canning offers the advantage of long-term storage of vegetables, fruits, and even meats without the necessity of refrigeration or freezing. It can be a bit time consuming; one great strategy for canning is to simply have a “canning day” where you get out all of the equipment you need for many canning batches and fill up your pantry all at once. This was a pretty common activity at my house growing up; we would have a “canning day” every month or so when the garden produce was coming in where we would simply can every bit of unused produce we could get from the garden – whole tomatoes, tomato sauce and juice, green beans, pepper slices, and so on. We had a “pantry” in our basement that was nothing but canned vegetables in glass jars.

Start a Garden

If you have a patch of ground available to you, take advantage of that patch to start a vegetable garden, which will provide produce for you throughout the late spring, summer, and into fall.

During periods of overabundance of produce, you can easily use the techniques above to preserve the extras for the late fall, winter, and early spring when your garden isn’t producing.

Yes, a garden takes some work. You have to turn over the soil and plant things in the spring. You have to maintain the garden with weeding and fertilization. You have to harvest regularly throughout the harvest season, and you’ll probably have to deal with sudden floods of food.

Still, a garden is well worth it, particularly in a food desert. It provides a source of food that produces without you even have to leave your property. Fresh tomatoes, fresh beans, fresh cauliflower and broccoli, fresh peppers, fresh lettuce… all of it is easily available and more if you take the time to grow a garden.

Raise Chickens (or Other Livestock)

Another strategy for providing your own food is to raise chickens or, if you’re ambitious, other livestock.

Raising chickens is relatively easy, generally only requiring a small coop and a small fenced-in area for the chickens to wander. Within the coop, the hens will lay eggs regularly, which you can harvest daily for a steady and practically free supply of eggs. The chickens themselves can be harvested for their meat if so desired. This can be done in almost any yard; I’ve seen many chicken coops in rural food deserts as well as a few in urban food deserts. A friend of mine in an area of Des Moines with few grocery stores nearby had a neighbor that had a chicken coop in his back yard, right in the middle of the city.

Other livestock can be raised as well, but they generally require more work and space. A better approach might be to work with a local farmer that provides a co-op service, whereas you pay for most of the expenses of a single farm animal along with an additional fee for the farmer’s effort and in exchange you receive the meat from that animal. This is often an option in rural food deserts, but is largely unavailable in urban food desert settings.

Cultivate a Food Network

This final strategy is a very important one. Cultivating your own “food network” when you live in a a food desert is an absolutely essential tool.

A “food network” is a really straightforward idea. It’s simply a collection of neighbors and friends that live in your immediate area that you can rely on for food items as needed, just as they can rely on you for food items as needed.

With someone in your food network, depending on your exact relationship, you can easily ask them for staple foods that you might need to make it through your meal plan for the week, and they’d be able to do the same for you if needed. You might swap excess produce with them, or swap canned goods with them. You might even plan to have a regular dinner together – perhaps each family prepares dinner for both families one night out of the week.

In essence, your “food network” becomes your protection against food shortfalls so that you don’t have to skip meals and you also don’t have to rely on highly expensive local grocery stores or convenience stores if you’re in a pinch. Instead, you can rely on your good relationship with your neighbor.

How can you start this kind of relationship? A good way to start is by simply giving or swapping some of your excess food. If you find yourself with an abundance of produce, give it to a neighbor. You’ll find that if you do so and they find it useful, they’re much more likely to share food with you later on if you are in need.

Another good way to start is to simply ask for a small food item – a cup of rice or something like that – when you need it. Then, promise to help them out in a similar pinch and when they come knocking, do so. You’ll find that, as you help each other out with such small moves, the relationship builds into a certain level of trust, and that kind of neighborly trust is incredibly valuable.

The easiest way to start building a relationship of trust is extending your own trust a little. Don’t be afraid to give first. If you find out later that the person doesn’t reciprocate, it’s not a big deal. It’s just a small loss. If you find out later, however, that the trust is reciprocated, then you’re building the foundation of a great relationship, one that’s going to save you a lot of money and a lot of time and a lot of little worries over the years.

Final Thoughts

Obviously, there is no perfect solution for living in a food desert. Not having easy access to reasonably priced groceries is a challenge for anyone, and there is no perfect solution to the problem.

Rather, the best approach for dealing with the problem is using several different strategies at once. Don’t just rely on carpooling; also plant a garden. Don’t just rely on meal planning; also build a food network. Don’t just rely on buying in bulk; also spend time preserving food.

Do lots of things. Do all of the strategies that will work in your area.

“But won’t this take a lot of time?” Sure, but living in a food desert means that no matter what you do, food acquisition is going to take extra time and extra cost. By applying your time in a smart fashion, you can save quite a bit of money along the way.

Good luck!

The post Keeping Food Spending Low When You Live in a Food Desert appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Now in Stock, Sticker Shock: How a Trade War Could Impact Your Budget

As tariff tiffs ratchet up between the United States and its key trading partners, especially China, economists are warning of the potential for a full-blown trade war and global economic crisis — and everyone from American manufacturers to farmers are increasingly on edge about what the future holds. But consumers ought to worry, too.

President Trump announced Monday he would press ahead with tariffs on another $200 billion worth of Chinese imports, on top of $50 billion already taxed earlier this year — meaning nearly half of all goods imported from China will be subject to trade duties. This new wave of tariffs will start at 10 percent on Sept. 24, before climbing to 25 percent at year’s end. Experts expect China will take retaliatory action on American exports, though Trump threatened to slap tariffs on another $267 billion in Chinese goods in response.

What does this escalation mean for you? By many accounts, a heightened trade war would not only increase costs for U.S. businesses, it would also hurt the average American consumer by way of increased prices and even jobs losses.

The Many Impacts of a Trade War

A trade war would impact Americans in a number of ways. Perhaps the most obvious is that U.S. tariffs on goods from other countries increase the prices of products we import from that country.

But those aren’t the only price hikes you can expect. “There’s also an incentive for domestic producers to raise their prices to a level just under the adjusted tariff amount,” explained Mark Harvey, director of graduate programs at University of Saint Mary, where he teaches international political economy and global management. “So, costs of goods tend to increase whether they’re domestic or foreign made.”

In addition, anything in the supply chain that’s hit with a tariff will result in prices being nudged upward. “So, if we put tariffs on steel or aluminum, any product with steel or aluminum increases in cost,” continued Harvey.

One reason countries raise tariffs on imports is to make goods produced at home more price-competitive with those made elsewhere, to try and boost domestic manufacturing and in turn create more manufacturing jobs.

But even if the tariffs are ultimately successful, resulting in the relocation of production away from an overseas facility where labor is cheap and back to the United States, the cost of production will increase and still hit consumers hard.

“There’s a reason companies relocated — to save money by taking advantage of cheaper resources, labor, or to tighten up a supply chain,” Harvey said. “If tariffs increase the costs so substantially that these businesses permanently come home, it more permanently raises the costs of production.”

Ryan McMunn, CEO of U.S.-based Tricam Industries, has been watching the heated trade war rhetoric with growing concern. McMunn, who as president of the company’s China operations helped grow Tricam into one of the largest manufacturers of ladders in this country, suggests consumers should be worried as well.

“The trade war will affect manufacturers of almost every product imaginable and, in the end, the American consumer,” said McMunn. “Manufacturers already run on razor thin margins. They cannot possibly absorb the tariffs, nor can the retailers. So, unfortunately, the cost increase will most likely be passed on to the American public.”

To be clear, however, it’s not just consumers and the prices of consumer goods that will feel the pinch. McMunn says that, in the end, a trade war will result in lower sales for businesses — including his own, when the costs of ladders and garden carts go up. The average American consumer is not necessarily going to be able to afford the higher prices.

And already, American farmers are paying the price, said McMunn. China has retaliated with tariffs of its own on some U.S. agricultural exports such as soybeans, which has hurt farmers from Colorado to Nebraska to Idaho and prompted President Trump to issue $12 billion in emergency aid to farmers hurt by the tariffs.

“It’s making it harder for our farmers to sell in China. They are basically shutting off imports of soybeans in China, which definitely did not help the American farmer,” McMunn said.

Then Why Raise Tariffs?

Not all economists and political experts are critical of Trump’s expanding tariffs. Some believe the president’s tough stance, after years of the U.S. liberalizing trade far more than our partners, is the correct approach.

“Raising tariffs is a tool that the United States is using to get parties to the table, and to pressure them using this leverage to agree to better terms for the U.S.,” said Juscelino Colares, professor of business law and political science at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, who is largely supportive of the president’s efforts.

“The reason the U.S. needed to do this is because our tariffs were much closer to zero then those of our trading partners,” Colares said. “We had very little to give and, after numerous trade deals and two-and-a-half decades of WTO and NAFTA, our counter-parties were not reducing tariffs and other barriers while we kept a very open market and continued liberalizing.”

Like others, Colares believes the tariffs may lead to increased prices on certain goods in the short term. But if Trump’s effort to create a more level playing field is ultimately successful, Colares expects the tariffs will no longer be necessary.

“Once we reach deals and get other countries to reduce their tariffs, then we will stop using these extra tariffs as inducers to negotiation, and we go to a new normal with lower barriers for our exports,” Colares explained.

What Products and Prices Will Be Impacted?

In July, the Trump administration released a more than 200-page document detailing hundreds of Chinese goods that would be subject to 10 percent tariffs — now set to take effect next week and increase to 25 percent by the end of 2018. McMunn received an email from the government with the document and was shocked. “It was unbelievable the number of products and the specificity it goes into. It’s surreal,” he recalled.

The exhaustive document covers everything from fish imports to printer ink to shampoo. Also on the list are dozens of rubber-based products, from bike tires to transmission belts, plus handbags, luggage, leather, skis, and gloves ranging from baseball mitts to wool mittens — all of which are just a tiny sample of the thousands of items targeted (though roughly 300 items, including high chairs and bike helmets, have been removed).

Earlier Trump administration tariffs imposed on steel, aluminum, and Canadian lumber have already sent construction costs soaring; the tariffs on lumber alone can add close to $10,000 to the cost of a new home. The new tariffs on Chinese goods add to that list dozens of construction materials, from wood products to plaster to stones used in homebuilding and landscaping, such as granite, slate, sandstone, and marble. And the price of laundry equipment leaped nearly 20% in the months after president Trump first put tariffs on imported washers.

How Can Consumers Respond?

There’s no easy or simple way to avoid the impacts of a trade war. At most, consumers can be more selective about the products they buy and perhaps try to avoid those coming from countries impacted by tariffs.

“The latest round of tariffs are aimed at China, so one way to avoid higher priced goods would be buy items sourced from countries other than China,” said David Spooner, partner in the corporate department and co-chair of the international trade practice group at the Washington, D.C., office of Barnes & Thornburg.

Spooner, who represents governments, trade associations, and corporate clients on international trade matters, said that while it may be beyond the ability of the average consumer, it’s possible to look for substitutes for certain types of products. “For instance, certain types of rubber raincoats are affected by the tariffs, but only certain types,” he said.

Another option for consumers hoping to avoid the impact of a trade war is to shop now for any items on that mega-list that you may need — before the tariffs start to take effect. Or set aside money to deal with the possibility of inflation; interest rates are rising, at least, with most online savings accounts now yielding close to 2% or better.

McMunn also suggests writing to political representatives in Washington, D.C., to express concern about the tariffs.

“What we’re doing as a business is sending letters to our congressmen and senators. We have a warehouse in 12 states and we’re emailing our representatives in all of them,” said McMunn. “Our customers are doing the exact same thing, writing their congressmen and senators. Individual citizens could do that as well – pick up a pen and paper, that makes a bigger impact then just sending an email.”

Temporary Tactic or Long-Term Trade War?

Few experts can predict where this escalating trade war is ultimately headed and when, or how, it will end. For his part, Harvey suggests nothing good is likely to come of tariffs, particularly for the average American worker and consumer.

“I doubt these tariffs will cause many jobs to return to the U.S. that will benefit blue-collar workers,” Harvey said. “Profits, on balance, will decline. Unemployment will likely increase. The economy will slow down. Prices will probably go up. None of this will be particularly good for the average blue-collar worker.”

McMunn agreed, saying, “This isn’t doing anybody any favors. This isn’t bringing any jobs back to the U.S.” However, he was hopeful that, as Colares and other backers of the president have suggested, the tariffs are merely a temporary negotiation tactic. “There are meetings happening between the U.S. and China, so maybe this was just a shot across the bow and they’ll come to an agreement.”

President Trump tweeted as much Monday, saying, “Tariffs have put the U.S. in a very strong bargaining position” ahead of upcoming trade talks.

Still, McMunn questioned whether such a strategy is worth the pain of higher prices for consumers and companies. While he acknowledged that there were certainly trade imbalances that needed to be corrected in America’s favor, McMunn doesn’t believe the current approach is the best way to achieve that objective. “Even if this is just a tactic that Trump is using for negotiation purposes, it’s not a good one — it’s scaring everyone in manufacturing,” he said.

Mia Taylor is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. She has worked for some of the nation’s best-known news organizations, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the San Diego Union-Tribune. 

More by Mia Taylor:

The post Now in Stock, Sticker Shock: How a Trade War Could Impact Your Budget appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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Monday, September 17, 2018

Questions About ,,, and More!
SUBTITLE – Reader Mailbag

What’s inside? Here are the questions answered in today’s reader mailbag, boiled down to summaries of five or fewer words. Click on the number to jump straight down to the question.
1. Mother using my credit card
2. College planner a worthwhile investment?
3. 401(k) contribution question
4. Quietly seeking a new job
5. Who buys penny stocks?
6. Spend money too easily
7. Mail order mattress advice
8. New city, huge raise
9. IKEA actually a bargain?
10. Uses for Amazon Echo
11. Finding time to read
12. Good national parks to visit

There are days when I see a picture of my children when they were much younger and I think, “Man, those were some wonderful days.” They’re older now and they simply don’t do a lot of the things that they used to do.

Then, I’ll see them saying a kind word to one of their friends or bringing up a very good point in a dinner table conversation or puzzling through their homework or helping someone out on the street and I think to myself that I wouldn’t trade the people they are now for anything, nor would I trade the people they’re coming for anything.

They’re not perfect. No one is. They make mistakes. Everyone does. But I wouldn’t trade the whole messy process for anything else.

Q1: Mother using my credit card

After my dad died my mother didn’t have much money so I added her as an authorized user on my credit card. Lately there have been regular Amazon purchases showing up on the card and I suspect that my mother is making the purchases. I’m not sure how to handle this.
– Naomi

The thing to remember here is that there could be an identity theft issue going on. Your mother might not be using the card for Amazon purchases; it might be someone else entirely who has access to that card or to that account.

If I were you, I’d call up your credit card company and see if they can distinguish between your personal usage and the usage of the authorized user (your mother). Some banks issue credit cards with unique numbers to each authorized user, some do it upon request, while others don’t do it at all. See if you can figure out which card is causing those online purchases.

If you can’t clearly identify this, I would talk to your mother about the issue from an identity theft perspective. Tell her that you are going to be closing the card soon because the identity has been stolen and has been used to make a number of Amazon purchases. She may confess if it’s her or she may not (maybe it’s her and maybe it isn’t). In either case, consider reporting the card as lost and getting a new card number. You may not want to give a new authorized card to your mother after this change, however.

Q2: College planner a worthwhile investment?

I’m wondering what your thoughts are on hiring a college planner for the inundating college process. My daughter is a senior in high school, she a solid B student with a 3.4 gpa, plays soccer, is actively involved in the church and youth groups. The fasfa, profiler, scholarships and entire college process is overwhelming. The planner we met offers to see the process of everything from start to finish for a fee of $3,000. It would also include my 2 younger daughters. Do you think this is an investment? Or a little too much to ask for?
– Diana

That’s a pretty stiff fee. It might be worth it depending on how robust this person’s efforts are, which is hard to tell. Do they have any references?

If I were in your situation, I would only consider this if your child were an only child. If you have multiple children, you’re going to have to go through this process multiple times and it’ll get substantially easier each time. Treat the first time through as a tough learning experience and subsequent times will be much easier.

I don’t think personally I would spend $3,000 on this type of service, even if I were maneuvering an only child through it. I absolutely wouldn’t spend $9,000 to maneuver our three children through it.

If I were you, I’d lean toward saving that $3,000 and instead applying it to the first semester of tuition or to things like textbooks.

Q3: 401(k) contribution question

What happens if you contribute too much to your 401(k)? It appears that the annual contribution that an individual can make under normal circumstances is $18,500 but what happens if you contribute more than that?
– Jeremy

Normally, your 401(k) plan should stop accepting contributions when you hit the annual cap. This should be an automated thing. The only way this should happen is if you switch jobs and fail to notify the new plan administrator of your contributions earlier in the year.

If you do realize that you were able to somehow overcontribute, you should contact your plan administrator immediately. They will refund the excess contributions as well as any earnings on those contributions. You’ll be liable for the taxes on those excess contributions and earnings, of course.

If this discovery happens after you’ve filed taxes for that year, you may be in a bit of a difficult situation. I’d contact a tax professional at that point to help you navigate the paperwork spaghetti that’s going to follow.

Q4: Quietly seeking a new job

I work in an area where there are several businesses in the same field. I want to find a new job due to an uncomfortable relationship with a coworker who wants to start a physical relationship and I do not. I discussed it with my boss who basically acted like it wasn’t his problem and I should be glad to be getting action which made me want to get out of here. Anyway, how does one go about quietly seeking a new job in the same field without your current employers knowing about it?
– Darren

The best way to do this is to do it via trusted friends. Do you have close friends who work at other businesses in your field in the area? Start with them. Put out gentle feelers through them to find out if there are any positions available.

Another approach is to update your resume and put it out there for people to see. Make sure it’s “100% buzzword compliant,” meaning that any and every keyword that an employer might be looking for that applies to you shows up in your resume. You might want to look at job listings for jobs in your field to make sure you’re covering the bases. If you’re in an in-demand field, you may just find headhunters knocking at your door pretty immediately.

If you really want out of your current job, don’t worry about it. Just get out there and apply. My suggestion would be to apply to a bunch of places all at once so that you have good odds of finding a new position.

A final tip: the issue going on in your workplace isn’t right. You should strongly consider discussing the matter with someone further up the food chain than your immediate boss.

Q5: Who buys penny stocks?

None of the brokers you identify will take a penny stock for sale. Do you know of any that actually will?
– Alex

Many brokers will allow you to sell a penny stock, so I’m not sure what you’re referring to. It may be that you can’t find a broker that participates in a stock exchange where a particular penny stock is allowed to be listed. Many stock exchanges require that a company meet certain criteria to be listed there and if the company can’t meet the criteria, that stock exchange won’t list the stock.

I know for a fact, for example, that Scottrade allows penny stock trading.

Just to clarify, a “penny stock” is any stock with a valuation below $1 per share. Some brokerages are a little wary of shares with such a low valuation because they’re often used in market manipulation and “pump and dump” schemes.

Q6: Spend money too easily

I’m 29, my wife is 26. We make more money than either of our parents ever have. We’re trying to get our student loans paid off and build up a down payment for a house. The problem we have is that whenever there is money in checking we tend to spend it. We avoid credit cards but whenever we see money in our checking and know there aren’t any bills due we always find things to spend it on.
– Nolan

One strategy to help fix this problem is to use a “waterfall” scheme. Rather than having your pay direct deposited into your primary checking account, have it deposited into an online bank. Then, set up an automatic transfer so that only a portion of that pay is transferred into your normal bank.

So, for example, let’s say you get paid on the 15th and 30th of every month and you take home $1,000 each time. Rather than having it put directly into your checking, you have this amount put into an online bank – say, Capital One 360. Then, on the 4th and 20th of each month, you have an automatic transfer of $800 from your online bank to your main bank.

Every once in a while, you log onto the online bank and use the built-up balance in there for a big financial move, like a big extra student loan payment or even a down payment on your home (if you give it several years).

Q7: Mail order mattress advice

What are your thoughts on mail order mattresses like Casper and Purple? Are they any good or just hype?
– Daniel

I’m just going to flat out say it: it is really hard to give an objective review of a mattress because the same mattress might be splendid for one person and awful for another. It depends on the person’s body shape, how they sleep, and many other factors.

All I can say is that, in my experience, the Purple mattress is really good for back or stomach sleepers and not so good for side sleepers. The more your weight is spread out on the bed, the better the Purple mattress is.

On the other hand, my experience with Casper mattresses is that they’re great for lighter people and get progressively worse depending on how heavy the sleeper is. If you have a normal or low BMI, a Casper mattress is probably pretty good for you.

Again, it really depends on your body shape and how you sleep. A mattress that works really well for one person might not work at all for a seemingly similar person.

Q8: New city, huge raise

I am 33 years old. I have lived in the same metro area (Cincinnati) for all of my life excepting my college years where I lived about 2.5 hours away. All of my family is here and all of my current friends are here. I got a good job after college but the company closed up shop about 18 months ago and I have been searching for new work ever since, at first around here but lately all over the country. I got an interview in SLC and they made an offer. I know no one in SLC. The job is incredible in terms of pay and benefits, far more than I have ever made but I will basically be starting over with my life without friends or family around for the first time ever or at least since college. Advice?
– Bill

What are your hobbies and interests? How do you like spending your free time? Whatever those activities are, are they available in Salt Lake City? Are there groups that engage in those activities so that you can jump start the process of finding friends?

I’d honestly start with looking at Meetup. Are there groups that match your interests? If you find a bunch, well, you have a social calendar for yourself already. Visit lots of those groups and see who and what you find.

Basically, the more fertile the possibilities seem for finding new friends and a life for yourself in Salt Lake City, the more I’d suggest moving. By default, I’d be in favor of it anyway, simply because a change in environment can often be a good thing for people.

Q9: IKEA actually a bargain?

Is stuff at IKEA actually a bargain? Seems to me like a lot of the stuff can be found elsewhere for less.
– Gerry

Some things at IKEA are nicely priced or are very good examples of a particular item for the price. I am a huge fan of their bookshelves, for example – for the price, they’re really good.

Other things are simply overpriced for what you get. For example, I can find perfectly good bed loft kits at places besides IKEA that are easy to assemble and look fine.

I don’t think IKEA is awful, nor do I think it’s the be-all-end-all of furniture stores. We have a few IKEA items in our home and many items that aren’t from IKEA.

I do like their AA batteries, though – they’re really good for the price.

Q10: Uses for Amazon Echo

I got an Amazon Echo as a birthday gift and my kids showed me some things to do with it but for me I don’t see the point. It just sits there plugged in and doesn’t do anything. The only thing I use it for is to play music sometimes and I’ll just say “Hey Alexa play Mariah Carey” and it will play some songs by her. Thinking of just giving it to one of the grandkids who always plays with it when he’s visiting.
– Mary

I also received an Echo as a gift (an Echo Spot) and I’ve found it pretty useful in two ways.

One, it’s a great alarm clock. If I want to set an alarm, I’ll just say, “Hey Alexa, set an alarm for 30 minutes from now” or “Hey Alexa, set an alarm for five thirty AM.”

Two, it’s really slick if you have smart devices in your home, like a Nest thermostat or Hue lights. You can say things like “Hey Alexa, turn the temperature down to 70 degrees” or “Hey Alexa, turn the bedroom lights to 50%.” You need secondary devices that your Echo can connect to in order to make this work, though.

The thing is, if you don’t have uses for those things – playing music (as you’re already doing), setting alarms, or controlling smart devices – the Echo really doesn’t do much.

Q11: Finding time to read

You’ve said before that you block off hour a day for reading. How do you find time for that with full time work and family?
– Keith

For starters, I basically don’t watch television. I don’t think I have sat down in front of a television with an intent to watch a program in more than two weeks. The average American watches five hours of television on an average day. I watch almost none.

One of the ways I use that time is reading. Since I’m almost never watching television, I just use some of that time for reading instead. (I also use it for things like playing board games or spending a lot of focused time with my kids – I make it a goal to have a daily meaningful conversation with each of them.)

If you want time for something, you have to give up time invested in something else. If you want to read more, spend less time in front of the television or on the internet.

Over time, my goal is to try to use my time each day as optimally as possible, but it’s a moving target. I just know that the closer I get to the target, the better.

Q12: Good national parks to visit

We live in Minnesota. Our oldest child is in 4th grade and we are thinking of following your advice and getting a “every kid in a park” national park pass and spending a couple of weeks next summer on a road trip. Do you have any recommendations for this? We have a tent and sleeping bags and camp a time or two in the summer up around Lake Superior.
– Ginny

Given your location, I’d strongly recommend hitting Badlands National Park in South Dakota, followed by Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park in western South Dakota, followed by a stop at Devil’s Tower in eastern Wyoming, then head westward across the Bighorn Mountains and then on to Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park in western Wyoming. You can easily burn two weeks on this trip.

We’ve done this exact thing for a family vacation for our family and spent nine days on it and we could have easily spent several more days. There are camping opportunities all along the way, as well as little spots of civilization.

It was, in my opinion, the best family vacation we’ve ever taken, and you could easily do it in your car. With the park pass, none of those things will cost anything for a visit. Good luck!

Got any questions? The best way to ask is to follow me on Facebook and ask questions directly there. I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag (which, by way of full disclosure, may also get re-posted on other websites that pick up my blog). However, I do receive many, many questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

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