How An HSA Fits With Your FIRE Plans

How An HSA Fits With Your FIRE Plans

When your primary financial goal is to retire early and become financially independent, sometimes it feels like you can only do so much. If you’re already maxing out your IRA and 401(k) every year, it’s easy to justify spending any money you have left over–or investing in something less stable.

Thankfully, you don’t have to do either of those things.

The HSA is a perfect third option for investing in your future. It may sound like a basic savings account for medical expenses, but it’s actually an amazing investment vehicle with a host of tax benefits. For anyone living the FIRE lifestyle, it’s a match made in heaven.

If you’re interested in how an HSA can help you achieve financial independence, read ahead to learn more.

The Rules of HSAs

Triple tax advantage

A Health Savings Account (HSA) is the holy grail of financial independence. It comes with a handful of impressive tax benefits. You don’t pay taxes on your contributions, you don’t pay taxes when you withdraw funds and you don’t pay taxes on your HSA earnings. Experts refer to this as the “triple tax advantage.”

Contribution limits

Currently, HSAs have a maximum contribution limit of $3,450 a year for individuals and $6,900 a year for families. Seniors 55 and older can put away an extra $1,000 a year. Typically, those contribution limits will increase every year to keep up with the pace of inflation.

Unlike an FSA, HSAs have no rule on when you have to spend the money. You can contribute the funds now and use them at any point in the future, with any money leftover at the end of a year rolling over into the next.

Eligibility

To be eligible for an HSA, you need to be enrolled in a high-deductible insurance plan. Your plan must have a deductible of at least $1,350 for individuals and $2,700 for families, and your out-of-pocket expenses must be no more than $6,650 for individuals and $13,300 for families.

When choosing a plan during open enrollment, remember that not all high-deductible plans are HSA-eligible. Eligible plans will have the “HSA” designation listed in the description.

You can only use HSA funds on qualified medical expenses, which include the following:

  • Diagnostic screenings, such as mammograms, MRIs and CT scans
  • Prescription glasses, contacts and vision-corrective surgery
  • Mental health care
  • Surgery, excluding cosmetic or elective surgery
  • Labor and delivery
  • Transportation to and from doctor’s appointments
  • Acupuncture
  • Dental services

Not all medical expenses qualify for HSA disbursal. For example, if you buy Tylenol at the drugstore, you can’t use your HSA funds unless your doctor specifically wrote you a prescription for Tylenol. Therapy is covered under an HSA, but not marriage counseling. In short, you should always double-check before assuming an expense is qualified.

You can find a full list of HSA qualified medical expenses here. If you need something that falls outside of the list, call your HSA provider and ask. It’s always best to have a doctor’s note verifying the treatment, product or service.

Using an HSA for FIRE

You can use an HSA for any qualified medical expense at any point in your life. The funds in an HSA remain yours, even if you’re no longer eligible for an HSA because you’ve switched to a different type of insurance plan.

HSAs grow like other investments

HSAs that are invested in ETFs or mutual funds grow like other retirement accounts. The longer the money sits there, the more interest it will accumulate over time, so it’s best to wait as long as possible to reimburse yourself for any medical expenses you incur now.

“The longer you can defer taking money out of it and let the HSA investments grow, the greater the benefit,” said financial planner Brian Canning, CFP® of Abacus Wealth. “I tend to encourage clients to at least wait until Medicare age.”

Here’s an example. You’re 25-years-old and decide to open an HSA and start contributing the individual max of $3,450 a year. You immediately start investing the money in funds that return seven percent a year on average. You do so for 40 years until you’re eligible for Medicare. By now, your HSA has grown to $760,982.90. In reality, that total could end up being much higher due to annual contribution limits increasing to keep up with inflation.

Once you’re 65 and older, you can use the money in an HSA for Medicare premiums. You can also withdraw the funds for anything without paying the 20 percent penalty, though you’ll still pay income tax.

Avoid income tax

To avoid paying income tax on HSA distributions, you can also choose to reimburse yourself for past medical expenses that you paid out of pocket. An HSA can pay for any qualified medical expense, which excludes regular insurance premiums, elective procedures, cosmetic surgery and over-the-counter drugs purchased without a prescription.

“It's important to keep careful records and receipts so you can reimburse yourself for these expenses in retirement,” said financial planner Ryan Inman of the Financial Residency Podcast.

Scan all receipts and store them in a secure online folder. Write up a spreadsheet detailing all the bills you’ve paid out of pocket and include as much information as possible. You want a clear record in case the IRS ever decides to investigate your claims.

You can take out withdrawals anytime

An HSA is great for the FIRE lifestyle, because you can take out withdrawals anytime. If you’re an early retiree and want to withdraw money from your IRA or 401(k), you’ll pay a 10 percent federal tax penalty. Your state may also charge you a separate penalty.

Try This Method

To avoid paying any kind of unnecessary penalty or tax, try this method: Pay for all your medical expenses out of pocket without dipping into your HSA. Contribute as much as you can to your HSA account, up to the annual limit. Once you retire, start distributing money from your HSA while claiming past expenses on your taxes. After you turn 59.5, you can start withdrawing money from your IRA or 401(k) without any kind of penalty.

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The Best Board Games (According To You)

The Best Board Games (According To You)

You have likely heard time and time again, the love Jonathan and Brad have for a good session with a board game (take a listen to Episode 64R!). For someone who wants to be intellectually stimulated and off of their electronic devices and screens while taking in some good together time with friends and family, nothing beats a good board game.

ChooseFI Facebook group recently shared their favorite board games, and we thought it prudent to compile this list and share it with you. These games can be purchased off of Amazon, but of course- we always recommend finding these locally at a ChooseFI meetup to borrow or a friend who loves games to team up for a few rounds.

Happy gaming everyone!

1. Settlers of Catan: 3 to 4 players (up to 6 with extension). Ages 10+, up to 90 minutes a game. Players strategize to collect and implement resources and use them to build roads, settlement and cities to take over the island and win the game.

2. Mancala: 2 players. Ages 8+, up to about 15 minutes a game. Players play with small stones or beans in strategy moves to capture the opponent's pieces.

3. Exploding Kittens: 2 to 5 players. Ages 7+, up to about 20 minutes a game. Exploding Kittens is similar to a card version of Russian Roulette, with each player making moves against the other, or using their cards to diffuse attacks, until all but one are eliminated.

4. Cards Against Humanity: Up to 10 players, ages 18+, can be up to an hour or more a game. (mature!). This card game is not for the faint of heart–as your strategy is to complete sentences in the most hilarious or offensive ways possible. If your cards played are the funniest of all the players, you win a point.

5. Ticket To Ride: 2 to 5 players. Ages 8+, up to about 45 minutes a game. A board game for players to collect and play matching train cards to claim railway routes connecting cities strategically to win.

6. Pandemic: 4 players. Ages 8+, up to about 45 minutes or more per game. Pandemic puts players in a scenario of cooperative crisis management after an outbreak. Players strategize to win the game by stopping all four deadly diseases from spreading globally.

7. Telestrations: 4 to 8 players. Ages 8+, up to about 30 minutes per game. This game is a mix of Pictionary and the “whispers” game played in school. A player is given a word and it is passed around, to be drawn out and guessed.

8. Dominion: 2 to 4 players. Ages 13+, up to about 45 minutes per game. Dominion is a unique card game where players build their ideal deck through “draft” play to win the game with the best cards.

9. Codenames: 4 to 8 players. Ages 13+, up to about 15-30 minutes per game. This card pins two teams to compete against each other to see who can figure out the secret identities of all of their agents first.

10. Camel Up: 2 to 8 players. Ages 8+, up to about 30 minutes per game. This board game gets all players to bet on five racing camels, trying to see which will place first and second in a quick race around a pyramid.

11. Dutch Blitz: 2 to 4 players, Ages 8+, up to about 15 minutes per game. A fast paced and family friendly card game where each player tries to empty his or her blitz pile as quickly as possible.

12. Shadow Hunters: 4 to 8 players, Ages 10+, up to about 60 minutes per game. Each player has a secret identity. You must first figure out who is your ally and who is your enemy then attack!

13. Cashflow: 2 to 6 players, Ages 10+, up to about 180 minutes per game. A board game of Robert Kiyosaki's books on finance and investing, that puts the principles to work in a competitive playscape.

14. Jax Sequence: 2 to 12 players, Ages 7+, up to about 30 minutes per game. Sequence is a board game where players play a card from their hand and to then place a chip on the corresponding space on the games board, strategizing spots on the board to get the right amount of sequences before the other players.

15. Bears Vs. Babies: 2 to 5 players, Ages 7+, up to about 20 minutes per game. From the makers of the aforementioned Exploding Kittens, Bears vs Babies is a card game where you build monsters who go to war with awful babies and take out your opponents as the babies attack.

16. Bananagrams Cobra Paw: 2 to 6 players, Ages 5+, up to about 15 minutes per game. Cobra Paw is a is a speed recognition game to grab six tiles to win the game after a roll of the dice–which is designed to be fast paced and family friendly.

17. Phase 10: 2 to 6 players, Ages 8+, up to about 45 minutes per game. Phase 10 is a Rummy style card game with several rounds. After each round, players will add up their score based on the number and type of cards left in their hand to win.

18. Castles of Burgundy: 2 to 4 players, Ages 12+, up to about 90 minutes per game. Set in medival, Burgundy France, players play the board to collect game-changing victory points through trade, farming, city building, and scientific research.

19. Secret Hitler: 5 to 10 players, Ages 13+, up to about 45 minutes per game. Is a political strategy game, taking place in 1930's Germany. Each player is secretly assigned to be either a liberal or a fascist, and one player is the “Secret Hitler” as everyone tries to figure out who is who.

20. Canasta: 2 to 6 players, Ages 12+, up to about 45 minutes per game. A Rummy style card game where players score points by melding cards (at least seven of the same rank), and making as many canastas as possible.

Bring your loved ones together and create some memories and connection. Maybe even a little competition, and likely, smiles and laughter.

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How To Plan Your First Trip With Travel Rewards

How To Plan Your First Trip With Travel Rewards

If you are new to the world of travel rewards, everything might seem a little overwhelming at first. You hear people throwing around words like “redemption”, “sweet spot” and “positioning flight”. The terminology travel rewards enthusiasts use might seem like a foreign language at first.

But never fear, you can become a travel rewards expert! Start slowly, take Travel Miles 101 course. The course was created by ChooseFI's own Brad Barrett.

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions every travel rewards beginner should consider when they start to dabble in travel reward.

Where To Start

A good place to start is to apply for Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve credit cards. Because of Chase' strict application rules, I always recommend you start your travel rewards journey with Chase Ultimate Rewards earning cards. Ultimate Rewards are the most flexible currency and can be used in many ways to provide free or almost free travel.

You should always have a credit card opening strategy. Avoid applying for cards just because it is being touted as the “best card ever” and don't get distracted by the shiny objects in the form of “increased, limited-time offers” and other buzz words. Lots of credit cards earn rewards that are hard to use or are not as valuable. Keep your eyes on the prize, remember not all points and miles are created equal.

Travel Rewards Cards To Consider

As a beginner, you want to have a stash of travel rewards points that are flexible, easy to use, and provide excellent value, such as Ultimate Rewards points. If you aren't sure yet where you want to travel, or can't travel because of family circumstances etc., that is OK too. Start collecting points by using Chase cards for your everyday spending.

You can earn Chase Ultimate Rewards by opening one or more Chase personal and business credit cards:

Destination And Optimization

There are a couple of ways to approach this. You can start with a destination in mind, or you can take a stock of points and miles that you have and look for the best ways to use them.

Southwest Companion Pass Possibilities

If you have a family and anticipate traveling a lot to the places that Southwest Airline flies, then pursuing a companion pass might be a good idea. A companion pass allows one passenger to travel for free with a person who travels on a paid or award ticket. It is really one of the greatest deals in the world of travel rewards.

You can earn a Southwest companion pass by opening Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card or Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card. If you have a business, you can get Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card. You can't have two personal cards at the same time but you can get a personal and a business card.

Two-player Mode

Another term you might see being used a lot is “two-player mode”. When both spouses can open the same cards, you can accumulate a good chunk of points. Some credit cards offer bonus points when you refer family and friends. For example, one spouse could open a card, let's say Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, and after they have met minimum spending requirements, refer the other spouse. This way you are earning the referral bonus and both spouses are getting the sign up bonus. This will allow you to earn enough points and miles for the whole family!

Actual Travel–Domestic And/Or International

Another important question you need to ask yourself, is “Where do I want to go?” The answer will help you when you are trying to figure out your card opening strategy. As I mentioned above, if you have a lot of domestic travel, and have easy access to Southwest, then getting a Southwest companion pass for you and your family might be a great idea. Keep in mind that Southwest cards are subject to Chase's 5/24 rule.

If you are planning an international trip, you will need airline points or transferable currencies you can transfer to an airline of your choice. AwardHacker is a great resource–plug in your departure and arrival airports and the site will show you the best rates, which airline you can book with, and how many miles you will need for an award ticket.

Related Articles: Travel Rewards Credit Cards FAQs

Home Airports

Living near major airline hubs like New York City, Chicago, Atlanta, etc., means the travel options are open with possibilities. But if you have one or two dominant airlines that serve your home airport, it is good to consider which airlines you will use the easiest and most frequently. For example, United is a major airline where I live; American has some presence, but there are very few Delta flights. In order for me to optimize my dollars, points, and miles; I need to figure out a way to earn points that I can use on United and its partners.

Keep in mind that airlines will sometimes allow partner operated flights for use with travel rewards. And sometimes, it is an even better deal. I don't have to use United miles to fly on United operated flights. I can use partner airlines to book flights on United and partners and sometimes it is even cheaper than booking directly with United!

If, for example, there are no good international options from your home airport, you can get a so called positioning flight to a bigger hub. If you have good options with Southwest, use your companion pass to get yourself and one other person to a hub airport.

Travel Rewards Are For More Than Just Flights

If you prefer to drive rather than fly, then you want enough points to cover your hotel stays. If, at first, you are sticking with cards that earn Ultimate Rewards points, Hyatt is a great chain that offers incredible value. It is very easy to transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt and you might need just 5,000 points for Hyatt Place or Hyatt House hotels! Lower tier Hyatt hotels are perfect for families because they offer more space and often include free breakfast.

You can also open The World Of Hyatt Credit Card, and note that this card can be opened even if you opened more than five cards in the last 24 months.

If you prefer to stay at Airbnb then you should consider “eraser” cards like Barclaycard Arrival Plus or Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. You will book your stay and after the charge has posted you will log in and apply the points to your booking and “erase” the purchase with your points.

Click here to compare these cards.

The points on these “eraser” cards are worth 1 cent each. I don’t recommend applying for these cards if you are under 5/24 but if your travel plans only include Airbnb stays, this might be a good option.

I hope this helps you get started on your travel rewards journey. Let us know in the comments where you would like to go and which cards you are going to open first.

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10 Money Quotes That Will Inspire You To Optimize Your Finances

10 Money Quotes That Will Inspire You To Optimize Your Finances

 

 

Time is more valuable than money. You can get more money, but you cannot get more time. ~ Jim Rohn

The FI community lives frugally and saves a large percentage of their income in order to retire early. They buy time instead of things.

Check out “The Why Of FI” to learn more.

 

 

There is a gigantic difference between earning a great deal of money and being rich. ~Marlene Dietrich

At ChooseFI we believe that living a life you love is the most important thing. Travel is often part of living a rich and exciting life. But it doesn't take a lot of money. 

Check out our articles on travel rewards here

 

 

My favorite things in life don't cost any money. It's really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time. ~Steve Jobs 

A cup of coffee on the back porch, a hike on a Tuesday afternoon, sleeping in. These are all wonderful things but not what the mainstream culture prioritizes. When you start pursing FI you'll often find yourself out of sync with “normal” people.

Here's what to do when FI gets lonely.

 

 

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

Frugal living often looks like “lack of money” to the outside world, but it's quite the opposite. For example, driving an old car can cut thousands of dollars out of your budget. That's money that can be used to buy your freedom. 

Here's how to get the most mileage out of your car

 

 

The Stock Market is designed to transfer money from the active to the patient ~Warren Buffett

The FI community believes in broad market, low cost index funds. Simple. Boring. Awesome. 

Check out the podcast episode on index investing to hear about these amazing funds. 

 

 

Wealth is the ability to fully experience life. ~Henry David Thoreau

Building wealth the traditional way takes a lifetime. But the FI community doesn't want to wait until the end of their life to finally live.

Check out how FI is different than traditional personal finance.

Don’t tell me where your priorities are. Show me where you spend your money and I’ll tell you what they are. —James W. Frick

 

 

Don't tell me where your priorities are. Show me where you spend your money and I'll tell you what they are.–James W. Frick

Where do you spend your money? Do you feel it's in line with what is really important to you? If not, being more frugal might be in order. Stop spending on things you don't care about so that you can enjoy the things you do. 

Here's how to be more frugal without depriving yourself.

 

 

Money often costs too much. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

How much is it really costing you to earn money? Time away from your family, limited vacations, traffic. Is it really worth it? 

If you are ready to make a change here are 50 ways to improve your finances. Start getting off that hamster wheel!

Money often costs too much. --Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

 

Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants. ~ Epictetus

Minimalism is surprisingly freeing. Breaking out of the consumerism of today's world allows for a peace you haven't had before.

Here's how to be a FI minimalist (without being a minimalist).

 

 

I'm not that lazy, but I don't need that much money. I lead a fairly simple life. ~Karl Pilkington

A simple life is easier to fund than a complex life. The less it costs to live the less you need saved in your nest egg. 

Check out how to build a perpetual money machine, that will fund your life without having to work.

 

I'm not that lazy, but I don't need that much money. I lead a fairly simple life. Karl Pilkington

Want To Buy It For Life? Consider This

Want To Buy It For Life Consider This

Wouldn’t it be nice if the items you used on a regular basis didn’t keep breaking? Unfortunately, if you’re buying items solely based on finding the lowest price, chances are the things you buy are going to break at some point or another.

Instead of buying cheap items to save money today, you may want to consider buying a quality item that’s more expensive and could last forever. This strategy of buying is called buy it for life. While buying items for life may be smart in some situations, it’s not the best idea in others. Here’s what you need to know.

When you should buy an item for life

When you’re getting on your feet financially, you won’t be able to buy everything in a buy it for life manner. The costs would add up too fast. Instead, focus on items that you use most frequently.

When buying it for life, most people focus on items like cookware, kitchen knives, tools, furniture, and sports equipment. Even within these categories, not all items are able to be bought for life. However, they do give you a good starting point at things to look into.

Some brands even offer lifetime warranties for the items they sell. These warranties can make buying an item for life a reality, but only if everything works just right. Unfortunately, we’ve seen that lifetime warranties don’t always stand up to the test of time. In some cases, companies go bankrupt or sell the brand off to another company.

Even if the warranty is still offered, there may be limitations that disqualify your item from getting repaired or replaced. Even if it is repaired or replaced, chances are the replacement may not live up to the same quality standards as the original item you purchased decades ago.

When it doesn’t make sense to buy it for life

Not everything you purchase should follow the buy it for life methodology. While it’d be nice if everything would last forever, there are just some things that won’t last no matter how much you pay for them. If you can’t seem to find a buy it for life alternative for a certain item, they may not make them anymore.

In today’s world, you aren’t going to be able to find buy it for life alternatives for electronics. They simply go out of date too fast or their batteries die. Similarly, you aren’t going to be able to buy a car for life because it will eventually wear out.

Clothing isn’t really a buy it for life purchase in most cases, either, because the purchase may go out of style or will eventually wear out. However, certain pieces of clothing, such as jackets or quality boots, could potentially fall into the buy it for life category if you buy it right.

What to look for in a buy it for life item

When evaluating an item to see if it is a true buy it for life item, make sure you aren’t making the assessment based solely on the price of the item. There are plenty of expensive versions of everyday items that are made cheaply but cost way more than they should. Most of the time, you’re paying for the status symbol of a luxury brand. While some luxury brands are higher quality, that isn’t always the case.

The best way to find buy it for life items is by doing research. The easiest way is to search Google for what you’re looking for and “buy it for life”. Another great resource is the buy it for life subreddit.

Other great resources are friends and family. Typically, older family members have had more experience finding great buy it for life items that they swear by. Once you’ve found a buy it for life item, make sure you evaluate the cost, quality and how often you’ll use it.

One tip to find true buy it for life items is to buy used. Some of the highest quality items are no longer being manufactured. That said, these items can still be found at estate sales, garage sales and on Facebook Marketplace. If an item is truly a buy it for life item, buying it used shouldn’t be a big problem. You may even save some money, too.

Choose FI’s favorite buy it for life items

To wrap up, we’d like to share some of Choose FI Facebook Group members’ favorite buy it for life items. Here are some strong contenders you may want to consider.

  • Kitchenaid Stand Mixer–Choose FI Facebook group members have had their mixers for decades without problems.
  • Furniture–The key is buying quality furniture made from solid wood and solid frames. Dressers and tables can often be refinished to give a new look. You may need to reupholster fabrics after they wear out.
  • Knives–Choose FI Facebook group members specifically mentioned Cutco and Benchmade brands. They also recommend learning how to properly sharpen quality knives.
  • Backpacks and Other Bags–Choose FI Facebook group members specifically mentioned LL Bean, Jansport, Northface and Osprey brands.
  • Tools–If you’re looking for hand tools, look for old Craftsman tools made in the USA. For all other tools, check out this great list on Reddit.
  • Pet collars and leashes–A Choose FI Facebook group member mentioned Lupine brand collars and leashes last a lifetime.
  • Cookware–In particular, Choose FI Facebook group members mentioned Le Creuset dutch ovens, Lodge cast iron skillets, Vitamix mixers, All-Clad pots and pans and WMF stainless steel pots and pans.
  • Boots–Buy it for life boots include LL Bean duck boots and Frye boots. That said, they may need some routine care and cobbler trips to repair or replace soles.
  • Sheets–One Choose FI Facebook group member mentioned Cariloha bamboo sheets and stated they have a lifetime warranty that is actually honored.

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Side Hustle Series: Freelance Writing

Side Hustle Series: Freelance Writing

Side hustles are a great way to earn some extra cash to help you speed up your path to financial independence (FI). We’ve shared a list of great side hustle ideas here, but we wanted to feature some particular side hustle stories to inspire you to earn some extra cash, too.

Today, we’re delving into the freelance writing side hustle. This side hustle is particularly popular among bloggers, but anyone can be a freelance writer. Today, I’ll share my story about how I got started with my freelance writing side hustle and what it’s turned into.

How I got started freelance writing

Freelance writing wasn’t my first side hustle. My first major side hustle was actually personal finance blogging. However, without starting my personal finance blog, there is no way I’d be a freelance writer today.

My freelance writing side hustle was a complete accident. One day, an editor at a corporate blog happened to visit my personal finance blog. She liked what she saw and sent me an email to see if I would write for their blog for pay.

I had seen other bloggers freelance write for other blogs besides their own, but I never understood why. However, when I was offered $60 per blog post to write for the corporate blog, I finally understood. Freelance writing paid good money and it was a way to diversify my side hustle income.

I said yes and started writing for the corporate blog on a weekly basis. Eventually, other corporate blogs and personal blogs started reaching out to me to see if I’d be interested in writing for them, too. While I never intended to be a freelance writer, I wasn’t one to turn down some extra side hustle income, either.

How I’ve grown my freelance writing business

Over the months and years after I landed my first freelance writing client, clients have come and gone. In the beginning, I only accepted freelance writing proposals when people asked me to write for them. After all, I wasn’t looking to be a freelance writer. I wanted to be a full-time blogger. However, as I got serious about diversifying my income, I started looking for new freelance writing positions.

In late 2015, I decided to quit my day job to become a full-time blogger and freelance writer. I realized having regular income was super important, so I actively looked for a couple of new freelance writing clients. At the time, most of my clients provided regular work on a weekly basis, so it was a great way to earn a somewhat stable income while I built my blog.

In addition to using my network to look for new work, I met with some companies looking for freelance writers in person at FinCon, a conference for financial media and bloggers. FinCon has easily been the best thing for my freelance writing business. When you meet people in person, it’s much easier to land a new gig. Thankfully, several of the potential clients I met with at FinCon have turned into regular freelance writing clients.

In the last few years, I’ve had some clients shut their blogs down which left me scrambling to pick up new work. Other times, editors have left and the freelance writers that worked for them, which included me, weren’t retained. Thankfully, there always seems to be plenty of companies looking to hire freelance writers that allow me to replace the clients that leave.

As time went on, I became a more experienced writer and my rates have increased, too. I now earn much more than $60 per article. In fact, I’ve made over $1,000 per article for some of my longer and more detailed assignments.

In total, I earn thousands of dollar each month from freelance writing. While the number varies each month depending on my clients’ needs, I earned over $5,000 from freelance writing just the other month for the first time. Add that plus my blogging income, and it’s clear to see that my side hustles have turned into a full-time career.

Personally, I feel like freelance writing is a great side hustle. You can typically write whenever you please as long as you meet your deadlines. When I was working full-time, I wrote in the evenings and on the weekends. Now, I take advantage of the flexibility freelance writing offers. I can take a day off during the week to spend time with my family if I want. However, I might have to write in the evenings on other days to catch up. The key is I get to choose when I work.

How can you become a freelance writer?

Freelance writing isn’t the easiest side hustle to break into. When you’re first starting out, you may have to write for free to get your name out there and build a portfolio. Some people write for others by offering free guest posts, but you can start a blog and make that your portfolio, too.

Over time, you’ll be able to start charging for your writing and you can increase your rates as your writing improves. Like many careers, you’ll make more money in some fields than other fields. Writing about personal finance pays pretty well, but writing about other subjects isn’t always as lucrative.

If you do decide to try your hand at freelance writing, it’s important you take your side hustle seriously. Your clients will depend on you to submit quality work. Never plagiarize. Always meet your deadline.

You’ll also want to make sure you communicate clearly with your clients. If something comes up that could put you in danger of missing a deadline, let them know as early as possible so they can prepare.

Make sure you update your LinkedIn profile to show that you’re a freelance writer for hire to get some free visibility. You can also build a portfolio on Contently. Once you choose a specific niche, consider attending conferences where potential clients attend. Meeting people face to face is the best way to make sure they’ll open your email when you have a great idea to pitch them.

Final thoughts

Like with any side hustle, the key to starting a freelance writing side hustle is to simply get started. Start a blog. Write a free guest post for a blogger to start your portfolio.

Take action! In a few years, you might be a full-time freelance writer just like I am.

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Side Hustle Series: Freelance Writing

What Have You NOT Sacrificed On Your FI Journey

What Have You NOT Sacrificed On Your FI Journey

Sometimes, it seems like achieving financial independence (aka, FI) is the only thing that matters. You take a hard look at your finances and find every piece of fat you can cut. For a while, it may not seem like a big deal. After all, you’re working toward FI which is the ultimate freedom. However, after a few months or years of living at the bare bone minimum, it can get to you.

Related: How FI Is Different Than Personal Finance

So, today, rather than focus on every little thing people have cut out of their lives to achieve FI faster, I thought it’d be fun to take a look at the things Choose FI Facebook group members have decided weren’t worth sacrificing on their journey to FI. In a way, it’s a fun exercise to see what other people working toward FI value most.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what’s worth cutting and what isn’t worth cutting. The answer will vary from person to person based on their values, likes and dislikes. This list should give you a good idea of what expenses to consider keeping around and which expenses you should ditch for good based on your reaction to each item.

Travel and vacations

Travel and vacations were one of the most mentioned things that people weren’t willing to give up.

While some people did decide to give up international travel, others continue to travel internationally. Regardless of whether you want to travel domestically or internationally, you can use travel rewards to help pay for your vacations. Just make sure you don’t rack up credit card debt.

CrossFit/Gym membership

Some people value their expensive gym or CrossFit memberships so much they’re not willing to give them up to achieve FI faster.

As long as people use their gym memberships, they’re usually a good thing. After all, living a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise can help you live a longer life which gives you even more time to enjoy your financial independence.

Quality food

Similar to CrossFit or gym memberships, quality food is key to living a healthy lifestyle. While there are ways to save on food costs, giving up quality isn’t an option for many Choose FI members.

Their homes

For some, a home is one of the most important things you can spend money on. For others, it’s just a place to stay out of the elements.

For many Choose FI members, homes were one thing they weren’t willing to give up. Sometimes it boiled down to being in a good school district for their children. Others decided cheaper housing wasn’t worth living in a less safe neighborhood.

Their cars

Most people working toward financial independence aren’t car enthusiasts. That said, even some car enthusiasts get bitten by the FI bug.

These members strongly believe you don’t have to drive a beater just because you’re working toward FI. Instead, some Choose FI Facebook group members drive their dream cars but sacrifice other expenses to make up for it.

Cable TV

Cable TV isn’t terribly expensive, but there isn’t much point in paying for it if you don’t watch much TV. A few Choose FI Facebook group members keep this relatively cheap entertainment option as a part of their budget.

Coffee/Beer/Wine

While I’m not a fan of coffee, beer or wine, Choose FI Facebook group members love these drinks. If there is a drink you love, you should enjoy it. As always, the key is moderation.

Outsourcing certain housework

Outsourcing housework that drives you crazy can be well worth the money. For instance, one person said a $200 per month housekeeper saves their marriage. Others hate lawn care and other landscaping tasks and outsource those.

Pets

Some people don’t understand why others have pets. However, those of us that have pets know they’re part of the family. I could never give up a family member because they were expensive. Neither could Choose FI Facebook group members.

Giving/Donations/Tithing

In an effort to secure our own financial freedom, some people forget to continue helping others that are in need or less fortunate. Thankfully, not everyone falls into this trap and some people say they refused to sacrifice giving, donations and tithing.

Kids activities

Kids are an important part of our lives so it isn’t a surprise that many wouldn’t sacrifice when it comes to kids activities.

The level of not sacrificing varied per person. Some wouldn’t give up sports activities, while others wouldn’t give up sleep-away camps.

It’s up to you where you draw the line. If you want your kids to experience everything they can, you can make that happen if you give up other expenses or earn a high enough income.

Good toilet paper

Last but not least, quite a few Choose FI Facebook group members said they wouldn’t cheap out when it comes to toilet paper. My wife wasn’t surprised and totally agreed.

What expenses were you not willing to give up on your path to FI? Were any of them listed above? Or were the things you wouldn’t sacrifice different than the majority of Choose FI Facebook group members?

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What Have You NOT Sacrificed On Your FI Journey

Health And Finances–Why They Overlap More Than You Think

Health And Finances Why They Overlap More Than You Think

When soulmates from vastly different backgrounds find one another and decide to become a permanent team, a whole lotta adjustments happen along the way.  

Jake and Laura are living the dream! They both are Certified Anesthetists making darn good money. They are “livin’ the dream”–well, redefining “the dream” after much realization and compromise.

The Early Years: Laura

Big city China was all Laura knew as a child. Her parents divorced when she was six, which left her mom to provide. Her mom did the best she could. Seriously, the absolute best. Her mom worked days and nights at two full-time jobs.

Money, or more accurately, the lack of money, was always an issue. Though in poverty, Laura never went hungry. There was always Ramen to soothe the empty tummy. She was educated, and seriously grateful for that.

Not once does she remember having ANY pocket money. She lived in a 400 square foot apartment with her mom, her grandparents, and an uncle. Her mom slept there and not much else. Even when her mom was around, she was not a stable emotional influence. Mom had a steady stream of boyfriends, and frequently, Laura and her mom would move in with the current man in her life.

Laura learned to rely on herself

Though the beginning of her fierce independence was a few decades ago in another time and place, her independence is still her strongest trait. As a child, she would bike or take the city bus to school.  

Yes, a six year old on a city bus, alone.  

At the age of five, she was cooking for the family and taking responsibility for household chores simply because she knew they needed doing. Those experiences were the makings of a strong and street-wise child. She continued to add world wisdom through her teenage years which has made her into the young woman she is today.

Laura had never received a single gift. Poverty has no margin.  

However, once, her mom was seeing a “well-to-do” guy, and he bought her a backpack. She still remembers what an impression that made on her. Also, because of this “rich” boyfriend, she experienced what it was like to go out to dinner. Dining out was simply not done in their home. Their nourishment came from the farmers’ markets and was always a do-it-yourself event.

Reflecting back on her parents’ marriage, she knows that money, its management, and the priorities assigned to it by its owners was the reason for their divorce. Money was the stressor. Frugality was a necessity, not a choice.  

As a child, she dreamed of a high paying job. A job that would allow her to get out of poverty. The professional goal was secondary to the number one goal of never having to be frugal, ever again. For her, extreme frugality continues to be a terrible reminder of a traumatizing time that has long since passed.

The Early Years: Jake

On the other side of the world, Jake was living a pretty comfortable American middle-class life. Born and raised in small-town Wisconsin, he had everything he needed, but not all that he wanted. As he gazed back at his younger, more foolish self, he clearly sees what a natural spending gift he had. He earned money and he spent money.  

The spending felt good at the time, but something stirred inside him that tapped his spirit with a warning that his current path would not serve him well long-term.  

He was a worker–he worked throughout high school and college, which would put him way ahead of the game considering his parents paid for his entire undergrad education. He worked as a pharmacy tech in high school, and in college he was an Emergency Medical Technician. He even worked the Emergency Room as a tech. All of these jobs netted him about $25,000-$30,000 in a two year period and–you guessed it–he blew it all.   

The parental gravy train ended for grad school. About this time, he knew he didn’t want to be a doctor anymore, but he wanted to make the most of the education he’d already received, so he decided to become a Certified Anesthetist. He took out the maximum amount of loans allowable and lived on that money. He ate out, partied, and did really well keeping up with the Joneses. 

Paying back the loans didn’t even enter his mind.

Enter Laura:

About this time, he met Laura.

As their friendship and romance blossomed, Laura noticed that he was getting Amazon packages delivered. All. The. Time.

He shopped just to shop, but with some encouragement from this wise woman, he finally started to track his spending. He did a bit of a financial autopsy and he figured that prior to Laura, he’d been spending about $1,000 on groceries, and $1,500 on entertainment and eating out per month! 

He made a complete one-eighty turnaround. Laura helped him shape up finances and in 2016 he found Mr. Money Mustache and devoured the content!  

Looking back, he could place blame on society, but admits now with perfect hindsight how stubborn and self-indulgent he had been. He slowly realized that “it” whatever “it” was, gave that rush of Dopamine in the moment, but long term, stuff did nothing to feed his soul.

Medicine vs. conscience, mixed with personal hell

While in the healthcare industry, he didn’t like what he was seeing. Par for the course, he worked some crazy hours. He was seeing more and more that his actual experience of “Healthcare” was not matching what he had idealized in his mind as caring for the health of people.

He was the guy that put patients to sleep for surgery. Surgery was often not the path to health but a futile attempt to stave off disease.

He saw that patients were causing much of what ailed them because of their compounded lifestyle choices over decades. A seventeen year old should not be getting their gallbladder out!

His own parents are in their 60's and in great shape. They exercise, swim, eat well, don’t smoke or drink. Most of the people he puts to sleep do not fit this demographic. So, he was having a pretty hard time reconciling all of this against who he wanted to be as a person of great integrity when it comes to health.   

He started the old standard inner dialogue–“why should I be helping them? I’m a hypocrite. I earn a great paycheck, but at the expense of the health of all these people. I’m not really helping them because the root causes are still there.”  

Western medicine, some part of the body is not working well and “it needs to come out” is the typical answer. It can be a life changing surgery.

There are ways to reverse the damage, which would be with diet changes, exercise, yoga, massage, and even acupuncture. However, surgeons operate on the premise that people are incapable of change, so they may as well make a dollar; lots of them. People are lazy about their health and the industry profits. So many times, the diagnoses could have been prevented or can be cured, if people just took care of themselves.

In Jake’s world, ideally, doctors would treat conditions naturally, patients would be willing and cooperative, and surgeons would only be called when they are truly needed. However, the typical industry standard approach of pills and scalpels has left him unsatisfied and longing for more real impact on prevention and healing of disease.

Lifestyle choices are why people get sick, much of the time. Yes, there is a genetic component to it, but disease, for the most part, equals compounded lifestyle choices.

Jakes Own Health Takes a Turn

After they got engaged, a trip to China was in order to meet Laura’s family. During this time, they had decided to become vegan, cold turkey, to try to reverse some acid reflux problems Jake was having.

He became severely ill and lost too much weight. He learned that health is something many people take for granted and that it's incredibly hard to get back once you lose it. Listen to your body and give it what it needs, and don’t take your health for granted. It turns out the vegan diet exacerbated some of his problems, problems that were created by eating way too much sugar, pizza, and cheese as a kid.

He started suffering from many of the problems that he so greatly feared whenever he saw them in his patients. He realized that those diseases happen because something else is going on and the body can’t tolerate it, and they may lie dormant for years before showing their ugly faces. His health continues to be a struggle to this day.  

Laura had her challenges too, and eventually discovered the underlying cause through genetic testing. She can’t eat fruit.

FI is more important than ever knowing that health is never a given. It can also be wiped out in an instant if we aren’t prioritizing our health. One large emergency when your health is teetering on thin ice can derail any independence you thought you had. Sure a car accident isn’t something you can control, but patients recover from broken bones and collapsed lungs much faster when they don’t also have hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and fatty liver.

The difference in health can be seen while under anesthesia, those patients who abuse their bodies with processed meat and sugar and booze are much harder to manage than those who stay clean and lean.

Once you have more information about health and money–you get to choose.

Time To Wake Up For the Sake of Your Health And Your Financial Future! 

Bad food decisions.  

Bad money decisions.

That is how disease/decay/malfunction starts. They victimize themselves because they choose to put their head in the sand in regard to their health and their money.

Many people are doing the best they can which equals sleepwalking and apathy.  

Jake feels like his calling is to wake people up by educating them on better health and money habits. 

Finding the right balance for these two has been an exercise in expectation and communication. Like a pendulum, they’ve gone from one extreme to the other, but have now reached a middle ground for spending. Jake and Laura have realized that compromise, coming from their vastly different backgrounds, is a concept that is hard fought.  

There were lots of discussions to define exactly what life looks like.

Recently, they have both been working a ton of overtime to pay off their student loan debt. For now, that means working six days a week. When the student loans are paid off, they will be living frugally comfortable with a 75 percent savings rate. This will result in FI in just five to seven years!  

In consuming so much new knowledge in the FI arena, he, like many of us, realized that you can’t get today back. Figuring out what living fully means to us as individuals is critical. If he were on the Hot Seat, and asked about his favorite article, it would be Is One Year of Your Life Worth 25 Million?

Many of us don’t want to trade our time for money anymore.   

With the vast changes to his financial life, personal life and forward outlook, Jake is so much happier. He’s even less disgruntled with work and the healthcare system as a whole. Being on  the verge of paying off the student loans, he is tasting freedom!

Final Thoughts

Both your body's health and your financial health start with you.

Laura looks to be super happy with her career, as her hard work has manifested itself from the dream she had and looks to keep going for a very long time. The memories are getting a little bit farther away as they step closer and closer to FI.

They travel quite a bit and use travel rewards. They also know their net worth. Real estate also appeals to them. Most of all, their Why of FI is continually stepping towards what they truly value, professionally and personally. They are blessed and impassioned to make a difference on these two fronts in every way possible.

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Health And Finances Why They Overlap More Than You Think

Go Camping On A Budget

Go Camping On A Budget

Camping is awesome! It’s a great way to make a staycation into a real vacation even if you’re only 15 or 20 minutes from home. Plus, if you’re a parent–it’s a great way to teach your kids about survival skills, how to identify flora and fauna, and mainly, get them off their screens for a bit without having to beg. A win-win!

Here are our favorite hacks to camp on a budget so you can streamline your path to FI and have fun in the process!

Saving On Food

Focus on low-cost and simple to make meals. If you can buy and prep ahead of time, you'll save time and money. And by the time you get to a camping area, your options for food will be limited and expensive–so focus on things you can whip up quickly to keep everyone a happy camper. It's good to plan some meals with a heat source, but also, options for no-cooking. Some areas and seasons limit camp fires, so plan accordingly.

Whatever you can freeze ahead of time (like water bottles, meat, crockpot meals) will help keep food and drinks cold, but it also means that you likely purchased these items in bulk or on sale–so you can build a frugal stockpile in advance!

Even though they’re convenient, avoid buying “snack sizes”. Purchase regular sized trail mix bags, popcorn, jerky, and cereal; and portion them out. A side benefit is that it will reduce your trash. Anything you can make or prep ahead of time, like, brownies, cereal bars, sliced oranges, or yogurt cups will save you time and hassle at the campsite.

A great hack if you have electric hookups is to pre-prepare crockpot meals in ziplock bags. These can be thrown in the cooler and thaw out over a few days to be cooked. This also saves ice space in the cooler and keeps drinks cold. Of course, there are always camping favorites that are easy to prep with limited kitchen utility like oatmeal, trail mix, popcorn, sandwiches and hot dogs–so don’t overthink it! Pinterest is full of easy camping recipes, so start there for some easy dinners you can prep ahead and cook on site.

Be A Savvy Camper

Bringing water jugs and refillable water bottles along with some additives like Nuun or Mio, in place of soda or Gatorade, is also a great way to save in your budget, as well as keeping hydrated. Keep drinks in a separate cooler than food, since it gets opened more often.

Be sure to bring toilet paper, but keep it in a ziplock or coffee can to ensure it doesn’t get wet or dirty. Baby wipes are nice to have to freshen up hands and faces when needed, too.

Take some extra ziplock bags of various sizes. They can be used for a multitude of unexpected situations–muddy clothes, special rocks and other natural treasures, etc.

Being wise about your activity planning and food prep means you’ll have less wasted time and food when you arrive!

Crowdsource The Savings

When you camp, it’s just easier to utilize your network to borrow what you can and keep costs down. Even if you are planning on camping solo as a couple or family–you likely have friends and neighbors that can loan you whatever you need. With friends, you don’t have to really buy any camping supplies! And it's likely they can tell you the best spots for cheap to pitch a tent within driving distance.

If you want to bring friends along, this also helps economize with scale. Assign each couple/family a day to plan activities or a meal to be in charge of and chip in together for a cabin or campsite. Plus, while more people means more work, it also means more helpers for set up and tear down!

Borrow An RV & Boondock

Building off the idea that camping is even more cost effective with friends, chances are you know someone who bought an RV with great intentions but takes it out on the road far less than they’d like.

A great way to save on RV style camping is to boondock–A.K.A. park without a hookup. While having electric and water hookups are great, sometimes you just need to rough it for a night or two, but the RV helps you remain comfortable. Boondocking is free and it allows you a lot more freedom and flexibility in when or where you stop for the night, since you won’t need a reserved spot.

Camping is an awesome way to unplug, get some fresh air and even get some exercise to boot. With so many people spending hoards of money to “get away,” somewhere exotic, there’s something to be said about simply escaping to your own backyard and leaving your WiFi connection behind and connecting over a fire pit!

Happy camping!

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Go Camping On A Budget

Look Great For Less: Ideas To Save Money On Grooming

Look Great For Less: Ideas To Save Money On Grooming

Everyone who is saving for early retirement has their own idea of what it takes to look their best. Some FI community members are recovering spenders who can’t imagine painting their own nails, yet others have gone au naturel so long they can’t even remember the last time they got a haircut.

Whatever your ideas are for saving money on grooming, self care, and beauty–you can always squeeze just a little bit more value out of your favorite grooming routines to save money.

Here are some quick ideas to do just that!

Be a beauty student, or find one

You can learn how to do just about anything on YouTube these days, so if you’re needing to wax your legs or trim your significant other’s hair, there’s likely a free online tutorial on how to do it. If you can take a lesson on how to trim bangs or apply self tanner, you can save big bucks.

If you’re not keen on learning how to trim your own tresses, you can also save by going to a beauty school to have a student do your services.

Be advised though, while this does save you some money, it may eat up a bit more time if you’re having more complicated work done (like highlights or eyelash extensions) as students will need to slow down and get sign off from an instructor as they work on you.

Be smarter with what you use

You absolutely still deserve to take good care of your hair and skin, no matter what your budget–but you could still benefit by simplifying your routine and finding multi-use products that give you more value.

For the ladies, you can find a BB cream that covers like a foundation, moisturizes, and provides sun protection. Often for makeup, investing in the right shadow palette can double as a cheek highlighter and a brow powder, so you don’t need a unique product for each.

If you find you spend a lot on trying new things and it leads to waste, create a moratorium on trying new colors and products and stick with what you know works for your skin type and color.

Simply use the right amount

Many of us use more product than we should. We waste body wash, dull our dye jobs with frequent shampooing, and and have far too many chapsticks floating around the house. Next time you squirt out shave cream or dollop on some face wash, be mindful of how much is leaving the tube.

The Huffington Post recommends the following usage:

  • Facial cleanser: Use a dime-size amount to get clean.
  • Sunscreen: Apply a quarter-size portion on your face.
  • Eye creams or serums: Use a penny-size amount of these products.

If you pay to have your hair colored, use a dry shampoo to get by in between prolonged washes. The more you wash your hair, the faster the color will dull or turn brassy–requiring a touch up. If you can stretch your shampooing an extra day or two, you’ll save on both maintenance product and dyes!

Find a good dupe

The internet is a glorious place where beauty bloggers have built entire careers reviewing high end products and create videos to find the best knock-offs for half the price. Simply search “Brand X Dupe” and you’ll likely find a beauty blogger who spent hours tracking down the best drugstore brand knock off of your favorite expensive brand.

While you might find actual knock-offs in some seedy parts of town or on Ebay, stick to buying a dupe that’s a well known store brand, not a counterfeit knock-off. While it may be tempting to pick up an Urban Decay eye palette that normally retails for $50 and get it for $5 on Ebay, it likely is made in China and laced with some really toxic products.

To save money and stay healthy, search for “dupes” not “knock-offs!”

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Look Great For Less: Ideas To Save Money On Grooming