Things I Learned While Traveling to Hawaii

The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Marie. You can read more of Marie’s articles over at her own blog, Family Money Values. Enjoy! 

My spouse, one adult son and I recently returned from a trip to Hawaii from the mainland.  Here are a few things I learned while traveling.

 

Start looking for your airfare early and grab it when it seems like a deal.

I did start looking early – in June for an October flight.  I had read that prices typically go down when you get closer to the travel date.  So when, I saw a great flight (i.e. one that left after dawn and arrived in the early afternoon with just two stops) at a price of around $950 a person, I didn’t snap it up.

As time went by, the flights kept getting worse and the prices higher.  I finally snared three tickets at around $1090 each, but the flight there from the mainland had 2 stops instead of one and it arrived in Honolulu 4 hours later than that great flight I found first.

 

Don’t count on actually getting the flight you booked.

Unfortunately, this flight went through Dallas and the day we left home, Dallas had weather.  We got on the plane, sat there waiting to take off and the pilot announced that we were delayed due to weather in Dallas and we would get an update on the hour (it was quarter after the hour – so not even an update for 45 minutes).  When the update finally came through, it wasn’t good.  We were allowed off the plane.  Thank heavens my son got right in line to try to re-route.  It took at least half and hour for him to get to the head of the line and we were the last folks to get helped.  We ended up leaving at 12:30 pm instead of 8 am, going to Chicago, then San Francisco then Maui and finally into Honolulu – actually arriving at around midnight their time – which meant that we had been en route for 24 hours.  However, if we hadn’t re-routed, we would have spent the night in the Dallas airport instead!

 

Book your seats when you book your flight.

I did manage to do this right.  I had 2 tall men with me so I booked them into aisle seats and took the middle seat.  We did get these seats, except the on the re-routed flight.

 

Travel light – using duffel bags.

The airline we traveled on (indeed most airlines today) charge at least $25 to check one bag and more as the number you check increases.  We already had decided to travel light, just using a carry on and a personal bag.  The airline we traveled on had requirements posted for carry on bags that were smaller than my roll on bag, so I borrowed duffel bags from my other son to take.

I also used a soft side laptop bag instead of a purse – and outfitted my spouse the same way.

It was lucky that we used duffel bags instead of a wheeled carrier as there were multiple legs where folks with wheeled carriers had to be checked prior to boarding.

Update:  On some airlines, you now can only carry on a bag that fits under the seat – you have to pay extra to use the overhead bins!

 

Wear your heaviest clothes, but stay comfortable.

Since we would be in hot weather most of the time, but were going to see the stars at the Mauna Kea visitor center where the temperature can be below freezing, we needed multiple kinds of clothes.  I wore my heaviest shoes, carried my jacket and wore layers of clothes.  The jacket came in handy as a pillow on the plane.

Be sure to check to make sure your clothes don’t have metal on them though.  One of my shirts had a metal zipper so I got patted down three times at security check points!  Quite embarrassing.

 

If your flight is delayed, make sure you can still get your rental car.

Knowing we would be late arriving in Honolulu, I checked the operating hours for the rental car agency and saw that it would be close.  I also saw that they wanted to know if you would be late and would hold (maybe) your reservation if you called.

I did call while waiting for a flight in a very noisy airport.  The number I called was supposed to be the local rental agency but wasn’t.  The lady on the phone had to put me on hold and get hold of them to see if they would stay to get my car to me.  Luckily they agreed to have someone there at midnight when we arrived!

 

Take good ear phones.

I did take ear phones, but they weren’t very good ones.  I had rented a movie on my Kindle to watch in flight, but couldn’t hear it with my cheap ear phones!

 

Take a blind fold.

Mine came in handy on the two over night flights we ended up having.

 

Take snacks.

Even 5 hour flights don’t serve much food anymore.

 

Volunteer to check bags.

Although we wanted our bags with us on the way out, on the way home we eagerly volunteered to check our bags at the gate – complimentary instead of a $25 fee.

On almost each leg, the airline offered to check carry on for free at the gate, saying that the flight was crowded and there wouldn’t be enough room to handle all the carry on bags.

We figured, coming home, it wouldn’t matter if we had to wait to retrieve bags and it wouldn’t be tragic even if they were lost or delayed.  Of course, we kept the laptop bag with our valuables in it with us.

 

Don’t book advance paid reservations for the first day there.

We wanted to see Pearl Harbor and I figured, with Honolulu time being 5 hours behind ours we would be up early the day after arrival.  I had purchased what is called a Passport ticket – to reserve a time slot to go to the USS Arizona Memorial and to tour the USS Missouri, the USS Bowfin and see the Pacific Aviation museum.  I paid in full in advance for all of us.

Since we needed sleep after our 24 hour travel time, we didn’t want to get up at 7 am to face Honolulu rush hour traffic (which is bad) to get to Pearl an hour prior to our 9 am reserved USS Arizona time slot.  It took multiple phone calls to the reservation center to figure out that we could go see the rest of the stuff later in the day.  Luckily, I had already booked a time slot for the second day to go back to the USS Arizona Memorial in case we wanted to – so we just went the next day to see it.

How about you all? What travel tips do you have to share?

***Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/aigle_dore/8274728646/in/

Finding the Perfect Mortgage the First Time 

The following is a guest post. Enjoy! 

Every year, millions of first-time homebuyers set out on a search for the perfect piece of property. They scour advertisements; they search through real estate apps; they go on countless tours and stop by untold open houses. Then, when they finally find the home of their dreams, they are utterly unprepared to make an offer.

Buying a home is more than comparing cabinet styles and deciding whether a pool is worthwhile. You must understand your mortgage options before you even consider whether you need or want granite countertops. This guide will help you determine what features you need from your home loan, so you can find and afford your dream home in no time.

Fixed vs. Adjustable

Mortgages last a long time ― typically between 15 and 30 years. Since that is such a significant amount of time for a loan, most lenders offer two options to help you manage your interest rate: fixed or adjustable. Which option you choose depends on your current income, your credit score, and a few other factors.

Fixed Rate

Fixed-rate mortgages are the most common. With these, you can expect the same interest rate for the entire duration of the mortgage loan. The primary benefit of having a fixed rate is knowing exactly what your mortgage payment will be each and every month; your home payment will never be a financial surprise. However, fixed-rate mortgages tend to have a higher interest rate ― at least initially.

Adjustable Rate

Adjustable-rate mortgages are less common but more accessible if you have poor credit. The opposite of fixed rates, adjustable rates will change over time. Most often, adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) are actually a hybrid product, as lenders will promise a brief fixed period before adjusting your rate.

Some buyers find ARMs preferable because they seem to have lower interest rates. However, over time, those interest rates will rise, and you likely won’t be able to predict when or how much. Therefore, you can expect financial irregularity for the duration of your loan.

Jumbo vs. Conforming

The cost of your home will also determine the type of mortgage you can obtain. Though you might not realize it, most home loans have a size cap, and not all lenders offer conforming loans, which are the standard size, and jumbo loans, which are substantially larger.

Conforming loans earn their name because they conform to the guidelines of the appropriate government-sponsored enterprise (GSE), Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac.

In 2013, these enterprises determined that the size of home loans should be limited to $417,000 for a single-family home in the United States. The GSE can do this because it purchases and sells mortgage-backed securities, which form the foundation of the housing market. In 2007, the unreliability of these securities incited the Great Recession, so adhering to the size cap for home loans should keep the economy more stable.

Conversely, jumbo loans are available from some lenders for those looking to purchase a home worth more than $417,000. However, such sizeable loans represent a marked increase in a lender’s risk, which means you must have impeccable credit, high income, and a large down payment to qualify. As long as you are prepared for the financial responsibilities of a more expensive home, a jumbo loan is an excellent mortgage option.

Conventional vs. Government-Insured

Finally, not all potential homebuyers have the credit history or liquid assets to purchase a home. Fortunately, the government offers unconventional, government-insured loan programs to help less-advantaged citizens buy property.

The benefit of having a government-insured home loan is that the government promises to pay your mortgage if you default, so lenders see the loan as no-risk. There are three main types of government-insured mortgages:

VA Loans

Typically available only to veterans or their partners, VA loans require no down payment, offer competitively low interest rates, and do not require mortgage insurance. These loans do conform to GSE guidelines, but they are incredibly easy to qualify if you or your spouse served in the Armed Forces.

FHA Loans

The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) also offers a mortgage program to low-income, low-credit homebuyers. Unlike VA loans, FHA loans require a down payment ― though it can be as low as 3.5 percent ― and mortgage insurance. However, interest rates are low.

USDA Loans

If you are willing to move to a rural community, the United States Department of Agriculture will help you secure a mortgage. Your qualification for this program depends on your income; it can be no more than 115 percent of the regional average. However, by participating, you earn exceedingly low interest rates and the opportunity to bypass a down payment, as long as you pay mortgage insurance.

How My Mom Went From Dirt Poor Single Mom to Comfortably Retired

The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Laurie Blank.  Laurie is a wife, mother to 4 and homesteader who blogs about personal finance, self-sufficiency and life in general over at The Frugal Farmer. Part witty, part introspective and part silly, her goal in blogging is to help others find their way to financial freedom and to a simpler, more peaceful life.

When I was a kid we were always struggling for money. I remember my parents having “discussions” about money and how to work things out so the bills got paid. When I was 11, my parents divorced and what was “financially struggling” turned into “dirt poor” as my dad’s income now was shared between two families.

Dad faithfully paid his child support obligations, which covered the $250 house payment and gave us an extra $50 to live on. To say that things were tight was an understatement. There were many times when we had bare cupboards and threats from the power company to turn the heat off in the dead of winter if the bill wasn’t paid. I remember my mom calling and begging my grandma to borrow her the money to pay the heat bill. I remember not being able to afford new clothes. We shopped at thrift stores and only bought what we absolutely needed. I remember wearing $2 canvas tennis shoes while all the other kids were wearing Nikes and Converse.

Today my mom is retired and financially comfortable. Not rich, but comfortable. How did she turn things around for herself and her family? Here are five things she did to get free from being dirt poor and to create some financial stability for herself.

 

She Taught Herself Valuable Skills

When my parents divorced, mom didn’t have her driver’s license and had no valuable skills for obtaining a job. When she went down to the welfare office to apply for financial support, she saw that they had opportunities for job training and took full advantage of them. She went to classes on how to interview. She bought an old used typewriter at a neighborhood garage sale and brushed up on the skills she’d learned in typing class in tenth grade, even though she hadn’t touched a typewriter in over fifteen years.  She did what she needed to do to make herself marketable to the workplace.

 

She Learned to Live Within Her Means

When mom first was managing our home and family on her own, we were always short at the end of the month. There were a few months when there wasn’t any food until the welfare check came in a day or two later, and credit cards weren’t an option for a single woman in the 1970’s. Free breakfast and lunch at school fed us kids, but mom would just go without.

Our financial situation changed when someone gave my mom a common sense piece of advice: Pay the bills first and learn to budget the rest and live within your means.

This sounds so simple but it was new information to the woman who had always let her husband manage the money. She began meticulously budgeting and made sure we always had enough to eat and live on. It wasn’t fancy, but all of our needs were provided for. Mom budgets meticulously to this day.

 

She Made Saving a Habit

Even though my mom’s income was always smaller (her max pay before retirement was $17 an hour) she always, always saved something each month. She contributed to the 401(k) plans where she worked and put a little bit in savings each month. At the time, the small amount she was putting away each month didn’t seem like much, but it grew over the thirty years between her divorce and retirement and she’s still living on it today.

 

She Learned to Persevere

Mom went through LOTS of tough times in her life after the divorce. She suffered for years from clinical depression. It takes her awhile to learn new skills, so there were many jobs that fired her due to her lack of ability. But no matter what obstacles came her way, mom got up, brushed herself off and moved on. She did her best not to allow failure or discouragement keep her from achieving.

 

She Redefined “Comfortable”

My mom’s life now is not comfortable by many people’s standards, but she has her priorities in order so that her minimal income (about $750 a month via social security and a smaller sized investment fund) is managed in a way that makes sure the bills are paid but allows for some fun too. Mom’s “fun” these days includes her weekly bowling session with her husband, her brother and sister-in-law. They take advantage of the senior bowling rates and then her and her husband (they have totally separate finances and split all of the bills) split a meal at a local restaurant. She gives herself sixty dollars a week to cover gasoline and other incidentals, entertainment and clothing costs, and gift purchases for birthdays and Christmas. She rarely spends all sixty each week, putting the leftovers in an envelope so that when more expensive weeks come she has the cash to cover them. She doesn’t take vacations or live in a fancy house. She has the same bedroom set and coffee tables she’s had for thirty years.

Comfortable to my mom means she’s able to stay retired and spend her free time with family and friends. She doesn’t at all feel like she’s missing out because of her tight budget. Instead, she’s grateful for all that she has and is happy to have a warm home and loved ones to share her time with.

Mom isn’t wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, but she has all that she needs and a little bit more, and that is perfectly enough for her. She’s learned to look at the positive in life and be grateful for all that she has, and that kind of attitude makes life a whole lot more comfortable, regardless of one’s money situation.

How about you all? Have you ever struggled financially? What did you do to overcome?

Share your experiences by commenting below! 

***Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/ktoine/7976828799/in/

Strategies to Trade Forex Online

The following is a guest post by Mary Beth Sanders. Enjoy! 

The 2016 US Presidential elections have come and gone. To a proportion of the world’s surprise, Donald Trump won the elections. This news sent the financial markets into a tailspin, causing traders to move their investments into safe-haven funds as well as hedge stocks. The markets then recovered some of their losses; however, they continue to be very volatile and strongly influenced by any global political murmurings.

As time passed, investment brokers and the world at large calmed down allowing the financial markets to recover some of their losses; nonetheless, the volatility remains. Added to this, because of the inherent liquidity of cash, the foreign exchange trading markets remain the most volatile of all the financial markets, resulting in the need for caution when considering the option to trade Forex online.

How wise is it to trade Forex online?

This beg the question: How wise is it to trade Forex online in our current politically and economically unstable climate? Unfortunately, this is not a challenge unique to a single currency or country. Because of the rise of the internet and online trading, the global volatility affects all currencies. The only difference is that it affects some currencies positively and others negatively.

What is foreign exchange trading?

Before we answer this question, let’s take a look at trading online entails. According to the Investopedia University, this market “is one of the most exciting, fast-paced markets around. Until recently, forex trading in the currency market had been the domain of large financial institutions, corporations, central banks, hedge funds and extremely wealthy individuals… now it is possible for.. investors to buy and sell currencies easily with the click of a mouse through online brokerage accounts.”

Trading strategies

If online traders read the current volatility in the markets correctly, it is possible to trade successfully; however, caution is required. Experts recommend that you develop a solid trading strategy before you start trading and then it is imperative to stick to it. Here are three tips in order to help you work out your trading strategy:

  • Decide which position you are going to take

A trader can take three positions – short-term, medium-term, or long-term. In a nutshell, this essentially means that a trader needs to decide whether he is going to buy a certain currency and at what point he/she is going to sell it.

  • Decide which currency pairs you are going to trade in

You need to sell one currency to buy another currency. Currencies are always divided up into pairs. For example, the GBP-USD is a currency pair. In this case the British Pound is the commodity and the US dollar is the currency that you will use to buy the GBP.

  • Establish your exit point

You need to decide at what point you are going to sell your commodity. For example, if your position is gaining ground or making money, at what rate will you sell or cash out? On the other hand, if your position is losing money, at what rate will you sell and cut your losses?

Final Thoughts

These three tips are just a start to help you develop a solid trading strategy, as they will help you safeguard your investments and prevent you from losing money. In order to successfully trade Forex online, you can check out this website, in order to improve your trading strategy by adding well thought-out stop losses and limits

Opportunity Funds

The following is a guest post by Akash Sky. Akash writes articles that teach people about investing using intuitive graphics and simple, plain English over at akashsky.com. Enjoy! 

I’m sure you have all heard of emergency funds, and I’m sure that many of you have them as well. But, have you heard of an opportunity fund? It’s similar to an emergency fund, except the purpose behind its use is different. In this article, we will discuss following:

  • what an opportunity fund’s purpose is
  • how large an opportunity fund should be
  • who stands to benefit most from an opportunity fund
  • where an opportunity fund should be stored
  • how an opportunity fund should be used

Alright, let’s start by discussing the purpose an opportunity fund.

 

What’s the purpose of an opportunity fund?

To better understand the purpose of an opportunity fund, let’s examine the purpose of an emergency fund. According to Investopedia, the purpose of an emergency fund is to improve financial security. In other words, the emergency fund is there to limit your downside potential (i.e. bad things like debt, homelessness, hunger, etc.). Now, take that purpose and reverse it.

The purpose of an opportunity fund is to maximize your upside potential. Basically, an opportunity fund’s purpose is to give you the financial fuel to make the most of an opportunity that comes across your way.

 

What type of person benefits most from an opportunity fund?

First off, I want to explicitly state that an opportunity fund is not for everyone. If you are simply looking to remove risk from your life and remain financially comfortable, an emergency fund is more than enough for you.

A person well-suited for an opportunity fund would have the following attributes:

  1. Is actively looking to increase their wealth / net-worth, even at the cost of accepting risk
  2. Can lock away / save additional money without negatively impacting their life

 

How much money should I set aside for an opportunity fund?

There are no hard rules for the amount of cash you need to have in your opportunity fund – you just need enough to make the most of an opportunity that is likely to come your way. In order to do that, you are going to have to do some introspection. You should try and answer the following question: what are some of the best opportunities that I have come across in the last 5 years?

Then. ask yourself: “How much capital / money would I have needed to take advantage of those opportunities?”. Of course, its hard to give an exact figure. For example, if you happen upon a killer real estate deal, your “opportunity fund” would need to be large enough for a down-payment, whereas if you come across a smaller opportunity like a correction in the stock market, you would only need a few thousand dollars.

In my case, I’ve got $5,000 in my opportunity fund. The opportunities that I’m expecting to capitalize on at the moment are corrections in the stock market, my personal blog, and small business ventures. In order to find out the dollar amount you need in an opportunity fund, you need to clearly define the opportunities that you want to take advantage of. Once you’ve done that, all you need to do is calculate the financial fuel you would need to make the most of those opportunities and then save that amount in the form of an opportunity fund.

 

Where should I place my opportunity fund?

Just like an emergency fund, an opportunity fund needs to be liquid. That means that you can’t store your opportunity fund in an investment that is difficult to convert to cash.

This means that savings accounts, CDs (if you are willing to take a slight penalty), and money market accounts are great places to store your opportunity fund. However, the best place (in my opinion) to store an opportunity fund is inside of a 1 year old I-Bond.

I-Bonds are a hybrid between CDs and savings accounts. After you lock away your money for 1 year, you are free to access it at any time. In addition, I-bonds carry less risk than savings accounts because they are immune to inflation and interest rates. To top it off, I-bonds often pay higher rates.

 

How should I use an opportunity fund?

Before we talk about how to use an opportunity fund, lets quickly talk about how to NOT use an opportunity fund. An opportunity fund is NOT extra spending money for when things go on sale. If you truly want to make the most of an opportunity fund, you need to spend it on opportunities that will provide long term benefit to you.

In order to properly use an opportunity fund, you need to be able to identify worthwhile opportunities when you come across them. In order to do so, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is this opportunity likely to benefit me far into the future?
  • When is next time I can reasonably expect something like this opportunity to pop up again?

If you are not likely to come across the opportunity again and it is likely to benefit you far into the future, it may be a worthwhile endeavor to use your opportunity funds on. Ultimately, deciding if the opportunity is right for you is a personal choice. However, having an opportunity fund allows you to have a choice to begin with. It’s up to you whether or not to use your financial fuel to take up an opportunity to change your life for the better.

 

Finishing thoughts

In the end, whether or not an opportunity fund is a good fit for you depends on your financial goals. If you want to actively grow your net-worth instead of cruise along, I highly recommend starting an opportunity fund. In the investment world, cash is king, and you’ll always need to have some of it on hand to pounce on any wonderful opportunity that comes your way. After all, fortune favors the bold, and it is much easier to be bold with an opportunity fund.

How about you all? What do you think about opportunity funds, and are they right for you?

Share your experiences by commenting below!