10 Money Mistakes To Avoid

Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of all the things we’re “supposed” to do with our money.  If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it can help to start by focusing on a smaller list of things that you shouldn’t do. The following money mistakes can cost you dearly whether they impact you immediately today or slowly over time. Avoid them and you’ll be better off.

1. Spending More Than You Earn
The root of most financial problems is the inability to control spending. No matter your income level, if you spend more than you earn you will be broke and in debt. Whether you have $10,000 in income or $1,000,000 in income, you must spend less than you earn.

2. Not Doing an Annual Review of Your Finances
It’s “okay” to make a money mistake for a little while if you are unaware of it. Real problems start if that mistake sustains itself for years on end. Sitting down at a specific time every year to review your finances can ward off these problems.

You might notice an extra fee on your cable bill due to a data entry error. Or you can make it a habit to comparison shop your car insurance and home internet costs in order to negotiate for the best rate. They say ignorance is bliss, but it can cost you dearly.

3. Over Paying for Convenience
It’s easy to justify spending money when it is convenient. You don’t plan out your meals and find nothing in the fridge to eat, so you go out to a restaurant and spend enough money to feed you off of groceries for a week. You need your coffee in the morning, but instead of getting up a little bit early to make it for pennies per cup you spend $5 at Starbucks. Paying for convenience is fine, but do it all the time and in excess and you will always wonder why you never got ahead financially.

4. Avoiding Tough Decisions
Sometimes life is tough. Sometimes your income goes down or disappears. Sometimes your bills go up dramatically. During those times you have a choice: you can try to finance the gap between what you make and what you spend, or you can start cutting items from the budget.

Having an argument with your spouse and whether to cut cable or not isn’t fun, so you avoid the conversation even though you could really use $100 per month to buy groceries. At the end of the day if you have the necessities of life: food, water, shelter, clothing on your back, your health, and a way to generate income to live, you’ll be okay.

5. Not Protecting Your Credit Score
A bad credit score can cost you thousands of dollars in interest. People with bad scores are seen as credit risks, there’s no doubt your credit score impacts your interest rates. It might cost you $1,000 on a car loan or $40,000 on a home mortgage to have a bad credit score. That’s a mistake when you can improve your credit score by making your payments on time and lowering your overall debt utilization.

6. Spending Impulsively
A big mistake many people make is buying impulsively. They see something they want (or think they want, thanks to clever commericals), and it is right in front of them so they buy it. A few weeks later they discover they don’t really use what they thought was so important, and have wasted money.

Before making a big purchase, sleep on it. Your emotional craving for the item should die down after a while and you may come to your senses with the realization you didn’t really need it in the first place.

7. Avoiding Preventative Maintenance
Doesn’t it make sense to spend a few dollars now in order to save hundreds of dollars later? Avoiding maintenance is one of the easiest mistakes to make because it doesn’t usually immediately impact you. You avoid some car maintenance and it saves you $300 now, but the engine blows up a year from now costing you $3,000 for it to be rebuilt.

Or maybe you live an unhealthy lifestyle and don’t exercise. It doesn’t cost you much today to sit on the couch, but when you have a heart attack or stroke earlier than you should the cost will be real. Spend the time and money necessary for preventative maintenance and avoid the major costs on the back end.

8. Thinking Everything is an Emergency
It is wise to have an emergency fund handy for when things go wrong. Having 6 to 12 months of living costs set aside really protects you from unemployment or big disasters. But even if you’ve been smart enough to build an emergency fund, you can start to think everything is an emergency. That’s a mistake that can whittle your emergency fund down below what you really need, and when the actual emergency comes along you aren’t financially prepared.

9. Letting Compound Interest Work Against You
Compound interest is a beautiful thing if you are the one with the money being lent out. If you deposit funds into a savings account, you are letting the bank borrow from you to lend to others. They pay you interest for this privilege. On the flip side if you are carrying a balance on a credit card or taking out payday loans, compound interest works against you.

10. Paying Your Bills Blind
A simple mistake to make is to simply pay your bills without looking at them in detail. Every bill you receive has a summary of the charges and then a breakdown showing what you were charged. It is easy for companies to have data entry “mistakes” that throw an extra charge in on your account. If you don’t review the bill it can easily slip past you. While setting up online billpay and automatic payments is a good thing because it helps you avoid late fees, be sure to check the actual statement to make sure you were charged the right amount.

What Keeps You Up At Night?

Falling asleep has never been a problem for me but a few weeks ago I went to bed worrying and was up all night tossing and turning. The next day I started thinking about all the things we spend money on to help us sleep at night.  Not mattresses and sleep aids but the big things that can really keep your mind racing all night long.

These mental burdens go beyond any money problems – they’re a constant worry about the health, safety, and happiness of you or your family.

Although money can’t buy health, safety, or happiness – we can use it to help us protect those precious things.  When it comes to watching out for your personal well being or the ones you love there are countless ways you can spend money to help yourself sleep better at night.

For example, paying for a gym membership can help keep you healthy and live a longer life.  Paying for health insurance gives you the comfort of knowing your family can get treatment if they’re sick or hurt.  Writing a check for career training could lead to a higher salary or more secure job you can use to provide for yourself or your family.

Spending money on these things makes us feel safer, more prepared for the unknown, and more secure about the future.  The price tag for all of these things can certainly add up, part of the trick of affording them is to anticipate the costs.

This is one of the reasons that I’ve been asking those of you who are newsletter subscribers to share what keeps you up at night. I’ve been blown away, not just by the number of responses but also by how open and honest you’ve been with your answers.  I try and be pretty candid about our money and based on the comments I’ve seen so far, I’m glad that you feel comfortable doing the same.

Thanks for trusting me with your worries.

If you haven’t had a chance to share what keeps you up at night, now’s your chance:


I’ve spent many hours going through your responses and I’ve noticed something that I’ll tell you about next week.

Let’s see if you’re facing the same demons as everyone else, leave your thoughts:




10 Ways to Get Out of Debt

If you want to get out of debt–particularly a lot of debt–then you have to really want it.  I’m talking about flashing Rocky Balboa levels of intensity.  You have to make debt busting your second job.  Like losing weight, you’ll quickly learn that it’s hundreds of times harder to get out of debt than it was to get into debt in the first place.  Whether you sneak up on debt little by little or go all in, it’s going to hurt.  There will be sacrifices, and I’m not just talking about that morning latte.  If you’re reading this post, then you must be serious about getting out of debt.  If so, then get ready for ten serious ways to get out of debt.

Without further ado, here are my top ten ways to get out of debt.

1. Start a Business – Why do you think I spend all of my free time on writing about personal finance?  Sure, I enjoy my writing business, love my clients, and often times find my work to be in many ways a privilege.   But all that said, I am working a second job for a reason: to pay off my oppressive student loan debt.  Now you don’t have to start a freelance writing and copy business like me; in fact–there’s enough competition already– so please don’t!  But I’m sure there is a specific talent and/or interest you have that can be easily monetized.

As a teenager, most of us made a few extra bucks cutting grass for neighbors or babysitting.  At a bare minimum, that is the type of “business” that you should be able to start with little trouble.  When starting a business to pay off debt, you may want to put more of an emphasis on low-overhead/low-risk businesses.  The last thing you need when you’re trying to make extra money to pay down debt is to end up saddled with even more debt should your business be unsuccessful.

For some people perfect “side business” is doing something online, like running a blog.  Although online businesses take time to start generating cash, they are an easy “first business” that require relatively low initial expenses.

2. Work Part-Time – Although a part-time job may not be as sexy, creative, or as good for your soul as starting a side-business, it’s still another way to generate additional income that can be used to pay down your debt.  Remember that the faster you pay off your debt, the less interest you will end up paying overall.  Paying off my debt is almost as difficult as dropping a ring in Mount Doom, so I’ve at times worked part-time, full-time, and run a business simultaneously.

3. Getting a Raise/Working More Hours – Of course, all this talk of additional income sources is nice, but let’s not forget about what is likely our major income source: our full-time jobs.  Now proceed with caution when asking for a raise, particularly during tough economic times – you don’t want to make an enemy of your boss during layoffs.  However, with the right amount of research, planning, and preparation you can make a good case for a raise or promotion.

If you currently have some trepidation about asking for a raise, then perhaps you can figure out a way to work more overtime.  Now if you’re a salaried employee like me–and therefore not legally entitled to overtime–then this won’t help.  But there have been years where I’ve seen my dad generate 50%-75% more income than his base pay merely from overtime (he gets time and a half for overtime).  It won’t be fun working all those additional hours, but being in debt isn’t exactly a day in Disneyland either.

4. Avoid Debt – I know, I know.  What a cheater!  I’m writing a top ten list about ways to get out of debt and now I’m taking the easy (or as I like to call it, the “Ashton Kutcher”) way out and saying something as stupid as “avoid debt in the first place.”  But here’s the thing, even assuming you’re already in debt, it remains key to avoid additional debt.  If you’re working day and night at your freelance graphic design business to pay off your student loan debt, but then you’re also simultaneously generating credit card debt, then that’s the very definition of being counterproductive.

5. Sell Stuff – If you want to go with one of the laziest ways to make extra money, then simply sell some of your stuff.  Who hasn’t sold some old textbooks or made a few extra bucks with a yardsale?  Ok, probably most rich people, but they likely don’t have a ton of consumer debt, either.  If you want to join them in the trust fund arena, then you can’t be too proud.  So go out and sell that old stuff— it might be tough if you’re bit of a hoarder, but it’s worth it to pay off debt.

6. Cut Out Major Unnecessary Expenditures – Sorry, you probably shouldn’t be going on a fancy vacation when you have six figure student loan debt.  (hypocrite alert: my wife and I totally just did that ourselves).  Upgrading your car that works fine but no longer looks cool, buying a big screen television, or redoing your kitchen are also probably not options right now.

I never said being in debt is fun.  I’d rather have someone wake me up each night with a solid punch to the stomach than have the six figure chain around me that is my student loan debt.  But unfortunately, I’ve yet to find a way to trade my debt for midnight sucker punches.  So instead I have to deal with an outdated kitchen and feel like a huge hypocrite for going on one vacation in the past three years.  As will you, although hopefully not that second part.  It shouldn’t be hard to have more willpower than I do.

7. Cut Out Minor Unnecessary Expenditures – In personal finance circles, it’s often referred to as the “Latte Factor.”

We all like to believe that if we simply give up our morning coffee, then all of our personal finance problems will instantly be resolved.  That’s not the truth (unless your debt is so minimal that I have to question why you’ve made it this far in the article in the first place); but it won’t hurt either.  I’ve traded in Cable for Netflix (may have to soon trade back), I’ve given up fancy cell phones and gummy bears at the movie theater (matinee, too, by the way…and definitely no 3-D glasses).

I’m still as in debt as ever, but again, it can’t hurt even if it doesn’t help as much as we perhaps like to believe.

8. Become a Budget Monster – Most people from my generation will remember the seminal pioneer/avatar death of your friends game Oregon Trail.  A big part of that game, besides diphtheria and floating oxen across rivers, was the allocation of resources.  Any board game nerd will know that resource allocation is also the basic theme of games such as Monopoly and Settlers of Cataan. Budgeting (i.e. the allocation of resources) is a key part of paying off your debt.  You need to make sure you have as much money left over as possible to pay down your debt.  You accomplish this through budgeting.

9. Research the Tools Available to You – Consolidation, loan forgiveness, bankruptcy (hopefully not, but hey it’s sometimes the only option), credit agencies, and on and on.  There are a lot of tools out there to help you should your debt get out of control.  Just make sure you do your research and don’t get scammed. Being in debt can make you feel desperate and there are plenty of con-artists out there looking to take advantage of you.

10. Fight Back – There are plenty of companies you have relationships right now that find ways every month to get you to pay more money than you need to for the products or services they provide. It’ll take some time to research your options and to work the phone but there are ways you can cut hundreds of dollars of expenses by fighting back against companies that overcharge and under-deliver.


What have I left out?  How else can you get out of debt?

How to Save Money On a Cruise

Saving money on a cruise may be easier than you think.  In the middle of a hot summer, nothing sounds better than keeping cool on a cruise but the big price tags can obviously be daunting to lots of families looking to save money on vacations.  The nice thing about a cruise is that it wraps your food, lodging, and entertainment all into one bill – so if you can find the right price then you get a lot for your money. Today we’ll look at ways you can find the best cruise deals for your money.

How To Squeeze Value Out Of a Cruise

Relaxation at sea can come at a hefty price if you let it. Finding the right cruise can be challenging. You have to consider cost, cruise length, number of stops or destinations, and what level of room you want.

Identify Important Trip Aspects

Identify what is most important – room with a view, or will smaller do Before you can look for the best cruise deal, you need to know what you are really targeting. There are so many options available: a week in Alaska, 3 days in the Caribbean, or 2 weeks in the Mediterranean. But the options don’t stop there. Consider these items first:

Cruise length: Do you want to be gone for more than a week? Or are you looking for a short trip for some quick rest and relaxation?

Cruise cost: How much are you willing to spend?

Destinations or stops: Do you just want to sit on the deck sipping a beverage and soaking up the rays, or are you looking for adventure at multiple destinations?

What type of room: Are you willing to be in the belly of the ship to save money? Or are you wanting an ocean view? You can take a longer trip if you take a lesser room, if you’re comfortable with it.

Finding the Best Cruise Deal

The web gives you lots of options for landing great travel deals. Although there isn’t really a “one stop shop” that can find the absolute best deal on everything you should stop by the best travel websites such as Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, and Kayak.

The major deal websites are a great place to set your baseline of what deals to expect. All four have dedicated cruise sections to their websites (although Kayak’s is hidden under “More” on the left). Be sure to check with a travel agency or with your credit card’s rewards or travel program after you have a baseline of what to expect from the major websites. You might get lucky and find a deal that fits your desired itinerary.

To really dig in and do your research it helps to find a group of cruising enthusiasts in an online forum. One of the largest is a place called Cruise Critic (http://boards.cruisecritic.com). The forum has nearly 1.3 million topics and over 27 million individual posts inside those topics. Surrounding yourself with experts with a strong passion for what you need advice on is a great place to be. You might also consider Cruise Addicts (http://www.cruise-addicts.com), with over 166,000 threads and almost 1.5 million posts about cruises.

Watch for Extra Charges

The price you see when you first look at a cruise itinerary isn’t the price you pay at the end of the day. Be sure to calculate the following costs into your calculations:

  • Port fees and taxes: Be sure to read the fine print, as you can’t avoid these charges.
  • Travel to and from where the cruise starts: If you live in the city where the cruise kicks off from, you can disregard this. For most, travel to the ship can be a huge addition to the total cost. Check out ways to save money on airline tickets.
  • Excursions: All the fun everyone is having at that new destination? That parasailing or jungle tour? All cost additional money.
  • Fuel surcharge: With high oil prices come fuel surcharges for almost every type of travel. Airlines do it, cruises do, too.
  • Exclusive dining options: Be sure to read the fine print on your dining options. Your cruise price may come with only the baseline food options. Exclusive dining rooms with nicer menus will come at a cost.
  • Popular drinks: Basics like water will be free, but if you want a soda or alcoholic beverage you will pay for it.
  • Spa treatments: Want to get a couples massage looking out over the water? Prepare to pay for it.
  • Tips: Gratuities are included in most cruises, but you should still have the option of lessening the tip if you have a bad experience.

The Best Rental Car Deals for Road Trips

Rental car deals are in high demand with many travelers expecting higher air fare costs this summer. Some of those travelers will forge on, willing to pay the higher price to get to their dream destination. But with many Americans still unemployed or just recently having found new employment the high price of flying may cause them to consider vacations closer to home and send them in search of rental car discounts.

Taking a regional road trip in a rental car doesn’t have to break the bank, especially when compared with flying across the country. Instead of increasing your maintenance costs or worrying if your car can survive a road trip, you borrow the rental agency’s car for a known cost and call it a day. If the car has maintenance problems that weren’t caused by an accident, it’s not your problem. They’ll swap you out into a new car and get you going.

Tips for Saving on Rental Cars
Renting a car can also get pretty expensive, but not if you know how to look for the best deals. Use the following tips to maximize your savings on rental cars. I worked in the rental industry for about a year and this is how I would go about getting the best deal.

Finding the Best Deal
There is no one best way to find the best deal on rental cars, but knowledge is power. Things you need to know:

What’s the business model? Rental car agencies go after different types of business. Some focus on repair work while your car is in the shop. Others focus on business travelers and only have airport locations. Knowing the company’s business model will help you determine their down times. You can get a better deal during slow periods when they have a lot of extra cars on hand.

  • For example, Enterprise has thousands of locations across the country. They focus on being in “your neighborhood” and deal with a lot of insurance and car repair rentals. That means their cars are in high demand Monday through Friday. On Friday the body shops finish up, and the agency has extra inventory over the weekend. You can get amazing deals on the weekend. More on this in a moment.

What’s in demand? During the summer months the most in demand vehicles are SUVs and minivans. This is especially true around holidays like Memorial Day or the 4th of July. You’ll need to book well in advance or risk missing out.

Know the car sizes. Check out the company’s website and be familiar with their car classes. Booking a smaller vehicle will save you money, but don’t be surprised if it is really small.

Check Online Specials First
The internet is one of the best places to find widely advertised deals on rental cars. Check all of the popular agency’s websites first. You know these deals are legitimate because it is coming straight from the source. Follow that up with a check of large travel aggregation websites like Kayak. They’ll be able to spot some of the secret or less advertised deals that you can’t find without a lot of extra work.

For example, say Enterprise has their $9.99 weekend special going. You can pay as little as $10 per day for three days, and get 300 total miles to use on your rental for a compact size car. That’s a 60% discount off the regular rental price of $24.99 in my area. A full size car can be had for $19.99 per day – that’s 43% off the regular price of $34.99.

Budget has a similar deal. They offer $5 off for every weekend day you have a rental. A 3 day rental (Friday to Monday) would have $15 knocked off the final price. How can they afford to do this? Again, they have a lot of inventory on the weekends. Having vehicles on the road for as little as $30 in revenue is better than having the cars sit on the lot for $0 in revenue.

One way to make the deal even sweeter is to use a rental car credit card that offers rewards or discounts when you reserve your car online.  Just be aware that not all deals can be combined so you might not be able to use the credit card discount along with an advertised special.

Pick Up the Phone
Pick up the phone and call your local branch. Have their website pulled up and know what discounts they are currently offering. Let them know of your plans, and have them walk you through the best deal they can offer. When they’re done telling you the price, tell them that’s not low enough or ask if there is anything they can do to get you to reserve the car today. They may be able to find a discount to put on your rental to drop the price down a bit. Talking to a live human being that works at your local branch gives you an advantage over computer systems.

Book with Travel Partners
You can also try booking with travel partners. If you’re booking a hotel room you may be able to get a package deal with one of their preferred car rental agencies.

Negotiate at the Counter
You have negotiating leverage. Unlike hotel reservations, many rental agencies do not charge you for not showing up for your reservation. Once you are there they want to make sure you leave happy. You can book a lower class vehicle and try to negotiate your way into a larger vehicle at a discounted price.

In fact, the representative behind the counter may try to do convince you first. Many companies will run “up-sell” competitions and rewards their reps for selling you from a smaller vehicle class into something bigger, even if it isn’t at full price. They’re getting more revenue for having your reservation out on the road. You can also try asking for discounts based on:

  • The rate your insurance company gets (which is much, much cheaper than retail). You likely won’t get the full discount, but they may knock the price off a bit.
  • Memberships you have (AAA, AARP, etc.)
  • Your company’s corporate discount

Granted, this only works when the company has a lot of excess inventory sitting on the car lot. You won’t find much negotiating room if you’re renting their next to last car. If they don’t rent to you they’ll find another customer to put into that car.

Consider Gas Mileage
With gas nearing or over $4 per gallon in many parts of the country, be sure to check on gas mileage first. Taking 4 friends on a road trip to the beach? Riding in style in a massive SUV may seem great, but you’ll be guzzling gas the whole way (along with paying higher rental costs in the first place). Those 4 people would easily fit into a standard or full size car, saving you money on gas and rental charges.

Document the Car’s Condition
Make sure you document the car’s condition very well. Renting cars happens very fast. There is important paperwork you sign, including an agreed upon condition of the car. If you don’t mark any of the current damage (knicks, dings, dents) on the contract you may be held liable for them when you return the vehicle. Read the fine print on the rental car insurance and make sure you understand what’s covered and what’s not. In this technology covered age I would recommend taking photos or a video of the walk around on the car on your smartphone or camera. It will help defuse any situations that pop up when you return the car.

Invasion of the Pests

While most of you have probably been fretting over the national debt, whether it will be paid, and what it will mean for our economy – I’ve been dealing with armies of pests.  Of course, I’m concerned about what will happen with our out-of-control debt but I’ve been pre-occupied with termites eating our house, moles destroying our yard, and wasps leaving big red welts on my arms and legs.


Obviously the nastiest of these are the termites.  They just showed up a few weeks ago and we’ve already had them taken care of.  As usual I started out with Angies List and built a short list of exterminators who all came out and gave us bids.  I know a lot more about termites now than I ever wanted to know and spent more than I wanted to get rid of them.  However, after a lot of research and some negotiating we decided on a plan that should keep the house termite-free for at least 15 years.  I’ll have to package everything I learned into a post for you homeowners, “Everything You Never Wanted to Know About Killing Termites”.

This time I actually ended up going with a provider I didn’t find on Angies List.  We picked a much bigger company that specializes in killing termites and provides service all over the country. They offered the best deal in terms of cost, treatment, and coverage so they made the most sense.  Something I already knew but was reminded of was to ask a lot of questions when you’re getting bids so it’s easier to compare estimates and to be sure of exactly what you’re getting. 

I also learned that there’s a definite difference between what the salesman promises and what the technician can deliver.  I know this is often the case in my own industry but now I’ve seen it in multiple areas other than software development.  We’re still in the process of having the termite company properly repair concrete drill holes that they couldn’t get seem to get right the first two times.  I’ve actually made a list of all the things the salesman told us that the technician came out and contradicted several days later.  I guess the lesson here is nothing new – buyer beware.

Other Pests

Although the wasp invasion was more painful than the termites, it was certainly cheaper to handle.  My son got a good laugh out of watching me battle angry wasps with my shovel but after losing that battle a cheap can of Raid brought the invasion to an end.  Our mole problem seems to have been solved by setting mole traps that my father-in-law let us borrow.  It’s amazing how much damage just one mole can do to your yard in such a short period of time.

Being a homeowner has it’s benefits but it can also get expensive and a bit stressful at times.  It makes a big difference if you have a backup savings account or emergency fund you can dip into when expensive things pop up.  I also have an interesting story about financing home projects and the quoted price of a project that I’ll share in the future.

Money Articles

Hopefully our pest invasion is over for the summer and Congress will get their act together and figure something out about our nation’s debts.  If you want something to take your mind off of the debt debacle, you can checkout some of these articles:

Real Estate


Personal Finance

Last but not least, thanks to the Canadian Finance Blog for including the post on investment costs in personal finance carnvial.

Best Checking Accounts For College Students

The best checking accounts for college students are those with no fees, no minimum balance, online banking, and good interest rates. If you’re leaving for college soon and you don’t have a checking account opened up, you should start thinking about it now. You’ll definitely need a place to stash the little cash that you’ll have during your college career.

Be aware, not all checking accounts are free, and some of them have hidden fees; those are the ones you want to stay away from. Below are four reviews of checking accounts that are worth your time to consider opening up before you leave for school.

ING Electric Orange Checking Account

ING DIRECT electric orange

If you missed my article about the ING products, go checkout the electric orange checking and orange savings account review. This is a great checking account for college students. You can do all of your banking online, which is definitely a benefit for college students, and there are absolutely NO fees associated with it.

The main downside is that you have to mail in checks for deposit, or set up another checking account to transfer money. (Or you could sign up for direct deposit into your Electric Orange account.)

The Campus Edge Checking Account by Bank of America

Bank of America has some good financial products. This is the account that I had while I was in school at the University of Florida. There are no fees, and all you need is $25.00 for an initial deposit to open up the account. After that, there is no minimum balance. BOA will also enroll you for free into their “keep the change” program which rounds your purchase up to the nearest dollar and puts the change into a separate savings account for you.

They’ll also match give you a 100% contribution match for the first three months. This could make it easier for you to balance your check book, because all of your purchases will be rounded to the nearest dollar, making it easier to figure out your balance. Convenience is the biggest advantage to a Bank of America checking account. Bank of America has a ton of branches so an ATM isn’t usually hard to find.

USAA Free Checking

The free checking account from USAA is only available if you, your spouse, or your parents served in the military or are USAA members.  Since USAA is used to serving service members deployed around the globe it’s easy for them to provide the same great service to you while you’re away at school.  With features like USAA Deposit@Home and Deposit@Mobile it’s easy to deposit checks from school.  The account is very competitive, with free overdraft protection, free checks, free billpay, and no monthly fees.

Perkstreet Financial

An option for college students who want to earn rewards when they spend is the PerkStreet Financial cash back debit card. This checking account provides you with a debit card that allows you to earn cash back on your purchases. There are no fees and no minimums with this FDIC-insured account, and you can withdraw cash from a network of more than 37,000 ATMs. You can have money directly deposited into this online bank account, or mail deposit checks (or transfer from another account). A great way to earn rewards and get a little extra cash as a student.

College Student Checking Accounts

One of the most important things you can do as you establish your independent financial identity is to open your own checking account. If you are a college student, you want to be able to find the best checking account that meets your needs while at home and away. While many banks and credit unions offer “student” accounts, recent developments in banking make it possible for you to open a superior checking account that may not be labeled specifically as a student account.

You will want to consider what is most important to you in a bank as you shop around. If you prefer to be able to go into a bank, an online checking account may not be best for you. However, if you deal mostly electronically, and have no need to enter a brick and mortar bank, an online account can help you dodge the fees that seem to be cropping up everywhere these days. Look for a bank account that has no minimum balance or activity requirements, and try avoid those with monthly fees. If you plan to write checks, look for a bank with unlimited check-writing privileges. You should also consider the reputation the financial institution has for customer service.  Your bank can make a big difference in how you manage your money; choose carefully.

Opening a Student Checking Account
So, get on it. Go and check out these checking accounts. Believe me, sticking your money under your dorm bed won’t work. You never know when your roommate or their friends might need some extra cash and decide to help themselves. Watch out with your debit card, though – it’s so easy to swipe that thing. Make sure you set up a budget for the month, and take out cash for items like entertainment and food. Otherwise, you’ll debit card swipe yourself to oblivion, and non-sufficient fund charges are no fun.

If you’re getting ready to head off to school, check out this article on decorating your dorm room on a budget. We also review the best student credit cards as well as student health insurance options and how you can compare them with eHealthInsurance. If you’re looking for some cash to put into your new checking account, look through the list of ways you can make extra money in college.

This review of the best checking accounts for college students is part of the College Student Money Guide.

The Best Resorts for Family Deals

Sometimes, when you go on vacation, it can be easiest to just head to a resort. You pay one price, and you have plenty of activities for the whole family, as well as a place to stay. Some resorts are all inclusive where all the food is included and some give you vouchers to use at restaurants, so some of your food costs are covered.

During off-peak times, you can usually find fantastic deals at different resorts. Many people in my state like to take advantage of off-season Disneyland deals, since you can state at a Disneyland resort for cheap. It never hurts to call the resort and find out what is available. Find out if there are some “kids free” deals for younger children, or if you can get a fourth night free when you pay for three nights. If you are looking for some ideas (other than something Disney, of course) here are some resorts that offer family deals:

Bahia Principe
This company actually owns a number of resorts in Mexico, the Caribbean and Spain. If you travel off-season, you can find great deals. Even if you go the hotel-only route, you still end up with access to the pool and other options. You can find plenty of activities to enjoy at the resort and nearby. Plenty of special offers, and even vacation packages. The Gran Bahia Principe Akumal, in Mexico, will make you feel as though you are in the jungle, with plenty of nature and activities nearby.

Kahala Mandarin Oriental, Hawaii
You can find a number of family options and deals at this resort. There are dolphin programs, history classes and more. A free shuttle will take family members into Waikiki as well. You can spend time at the beach — where the water is calm and shallow, or take little excursions.

Tortuga Lodge, Tortuguero, Costa Rica
If you are looking for eco-tourism, you might find some good deals at this resort, which is owned by Costa Rica Expeditions. You can see plenty of wildlife, and enjoy great deals starting at $99 for doubles. Look for other vacation packages and deals for Costa Rica.

Earthshine Mountain Lodge
Enjoy the great outdoors in Appalachia. This lodge is located in Lake Toxaway, North Carolina, about 50 miles from Asheville. It’s an all-inclusive resort that includes three all you can eat meals each day. You can go hiking, visit a Cherokee campsite replica, go through the zip-line course and enjoy a climbing wall.

Amelia Island Plantation
Located in Florida, you can choose all-inclusive packages, or hotel stays. The all-inclusive packages can be great deals, offering three meals a day, as well as access to activities like tennis and golf. There are biking trails, fishing opportunities and family crafts.

Sunriver Resort
Another outdoor lover’s paradise, this resort near Oregon’s Cascade Mountains is not all-inclusive. But it has a lot to offer — especially if you go between Thanksgiving and New Year: Horse-drawn sleigh rides, bonfires and dogsled tours. There is hiking and fishing for other times of the year, and even an observatory for star-gazing. A nature center and fish hatchery are fun for the kids. You can ask about specials on horseback rides and other activities.

6 Investing Decisions I’m Happy With

We’ve all made our share of investing mistakes, I wrote about mine not long ago and how I ended up losing 50-75% of the money I invested.  Today I’ll share the counterpart to that: six investing choices I’m glad I’ve made.  

Although the world of investing is always changing, and I am certainly not an investing expert (unfortunately I’m more of an expert on student loan debt), I feel that these six choices were the best I have ever personally made.

Investing Success #1: Not Investing Money I Couldn’t Afford to Lose 

I learned early on that investing money I couldn’t afford to lose was a big mistake.  I was constantly pulling money out of the market to pay routine things like groceries or car insurance.  This cost me a ton of money in transaction fees.  When I started to pay myself first, and yet simultaneously only invest with disposable money, I was able to really start investing intelligently.

I didn’t get too excited by the ups and downs in the market, because I knew I was in the market for the long term.  This led to the modicum of investing success that I have since enjoyed.

Investing Succes #2: Going With Vanguard 

Vanguard is a great company because they’re dependable, well-run, and also inexpensive.  I have a lot of faith in Vanguard and they have never done wrong by me.  My investing strategy is simple: I put my money into appropriate Vanguard funds, and then I sit back and let them take care of the rest.  My favorite move is funding my IRA’s largely with Vanguard’s target retirement 2050 fund.  

There are other no-load (i.e. no individual sales commissions per transaction) giants such as T Rowe Price and Fidelity.  The important thing is that cutting down on transaction costs makes it so your rate of return doesn’t have to be so large for you to make money from the market.  Vanguard has been great in this respect.

Investing Success #3: Focusing on Taxes 

When I first started investing, I often ignored the tax consequences of my investments.  Who could really blame me, as a college student, I generally didn’t earn enough money to be taxed on it anyway.  But with age and maturity (and a real job), I’ve learned to love IRA’s, 401(k)’s, and any other retirement financial vehicles that the government (at least up to this point) has allowed tax breaks on.

Investing Success #4: Reinvesting Dividends 

Dividends are one of the investors best friends, and perhaps the purest source of passive income.  Why?  Because they’re generally legitimate and can be almost fully automated.  With time, by reinvesting your dividends, your number of shares should increase. All without you even missing any extra money out of your wallet.  It’s really a beautiful thing, and the best part is that the benefits tends to increase as time goes on.

Investing Success #5: Investing in Businesses 

This isn’t really the same as using the stock market, but it’s the greatest form of diversification that I have undertaken in my own life during the past few years.  I didn’t go out and start a huge business or anything, I simply began blogging and running a freelance writing business.  These efforts have not only allowed me to meet or work with great people I otherwise never would have met, but have also provided me with extra income.  

When you build a business you are in a sense creating income in two ways: 1) any profits you generate; and 2) increased value in your business should you in the future decide to sell.  It’s a lot more work than sitting back and collecting dividends, but it’s another fun “investment” that more people should consider.

Investing Success #6: Being Fearless 

Perhaps this will lead me to financial ruin one day, but as soon as I started being fearless in my investments is when I started making money.

I research, diversify, make the calls that I think are right, and then pretty much sit back.  When the market hits rock bottom, I tend to keep buying.  When the market comes back up I have to this point enjoyed an even greater success.

Perhaps someday the market will hit rock bottom and never come back.  That’s the risk that I, as a buy and hold investor take.  But by being fearless, I allow paper losses to stay that way.  By being fearless I’ve seen a 28% return the past two years (lucky for me I mostly bought in at rock bottom).  But note, I don’t believe you can time the market.  The best you can do is try and pay yourself first.  And then keep investing.


My failures outnumber my successes, of that there is no doubt.  But hopefully some of the above will be helpful for when you plan your investing strategies.

What do you agree and disagree with?  What are the keys to your investing successes?

Best of luck in your investments.

The Best Hotels for the Lowest Rates

Summer is here, and you might be itching to get on the road — at least for a little while. If you are looking to take a road trip this summer, you will probably need some place to stay. Many people prefer hotels to camping out (although camping out can be a fun and low-cost option), so that means you are automatically going to be spending some money. You can save, though. Here are some ideas for saving money on hotels as you travel.

Look for Good Value

Sometimes good value doesn’t always mean the cheapest. Years ago, I stayed in a cheap hotel in St. George, Utah. It cost $30 a night — as opposed to the $45 another hotel was charging. After spending the night there, I wished I had spent the extra $15. The front desk was unavailable after 6 p.m., which happened to be just after we checked in. So there was no one to ask about the dirty sheets (my husband and I turned up the heat and slept on top of the blankets), container of curdling milk in the ice bucket, and the broken alarm clock. (This was before the widespread use of cell phones, and we had to buy a cheap alarm clock at the store.) A very harsh lesson in true value vs. cheapness.

If you want good value, Consumer Reports recommends trying Microtel Inn & Suites. It’s a budget hotel chain that feature usually clean rooms, and a continental breakfast. All of the Microtel hotels I have stayed in have had indoor pools, as well. If you just want a basic place to sleep, you can get good value at this chain. Consumer Reports lists Drury Inn & Suites as a good value in the moderately priced category.

Consider Rewards Programs

My parents are involved in Marriott’s rewards program. It includes Marriott brands like Fairfield and Courtyard, in addition to the more upscale Renaissance and other brands. My parents use a Marriott Rewards card, and every year they end up with multiple nights free. You can consider programs offered by different hotels, including Choice Hotels, which includes a number of brands. However, you need to be careful, and understand what you want in a hotel, or a rewards program may not be worth the trouble.

Tips for Saving Money on Hotels

Of course, there are other ways to save money when staying in hotels. The biggest tip is to look online. Check with travel web sites like Hotwire.com, Priceline.com, Orbitz.com and Travelocity.com. Sites like Kayak.com can help you look through a number of travel web site prices and compare. You can also check online at the hotel to see if there are any specials. Sometimes, you can find a better rate by contacting the hotel directly. Other items to consider:

  • If you are flying, including a hotel as part of a vacation package can result in a better price.
  • Stay during the week, rather than on weekends. Rates are often lower when you stay Monday night through Thursday night.
  • Look locally. In some cases, a local establishment can offer lower prices than a chain. Even if it is more expensive, some local chains have amenities that make them more attractive.

No matter your plans, it is possible to save on a hotel, getting the best value for your money as you travel.

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