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Bear with me?

Oh happy day...

Today was the be all end all of Wednesdays. Not only did I find out I was accepted into the UTEP Promise program but i also managed to settle one of my debts and have it say paid in full on my credit report. Total savings for the day? $28,000 in tuition and $619 off my debt. All it took was a little bit of hard work and patience.

If you find yourself in the same situation I was in--over $10,000 in debt, no way to pay for school and an overall feeling of despair, fret not. You will make it out on top and in the lead. Understand your goals, what you really want to accomplish and find out how to make it happen. Remember, if it's meant to be, it's up to me.

I'm here to support you.

UTEP Promise

I received a wonderful email this morning from a hardworking financial aid director at UTEP saying that I have been accepted to participate in the UTEP Promise. This is a lifealtering opportunity that will help ease the stress of paying for college for the duration that I am attending UTEP.

I. Could. Not. Be. Happier.

After I heard about the program I have done everything in my power to make sure that I was activated under its guidelines. The journey was easy, but like everything else college oriented, the hardest part was waiting.

Let me explain a little bit more about the UTEP Promise. Imagine yourself a freshman at UTEP next fall - with tuition and mandatory fees covered!

It's their promise that they'll help qualified students meet the financial challenges of attending the university.

How does it work?

* Covers all tuition and mandatory fees for 30 credit hours each year.
* Open to freshmen for the fall 2006 semester and beyond
* Does not cover incidental fees, course-related fees or individual major fees

Who is eligible for the UTEP Promise?

* New freshmen with family income of $25,000 or less
* Must be a Texas resident and qualify for Texas resident tuition

How do I apply for the UTEP Promise?

* Apply to UTEP for fall 2006 admission as a freshman
* Complete the FAFSA - Free Application for Federal Student Aid. See it online at
* You'll automatically be considered
* The Financial Aid Office will let you know if you qualify

You must:

* be registered for at least 12 hours each semester, 15 hours recommended
* complete 30 credit hours each year
* earn a GPA of 2.0 or higher

Note: Participation is limited to four consecutive years.


Contact the Financial Aid Office at 915/747-5204

or visit us in the:

Financial Aid Office
Academic Services Building
Schuster Drive and Hawthorne Street
Monday – Friday 8 am – 6 pm


Debt? or Savings?

I know that many financial experts recommend paying of debts - especially high interest credit card debt first, before saving. Conventional wisdom suggests that paying off high interest debt garners an immediate 13%, 18%, 21% (or whatever) rate of return on your money. Makes sense. I guess.

Here's the problem. If you take all of your available cash and pay down debt, then what will you do in case of an emergency? (eyes on your own paper) Right! You'll go into debt - whether it's putting the charge on the same credit card which now has more room, or borrow it from your next door neighbor, along with a cup of sugar. Kinda defeats the whole purpose, no? On top of that, the emergency will actually cost you more in the long run, because of the interest you'll pay, and the fee that it may cost you to use your credit card. For instance, some utility companies and insurance companies charge a transaction fee for paying with a credit card.

Sometimes the emergency is a mini emergency where you can't pay with credit. Your transmission goes costing more than the available credit you have on your Visa. Not to mention that your goal in life is to dig yourself out of debt, and continuing to charge feels like running up the down escalator. What's a debt-buster in training to do?

I say: Split the difference. I find it a bit more psychologically comforting to save some money for emergencies, even if you are paying off debt. To my mind, it works the same way as the debt snowball. The debt snowball, class, is a method of repayment where you pay off the smallest debt first, regardless of interest rate. Once you have success in eliminating the first debt, you get a psychological boost and roll the former debt payments into paying off the next debt on the list. Psychologically, a good idea. Financially, not so much. But sometimes the process is not as crucial as the end result.

I have come up with a highly complex and intricate formula: 75/12.5/12.5. I take roughly 75% of my income and put it towards debt. I divide the remaining in half - thus the 12.5% - and put it towards savings. For me, that means 12.5% goes to my emergency fund -towards the requisite 6-months, minimum, that we all should have, and the other 12.5% goes towards regular weekly budgeting.

For me, even though the savings may come in more of a drip than a gusher, it is comforting to see the balances limp along. Little by little, they will begin to pick up steam and break into a fast walk, a trot, a sprint....

Eat Healthy, Save Money

Oh boy, I love request posts. This buds for you, Sandy.

I gained 10 pounds on my quest to save money this year. Choosing to make mac n' cheese, cans of ravioli, hot pockets, ramen and other processed foods here at the office has added quite a few pounds and extra flab to grab on to. I'm not proud of it, but I did save money.

But there has to be a better way. Nobody should have to sacrifice their healthy eating habits in order to save a buck or two. With transportation costs high, the price of food is going to remain high as well. So where is the middle ground? Where does healthy meet frugal and our quality of life doesn't suffer in the process?

After some research, it's become obvious that it is indeed possible, just involves rules and a little bit of work.

Rule #1
Eat Less
The less you eat, the lower your grocery bill. If you feel you're overweight, eat fewer calories and smaller portions. Don't starve yourself to save a buck, but take a look at what your shoveling into that lip-flap of yours and decide for yourself.

Rule #2
Shop Smarter
If it comes in a box its unhealthy and more than likely expensive. If it comes in a crinkly bag, it'll make you a wrinkly hag. :) Sorry couldn't resist that one. The healthiest foods are located at the back and the sides of a grocery store, primarily. Meat and Dairy, Grains, Fruits and Vegetables, and Beer. Okay the last one might not be so healthy, but it flowed nicely. You can almost skip the middle section completely.

Rule #3
Spend Smarter
Forget the stereotypes, as we both know you're not a bingo-playing, old lady, trying to save every penny so you can afford another cat. Start cutting coupons, doing price comparisons, and visiting company websites for special offers. Make a list of what you're going to buy, stick to the list, and shop when you've just finished eating. Supposedly, you make rash decisions when you're hungry.

So with your rules in hand its time to go shopping. We all should have paid more attention in our Health Education/Nutrition class in high school. The Pyramid has been revamped since then, but the information is still the same. Start thinking of healthy foods and they all fall back on the basic principles.

One test that I have noticed is if you can say the fooditem's name without a brandname immediately popping into your head, its probably healthy and its probably cheap. For example: Icecream? Ben & Jerry's. Not healthy, not cheap. Corn? errr... Corn. Healthy and cheap. Soda? Dr. Pepper. Chicken? Breasts! So in terms of the food pyramid, we want to think smart.

The following foods are not only healthy, but you can purchase most of them for around $3. Plus they all pass my test! Yay!

1. Canned salmon $2.89/14.75 ounces (59 cents/serving) Get your Omega-3's for less. Salmon is full of these healthy fats, which help lower cholesterol and prevent heart attacks.

2. Chicken breasts $3.49/pound (87 cents/serving) Easy-to-prepare, chicken is full of lean protein, which helps keep you fuller longer.

3. Natural peanut butter $3.39/16 ounces (42 cents/serving) Skip the sugary, processed varieties and spread the real stuff on whole-grain bread. Throw a tablespoon in smoothies or yogurt, use it as a dip for carrots and pretzels, or mix it with a bit of low-sodium soy sauce, brown sugar and garlic, then thin with water for a quick sauce.

4. Canned beans 84 cents/15 ounces (22 cents/serving) Bulk up soups and stews while getting protein and fiber. Try chickpeas or black beans if you're not a fan of kidneys or pintos. Drain, rinse, and blend with lemon juice, garlic, cumin and a bit of vegetable broth for a quick dip.

5. Eggs $1.99/dozen large (17 cents a serving) Not just for breakfast, eggs are among the easiest foods to cook. If you're watching your cholesterol, scramble one egg and two egg whites. Add onion and spinach and you've got a great omelet.

6. Dried lentils 79 cents/pound (20 cents/serving) Full of protein and fiber, lentils cook in just 15 minutes! Throw some in soups and stews or cook with curry powder for a quick, spicy meal.

7. Almonds $3.99/9 ounces (44 cents/serving) Get vitamin E, fiber and protein while satisfying a crunchy craving. Nuts are rich in an amino acid that could be linked to heart benefits. Chop a few raw ones and throw them on yogurt.

8. Frozen fruit and berries $2.99-$5.99 pound (75 cents-$1.50/serving) Throw some in the blender with milk or yogurt for a healthy treat. Frozen berries can be used in oatmeal or drained and baked into muffins and quick breads.

9. Apples 68 cents each They might not keep the doctor away, but apples are actually full of antioxidants, which help slow the progression of age-related diseases.

10. Bananas 35 cents each Slice one on your morning yogurt or oatmeal for some added fiber and only 100 calories or so. Snack on a potassium-rich banana to prevent cramps after a workout.

11. Grapes $2.99/pound (75 cents a serving) Freeze grapes for a decadent, low-calorie dessert or snack. Grapes--especially the dark purple ones--contain plenty of antioxidants that are known to help heart health.

12. Romaine lettuce or other hearty lettuce $1.99/head (66 cents/serving) Banish the iceberg and choose sturdy Romaine for your salads. It will give you more fiber and nutrients, plus a satisfying crunch.

13. Carrots $2.79/3 pounds (23 cents/serving) Mom was right. Carrots are good for your eyes, thanks to the antioxidants, including beta-carotene, in them. (That's what makes them orange!) Dip them in hummus (made from canned beans), natural peanut butter or low-fat dressings.

14. Frozen spinach $2 for 16 ounces (50 cents/serving) Thaw and drain this good-for-your green, then toss it in omelets, soups, stir-fries and pasta sauces. Spinach is full of vitamins A, C, K, plus fiber and even calcium.

15. Canned tomatoes $1 for 14.5 ounces (28 cents/serving) Choose low-sodium varieties and throw a can in pasta sauces and chili to stretch a meal. Puree a can with a cup of skim milk and season to taste for your own tomato soup. You'll get a dose of vitamins A,B and C and lycopene, an antioxidant known to prevent cancer.

16. Garlic 50 cents/head (5 cents/serving) Ditch the bottled and powdered stuff if you want to reap more of the myriad health benefits. Pungent and tasty, garlic can help lower cholesterol and blood clots, plus it can have a small effect on high blood pressure. Crush or chop it to release more of the antioxidants.

17. Sweet potatoes $1.49/pound (37 cents/serving) Aside from being sweet and delicious, these bright root vegetables are a great source of fiber and antioxidants. Bake, mash or roast them--you'll forget about those other, paler potatoes.

18. Onions 97 cents each (32 cents/serving) Like garlic, this smelly vegetable is full of health benefits. Onions have been proven to lower risks for certain cancers, and they add flavor with few calories. Try roasting them to bring out their sweetness and cut their harsh edge. (If you well up while cutting them, store onions in the fridge for a tear-free chop.)

19. Broccoli $2.49/pound (63 cents/serving) Broccoli is like a toothbrush for your insides. Full of fiber, it will provide you vitamins A and C, plus fiber and a host of antioxidants. Broccoli is a superstar in the nutrition world.

20. Whole-grain pasta $1.50/13.25 ounces (45 cents/serving) With a nutty flavor and a subtle brown color, whole-wheat pasta perks up any meal. Start with half regular, half whole-wheat pasta, then gradually add more wheat pasta for a burst of fiber and nutrients.

21. Popcorn kernels $2.39/32 ounces (30 cents/serving) Air-popped popcorn has just 30 calories and a trace of fat. Pop a few cups, spritz with olive oil or butter spray and sprinkle on your favorite seasonings for a guilt-free treat.

22. Brown rice $1.49/16 ounces (19 cents/serving) Brown rice is a great side dish, but you can also use it to help stretch your ground meat. Mix a cup of cooked rice with 8 ounces of lean ground beef next time you make meatloaf to save 45 calories and five grams of fat (and some money) per serving.

23. Oats $3.19/42 ounces (15 cents/serving) Oatmeal is a hearty breakfast, but you can also cook sturdy steel-cut oats in chicken broth for a savory side dish. Or, mix oats with ground turkey to stretch your meatballs.

24. Quarts of low- or fat-free yogurt $2.49/32 ounces (47 cents/serving) Buy large containers of plain or vanilla yogurt, then add real fruit. You'll save money and calories by not buying fancy single-serve yogurts.

25. Gallon of skim milk $3.04 (19 cents/serving) It really does a body good. Full of calcium and protein, milk can help stretch a meal. Pair an eight-ounce glass with a piece of fruit or a granola bar for a filling snack.

Of course none of this will mean anything at all to you if you don't actually commit to cooking in home. None of the planning, spending, and lugging your groceries into your kitchen will help if you just run out to Chicos Tacos instead. So stop by my favorite recipe website FoodGawker and take a peak at their delicious and for the most part nutritious array of food art.

Hope that helps some what, Sandy. If I was way off the mark, well then take it as a good thing. Don't think you want me on Mark anyways. XP


I apologize for the lack of posting since last week. I have been pretty ill and getting back on my feet and into the swing of things is taking a lot longer than I thought. I'll try to get some saving, budgeting, financing goodness out to you before the end of the week.

Thanks for your patience.


Cheap not necessarily always good

I spit out cheap nonsense like a fountain, and for the most part it's always taking quality into consideration. But so you can get the most for your money, here are a few tips you need to think about before you spend.

1. Cheap is not always cheap. That shirt on the clearance rack, 75% off, would look fabulous on you! It's so cheap! But it stretches easy, its white and you've had bad luck with white, it's dryclean only... suddenly this cheap shirt isn't so cheap. When going for cheap, stay smart, to stay frugal. Factor in how often you think you will wear the item, how long it will last, how cheap is it to clean, etc. You might end up paying more money in the long run.
Cheap does not = Frugal.
It is far more important to look at "cost per wear" (remember to factor in cleaning costs too).

Take an inventory of your (and your children's) closet.
Keeping a list of what you actually do need will help control impulse purchases of things you don't need.

Think ahead and shop ahead.
Use the Bargain Shopping Calendar.

Invest in Classics.
Classics don't have to mean boring and classics are not necessarily black slacks. SAHM "classics" are most likely jeans & non-sweat, comfy pants.

Use Accessories to Update Your Wardrobe.
Usually, they're cheaper than clothing (shop places like Forever 21, H&M, Ross, TJ Maxx)

Learn to Sew.
If you sew, you can hem, alter & mend clothing, giving a longer life in closet. Look for youtube instructional videos and just give it a try.

Think Before you Throw.
Take longer look at items you're getting rid of. Could they have a new life with some dye? a patch? an added ruffle? or another kind of refashion?

Thrifting is Fun.
Get to know your local thrift shops. Most have crazy sale days when cheap stuff becomes even cheaper.

Garage Sales aren't Gross.
Why spend good money on kid's play clothes? Check out new community group garage sales for up to date fashion and old neighborhoods for great vintage finds.

Resale shops are your friend.
Sell old clothes & use the money to buy "new" clothes. You'll get more store credit than cash.

Show your Laundry Some Love.
Wash jeans inside out, spot stains, read care labels, and use the dryer less.

102 Things to do this summer.

Busy day at the office. Quick Post, short and sweet. Think I'll have to try my hand at a few of these. :)

1. Attend free concerts in your local parks
2. Play hide and seek
3. Camp out in your backyard under the stars or in a tent
4. Write a story or poem
5. Go beach combing on low tide
6. Make a mini portable sand box
7. Go to the library and check out books and DVDs
8. Make green slime by BHG
9. Host a backyard water fun day – sprinklers, slip-n-slide, kiddies pool
10. Make homemade ice cream sandwiches
11. Have a backyard campfire – make s’mores
12. Make a Creepy Bug box by BHG
13. Make grasshopper pie - (while maintaining that its full of REAL grasshoppers for full effect)
14. Visit your local pet store and use the visit to talk about animals
15. Try a new kind of hunt with your GPS - geocaching
16. Bubble blowing – make your own with dish soap and water mixed together
17. Create chalk drawings outside or play hopscotch – have someone stand still and trace their shadow with chalk
18. Make snow cones
19. Host a neighborhood backyard Olympics – invite friends over
20. Watch the Animal Planet DVD on a rainy day
21. Have theme days: Cowboy Day, serve BBQ lunch; Circus Day; Backwards or Beach day
22. Hold a neighborhood talent show and challenge other families
23. Let your children finger paint with pudding in paper plates – and then eat their creations
24. Making homemade chocolate suckers…this is always a big hit and not as messy as it sounds
25. Have a garage sale
26. Make your own pet rock
27. Make homemade popsicles
28. Become a photographer with a cheap digital camera
29. Take a bike ride in your neighborhood or local public bike trails
30. Check out your local churches for camps that are running (some for free)
31. Create a treasure map for the kids to find some hidden treats
32. Discover a local landmark and learn the history
33. Going to a drive-in movie is a must for the summer
34. Find a pen-pal from overseas and see what they are doing
35. Find new parks in your area and explore them
36. Leave a message on your driveway for a special visitor with chalk-even for dad coming home!
37. Take a day hike on local trails
38. Go watch a youth baseball game – or play your own
39. Attend local art festivals
40. Check out local farmers’ markets
41. Go to the local water / sprinkler park
42. Visit your local parks – take along a picnic (and even teddy bears)
43. Visit your local school playgrounds – see how many you can go to
44. Go berry picking
45. Give the kids a spray bottle with a touch of vinegar and get them cleaning (worked for me for a few cents)
46. Go bird watching and learn about a new bird every day – google “birds in (your area)”
47. Go for a walk and count things such as squirrels, birds, cats, or dogs
48. Go to the book store and browse- if you buy a book, read it together and discuss it
49. Grilling at the lake – let the kids plan the menu
50. Swimming at the lake
51. Fishing – try different types of bait – marshmallows, bread, gummy worms
52. Tree climbing
53. Guitar playing out in the front yard
54. Have a bonfire (where permitted)
55. Ghost stories while walking on moon-lit nights
56. Looking for bugs in stumps – photograph or collect them
57. Playing in a pool
58. Start learning simple word or phrases from another language
59. Have a flash light game after dark in your yard
60. Have the kids sleep in the living room, while watching a movie and eating popcorn!
61. Attend free movie nights in your local parks
62. If you need new art, buy some canvas and have the kids paint masterpieces
63. Start an ant colony and learn how they work
64. Let the kids form a band – and listen to them
65. Learn about the stars; stay up late and count shooting stars
66. Go park near an airport and watch the planes take off and land
67. Let your kids get creative with a piece of aluminum foil
68. Make a Bead Drum by BHG
69. Go to the driving range
70. Make a fort with chairs and blankets (favorite for my kids)
71. Make BOX forts in the backyard out of appliance boxes
72. Make a pretend chirping cricket by BHG
73. Make a structure with marshmallows and toothpicks – have a family contest
74. Go to a fast food restaurant ( McDonald’s) for an ice cream or french fries
75. Go feed the ducks at a local pond
76. Go fly a kite
77. Go for an “adventure” walk and collect things
78. Go on a bug hunt (daddy’s job, that one, ha ha)
79. Have water fights – invite others over!
80. Create an outdoor treasure/scavenger hunt – in your yard, neighborhood or a park
81. Play “dress up” outside
82. Paint faces
83. Join a “flash” mob or create your own
84. Watch movies by theme (ie, villain week, cat week, comedy) and compare all the movies
85. Make a cel-phone movie and have the kids write the script.
86. Wash their bikes, decorate them and have a parade
87. Start your own book club with friends
88. Make your own friendly fireflies by BHG
89. Learn a new word everyday; spell it for extra fun!
90. Write their own lyrics for the band that they have created
91. Library events
92. Movie day where we spread a blanket on the floor and just chill out when it’s just too hot to be outside
93. Paint the driveway, fence or house with water
94. Wash your car
95. Make a new recipe and let the kids help
96. Let the kids pick toys and too-small clothes to donate
97. Set up a chart of daily chores expected from them
98. Summer lunch on the lawn
99. Visit a retirement home (phone first)
100. Visit garage sales for some cheap deals
101. Set up a sprinkler and run through it
102. Start a summer journal

It's Retirement-ary, My Dear

I crawled out of bed this morning. Not literally, but my age is starting to catch up with me. My back is nagging, my eyes are sagging, my hair thinning... who knew 24 could be so brutal!

Unfortunately we can't stay young forever, dab-nabbit. So planning for our future is only logical when we're faced with the concerns of our time. Right now, a lot of us making salary find that inflation rates are a big cause for concern. Soaring prices of basic goods and services, a trend that doesn't seem to show a steady weakening over time, make it lousy to depend mainly on retirement benefits when it's time for me to hit the rocking chair. For now, I still have time to plan.

Financial advisers talk about identifying first the lifestyle that a person wants upon retirement and this should help me arrive at a ballpark figure of how much I should be able to withdraw every year from my nest egg. However, it seems like most advice for young people planning for retirement consists of "save as much as you can now, and figure out how much you'll actually need later." Your 20s is a great time to save and take advantage of the wonders of compounding interest-- and there are so many variables involved in predicting future retirement needs-- so this is quite good advice, if it satisfies you.

The problem is, it doesn't satisfy me! I really like having goals, targets, an idea of where I'm going and how well I'm doing. So as challenging as it seems, and even though it's probably an unnecessary step at my age, I still want to come up with "my number," even if it's one that gets revised many times in future years.

For starters, I want to try to estimate how much income I'll need in retirement. (All numbers will be in 2009 dollars for now, and we'll adjust for inflation later.) I see so many people talking about wanting six-figure retirement incomes: $100,000, $200,000, sometimes even more. When you run the numbers, the amount you need to save to produce those amounts seems astronomical and overwhelming. (Although doable for some people, I'm sure.)

But those don't feel right to me. One common suggestion to calculate your retirement expenses is 80% of current expenses. 80% of my current expenses (in my near debt free life) would come out to about $12,000 a year. Which sounds really, really low. Maybe my current style of living is way off from what I'd want in retirement; even though I bet I'll continue to be frugal, there are probably some inconveniences I'll no longer be willing or able to put up with to save a buck or two.

Then I found this data from a study of older Americans. It finds that the average expenses of a married person over 65 was $14,762 in 2001. Maybe I'm not so far off! And even for couples in the top 20% of income, average expenses (per person) was $25,567, spending about 1/4 of that on entertainment and gifts. (There's all sort of interesting data in the report to help you think about what you might end up spending.)

Based on these numbers, I think I'm going to go ahead and use $25,000 as my yearly expenses/income-needed number (in 2009 dollars; I promise I'll adjust for inflation later!). If it's (almost) enough for the average person in the top 20% of income, it ought to be more than enough to cover a frugal-minded little old lady like me. And it's more like 160% of my current expenses, rather than 80%. I feel like my expenses might actually end up lower in reality, but I might as well play it on the safe side in these estimates.

I'm guessing most people are making plans assuming you'll get nothing from Social Security. That's certainly the safest route. But on the other hand, I'm in my 20s. As I try to come up with this estimate of needs, I'd like to try to be as realistic as possible. If I turn out to be unnecessarily optimistic, I've got decades to course-correct. (And besides, I'm not planning to change anything about my savings at the moment-- so this estimate is just informational.)

Of course, at first I thought that "$0 (or very little) from Social Security" was the most realistic estimate. But reading up on it, it looks like Social Security isn't predicted to go broke until I'm 60 or 70-- and broke only means that the trust fund will be depleted and inflows would have to cover outflows, which means benefits would fall to about 75% of their promised levels. 75% isn't great, but it's way, way more than 0%. (And that's if no action's taken to improve the system so benefits don't need to be cut.)

The Social Security calculator projects my benefits would be the equivalent of $17,000 a year in today's dollars (after adjusting the earnings projections to make them more conservative). 3/4 of that is $12,750. Heck, even if benefits get cut in half, it'd be $8,500. That's certainly not enough alone for me to live on-- but it's not peanuts.

I'm estimating my annual retirement living expenses at $25,000. So a reasonable estimate (although obviously not fool-proof) is that Social Security would cover between 1/3 and 1/2 of those expenses. Not too shabby.

I'll use the 50%-of-promised-benefits estimate to be on the safe side, which suggests I'll need $16,500 a year (in today's dollars) from my investments. In the meantime: how do you handle Social Security in your planning, and why? I'm personally trying to come up with a reasonable, realistic estimate here, not the most ultra-safe one. But I guess you can't go wrong assuming you'll get nothing and being pleasantly surprised when/if you do (unless it leads you to make sacrifices in the present which on balance you'd rather not make).

So once you estimate what retirement income you'll need, how do you figure out the nest egg that will produce it? A tricky question for anyone, especially for those of us who are decades and decades away. But I'll give it a try anyway; be warned that this post contains a lot of details, numbers, and statistics!

For starters, who knows how much inflation will occur over the next decades? None of us, obviously. Inflation has varied widely over different periods in history. Some years it's been over 10%; some years it's been negative (deflation). Over the last 80 years as a whole, inflation has averaged about 3.1%, but in recent years it's been higher. Most retirement planning advice I've seen suggests assuming inflation rates anywhere between 2% and 6%, with 3% or 4% (or something in-between) being most common. So given how arbitrary this number is going to be anyway, I'm going to go with 3.5% as my inflation rate.

Great, what does that mean? Well, it means I can figure out what dollar amount I'll need when I start retirement (for me, I'm going to say it's 2053, when I'm 68). I've yet to find a good simple calculator to do this process (tell me if you know one!), but I do know a handy shortcut called the Rule of 72. Basically, if you divide the number 72 by your interest (or inflation) rate, the result is how many years it takes to double at that rate. For example, if you have $100 at 6% interest, in 12 years (72/6) you'll have $200.

So the question is, how many years does it take inflation to double the amount of money you need? I divide 72 by 3.5 to get a little less than 21 years (you can do the same if you want a different inflation assumption). So by 2047 inflation will have caused my income needs to quadruple (double twice), from $16,500 to $66,000. Three more years at 3.5% would bring it up to $73,000. So I need $73,000 in 2050 dollars to retire on.

And how do you get $73,000 a year (or whatever your amount is)? Well, it depends on whether you want to leave your nest egg intact and live only on the interest (the safest approach, and one that preserves your savings for your heirs), or are planning to use up the savings over time. For me, it's certainly not a priority to leave money behind for my kids-- especially if accumulating the wealth to do so affects my ability to make the family happy when I'm alive-- and as we've established, I'm trying to be realistic but not overcautious here.

So, most advice I've seen suggests that withdrawing somewhere between 4% and 5% of your portfolio in the first year of retirement, and adjusting for inflation thereafter, will likely keep your nest egg alive for 30 years. 3% is the ultra-conservative choice; some people do 6% or 7% or more, but that seems too risky. So I'll pick a 4.5% withdrawal rate. If I withdraw 4.5% in 2050 to get my $73,000, that would make my number $73,000 / .045, or (drumroll please...) $1,622,222.

Wow. I need almost two million dollars. Granted, that's in 2050 dollars, which is the equivalent of less than $500,000 today, but that's still a sizable hunk of change.

The good news? I'm 24 today, and I have decades to take advantage of compounding interest, so it's easier than it looks, and if you're near my age you're probably in the same boat.

For curiosity's sake, how much would I need in savings today to end up with the $1.6 million I've projected I need? Well, my money ought to double nearly 5 times, so by my math, I'd need a little more than $50,000.

$50,000. Doesn't that sound a lot more manageable than $1.6 million?

Of course, I don't have $50,000 now, and I won't have it anytime soon. I have about $1700. So how about another easy number-- 36 years out from retirement, enough time for my savings to double four times with 8% returns. For me, that's 2017, eight years from now, at age 32. If I end up with $100,000 by then, and my other assumptions hold up, I could theoretically leave my money to compound, never save another dollar for retirement, and still reach my goals. I'd have $100,000 in 2017, $200,000 in 2023, $400,000 in 2032, $800,000 in 2041, and $1,600,000 in 2050. (Isn't that exciting to watch?!)

(Important disclaimer: don't forget about taxes!)

I think I am going to try hard to reach that $100,000 goal by age 32. It's ambitious, like all good goals are, but also realistically acheivable. By that age I will have graduated with my Bachelors, maybe gone back for a Masters, be well into my career and thanks to the wealth of financial information I'm acquiring early on be more than equipped to meet that goal. Then everything I save for retirement after that time would be pure gravy (well, also insurance against all of the ways my assumptions could be wrong, but that's a given). I like that thought a lot.

You can come up with a similar goal. Just fiddle around with the Rule of 72 until you come up with a goal you think works for you. You could assume 8% returns like me, but set a goal of 1/8 of your retirement "number" to be reached 27 years ahead of retirement (instead of my 1/16, to be reached 36 years ahead of time). You could assume 9% returns, and set your short-term goal at 1/16 of your retirement goal, 32 years before your retirement date (doubling four times, once every 8 years). You could assume 7% returns (so your money doubles every 10.29 years) and look to reach 1/8 of your retirement goal 31 years before retirement. See how flexible it is?

So, there we are. I've estimated my annual retirement expenses in Part 1, thought through Social Security in Part 2, calculated my needed savings in Part 3, and now I've come up with a plan to reach that total with time to spare. I have a goal-- to save $100,000 for retirement by 2017-- and the confidence that if I do so I have a reasonable chance of reaching my retirement goals without significant additional savings after that point. I'm sure I will continue to save past 2017, but this goal also opens things up for me to imagine more flexible ways of working and living in my 30s, 40s, and 50s which focus on the present without worrying so much about the future. I've enjoyed this process, and I hope you have too.

And if you're still a bit uneasy or it is a lot for you to take in one sitting, Retirement for Dummies is offered as a free gift when you register with Humana.

I Save You Save Merchandise

Heh. I've developed an amazing ego.

Felt the compelling need to create a CafePress account and create a storefront.

So now you need to be struck with the compelling urge to spend your money and buy items with my face, logo, nephew, plastered all over it! :)

You can visit the store here:

For every item sold, I make $2.00. Gotta keep our prices low and our customers happy. If you have any suggestions for items I should incorporate into my design, please let me know. Just understand that by default you would then have to purchase them from me.


KVIA El Paso

Thank you to Stephanie Valle and the rest of the Anchors at KVIA for a wonderful interview and a pleasant experience. I'll post the link to the video as soon as I have it available.

Thank you all for your continued support.

Luau minus Moolah

I'm turning 24 on Monday. The only thing worse than getting older is having your birthday on a Monday. So in order to avoid any complications, I decided to celebrate my birthday on a Saturday. For Cheap.

If you're going to have a party, pull all the strings you can to spend as little money on the party as possible.

My boss just had his 30th High School Reunion. He had a lot of decorations left over. I helped him out with registration, so he was more than willing to loan me his Luau decorations.

The Majority of my acquaintances have tiki torches, changed the theme of the party from BYOB to BYOT (bring your own torch.)

Hosting the party at my house means that I don't have to pay money for a dance hall or going out to the clubs or bars.

Downloading free Luau music off the internet and borrowing my brothers stereo equals no extra costs for the DJ.

Negotiating with siblings to help decorate, weedeat, or cook for the party instead of buying me gifts, helps out tremendously.

Knowing what I want to buy in the store and creating a shopping list allows me to research for coupons or price comparison before I step foot in the door.

My room mate working at a pizza place the night of the party means discounts on hawaiian pizzas and she gets to enjoy some of the festivities as well!

Making the food in house, having my mom make some as well, saves money on food costs.

Asking people to dress hawaiian.... well doesn't save me any money, but really adds to the memories.

My party is going to be great and I'm going to feel great afterwards because I know that I've done everything in my power to keep it cheap, keep it real, and keep it exciting!

So come one down to the Luau!

Military Families Save Money on College Expenses

Found this wonderful article and I just had to share it.
How Military Families Can Save Money on College
By Karen Von Der Bruegge, Chief Marketing Officer for Pioneer Services, A Division of MidCountry Bank

Even if you’re still buying diapers and baby formula for your child, the thought of sending your little one off to college has probably crossed your mind at some point. It may also cause you some stress since, according to, annual tuition can range between $5,000 a year for a public four-year university, to more than $20,000 for a private college.

But before deciding how—or even if—you’re going to help pay for those costs, it’s good to look at the numerous ways to pay for college. From tax-deferred savings plans, to grants, to scholarships, there are many different ways to send your little one to the quad without having her saddled with a mountain of debt afterward.

Start early with a 529 Plan

A 529 Plan is named after the section of the federal tax code that covers such deductions, and allows you to save pre-tax money to pay for college tuition. This money is, in turn, put into some type of investment that earns interest, allowing your money to grow.

Every state has at least one version of a 529 Plan, and all of them have features that make them a great savings tool:

The money you invest is set aside tax-free
You can withdraw money from the fund for qualified education expenses, also tax-free
You take advantage of compounded interest, giving you more money in the long run

Different types
There are two basic 529 plans, but some states (such as Arizona) offer as many as four varieties. Each of these offers different benefits, restrictions and methods of paying for college.

Prepaid Tuition Plans
These plans allow you to save for a college or university in a specific state. The advantage is that the cost of tuition is locked into the rate charged when you open the plan. With tuition costs continuing to rise, this is a good way to hedge against those raises. The money is also transferable to another family member without tax penalties if your child decides not to attend college.

The disadvantage of the prepaid tuition plan is that most of the states have some type of residency requirement—either you or the child for whom you are saving must be a state resident. If the state does not have a residency requirement, then you might not be eligible for a break on state taxes. This can be quite difficult for military families due to frequent moves and the generally mobile military lifestyle.
To find out your “state of residence” (which may not be where your family is currently stationed) is the one you selected on DD Form 2058, and also appears on your LES.

College Savings Plan
These plans differ from prepaid plans in a number of ways, but the main one is that a savings plan accrues much like a retirement savings plan—the money you contribute is invested in mutual funds and can increase as the stock market increases. And since this is a long-term savings plan, the chances of it increasing in value are very good since it won’t be affected by temporary fluctuations in the market.

The advantage to this type of plan is that you can use it for higher education in any state. Most have no residency requirement—if you lived in Georgia, you could contribute to a plan in Michigan and send your kids to school in Oregon. However, there are a few states (such as South Dakota) that require residency in all cases. Another advantage is that you can use the money for your own education, or that of other family members.

The disadvantage is that, if you choose to use an out-of-state plan, you may not receive the full tax advantages offered by an in-state plan. Also, the state or federal government does not insure your 529 investments in any way, so be aware that there is a possibility of the fund losing money.

Similar traits

All 529 plans have a few things in common:

The College Savings Plan Networks notes that “anyone can be named the beneficiary of a 529 account, regardless of their relationship to the person who establishes the account. You can even establish an account with yourself as the named beneficiary.” This allows you to save for anyone at any time, just so long as they are “a U.S. citizen or a resident alien” and “have a social security number or federal tax identification number.” You can also have multiple 529 accounts for a single person.
If your child decides not to attend college, you can change the beneficiary and transfer the funds, so long as it is transferred to a family member. You can also withdraw the money for non-education purposes, but any earnings will be taxed, and some plans have penalties for doing so.

Anyone can contribute to a 529 plan—grandparents, cousins, friends, even companies and non-profits. This can lead to many opportunities to save, since people can make a donation in lieu of a present at a birthday and contribute to other family members.

Tax implications
You will not be taxed when you withdraw the money for educational costs, nor are funds from investments in the plan taxed. But contributions are not tax deductible.
To find a listing of the 529 plans offered where you live, and more detailed information, visit, or; both have a state-by-state listing of the plans available.

Scholarships can be plentiful
While your child may be able to get traditional athletic or academic scholarships, there are literally thousands of scholarships available just for military families. Private and public companies, non-profits, and even the Department of Defense offer scholarships for service members, their spouses, and their children. Even students that have a lower grade point average or test scores may qualify for scholarships that encourage them to continue their education beyond high school.

Where to start
The first and perhaps easiest place to find scholarships is the Internet. A simple Google search can yield more results than you can realistically sort through, so try to be as specific as possible with your terms to start.

For example, if your spouse is U.S. Army officer at Fort Hood, Texas, and you’re searching for scholarships for your daughter, try “scholarships for daughters of U.S. Army officers in Texas” rather than just “Army scholarships” since the first is more likely to generate the results you want than the second. Take your time, make a thorough search, and be sure to bookmark any sites that fit your profile.

You can also go through the appropriate military relief agency, military non-profit (i.e. AUSA) and even the commissary system, which has one of the most popular military scholarship programs (found at

Tips on applying
Every scholarship will have different criteria, whether branch of service and school, to race, gender or nationality. Some are very specific, while others are more general. The key is to double check all of the criteria and know the exact requirements—the last thing you want to do is spend time filling out an application and collecting paperwork, only to find your child doesn’t qualify.
It’s also important to apply for as many scholarships as you can (keeping the criteria in mind) to ensure you’re getting as much as you can. Again, though, make sure to read the fine print carefully to ensure there are no rules that may limit your access to other scholarships. For example, one may have some sort of requirement about only paying for room and board, yet you already have that covered with another scholarship.

Whether your child’s entire schooling is paid for through scholarships, or if you’re just applying for a few hundred dollars, it’s more than worth the effort.
Federal financial aid

The federal budget always includes several billion dollars in financial assistance. To receive it, however, you must first carefully complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form and include all the required information. Students can pick up a copy of the FAFSA form from the high school counseling office, or from the college financial aid offices. You can also download them, or even complete them online, at

Because financial aid is distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis, it is critical you submit the form as soon as possible after January 1, during your child’s senior year in high school. Once your student’s FAFSA form is reviewed, he or she will be sent a Student Aid Report that outlines the types of government financial aid available based on the information submitted.
To find complete information about the federal financial aid process, visit

Other places to look
If you decide to apply for financial aid, you and your child should pay a visit to your child’s high school guidance counselor. They will have a current listing of available scholarships and grants. These professionals are experts in the college application process and can provide assistance with the application. If necessary, they can also review essays and provide computer time. Be sure to check back with the counselor often, as updates to available scholarships are frequent.

You can also visit a college financial aid office, even if it is not the college your child plans to attend. College financial aid offices can be a great help in finding the best financial aid. In addition, your spouse’s workplace, civic clubs, not-for-profits and other organizations may offer money for college.

Just remember that there are many untapped scholarship and grant dollars just waiting to be had by those willing to do the research. And with the rising costs of college tuition, every dollar counts.

Scholarships and aid resources on the Web
There are many sites that can help you track down money to help pay for a college education.—A large, comprehensive listing of military-specific links to educational resources.—A portal into federal dollars for education, information about employment, and other issues concerning students—Helpful Information about 529 plans.—General information about college costs.—The largest provider of student loans in the country.
Related posts:
Collosus College Expenses
Local Scholarships
Google Your Way to Scholarship

Travel Blog III

One simple website, thousands of possibilities. If you've paid attention to the last two posts, you'll understand the importance of planning ahead. Buying your tickets, arranging for your transportation and accommodations far enough in advance can save you mucho dinero. Kayak is the be all end all of all travel sites. Searches the majority of the globe's leading airlines to situate the traveler with the best flight. You can sort by price, duration, or play around with multi-city/flexible dates.

Living in a Southwest hub city, is also another great way to save. I'm not saying move to a city that flies Southwest, but it is definitely an advantage. Especially if you download and install their Ding! software. This badboy alerts you everyday to new and low prices available for purchase that day. Today's Dings! involve $49 dollar flights to Vegas from Phoenix. Get those bad boys round trip and you have a Vegas vacation getaway for under $100. Tack on the airline fees and its still cheaper than driving!

As with anything, sign up for discounts, frequent visitor memberships, and mailing lists. You'll be quite surprised to realize how much you can save, after you've spent money. Doesn't make much sense? Signing up for Southwest's rewards program will give you a freeflight after X amount of flights you've used with their airlines. Register yourself at

If I can teach you anything it is that the key to being a happy saver is you have to do the research. Just like nobody is going to walk up to you on the street and hand you a wad of cash, companies aren't going to just hand you discounts. Use your resources and get it done for yourself.

All this travel talk... I'm starting to feel the urge to abandon my staycation. :)