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Simple step-by-step way to have fun while keeping costs down

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Simple step-by-step way to have fun while keeping costs down

I have found that sometimes it is difficult coming up with ideas of what to as a family for fun. The danger is that without a source of ideas, you can fall back on costly activities.

For example, taking a family of five to the movies costs around  $60-70 and if you are like me, that’s usually the first idea that comes to my mind when deciding to go out.

There isn’t anything inherently wrong with spending money on family outings, but spending $50-100 a week can stop you from reaching other family financial goals.

In my last year of college, a visiting lecturer to one of my classes gave us several ideas on how to be more frugal and better investors. I loved one of his ideas for having a great time as families without breaking the bank.

First, Create a List

Spend some time with your spouse and kids creating a list of everything you like to do together as well as vacations that you’d like to take. At this point, don’t discriminate. The idea is to be exhaustive and not reject any activities.

I’ve created a short example list for my family below. Don’t be surprised if you don’t recognize everything on the list since some of it is specific to our local area.

Family Activities

Second, Assign a Satisfaction Level

The next step is to assign a satisfaction value to each activity. For this example, I used a scale of Low-Medium-High. I recommend keeping the scale simple, but you could add Very Low and Very High to the list if you’d like.

A side benefit to doing this as a family is that you might be surprised by what is important and fun to different members of the family. After creating our example list for this post, I had my wife run through it quickly and I was a little surprised by one or two changed she made.

Satisfaction Level

Third, Assign a Cost Level

With the satisfaction levels in place, now assign an approximate cost level to each activity.

Again, I recommend using a simple scale instead of actual dollar values (though you certainly can). In my example below, I used None-Low-Medium-High-Very High. What I found really interesting was that we didn’t have any activities that fell into the High category. There was a leap from Medium to Very High. Again, you might learn somethings about you and your family’s preferences as you complete this exercise.

Cost Level

Last, Rank by Satisfaction and then by Cost

The last step is the easiest. First, re-order your activities by Satisfaction with the activities that provide the most satisfaction at the top. Then, rearrange all of the activities within a given satisfaction level by cost with the lowest cost being at the top. I know that might sound a little confusing, which is why I include pictures :)

I recommend doing all of this in Excel so that you can easily make changes, rearrange and save your list.

Family Activities sorted by cost and satisfaction

Review the Findings

If you’ve followed each of the steps, you now have a list of activities that you enjoy doing as either a family or couple sorted by how much satisfaction you get out of each activity and the cost associated.

Hopefully, you’ll see that you have plenty of low to no cost activities that you really enjoy doing. So the next time you are wondering what to do, you can just pull out your list and pick something.

Important Note: I am not saying that you shouldn’t do the High and Very High cost activities. What I am saying is this:

  1. Focus mainly on doing things that you love and don’t cost much.
  2. Pick a couple of the expensive activities to do each year, or maybe once a year, and save for them.

Also, keep adding to and changing the list as time passes. Make this a living document.

How do you decide what to do for fun?

Posted in Saving Money, FamilyComments Off on Simple step-by-step way to have fun while keeping costs down

Why I took time off from blogging and why I’m back again

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Why I took time off from blogging and why I’m back again

I think that I owe you an explanation.

I haven’t posted anything since February. I had actually decided to quit completely. My family and I have had several whirlwind months that haven’t left me with much time.

For the last month and a half, I’ve been working as a door-to-door salesman marketing Vivint home security and automation systems. I greatly enjoyed my time with Vivint.

However, the hours are long (six days a week) and I wasn’t able to spend much time with my family. I will be starting MBA school in the Fall, which also means working long hours for the next two years.

Therefore, my wife and I decided that our summer would be better spent as a family. I quit knocking about a week ago and we have left St. Louis (we had relocated to Missouri just for the purpose of knocking).

The days ahead

With the rest of our summer, we intend to spend time as a family by visiting family around the country. About 98% of the stuff we own is in storage in Wisconsin where I’ll be going to school. The rest is in our minivan, which we’ll be driving cross country three times this summer.

I will be doing some freelance work and we’ll be otherwise living off of savings. This rare opportunity has also freed me up to begin blogging again, which I’m excited to do!

St. Louis Arch Park

My family beginning our adventures at the St. Louis Arch

Our gypsy summer

As I described our summer plans to my older sister, she compared us to a band of gypsies. That may be somewhat accurate.

With only days under our belts as gypsies, I am already learning several lessons.

  1. Minimalism is hard
    We had already placed most of our belongings in storage before moving to St. Louis. But with the decision to roam the open road in just our van, we had to ruthlessly decide what to take with us. I’m down to just two ties! If you don’t know me well, then you can’t possibly understand the implications of that statement. Picking which two was a ten minute decision and I had to consult other people.
  2. The joy is in the journey
    Had I continued to sell, I was on track to make approximately $50k in just four months of work. We had all kinds of plans of what we’d do with that money. But I walked away from it because there was no joy in the journey. That much money in the bank would certainly provide financial security but I was going to miss having any time with my three children before starting MBA school. So we’ve decided to just enjoy the journey for now.
  3. I can’t be a gypsy forever
    I want to make sure that I clarify how I feel about work. I believe in working hard. I believe in providing for my family. I do not believe in living off of welfare. We are fortunate enough to have enough money in the bank and some other opportunities to be able to take two months off. But then it’s back to the grindstone.

Finding a holy cause

In a small way, I’ve been having a bit of an identity crisis for a bit.

Not one of those go out and buy fancy cars and get a new wife crises, but rather just being unsure about things. There have been a number of events over the last year or so, that have left me somewhat apathetic.

And that just won’t do.

During one of our sales trainings, the trainer talked about having a holy cause – something that fills you with so much passion that it will drive you through the rough days.

I realized that I don’t have a holy cause. At least I didn’t for sales.

So I’m taking this time to evaluate who I am, determine what I want out of life and find my holy cause.

Have you ever had a gypsy summer and if so, what did you discover?

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REVIEW: USAA Checking and Savings Account

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REVIEW: USAA Checking and Savings Account

I’ll be honest. I don’t like switching bank accounts. I find it a hassle. But every now and then, I discover a reason or reasons so compelling, that the hassle doesn’t bother me. I actually find myself excited about the change. USAA has been just such an experience.

About a year ago, my in-laws told us that we should switch. Being the know-it-all finance guy, I ignored them. Then about a month ago, I randomly decided to check out USAA.com. After about 15 minutes on the site, I was convinced.

A little about USAA

There are a few things that you need to know about USAA

  • It’s an online bank. So no physical location to do your banking at.
  • It is for military personnel and their families.
  • USAA stands for United Services Automobile Association

What convinced me to switch

  • Easy to use site
    A lot of bank sites are difficult to use or seem antiquated. USAA.com uses modern web design techniques, social tools, and simplicity to make using the site easy. Now, that’s not to say that you don’t have to sometimes search for an obscure feature, but 98% of the time I easily find what I’m looking for.
  • Free checks for life
    They aren’t duplicates, but they are free.
  • Host all your accounts with one bank
    USAA is a full-service financial institution. You can have your bank accounts, credit card, auto insurance, home insurance, life insurance, mortgage, auto loan, IRA , brokerage account, 529 college savings plan, etc all at one place. Also, everything is accessible through the one login and user interface.
  • Cash back debit card
    If you select “Credit” at check-out, then you earn 1 point for every $2 spent. That is not as much as some credit cards, but this is a debit card. So you don’t have to go into debt and you get rewards like cash back, gift cards, and airline discounts.
  • The app, the app, THE APP!
    So I’m a bit of a geek. I love my smartphone. A lot of banks have mobile sites or apps for smartphones. But no one has an app like USAA. I can do just about anything I want, such as transfer funds, pull up my proof of auto insurance if I’m pulled over, and pay bills. If for nothing else, the app makes USAA worth using (if you are a geek like me).
  • Deposit@Mobile
    This is probably the coolest part of the app. Hence it getting it’s own bullet point. With most online banks, you have to send checks to some distant land and wait for the deposit. USAA allows you to take a picture of the check and the funds are immediately deposited. The whole process takes about two minutes and the money is available to spend. Very cool.

What I don’t like

  • You have to be military or have parents who are member
    Fortunately for us, my in-laws are account holders. Basically, I think it’s a shame that not everyone can take advantage of such a great bank. I have a lot of conversations that end like this, “Yeah, we are so happy to have USAA, but you can’t sign-up since you aren’t military. Sorry for getting you all excited.”
  • Your overdraft credit line draws in $100 increments
    The overdraft credit line is really a credit card tied to your checking account. By default, any overdrafts draw from your savings account. If you choose to use the credit card, then they only draw in $100 increments. So if you overdraft by $0.01, then $100 is deposited into your account from the credit card. Annoying.
  • Only a few mutual fund options
    I’m pretty picky about my mutual funds and USAA only offers four Index funds. So if you are looking to combine all of your accounts into one bank, then you will want to research the investment options available through USAA.


There are a few drawbacks to USAA, but no one is perfect. I was banking with Charles Schwab, which I have definitely liked. USAA, however, seems to go the extra mile and provide the extra features that make banking almost enjoyable. But may that’s just the finance guy in me.

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