Month: October 2019

Some Advice on Handling Unusual Months

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One of the first big issues that people often face when they start taking their finances seriously is the “unusual month.”

An “unusual month” is one in which there’s a big bill of some kind that isn’t one you face on a typical month. Maybe it’s the property tax bill or an annual insurance bill. Maybe it’s a completely unexpected thing, like a car breakdown. Whatever the case may be, an “unusual month” can really wreck someone’s financial progress, especially when one’s turnaround is in the early stages.

Of course, identifying an “unusual month” means that you have to have some grasp on your spending in the first place. Getting your own spending in order should be the first step in this process. If you have little grasp on where your money goes in a normal month, you should spend some time tracking your expenses. I’m personally in favor of doing it manually with a pocket notebook because I think that process of writing things down makes it more real and tangible, but there are a lot of ways to track your expenses, such as automated tools like Mint or more manual tools like You Need a Budget.

Tracking your expenses gives you a very good picture of where your money is actually going and what areas you should cut back on. It can also reveal how much you should have left over at the end of the month so that you can start intentionally using that money for financial progress rather than just spending it thoughtlessly in the moment.

Once you’ve got your finances somewhat in line, what can you do to handle unusual months? Here’s the best advice I have.

Don’t Beat Yourself Up

It’s not uncommon for people who are just starting to turn around their financial life to hit a big bump in the road and get very down on themselves and the prospect of a financial turnaround.

They were making great progress for a month or two and then, bam, something happened that derailed all of that progress, and that can feel bad. It can feel hopeless.

Rather than giving into hopelessness and giving up on your progress, consider the following.

Where would you have been had you not spent these last few months improving your financial state? Whatever the thing was that caused the “unusual month,” it would have been far more devastating had you not spent the last few months getting things in better shape. This is not a setback. You would strictly be worse off now than if you hadn’t put in any effort over the last few months. You might look like you’re in the same place where you started, or even worse, but where would you be if you had done nothing at all?

This is a learning experience. There are often going to be “unusual months” all the way through any financial turnaround. You’ve now seen the impact of one and, thanks to your financial moves beforehand, it wasn’t nearly as disruptive as it could have been. You now know you can do things in advance to make unusual months less challenging. What can you draw from this to make things even smoother going forward, knowing that unusual months are going to happen?

Plan Ahead for Known Irregular Expenses

If you know an irregular bill is coming up – insurance, property taxes, travel, anything like that – start planning ahead for it now rather than waiting until it hits you.

If you have a $1,000 bill coming in five months and you know it’s coming, put $200 in the bank each month until then and then the bill is a non-issue. It won’t disrupt any of your financial plans.

Once you start to get a good grasp on all of your irregular bills, you should be able to do this for most of them. You simply put aside a small portion each month for all of those irregular bills and then when they come up, you have the funds in hand to pay for them.

I do this by just leaving that extra cash right in my checking account, though that might not work for everyone, particularly those who are tempted to spend what they see in their checking account. You may want to simply get in the habit of moving a few hundred dollars a month (or whatever it is that you need to make sure all of your irregular bills are covered) into savings.

If you do choose to move money regularly into savings for this, you’re better off automating it with a regular automatic transfer. That way, you won’t forget about it and find yourself in a tough situation when those irregular bills come around.

Have a Bottomless “Emergency Fund” for When Things Go Wrong

An emergency fund is just that – a pool of cash you have set aside for unexpected expensive events that you just can’t easily handle. I don’t believe a credit card is a good substitute for this, as credit cards don’t work in situations like identity theft, natural disasters, loss of wallet, bank errors, or many other situations. Cash is king.

Emergency funds should be used solely for unexpected expenses that you just can’t cover within the flexibility of your normal spending without putting things on a credit card (that you won’t pay off in full). Those things do happen with surprising frequency.

Rather than advocating for people to have a certain amount in their emergency fund, I usually suggest that people just set up an automatic transfer of a certain amount each week into their savings account for emergencies and then never turn it off. Many banks offer automatic repeating transfers that you can easily set up, either by talking to a teller or by using their online banking services.

It’s perfectly fine to have a combination “irregular bills and emergency fund” savings account as long as the amount you’re automatically moving over is enough to cover all of your known irregular bills and more. If, for example, you know you have $6,000 a year in irregular bills, then you should be moving about $110 per week from checking to savings to cover just those bills, so your total transfer should be even more (like $125 or $150 a week).

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Finally, remember that financial progress is never a straight line. As you’re improving your finances, there are going to be setbacks. There are going to be all kinds of unexpected events. That’s okay and normal.

You’ll tap your emergency fund sometimes. That’s okay. Keep rolling.

You’ll spend some of your savings to cover an unexpected bill. That’s okay. Keep rolling.

You’ll feel frustrated that you’re not getting to your goals as fast as you want, that all of these unplanned events keep coming up, that it all feels like a never ending cycle. That’s okay. Keep rolling.

Financial change in anyone’s life is going to be a matter of taking two steps forward followed by one step back. Sometimes it’s two steps forward and three steps back.

Just remember that you’re far better off than if you had never taken the steps forward in the first place. Just remember that the money you have set aside for those unexpected events makes them easy to deal with and that they’re now low-stress events when they could have been calamities.

Two steps forward, one step back.

Good luck.

The post Some Advice on Handling Unusual Months appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

How the toss of a coin determined my fate

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Hello! I have returned from my final big trip of the year, and I’ve resumed working behind the scenes here at Get Rich Slowly. Soon, new articles will begin to appear on this site.

Oh, wait. Here’s a new article now!

On my most recent trip, I happened to tell the same story twice to two different groups. In doing so, I realized that it’s a story I’ve never told here. That’s unfortunate. It’s about an event that had a profound impact on the course of my life — and my finances.

To bide the time while I work on longer articles, today I’d like to share how my fate was decided by the literal toss of a coin.

Going to College

My parents never pushed higher education on my brothers and me. Both my father and mother had attended church schools briefly — Goshen College for him, Brigham Young University for her — but neither one graduated. My uncle got a math degree from a local junior college, and my cousin Duane got a business degree from yet another church school.

Growing up, I can’t remember that college was ever discussed in depth. It came up in conversation now and then, but there was never any expectation that my brothers and I would go.

But: I was a nerd. I hung out with other nerds. I read and I wrote. I entered math contests for fun. My favorite movies were about college and about college professors. I romanticized college life (and still do today).

Mitch and J.D. were (and are) nerds

Mitch and J.D., nerds in 1984, nerds in 2019

Because my parents were poor, I knew there was no way they’d be able to pay for my college education. It never entered my mind. If I wanted to attend school, I’d have to do it on my own. As a matter of fact, I thought that was how college worked for everyone.

I had no money saved of my own, so I took the only path available: Scholarships. I didn’t get great grades in high school — I had a 3.29 GPA — but I got great grades where it counted. I did well in advanced classes; my low grades came from electives and physical education. (And, ironically, from my personal-finance class, in which I earned a D!)

I was also very active in clubs and activities. I was in choir. I was in drama. I was in the Future Business Leaders of America. I wrote for the newspaper. I edited the school literary journal. I was a leader in my church youth group.

Most importantly, I realized that doing well on the PSAT and the SAT were the key to unlocking high-value scholarships. Since I’d always done well on standardized tests, I prepped hard for these entrance exams. I nailed the PSAT. My SAT scores were good enough to back up the first test, so I got a National Merit Scholarship. Bingo! Plus, I applied for a ton of scholarships and won a few.

In the end, I was able to attend Willamette University in Salem for free. (And that’s why I cannot write about student loans. I never had them.)

From Religion to Psychology

When I left for college, I was very religious. In fact, I intended to major in religion. My short-term goal — and I’m not joking — was to become a missionary to South America so that I could convert the “heathens”. My long-term goal was to become a youth pastor…and then a pastor.

I took a couple of religion courses during my freshman year. They made me an agnostic. (Something that would have dismayed my professors, if they’d known.) Comparative religion, especially, led me to question the beliefs I’d been so sure of just a year before.

Because I’d always been interested in psychology — and because psychology is somewhat similar to religion — I decided to study that instead. I found it fascinating.

At first, I wanted to focus on child psychology. Or maybe to teach elementary school. (I spent a semester doing an elementary ed “practicum”, meaning I was a teaching assistant in a first-grade classroom.) During my sophomore and junior years, I focused my attention on psychology and teaching. I decided to become a grade-school teacher.

Kris and I had begun dating by this time. She too decided she wanted to teach — but she wanted to teach high-school chemistry. Early in our senior year, we both took the NTE, the National Teacher Exam. I scored higher than she did, which remains one of my proudest achievements. But she followed through with teaching. I didn’t.

The Flip of a Coin

In the final semester of my senior year, I took my final psychology course: “Techniques of Counseling”. This class was taught by an actual clinical therapist with a practice in Salem, Oregon. I loved it. This felt like work that I was meant to do.

I loved it so much, in fact, that I did something very, very stupid. Instead of pursuing education, I put that possible career path on hold. While Kris applied to pursue a Master of Arts in teaching, I went “all in” on psychology and counseling. Except that I went “all in” without any idea what I needed to do to pursue the career. And without a backup plan.

I didn’t apply to graduate programs. I didn’t look for work in Salem. I didn’t do anything. Instead, I trusted to the Fates, as I always had. For once, the Fates were not kind.

Toward the end of my counseling course, the professor pulled two of us students aside. “J.D. and Kari”, he said — Kari was an ex-girlfriend who was also taking the class — “you are my two top students. I’d like to offer one of you an internship, but I can’t decide which. You would both make excellent counselors, but I only have room for one of you at my practice. What I’d like to do is flip a coin. The winner will get to work with me. Does that sound fair?”

We both said yes. I lost the coin toss. I didn’t go into counseling. I didn’t go into teaching. I went to work for my father, selling boxes for our family box business.

Chance or Choice?

My destiny was decided by chance. Only it wasn’t. Yes, I lost that coin flip, which meant I didn’t get the gig as intern for my counseling professor. But what happened after that is wholly on me. I just didn’t realize it then…or for another 25 years.

In retrospect — and this is something I’ve only come to understand in the past five years — that coin toss decided very little. I was the one who decided my fate based on the result of that toss.

Think about it.

  • I could have asked my professor if he knew of any other practices in Salem that might be interested in an intern. He’d already told me he thought I did quality work. He would have been willing to help.
  • I could have asked him to write a personal recommendation, then used that recommendation to pursue graduate studies. Or other opportunities in the field.
  • I could have followed up to see whether or not Kari actually accepted the internship. From my memory, this was the last time I ever saw her. I’ve checked Facebook over the years, but haven’t been able to track her down. Did she do that internship? Is she a counselor today? I have no idea…and I wonder. But there’s a chance she didn’t take the opportunity, which means it would have been available to me.
  • Instead of passively accepting my “fate”, I could have taken action and applied (late, yes) to teaching and/or psychology graduate programs.

In 1991, because of my upbringing, I had an external locus of control.

[Circle of Concern vs. Circle of Control]

I believed that outside people and events controlled my future. Today, nearly thirty years later, I have very much the opposite view. I believe that I control my future.

What would my life have been like if I’d taken action when I was 22 instead of remaining passive? I don’t know. In some ways, it doesn’t matter. I like who I am and what I’ve become. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without losing that coin toss, without selling boxes for seventeen years. I can’t regret my decision.

All the same…I wonder.

More to the point, part of my mission in life is to encourage young people to actively determine the course of their lives. Don’t be passive. Don’t let other people and events determine who you are and who you’ll become. To the extent that you are able, be the captain of your destiny.

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Travelers Homeowners Insurance Review

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Travelers homeowners insurance offers substantial discounts and customizable coverage with more add-on policy options than most companies on the market. Carrying strong financial standing with more than 160 years experience, Travelers provides customers a 24/7 claim center and even a smart home incentive for new policy holders.

The Specs

Price Varies by home, location and coverage
Best for Those who value customization and extra coverage options
Not for Those in need of superior customer service
States served 50
Discounts Multi-policy (15%), Home buyer, Loss free, Protective device, Green home
A.M. Best Rating A++
Standout features High coverage limits

The Claim

With more than 160 years as an industry leader, Travelers Insurance advertises that its about “Protecting your house and what makes it a home.”

Regarding homeowners insurance, Travelers claims it offers a variety of policy options and packages to help meet your unique needs, and provides you peace of mind through a simple and stress-free claims process.

Is it True?

There’s no debate that Travelers Insurance has been around a long time and has significant financial backing. However, it the past few years, Travelers homeowner’s insurance has consistently received an overall slightly below average score on J.D. Power 2019 U.S. Home Insurance Study, and this year the homeowner’s part of the company was listed among the lowest ranked, with a score of 796. Average score is 816 with Amica Mutual coming in 1st place with a score of 845.

Our Deep Dive

  • Dwelling coverage: Dwelling coverage pays to repair or reconstruct your property. If you want to change your coverage to less than the estimated cost to rebuild, you must speak with a Traveler’s agent.
  • Other Structures Coverage: Most home insurance policies, including Travelers, do not include detached structures from your immediate home in dwelling coverage. Instead, these are classified as other structures and covered under a specific Other Structures portion of your policy.
  • Personal Property Coverage: Personal property coverage reimburses you for personal items that are damaged or destroyed. There are caps to liability for certain items. Most items are replaced via actual cash value, minus depreciation.
  • Optional personal property coverage: Travelers does offer an option coverage that makes it so depreciation value will not be deducted. Limits and deductibles apply.
  • Loss of use coverage: When you can’t get into your home for extended periods of time, costs add up. When this happens as a result of insured damage, loss of use coverage pays for you to stay somewhere else while you home is repaired. Travelers maxes out loss of use coverage at 30% of dwelling cost. Many insurance companies do not do this. However, the standard loss of use coverage in a policy is 20%.
  • Personal liability: Personal liability coverage options range from $100,000 to $500,000. If someone is injured at your home as a result of your actions or someone in your household, personal liability insurance covers their cost. It should also protect you from legal retribution. Exclusions apply.
  • Medical liability: This provides coverage for anyone not living in your home, who gets injured on your property, regardless of fault. Minimum coverage begins at $1,000 a person.

As per most other home insurance policies, flood and earthquake damage is NOT included in Travelers homeowner insurance. Damage to land is also not included.

Additional Coverage Options

One of the areas that makes Travelers homeowner insurance stand out among competitors is its additional coverage options, including:

  • Special personal property coverage: This selection helps cover your personal property in more situations than a homeowners policy covers.
  • Additional replacement cost protection coverage: If amount designated by primary policy is not enough to repair or rebuild a home, this coverage fills the gap.
  • Jewelry and valuable items: This coverage makes sure if your valuable items are considered a loss, you will receive a fair price to cover the items worth.
  • Personal Articles Floater: Floater coverage provides any higher coverage needed for valuable items beyond what you already hold.
  • Identity Fraud: Identity fraud coverage will reimburse you for up to $25,000 in expenses required to restore your identity if it’s used fraudulently.
  • Green Home Coverage: Green home coverage gives you the resources to repair, replace or rebuild with green materials, after a covered loss.

Travelers also provides a 24/7 claims center and frequently sends a team to help affected customers during disaster aftermath.

Cost rundown

The quote tool for Travelers home insurance is very thorough. Potential customers are surveyed about a large variety of details about their home, its upkeep, security and more.

All of the following are taken into consideration during the quote process:

  • Your credit-based insurance score
  • Year property was built
  • Number of mortgages
  • Square footage of home
  • Foundation type
  • Losses in the last 7 years
  • Driving history and amount of liability insurance chosen for car insurance
  • Type of heating system
  • Number of bathroom, stories
  • Bathroom and kitchen quality (4 choices)
    • Builder’s grade, custom, semi custom or designer
  • Access to fire hydrant
  • Type and shape of roof
  • Last year roof was replaced
  • Type of siding
  • Whether or not your home has solar panels
  • Type and size of garage
  • Whether or not you have a pool

Travels also reserves the right to order additional consumer reports, such as loss history, in order to update or renew your insurance should you purchase a policy.

Saving on homeowners insurance

Traveler’s offers many discount options for homeowner policies.

  • Multi-policy discount: If you bundle a homeowners policy with auto or another policy, you can save up to 15%.
  • Home buyer discount: This discount is open to policyholders who have purchased a home in the last 12 months.
  • Loss-free discount: If you have not experienced a loss within the given timeframe Travelers stipulates, you will receive a discount.
  • Personal device discount: Installing devices that are likely to keep both you and your home safe can also earn you a discount. Eligible devices include but may not be limited to smoke detectors, fire alarms, interior sprinkler systems, home security systems and smart home technology.
  • Green home discount: Earn up to a 5% discount for owning a certified green home.

The Competition

Travelers home insurance earned a score of 796 on the J.D. Power ratings. While in years past, Travelers homeowners insurance has scored “about average” on the scale, this year it is listed as “among the rest” and received only two out of five stars. This essentially translates to below average. Score ranges for the survey are as follows:

Among the best: 838-845
Better than most: 826-843
About average: 799-816
Among the rest:747-796

Amica Mutual (845)
For the 18th year in a row, Amica Mutual home insurance is ranked no. 1 among for customer service and claims satisfaction by J.D. Power. Amica Mutual was also the only company give 5/5 Power Circles.

AllState (814)
With AllState additional coverages, customers can avoid premium increases despite claims by choosing to pay a bit extra for RateGuard. And those who rent out their home through AirBnB can have peace of mind about the safety of their property with HostAdvantage.

Farmers (808)
In addition to traditional homes and condos, Farmers also covers specialty homes, like mobile homes. Farmers claim forgiveness and option to cover a home’s land, rather than just the building, could be big-time incentives for families who spend lots of money on landscaping.

Nationwide (796)
Coverage choices such as inflation protection, law or ordinance coverage, better roof replacement and mine subsidence make it clear Nationwide has considered every scenario. For individuals living near an old mine or skeptical of the current money market, Nationwide offers impressive options.

What Others Are Saying

Despite an overall score of 4 out of 5 by Consumer Affairs, most ratings under “homeowner’s insurance” were 1 or 2 out of 5 stars, with most complaints regarding lack of communication and refusal to cover claims.

The Bottom Line

Valuable discounts and add-on coverage options with Travelers homeowners insurance help to create lower cost policies for specific coverage choices. Unfortunately, based on verified customer feedback, Travelers homeowner’s insurance has work to do when it comes to the customer claim experience.

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Allstate Homeowners Insurance Review

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With an 8.43% share of the home insurance market, Allstate is second only to State Farm in terms of size among all providers. You don’t get that big a piece of the pie without knowing a thing or two about providing customers with top-notch insurance, and it shows in Allstate’s customer reviews. Having received 4 out of 5 stars in overall satisfaction on a homeowner’s insurance survey conducted by Everquote as well as scoring in the top 25th percentile of home insurance providers according to a 2018 customer satisfaction survey by J.D. Power, customers looking for reliable homeowner’s insurance can count on Allstate. A wide variety of coverage options to best fit the needs of your space paired with cost-saving discounts and local agents to help you out every step of the way make Allstate unique for a provider of its size.

The Specs

Price Varies by location, your home and coverage
Best For Inexperienced buyers
Not For Those who live in wildfire-prone areas
States Served 50
Discounts Multi-Policy
Easy Pay Plan
Protective Device
Early Signing
Welcome and Loyalty
55 and Retired
Smoke-Free Home
Storm Shutters
Hail-resistant roofs
A.M. Best Rating A+
Standout Features Claim RateGuard
Claim-Free Rewards
Deductible Rewards

The claim

Allstate is most famous for its agents. It prides itself on having insurance experts available near you that can walk you through the process of insuring your home and making sure that the coverage you pick out is perfect for your circumstances.

Is it true?

Customers definitely don’t hate Allstate. Allstate received four out of five stars for customer, price and overall satisfaction, with 64% of Everquote survey respondents saying that they would buy from Allstate again. Though its J.D. Power ‘Power Circle’ ranking of just three out of five was slightly less-flattering, Allstate managed to finish seventh among 29 home insurance providers assessed on the basis of overall customer satisfaction. Through their above-average customer service, Allstate agents help customers understand their coverage options, find discounts, navigate the claims process and explore life insurance options.

Apart from the agents, Allstate provides its customers with a number of tools that can be helpful in demystifying the process of insuring your home. Their website is full of educational resources such as articles that explain the types of insurance coverage available, tools to find an agent nearby and a quote calculator that gives users a starting ballpark figure of what it might cost to get insured. For prospective homeowners that are buying home insurance for the first time, Allstate’s claim to fame is true: you’re in good hands.

Our deep dive

Dwelling Coverage:

Under this coverage, the physical structure of your home, like the walls and roof are protected

Liability Protection:

If someone sues or files a claim against you after being injured on your property or you damage someone else’s property, this protects you financially.

Personal Property Coverage:

Even if they’re damaged or stolen outside the house, belongings like furniture or bicycles are protected under this coverage.

Guest Medical Protection:

If someone is injured on your property, this coverage covers the cost of medical expenses for that person.

Personal Umbrella Policy:

When you reach the liability limit on your property policy, this coverage protects you against large liability claims.

Manufactured and mobile home insurance:

Coverage to purchase if you have a manufactured or mobile home.


If you run a home-sharing operation like AirBnb, this coverage covers your belongings in cases of theft or damage.

Flood Insurance:

In the event that your home is at risk of flood damage, an Allstate agent can help you purchase flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

Common and costly claims near you:

In order to create the most effective Allstate homeowners insurance coverage, this tool helps you find details on homeowner’s claims in your area to give you a better idea of what kinds of risks to which your home might be vulnerable.

Premium Gauge Tool:

The Premium Gauge tool can help show you what factors might affect the price of your Allstate home insurance.

Cost rundown

There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all quote for homeowner’s insurance. Every home is different and it’s important that your home insurance policy protects your home in areas where it might be vulnerable. Though factors such as your home’s location, size and your credit score weigh heavily in determining your monthly premium, there are a number of other things that insurers take into consideration.

Your location factors heavily into your home insurance premium. In areas that are especially vulnerable to certain risks, homeowners can expect to pay more each month for their premiums than in other, less-vulnerable areas. Allstate’s basic coverage policy protects homeowners from such risks and perils as:

  • Falling objects
  • Water damage from various forms of plumbing
  • Smoke and fire
  • Burglary
  • Hail and windstorms

Cheaper (or free!) alternatives

Though your home insurance premiums take into account a lot of factors that are beyond your control, there are a few things that you can do to make sure you secure the best rate possible:

  • Beef up your credit score: It’s no secret that your credit history is one of the key indicators that insurance providers look at when determining your rates. By taking steps to improve your credit score a bit, you show providers that you are financially responsible and deserving of a lower monthly premium.
  • Do your homework: Regardless of whether it’s your first time or not, never settle on the first coverage offer you receive. Take your time and scour the market for the best combination of rates and coverage available to you to ensure that you get the most bang for your buck.
  • Equip your home: Many providers like Allstate offer discounts to homeowners that have safety devices such as smoke detectors and burglar alarms installed. Outfitting your home with wind-resistant shutters and hail-resistant roofs could drive down your premiums as well.
  • Maintain your policy: Another trick that works with some providers is making sure that your home insurance policy is active before switching to a new one. An uninsured homeowner may appear slightly less responsible than one who is already covered.
  • Bundle your coverage: Insurance providers will jump at the opportunity to provide coverage in more than just one domain. If you add homeowner’s insurance to your existing auto insurance, it’s likely that they will offer you a discounted premium.

    The Competition

    State Farm:State Farm is the only home insurance provider in the United States with a larger share of the market than Allstate. Outscoring by a minuscule three points out of 1,000 on J.D. Power’s Customer Satisfaction survey, the two are just about neck-and-neck when it comes to client service. With branches in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, State Farm has over 65,000 employees and more than 19,000 independent contractors, making it a good deal larger than Allstate. State Farm offers deductions for multi-policy holders, home alert protection and impact-resistant roofing, among other security measures.

    Amica Mutual Insurance: Like Allstate, Amica services clients in all 50 states, along with the District of Columbia. Though its 3,800 employees make it a vastly smaller operation than Allstate, Amica’s customer service more than makes up for the size disparity. Amica ranked first among all home insurance providers in J.D. Power’s 2018 customer satisfaction survey, receiving five out of five ‘Power Circles’ and a score of 861 out of 1000. In addition to great customer service, Amica also offers discounts for multi-policy holders, alarm systems, automatic payment and customer loyalty.

    Liberty Mutual: Employing just over 50,000 people, Liberty Mutual is roughly the same size as Allstate. It has received an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau and has over 800 offices globally. Despite the name recognition that they bring to the table however, Liberty is just OK when it comes to customer satisfaction. Receiving a score of 797 out of 1000 on J.D. Power’s 2018 customer satisfaction survey, Liberty is middle-of-the-pack when it comes to taking care of their clients’ needs. Despite this, they offer enticing discounts for multi-policy holders, new home buyers, homeowners with no previous claims and buyers who have equipped their homes with safety devices. They also service clients everywhere in the US.

    USAA: If you’re a veteran or a family member of a veteran, USAA may be your best option for home insurance. USAA received top marks for customer satisfaction on the 2018 J.D. Power survey, scoring an impressive 891 out of 1000. It also matches up well with Allstate in terms of coverage options, providing homeowners with policies that include dwelling, theft, personal property, flood and fire coverage, among other options. Additionally, USAA offers a number of discounts to buyers, including bundling, no-claims, new home and safety device options. The catch, as you may have noticed, is that their coverage is only available for members of the armed services and their immediate family.

    What Others Are Saying

    • In September 2019, Chicago Business reported that Allstate is building three large call centers in the U.S. to handle customer inquiries. This is being met with a fair amount of backlash from Allstate agents, whose base commission would be impacted by the move. Though the transition would generate enormous savings for Allstate, it could generate discontent among its agents.
    • Berkleyside reported that Allstate recently dropped homeowners in California for fear of risk to exposure against wildfires as of September 2019. Allstate ignored requests for answers to questions regarding their non-renewal decision, but offered to help some homeowners find replacement coverage.

    The Bottom Line

    Allstate is without question one of the biggest names in the home insurance industry with nearly a century of experience. For first-time buyers, Allstate’s step-by-step process of identifying unique risks and helping users find a policy that works best for their home is among the best. The numerous discounts offered through Allstate home insurance are a nice added incentive and the standard coverage components make sure that you will be adequately protected from any potential risks.

    The post Allstate Homeowners Insurance Review appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

How to supplement retirement income with a part-time job

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Could you pay your mortgage, groceries, rent, insurance, medical expenses, and other bills on $2000/month? If you could, what kind of lifestyle might you lead?

Millions of retirees across America live it every day.

The Social Security Administration reports that 50% of elderly married beneficiaries and 70% of singles rely on Social Security for more than half of their monthly income. Considering that the average Social Security check is around $1361/month, this is a really tough place to be in for so many of these retirees.

And I’ve met them. Many of them.

Every year at my insurance agency, we meet thousands of baby boomers aging into Medicare at 65. We often see their shock, dismay, and confusion when they realize that the cost of their healthcare in retirement will easily eat up at least 20% to 30% of that Social Security check every month.

No matter how you slice it, even the best of the retiree budgeters out there are likely to have trouble making ends meet on Social Security income alone.

Sometimes when it comes to personal finance, budgeting isn’t the problem.

Sometimes income is the problem.

Fortunately, there’s good news on that front, because we live in an age where there are more opportunities to earn extra money than ever before. Our digital world has made this possible, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

When you’re on a fixed income and struggling to make ends meet, a side hustle that pays you even a few hundred dollars a month can be a tremendous help.

At Boomer Benefits, we polled our Facebook fans – largely baby boomers and seniors – to ask what kind of side-hustles they are rocking out there in the real world. What we learned is that there’s a wide array of ways in which creative retirees are supplementing their Social Security income.

Polling people about working in retirement Side hustles in retirement

Today, I’ll share a few of their stories to give you some ideas for your own possible side-hustle that could potentially help to reduce financial worry and afford you a better lifestyle in retirement.

Teach From Home

Did you know that you can get paid to teach English without leaving your house? That’s right, and this is a perfect example of a retirement side hustle that exists today that would not have been possible ten years ago.

Valerie Heidel shared with us that she uses an online teaching platform called Cambly to teach English to students in Saudi Arabia, China, Japan, and even Brazil. She found this job opportunity by searching online for work from home part-time jobs. This work-from-home part was a must so that she could make her own schedule and work only when she feels like it.

What was also important to Valerie in finding a side hustle was the sense of purpose and productivity. And, because she has quite a few repeat weekly students, the job gives her spending cash. She earns $0.17 per minute that she is online with a student, which comes out to $10.20/hour.

Not bad for a job that doesn’t require her to leave her house. And this part-time gig doesn’t require a degree either. You can be approved for teaching gigs like this one in as little as two days (although for some applicants it can take up to two months).

Another retiree we spoke with shared how she used her part-time teaching income to transition into retirement. Our client Nancy was teaching full-time at one college while also teaching health courses part-time online as an adjunct instructor. When she was laid off from her full-time job unexpectedly, she was able to transition into semi-retirement by keeping the part-time health teaching.

J.D.’s note: When Kim’s father retired from teaching high-school English, he too picked up some extra cash by teaching college-level English classes online.

Nancy shared that she has a physical disability which would make it difficult for her to teach in a classroom or report to an office for work. The ability to teach right from her laptop through the school’s Learning Management System has even allowed her to work when she was hospitalized. Once the courses are created, her main duties are to respond to emails and grade assignments.

She loves that it keeps her active and says that she would be bored without this job, so she plans to continue teaching for as long as she possibly can.

Nancy shared that she and her spouse currently use her part-time income to supplement their Social Security income benefits so that they can avoid dipping into their retirement savings for as long as possible.

Takeaway: Nearly everyone has a skill that they could turn into a tutoring, teaching or mentorship position. In addition to Cambly, you can check for opportunities that fit your skills at sites like Tutor, Skooli, and Yup.

Turn Your Passion into Part-Time Income

Billy makes extra money by dressing up as SantaJeanine Handley has been a creative artist all her life and worked in graphic design. Now that she’s retired, she does remote graphic design work for clients out of her own home.

She’s also managed to turn this passion into a business right in her own neighborhood. Several years ago, when she relocated to Florida, she moved into a 55+ community. Many of the residents there are active seniors who want to learn and explore new things in their own retirement.

Jeanine noticed that many residents didn’t know how to use the camera and editing features on their smartphones. She helped one woman in her eighties with picking out a new smartphone and iPad and began weekly lessons to show her how to use both.

This blossomed into a course there in the community in which Jeanine helps to introduce other folks to smartphones and smartphone photography. She can communicate and teach these skills in a manner that other seniors understand and appreciate.

Jeanine charges a small fee for this and the money she earns helps to supplement her income and be able to afford some of the extra things like travel, entertainment, and dining out.

As an artist at heart, she doesn’t plan to ever retire this side hustle. Think about your own hobbies and passions. Could there be a way for you to turn that into an income-producing side gig?

Another side-hustler who plans to never retire is our client Billy who is a professional Santa Claus.

That’s right. Santa Claus! How cool is that for an income booster?

As a member of three professional Santa Claus organizations, Billy appears everywhere from schools and restaurants to big city events to spread the holiday cheer. He stresses that this side-hustle is one that really comes from your heart and not from the boots and suit that you wear.

He enjoys talking to children of all ages and listening to their needs. Sometimes the job can require emotional fortitude as the requests aren’t always about gifts or toys but sometimes may include a plea that Santa helps a child’s father find a job.

Yet even so, Billy admits that what he enjoys most is visiting homes of children who are either chronically ill or home-bound. These visits fulfill his heart while the side income he earns helps he and his wife to pay some of their expenses in retirement.

Being Santa can be a serious business both emotionally and professionally. Billy must pass a criminal background check each year and has regularly attended schools and seminars to perfect his craft. He’s also a member of three professional Santa Claus organizations.

Takeaway: Think about the things in your life that you absolutely love to do. Could your passion benefit someone else? How could you monetize that so that you can earn some income while performing activities that hardly feel like work at all?

Become a Contractor for Your Former Employer

When Roberta Baciak retired from working in a local school lunchroom, she felt so bad about leaving them that she volunteered to be a fill-in worker whenever they are short-staffed. They were quick to take her up on her offer, so now she works one day a week every week and sometimes gets called in on other days.

She also works from home 15 hours a week as an administrative assistance for a coffee shop and roasting company owned by her daughter and son-in-law. She takes care of their invoices, payroll, entering expenses into Quickbooks, sending statements and things like that.

Her side hustles have afforded her the ability to pay off some medical bills and to have some pocket cash to spend on little things her grandsons. She also loves the honor of helping her family with their growing business.

She plans on working as long as she can for her family and probably another year or so at the school lunchroom because she enjoys seeing her co-workers and the kids at school.

Roberta recommends that other retirees looking for side-income check with their local schools because lunchrooms are often looking for people who are willing to fill-in on an on-call basis.

Takeaway: Consider negotiating part-time employment with your last employer before retirement. You never know when they might agree! If that’s not an option, who do you know that has a business? Are there any part-time services that you could offer to them with your skills?

Get Financially Fit with Furballs

Even older people can use technology to enhance their incomeI honestly can’t think of a side gig I would enjoy more than getting paid to hang out with some fur kids. Busy working professionals are using pet sitting services more than ever – J.D. tells me he frequently uses Rover to book walks for his dog — and what’s great about this particular job is that you could work contract though a pet sitting service, or you could just post your services in neighborhood sites like Nextdoor.

This side hustle is really flexible because you can work only when you want to, and you can pet site in your own home or in someone else’s home for a little more cash.

I myself am a busy entrepreneur, working long hours at the office and frequently traveling for business. When I’m going to be gone overnight, I pay a friend’s mom, who is retired, to come and spend the night with my fur babies.

It helps me sleep at night to know that someone is caring for them, but I also know love that my pet sitter is a retiree who can really use the money to help her make ends meet. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Not sure about overnights? You could start with some day visits or dog-walking, both of which are other pet services that many working people willingly pay for.

Takeaway: This one is possibly the easiest side gig of all to get started in. Post on your favorite neighborhood app or sign up as a pet sitter or dog walker with sites live Rover or Wag.

What Will Your Next Side Hustle Be?

These are just a few of the fun and creative ways to earn extra retirement income that some of our own social media followers at Boomer Benefits have shared with us. No matter what type of work you used to do, there are endless opportunities for new things that you can do once you are retired to supplement your income from Social Security and investments.

If teaching or pet sitting aren’t your thing, check out our post on 50 Ingenius Ways to Earn Money in Retirement for additional inspiration. You might also check out Ryan Helms’ Hustle to Freedom podcast, which is one that I’ve referred dozens of people to when they’ve shared that they want to work part-time but aren’t quite sure doing what.

The key is understanding that our digital world really does make it easier than ever to put a few extra dollars in your pocket each month and sometimes just that little bit makes all the difference.

Happy Hustling!

The post How to supplement retirement income with a part-time job appeared first on Get Rich Slowly.

Books with Impact: A Guide to the Good Life

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The “Books with Impact” series takes a deeper look at specific books that have had a profound impact on my financial, professional, and personal growth by extracting specific points of advice from those books and looking at how I’ve applied them in my life with successful results. The previous entry in this series covered Atomic Habits by James Clear.

A few months ago, I wrote a list of my “five books” for financial and life improvement. In that article, I made a nod to a few additional books that I thought would make great supplemental reading for my choices, and A Guide to the Good Life by William Irvine was one of them.

So, what’s A Guide to the Good Life all about? The subtitle really sums it up beautifully: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy. This book draws upon the philosophy of stoicism and puts it in a modern context, aiming to show how the principles of stoicism can help you find inner peace, calmness, and joy without constantly buying new things and luxury experiences. While I believe that many of the original Stoic texts are more powerful, they’re not nearly as approachable to a modern audience; this book, on the other hand, is very applicable today, particularly in a sense of overcoming the struggle with chronic dissatisfaction with modern life. It takes those ancient principles and puts them in a context that works today. Let’s dig in.

The Rise of Stoicism

The first part of the book is the slowest, at least for people who are mostly interested in learning about how stoicism can apply to their lives. It’s 70 pages or so that covers the history of stoicism in ancient times, discussing how it grew and thrived and eventually became the guiding philosophy of one of the Roman Empire’s greatest emperors, Marcus Aurelius. While this opening material is great in a historical context, if you’re mostly just here for how stoicism can impact your life, you can probably skim this section for now and come back to it after you’ve read the rest of the book.

After this comes a bunch of shorter chapters on techniques based on stoicism that can help your life or how to use those techniques to handle specific challenging life situations that many of us will face.

Negative Visualization: What’s the Worst That Can Happen?

Modern life is full of challenges and stress. We’re often expected to provide excellent performance in many different areas of life, often all at once. It’s easy to feel like we’re constantly walking a tightrope, especially when a real challenge comes up.

One technique that stoicism offers to help overcome that stress is that of negative visualization. Rather than visualizing a situation coming out perfectly, you should actually visualize the worst possible outcome (within reason). How do you handle that worst case scenario? Furthermore, is it really all that bad?

Often, what you’ll find is that if you imagine that worst case scenario, you’ll recognize that even if that disastrous outcome happens, it’s really not all that bad, and it’s likely that something better than that will happen. In other words, you might still be walking a tightrope, but rather than being 50 feet in the air without a net, you’re actually more like ten feet in the air with a net. You don’t want to fail, but it’s not really apocalyptic if you do, and that reduces the stress and enables you to actually focus on the task at hand much better.

The Dichotomy of Control: On Becoming Invincible

One key element of stoicism is the idea of a locus of control. There are some things you can control – generally, your emotions, your words, and your personal actions – and many more you can’t control – nature, other people, and so on. Understanding where that line is and realizing that you do actually control the things on your side of that line, like your emotional responses to things, is vitally important.

It’s worth noting that we all have emotional responses to things. We feel things inside of us, powerful things – anger, sadness, frustration. The thing is, we can control how we choose to act on those emotions. We might feel a swell of anger inside of us, but we control how we act in response to that anger. We might feel very sad, but we choose how to act in response to that sadness.

What about things we can somewhat control, like whether we win a tennis match? Focus on the aspects of those things that you can control, like who you’re associating with, how much you practice and how, and so on.

The idea of “becoming invincible” is that you recognize that things outside of your control are just that, outside of your control, but you have full control over how you respond to it. You choose what to feel and you choose how to respond to it.

Fatalism: Letting Go of the Past … and the Present

Many people adopt a fatalistic view of life, one that tells a story in which they are swept along by things outside of their control. People who blame others for many of their problems and seem to accept that either fortunate events or unfortunate ones have entirely shaped their past or will entirely shape their future fall prey to this.

Stoicism seems to value this kind of fatalistic view of the past – you can’t control the past, after all – but opposes it going forward, believing that acting within the areas that you can control influences greatly the impact on your own life of the things outside of your control.

In other words, stoicism says that dwelling on the past is a waste of time beyond merely mining it for lessons on how to live life going forward. You can’t control it, so don’t spend your time or energy on it.

Self-Denial: On Dealing with the Dark Side of Pleasure

This section overlaps a lot with the principles of secular buddhism, which deal directly with the challenge of overcoming desire. Desire is a very powerful emotion which drives us to making very suboptimal decisions.

The stoic perspective on this is to try living for periods as though bad things have happened in our life so that we can appreciate all of the pleasure of a more modest life that we often overlook as it becomes rote and familiar. Spend three months without Netflix and it feels like an overwhelming smorgasbord of viewing options. Spend a month without spending a dime on anything unnecessary and suddenly buying a small treat seems like an extreme pleasure.

I often do 30 day and 90 day challenges that center around self-denial of some particular thing that I enjoy and desire but isn’t wholly good for me, just so I can re-learn how to appreciate it in moderate amounts and not be driven by desire into a state of gluttony. It’s easy – try it with things like drinking soda or drinking beer or eating sugar or drinking coffee or going shopping at a particular store, or even more extreme actions like spending 90 days without buying anything unnecessary.

Meditation: Watching Ourself Practice Stoicism

To be clear, the meditation that stoics prescribe is a lot different than the “emptying the mind” type of meditation that often comes from Buddhist traditions. Rather, stoic meditation is simply a reflection of the day’s events, an “after action report” in which you reflect on some of the choices you made throughout the day and consider whether you followed the right course of action or could have done them better.

The goal here isn’t to beat yourself up, but rather to guide yourself toward better practices going forward. You shouldn’t feel bad for making a mistake, but rather view it as an opportunity to see firsthand what the wrong move is so that you don’t make it again.

If there’s any principle I’ve really pulled from stoicism, it’s this one. I spend a surprising amount of mental free time (like when I’m driving a child to soccer practice or something like that) doing this kind of “after action” reflection, where I recall a situation where I’m not sure I did the right thing, tease it around in my mind a little, decide with more reflection what the right thing would have been, and visualize myself doing the right thing when a similar situation comes up.

Duty: On Loving Mankind

Marcus Aurelius often had negative thoughts toward his fellow people, as do many of us. For him, one of the major struggles in life was to figure out how he could interact in a society with people who he didn’t like, that in many cases he felt were bad people. He largely felt that humans were bad people with poor behavior and not to be trusted. Yet he is widely regarded as one of the best emperors of Rome and ruled during a period of peace and prosperity.

He was able to balance that because he was able to separate his duty not just as emperor but as a person from his feelings toward others. His belief, and it’s one shared as a general stoic principle, is that we’re all born with a certain skill and a duty to perform and that following such duty is the key to happiness.

I tend to translate this into modern living as a twofold recommendation for life. If you aim to live life as a good person as much as possible (your duty as a member of society) and put genuine work and effort into doing the things you’re skilled at, you’ll find the closest thing to genuine happiness there is in this world. For me, I view the former as being the good feeling you get when you do good things, and the latter as the good feeling you get when you’re in a “flow state,” where you’re deeply engaged at applying your skills to create or fix or make something. (Note that neither of those elements involves buying stuff or spending money.) That’s a stoic ideal of living, and it does create a pretty good life.

Social Relations: On Dealing with Other People

The advice here is straightforward. Try your best to associate with people that share your true values. However, doing that all the time is impossible, so when you’re dealing with people who do not share your true values, try to avoid actions or other things that go against those values and look for areas of commonality where you do share values.

I like to think of this in terms of family sitting around the Thanksgiving table. You are going to have some values in common with those people and some values not in common. In those situations, try to aim for the values you do have in common – the things you both genuinely care about – and avoid the values you don’t have in common.

In terms of broader social settings, engage with lots of people, but develop deeper relationships with people with whom you have a significant number of values in common. When you do that, it’s much easier to live by the values you hold true.

This is even true in the workplace. You should aim to find work and find tasks within your work that are in line with your values as much as you can.

Insults: On Putting Up with Putdowns

Insults and slights are a part of life. They can hurt. They can stir anger. They can bring about sadness. How does one avoid the emotional response and the disruption of tranquility that they can bring?

Stoics offer a great deal of advice for taking the sting out. Is it true? If so, there’s nothing to be upset about. Is it coming from a dubious source? If so, don’t be bothered by the words of a dodgy person. Is the person misinformed? Just correct that person if the insult is inaccurate.

How do you handle the insult, though? If you’re quick-witted, respond with humor. If you’re not that quick-witted, just ignore it and go about your business, because the person firing insults mostly just wants to see your response. If it becomes a persistent problem for some reason, ask for advice from others as to how to handle that specific situation.

This is advice that I’ve given my children many times for dealing with playground bullies and it works well with adults, too.

Grief: On Vanquishing Tears with Reason

All of us feel grief at some point in their lives, often at the loss of a loved one. It hurts – there’s no getting around it.

The stoic advice on dealing with grief is to actively engage in negative visualization (discussed above) in advance, so that the sting isn’t as intense. You’ll inherently know that life will go on and that things will be okay. Furthermore, such negative visualization often leads to saying the things that you want to say now rather than later, when it might be too late, and thus there are no regrets to add to the grief.

It’s in situations like these, however, that stoicism gains its modern reputation. Stoicism leans heavily into addressing your emotions within and not acting upon them, which often results in being outwardly calm during moments where others might express emotional distress. When you’re the only person not crying at a funeral, it can seem cold and off-putting. The middle road seems to be to express such emotion when it fits the situation, but to evaluate it internally when outside the situation. Cry at the funeral, but process it internally afterwards.

This does somewhat fly in the face of many modern ideas of being more open with one’s emotions, but it’s an issue that Irvine gets back to later in the book.

Anger: On Overcoming Anti-Joy

What should you do when you feel anger? Stoics often identify anger, not sadness, as the antithesis of joyful living, as anger is even more effective at destroying tranquility. How can it be handled?

Stoicism offers a bunch of tools to help you avoid an angry outburst. Remind yourself that most things that make you angry do no actual harm, or consider that humor is a much better response to the situation.

If you do find anger bubbling up regularly, spend some time when not angry reflecting on the fact that acting on anger almost never does you any good and doesn’t do anything good for the people around you. If you still do act out, apologize genuinely with the blame going directly to yourself.

Personal Values: On Seeking Fame

The stoic advice for people seeking fame is very simple. Don’t worry about what others think of you. Instead, live according to your own values and if others find that admirable, fame will come naturally. It’s when you bend your own values and do things in accordance to what you think will bring you acclaim that internal tranquility is disrupted.

If you want to be famous, live life according to values that bring you peace, work to build skills that others will value, and treat others in a way according to your values. Sticking with that will eventually bring renown.

It’s much like happiness itself: if you aim for that and seek that, it’s elusive and you’ll never have it for more than a moment. Rather, don’t seek it and merely live a life that cultivates fertile soil for it to grow.

Personal Values: On Luxurious Living

Modern thinking often links stoicism to minimalist living and self-denial, which is true, but it misses the point. The purpose of minimalist living and self-denial, as discussed above, is so that you can adequately and deeply appreciate the good things in life.

In other words, someone following stoic ideals doesn’t have to inherently avoid luxury. Rather, what they seek to do is to put themselves in a mindset to truly appreciate luxury.

If you live next door to the best coffee shop in the world, you might think that’s great and you’ll go there every day, but before long… that coffee is ordinary. Stoics would instead encourage you to drink ordinary coffee every day and then go to the amazing coffee shop only on occasion, so you can appreciate that wonderful coffee rather than having it be relegated to the ordinary.

This, of course, also saves you a lot of money along the way to happiness.

Exile: On Surviving a Change of Pace

What about when there’s a rapid change in your life? How do you handle a sudden job loss, a sudden move, a sudden change in your personal relationships?

The key thing to remember is this: your happiness should revolve around your values, not in where you reside or what your surroundings happen to be like at a given moment. Yes, a rapid change can have an impact on your opportunities and choices, but they have no reason to change the values under which you operate, and if those values are solid, keep on trucking.

The truth is that unexpected events do happen, but they are outside of our control. They only can disrupt us if we allow those unexpected events to cause us to act against our values or cause us to abandon our values.

Old Age: On Being Banished to a Nursing Home</h3.

This is a particular form of exile that many people in the modern world eventually face in old age, and it's something that many older people fear. They fear the loss of connection and freedom.

The thing to remember, again, is this: your happiness should center around your values and how you act on them, not your surroundings. If you fear being alone in a retirement home, that means you value relationships. What are you doing now to build and cement those relationships? Take the time to communicate with people in your life and build up those relationships; you can keep that communication going once you're in a retirement home. If you fear declining health, that means you value your health. What are you doing every day to stay as healthy as possible? Don't spend your final years lamenting what could have been. Do everything in your power to avoid that and live the best life you can, every day.

Again, you can only control what you can control. You control what goes into your body. You control your activity level. You control how much effort you put into building and sustaining relationships. You control how much effort you put into your work. The outcomes are mostly out of your control, so accept them and keep living according to your values.

Dying: On a Good End to a Good Life

A major part of stoicism is contemplation of one’s death and asking yourself if you’ve really lived a life well lived. While one might see that as a form of preparation for death, the real reason for such reflection is to ensure that you’ve lived a life well lived.

If you continue that train of thought, the conclusion becomes clear: if you live a life well lived, then death isn’t a great tragedy. You have already given much to the world and enjoyed much. What else is really left other than decline? To know you lived a life in accordance with your values up to the last moment is the best balm against the sting of death.

It still remains a fear – how could it not – but it’s a reasonable answer.

On Becoming a Stoic: Start Now and Prepare To Be Mocked

Practicing stoicism takes effort. Many of the practices – negative visualization, reflection on your day, control over one’s response to emotion – aren’t easy. Furthermore, proclaiming you’re a stoic is often going to get you some odd looks.

So, what should one do if this philosophy is appealing? Start practicing it anyway and keep the fact that you’re practicing it to yourself. Aim to live a virtuous life. Practice negative visualization and consider worst case scenarios so that you recognize life isn’t so bad after all. Reflect on your days. Practice some degree of self-denial so that you can truly appreciate the good things. Most of all, keep quiet about it and don’t wear it as a badge; share it if people wish to know, but don’t shout it from the rooftops.

It’s surprising how well all of this integrates into modern life, really.

The Decline of Stoicism

So, why did stoicism decline? What made it fall out of favor in the later years of the Roman Empire?

The big reason is that stoicism is hard to practice in a truly corrupt society, and that’s what Rome became after the death of Marcus Aurelius. If you can’t find people around you with which you share values, it’s easy to simply not have values at all or to watch the ones you do have degrade into nothingness.

Another reason is that stoicism doesn’t really promise anything beyond a more content life. It doesn’t promise an afterlife or anything metaphysical. It’s about living a good life here, even amidst troubling times. It doesn’t offer a promise of another plane of existence, something which is attractive to many.

The pieces of stoicism that people did recall tended to lead to a view of stoicism as grim and unfeeling. It encouraged people to not act out in anger or to make choices in a strong emotional moment, and when acting upon emotion is the norm, stoicism can seem strange.

Stoicism Reconsidered

The thing is, these criticisms were more relevant in the intervening period between ancient Rome and today than they are today.

In today’s world, there is often more harm than good that comes out of acting out in anger or with strong emotion. A purely emotional response to something like road rage or to someone’s internet postings isn’t going to do you or anyone else any good.

In today’s world, people often feel unhappy with their life here on Earth and want to know how to make their life here on Earth better, something that stoicism directly addresses. People want their lives to be good, rather than merely a struggle towards some promised afterlife.

Furthermore, today’s world is in many ways less corrupt than ancient Rome. While there is still great corruption, we live in a world that is relatively peaceful and relatively virtuous in comparison to the fall of Rome. It is easier to find like-minded good people out there with which we share values.

Stoicism is actually quite a good fit for a philosophy for living modern life.

Practicing Stoicism

How can you start practicing it? Irvine offers a few specific suggestions.

First, start quiet. Don’t shout out that you’re a stoic. Instead, start practicing and reflecting without talking openly about it.

Second, start with just one practice, then add more later. Start off with a practice of self-reflection, for example. Practice negative visualization. Start a simple thirty day challenge to recharge your appreciation of something.

Try to simplify your lifestyle a bit. We’re primed to react with emotion and instinct when we’re overwhelmed. Look for pieces of your life that can be pared down a little so you have time to breathe and reflect.

Consider what your values are and what you consider to be a great life, then try to live in accordance with those values. What are the values of what you consider to be a great person? Try to live by them.

Further Reading

A Guide to the Good Life is just one of several books that do a wonderful job of putting stoicism’s principles in a modern context. Here are a few others that are excellent, too, and why and how they differentiate themselves from A Guide to the Good Life.

The Stoic Challenge: A Philosopher’s Guide to Becoming Tougher, Calmer, and More Resilient by William Irvine is a sort-of sequel to A Guide to the Good Life. It’s a new release and I’m actually reading it for the first time as I write this review of Irvine’s earlier book. It very much feels like a complement or sequel, and it’s definitely a worthwhile follow-up read that address a lot of specific modern issues that aren’t dealt with in the earlier book.

A Handbook for New Stoics by Massimo Pigliucci and Gregory Lopez is something of a “workbook” for people interested in stoicism, offering 52 week-long exercises to delve into this philosophy of living.

How to Be a Stoic by Massimo Pigliucci is just as good of an introduction to stoicism in the modern life as A Guide to the Good Life, but it just happened to be the one I read a little later. My general feeling is that A Guide to the Good Life handles specific life issues better with the individual chapters on specific life problems, while How to Be a Stoic seems to offer more general-purpose strategies.

The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday offers a daily reading from an ancient Greek or Roman text on a stoic issue, along with an application to modern life by Holiday. This book will feel wonderfully familiar to anyone who’s ever read a yearlong devotional. Holiday’s other books, The Ego Is the Enemy and The Obstacle Is the Way, are also worthwhile; while not quite strictly about stoicism, the books do draw in a lot of stoic ideas when discussing how to handle specific challenges of modern life.

I would also strongly encourage you to read some of the original works of Stoicism, translated from ancient Latin and Greek. Here are three key ones worth reading.

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is essentially excerpts from the personal journals of the Roman emperor, offering a lot of insight as to how he used stoic ideas to help him not only be a better governor, but be a better and more virtuous person. This is probably the single most powerful work on stoicism around, because it’s so personal.

Letters from a Stoic by Seneca are a series of letters he wrote in his retirement to a younger Roman official, outlining much of what he had learned about good living and death. The letters cover a lot of detail about applying stoicism to life.

Discourses and Selected Writings by Epictetus is a large collection of writings by the philosopher perhaps most responsible for stoicism’s growth; while Seneca was a wealthy advisor and Marcus Aurelius was a Roman emperor, Epictetus started off as a slave and eventually became a freedman who taught what he had learned in a small school in Greece. This book is a collection of transcriptions of many of his lectures; while some are a bit dry, there are moments of absolute brilliance on almost every page.

One of my themes/goals for next year is to do a deep study of several philosophies of living, and most of these books are on my reading list for the year for a first read or a re-read.

Final Thoughts

Over the last few years, I’ve struggled with a few central questions in my life. How do I overcome bad emotional responses to the world around me? How do I overcome desire? How do I feel contentment and joy without expending my life’s resources? What does it mean to be a good person, and how can I do that? What kind of mark am I leaving on the world?

All of those questions absolutely have a financial component to them, but they’re far from just financial questions, either. They each drive to a core part of the entire human experience, cutting across all spheres of life.

For me, stoicism has been the answer to the question of how I can overcome bad emotional responses to the world around me, and has provided some secondary help to most of the other questions. A Guide to the Good Life was really my introduction to stoicism and, for many people, would be my recommended introduction to the ideas.

Many people identify the word “stoic” with someone who rarely shows emotion. Rather, I think it’s just a guide to a healthy way of processing that emotion, one that doesn’t result in damaging outward action. I find that stoicism, through the ideas in this book and others, has helped me greatly in figuring out how to better process my emotions in the moment so that I don’t react in a foolish way – spending money on something I don’t need, for example, or having some kind of emotionally-driven outburst.

Good luck!

The post Books with Impact: A Guide to the Good Life appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

The best airline credit cards in 2019

sourced from:

If you fly often, you should consider getting an airline card.

Don’t do it for the miles, do it for the perks.

Priority boarding, free checked bags, lounge access, companion fares. You’ll fly like a VIP with these cards.

And the annual fees can be quite reasonable.

If you’re looking to up your travel game, get an airline card.

The Top 4 Airline Credit Cards

Jump ahead to

The Best Airline Credit Card

This might come as a surprise.

But my favorite airline card… is not an airline card.

It’s the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Which is also the most popular card on the market right now for good reason.

Chase Sapphire Preferred

You’ll earn 2X points for every dollar spent on travel and restaurants and there’s no foreign transaction fees.

The best part is you’ll earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points. It’s one of the top points programs across all credit cards. These points can easily transfer into a bunch of different airline programs for free flights.

Instead of a dedicated airlines card, I prefer the Chase Sapphire Preferred for two reasons:

  • I earn a lot more points. The Chase Sapphire Preferred earns more points on categories that I spend money on. This means a lot more points for me compared to an airline card.
  • I get a lot more flexibility. With an airline card, you’re locked into that airline and their direct partners. With Chase Ultimate Points, I can do a 1:1 points transfer into more than a dozen airline mileage programs to get flights with those airlines and their partners too. I end up with a lot more options on flights to choose from.

More points means more free flights. And plenty of transfer partners means tons of options for picking the exact flight that I want.

To really push your points into high gear, there’s an upgraded version of the Chase Sapphire Preferred called the Chase Sapphire Reserve. You’ll earn 3X points instead of 2X, get a few extra perks, and have an annual fee of $450. It’s definitely worth it if you have a higher income and want to earn as many free flights as possible.

So before getting a dedicated airlines card, get a solid travel points card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

*Terms apply – Learn how to apply online

How to Choose The Right Airline Credit Card

First, should we ever consider a dedicated airline card?

Yes. If you fly a few times a year, you should consider it. Even if you already have a great travel rewards card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, it’s worth considering an airline card too.

Every major airline has a credit card that instantly gives you perks that can be easily worth their annual fees.

If you rarely travel, don’t worry about this. But if the thought of getting priority boarding, free companion passes, and free checked bags gets you interested, definitely consider it.

Step 1: Pick Your Primary Airline

I recommend picking the airline that has the most flights at your home airport.

So if you’re in Chicago, make United your primary airline. For Atlanta, go for Delta.

Whichever airline is biggest, go with that one.

Once you pick a primary airline, you’ll want to fly on that airline as often as possible. This will keep your miles concentrated and help you earn elite status tiers that unlock even more perks on that airline. And when you get an airline credit card, you’ll want the perks from your credit card to apply to as many of your flights as possible.

The more flights that an airline has at your airport, the more often you’ll be able to get a good nonstop flight on your primary airline. Then all your perks will apply.

Even if you don’t like a particular airline, I’d still pick that airline if it’s the dominant airline at your airport. I don’t like American Airlines myself, I hate their seats. But I’d switch to them if I lived in Philadelphia.

And if a few of the major airlines are about equal, pick the one that you like the most.

Two other rules of thumb to keep in mind:

  • If you mainly fly to major cities or internationally, pick one of the “big three” which includes United, Delta, and American Airlines. With their hub-and-spoke flights, they have a lot of flights between major cities. They also have a lot of international flight partners.
  • If you mainly fly domestically between smaller, regional airports, consider Southwest. They have a lot more flights between smaller airports which means you’ll get more nonstop flights than if you go with the bigger airlines.

Once you pick an airline, you’ll try to use that airline as often as possible.

Step 2: Review the Perks for that Airline’s Credit Cards

Now it’s time to review the credit cards themselves.

We have the most popular cards from each airline below. Go through them take a close look at the perks like:

  • Free baggage check
  • Priority boarding
  • Companion fares
  • Discounts on in-flight purchases
  • Club passes and discounts

Keep a note of all the perks that matter to you.

On most airline cards, the miles-earning power isn’t nearly as good as other travel points cards. You’ll usually get some bonus miles for purchases made with that specific airline. You’ll get a lot more free flights by using a credit card that gets you 2X or 3X points across larger spending categories.

In other words, the benefit of airline cards doesn’t come from their ability to earn you miles. The value comes from perks which is why you want to focus on them.

Step 3: Decide if the Perks are Worth the Annual Fee to You

Deciding whether or not to get an airline card is a personal decision.

For me, paying a $95 annual fee to United gets me a few perks that I love:

  • My United miles never expire so it’s one thing I don’t have to think about.
  • I get priority boarding on every United flight so I don’t have to worry about running out of overhead space for my carry-on luggage.
  • I get 2 United Club passes per year. I know I can get into a United lounge if I’m stranded or get stuck with a horrible layover somewhere.

Even though there’s a few other perks on the card, the perks above are easily worth the annual fee to me. So I have the card.

For other folks, priority boarding might not matter. Or they don’t care about the mile experiations and club passes. The annual fee might not be worth it to them even if they fly United primarily. In that case, I’d recommend that they should skip the card.

Once you have the full list of perks from the card, ask yourself: “Are these perks worth the annual fee to me?” Once you’ve answered that question, you’ll know whether or not you should get the card.

What if the perks aren’t worth the annual fee to you?

Then don’t get any of the credit cards for your primary airline. It’s still a good idea to have a primary airline to consolidate miles from flying but don’t worry about the credit card. Stick with your primary credit card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

United Credit Card Reviews

United Explorer Card

Chase United Explorer Card

If you fly United somewhat regularly, I highly recommend getting the United Explorer card.

You’ll get some nice perks on every United flight from here on out:

  • First checked bag free as long as you use the United Explorer card to book the ticket
  • Priority boarding

I have to say, not having to worry about the checked bag fees or if there will be enough overhead space has been amazing. My stress level from flying has dropped enough to make these easily worth the annual fee of $95.

There’s one more perk that makes this card a standout from other airline cards. Each year, you get 2 one-time passes to the United Club. Most airline cards only give discounts, these passes are completely free.

I don’t spend much time in airline lounges, I mostly fly nonstop and keep my connections fairly short. But I also know how one bad delay can turn into an entire day at the airport. When I get caught next time, I know I’ll be able to seek refuge in the United Club.

The miles earning isn’t too bad either. You’ll earn 2 miles per dollar on United purchases, at restaurants, and on hotel stays. The hotel miles only applies when booking directly with hotels though. And one mile on all other spending. It’s not quite as high as other cards but it’s decent.

You’ll also get up to $100 Global Entry or TSA Precheck fee credit and a 25% cash back on all United in-flight purchases.

There’s no foreign transaction fees either.

*Terms apply – Learn how to apply online

United Explorer Business Card

Chase United Explorer Business Card

The United Explorer Business card is pretty similar to the personal version with a few tweaks for businesses.

This card earns 2 miles per dollar on United purchases, at restaurants, gas stations, and office supply stores. The office supply spending category is a nice addition for businesses.

Employee cards are also free, helping you earn miles across your entire business.

Otherwise, all of these perks are the same:

  • Free checked bag as long as you use your United Explorer Business card to purchase the flight
  • Two one-time United Club passes each year
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases.

If you fly United often and need an airline card for your business, this is a great option.

*Terms apply – Learn how to apply online

Virgin Atlantic Credit Card Reviews

Virgin Atlantic Elite MasterCard

Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic has an extremely compelling card if you fly with them regularly.

As long as you spend $25,000 on the card annually, you get a companion reward ticket in the same cabin. On reward flights, this effectively doubles your miles by getting you two reward tickets for the price of one. That’s an incredible deal.

So how do we get to $25,000 in annual spending without giving up a ton of points that other cards could be earning us?

Well, the Virgin Atlantic Elite MasterCard has a very special default mailes rate: 1.5 miles per dollar. Most cards only give one mile or point per dollar. Since the Virgin Atlantic Elite MasterCard gives 1.5 miles, it makes an excellent “default spending” card.

Use all your other cards for spending categories that earn bonus points, then use the Virgin Atlantic Elite MasterCard for all other expenses. As long as you average $2,100/month in default spending, you’ll hit the spending requirement for the campion fare. You’ll also be earning 50% more miles along the way compared to other cards.

And you get another 15,000 bonus points when you spend $25,000 a year.

In other words, you get a ton of miles and a companion reward ticket if you average $2,100/month in spending.

You’ll also get 3 miles per dollar on all Virgin Atlantic purchases.

The real downside from this card comes from the limited reach of Virgin Atlantic. You’ll get the most use out of them if you fly between the US and the UK frequently.

Luckily, Virgin Atlantic does have partnerships with plenty of great airlines that you’ll be able to redeem miles with:

  • Delta
  • Singapore
  • Air New Zealand.
  • Virgin Australia.
  • South African Airways.
  • ANA
  • Air China
  • Hawaiian Airlines

There’s also partnerships with SAS and Air France/KLM but you can only earn Virgin Atlantic miles on those airlines, you can’t use Virgin Atlantic miles for flights.

While you won’t automatically get free checked bags and priority boarding like other airline cards, you do earn 25 tier points per $2,500 in purchases (with a maximum of 50 per month). These tier points will accelerate earning status levels at Virgin Atlantic. Depending on your status level, you could get perks like lounge access, free seat upgrades, priority boarding and check-in, discounts on in-flight purchases, and bonus miles when flying. If you’re trying to get Virgin Atlantic status, I’d consider this card indispensable since it’ll accelerate everything for you.

The card doesn’t have foreign transaction fees and the annual fee is $90.

If you fly regularly between the US and the UK and average $2,100/month in spending, I strongly recommend getting this card. The companion reward ticket and default 1.5 miles on all purchases makes it a fantastic deal.

*Terms apply – Learn how to apply online

Southwest Credit Card Reviews

Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card

Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card

If you fly Southwest often, get the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority card. The benefits easily make up for the annual free.

You’ll get 7,500 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary. These are free points in your pocket.

You’ll also get $75 credit for Southwest travel purchases each year.

The main perk on this card compared to the other Southwest cards is the 4 upgrades each year. Upgrade before your flight and the purchase will be reimbursed on your card after the fact.

For those of you chasing Southwest status, this card will be essential. You’ll earn up to 15,000 tier qualifying points per year by getting 1,500 Tier Qualifying points for every $10,000 you spend. This caps out at 15,000 tier qualifying points. The first status tier for Southwest requires 35,000 qualifying points so you’ll still need another 20,000 points after you max out this benefit. Still, this does take the edge off.

There’s also the fabled Southwest companion pass. This thing is ridiculous. Once you earn the pass, a designated companion of your choice can fly with you for free on every flight that you purchase or redeem with miles for an entire year. And you can change the companion up to 3 times per year. But you’ll need 110,000 qualifying points or 100 qualifying one-way flights within a year to get it.

Both the points that you earn with this card and the signup bonus (usually 40,000 to 60,000 points with qualified spending) count towards the companion pass.

If I was going for the Southwest companion pass, I’d absolutely get this card. It’ll help a lot.

As for points earning, you get 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest purchases along with hotel and rental car partner purchases. That doesn’t include all hotel and car rentals, just the ones that you use through the partner portal. There’s also 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

The points earning is just okay, not great. So I’d only use this card for regular spending if you were committed to getting the companion pass or status with Southwest.

It also comes with a 20% discount on in-flight purchases and no foreign transaction fees.

All for an annual fee of $149.

Regular Southwest flyers should seriously consider this card.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card

The Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card is really similar to the Rapid Rewards Priority. In exchange for a lower annual fee of $99, you’ll be missing a few perks:

  • There’s no annual upgrades.
  • No annual Southwest travel credit.
  • No in-flight discount.

You do get 6,000 bonus points every year.

And the miles earning is the same. 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest purchases and purchases made with hotel and car rental partners. 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

There’s no foreign transaction fees.

Honestly, these perks aren’t great for the $99 annual fee. All you get is 6,000 bonus points per year and a lackluster points program. If you fly Southwest often, I’d skip this card and get the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority card instead.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card

Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus card

The Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus card is the entry level Southwest card with even fewer perks.

You do get 3,000 bonus points every year.

And the points earning program is the same as the other Southwest cards:

  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest purchases, hotel and car rental partners too.
  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

But points on this card don’t count towards Southwest A-List status. They do count towards the companion pass though.

There aren’t any other perks, that’s it.

The annual fee is only $69 but I consider it too high for what you’re getting. Again, I’d skip this card and get the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority instead.

Alaska Airlines Cards Reviews

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card

Alaska Airlines

This is easily one of the most valuable airline credit cards.

You’ll get a companion fare every year. Alaska Airlines calls it the “Famous Companion Fare” and for good reason. Add a companion to your coach ticket for $121. Depending on the flight, this can be a massive discount. While this only works for coach, you can upgrade normally on your tickets. So you’ll save hundreds of dollars on a trip of your choice once per year. There’s no hoops or weird restrictions to worry about either.

The rest of the perks are pretty good too:

  • A free checked bag for you and up to six other guests on the same reservation.
  • 50% off day passes at the Alaska Lounge.
  • 20% back on all Alaska Airlines inflight purchases.
  • No foreign transaction fees.

You’ll also earn 3 miles for dollar spent with Alaska Airlines. All other purchases earn 1 mile per dollar.

While the Alaska Airlines is one of the most valuable airline cards out there, it’s difficult to make Alaska Airlines your primary airline unless you live in Seattle, Portland, Anchorage, or the surrounding areas. If you do, they have an excellent list of international airlines that you can transfer your Alaska miles to.

All for a low annual fee of $75. That’s a fantastic deal if you can fly Alaska Airlines regularly.

*Terms apply – Learn how to apply online

American Airlines Credit Card Reviews

Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite MasterCard

CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard

This is the main credit card that most American Airlines flyers should consider.

Of course, it comes with some nice perks when flying American Airlines:

  • First checked bag free for you and up to 4 companions
  • Priority boarding
  • 25% discount on in-flight purchases when using this card

If I flew American Airlines regularly, I’d absolutely get this card just for these benefits.

The miles-earning is decent. You get 2 miles per dollar at restaurants, gas stations, and American Airlines purchases. 1 mile per dollar on everything else.

It does include one unique benefit. You’ll get a $125 American Airlines flight discount after you spend $20,000 or more in purchases during the year and renew your card. $20,000 in annual spending is a lot, that’s almost $1700/month. Most folks would need to make this their primary spending card to hit that amount. With the double points on restaurants and gas, it’s not a horrible idea for heavy American Airlines flyers. So only factor in this benefit if you plan to run the majority of your spending through this card.

There’s no foreign transaction fees.

And the annual fee is $99. If priority boarding and free checked bags on American Airlines are worth $99/year to you, get the card.

*Terms apply – Learn how to apply online

Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard

Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard

This is the VIP American Airlines card.

It comes with many of the same perks as the other American Airlines card like free checked bags and priority boarding. In addition to getting priority boarding, you also get priority check-in and security. And you’ll get free first checked bags for up to 8 companions instead of just 4.

The 25% discount on in-flight purchases is the same, no changes there.

You do get fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre-check.

The standout perk on this card is the Admirals Club access. You get full access to the American Airlines lounges by having this card. Focus on this perk if you’re considering this card, the bulk of the card value comes from here.

Oddly, the miles-earning is worse on this card. You’ll only get 2 miles per dollar on American Airlines purchases, no other purchase categories count. All other purchases earn 1 mile per dollar. So don’t use this for any regular spending, only American Airlines purchases.

The lack of miles-earning power really handicaps another perk on the card: you’ll earn 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles after you spend $40,000 in purchases within the year. Since you’ll only be earning 1 mile per dollar on that $40,000 worth of spending, it’s not a great perk. I’d only consider going after this perk if you fly on American Airlines a lot.

As expected, there’s no foreign transaction fees.

It all comes down to the lounge access. If an Admirals Club membership is worth the annual fee of $450, get the card.

*Terms apply – Learn how to apply online

JetBlue Credit Card Reviews

JetBlue Plus Card

Jet Blue Plus Card

The JetBlue Plus card earns a monumental 6 points on JetBlue purchases. If you’re spending money with JetBlue regularly, get the card for this points bonus.

You also get these points:

  • 2 points per dollar at restaurants and grocery stores
  • 1 point per dollar on all other purchases

As the kicker, you’ll get 5,000 bonus points every year on your account anniversary.

The points earning is strong enough that for heavy JetBlue flyers, you could make this your primary card.

But there’s an even bigger benefit for serious JetBlue flyers.

If you’re trying to get JetBlue status, this card is essential.

When you spend $50,000 or more on your card each year, you’ll get Mosaic status with JetBlue. That averages to about $4,200 in spending per month. If you fly JetBlue often and already spend this much every month, I’d seriously consider making this your primary spending card. The Mosaic status perks are extensive:

  • Free flight changes and cancellations
  • Priority check-in, security, and boarding
  • Complimentary alcoholic drinks
  • Dedicated customer service line
  • 3 extra bonus points on every dollar spent on JetBlue flights
  • 15,000 bonus points the first time you qualify for Mosaic
  • Two free checked bags
  • More rewards space available

Of course, the biggest downside is the same as all regional airlines: you need to live near a hub for that airline. In JetBlue’s case, you really should live near Boston or NYC. If Boston or JFK aren’t your primary airports, you’ll have a really hard time flying JetBlue regularly.

It also comes with a 50% discount on in-flight food and cocktail purchases. And a free first checked bag for you and up to 3 companions when you purchase the tickets with your JetBlue card.

It does have a $99 annual fee but no foreign transaction fees.

*Terms apply – Learn how to apply online

Delta Credit Card Reviews

Platinum Delta Skymiles Credit Card from American Express

Amex Platinum Delta SkyMiles Business Card

Most Delta flyers will want this card, the perks are outstanding.

I’m going to warn you, the annual fee is a bit higher than other airline cards. You’ll pay $195 per year for this card.

But you’ll get perks that you can’t find on the other major airlines. Only regional airlines cards come close but have a much more limited flight selection.

The companion certificate is the main benefit. Each time you renew your card, you’ll get a certificate for a free domestic main cabin round-trip companion ticket. That’s one free domestic ticket every year. Considering cross-country tickets can easily hit $500-700, you’ll make back the annual fee on this perk alone.

There have been mileage boosts on this card in the past but that ends in early 2020 so I wouldn’t factor that into your decision to get this card.

It also comes with a free checked bag and priority boarding. Plus a 20% discount on all in-flight purchases.

The miles earning power is limited though. You’ll get 2 miles per dollar on purchases with Delta and 1 mile on everything else. I wouldn’t make this your primary spending card.

So it all comes down to the annual companion certificate. If you fly Delta regularly, you’ll easily be able to take advantage of it and get your annual fee back. And you get free first checked bags and priority boarding on top of that.

That’s a great deal for Delta flyers.

*Terms apply – Learn how to apply online

Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express

Amex Gold Delta Skymiles

This is the basic credit card for Delta.

At a $95 annual free, you’ll get a few nice perks every time you fly on Delta:

  • Your first checked bag fee.
  • Priority boarding

The Delta miles aren’t as nice as other cards out there. You will earn 2 miles on all Delta purchases along with 1 mile on everything else. You won’t be able to earn nearly as many miles as other cards so I wouldn’t make this your primary spending card.

There aren’t any foreign transaction fees.

It basically comes down to whether priority boarding and a free checked bag are worth the $95 annual fee to you. If it is, get the card. Otherwise skip it. And for serious Delta flyers, I’d recommend getting the Platinum Delta Skymiles instead of the Gold Delta Skymiles card. The perks are much better.

*Terms apply – Learn how to apply online


The best airline credit cards in 2019 is a post from: I Will Teach You To Be Rich.

Addressing the Financial Disease, Not Just the Symptoms

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When Sarah and I first hit our financial bottom, our natural response was to deal with the immediate problems.

We simply didn’t have enough cash on hand to pay our bills. At that moment, the money in our checking account wasn’t enough even to pay the bills we owed that were due before our next paycheck, even assuming we spent $0 on food or anything else in that timeframe.

We had a lot of debt – multiple car loans, a pile of student loans, a bunch of credit card debt, and some other loans, too.

We had an infant who had just added a bunch of additional expenses to our life – child care being the biggest, of course, but far from the only thing.

It was a hefty list of challenges, but we tackled them head on. I took charge of selling off a bunch of items from our closets, including some vintage sports cards and Magic: the Gathering cards and DVD box sets and video games, and used that to rapidly eliminate the worst of the debt. We started eating all of our meals at home. We started engaging in a bunch of intense frugal “money free weekends” and 30 day challenges to curb our spending. I threw myself into freelance work and side gigs and other opportunities to make a little more money – in terms of work, there were a few years that were basically just a blur.

Unsurprisingly, we hammered a lot of that debt really quickly. We got ourselves back on track with our bills, with a nice little emergency fund to boot. We blew through paying off all of our debt in a little over a year – we were debt free a little over a year after hitting that financial bottom. Things seemed good.

However, there was still a core problem underlying all of this. Our default habits were still oriented toward spending everything we brought in, if not more. We were absolutely more mindful of how we were spending money, but our instincts were still very oriented toward spending, even as our debt went away.

During that period when we were paying down debt, I found myself alternating between being thrilled with my financial progress and then, almost in the next breath, resorting right back to those bad financial habits that put us in a bad situation to begin with. Things were going in the right direction, but for every three steps forward, there were two steps backward.

In short, we were really good at treating the symptoms, but we were completely missing the disease.

The Symptoms

The symptoms were obvious. We were in debt. We had a bunch of bills that we were unable to pay. If something bad were to happen to us in the short term, like an illness or a job loss or a car breakdown, things would get really awful really quick.

Those symptoms, just like the symptoms of a disease, were the things that would actually affect our day to day life. We could definitely feel the impact immediately from a maxed out credit card or a car breakdown that we couldn’t pay for. We felt it in terms of stress. We felt it in terms of not being able to buy groceries at the store or go out to eat. It impacted our life immediately.

Yet, those were just the symptoms.

The Disease

So, what was the disease, then?

The disease, as I see it now, was that we didn’t really have a clear idea of what we wanted out of life, and because of that, it was very easy to have our thoughts and desires become oriented toward the impulsive desires for things in the short term. The disease is a short term focus on life. The disease is living life through momentary desires and impulses.

There was a sense that we needed to “live a little,” but that sentence translated from actually having meaningful experiences to just buying things without any real rhyme or reason, just chasing the things we wanted in the moment.

Here’s the problem: we are all driven by that kind of desire-filled short term thinking. We are all deeply wired for it, going back to our hunter-gatherer roots as human beings. We seek out berries and eat them. We go on a hunt and quickly eat what we find, only saving pieces to help us survive and get more food. Humans did that for millions of years; agriculture first pops up only 10,000 years ago (and that’s mostly just a smarter approach at gathering, at least at first) and almost all of civilization occurs in the last handful of thousands of years. We are inherently short term thinkers at an instinct level.

The thing is, if life was all about simply surviving until the next meal, then that’s a great way to live. If you lived on the plains 15,000 years ago and your thoughts were about what your life would be like ten years in the future, you were probably not going to make it. You needed to be focused on your next meal, your next pleasure.

That’s not the world we live in anymore. In the West, the average person lives until they are in their seventies or early eighties. Almost all of us don’t have a realistic concern of starving to death or dying of exposure to the weather. Think about your life. Are you really going to starve at any point in the next several months? Are you going to die of exposure in the winter (outside of something going seriously, seriously wrong)? No. The reality is that almost all of us have a lot more than ten years left to live, and most of us have many decades left to live.

Our instincts are all about seeking the best short term option, the thing that gives us the most pleasure today or this week, but our lives are best lived when we seek the best long term option that gives us the best life over the long term. That’s the disease.

Most debt repayment strategies and frugal tips treat the symptoms. They help you make it to the next paycheck. They help you get out of debt and eliminate a few bills.

What they don’t do is keep you from desiring the stuff your neighbors have. They don’t keep you from feeling jealous. They don’t help you not feel a wave of desire whenever something cool comes out. I’m willing to bet I could point to something that you specifically really want, if I happened to know you well, but that something is an item or experience that does nothing for the long term quality of your life.

Addressing Just the Symptoms

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with addressing just the symptoms. Addressing just the symptoms will help you get caught up on your bills, get you out of debt, and get some cash in savings so you can handle an emergency without really changing much else about your life. If you are happy with your life, there is absolutely nothing wrong with just addressing the symptoms, getting yourself out of debt, getting your bills paid, and moving on.


Except that if you just focus on the symptoms, they’re going to come back again. And again. And again. Even if you start making more money. Even if you make a lot of other changes to your life.

As long as you keep up with a life where you keep chasing after the latest short term desire and throwing your money at the things you impulsively want and desiring what others have, the symptoms of financial instability are going to keep popping up. Credit card debt. Difficulty paying the bills. No pathway to retirement. A tightrope at work because you’re afraid to risk your job and that paycheck at all.

The desires never go away, either. The stuff you buy never makes you feel better in a lasting way, and you just end up wanting something else. You end up wishing you had some new thing, or you end up feeling jealous that someone else has that thing.

And soon the symptoms are back.

What’s the Cure?

Figuring out the solution for all of this has really been at the core of my personal finance reading and investigation over the past few years, and the truth is I don’t have a ready-made solution that works for everyone. I know that a few things have really helped me.

For starters, I intentionally try to think about every decision I make from a long term perspective. How will this choice, right now, impact my life ten years from now? Will I be glad I did this in ten years? Or if I’m looking back from that vantage point, will I just shake my head and think “that was kind of a waste”? What things am I doing today that will register as a positive in my life ten years from now and, ideally, also register as a positive today and tomorrow? That’s what I want to load my life with, but that requires a lot of reflection on my daily choices. The thing is, a lot of things I might do today will either register as “no impact” or, even worse, a “negative” on my life ten years down the road. I want to eliminate the things that come up as “negative” and minimize the things that have “no impact.” Ideally, I want a life full of things today that are a big positive ten years from now and also, ideally, a positive today, too, if I can. I want to spend at least some of each day making myself better.

Along with that, I need to have an understanding of what I want out of life. I’ve spent a lot of time figuring out a “philosophy of life,” or what I want out of life in a broad sense. What do I want my life to be like ten years from now? Twenty? What do I want to achieve? What actually matters to me?

My marriage matters to me, as does my relationship with my kids. Having a rich understanding of the world matters to me. Being in good physical shape matters to me, though I struggle with getting to where I want to be. Having a life full of interesting challenges that take me into a “flow state” matters to me. Having good friendships and lots of good acquaintances in my community matters to me. Writing and creating material that helps others to move in a positive direction matters to me. Living a virtuous life matters to me.

At the same time, having a nice new car really doesn’t matter to me. Having an expensive house doesn’t matter to me – as long as home has space for my family and a few hobbies and activities, I’m good. Having the latest and greatest tech doesn’t matter to me. A good home-cooked meal means more to me than a meal at a fancy restaurant – I’d rather have friends over for a great meal at my house, if at all possible.

Those lists are likely to be different for you, as it should be. What matters is that you have a list that’s really true for what really matters to you, one which you can use as a basis to live by each and every day. Ideally, that daily effort to make myself better is improving things that will make my life better and happier in the future.

In terms of purely financial choices, I try to make financial decisions that will benefit me the most ten or more years from now. What financial choices can I make today that will have the most positive impact on my personal freedom and financial choices ten or twenty years from now? With that perspective, things like contributing to retirement trump things like buying junk food. Things that are just momentary pleasures are almost entirely not worth it, especially since there are so many free things (or things I already own) that provide much that same burst of pleasure.

My Prescription

My prescription for anyone running into financial trouble is to treat both the symptoms and the disease.

You treat the symptoms of financial difficulty by focusing on paying off debts, cutting spending in smart ways, building a little emergency fund, and so on – very practical, concrete steps. These steps are almost purely practical and short term.

You treat the disease of financial difficulty by focusing on the long term direction of your life and what you want out of it, questioning the source of your desire to spend money needlessly, ending your concern of what other people think of your life, and so on. It’s much more psychological and philosophical and long term.

If you don’t cure the diseases of desire and envy and life without direction, those symptoms of financial distress are going to pop up again and again in your life, causing you lots of stress and forcing you into lots of no-win decisions. Treat the symptoms, but don’t let the disease stay around unchecked. Treat the disease with just as much seriousness, if not more.

Don’t think just about how you got into a difficult financial state and how you’ll get out of it. Think about why, too.

Good luck.

The post Addressing the Financial Disease, Not Just the Symptoms appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

An Update on Goal-Oriented Paper Planners and Some New Recommendations

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A couple of years ago, I wrote a very popular article about goal-oriented planners, in which I reviewed a dozen such planners, pointed out who they were useful for, and then identified the one I was using at the time.

Since then, readers have pointed me toward a number of additional goal-oriented paper planners and I felt like it was time for an update to that original post. I wanted to do this a little earlier in the year so people would have time to look at a few and think it over before buying one for the new year, as many of these planners are year-long planners or otherwise oriented toward a calendar year.

Let’s start from the top.

What Is a “Goal-Oriented Planner”?

As I noted last time, a goal-oriented planner is basically a paper planner that integrates features that encourage you to make steady progress towards larger goals in your life. This usually includes specific features that revolve around daily evaluation and review of your goals and a regular deeper review of those goals (often weekly, but not always). Different planners approach this in very different ways, and in my experience that means that different goal-oriented planners work really well for specific people.

Although such planners have a deep focus on goals, they also usually function as a normal daily/weekly/monthly planner as well, incorporating the usual features like an appointment schedule and to-do lists.

It’s also very important to note that the value of any planner, goal-oriented or not, is directly correlated to how much effort you put into it. If you make a conscious effort to actually use the features of the planner and make sure to record everything of note in there – all of your appointments and to-dos – you’ll definitely invest some time, but the planner will become extremely useful for you. If you don’t, then it won’t be particularly useful and you’ll find yourself dropping it. Almost every planner can work for almost everyone if they put in the effort to turn it into a useful tool; I’m just trying to find ones that work well for me and identify who each planner would be useful for.

Why a Paper Goal-Oriented Planner? Why Not a Digital Tool?

I use a paper goal-oriented planner in conjunction with a digital to-do list and a digital calendar. There are several reasons for this.

First of all, paper planners work regardless of whether my phone has a charge and regardless of whether I have internet access. They work pretty much anywhere and everywhere I have a little bit of light and a pen.

Second, the process of writing is a reflective one, which is what I want out of a system where I’m thinking about my goals. I use digital tools when I just want to retrieve information. Whenever I want to think about something, turning it over and perhaps embedding it in my mind, I want to use paper tools.

Because paper tools are good for thinking and reflection and learning, and digital tools are good for organizing and retrieval, I find that they work hand in hand in my life. I want my paper planner to be a tool for thinking and considering, and then I take elements from that and put it in digital tools that are useful for just telling me what to do and where to go so I can put my focus on the task at hand.

What Features Do I Look For in a Goal-Oriented Planner?

After using quite a lot of goal-oriented planners over the last few years, I’ve found that a few features are almost required for me in a goal-oriented paper planner that I’m going to use every day, and a few more are highly desired.

First of all, there must be a single-day view that includes an hour-by-hour calendar and a to-do list, or it at least provides space for me to make my own. This is absolutely required, but this is basic planner stuff. When a planner doesn’t have this, I’m probably ditching it.

Second, there needs to be a place to set a small number of top priorities for the day, or some space I can use in that way. I usually have one to three key priorities for a given day and I really want space to list those priorities. The thought process I go through when figuring out that priority is where the real value is, and setting it down on paper gives it a tangible nature that helps me to follow through with it.

Third, there needs to be a place to reflect on my goal progress for that day and, ideally, space for things I’m grateful for. As I noted above, I use the paper planner as part of a daily review, usually before I get started in the morning and again at some point in the evening. That time is a “thinking time,” and these are key elements of that thinking. I want to review the things I’m working on in my life and then (ideally) be able to score them in the evening. I also want to list things I’m grateful for, which helps me keep my mindset abundant. Again, there doesn’t have to be designated space for this, but there must be room to make it happen.

Fourth, there must be some sort of space to do a weekly intense review of my goals. Once a week, I do a pretty intense review of my goals, what I did this week, and what I hope to do next week, and on a less-regular basis (monthly and quarterly), I do an even deeper dive into those things. The planner has to give me space to write down those things, even if it’s just a few blank pages.

Those things are pretty much essential. I find that if a paper planner doesn’t have those things, I’m not going to stick with it.

A Quick Look at the Ones I Reviewed Last Time

Let’s run back through the twelve I reviewed last time.

Bullet Journal is more of a free-form system for journaling, though you can also buy a pre-formatted printed version. I would recommend the Bullet Journal system to anyone who has very free-form needs for their planning and wants to incorporate a wide variety of notes and lists and subsections of their own design.

Momentum Planner, at the time, was a printable journal very focused on breaking down large annual goals into progressively smaller pieces. You broke annual goals into quarterly ones, quarterly into monthly, monthly into weekly, and weekly into daily. I would recommend Momentum Planner to highly goal-oriented people who value breaking down their goals, though it works best paired with digital tools, particularly a calendar. (I’m going to come back to this one later.)

Panda Planner is pretty much the blueprint for goal-oriented planners, in my opinion, and it was the first one I used regularly. The Panda Planner would be my default recommendation to anyone who wanted a goal-oriented journal and wasn’t sure what to make of some of the other more specific recommendations.

Rituals for Living Dreambook and Planner is really good at guiding you from a vague idea of a better future into having tangible goals that you can work toward, and that’s exactly who I would recommend it for. If you know you want a better future and have some nebulous but disorganized ideas, this is the goal-oriented planner for you.

The Mastery Journal is very focused on establishing a daily routine of action and seeing it through. It’s good for someone trying to establish a lot of daily habits, but I think it really shines for creative types who need to complete a big project and need a daily structure to see it through. I’d point someone who was working on a novel or a big programming project or a sculpture or something like that toward this journal.

The Simple Elephant Planner was probably the simplest goal-oriented journal I looked at. It seemed perfect for people with moderately busy lives who really just wanted to hammer down on one or maybe two goals in their life.

The Daily Greatness Journal seemed very oriented toward coaching toward a specific goal, and that’s fitting because there are several variations of this journal for specific goals like healthy habits and parenting. I would recommend this journal to people who have a specific goal in mind and really thrive on coaching and nudging toward that specific goal.

The Passion Planner is an excellent all around planner and would probably be my default choice for someone who perhaps works from home and doesn’t intend to carry the planner around a lot in their bag, as the planner’s physical design won’t hold up to extensive travel. If that’s you, this is probably the planner of choice.

The Get to Work Book is pretty clearly designed for people who are already pretty goal oriented. You won’t find a whole lot of guidance in this planner, but it’s very sturdy with a nice spiral binding, and if you want a goal-oriented planner but you don’t need much hand-holding and just need space to review and process goals, this is a really good choice.

SELF Planner is absolutely perfect for someone who has a handful of very specific goals they want to achieve over the next quarter. It is all about knocking a handful of 90 day goals out of the park and is oriented entirely toward that perspective. If you are tuned toward three month (or so) goals and just want something that will help you keep moving forward through them, this is an excellent choice.

The Ink+Volt Planner is perfect for people who are mostly happy with their life but want to experiment with making some smaller changes and seeing how those work out. It’s very oriented toward guiding people through thirty day challenges and trying out new patterns in their life. If you are mostly happy with your life but want to experiment with specific changes in specific areas, this one is perfect for you.

Full Focus Planner is probably the best choice for someone who is already incredibly busy but also has several goals that they want to achieve in their life. This one is clearly designed for the type of person who always has a ton on their plate but wants to make room for more. If you’re the type who has some goals they want to achieve but is incredibly busy and is struggling to find room for them, this one’s basically made for you.

My conclusion was that without knowing much about your specific needs, I would recommend Panda Planner. Having said that, at the time, I personally chose to use the printable version of the Momentum Planner, and I used it for at least a year after writing that article. To be honest, however, I could see myself recommending any of those twelve to someone if I knew more about their specific needs.

If you want to know more about any of these twelve planners, I strongly encourage you to hop back to my original post on goal-oriented planners, which covers each one in detail.

So, what’s new? Since then, I’ve taken a deep look at six additional planners. Did any of them replace my previous choice? Let’s dig in.

Define My Day

The Define My Day journal is literally a four week journal. It’s a paperback spiral-bound journal that’s focused on month-long goals, things that can be achieved in four weeks. It focuses in on that idea with a laser beam.

The journal starts out by having you define your goals for the month in a number of spheres in your life and laying out what your ideal day looks like. From there, it moves on to four largely identical week-long sections oriented around defining a handful of milestones you want to achieve for the week, a two page layout for tracking “daily disciplines” (i.e., habits you’re wanting to establish) over those seven days, a page that’s solely a to-do list for the week, two pages for each day (one for the morning to define the day, then one for the evening to review it), then a page to review the week. This repeats four times, followed by a two page monthly review and a bunch of pages for notes.

In other words, this planner wants to put you in a cycle where you define monthly (actually, four week long) goals, break them down into weeks, break those down into days, and then go through a planning and then a review cycle for each of those things.

This journal does a really good job of that specific task. If you’re very oriented toward month-long goals and 30 day challenges, I unequivocally recommend this journal for achieving those goals.

I really, really wish there was a 13 week version of this journal that was essentially three of these journals smooshed together into one well-bound version, with a quarterly review at the start and the end. I’ve discovered that, personally, that quarterly cycle is really important for things I’m working on and working toward, and to achieve that with this journal requires buying three of them and changing journals twice during that cycle.

That being said, for a journal solely focused on achieving month-long goals, this one is really well executed.

I would recommend the Define My Day planner to anyone focused on month-long goals and habit changes or “thirty day challenges.”

Momentum Planner (print edition)

This is a six month printed and bound version of the Momentum Planner I discussed earlier in this article. Prior to this, I had simply printed out the full year version and had it bound at a local print shop, which worked pretty well for me. This version is a little pricier over the length of a full year (two journals), but it’s better bound and more portable.

I’ll largely reiterate what I said last time about this system. Momentum Planner is all about starting with five yearly goals, breaking those each down into quarterly goals, breaking those down into monthly goals, breaking those down into weekly goals, then breaking those down into daily goals. It is very structured around this top-down pyramid style system. While this book is a full-fledged planner, with daily calendars and such, this goal system is deeply embedded throughout it.

For me, that system works really well. I have a lot of experience breaking down big goals into little bits and thus this system works well for how I think.

The only element here that I find lacking is that a lot of the big goals I set for myself are more habit-oriented. While I can write daily “to-dos” for some of those things, I find that a habit tracking system of some kind is a good supplement. This is something I’ll touch on again in a bit.

I would highly recommend the Momentum Planner to anyone who thinks of their life goals in a highly top-down fashion, breaking down big goals into progressively smaller pieces.

Clear Habit Journal

The Clear Habit Journal is a wonderfully-produced journal from Baron Fig that’s intended as a supplement to the book Atomic Habits by James Clear, a book I wrote about extensively in a “Books with Impact” article a few months back.

When you first glance at this, what you’ll notice is that most of the pages are blank, with a light dot-grid pattern on them. This is done so that you can basically turn the pages into whatever format you want with a ruler and a pen. A few dots are slightly darker than the others, making it easy to divide the pages into halves and thirds, so you can make daily and weekly layouts exactly how you want them. In this, it kind of reminds me of a Bullet Journal, noted above.

What really makes this journal stand out, though, are two features. For starters, right at the beginning, it offers several pages of “one line a day” journaling for a month at a time, paired with pages for “one prompt a day” so you can write something in response to a single prompt, a month at a time. This allows you to easily do some micro journaling, along with making yourself think about a single prompt each day. This is quite nice.

What’s really great is at the end of this journal, there are several pages of tables specifically designed for the daily tracking of habits over the course of a month. It simply has a wide column to list a task, then 31 narrow columns with which to indicate completion or to give yourself a score (a la the system in Triggers), and there are several pages of these.

There are also several pages at the beginning and end of the journal that discuss several different systems of coming up with and tracking goals and making decisions. Given the free form nature of the bulk of the journal pages, it’s pretty easy to try out these systems if you need to make a decision or want to try something different.

This is a really great journal. I’m pretty sure my ideal journal, if it were to exist, would include the habit-tracking material in this journal bundled with the top-down goal setting material in the Momentum Planner. The habit tracking pages in this are just perfect.

My belief is that this journal probably works best for people who want to chart out their days in a more free-form situation and then migrate those thoughts into digital tools for actually moving through the specific appointments and tasks in a day. Unless you put in a fair amount of work on the blank pages, this won’t be a full planner for you; having said that, it’s absolutely great at being a journal and habit tracker.

I highly recommend this journal to anyone who wants to focus on building new habits and tracking those habits and is more free-form with their other journaling and planning elements, particularly people who pair paper journals with digital systems.

Yearly Theme Journal

I am a long time fan of the excellent Cortex podcast, which digs into a number of areas related to independent creative work. One aspect of the podcast that comes up frequently is the idea of a “yearly theme.” A yearly theme is kind of a lighter version of a goal; it’s simply an expression of what element of your life you want to focus on that year. For example, one recent yearly theme of one of the hosts was “the year of order.”

The idea of a yearly “theme” is something I’ve done myself for the last two years, with themes for my year largely unrelated to personal finance in any direct way. (My theme for 2020 is “black belt,” as a major goal is to get a black belt in taekwondo by the end of the year, but it has other meanings, too.)

The idea proved so popular and so integrated into the thinking of the hosts that they transformed the concept into a paper journal.

In many ways, this journal feels like a lightweight version of the Clear Journal, noted above. There are a few starting pages where you identify up to four themes for the year, followed by roughly 90 single pages meant for individual days (each page has three dot-grid boxes without label, so you can define which goes in both – they could be calendars and to-do lists, or they could be other things entirely), followed by a bunch of pages for habit tracking or “daily themes,” depending on how you want to use them. That’s very similar to the structure of the Clear Journal, though with a little more structure on the individual pages.

This journal is right in the wheelhouse of what I’m looking for. It feels like it takes some elements that I like from the Momentum Planner – the annual focus that overarches over the whole thing – and some pieces I like from the Clear Journal – the habit tracking and puts them in a lightweight structure. It just somehow feels “lighter” than the other two.

I’d recommend the Yearly Theme Journal to anyone who is interested in defining annual themes and tracking daily habits, but wants to do this in a less intense format.

Code&Quill Habit System Planner

This is a really, really solid three month (effectively twelve week) planner that has a lot of features that overlap with the other journals mentioned here, but does a few things really well.

The book is divided into three sections – months, weeks, and days. The months page is oriented around a single monthly goal, breaking it down into four “milestones” (i.e. sub-goals) and actions for each milestone. Those milestones carry forward to the individual weekly pages, where you define a weekly goal and key steps toward achieving them, along with a week-long habit tracker for five goals and space for a weekly review. The daily pages are a two page layout with space for a schedule, a to-do list, a daily goal, priorities, and a lot of space for a daily review. The daily view is really well executed.

If you’re really hammering down on a single goal over the next quarter – or a single “theme” – this planner does a great job of helping guide you to success. I’m thoroughly impressed with it.

The only reason I am not using this journal, and this is a really minor thing, is that I actually track more than five habits at a time. As I was using this journal each day, that was the one thing that kept annoying me, and I really don’t know how they would add a lot more without significantly altering the layout. I’ll admit that I run into the same issue sometimes with the Momentum Planner, where I have more daily steps that I want to do than I have space for, but the extras from that run neatly onto a to-do list that’s right on the page and almost meant for that. Here, if I want to track more than five habits, it has to run into the “takeaways” section, which I really wanted to use for weekly reviews.

The Code&Quill Habit System Planner is honestly my new “default” recommendation for most people, as I think it does everything really well and presents a really usable goal and habit oriented system that almost anyone can use. As I noted, I can see specific users finding quibbles with it that might take them to other systems, but for the vast majority of people – particularly people who are just getting into using a goal-oriented paper planner/journal – this is such a solid all-around choice.

Self Planner

The Self Planner is a six month planner takes a lot of the goal-oriented features noted in other planners and leans heavily into the time management aspect of things. It’s really heavily focused on the daily schedule above all else, inserting a few free form pages and a few “workbook” style pages oriented around setting goals around the daily schedule pages.

The heart of this planner are the weekly two page layouts, which feature eight long columns, one for a “weekly overview” and one for each day of the week. The daily columns are set up like a schedule, divided into hours, with plenty of space for writing; the weekly overview allows you to state your priorities for the week and has some limited space for to-dos. Each weekly layout is followed by two blank pages with dot grids, giving you space for additional notes or habit tracking or whatever you want. It’s very heavily oriented toward a “weekly calendar” view.

Outside of that, there are pages for monthly overviews and, perhaps most noteworthy, there’s a two page guided reflection for each month that encourages the person filling out the journal to reflect on the progress for each month and figure out goals going forward.

I feel like this journal was intentionally designed for someone with a pretty tight schedule of meetings and other responsibilities. I found myself using the weekly layouts to do rough time blocking, but I don’t actually have a lot of appointments at specific times during the workday (the evenings are a different story) and I tend to rely on my digital calendar for those. For the most part, I do time blocking exactly the same each week, so I felt like this planner was an excellent tool for someone different than me.

I recommend the Self Planner to a person who has a tight, full schedule and needs to figure out how to achieve personal goals and prioritize things in the gaps.

My Recommendation, What I’m Using Going Forward, and How I’m Using Them

I genuinely feel like the current crop of goal-oriented paper planners and journals are a step up in quality from what existed two years ago, for the most part. They all seem to have adopted ideas from the wonderful books Triggers and Atomic Habits, both of which I recommend.

As I noted, my new “default” recommendation without knowing much about the person is the Code&Quill Habit System Planner. It’s just a strong all-around journal that will do a really good job for pretty much anyone.

I’m personally very into top-down planning and tracking my own habits these days, so for the last couple of months I’ve been using both the Momentum Planner and the Clear Habit Journal. This is in addition to a blank journal. I keep all three of them, along with a bevy of pens, in my “portable office” backpack at all times (except when I’m actually using them or I’m traveling).

So, how do I use these notebooks? This has been my process for the last few months.

I use the Momentum Planner to design my day. It has a very strong top-down goal-oriented focus. I use it to think about what I want to do today and what I want to do tomorrow in terms of the things I want to get done and what my day looks like. I use this in tight conjunction with my digital calendar and digital to-do list, because I almost always migrate my conclusions from this page into my digital tools. It’s kind of a “think about my day ahead” space. Then, during the day, I just use my digital calendar and digital to-do list when I want to focus on execution, not on deciding what to do.

I use the Clear Habit Journal as an ancillary journal for three specific purposes. One, I use it to track habits, because the habit tracking pages in this journal are simply perfect. I have a list of habits that I’m trying to build at any given time and each morning I review them and each evening I score them according to the method described in Triggers. Two, I do “one line a day” journaling where I write down a single line that summarizes my day and then also write a single line in response to a prompt that varies from month to month; the journal offers space designed for this. Three, I use the space in this journal to make decisions when I want to write out pros and cons or use other methods for deciding how to handle a problem. This usually comes up when I’m planning out my day and I’m trying to make a choice or when I do my normal daily journaling.

The other notebook I use is a rotating one that’s just a blank notebook for journaling. I use a version of Julia Cameron’s “three morning pages” journaling strategy where you just brain dump for a while. She suggests filling up three pages, but I write pretty small and that would take a long time, so what I usually do is set a timer and brain dump for 30 or 45 minutes. I just write down whatever comes to mind, and my mind usually ends up digging through one or two intellectual ideas or issues in my own life, and the process of actually writing them down clears my head. Often, if it’s an issue in my own life, the outcome of that feeds what goes into those other two journals, so I usually actually do this first.

Final Thoughts

I’m naturally a goal and system oriented person. I want to create daily routines and habits that take me to where I want to go, and I also find a ton of value in creating big goals and breaking them down. I use both strategies, because they each help with certain things: getting in shape is more of a “system/habit” thing, for example, while writing a novel is more of a “goal” thing. I find that having a goal-oriented paper planner by my side makes juggling a lot of life responsibilities, roles, and goals a lot easier and helps me keep an eye on the big picture.

I can’t guarantee that any of these would be helpful for you, but I will say that if the concept sounds compelling, read through the descriptions in this article and my original post on goal-oriented planners and choose one that matches what you’re going for. I think virtually all of them are good for somebody, and many will be helpful to lots of folks.

Good luck!

The post An Update on Goal-Oriented Paper Planners and Some New Recommendations appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

Why it’s so hard to find a great mentor or coach

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When I was a kid, my dad taught me how to shoot photography on a manual camera. I even learned how to develop my own film in a darkroom. But it’s been years since I practiced my photography skills.

I really noticed it on my honeymoon last year. My iPhone was fine for most of our trip, but once we got to Kenya, I regretted not having a better camera. Fortunately, one of the lodges we stayed at offered camera rentals, so one day, I went out on safari and took hundreds of photos.

Unfortunately…they sucked. So that night, I went back to our lodge, where they had a “photographer in residence,” and I asked if I could hire him to come out with me the next day on safari and re-teach me how to shoot.

Ramit learning to shoot photos

My photos turned out WAY better. There was nothing like having a coach right there on the spot, giving me instant feedback, to help me get better. More importantly, I fell back in love with photography.

Ramit's mediocre photo Ramit's great cheetah photo

Before & after. All with the help of a coach.

So last Friday, I went to a photography class in NYC. It was a total “101” class, just the basics. I already knew a lot of the basics, but I love the process of starting from the ground up. There are times to care about efficiency…and there are times to slow down and enjoy the process.

That’s the mindset of a student who’s ready to learn.

Every time I post something like this, I get tons of emails asking, “Which class was it???”

Which reveals the real insight about becoming great: A lot of us debate whether this is a good book, or that’s the right program…

…but very few of us ask a more important question:

I’ve had the opportunity to create 25+ programs and work with tens of thousands of students. I’ve also been a student of MANY programs. Here’s what I can tell you.

A good student can get great results with a mediocre program.

But even a great program cannot save a student who’s not ready to do the work.

Some of the signs of a great student:

  • You can afford it: You have the time and (if applicable) money. This is why I prohibit people with credit card debt from joining my flagship courses like Zero To Launch, Earn1K, 6-Figure Consulting, and Dream Job. If you’re stressed about money, you need to resolve that first (use my book) before you take on challenging classes that will test you. It’s also why I only accept students who can put in 5 hours/week, minimum.
  • You’re mentally ready to learn. In my photography class, I’m ready to put myself in the hands of the instructor. If he wants to go slow, that’s fine — he’s the teacher. I’m not critiquing or offering “feedback.” He’s here to teach and I’m here to learn.
  • You welcome the struggle. I have students who go through our business program, and in one of the early sections, we show them how to do customer research by talking to real people. Many people freak out — they’re not used to unstructured, ambiguous conversations like this, and they quit. We’ve seen it a thousand times. Great students welcome the struggle, knowing that like anything else, you’ll improve your skills with time and intentional practice.

Years ago, when I moved to NYC, I decided I wanted to get a personal trainer. Still, it took me 4 months to get the courage to walk across the street and ask for a trainer. I think because doing so would mean I was really taking this seriously.

So, I walked into the gym and said, “I want a trainer.” The manager asked me what my goals were. (I said, “I want to gain 10lbs of muscle.” Where the hell did I get that goal from? I didn’t even understand what that meant.) But he nodded and said, “OK, you’re probably going to have to stop running so much. And it will take more than a year.”

My reply: “I don’t care how long it takes.”

THAT is a student who’s ready to learn.

Can you imagine saying that?

What would it mean if you did? I think it means you’d be abundant to know that you could spend all the time necessary to do it right. You wouldn’t be in a rush — you’d want to become great.

Interestingly, this makes some people feel uncomfortable. The other day, someone on my Instagram account told me that I spent “too much” on fitness, and that I could “80/20” my results. But sometimes in life, you don’t want to 80/20 it — you want to get 100%, and you happily spend to get it.

I’ll 80/20 the bananas I eat because I don’t give a shit. But for my relationships, my business, and a few things I truly care about…I’ll spend anything.

With fitness, I could afford to be a great student. I had the time and money to take advantage of training.

I was also mentally ready to be a student. I put myself in my trainer’s hands and did everything he said. As a result, I changed my body and my mind. It was one of the best investments I’ve ever made.

And I welcomed the struggle. The first month was brutal. Even simple balance exercises made me feel awkward and weak. But over time, I’ve come to love the art and craftsmanship of fitness.

I was ready to be a student. And it paid off.

But I’ve also had “bad” learning experiences

On the other hand, last year when I was in Bangkok, we had a food tour around 8 pm. I was tired, we’d been out all day, and I didn’t have time to rest before our tour.

Our tour guide was perfectly nice, but I didn’t enjoy the tour. I didn’t talk much, I didn’t laugh at her jokes, and I was ready to call it a night before it even officially ended.

Maybe I would have connected better with another tour guide, but truthfully, I had to take responsibility for my poor experience — I wasn’t a good student. I was tired and I wasn’t mentally ready to experience my food tour.

No big deal. It happens. It was a good reminder that I own the responsibility for my own experiences.

The opposite of a “good” student is not a “bad” student
Now, let’s look at another example because I think it’s helpful to see that the opposite of a “good” student isn’t a “bad” person — it’s often just incorrect mindsets or behaviors.

Here’s an email I get multiple times every day:

“Hey Ramit, I read your book where you mention that you use XYZ account. But what do you think about ABC account??”

It seems like a simple question, but the psychology is fascinating.

The average person who writes me this question doesn’t know much about money, and after years of ignoring it, they’ve finally decided to buy a book and take control. RESPECT!

But then the minute they see something new, they start to doubt it. “Well…what about this? What about that? I know you said don’t try to time the market, but… [sentence that is exactly the same thing as timing the market].”

The key insights here are:

  1. People would rather stick with their narrative than change their beliefs — even when their narrative is harmful.
  2. There is a fine line between asking for advice (legit) and asking for advice so you can simply stay stuck (not legit). Winners do their research, ask when appropriate, and make a decision. Everyone else just stays stuck.

Here’s my response to this question:

“Why deviate from my system?”

In other words, you bought my book because you want help and you presumably trust me. Why not actually follow through on what my book says?

Recently I had an especially interesting response to this question. This guy is $53,000 in debt after a series of rash decisions. He wrote to ask me about some alternative investment I don’t recommend in my book.

After a little back and forth, to understand his scenario, here’s what I told him.

Ramit email conversation

Boom. I love his candor. He admits he’s looking for a “magic bullet” (which, in his mind, is something that’s not in the book). In reality, he’s not ready to be a student yet.

Now, I think it’s perfectly fine to dabble in lots of different things — nobody can go “all in” on everything. And hey, sometimes, you’ll find that you connect with something and you want to go deeper. But there’s a cost to dabbling: You’ll never get the results of someone who decide to be a great student/client and commit. I’ve met thousands of people who’ve taken the “dabbling” approach for years and years…and have atrophied at the skill of choosing something they love and going after it.

My suggestion: If you decide you want to get serious about something, find a great teacher you respect and trust, and put yourself in their hands. You’ll get more from committing than you ever thought possible. I’ve seen it in my business and my fitness and — I hope — a couple years from now, my photos.

You can look for the perfect program. But until YOU’RE the right student, it won’t work.

Photo of RamitP.S. To learn how to put yourself in the mindset of a great student, you don’t need hacks or random tactics. Instead, learn how successful people think about Mental Mastery — and apply it to your life.

Why it’s so hard to find a great mentor or coach is a post from: I Will Teach You To Be Rich.