Questions About Travel Rewards, Water Bottles, Credit Card Balances, and More!

What’s inside? Here are the questions answered in today’s reader mailbag, boiled down to summaries of five or fewer words. Click on the number to jump straight down to the question.
1. Earning more interest?
2. Carrying a credit card balance
3. Disabled and taking next steps
4. Travel rewards
5. US citizen investing outside US
6. Water bottle when flying
7. Purchase-generating media
8. Trusting international foods
9. Assets included in net worth
10. Pokemon Go as frugal hobby?
11. Selling an old record collection
12. Epicureanism?

My wife and I are part of what is called the “sandwich generation,” meaning that we’re at a perfect age to watch our children grow from infancy into adulthood while, at the same time, watch our parents retire and suffer some of the challenges and indignities of becoming older.

Over the past few weeks, I had the opportunity to travel with my parents and my children at the same time, with my parents taking what will likely be one of their last long trips that they take as they’re simply not getting around as well as they used to.

To experience both at the same time while traveling was both wonderful and exhausting. It was wonderful because I know the time period in my life when I get to still enjoy the company of my parents as well as the joy of my children is a fairly narrow time period. It was exhausting because the desires and interests of everyone were so divergent, with my children wanting to do one thing, my parents wanting to do another thing, and Sarah and I often trying to find balances.

Exhilirating. Exhausting. Thought-provoking. Memorable. The last few weeks of my life were all of those things, for sure.

Q1: Earning more interest?

I am earning 1% interest on my cash at my online bank. The money at my Fidelity IRA is in a money market fund earning near 0%. How can I earn 1% interest on my cash at fidelity. Is there an ETF I can buy that is like cash but takes advantage of the 1% rate of return available at many MMAs? My credit union also offers 1.25% on IRA money. Can I open an account at my credit union and then tranfer the money between the IRAs? Any help is appreciated and I know anything you tell me is not investment advice.
– Tina

I’m going to assume you’re retired, because if you’re not retired, you should not have retirement money in an money market account. (To tell the truth, I likely won’t keep my own IRA money in a money market account when I am retired.) If you’re not retired, you really need to have that money in something else that offers a better long term return than a money market fund.

It does look like Fidelity’s money market fund isn’t a high performer. If you just want to transfer the money market portion of your IRA to an IRA with a better money market fund, that does make sense, and if your local credit union offers that, moving that portion over can be a good move. It will require some paperwork and so on, but if you’re talking about a significant balance, it’ll be worth it.

Just make sure that a money market account itself makes sense for you right now, regardless of a 0.15% interest rate versus a 1.25% interest rate. Is this money that should be earning a higher average annual return, even with a bit of risk?

Q2: Carrying a credit card balance

I came across TSD while researching for my first credit card. I am currently an undergrad student starting off in the credit world. My question for you is in regards to Mistake #3: Making only minimum payments in your article (http://www.thesimpledollar.com/best-student-credit-cards/). I’m not quite sure I am understanding this section correctly.

What does it mean to carry a credit balance into the next month? Does it mean that I was not able to pay back what I spent that month on the bill?
– Lane

Exactly. If you carry a balance to the next month, that means you were unable or unwilling to pay off the full balance.

Most credit card bills have two different amounts on them. One is the total balance on your card, while the other is the minimum monthly payment. You’re only required to pay the minimum monthly payment.

However, whatever you do not pay is carried over to the next month. The amount carried over earns interest that’s usually compounded continuously, so that when you receive your next bill, it’s larger due to the interest that’s accumulated.

Because of that, it’s usually a good idea to pay as much as you can on your credit card bill each month. That way, the amount that carries over is smaller and thus there’s less money to build up interest.

Q3: Disabled and taking next steps

I have so many opportunities that I’m not sure where to begin. Please allow me an opportunity to let you know my needs and then you might be able to tailor a program to suit.

First, I have no cash. None. I have a small Disability check monthly, but it doesn’t allow for much. I was approved again for a $5,800 Pell Grant as well as a $9,500 loan. I’ve not used it yet in the 4 years since I’ve been applying. Business and family always came first. I am divorced now after 25+ years of misguided priorities and have recently remarried. I currently have two postal locations which are in Georgia as well as the Philippines. I want to get the easiest degree possible and even much, much, more importantly, the least expensive. I need to budget much of the left over monies to help with my household expenses as well as pay the books, tuition, etc.

Since there is a 12 hour difference in time between here and NY time, it’s difficult to speak to anyone on the phone (when it works). I can however email easily.

So, basically, I need to work online doing anything legally and ethically that generates money. The reason it needs to be online only work is that we travel plenty and I can still get work accomplished while we are in range if a cell phone and data towerwherever there is internet and possibly phone service. Please help me figure it out..

My background is I was a plumber since age 16. that gave me the money to go through 5 years of correspondence school (there was no online schools) at that time which gave me a BA in Education with a Minor in Finance. That turned out to be useless as the school lost its accreditation. (so basically toilet paper).

I worked as a teacher of science and special education at an inner-city high school for 6 years. I moved to Georgia and opened a mortgage and finance company for 8 years until the economy took a downturn. I was offered as a favor, the chance to work for Wells Fargo to which I took. it didn’t last too long as I got progressively worse with my diabetes. This led to complete kidney shut down requiring hemo-dialysis 3 times per 2 week leaving me exhausted. in 2012, I went through a routine checkup to get on the kidney transplant lists that I needed emergency bypass heart surgery. in 2013, due to the diabetes, I lost my leg. in 2014, I lost my best friend, mom at age 88. which devastated me. Finally in summer of 2015, my wife of 25 years decided to leave me.

I have a fresh outlook on life and a new bride. I want to fight for both of them but especially myself.

That’s the story. After you process this info, please refer a good recommendation to help. Don’t forget that I need the money to budget with my disability to make my budget.
– Tom

First of all, I would look at this list of low cost online bachelors programs for out of state students run by state universities. These schools are almost all smaller state universities, which usually means that they’re supported by the state they’re in, accredited, and offer a reasonably good education.

From there, I’d start examining career options. What kinds of things do you want to do? I’m not clear whether you just want an online education or you want to be in a situation to telecommute. My suggestion would be that, given your background, you either pursue something in education or something in business. So, I’d check out each of these schools, look at their online degree programs, and find one that matches the area you’re looking for.

I think that your grant, your loans, and your disability check can cover most of the cost of these degrees, given the pretty low cost per credit that these schools offer.

Q4: Travel rewards

I am looking to start earning travel rewards and I am trying not to mess up my credit score (which hovers just above 700). I currently have a Citibank Thank You Points card and a Discover It cash back rewards card. I have been happy (more or less) with these cards and I am not eager to change these cards because I am trying to build up a stronger credit history, but I want to get something with a different reward system (travel miles to be exact).

What card would be good for me? I do not want a card that charges an annual fee, but I want a card whose reward miles can actually be used at multiple airlines so I can start taking trips. I plan to pay all my monthly bills with the card to build rewards quickly and then to pay it off at the end of each cycle so if I could have one that earns miles with purchases and with payments that would be great!

Also, I’ve seen in your website that you recommend Discover It Miles card. If I transfer my account with discover from the Discover It Cash Back Rewards Card to the Discover It Miles Card, does that count as continuation of the same account (thus not affecting my credit score) or does it count as closing one account and opening another (thus lowering my credit score)?
– Thomas

The Simple Dollar has several different writers that focus on different areas. Personally, I rarely write about specific credit cards, as my credit card philosophy is that you should use one or two cards with programs that provide bonuses through the retailers you use the most, so I don’t have much reason to review lots of cards.

If I were to point at one single travel card, it would probably be the BankAmericard Travel Rewards card. I think it hits almost everything you’re looking for – flexible travel points, no annual fee, a good rate for earning points, and so on. Kiplinger Personal Finance magazine named it one of the best travel rewards cards of 2015 and it stood out because of the lack of an annual fee (something that many other travel cards have).

It’s a very solid card that would work well for what you’re looking for.

Q5: US citizen investing outside US

I would like to open an investment account, and although I am a US citizen with a US mailing address and a SS#, I do not reside in the US. I keep hitting a dead end because most of the companies I contacted will not take me. Do you know of any reputable companies that accept non-residents?
– Carl

You’re going to have a hard time finding such a company.

The reason is that, due to the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), brokerages have a ton of additional tax compliance rules put on them if they operate outside of the United States. The reason for this is to keep American citizens from hiding money in offshore accounts, but the offshoot of that is that citizens living abroad have restricted access to financial services from American companies.

Although it will make taxes more challenging for you, your best approach is probably to use an investment house native to the country that you are in and simply deal with the tax challenges that will present. I’d look around for an investment house in your country and see if they will work with an American citizen.

Q6: Water bottle when flying

This is a comment to the story about expenses that can derail your travel budget. One of those expenses is buying beverages at an airport since you can’t bring any through security. When I fly, I bring an empty (reusable) water bottle with me and fill it up at the water fountain once I get past security. This saves a little money on each leg of my trip every time I fly.
– Tracy

This is a great tip that I should have included in the article because it’s something I do myself when flying; I just found myself mostly thinking about road trips when writing the article.

If you want to flavor the water, buy some of those little flavoring packets at the store that you can just dump into a container. They have lots of flavors and sugar levels and brands that you can try, and a single little bottle of flavor additive lasts for a long time and is small enough to go right through airport security (I’ve done it myself).

I prefer wide-mouthed Nalgene water bottles like these for airport and airplane use.

Q7: Purchase-generating media

I’m really struggling with spending too much on board games and I thought you could help. Like you board games are my favorite hobby so I play them three nights a week at board game nights and often read about them online in my spare time. What I have found is that even if I am not looking for new games I will see mentions of other games that I am unfamiliar with and in order to figure out what the person meant I find out about a new game that gets me really excited and fills my thoughts until I buy it and then I play it a few times and the cycle repeats itself. I’m just spending too much on games but I love this hobby so much and I don’t want to just quit it.
– Darren

The problem isn’t the board game hobby in general. The problem is the media related to the board game hobby. Sites like BoardGameGeek and Twitter and other discussion forums are really great for connecting with others who share your hobby, but that inherently means that conversations are going to swing toward games that you don’t have or aren’t familiar with. It just naturally comes with the territory.

My solution to that problem? Spend less time on the messageboards and spend more time with the games you have. If you’re at home, get off the computer. Read rulebooks. Bag and organize your components within the games. Set up games and play them solo. Find friends who will come over and play if you can’t leave the house.

If you’re at work and twiddling your thumbs, find something else to do. If you really want to engage in your hobby, plan out a game night and invite people. Maybe download a PDF of the rules for a game you want to play.

You’ll find that the hobby is just as wonderful as ever, but the endless desire for new games tends to trail off pretty fast.

Q8: Assets in net worth

What assets do you include in your net worth calculations? Do you include: (1) your house, (2) your car, (3) your collectibles?
– Avery

First of all, I don’t include any assets worth less than $1,000 unless it’s an account balance. It’s just not worth it to include lots of small and fairly random things when calculating net worth.

However, I do include any assets that I own that are worth more than $1,000, which would include our home and our car and some of our collectibles (among other things). These are all things that we could sell and continue our life.

The only asset that I might consider not including is our primary residence, because we do live there and we would need a roof over our head if we sold it. However, if we were in a situation to sell our home, we could simply move into an apartment and live there for many years on the generated cash, so we feel safe including it.

Q9: Pruning and life

I love your blog! As an avid gardener, the things you talk about on The Simple Dollar remind me of the practice of pruning. You’re basically treating your life as a plant, and when you practice frugality in the sense of cutting spending drastically on the areas that don’t matter, it’s much like pruning a plant. You’re removing the parts of the plant that are competing for nutrients so that the parts that matter get all of the nutrients you need. What happens after you prune? The parts you leave behind usually thrive! All of the lessons we need for life come from living things.
– Marilyn

That’s a great analogy! Frugality really is a lot like pruning. It’s not about tearing out everything, nor is it about leaving everything so that it all becomes overgrown and fails. Instead, it’s about carefully removing the stuff that doesn’t matter so that the stuff that does matter can really take off.

I pruned things out of my life like golf and expensive clothes and shiny cars because they just didn’t really matter to me in the big scheme of things. By doing that, I had plenty of resources left for the things that did matter – my family, my personal freedom, and a few hobbies that are deeply important to me.

Pruning isn’t about the things that you prune away. It’s about the things that you leave behind and how they’re going to thrive!

Q10: Pokemon Go as frugal hobby?

So for the last two weeks my husband and I have spent several hours on walks together playing Pokemon Go and just talking about life. It’s been wonderful. The app is free, gets us exercising! Highly recommended!
– Sara

Pokemon Go is a great little game to encourage people to get outside and walk around more. For those unfamiliar, it’s a game that can be played on smartphones that is location-dependent, meaning you have to actually move around in the real world and go to certain locations to play. Thus, it encourages you to go on walks.

It does have the drawback of having in-app purchases, but you can most certainly play the game to a high level without even considering those purchases provided you have an area to walk around in that’s active with Pokemon Go locations.

It also does require some kind of mobile data plan, but my son played many, many hours of Pokemon Go and used significantly less than a gigabyte of data, so you don’t need extensive data plans to play.

Seems like a good bargain to me!

Q11: Selling an old record collection

I inherited a large collection of records from the 1960s and 1970s. It’s mostly pop and hard rock stuff like The Beatles and Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. It has been in boxes for years and I would like to sell it but I don’t know where to start. How do I sell this and not get scammed?
– Gary

You probably have at least some value in your collection. The artists you mention all have people who avidly collect their records and memorabilia.

First of all, you’re going to want to evaluate what you have. Records usually fall into four categories – 78s, 45s, LPs, and 12″ singles. The easiest way to do this is to just sort them by size – 7″ records (45s), 10″ records (78s), and 12″ records (LPs and 12″ singles), and then by artist.

You’ll also want to note the condition. Condition is extremely important when it comes to records. If you see much wear at all, the value is drastically reduced – and I mean drastically. A scratched record is unplayable. A damaged cover isn’t as interesting for artistic purposes. Condition is critical.

Make a list of everything that looks like it is in very good shape. Note the artist, the title, and any identifying markers on it (like the number of the record if you can find it). I’d focus on musicians you’ve heard of as those are ones with lots of collectors.

At that point, I’d visit an online record collector’s forum and explain your situation. Include a list of what you have. Ignore any private messages sent directly to you as those people are probably scamming you. Look for public responses and figure that the average value is somewhat accurate. People will probably want high resolution images of the more valuable stuff.

From there, you can move on to individually selling the records or selling them in bulk. Good luck!

Q12: Epicureanism?

Loved your posts on stoicism. Really in line with the other stuff you talk about? Have you ever talked about epicureanism? I think you would find some great stuff there, too.
– Lisa

From Wikipedia: “Epicureanism is a system of philosophy based upon the teachings of the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus. […] Epicurus believed that what he called “pleasure” was the greatest good, but that the way to attain such pleasure was to live modestly, to gain knowledge of the workings of the world and to limit one’s desires. This would lead one to attain a state of tranquility (ataraxia) and freedom from fear as well as an absence of bodily pain (aponia). The combination of these two states constitutes happiness in its highest form.”

That sounds pretty appealing to me, actually. The goal is a life of pleasure, but that pleasure is achieved by living modestly and understanding the world.

I tend to think that epicureanism is something of an external philosophy, in that it’s about attaining external pleasures for maximizing freedom from fear and absence of pain through modest living and knowledge, while stoicism is something of an internal philosophy given that it is about separating one’s mind from emotions and trying to look at the world rationally. Some differences are obvious, like the relative disdain that stoicism shows for external pleasures (they view pleasure as an external emotion), but they do have some important overlaps, too.

I think a modern stoic and a modern epicurean could end up living very similar lives, but they would have big disagreements when they talked about the reasons behind it. I think, internally, stoicism makes more sense to me, but I understand and appreciate epicureanism.

Got any questions? The best way to ask is to follow me on Facebook and ask questions directly there. I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag (which, by way of full disclosure, may also get re-posted on other websites that pick up my blog). However, I do receive many, many questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

The post Questions About Travel Rewards, Water Bottles, Credit Card Balances, and More! appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

How Many Americans Have ‘Good’ Jobs?

Having a job is one thing. Having a good job is another. If you’re a professional who endured the Great Recession, earning a paycheck was your main concern. From a broader economic perspective, those tough times ended in June 2009, the official close of the last recession, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, which tracks business cycle expansions and contractions. Your personal experience might be very different, however. Just because there are more job openings in today’s market, doesn’t mean they’re good jobs.

good jobs

Image Credit: The All-Nite Images/Flickr

What Is a Good Job?

Everyone has their own definition, but most would agree that a good job offers a few essential things, including earning potential and benefits, as well as intangibles like work-life balance and rewarding work. Still, it’s hard to generalize and come up with one answer for what a good job is for everyone.

For instance, a good job for a worker who is single and childless is probably going differ from one for a professional who is married with kids. Likewise, someone who is just starting out in their career will have a different definition compared to someone at mid-career (e.g. 401(k) options, vacation, etc.). However, for the sake of this article, we’ll have to work with what the different bodies of research have to say.

If you’re asking Gallup, then a “good job” is considered “one with 30+ hours of work a week with a consistent paycheck from an employer.” Each month, Gallup conducts a poll that tracks the percentage of U.S. adults whose jobs meet the aforementioned requirements, called the Gallup Good Jobs (GGJ) rate. According to its poll of nearly 30,400 participants, the GGJ is 46 percent for June 2016, which is the highest monthly rate since 2010, when measurement commenced. In other words, nearly half of U.S. adults have “good jobs,” according to Gallup’s standards.

The Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), on the other hand, indicates that a good job is “one that pays at least $37,000 per year, has employer-provided health insurance, and an employer-sponsored retirement plan.” According to CEPR’s estimates, the number of U.S. workers with “good jobs” has declined over the decades, falling from 27.4 percent in 1979 to 24.6 percent in 2010. When factors like increase in age and education are controlled, it’s estimated that the economy has “lost about one-third of its capacity to generate good jobs,” compared to 1979.

The Realities of Today’s Economy

Today’s workforce is much more educated than generations prior, so why don’t more people have good jobs? Much of the American workforce believes that the economy is still trying to recover from the massive hit of the Great Recession of 2007. While that may be partially correct, the reality is that the U.S. has been recovering from its recession since mid-2009, seven years ago.

In fact, as U.S. News points out, more Americans are employed today than any other time in U.S. history. Some 14 million new job positions have been created since the recession hit, and the national unemployment rate of 4.9 percent is at near pre-recessionary lows. If you look at the latest job report figures, it appears that the job market (and the economy) is doing quite well. However, if you take a closer look at the numbers, you’ll notice that a disproportionate number of those jobs being added are low-wage jobs. Since 2006, wages have risen 9.5 percent overall in the U.S., but when inflation is factored in, “real wages” are down 7.4 percent, compared with 2006, according to the The PayScale Index. Essentially this means that a person’s income today affords him less than it did before the recession.

Where Have All the Good Jobs Gone?

The CEPR suggests that the decline in good jobs is “related to a deterioration in the bargaining power of workers” that is a result of “the large-scale restructuring of the labor market that began at the end of the 1970s and continues to the present.” More specifically, the CEPR says the following have contributed to the decline in bargaining power among American professionals:

  1. Decline in private-sector union workers from 23 percent in 1979 to less than 8 percent today.
  2. Deregulation of several large industries, including trucking, airlines, and telecommunications, which is very costly to workers.
  3. Privatizing and outsourcing of state and local government jobs.
  4. Trade policies that put lower- and middle-class workers in the U.S. in direct competition with lower-wage workers in the rest of the world.
  5. A dysfunctional immigration system that leaves immigrant workers in the U.S. at the mercy of their employers.

When it’s all said and done, it looks like the issue here is quality versus quantity. If you’re looking for a “good job” that tops the charts all around, then you may want to consider a profession in the healthcare industry.

Tell Us What You Think

What’s your definition of a good job? Share your thoughts with our community on Twitter, or leave your comment below.

The post How Many Americans Have ‘Good’ Jobs? appeared first on Career News.

The Disney Hangover: Are Brand-Name Vacations Worth the Price?

If you ask nearly any American kid about their trip of a lifetime, almost all will mention Walt Disney World or Disney Land. Obviously, my kids are no different. They’re both girls and ages 5 and 7, after all, which means most of their waking hours are spent daydreaming about princesses and different ways to have fun.

Even though they’d never visited either park until earlier this summer, they were somehow already well aware of Disney and its magic. Starting at around three years old, my oldest daughter began asking about it, almost as if it were a rite of passage.

When are you going to take us to Disssnnnneyyyyyy, Momma?” she would beg with a scandalous smile. My youngest child, who is seriously into Minnie Mouse anyway, got into the conversations shortly after.

She wanted to go to Disney World and eat in a castle with princesses, she once told me. And another priority – giving Minnie Mouse a hug – has also been mentioned ad nauseaum since she was around three.

I never planned to take my kids to Disney World, but I changed my tune when I ran into a work-related activity that would leave us with a few days in Orlando earlier this summer. Excited to surprise them, I dove right into planning.

But once I began digging into the details, yuck – I started questioning my thought process right away.

Disney World Costs How Much?

Scoring tickets into any of the Disney parks isn’t cheap, but the cost is exacerbated if you plan to visit only one day. A one-day ticket to the Magic Kingdom for anyone ages 10 and up costs $124 during peak season, for example, while someone under the age of 9 can enter the park for $118. Of course, add-ons like “park hopper” passes and water park tickets can boost the price tag of your visit even higher if you let them.

Multi-day one-park tickets ranged from around $96 per day down to $40 per day for a 10-day stay, but we didn’t plan to spend more than a day, nor did we see how spending more time at Disney World could possibly save us money.

And while it’s true there are any number of ways to save nominal amounts of money on Disney tickets – using the Disney credit card, for example or buying Disney gift cards at a discount – we were running out of time for this last-minute trip. As such, we bit the bullet, paying $515 for four peak-season tickets for one day at the Magic Kingdom. Ouch.

Assessing the Value of Our Day at Disney World

Since I was already planning our flights and hotels as part of my work stay, I only took them into partial account. Still, the other costs of our Disney trip added up quickly once we got inside the gates – like a $32 double stroller rental to keep my kids out of the 100-degree heat, for example. A round of so-so pineapple whips for around $5 per pop. An air-conditioned, sit-down lunch that cost around $90 with tip, but was totally worth it to escape the scorching heat outside. Souvenirs were cheap, but also musts considering I gave each child a $20 budget to spend at the park.

We saved money by bringing a cooler of water and lugging it around with us all day long. If not for that, we would have easily spent another $30 to $40 on ice waters to keep us from melting right into the steaming hot pavement.

In total, we wound up spending around $200 at the park that day – and that was only possible because we got too hot and left before dinner. In my eyes, that’s a huge amount of money for frugal people to spend at a theme park for lunch, a few snacks, and a stroller rental. But it gets worse than that.

Remember how my daughter wanted to hug Minnie so bad? We didn’t see the character all day, and when we finally did, the line to get that hug was around an hour long. We did see other Disney characters elsewhere, but the lines were long and cumbersome all around. As a result, my daughter never got that character hug from, well, anyone.

Eating in a castle with princesses was also out of the question. Cinderella’s Royal Table, which is the premier character dining event at Disney World, was not only sold out for our dates, but exorbitantly expensive. According to the Disney Website, meals range from $35 for kids to $59.99 for adults, which left me with a big fat, “nope!”

At the end of the day – and after around 10 hours at the park — we had managed to go on about 10 rides, eat a few snacks, and avoid melting in the summer heat. And while we didn’t get much “magic” out of the experience, I will acknowledge that there was something special about letting my kids see that giant castle for the first time.

My kids loved more than just the sight of Cinderella’s castle; they loved the idea of what might be lurking inside, as well as the way it towered over the entire park. Plus, there was something especially fun about going on rides that were themed with Disney characters they already know and love. All things considered, nearly everything about our day at Disney was fun and entertaining as well. As for the lines for the rides, they weren’t all that long, either.

But, will we go back? Heavens no. 

In total, we spent more than $700 for a single day at a theme park, and that didn’t even include the costs of airfare to get there or a hotel stay nearby. It was fun, yes, but it was also a horrible value – especially when you consider what you can get closer to home.

Comparing Our Disney World Experience to Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari

A subsequent experience that drove home the poor value Disney offered was our trip to a local theme park a few weeks later. Set in Santa Claus, Ind., Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari is a small, local amusement and water park that is a fraction of the size of Disney World — but also a fraction of the cost.

Tickets start at around $40, and you can ride a combination of water rides and roller coasters throughout the day since the two parks share the same entrance. Plus, the park offers free soft drinks and sunscreen all day, making it an exceptional value.

During our two days there, we literally rode dozens of rides – mostly the same ones over and over. My kids hugged at least five or six different characters and spent a lunch break speaking with Santa Claus to boot. None of the creatures my kids stalked around the park were Disney characters, mind you — but what’s not to love about a giant stuffed cat and dog?

Lunch and dinner, while basic, was also a much better value at around $30 for a four-person meal. And without the need to haul around a cooler of prepaid drinks to save money, we were a lot more relaxed and a lot less tired as well.

With no magic castle and without a single Disney character in sight, Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari was an absolute blast. Better yet, we left feeling as if we could actually afford to come back one day – instead of feeling ripped off.

Final Thoughts

After visiting both a Disney park and a local theme park in the same month, I’ve reached a conclusion: In my eyes, Disney World is a fun “bucket list” place to take your kids at least once – but one where high expectations can easily leave you feeling underwhelmed.

For the price of one day at the Magic Kingdom or Animal Kingdom, I could take my kids to Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari for four days. That’s three extra days of laughter, a lot more rides, and a whole lot more memories to cherish forever.

And truth be told, it’s worth a lot more to us than the “oohs and ahhhs” of seeing one giant castle and a few Disney characters in passing. Plus, visiting a local park saves money on driving, hotels, and transportation costs to boot. When you add all of that up, what’s not to love?

If your family already loves Disney World or obsesses over Disney characters, then the price tag might be well worth it. But if your kids don’t care too much one way or the other, you might want to save yourself the trouble and hit up a cheap, local theme park instead. You’ll still have fun, but without the regret that comes with spending four times more than you really needed to.

Chances are, your kids won’t know the difference anyway.

Does your family love Disney World, or do they prefer local theme parks instead? What are some different ways you have saved money at Disney World in the past?

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Let’s Fix These 4 Awful Open Office Problems

Open offices are the worst, right? Even though some signs point to them going away as a trend, most of us are still stuck in a giant former warehouse with some half-high cube walls. So if you’re still looking to find some peace in a sea of humanity, here are some hopefully easy solutions.

open office

Image Credit: Unsplash/Pexels

Problem: You’ve Run Out of Podcasts to Drown Out Your Neighbors
Solution: Try Some Ambient Apps

Using an app or website that offers continual (or timed) ambient music helps you find focus in the storm of your open office. Try a few today and keep things fresh by switching up where your input is coming from. Sea sounds today might change to some noodly electronic grooves tomorrow.

Problem: You Feel Like You Work in a Warehouse
Solution: Add Some Green (or Fuzz)

Soften an open office’s often sterile lines (hello, formerly abandoned warehouse space?) with plants, carpet (in moderation), or even some more interesting textural elements that speak to company culture. You can even go ahead and make walls out of all these things, if your boss will let you. Walls of plants? Not a bad idea to inspire minds with some pops of green and much-needed oxygen, too!

Problem: Hey Can I Bug You For a Second?
Solution: Big Red Lights Show You’re Busy

Think a Post-it is going to keep Chatty Kevin from asking about Game of Thrones? No way. Get a little more extreme with some kind of big light on your desk or cube wall to let the whole office that they’re not to disturb you. Or if you want to go small, try this little guy that affixes to your laptop.

Think a Post-it is going to keep Chatty Kevin from asking about Game of Thrones? No way.Click To Tweet

Problem: No Place to Talk Quietly
Solution: Some Sort of Phone Booth?

This seems to be a problem that Silicon Valley both created and solved. When you want to talk to a doctor, a family member, or just pay a bill and call out your credit card number, an open office is your worst enemy. Some solutions include a series of quirky “privacy booths” (also known in the past as “rooms” before open office plans made walls passé) or fancy acoustic tiles.

This one is on your company. Really, employers need to dedicate some soundproofing attention to work spaces, so that employees can say something out loud that they’d rather not share with the entire department.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you fixed an annoying open office problem? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

The post Let’s Fix These 4 Awful Open Office Problems appeared first on Career News.

Eight Numbers That Show How American Families Struggle with Money

When it comes to managing our money, Americans have plenty of room for improvement. Sure, we’re the richest country in the world… but most of us still struggle financially to some extent.

Either we’re mired with debt, can’t seem to improve our incomes, or have trouble budgeting for the things we really want in life. These issues are so prevalent that struggling with money has practically become the American way of life. But, why?

While it’s hard to pinpoint the root cause of some of our issues, the fact remains that we could do better. The vast majority of us could stand to save more, invest more, and quit relying on credit as if it were some long-lost friend.

But before you can improve on something, it helps to take a look at where you stand right now – today. Here are eight statistics that show how Americans continue to struggle with money in nearly every aspect of our lives:

$16,048

The average American household with credit card debt carries a whopping $16,048 balance from month-to-month, according to a recent analysis from Value Penguin. While this figure doesn’t take into account households that are debt-free (many of whom have no debt simply because they can’t qualify for credit), the analysis does show that 38.1% of American households do carry credit card debt of some kind. Households with the lowest net worth – either hovering at zero or below that – carried an average balance of $10,308 on their credit cards in early 2016.

While credit cards can be wielded as valuable financial tools, these numbers show they can also be a destructive force under the right circumstances. After all, how do you get ahead when you’re struggling to pay off credit card bills each month? Ask anyone struggling with credit card debt and they’ll tell you the sad truth: Most of the time, you don’t.

$5,000

The median, working-age couple in America only had $5,000 stashed away for retirement in 2013, according to an analysis of Federal Reserve data by economist Monique Morrissey of the Economic Policy Institute. Worse, Morrissey’s figures show that around 43% of couples had no retirement savings at all.

Morrissey blames the shift away from defined pension plans toward individual retirement savings as the culprit of this crisis, along with the long-term effects of various economic recessions. Regardless, the fact remains that too few of us will be adequately prepared for retirement when the time comes.

$17,000

Younger couples may not have a lot of money stashed away, but at least they have time. Sadly, the same can’t be said for those ill-prepared couples who are already approaching retirement age.

A further analysis from Morrissey and the Economic Policy Institute shows that the average American couple in their late 50’s or early 60’s had just $17,000 saved in a retirement plan such as a 401(k) or IRA.

While this is surely better than nothing, it won’t be enough to cover much in retirement. With just $17,000 in retirement savings, older couples will have to work longer and rely on Social Security for the bulk of their living expenses in old age.

$75,000

Even some high-income households were living hand-to-mouth in 2015. In a SunTrust survey of households earning $75,000 or more in 2015, nearly a third reported living paycheck-to-paycheck at least part of the time last year. That number soared to 71% among high-earning millennials, and nearly half of those surveyed, 44%, said that lifestyle purchases made it harder to save as much as they should.

You might not expect these problems among high earners. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that, in a lot of ways, we’re our own worst enemies. A third of the survey’s respondents said that a lack of financial discipline was the biggest problem they faced in their finances. And among those who said they’re not saving enough due to lifestyle purchases, a full 68% blamed dining out for their money woes.

That’s right: Plenty of high-income households are literally eating away at their savings each month. If that isn’t enough to make you lose your appetite, we don’t know what will.

$30,032

Each quarter, credit bureau Experian releases a report on the state of the automotive finance industry. And each quarter, the news gets worse. As of the first quarter of 2016, the average loan for a new car surged to $30,032. That’s up from $28,711 for the same quarter in 2015.

By and large, we borrow crazy amounts of money to finance cars each year, to the detriment of our other financial goals. With the average new car loan now teetering above $30,000, it’s not surprising that the average new car payment is a whopping $503 per month. And amazingly, we have convinced ourselves to spread out those payments over an average of 68 months!

Imagine what you could do with an extra $503 a month — for more than five and a half years straight. Even if you stuck it under your mattress without earning a penny of interest, you’d still have $34,204.

$400

A 2015 report from the Federal Reserve Board showed just how fragile American household incomes and budgets really are. Nearly half of American households, 47%, said they couldn’t come up with $400 to cover any type of emergency if they had to.

When you think about it, this statistic explains a lot. Without even $400 in an emergency fund, it’s much easier for families to fall behind or get themselves into debt. What do you do when your car needs a $500 repair that you can’t pay for, yet you have to drive to work? You charge it to your credit card, or maybe even take out a payday loan if you don’t have one.

And from there, it’s much harder to dig your way out. The more debt you have, the more interest you’re stuck paying each month, and the harder it becomes to sock away even $400.

7 million

We all know that student loan debt has reached epic proportions in the United States. As of this writing, cumulative student loan debt has surged to over $1.3 trillion nationwide, with no end to that growth in sight.

But it gets worse: Close to 7 million student loan borrowers are severely in default on their loans – as in, they haven’t made a single payment for a year or longer.

Since student loans aren’t normally discharged in bankruptcy, and default can have devastating consequences to a person’s credit and financial future, this statistic spells doom for far too many Americans who are already struggling.

And the problem appears to be getting worse — as the Wall Street Journal noted, the nearly 7 million borrowers in default today represents a 6% increase from just a year earlier.

60%

recent Gallup poll shows that 60% of Americans worry that they won’t be able to cover unexpected medical costs, up from 55% in 2015. While this number can be partly blamed on our expensive and complicated health care system, it’s also a byproduct of our lack of savings — particularly emergency savings.

When almost half of Americans can’t cover a $400 emergency, it’s no wonder the prospect of large medical bills from an unforeseen accident or illness weigh heavily on our minds.

Final Thoughts

While these statistics paint a grim picture, there are certain areas where we can exert some control.

We can’t always shield ourselves from medical emergencies or an unexpected job loss, for example, but we can try our best to save for them. We can’t predict the future, but we can plan for it, and create a monthly budget that allows us to save for a rainy day. We can’t always get a raise at work, but we can try to earn extra money through a side hustle, a part-time job, or an at-home business.

At the end of the day, it’s up to each of us to reach our financial destiny and find small ways to make improvements in our lives. The most important thing to know is, you have to start somewhere. Whether you’re in debt and struggling to pay your monthly bills, or you haven’t started saving for retirement yet despite a solid income, or you don’t have the savings to ride out even a small rough patch, the best time to get on a path toward a brighter financial future is now.

What do you think about these statistics? Do any of these situation apply to your life?

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The post Eight Numbers That Show How American Families Struggle with Money appeared first on The Simple Dollar.