How to Have Fun (Not) Traveling this Summer

Confession: Traveling during the busy summer season just isn’t for me. In our modern age filled with digital nomads and travel hacking devotees, it’s almost a sin not to be daydreaming about the next summer vacay.

But in my humble opinion, summer travel can be a bit unpleasant. Of course, it largely depends on the destination. But with the swarms of tourists at popular locales — not to mention prices for airfare, hotel stays, and tourist attractions spike — I’d rather stay local during the summer. I’m willing to swap jetting off to different countries for a leisurely bike ride around my neighborhood.

If you have a similar mindset, here are some ways to make the most of a non-traveling summer.

Go on a Staycation

Staycations are terribly underrated. You can use them as an excuse to explore your current town. I’m fortunate enough to live in Los Angeles, where there’s a bounty of art openings, food and music festivals, and delicious eateries popping up all the time. When I spent my summers in Chicago, there were free neighborhood street fests every weekend, concerts at Millennium Park, free yoga classes in the park, and neighborhood gatherings.

I moved a little east of Los Angeles city proper about a year ago, to a small nature area with a population of about 10,000. There are chili cookoffs, gorgeous mountains, and many hiking trails. I’m also looking for a bike to explore my new ‘hood.

Check the calendar section of your town’s website to keep up to date with all the fun, free activities in your town or city.

Create Mission-Based Adventures

You can create what I call a mission-based staycation, such as trying out the best hikes in your area, tasting one ice cream (or a few!) at every ice cream shop in town, or reading every book by your favorite author at the local library.

Some examples: My friend Mel decided to have a  “year of museums,” where she’ll visit different museums and art happenings around town. My other pal Lindsay plans on going on one hike a month throughout the year. Fun can be found right under your nose!

Make Small Tweaks

You don’t need to make a big plan to enjoy the summer months where you live. Try switching out your habits. For instance, try biking to the park instead of driving there. Or enjoy breakfast out in your yard instead of at your dining table with the curtains drawn. You’ll be surprised at how the small changes can really help pave the way to new experiences, or a new way of looking at things. It could even make feel like you’re somewhere else.

Swap Homes with Friends

See if any pals and family members in other parts of town are up for swapping homes for a weekend. You can either do it Airbnb-style or stay with them for a few days — that way you can change up the scenery and enjoy a new neighborhood.

I have apartment swaps planned with pals who live in Hollywood and West L.A. It will certainly feel like a mini-vacation!

Try a No-Spend Weekend

I experimented with a no-spend weekend a few years ago, and not only did I save money, but it was fun! Before I embarked on the journey, I set up some ground rules: I could stock up on food to last me through the weekend, I could use my public transit card, and I was allowed to spend any gift cards. I planned my weekend around free activities and using up my gift cards.

If forgoing doling out cash on the weekend is too tough for you due to social commitments and general temptations, do a test run during the workweek. Because you typically have less free time and social outings, you won’t be as tempted to spend.

Ramp Up Your Side Hustle

If you’re looking to boost your cash flow, summer is ripe for seasonal gigs. Take advantage of the fact that more people are traveling to snag jobs pet sitting or tending to a neighbor’s plants. You can also scoop up more gigs as a rideshare driver or brand ambassador at outdoor festivals. In summers past, I’ve sat for friends’ furbabies and proctored at a local university during the summer session.

I work my buns off during the summer so that I save up for stuff I want, and aim to less some time off during the holidays. Co-worker taking time off? See if you can take extra shifts. Or if you’re a freelancer or gig economy worker, see if your clients are in need of extra help during the summer months.

Save for Off-Season Travel

Rather than put everything on a card and pay it off post-travels, have the money saved up front.  Peak travel seasons for most places tend to generally be June through August. If you’d like to travel during the fall or spring, figure out exactly how much you’ll need by when, and get to work saving your beans.

Besides a short camping trip in June, I only travel in the off-season. I have a trip to the East and Midwest scheduled for the fall and am steadily saving for a trip to Southeast Asia next year. I’ve committed to saving a set amount each week and will bolster my goal with any “extra cash” I earn.

Remember: Staying local doesn’t have boring or induce cabin fever. By getting creative, putting on your exploration cap and making small tweaks, you can have a blast this summer in your city!

This article was originally published at HiCharlie.com

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Why A Clear Mind May Be The Answer To Your Debt Free Goals

Consumers that become debt free cited peace of mind as a resulting benefit they enjoy. Yet, your state of mind becomes important in your debt situation long before your debt is paid off. There is a well-documented relationship between the two: debt and your mental state. According to a Money and Mental Health survey, 49 percent of people that experience mental health issues also find themselves in debt while 25 percent of Americans admit that they worry about money all the time. For some, it is the credit card or personal loan repayments, while the younger generation finds themselves battling the repayment of increasing student loans. In the end, navigating their way out of debt can lead them to spiral, and in some cases panic. However, while proper management of finances and tools such as budgeting remain key to solving the age-old debt question, a clear mind can be just as powerful, and possibly the tool that kickstarts getting rid of debt.

Clarity Reduces Misplaced And Impulse Spending

Our state of mind and emotions play a large part in our spending habits, including impulse purchases. Many people can find themselves struggling with emotional spending triggers such as sadness or even the receipt of good news. Purchases like this can also throw a wrench into your debt repayment plan and sometimes throw it off track. By spending money intended for your debt repayment or using the extra money that could have helped you make more progress in your debt journey, you are indirectly sabotaging your debt plans.

Maintaining a clear mind means remembering your priorities and navigating events in your everyday life (and the emotions that come with it) with level-headedness. Too often we get caught up with impulse shopping on items that may appeal to us at that moment but do we really need it? Take a step back and consider whether it is money well spent and what it will be taking away from other priorities in your life. Are you able to pay cash or are you putting it on a credit card? If you do opt to fund impulse purchases with credit, there are also interest charges to contend with.

Loss Of Clarity Can Mean Loss Of Motivation

For many, the debt repayment journey can be a long and hard one. It requires sacrifices, commitment, and dedication. So it is not unusual for consumers to fumble or lose their motivation at some point on their way to becoming debt free. Having our minds clouded with negative thoughts can even lead to direr mental consequences such as depression. In fact, studies have indicated that debt levels can trigger stress in consumers while 29 percent of people with high debt stress levels experience severe anxiety, according to a study by the University of Nottingham. Luckily, there are small and simple steps you can take along the way to avoid and remedy this. Consider implementing a reward system at certain points of your debt repayment journey and visually track your progress up to this point. Seeing yourself make progress can act as a powerful motivator to keep going, especially if you see yourself overcoming preset hurdles such as debt checkpoints. For those looking to combat stress or anxiety, implementing the regular practice of mindfulness techniques in the home can help relieve tension for every family member.

Avoid Tunnel Vision By Having A Clear Mind

Finally, another reason that a clear mind is vital in our bid to clear our debt is that it allows us to see and truly consider all other options. Too often we can develop a repayment strategy in the beginning and we tend to zero in on that throughout. However, the reality is that our debt repayment methods and tools may need to be adjusted throughout; in fact, it is not unusual for a debt repayment plan to be evaluated a few times. While debt refinancing or consolidation may be a good idea in the beginning, they aren’t anymore. Being able to see all the options available to you means you are able to make the best decisions possible on the way to becoming debt free, and possibly do so earlier.

In today’s world, the repayment of debt has become a regular part of many American’s lives and commitment schedule. While much has been said about the effect that the debt journey can have on our mental state, not a lot has been mentioned about the reverse connection; the effect of our state of mind has on our debt. While money and savvy techniques remain handy in achieving the goal of a debt-free life, our minds continue to be the most powerful tool we have in our quest to be free. It is what drives our commitment, our strategies and our continuing motivation. As a result, protecting and nurturing it should be at the top of our list if we wish to achieve our debt goals.

Chrissy Helders

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How to Personalize Your New Apartment on a Budget

Moving can be exciting — but expensive. Between the first and last month’s rent, your security deposit, and other costs, your bank account may be hurting. To top it all off, your new apartment feels foreign, like it’s someone else’s home. But don’t worry — you can add homey, personal touches to your new digs without digging a larger financial hole for yourself.

Know What You Can Do

In order to be able to confidently channel your inner Joanna Gaines, you need to check with your landlord to see what you’re allowed to do with the space. Often, they’ll agree to cosmetic changes that can easily be reverted when you move out. Some landlords will let you make more substantial alterations or upgrades with their prior approval. Regardless of what your plans are, be sure to have what’s OK, what’s not, and any instructions clearly spelled out in your lease before you pick up that paintbrush or nail gun.

Pro Tip: Keep the originals of anything that you replace (unless otherwise instructed by your landlord) so that the apartment can be reset to its prior condition when you move out.

Set Up Your Space

There are lots of ways to make any space more attractive and functional. Here are a few interior design tricks to try:

  • Use large mirrors: They make small areas seem more spacious.
  • Arrange your furniture strategically: This can turn an open area into well-defined living spaces.
  • Get double duty furniture: Ottomans are for reclining and storage, tables are for dining and working, and sofa beds are for movie watching and sleeping.
  • Use curtains in different ways: In addition to beautifying your windows, try curtains as wall hangings or room dividers.
  • Experiment with lighting: Yes, place light fixtures where they make functional sense, but also use them to highlight your home’s best features, like built-in cabinets or a piece of art.
  • Throw some throw rugs around: They can be great color accents and help to establish the borders for areas.

Small Things Make a Big Difference

You don’t have to rely solely on furniture to make your apartment give off your vibe. To pepper in your personality throughout your home, try picking up small, inexpensive items like:

  • Throw pillows, picture frames, or vases: The right ones scream your style and are easy to switch up as your tastes change.
  • Plants: Real, low-maintenance plants such as succulents help to beautify your abode, give your space an oxygen boost, and simply need occasional watering.

Give Items a Facelift

With a little elbow grease, you can take what you already have and breathe new life into it. Here are some budget-friendly suggestions:

  • Paint the walls: Choose a color that puts you in a positive mood, but do yourself a favor and make sure it’s easy to paint over when your lease is up.
  • Look into removable wallpaper or tile stickers: You can apply them to anything dingy, boring, or ugly.
  • Swap out lampshades: This makes sticking to a color scheme a snap and can really modernize the look of the lamp.
  • Change door knobs or hardware on furniture and cabinetry: There are so many styles to choose from and you might be surprised at how much of a difference it makes.
  • Refinish or reupholster your furniture: It will look like a brand new (and totally different) piece.
  • Get new light fixtures: Sconces or pendant lighting can add a dramatic, personalized flair.

DIY Decorations

Sure, you can buy art that’s pre-made. But if you want it to be perfectly true to you, you should make it yourself! You don’t have to be the next da Vinci to try these projects:

  • Apply paint to canvas: Find your muse and sling the color in whatever way strikes your fancy.
  • Play with clay: Whether your clay pot actually looks like a pot is irrelevant. Making your own pottery can be a great decoration and conversation starter.
  • Create a collage: Your favorite photos, magazine clippings, and other keepsakes can culminate in a lovely tribute to your past, or help you manifest your future as a vision board.

Decide Where to Shop

Depending on your budget, preferences, and what’s available, there are several places to shop for home decor:

  • Check out large retailers: Places like Walmart, Target, and HomeGoods may offer some deals on brand new items.
  • Go used: Flea markets, estate sales, auctions, and Craigslist are all tried and true avenues for finding vintage pieces that fit your theme.
  • Try an app: Technology makes it a breeze to connect with others that want to unload just what you’re looking for. Check out OfferUp and NextDoor.
  • Leverage your network: Your friends and family may have things they no longer need that you can use. The best part? Chances are, they’ll let you have them gratis!

Final Thoughts

While decorating/furnishing a place can be expensive — especially for first-time renters — there are ways to express yourself without emptying your wallet.

This article was originally published at HiCharlie.com

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Should You Delay Your Retirement Contributions To Clear Debts?

78% of Americans said they were concerned about not saving enough money for retirement, in a 2018 study conducted by the Northeastern Mutual Planning and Progress. Conventional wisdom advises focusing on saving for retirement right from when you are young, either through a 401(k), IRA or any other convenient plan. But a critical dilemma to consider is whether you should delay these contributions or investments to clear your debts. Since massive debts, including student loans, burden many people, it can be hard to make financial progress. So when is the right time to prioritize clearing your debt?

When settling debts should come first

Let us say that you are earning $40,000 per year but have $70,000 worth of loans. Such a situation could mean that you are approaching bankruptcy, which is disruptive, and can leave you with little freedom and affect your employment. In this case, it would be more prudent to put a stop to other obligations and prioritize paying your debt. Think of it as a move to channel all your resources and effort into dealing with the biggest blockage to growth and happy retirement. After clearing these debts successfully, you can now focus your full energy on savings and investments, which will place you in a better financial point after retirement.

The opportunity cost of paying your debt first

There is a negative side to committing to pay debts without saving for retirement. Assume it will take you 5 years to completely get rid of your loans. During this time, you would have saved $5,000 per year plus your employer’s addition (50% of your contribution). If you invest this money in stock, giving an average annual return of 10%, you would have more than $48,000 at the end of these 5 years. This is the opportunity cost of choosing to clear debt first, which is a steep mountain to climb. The same goes for freelancers seeking a retirement plan that works best for them. Also, the IRS puts a limit on how much you can contribute to tax-advantaged retirement accounts yearly, and if you miss out on it, you will not enjoy the chance again. This and the fact that you lose time to grow financially is enough incentive to make you reconsider your options.

Pay loans and save for retirement if you can

If your monthly income puts you in a position to pay the debt and still invest for retirement, you should do so. But this arrangement could also work for those whose income does not give them much space. In such a case, you can go ahead and do both while giving one more weight. For example, focus on paying your student loan while saving minimally. Inc advises that regardless of your financial situation, you should contribute a certain percentage of your income, aiming to generate maximum employer match on your 401(k) or whichever plan you are using. Additionally, there are available loan-payoff-calculators that can help you to determine how best you can settle your loans while still growing your nest egg.

One of the biggest financial challenges is that many vital commitments compete for limited income. While delaying retirement investments is a bad idea, sometimes you can forego it and focus on clearing your debt. Everybody’s situation is unique depending on their type of loan, payment terms, and age, amongst other factors. As such, it is essential to consult a professional financial adviser, who will guide into selecting the plan that works best for you.

Chrissy Helders

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