Family of Four Taking Flight to Financial Independence

A Shortcut to $1,000,000



As you may know by now, we plan to early retire (within a year or so) with a potential move to Spain (for at least a school year) and a nice little chunk of money in investments.  

As we have discussed in previous posts, we also plan to make money through part-time work in retirement.  We have a general idea of what we plan to do to make money, but like most things in early retirement those ideas will change and evolve over time.  New opportunities will present themselves as we go through our lives, and we will pick and choose from the ones that interest us the most.



Power of Part-Time Income

That said, I want focus on just how powerful a little part-time work in early retirement (ER) can be.  For the sake of keeping things simple, we will assume a person has $1,000,000 in investments and plans to live on $40,000 per year or 4%.  

For the average middle-class family with kids, saving $1,000,000 is a hefty goal to reach before you turn 60 years (or so).  But the good news is I am going to teach you a shortcut to get to your goal of $1,000,000.  

I learned this shortcut myself from reading the Millennial Revolution blog, and it truly was an AH-HA moment for me.

Let’s dig into this shortcut with a few scenarios ...




Scenario 1: Person A wants to live off of $40,000 per year and uses advice he / she learns in this little blog of ours to cut debt and spending to a level that allows them to invest 50 - 70 % of their income.  In about 8 years they reached their goal of $1,000,000 to FIRE (financial independence retire early) and never have to earn another $1 for the rest of their lives to sustain their desired $40k per year (with inflation adjustments) level of spending.  Congrats!  Go enjoy your early retirement!

Scenario 2: Person B also wants to live off of $40,000 per year in ER but “only” has $500,000 in investments and is ready to retire now.  

They have two options.  They can continue working / investing until they reach $1,000,000 in investments like Person A (listed above), OR they can choose to retire early from full-time work and pick up some part-time work that pays them about $20,000 per year.  What!? Aren’t they still $500,000 short of their goal?  

In ER making something as trivial as $20,000 per year is the equivalent to having an extra $500,000 in investments based on the 4% withdrawal rate (after all $500,000 * .04 = $20,000).  While Person B only has $500,000 in investments, being open to some part-time work making just $20,000 per year gives them the same spending power as Person A who has $1,000,000 in investments.  

Do I have your attention yet?

Scenario 3: Let's say we have a couple (Person C and D) who also plan to live off of $40,000 per year in ER, and they are ready to retire YESTERDAY!  However, they only have $250,000 in investments, and we know that only equates to $10,000 per year.  Like Person B they could continue to work full-time until they are able to save up another $750,000 (maybe 5 - 7 more years), OR they could make up that $750,000 by simply working part-time making $15k per person ($750,000 * .04 = $30,000 and $15,000 * 2 people = $30,000)!  Pretty neat, right?

Once you embrace a little part-time work (ideally doing something you actually enjoy!) it can really speed up the process of meeting your FI (financial independence) goals.  I think it’s a fairly safe bet that most of us can figure out a way to make $10k - $20k fairly easily, and if you are a couple ...?  Maybe even easier.

What do you think about the power of investments and part-time work?  Would you consider part-time work in early retirement?  What type of part-time work would you do?

-Erik

FI With Kids: Family Memberships (Bonus: Travel Gear!)

So ... you're saving for early retirement.  AND you have kids?  AND you have a 67% savings rate?  What!?  Can you spend any money?  The answer is yes.  You can!

Family Memberships

We think family memberships are a good investment for our family (museums, cultural institutions, etc).  You might see their initial cost, and think - whoa!  No, thank you.  But ... do you live near museums / cultural institutions / other places that have a high cost per visit?  Would you like to frequent that place more if it was "free" (or if you had a membership)?  How many times might you go?  How many visits would it take to "pay" for the membership?

What places are near you?  We live in the Houston area, and the must-have memberships for us are the Houston Zoo, the Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS), and the Children's Museum of Houston (CMH).  The Houston Zoo, HMNS, and the CMH do offer free days and times, but for these locations at least we like the ability to not be limited to certain days / times (and we like the option to not visit during more crowded free times).

Houston Zoo: Free Tuesday afternoons (select Tuesdays only).  Visit the link for more info!

Houston Museum of Natural Science: Permanent exhibitions free on Thursdays from 6 pm - 9 pm.

Children's Museum of Houston: Free on Thursdays from 5 pm - 8 pm.

So if that works for your family and schedule (and you don't mind crowds), maybe you don't need a Membership, but ... another perk to a Membership is you can come and go as you please.  You don't feel the pressure to "see everything" or stay for long periods of time (which is especially nice when we go to the Houston Zoo in the summertime.  It is so hot!).

More Membership Perks

Those are our main perks listed above (1) worth the cost! (2) visit when we want / come and go as we please! ... but there are definitely additional perks.  Another reason why we love memberships is because not only do we see these places as "something to do," but they are definitely hands-on learning opportunities for our kids and great family experiences.

Memberships also come with additional opportunities such as discounts to special exhibitions, Membership mornings / days (less crowds!), and special Membership events to name a few.

We had a fun and mostly free outing this past week which included the Houston Museum of Natural Science.  We enjoyed the Houston Museum of Natural Science (The Butterfly Center was free in the AM!), Hermann Park, and an accidental free TUTs performance at Miller Outdoor Theatre.  We did use cash and bought three cupcakes from my favorite cupcake spot in Houston - Crave Cupcakes.


Houston Museum of Natural Science - The Butterfly Center

Houston Museum of Natural Science - The Butterfly Center

Houston Museum of Natural Science - The Butterfly Center


Houston Museum of Natural Science

Houston Museum of Natural Science


Houston Museum of Natural Science - Activities for World Oceans Day

Travel / Day Gear

Also on our outing we tried out some new travel gear.  We mentioned in a recent blog on travel shoes that we are trying out travel gear over the next year in preparation for FIRE (financial independence retire early).  We already have one Tortuga Backpack - Setout Backpack.  We also bought two more Tortuga Setout Packable Daypack for the kids (if all works out well, we plan to buy two more for the adults).

Tortuga Setout Packable Daypack




It worked out great for our day outing!  It is light weight, breathable in the Houston heat, and it folds up into the backpack's own front pocket!

Tortuga Setout Packable Daypack


Memberships: The Math

Okay, that sounds fun and all ... but are those membership prices REALLY worth it?  Let's look at that math (the math is based on our family size - 2 adults, 2 children).

(All prices listed below were based on what was available on their websites June 2019.)

Houston Zoo:

Family Membership (Regular Level): 2 adults, 3 children
$149

Regular Adult Admission (Listed as Summer Value Pass): $24.95
Regular Child Admission (Listed as Summer Value Pass): $22.95

2 Adults = $49.90
2 Children = $45.90
Total for 1 Visit = $95.80
Total for 2 Visits = $191.60

Less than 2 regular visits pays for the Family Membership!

Houston Museum of Natural Science:

Family Membership (Regular Level): 2 adults, 4 children
$115

Regular Adult Admission: $25
Regular Child Admission (ages 3 - 11): $16

2 Adults = $50
2 Children = $32 (ages 3 - 11)
Total for 1 Visit = $82.00
Total for 2 Visits = $164.00

Less than 2 regular visits pays for the Family Membership also!

Children's Museum of Houston:

Achiever Membership (Lowest Level): 3 adults (same household), children
$135

Regular Adult Admission: $12
Regular Child Admission: $12

2 Adults = $24
2 Children = $24
Total for 1 Visit = $48
Total for 3 Visits = $144

Less than 3 regular visits pays for the Achiever Membership.

Other Memberships?

My favorite places to visit are art museums.  But the good news is most of them in Houston are free (The Menil Collection, Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston), and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is free (all day!) on Thursdays which we definitely take advantage of in the summertime (and they offer free family activities on Thursdays in the summer).  Not summer?  We've also taken advantage of the free admission for Bank of America cardholders on the first full weekend of every month.  That's another good point ... if you don't think a membership makes sense for you / your family, look into what discounts or other opportunities museums / places might have that apply to you.

Do you have any memberships?  Where to?  Do you have any favorite day trip travel gear?

-Tara

Travel Hacks: Flights and Running Up Those Credit Cards

Wait.  What?  Run up credit cards?  How will you ever reach financial independence if you do that?  First, if you are a person who lacks the discipline to pay off your credit card bills in full each month, this post is not for you (yet?!).  Head on over to our post on: Can You Reduce Your Spending?  If you use credit cards for spending and consistently pay them off in full each month, then continue reading about one of our travel hacks (or two!).

But before we get to credit cards ... 

Flights

Last year we booked a surprise trip to Disney World for over Thanksgiving Break 2018, and of course it was one of the busiest and most expensive times to travel to The Most Magical Place On Earth.


When we booked the flights back in May 2018, we ended up paying an average of $587 per person round trip to fly from Houston to Orlando!  And that was for flying Southwest Airlines.  I’m sorry, but when we fly Southwest, I expect to pay between $200 - $350 per person (for this flight).  I was determined to get a lower rate.  I would check the airfare everyday (it literally takes a minute or less), and finally in mid-September 2018 I noticed our return flight had come down by $115 per person.  

Headed to our Southwest Airlines flight to Walt Disney World.

I really didn’t have any experience with this sort of thing (which is why I called instead of doing it online myself), but I assumed, “ok, now I’m going to be on hold for 20 minutes or more, and then the agent is going to come on the line and tell me some reason that is buried in the fine print as to why I can’t switch my flight to the new lower fare.” 

Much to my surprise, none of this happened!  The agent looked up our reservation, saw the new lower rate, and immediately applied it.  We immediately saved over $460!  And this only took 5 minutes.  You heard that right.  

But I wasn’t done yet!  The next day the price came down on the departing flight for another $15 per person.  I was convinced that they would just say, “sorry you already changed to a lower rate ... we can’t help you.”  Again, I was surprised, and I had the exact same positive experience with Southwest as I did the day before.  (Note, the wait time for both calls was less than a minute).  Within 5 minutes we had saved another $50 to give us a $512 credit that we had to use by 5/31/2019.  

This in and of itself was absolutely a form of travel hacking!  By taking a minute or two every morning to check the fares, we were able to earn a $512 travel credit.

Ok, so now the “problem” is we had to use the credits by 5/31/2019 (or we lose them); this means the flight had to occur before 5/31/2019. 

We were only planning to take one (big) trip in 2019 (Colorado for us this year) because by 2020 there is a good chance that our lives could become one long trip so we thought it would be a good year to hang around town and save up a little extra cash in the process.  However, now we have this $512 credit, and we certainly don’t want to lose it (as this is money we have already spent).  So now what?  Bring on the credit card hacks ...

Credit Card Hacks

At that point I realized it had been a while since we had signed up for a new credit card so I did a quick search to see what kind of deals are out there.  When we sign up for cards, we look for 2 criteria: 

  • Ideally no annual fee (or at least the first year free). 
  • Strong sign up bonus with reasonable spending limits to achieve sign up bonus.

I did a quick search and (at the time) Capital One had a new card out that easily met both of our criteria: No fees for the first year and $500 cash rewards once we spend $3,000 in the first 3 months.  Success!

Will we ever pay the annual fee for this credit card?

No.  When the anniversary approaches, we will do one of two things: 1) cancel the card or 2) downgrade the card to one of Capital One's zero fee cards.  

Will this hurt our credit score? 

Again, no.  We have been using credit cards like this for probably over 5 years now, and our credit scores are pushing 800.  

So how do we plan to meet the spending criteria in order to get the bonus?

This part is easy!  All of our bills are set up for automatic payment, so whenever we get a card like this I simply switch the autopay bills from the current card to the new card.  This typically takes about 20 minutes.  So 20 minutes of work for a $500 reward is the equivalent to paying ourselves $1,500 per hour.  I could go for that!

Here are some of the things we autopay (you can find an example of our budget here):

  • Tithe
  • Electricity
  • Water Bill
  • Car Insurance
  • Cell Phones
  • Internet
  • Dog Food

We will also use this as our primary spending card until we meet the spending criteria as well, so you can add the following to the list:

  • Groceries
  • Gas
  • Variable Spending

Once all of these things are factored in, we easily reached the spending limit in about 6 weeks or so. 

Another Credit Card Trick

If you are a married couple you can sign up for these cards individually and have $1,000 cash rewards instead of $500.  Just don’t sign up at the same time unless you plan to spend $6,000 in the next 3 months.  

As an example, I signed up for a Capital One card in September 2018, and once I received it I switched all of our autopay bills to my new card.  We reached the spend limit by mid-November so in early November we ordered a card for Tara and switched the autopay bills to her card.

So by early 2019, we had about $1,000 free and clear to use towards our unplanned trip in 2019.  

That gives us $512 in travel credits and $1,000 cash so $1,512 total.  We also planned the trip during a month (January 2019) where we know our variable spending is typically low or lower.  That way we could apply some of our variable spending towards the trip as well.

So where was our unplanned travel hacking trip, you ask?  New York City to see family!  Minus the plague of 2019 that hit our family (that hit 6 out of 8 family members), it was a great trip because we were with family.  (Plague you ask?  A detailed account of this trip is for another post.  And you may want to be spared the details of the plague anyways.)

And it was another surprise for our kids.  No school!  We are headed to NYC.  (Have you done any surprise trips?)

Surprise!  We are headed to NYC instead of school.


Another travel hack?  Use public transportation (MTA NYC)!

Do you enjoy the local food favorites when you travel?  We always get pizza in NYC.

Andy Warhol exhibition at The Whitney.


Andy Warhol exhibition at The Whitney.



FI: Free public art in the subway system.


Gourmet Chocolate in NYC: Jacques Torres


FI: Walk!  We love walking cities / cities with public transportation.


FI Exploring: Bryant Park and the NY Public Library 


FAO NYC


FAO NYC


Thank you Southwest.  See you next time!  (Photo taken by S.)

Tip

If you intend to use this type of travel hacking, it is a good idea to create a spreadsheet (or whatever makes sense to you) to track the cards that you sign up for along with the bonuses, spending criteria, and fees (if any).  This will make it much easier to keep everything organized.  

You don’t want to pay fees if you don’t have to, and you certainly do NOT want to pay even $.01 of interest to the credit card companies.  You DO want to get paid to use their cards while going about your normal everyday life.  

So what do you think?  Have you tried travel hacking?  What are your favorite travel hacks?  Or ... would you try it?

-Erik