Hope for your financial life and beyond

Geocaching: Our New, Cheap Kid Activity

Logo_Geocaching_color_300Are you looking for a fun (and cheap) summertime activity to keep the kids busy until they go back to school? Then geocaching may be for you. Never heard of the term? Neither had I until about a month ago when my wife mentioned it. I think my initial comment was, “What the heck is that?”

Do you remember the days of playing pirate as a kid, searching for buried treasure? In essence, that is what geocaching is. Here’s how it’s described at Geocaching.com:

“Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.”

I have to admit I was skeptical when I read about this. I mean who are these hobbyists who traipse all over the wooden glen and urban street corners looking for hidden containers with small trinkets inside? Then I saw a map where all the caches are hidden – in the entire world! Then I realized this was a bigger deal than I thought. Yes, there are some in Antarctica if you are in the neighborhood.

Here’s how you play.

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Cashiers Gone Wild

cash registerEver had one of those moments when you felt something was so obviously correct that it made you a little nervous that you were missing something? In those situations, I usually talk myself out of saying anything because I’m afraid of looking ridiculous if I’m wrong. Hey, what can I say? My personality naturally shies me away from conflict. But not this past weekend when I forced myself to speak up at the checkout register at a local eatery.

So it’s Friday night and we are eating out at a nationally known restaurant/bakery on our way to my daughter’s kindergarten graduation program. We are doing OK on time but any delay in the ordering or food delivery process could force us to eat quickly and rush off to graduation. I’m just hoping everything runs smoothly.

My wife and I have our four kids plus another child who we are watching for some close friends who are out of town for a few days. So there are seven of us in all. And seven people going out to eat creates one of the more interesting moments in parentdom. That’s right the stand-at-the-register-and-order moment.

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Beating the Credit Card Rewards System

credit card rewardsFive years ago, my wife and I were killing it with the credit card rewards we were receiving. That’s right…free stuff! We exchanged our rewards for airline miles, countless merchandise items and even received cash back in our pockets on some cards. It felt great! We were really beating the credit card rewards system at their game.

However, through a series of personal events and some advanced education, I realized I could do even better. I found out there was (is) a way to get more cash back into my pocket and really stick it to the credit card companies. The best part about this system was that it also improved my monthly budget and helped me save more in the long run.

What was the system I used?

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Students Comparison Shop for Generics and Save Big!

comparison shopDoes your child ever groan when you buy generic brands at the grocery store? That’s what happened recently on one of my shopping trips. I was trying to comparison shop when I reached for the generic brand peanut butter.

“Dad, do we have to get that?” whined my 12-year-old daughter. “We always get Jif.”

“You don’t even eat a lot of peanut butter,” I replied. “Besides, your sister is the peanut butter connoisseur of the house. Let’s test it out and see what she thinks.”

Much to her chagrin, her five-year old sister loved it! Oh, did I mention our food budget also liked it?  There’s a $1.80 difference between comparable jars of Publix peanut butter and Jif and a $2.50 difference between the Publix brand and Skippy or Peter Pan.

This led me to do some field research on food prices, using my high school personal finance class as data collectors. I gave them a list of about 20 items and asked them to comparison shop the difference between name brands and generics at their local grocery store. They were then to calculate the difference they would save by buying the generic brand.

The result was a real eye opener for them.

Comparison Shop Data: Name Brands vs. Generics

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Can We Ever Step Off the Gas With Our Finances?

Sit at home or enjoy lifeI love competition. Better yet, I love to win. Doesn’t matter if it’s a marathon, a card game, or playing Horse with my 10-year old son in the driveway. (He hasn’t beaten me…yet.) I want to come out on top.

This competitive spirit also works its way out when I prepare our monthly budget. I love seeing if I can reduce the prior month’s spending amount for each budget category, thus being able to save more. I know, it’s a little sick. I’ve made budgeting into my own personal can-you-top-this contest.

Some may like that I’m this intense. After all, isn’t this level of passion necessary to win with money?

Well, yes…but not when the kids go naked because you haven’t purchased clothes in six months. That’s a little too intense. (Disclaimer to grandparents, family and friends and DFCS: Just using hyperbole here. No kids are actually going without adequate clothing in our house.)

The issue though is valid to consider.

When can we loosen the reigns on the budget? Do we have to drive hard all the time? When can we take our foot off the gas just a little bit? We free spirit spenders want to know.

My answer may be frustrating and seem like a cop-out. [Read more…]

Hey Parents…It’s OK to Create Cheap Memories

Honor Guard PTC ParadeI’m a parent…four times over. Like anyone else, I love seeing my kids enjoy themselves. And I’ve spent a lot of money the past 12 years in an effort to create plenty of fun and lasting memories for each one of them.

We’ve done Disney and Sea World – several times. We’ve rented the condo at the beach. We’ve booked the Royal Caribbean cruise. We’ve done the day trips to the Georgia Aquarium, the Atlanta Zoo, and the Coca-Cola museum.

All were awesome experiences with great memories. However, they all required major budget planning sessions. The vacations forced us to save for months.

Recently my oldest son reminded me in an interesting way, memories don’t have to bust the bank. They can be created with very little money leaving our wallets.

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Drawing a Line in the Sand – A $37 Decision

drawing a line in the sandA couple of weeks ago, I had a not so great day at work. Nothing really dramatic happened, it was just one of those long days where everything seemed to be a little off and annoying. After work, things didn’t get much better.

I had to stop at the bank and then was supposed to meet a contractor at one of our rental properties to discuss some repair work. Something came up after school (which often does for teachers) that did not allow me to leave as soon as I had hoped. I’m a stickler for being late to appointments, so this didn’t set well with me.

At the bank we had to wait in line at the drive thru for 10 minutes to make our deposit. That’s unusual but they were shorthanded for some reason. Needless to say, I’m feeling the pressure to arrive at my appointment on time.

At this point, I encountered one of the strange oddities of life.

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The Un-American Way: Saving for Purchases

Light bulb penniesSeveral weeks ago I wrote about the #1 reason why saving money is important. In “O Lord Jesus, It’s a Fire!” I discussed how saving is vital because we are guaranteed to face emergencies in our life. Having some cash set aside reduces most emergencies to minor inconveniences.

The coolest part about having an emergency fund is that it causes us to emotionally and mentally relax. We realize, with some money reserves in place, that we will be able to move through the crisis with relative ease.  We no longer have to stress out as we scramble to come up with cash or go into debt to fix whatever problem has come about.

I’ve believed my whole life saving money was important, especially for a “rainy day.” But in my saving money belief structure, I was missing a vital element. To incorporate this missing link it into my life, I would have to do something very un-American. I would have to come face to face with what I really didn’t want to do…

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Valentine’s Day Shopping For Your Free Spirit – Balancing the Nerd Equation

Spirit Horse

On Tuesday, Mrs. Luke 1428 did an awesome job in her first ever post on how to shop for the nerd in your family this Valentine’s Day. Today I would like to tackle the other side of the equation, which is shopping for the free spirit. That’s me!

Just to recap, the nerd is the person in the relationship who loves to stick by the numbers. Most typically, they are the ones planning the monthly budget and exacting control over when, where and how much money is spent each month. They get really frustrated when the budget is not followed and often get accused of being “too controlling” and not wanting to “have any fun”.

The free spirit is a spender looking for a place to happen. They don’t mind a budget but don’t see it as etched in stone. They will often spend money in the spur of the moment without consulting the nerd. They get really frustrated when they aren’t allowed to have any fun and are often accused of “not understanding” and “being too selfish.”

So, if you’re the nerd in the relationship, how do you shop this Valentine’s Day (or really any holiday, birthday, special occasion, etc.) for free spirits like me? Here are some tips:

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How to Shop for Your Nerd This Valentine’s Day

Valentine EquationThe following is a guest post from Mrs. Luke1428…her very first post! Welcome her on board as she gives us some thoughts about nerds, free spirits and Valentine’s Day.

Hello out there, Luke1428 readers, this is Mrs. Luke1428.  Brian asked me to write a guest post for Valentine’s Day – I suspect he doesn’t know what to get me and is doing this for me to feed him ideas.  Stinker.

Are you familiar with the nerd and free spirit concept?  Basically, most couples have one nerd and one free spirit in the relationship. The free spirit loves to enjoy life to its fullest. The free spirit makes life worth living no matter the cost. The nerd is the one that makes sure there is enough money to make life worth living. The nerd is the budgeter. The nerd loves Excel. I freely admit — I am the nerd.  For the love of Pete, I enjoy reconciling bank statements and preparing tax returns. I. Am. A. Nerd.

So, you’re the free spirit and it is Valentine’s Day.  How do you show your nerd that you love them?  Well, here’s what NOT to do  –

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Bikes, Lies and Video Games


Boyd Cleaners

Blue summer skies. Perfect temperature. What a great day to ride my bike, shoot some hoops or maybe even chase the dog around the yard.

I would do all those things later. Right now, I had bigger things on my mind – Boyd Cleaners and Pac-Man. I opened the garage door, grabbed my bike and sped off down the alley.

One minute later I arrived at the side door of the cleaners near the drive-thru pickup. I opened the door and headed to the change machine to convert my dollar bill into usable coinage. When I turned around, I was met with the site of something that would change my life to this day.

Sitting next to my beloved Pac-Man was a new video game – Kangaroo.

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