Get The Most Out of Travel On A Budget

Enjoy this guest post on travel savings from longtime member and financial independence champion, Diania Merriam. 

I absolutely love to travel, and after many months of staying home during the pandemic, I’m sure you’re itching to get out and explore as much as I am.  While traveling might seem like a luxury, there are many ways you can be resourceful and creative in keeping your travel costs as low as possible.  Read on for some of my favorite tips when it comes to budget travel. 

Utilize Credit Card Rewards Points: I really can’t remember the last time I paid for a flight with cash, because I almost always utilize credit card rewards points.  While some  criticize rewards points because they can lead to overspending on credit cards, when used strategically, they are game-changing.  My discretionary spending is very low, so it’s not really possible for me to accumulate any meaningful amount of points through my regular spending. 

The key for me has been to open new credit cards that offer large signing bonuses at a time when I’m about to make a large purchase.  Many cards will offer bonus points if you spend a certain amount in the first few months, so I only open cards when I have a big purchase I need to make.  So for example, one of the most popular cards for travel rewards points is the Chase Sapphire Preferred.  Right now, they are offering 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months from account opening.  It would take me forever to earn 60,000 points from my regular spending, and I would struggle to spend $4,000 in discretionary spending over 3 months.  But a few times each year, I will have some kind of a larger expense, which prompts me to do research on the best credit card signing bonus offers.  Next thing you know, I’ve got thousands of points at my disposal without much time or effort on my part!       

Find a local host: Many times when I know I will find myself in a new city, I will post on social media and ask my network if they have friends that might want to host me.  While some might find this distasteful and prefer to simply pay for a hotel room, the benefits of staying with a local extend far beyond any money you’ll save.  Some of my most memorable trips were when I stayed with someone I barely knew, usually a friend of a friend who was available to spend some time with me and share what they love about their city.  I myself have hosted many friends of friends and have always appreciated the spontaneity of the experience!  And if you’re really wild, you could also explore staying with a total stranger through couchsurfing.com.  I have done this a few times, and had some great times! 

The grocery store is your friend: We all know that eating out can blow our budget, and while traveling, it’s very easy to eat out for every meal.  I make sure to pack healthy food and snacks for my travel days.  Yes, this saves money, but I mostly do this because I find it very challenging to find healthy food in airports and while on long road trips.  Usually, when I get to my destination, the first thing I do is find a good grocery store where I can stock up on simple foods that I can eat for breakfast and lunch.  Since many of my vacations include activities like hiking and walking around sightseeing, carrying my food with me adds an element of convenience in addition to cost savings.  And then I can splurge on dinner guilt-free! 

Download your favorite shows while on WiFi: While I am a podcast host (you can listen to me every day on Optimal Finance Daily!), I’m also a podcast listener.  Listening to my favorite shows is a great way to pass the time on flights or during road trips.  One way I save here is that I always download the episodes while I’m on WiFi.  I made the mistake once of not downloading content, and I will never make it again!  I burned through my data without realizing it during one trip.  Luckily Republic Wireless offers extra GB for only $5 when I need them, but I can avoid the extra expense with better planning! 

If you’re looking to add a trip to your calendar, track news about The EconoMe Conference which just finished up year 2 on November 13th & 14th.  This event is rooted in the FIRE movement (financial independence, retire early) and it features incredible mainstage speakers that will guide us in questioning our assumptions about happiness, freedom, and prosperity through the lens of personal finance.  But we also have many breakout sessions that are designed to facilitate discussions between attendees that can be the start of beautiful friendships.  You’ve already optimized your phone expenses with Republic Wireless, but there is so much more you could be doing on your path to financial independence.  

 

Budgeting for Financial Independence

Enjoy this guest post from longtime member and founder of the EconoMe conference, Diania Merriam. Diania provides wisdom on budgeting to meet your financial goals and how Republic Wireless can help you stick to your budget.

“A budget is telling your money where to go, instead of wondering where it went.”       John Maxwell

The word “budget” often makes people squirm.  For many, it brings up feelings of deprivation and restriction.  But if you’re pursuing financial independence, your budget can feel more like a close friend cheering you on towards your financial goals.

I like to think of my budget as a simple act of awareness around my money.  I started by tracking every expense to gain clarity on where my money was going.  From that position of clairty, I could then identify areas where I could cut back or where I could be more intentional about my spending.  The key for me is not just in developing a budget, but also continually engaging with it.  Every month, I evaluate how I actually spent against my spending plan and I decide if I need to make any adjustments to my budget.  I think the big reason why people get frustrated with budgeting is that they create a plan that is unrealistic. Then when they go over budget, it can be disappointing.  Evaluating spending against a budget often can help identify the areas where one is being unrealistic, and provide an opportunity to adjust accordingly.

One of the things I love about the FIRE movement is it provides a really clear target on how much you need to save to reach financial independence: 25x your yearly expenses.  Budgeting comes into the equation, because it helps you get really clear about what your expenses actually are, and thus determine the FI number you’re working towards.

That FI number, however, is only as good as the assumptions behind the number.  You need to be able to estimate your future yearly expenses, which is pretty difficult especially if you plan to retire young.  When you’re budgeting and tracking your expenses, you are able to look back at your historical spending over many years and changing circumstances.  This will allow you to come up with a better estimate on future spending.  For example, when I quit my job earlier this year, I looked back at my actual spending over the last 2 years to come up with a realistic budget.  This gave me confidence that I could take a big bet on myself and pursue self employment, because I could clearly see that I had a 2 year runway in liquid savings.  Having an intimate understanding of how I spend money, gave me clarity on how much money is actually enough for me.

Since my Republic Wireless phone is always on me, it has become a great tool for budgeting!  I use a free app called Spending Tracker, where I log every expense at the time I’m making a purchase.  This allows me to quickly look at how much I’ve spent in each category at any given time.  Then I can make informed purchasing decisions and ensure I don’t go over budget.  I also track my net worth on a free app called Personal Capital.  I’m literally able to look at my full financial picture at any time right on my phone, it’s very convenient!

Budgeting is a great way to help you understand your behaviors and preferences, and you can experiment with different levels of spending that will allow you to enjoy today, but also save for tomorrow.  If you find budgeting to be a painful exercise or a source of shame, this could be an indication that the gap between your income and expenses isn’t large enough.  In this case, it would serve you well to look at increasing income or take a hard look at spending behaviors.

Finally, a key benefit to careful budgeting is the opportunity to identify ways to reduce expenses.  And this can create what is known as a “double whammy” effect in your pursuit of FIRE.  Reducing expenses allows for more money that you can put towards investments now. But it also means that your FI number (25x annual expenses), is lower and therefore you’ll be able to reach your target faster.  When we first start engaging with a budget, we’ll find a ton of ways to optimize.  Perhaps we’ll find a cheaper place to live, save money by cooking more and eating out less, find cheaper home or car insurance, and change our phone plan to Republic Wireless (I did all of these things!).  But it’s easy to go on autopilot after that initial phase of optimization.  I would encourage us all, whether we started budgeting years ago or just yesterday, to continue to look for ways we can optimize expenses.  If we keep upgrading to more affordable ways to get our needs met, we’ll reach financial independence that much easier!

If you want to learn more about the FIRE movement, check out the The EconoMe Conference which is an event I created.  We just completed year 2 on November 13th and 14th at The University of Cincinnati. Stay tuned for news of upcoming events.

 

How Many Towels Do You Need? (And How Much Data?)

Guest post from Republic member and Minimalism expert Rose Lounsbury on decluttering your life, including your cell phone service and data use.

How many towels do you need? This was the surprisingly life-changing question I faced on a Saturday afternoon in early 2012, as I scrutinized my linen cupboard. 

I had just started on a minimalist journey, inspired by my 1,500 square foot house that could no longer comfortably contain the possessions of me, my husband, and our three 2-year-olds (yes, you read that right… triplets).

A few weeks earlier, we’d returned from visiting out-of-state relatives for Christmas with a van absolutely packed full of presents. As I walked into my house and assessed our already stuffed surroundings, a slow, frightening realization came upon me…

We didn’t have room for the things we already owned. Where was I going to put this new stuff? 

I felt defeated and overwhelmed. I knew the gifts had been given in love. I knew they were supposed to make me and my children happy. But more than anything, they added stress to my already stressful full-time-working-mom-of-triplets life.

Luckily, though, a change was coming.

About a week after Christmas I had lunch with a good friend, and I explained my problem. I thought the solution was to either buy a bigger house or allow no one to buy my kids Christmas presents again, ever

But my friend casually suggested another idea, “Or… you could just become a minimalist.”

I immediately thought of monks living in a cave or college students traversing Europe with all their possessions on their backs or black-clad hipsters lounging on white couches in apartments that doubled as art galleries. None of that sounded like my real life in the Ohio suburbs with three kids, two cars, and a mortgage.

But my friend reassured me that minimalism was just a philosophy, a less-is-more approach to living, and that any modern American could adopt it. Skeptical but intrigued, I went home and started reading. I was hooked.

Which brought me, a few weeks later, to January of 2012, when I went to put away some towels in my linen cupboard and asked myself the aforementioned life-changing question.

This wasn’t the first time I’d asked myself questions about my stuff. I’d actually been asking myself questions about my stuff my entire life (and you probably have, too) but those questions sounded different. They sounded more like…

“Rose, how much stuff could you AFFORD to buy?” I was a dedicated closeout, clearance, and coupon shopper, always scouring the racks for the best “deal” I could find. 

Another favorite: “Rose, how much stuff could you FIT in here?” I used every spare inch in my snug home to cram in as much as possible, often resorting to space saver bags and bins stacked precariously high in my attic. 

And, finally, the Big Daddy of them all, the question I continually asked every night as I spent hours putting away toys, shoes, sippy cups, and errant paper: Rose, how could you better ORGANIZE this stuff?” 

I thought organizing was the answer, the Holy Grail, the thing that–if I could just master it and buy the right bins with the right labels–would solve my problem. I’d finally have the home in the magazines. I’d finally stop feeling like every day was a continual battle between me and the chaos.

But that Saturday afternoon, I wasn’t asking myself any of those questions. That day, fresh in my nascent minimalist awakening, I was asking myself a very different question:

Rose, how many towels do you NEED? 

That’s the kind of question that just might change your life.

The answer was surprisingly clear: two per person. Which immediately felt wrong, because by the power of math that’s only 10 towels for a family of five. That certainly wasn’t the number of towels I’d registered for on my Bed, Bath, and Beyond wedding gift registry.

So I did something I rarely do. I entered the sanctum of my husband’s man cave on a Saturday afternoon (aka prime sports-watching time) to ask him a very serious question, “Honey, is it okay if we have just 10 towels?”

Josh paused and looked at me for a long time, while he pondered the critical issue of the towel supply. He eventually responded, “Yeah, I guess. I mean, that sounds about right.”

That settled it. Ten towels.

Now remember… that was almost TEN YEARS ago. In that time, I have not increased our number of towels and everyone in our family has been dry when they needed to be dry.

This early venture into minimalism taught me two very clear things:

  • I can live with a lot less than I think I can. 
  • I can definitely live with a lot less than society tells me I should. 

 

My towels are just one example of minimalist thinking. After I decluttered my towel cupboard, I went through the rest of my house, asking different variations of that original question:

Rose, how many coffee cups do you need? 

Rose, how many pairs of shoes do you need? 

Rose, how many boxes of holiday decorations do you really need? 

And slowly, over a period of almost one year, my home transformed. My cluttered corners turned into open spaces. My formerly crammed cupboards had room to breathe. My now unstuffed drawers opened and closed easily.

Yes, my home looked neat and tidy, but that wasn’t the point. That wasn’t why I kept doing what I was doing. The reason I kept doing it was because of how I felt. I felt free. I felt at peace. I started to find myself, at the ends of my long days, relaxing on my couch instead of frantically picking up my stuff.

So today I want to encourage you… ask yourself a life-changing question. 

Insert any word you like (towels, sweaters, hammers, wine glasses, etc.) into the blank space:

How many _______________ do you need? 

You can also use this question for the “non-stuff stuff” in your life, like volunteer commitments, email subscriptions, and cellular data.

A personal example… I used to believe that I needed unlimited data for my phone. (Ya know, just in case I had a video streaming emergency.) As a result, my phone bill was about $100/month. I considered it normal to pay that much for the supposed “security” of unlimited data.

But then I asked myself… How much data do I really need? 

The answer? About 2 gigs per month.

As a result, last year I switched to Republic Wireless with a 2 gigabyte plan and I now pay $25/month. (In just one year, this has saved me almost $1,000!)

So I urge you, ask yourself, How much ______________ do you need? 

You’ll be amazed at how this simple question can open up so many possibilities and create more freedom in your life.

 

Author bio:

Republic member Rose Lounsbury is a keynote speaker, coach, and Amazon bestselling author who helps people live happier lives by owning less stuff. After blogging about her personal journey toward a simpler lifestyle, Rose was inspired to leave her classroom teaching job and help others create more meaningful lives through simplicity. Her popular TEDx Talk has almost 500,000 views. 

Enroll Your Community to Reach Your Goals

This is a guest post on Community from Republic Wireless member and founder of EconoMe LLC, Diania. 

If you look at your inner circle and you’re not inspired, then you don’t have a circle, you have a cage” -Anonymous on Community

As I write this post, I’m about halfway through the 75 Hard, which is a mental toughness challenge for 75 days straight.  Everyday I do two 45 minute workouts (much of the time it’s just walking, everyone calm down!), drink 1 gallon of water, read 10 pages of a personal development book, take a progress picture, and adhere to a diet that includes no alcohol (I chose intermittent fasting).  Completing this challenge has been on my bucket list for a while because it completely intimidates me.  I imagined I would be so proud of myself if I could actually do it.  So when I was writing my goals for 2021, completing the 75 Hard was at the top of the list.

I spent the first quarter of 2021 “training” for it. I figured if I could get used to drinking the water, and do at least 1 workout a day, it wouldn’t be such a shock to the system when I officially started the challenge.  I set my start date for Monday April 19th, the Monday after returning from an epic vacation.  And then I did one last thing that didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but it’s the only reason I’ve made it this far: I called in reinforcements.  I let my Facebook friends know that I was doing this, and I invited them to join me.

I ended up with a group of 4 people who I check in with every day over a video app called Marco Polo.  On the days that I just don’t feel like doing another work out, I think about the time that Heather got home at 11pm from a trip and still did her second workout even when she was tired.  Or how Lynn had a really painful ear infection, and she still managed to stick with it.  Or how Autumn has 3 kids, and she’s a nurse with changing work hours, and has rental properties that she manages.  Everyday, we all share resources that are helping us, and often reflect on things we are learning about ourselves and what we are getting out of this challenge.  This group inspires me to no end, and they’ve added a richness to this experience in ways that I wouldn’t be able to do on my own.

Community matters… a lot actually.  There is an easy sense of comradery that builds between people headed towards a common goal that can make the whole journey feel so much lighter and more fun.  Finding a community with common goals can also help form a sense of identity, which makes it easier to generate the focus and build the habits you need to reach those goals.  For example, if you want to run a marathon, it would benefit you to identify as a runner, not someone who is “trying” to run.  You will get up in the morning and run, because that’s just what runners do… and because your training group is waiting for you downstairs so you better giddy up.  Surround yourself with the right people to hold you accountable, do the hard work beside you, celebrate your wins with you, and soften the blows of your losses.

The idea of community is powerful for any type of goal, even for financial goals.  This is a big reason why I identify as part of the FIRE movement (financial independence, retire early) which is a lifestyle movement with the goal of financial freedom.  Since I started reading various blogs on the topic and going to different meetups and events, I noticed over time that my entire circle of influence are now people who are pursuing financial independence.  All of my closest friends today are either financially independent or well on their way.  While money tends to be a taboo topic that many people are uncomfortable discussing, there is an openness and transparency in the FIRE movement that can be really eye opening.  As I scroll through my social media feeds, most of what I see are people discussing topics surrounding personal finance, sharing tips, asking for advice, or celebrating milestones.  I find myself surrounded by people doing incredible things with their finances and this has really helped me expand my understanding of what’s possible. While my finances are still my responsibility, I can’t help but wonder sometimes if they’ve improved somewhat from osmosis!

The power of community is a big reason why I created The EconoMe Conference which is an event rooted in the FIRE movement.  We have incredible main stage speakers that guide us in questioning our assumptions about happiness, freedom, and prosperity through the lens of personal finance.  But we also have many breakout sessions that are designed to facilitate discussions between attendees that can be the start of beautiful friendships.  You’ve already optimized your phone expenses with Republic Wireless, but there is so much more you could be doing on your path to financial independence.  

Republic Wireless also believes in the power of community. The Republic Member Community serves Republic Wireless members who share an interest in enjoying technology affordably. It is the best place to find the latest Republic news, get to know other members, and learn or share new tips on using technology

Dump Debt Together for Financial Independence

Guest post by Elle Martinez, Republic member, host of the Simplify and Enjoy podcast and financial independence advisor with Couple Money.

headshot of elle martinez, financial independence advisor

Like many married couples, my husband Rob and I started off with two completely different views when it came to money.

Married with $30K+ of Debt

When we got engaged, he was a newly minted college grad, and I was wrapping up my senior year while working part-time at a paid internship. 

 On the plus side, we were both great at finding cheap eats and usually hung out at low cost and free events around town. On the down side was the debt we carried. 

I had two credit cards and a car loan. Both of us had student loans. 

One night after we got engaged we decided to share our ‘numbers’. It was a bit of an awkward experience, but we’re grateful to have laid it all on the table. 

After that chat, I was motivated to pay off my credit cards before the wedding. It felt wonderful to have that win.

Paying Off Debt Together

Once we got back from our honeymoon, it was time for us to figure out a budget that we were both happy with. It also meant syncing up with what goals we wanted to achieve. 

Looking back on those first years, we made some key decisions that had a huge impact on our finances and marriage. 

Live on One Income (Even as Dual Earners)

This choice was initially out of necessity. With my internship, we were taking it semester by semester. 

We kept all of our essential expenses under his income while my internship pay was used to pay down the debts, build our savings, and work toward other goals.

As you can imagine, we weren’t rolling in money when we first started, but even then, with this system we were making progress and enjoying ourselves. 

Go for the Big Wins on Bills

Another key decision we made was focusing our energy on big wins when it came to bills. Yes, there’s value in looking at your entire budget, but when prioritizing time and energy, we prefer to look at the three big expenses first – housing, food, and transportation. 

As I get into in my book Jumpstart Your Marriage and Your Money, it took real effort and honest discussion honing on what we really wanted. However it’s been worth it. 

Keeping your expenses on target in those areas can move the needle when it comes to your goals. 

Another area where we saved significantly (and many families can relate!) is with our smartphones. 

As I was hunting around for options, I discovered Republic Wireless. With their plan I could cut my phone bill in half. It was too tempting an offer, so I took the leap. 

Nine years later, I’m still a Republic Wireless member. Why? It’s all about the value. Not only were their prices really affordable, but they had some fantastic phone options. 

I quickly fell in love with durable and flexible Motorolas. 

That’s something we learned while paying our debt and saving – focus on value, not just on price. 

Monthly Expenses = Essentials + Things We Love

With some in the personal finance space, spending is bad. I’ve read some crazy stories of the extremes people go to reduce spending to the absolute minimum. 

We take a more nuanced approach. For us, we try to avoid unconscious or mindless spending. We’re okay with spending on the people and things we truly enjoy. 

Take our food spending. We do save quite a bit cooking at home, but we’re also spending on better quality produce and meats. We also are willing to host cookouts at our home for several friends. 

Traveling is also something we enjoy, whether it’s day trips, weekend getaways, or big family vacations. 

Whether it’s food, spending, or tech we do like hunting for deals, but we also see money as a tool and not the end goal. 

Enjoying the Financial Independence Journey (Not Just the Destination)

As we were paying off our debts and sharing our wins and lessons learned, I began to hear about the financial independence movement. 

While the FIRE gets much attention with the media, because of the goal of retiring early,  we were intrigued with more flexibility that comes with FI.

As parents with two kids under ten, we want to enjoy this special time with them. 

As I share on Couple Money and my podcast Simplify and Enjoy, SlowFI and CoastFI are two wonderful options for families wanting to carve out their path that fits their needs and timeline.  

Charting Our Own Path

By paying off our debts, saving, and investing, we’ve opened up options with work and have more flexibility with our schedules.

This past year has certainly had its challenges and not sure how this year will go, but learning to work together on our finances and goals makes me eager to see what’s ahead! 

Republic Wireless Is #1 In The World!

Republic has been rated #1 in the world – yes, IN THE WORLDout of the top 1,000 telecoms for quality of customer support through email. Republic was recognized by support platform Netomi as reported by Email Insider. We took the gold with a near perfect 99.8 out of 100, well ahead of the silver and bronze medal winners from Indonesia and Malaysia.  This was based on personalization, response time, thoroughness of the answer, as well as showing we care.

(Source: Customer Service Benchmark report by Netomi)

 

Unfortunately, our fellow American telecoms did not represent the good old USA so well.  They averaged only 49.9, and most of them charge a lot more for their service than Republic’s average $20 per month. Republic just works harder to treat our members right.


Email support across the globe was pretty dismal. Only 53% of the 1,000 telecom firms had an email that was easy to find, and, of those, 66% ignored the email request. Only 28% responded about opening a new account, as if they did not want your new business.

Despite the overall performance in this category, email is used by over 4 billion people in the world with over 300 million emails sent per day (The Radicati Group). When it comes to marketing and sales, more people prefer Websites, Phone, and Video. As for customer support, Email has become the preferred form of communication.

When it is done well, email support is superior for many reasons. It works on your time and, therefore, is more convenient. You can send an email, get up and do something else, and check back for a response when it works for you. No one likes to wait on hold for a customer service agent who may or may not have the information you need, and many do not like holding a real-time conversation which can drop or get interrupted. Unlike a call or many live chat platforms, email keeps a record that can be referenced later to save time or verify important information. 

At Republic we look at 99.8 and say, “We can do better.” We obsess over treating our members right. That’s why we keep measuring, surveying and listening to our members about how we can improve. 80% of our member support requests are solved with one or two emails, and these resolutions get a 93% satisfaction rating in our member surveys. According to the research from Netomi, only 6% of telecoms cared enough about their email communications to survey their customers’ satisfaction with their efforts. 

If you’re currently a Republic member, always let us know how we’re doing, and please join our community. We will continue to obsess about improving our member support, and we’ll continue innovating new ways for you to save money for better things in life than your cell phone service. Our average member pays only $20 per month, and all plans include the award-winning customer support you just read about in this study. You deserve to be treated better than you probably are now and to save a few bucks while you’re at it.