Here’s when we really want to be celebrating National Save For Retirement Week


I logged in to my Vanguard account earlier this week, and found this admonition:

Retirement Week

The clock is ticking…

I must confess, I didn’t know about this celebration week. For this I can only apologize, although to be fair there are plenty of celebration days, weeks, and months to have to remember. For example, the same week was also National Pastoral Care week, National Business Women’s Week, National Friends of Libraries Week, and National Forest Products Week, and I missed all of those.

On the other hand, October is also Pizza Month, and there is no excuse for not knowing about that.


Now this is a cause for celebration. Photo from Wikipedia


Nevertheless, reading about National Save for Retirement Week got me thinking about it, and more specifically whether our timing of celebration for this holiday might be misplaced.

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Why can’t we talk about money with our partners?

Fishing partners

I’ve talked about why it’s so hard to share financial struggles with your friends and peer group.

But surely you can talk to a partner right? This is a person with which you want to travel through life.

And yet, this is so often not the case.

I wish my partner would come here to talk about this stuff with me” is one the most common laments I hear during meetings of the Portland Integrative Finance Community.

It seems like we have a lot of partners who aren’t communicating about finances.

And this is troubling for all sorts of reasons.

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Why can’t we talk about money with our friends?

Old car in field

Do you have someone you can talk about money with?

Notice that before you can answer that question, we actually need to specify what kind of conversation we’re having.

“Talking about money” can mean not only the nuts and bolts (how to budget, invest, save, etc) but also the more relational, emotional topics. The feelings behind the topics.

In a professional context, you may have a person who is your advisor on the nuts and bolts. (Hopefully this person is a fiduciary, and if you don’t know, you should ask.) But while this person provides a valuable service, you probably wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about your concerns and fears. I mean, you wouldn’t schedule a meeting just to talk about financial anxieties, would you?

In the personal space, it can be worse. Unless you know someone who’s really good with money, you may not have anyone to talk about the mechanics of financial health, plus, you don’t have anyone to talk to about our struggles either.

Why not?

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The time I almost thought that Amazon Prime was a good deal for me

Photo courtesy of Todd Lapin

I’ve talked about Amazon Prime before. My general take is that it’s probably not worth it, unless you would be paying for the music/movie streaming service, or buy a lot of stuff from Amazon.

Amazon really really really wants you to sign up for Amazon Prime. It’s in all of their marketing funnel messages, every step of the way.

It’s not hard to see why. At an annual fee of $99/year that automatically renews unless you specify otherwise, it’s an opportunity not only to get a guaranteed income from Amazon customers, but also a chance to divert people’s spending from other places over to Amazon.

On one hand, I re-evaluate my stances all the time. (I did buy a home, after all, and one of my very first posts was about how renting is better than owning.)

On the other hand, as vigilant as I try to be, even I’m not immune from the ceaseless onslaught of marketing.

And so recently I found myself this close to signing up for Amazon Prime.

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How to open a Roth IRA with Vanguard


I’ve made no secret about a number of things:

A Roth IRA, unlike a 401(k), is something that you set up yourself, and not through any employer. And while you may have experience contributing to a retirement fund, you may not have much experience setting one up.

Never fear. Just follow the steps below and you can open a Roth IRA. All you need is $1,000 to get started. (If you don’t have that much, then save up and come back when you do.)

I’ll be showing you how to open a Roth IRA with Vanguard. Vanguard is an investment management company with a unique structure that allows it to offer very low fees on investments. This is good as it means higher returns for us. I’ve been using Vanguard for years, have most of my retirement funds with them, and couldn’t possibly recommend them more highly.

The process is quick and straightforward. Ready?

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Why standard hotel stays can be better than aspirational hotel stays

Over-water bungalows

I’ve been very fortunate to stay at some pretty nice hotels.

A few years ago, I stayed at the Grand Wailea on Maui for a night. I was (as far as I could tell), the only traveler staying there who was either solo or not on a honeymoon. The Grand Wailea is a Hilton property, so I was able to use points for the transaction, so it cost me nothing. Had I paid in cash, it would have been upwards of $500.

Grand Wailea balcony

A year or two later, I stayed at Koloa Landing on Kauai. At the time, the property was under the Wyndham organization (yes, the same organization as Days Inn and Ramada) and I was able to secure three free nights there on points, again saving $500 a night or so.

Koloa Landing

These were amazing experiences.

In the travel trade, these types of hotels are known as “aspirational“. They are the hotels of the type that people stay at for once-in-a-lifetime experiences. They often include water as part of the appeal, either ocean-side or over-the-ocean (such as the various over-water bungalow hotels).

While I’m grateful for the ability to have had these experiences, and wouldn’t trade them for anything, I want to explore the flip side. Because depending on how you look at it, these hotels might not be the best use of your hotel points or the best focus of your earning strategy.

(They certainly aren’t the best use of your money, but we’re assuming that no one here would ever pay cash for one of these hotels, at least until you’re wealthy enough that it doesn’t matter.)

In fact, I will argue that there is a case for foregoing any but the most basic hotels using points.

Am I suggesting that we aspire to Candlewood Suites instead of over-water bungalows?

Maybe. Hear me out.

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How I redeemed my points from the Priceless Surprises promotion

Hotel sign

Earlier this year, I talked about the Priceless Surprises promotion. Put on by Mastercard and IHG, the company behind Holiday Inn and a bunch of other brands, this sweepstakes was ostensibly about staying at lots of hotels, but had a side gaming element where you could enter the sweepstakes by mailing in an index card.

You could enter a maximum of 94 time, and that was exactly what I did. The worst case scenario would mean losing out on $60 of supplies (mostly stamps) and a waste of an evening.

As it turned out, I earned a grand total of 51,500 points.

How much is that? Well, IHG has different categories, but these days the hotels range from 10,000 points per night to 60,000 points per night.

There is no direct relationship between the price and the category. When I was in Belgium last month, I stayed in a Holiday Inn that cost only $90 per night, and yet would have cost 25,000 points, which felt a little steep. Conversely, I routinely find 15,000 point hotels in the $150 range.

But with a little over 50,000 points to use, the question is: what kind of value did I get for my points?

Follow me along as we take a grand tour of some of the (pleasingly random) places I’ve been this year.

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The resolve of the mountain climber, or how to deal with financial overwhelm

Mountain Climbing

I think of building wealth and becoming financially secure as a process not unlike climbing a mountain. It’s a big one, and it’s hard going, and it involves a lot of successes and setbacks along the way.

The top of the mountain is totally worth it, as once you’re up there, the going is all easy. The view is great, and sliding down the mountain, is going to be fun as hell.

But that may not be much comfort to you if you’re not up on the top. And it might feel like you’re never going to get there.

So slowly, you make progress. You make a plan. You make your buckets. You stop buying what you can’t afford. You build an emergency fund for when problems strike.

And slowly, after a while, you may find that you’re making progress. You start feeling good. All this hard work may not be paying off totally, but you get a sense that it will.

And then the tide turns.

It starts small: An unexpected doctor appointment. But then it keeps going: A car repair, a reduction in income.

Maybe it even gets worse: a major illness, a job loss.

All of this can evaporate any sense of gains you’ve had. And make you wonder whether it’s hopeless, and you should just give up this idea of ever getting ahead.

I understand the feeling here. There’s not a single person reading this (me included) who hasn’t faced some kind of financial setback at some point. The struggle is real.

But just because you’ve had a financial setback (or many of them), doesn’t mean that you’re not making progress. It may just feel like it.

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How do people do it?

Sunset on the balcony

It’s not hard to look around and be amazed.

You hear about your co-worker’s most recent trip to Hawaii. Your friends post on Instagram a gorgeous sunset taken from the middle of the South Pacific. And then you move on over to Facebook and read about your friend from high school who just bought this amazing home on a hillside in California.

And then you look around at your tiny, cramped place. Your thoughts might turn to your student loans, or your meager budget that your salary allows. You haven’t been anywhere that cool in a long time.

You may ask yourself: how do these people do it? What do they have that I don’t? Did they have rich parents that gave them a leg up? Did they leverage their privilege? Were they just lucky?

Or am I just unlucky?

While it is true that there is some element of luck and privilege, when it comes to seeing other people’s charmed lives, there is one important lesson that you might be forgetting.

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How to pay for non-emergencies

Bucket being filled

We know what an emergency is. It’s an incident that is both unexpected, urgent, and unavoidable (and unfortunate).

When you have an emergency, you use money from your emergency fund. (And if you have debt, here’s how you can still have an emergency fund.)

When you have situation that’s not an emergency, you don’t touch that emergency fund.

But you still need to pay for it.

But how? Here’s a guide.

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