How to Get Companion Pass for 2020

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

I wrote previously about how to travel for free using Southwest. I also alluded to the Companion Pass, which allows you to take someone with you at NO COST, neither in points nor dollars! The Companion Pass is by far our favorite perk for travel hacking. We essentially purchase flights using points for one person and the second person gets to tag along for zilch. When done right, it can last TWO YEARS! You can change your chosen companion thrice a year, like a piece of luggage or carry-on, but with significantly more endearment. How amazing is that?!

How to Get Companion Pass

Getting an elite status of having a Companion Pass requires the accumulation of 110,000 points in one calendar year. The Pass lasts for the rest of the year through the following year after. It is more beneficial to achieve Companion Pass status towards the beginning of the year than in the later part of the year. For example,  if you get the Companion Pass in February, you will have 10 months for that year plus an additional 12 months for the following year, summing up to a total of 22 months of privilege! Compare that to getting the Companion Pass in October, which would result in only 14 months of privilege.

The 110,000 points that you’ve accumulated in order to get Companion Pass status goes towards purchasing your future tickets from Southwest Airlines. Even though 110k points sounds like a lot to accrue, it is easily achievable using the credit card sign-up bonuses. It has never been more achievable than now, because for a limited time (until October 16, 2019), the new Southwest Business Performance card comes with an $80,000 sign-up bonus if you spend $5,000 in the first three months! This is the largest sign-up bonus that I have ever seen with Southwest.

How to Get Companion Pass for 2020

Because of this new deal, you can easily reach the 110k points needed by pairing the SW Business Performance card with a SW personal credit card of your choosing. The personal card will give you 40k points in sign-up bonus after you’ve spent $1k in the first 3 months. Together, both credit cards will get you 120k in points, thus reaching the minimum 110k threshold for Companion Pass. It is important to get both sign-up bonuses in the same year, preferably towards the earlier months. The Companion Pass considers when you get the bonus points only, not when you opened the credit card. So if you want to get companion pass for 2020, you can open both credit cards 2 months prior to January and hit the minimum spends IN JANUARY.

Here is a how-to guide for getting Companion Pass

  • Sign up for the SW Business Premiere CC sometime between now and when the deal ends (October 16, 2019). You want to make use of the 80k sign-up bonus deal. If you miss this time frame, you will only get the standard 60k sign- up, which will not meet the minimum 110k even if you pair it with a personal card.
  • Plan ahead on how you will spend the 5k minimum spend within the first three months.
  • Do not spent all 5k in 2019. You want to make sure that you get the sign-up bonus in 2020. For us, we plan to use the credit card for everyday spending, the holiday season, and booking AirBNBs and transportation for our Japan trip in March. We will spend only 4.5k on the credit card, which will give us a healthy buffer that ensures we do not accidentally overspend. In January, we will be spending the first few days of the year on a short trip to celebrate our third wedding anniversary, where we will likely hit the minimum spend.
  • Sign up for the SW Rapid Reward Plus personal credit card in November or December. I like this one because it has the lowest annual fee ($69) with $900 worth in bonus points, which makes it very worth it! If you would like more perks, applying for another personal credit card at a slightly higher annual fee may be for you. The Points Guy details them well in this chart.
  • Spend only $500 on this credit card in 2019. The minimum spend is very low ($1000) and you do not want to go over this amount! If you do, you cannot count these points towards 2020. In the first few weeks of January, you can easily spend the $500 on utilities, internet, groceries, and other everyday spending.

Tips on How to Meet Minimum Spends

If you are having trouble reaching minimum spends, here are some ideas:

  • Pay bills ahead, whether it be utility bills, insurances,.
  • Buy non-perishables that you will definitely use for the home.
  • Buy non-perishable staple food from the grocery store.
  • Purchase big ticket items during this time period.
  • Book future travel plans.
  • Offer to buy gifts for friends/family ahead of time.
  • Offer to pick up the tab for all your friends when you dine out, and then just have them Venmo you their fair share.
  • Ask friends and family if you could use your credit card to make big ticket purchases for them and have them e-wire you the cost. (Of course, choose your friends and family wisely).

Roadblocks You May Encounter

  • Being Denied a Business Credit Card: Gone were the days when you could apply for two Southwest personal credit cards. This method was how we got Companion Pass two years ago but alas, it is no longer an available one. They now allow only one personal and one business card. Thankfully, there is still a way! However, qualifying for a business card may be difficult if you do not have a business. Previously, I’ve written about the cons of depending on a single income stream, and credit-card-hacking-made-difficult is one of them. Off course, your life’s work shouldn’t depending on card hackability, although it’s yet another example why multiple modes of earning money could be beneficial. Often times, as reliable as they are, single income streams may lead one down the path of working for another rather than working for the self. Side hustles, however, open way for your own business. Take myself for example. I opened an S-corp for my dental practice which makes ME and MY SKILLS “the business”. My dental office pays Samantha De Leon Tillapaugh DDS, Inc. via a 1099 who then pays myself via a W-2. But even without that, I could also demonstrate my income and spending reports for Aero Bakery. I could demonstrate the dog-sitting business that I’ve grown via Rover, with letters of reference from dog owners. I can demonstrate this blog as a business, listing the affiliate marketing that I’ve entailed as well as the upkeep spending reports. Those are four “businesses” that I could use to justify the loose qualifying terms for a business credit card. Note how none of those have LLCs. I had a friend who got a business credit card from Chase when he detailed a business he wanted to start, indicating why he needed a business credit card to get the business off the ground. There are many creative ways to do this, and side hustles definitely help. If you babysit children, or tutor teens, you can rationalize why you need a business credit card. If you hold creative workshops or cook for others, you can again rationalize a reason. If you do photoshoots for special events or play music as a DJ …. well, you get my drift. Having hobbies turned side hustle can help avoid this pitfall.
  • Hitting the minimum spend in 2019 – This is definitely not a problem you want to have. Because you apply for the credit card earlier than 2020, you run the risk of hitting the minimum spend the year prior. You definitely do not want to split the sign-up bonuses between two years, because then you will have a very tough time reaching the 110k points. My advice keep track of all spending on the credit card and stop short a few hundred dollars. You can then resume spending on the credit card in January to make sure that both reach the minimum spend in 2020.
  • Not hitting the minimum spend in 3 months – If you fail to hit the minimum spend in three months, then the benefits of the card that would have outweighed the annual fee would be gone. It would defeat the purpose of travel hacking altogether. Since hitting $5k in 3 months may be difficult for frugalists, check the list above to see how you can actually use that $5k to plan ahead and relieve some of your future spending! However, beware of falling into the habit of spending just to spend. The purpose of the credit cards is not to allow you to buy more than you need. Rather, it is a tool to get you what you want without having to spend money for it (travel!). As always, spend wisely and well below your means.

Frugal Challenge: Practice Minimalism

In my life (as it is now), minimalism came first. By practicing minimalism, everything good in my life fell into place, financial clarity being one of them. Every time I choose a life of less stuff, I enforce a habit of not relying on external stimuli to make me feel whole. I am also deconstructing a fallacy that we were taught from birth, one that says we can buy our way to happiness. Minimalism is, after-all, a modern by-product of Zen teachings on how happiness resides within ourselves and the worlds our minds create. Any external stimuli only prevents us from tapping into our inner state of calm or peace by acting as a distraction from true happiness. Without the material things to distract me, I am able to focus on the more important (non-material things) in my life, such as paying down $575k in student debt! I can confidently say that I would not have been as successful with finding frugality and working towards financial independence without first practicing the art of saying Goodbye, Things.

My frugal challenge for the month of October is to start practicing minimalism. After all, it goes hand-in-hand with frugality. Practicing minimalism can cut down costs in many ways. Here are a few!

  • LESS SHOPPING, ERGO LESS SPENDING: After you’ve de-cluttered a lot of your items, you will naturally develop a hesitancy with buying something again (unless it’s something you realized you really need or want). The de-cluttering process, when done right, is a tedious process for the average American because of how much stuff we tend to accumulate. I guarantee that once you’ve really pared down, buying things is not as attractive as it once was, which means you will spend less money on shopping.
  • LESS STUFF MEANS LESS LIVING SPACE: Having less things allow for a smaller home, which usually leads to cheaper rent! Many minimalists find that once they are freed from the burden of material objects, they are suddenly free to live alternative lifestyles, such as pursuing the small space movement! Housing is one of the largest expenses in most people’s budget, so reducing the cost of housing will greatly catapult your path towards financial freedom.
  • LESS UNNECESSARY SPENDING FOR REPAIRS AND REPLACEMENT. Minimalism is a lesson in being grateful for the things we already have. Because minimalists surround themselves with only their most beloved things, they are more likely to preserve, mend, and fix a broken thing than they are to throw it away and replace it. They aren’t going to buy things for convenience sake and they are more invested in maintenance. Because of this, they save more money.
  • LESS KEEPING UP WITH THE JONES’S: Minimalists do not participate in keeping up with the Jones’s. In fact, they think the Jones’s are making a dying, rather than making a living. And minimalists prefer to live life rather than work themselves to death in order to buy material goods. And since minimalists do not participate in upward social comparisons, they are not as easily influenced or frequently bombarded by and with advertisements. They aren’t called upon to be consumers. And if they are, the calling is easily ignored. Overall, they don’t spend money in order to keep an appearance. Minimalists save their dollars, preferring to build wealth rather than build social status.
  • LESS STRESS RELIEF BINGES. When we are stressed, we tend to spend in order to make ourselves feel better. We want to take a vacation to run away from stressful work. We go out to drink during happy hour after a difficult 8-5. We binge on food and eat our misery away. We even have retail therapy. A practice in minimalism leads to more space physically, emotionally, and mentally. Minimalism reduces stress by reducing the external stimuli in our environments. With all this Zen, there is less cost dedicated to stress relief practices.
  • NO EXPENSIVE FRIVOLOUS EVENTS. Minimalists do not want to celebrate big life events with lavish parties, nor do they want to receive a tower of gifts. What will they do with all of this stuff? I may be speaking for myself, but my ideal celebration involves people and homemade food in a warm setting. I like gatherings in small spaces because you can feel the presence of others and there’s no nooks and crannies to hide in and stare lovingly into your phone. A good example of this was our wedding. We got married in an empty warehouse and the decor was handmade. My father tied gold streamers onto a string, and I made a backdrop for the photobooth area. My aunt collected wild flowers and put them in vases, and Mike’s grandmother made cookies and her famous magic bars. Our friends provided local beer for the reception as their wedding gift. We hired a taco truck and had donuts for desert. I’d imagine the same would go for children’s parties, funerals, graduation, & c. No frivolous events means no expensive events!

These are just a few ways that minimalism can help build a frugal lifestyle. The truth is, minimalism goes a step further than frugality. When I became a minimalist, I reduced the distractions in my life. I honed in on who I was and what made me happy. Because of this recently tapped in energy, I performed better at work and increased my income. I then found a few interests that became side hustles (writing being one of them). This further allowed me to make more money. And as I became happier, I also became less dependent on buying my way to happiness. My work made me happy, and I funneled even more time into my passions. And so the cycle snowballed, and slowly, our debt repayment changed from 25 years to 10 years to 9 year, to 7 years, to hopefully less than 6 years! All because I got rid of my things.

As all minimalists argue, if minimalism involves shedding physical burdens in the form of material possessions in order to be liberated to live the life that really matters, why isn’t is called maximalism? Frugal maximalism.

FREEDOM: Getting Out of a Rut

Alright, I’ll admit it. I’ve been in a rut. It took a long time to recognize it (too long!), but it is quite obvious to me that I’ve made a false start. I began this year with the intention of writing a course. It’s September and it’s 80% written but yet to be published. Meanwhile, it’s been slowly eating away at my bank account as I use a program that is useless without the course itself. Not only is it nibbling away at my account, but also at my inner peace. My mind is always thinking about the course. More accurately, I am always reminding myself that it has yet to be finished. Something is always nagging me, competing for attention space. I’m split spiritually, trying to go in two directions as half-ghosts of myself struggle in confusion.

The course is on budgeting. I wanted to write it to help people get out of their debt, much in the same way my CFP helped us get out of mine. But since deciding on helping people with this, my world was drastically changed, by BREAD no less! My focus is no longer on teaching people finance in a virtual space but on creating a local community around bread in my physical space. And still, I didn’t abandon the course.

I was essentially in denial. I made excuses such as, “I’ll work on it eventually”, “It’ll be worth my time”, and “People need me”. In all my self-glorification, I was disillusioned into thinking people’s budgets were in my hands. I’ve started to learn lately that that’s a big flaw of my Enneagram type 1 personality (more on that later, perhaps). After I got over myself, I finally realized what this course was:

  • A good idea, AT THE TIME. But the times have changed.
  • A self-glorified belief in my ability to help people and “set things right”.
  • A long withdrawn denial that this isn’t working out.
  • A hindrance to my advancement with what’s really interesting to me now – this bakery.
  • Unhelpful to me, unhelpful to anybody.

At times like these, we need to be brutally honest. I had to metaphorically stare myself down and say, “This is not YOU”.

There are three steps to getting out of a rut. The first is to see the rut. I see my bank account. I see my half-finished write-up. I feel nothing towards this course. The fire has gone out, which tells me it’s time to move on. Next, is to admit I’m in a rut. Which is why I am here. Forget all the assumptions I made about how beneficial this course will be. It’s just not happening. And thirdly, get out of the rut. The hard part. After spending hours of my days writing what must be a mini-novel on budgeting, I need to just abandon ship in order to save myself and get me moving again.

Here are a few ways to get out of a rut.

  • Make a list of new ideas. Brainstorm what can be done with one thing – see where it takes you.
  • Change your environment. Take a walk, get outside, go to a coffee shop. Sometimes we’re in a rut because too much is familiar and inspiration just can’t strike.
  • Challenge assumptions. Figure out why you can’t keep going, or why you are holding on. Challenge those reasons.
  • Just DO, as in DO ANYTHING.

The beauty of a creative life is that the path is never straight. It’s never carved out for you. It’s scary and confusing and downright dangerous. It’s hard work and frustrating and unclear. What it is not, however, is torture. In this experience, I am reminded of something my mom used to say. “We only torture ourselves.” You will know when you’re in a rut. You may also resist, at first, like I did. But eventually, there will be no hiding, and we have to be good at letting go.

We need to believe that part of the creative life means your work doesn’t depend on the first idea, but rather, the LAST. I see now that my new idea is being a baker. I see that my preconceived notion of writing a course limits my pursuit of bread-baking. A creative life will end if I cling to the first idea. My advice, always run with the last.

 

Student Debt: How to Lower the Interest Rate Without Refinancing Out of The Loan Forgiveness Program

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

Almost a year ago, I wrote about refinancing and leaving IBR for good. We hadn’t refinanced up to that point because we were not sure if we had the frugal muscles and the mental and emotional strength to tackle my student debt, and we knew that refinancing would mean that we could never run back to the Loan Forgiveness Program if we ever hit a rough spot. Once you refinance, you are no longer eligible for the Loan Forgiveness Program. A pro of the Loan Forgiveness Program is the flexibility to revert back to a minimal payment of a small percentage of your income when times are tough. Meanwhile, you also having the choice to pay back the debt aggressively if you are able. If you refinance, well, it’s either you make those whopping payments (which in our case is $6,500 per month) or end up in mad doo-doo if you fail to do so.

After a year of paying back debt aggressively, it was obvious that we were BOTH in it for the long haul! We were ready and capable of getting these loans out of the way. So we said, “SCREW IBR, let’s refinance!” The worst part about IBR is the high interest percent rate of 6.8%, which meant that about half of our monthly payments were going towards interest alone! YUCK. This is the main reason why we wanted out.

We were very serious about the whole thing and even started researching refinance options. The list of lenders that we found included the following:

We got quotes from every lender and were about to pull the trigger, but we didn’t.

Why? By some stroke of luck, we went down the rabbit hole of purchasing our first property and held off on the refinancing of the loans until that was secured. However, once we had settled into our new home, Mr. Debtist’s start-up company went through some tough times and Mr. Debtist’s salary went down by 50%! At the time, this seemed like terrible news, but we were actually lucky in that we hadn’t refinanced yet and life had the opportunity to teach us a lesson: that maybe the flexibility of Loan Forgiveness Program was essential. With a loan this large, the flexibility of the Loan Forgiveness Program makes our journey much more comfortable! Shortly thereafter, I had my third stroke of luck. I spoke with Travis Hornsby of Student Loan Planner. If you have not already interviewed with him and you have a lot of student debt, I would just like to say that although his calls are pricey, they are WORTH it! You’ll soon see why!

In this interview, Travis informed me of a way to improve our aggressive loan repayment strategy. I learned that by being in IBR, we were missing out on an opportunity that another loan forgiveness program offered. Which is why it is important to know the differences between IBR, PAYE, and REPAYE! We learned that REPAYE helps our significantly by covering 50% of our interest every month! Just by switching to REPAYE, we were able to save over $7k in 8 months (find out here).

Since REPAYE covers 50% of  the interest, it is as if we refinanced to get a better interest rate. The interest that we have still yet to cover with our payments come out to be about 3.4% of the loans. I like to think of this as a way to get a lower interest rate while still keeping the flexibility of loan forgiveness. Even though Mr. Debtist’s job situation has  stabilized, we still never know what life may throw our way. Being able to fall back on those small payments give us a lot of peace of mind. Meanwhile, we are able to funnel even more money towards paying down principal!  It’s the best of both worlds.

I think that Travis saved us from making a decision that could put us in a bind during tough times, and he also helped facilitate our loan repayment journey. This is why I think it is so important to talk to someone who can really guide you find the most optimal path for your loan repayment journey, especially when you are talking about student loans this big. If you’ve been thinking about talking to someone but are not sure if it will even help, I bet you Travis is your guy. Schedule your consult with Student Loan Planner if you are feeling lost or simply looking for loan repayment alternatives.

In short, my advice is this. If your student debt is less than two times your salary, then maybe refinancing is a doable option. It won’t be easy, but it would be doable. However, tread with care. If your debt is more than two times your salary, highly consider sticking with Loan Forgiveness, even if you have plans to attack it aggressively. Only because life is a mess and would take any chance it has to throw you a curve ball. Ultimately, I truly believe that everyone can find a path that is in line with their lifestyle and life goals.

When we started, we were told that paying down our loans in ten years with our salaries was impossible. But deep down, I knew that we could do it and that it would be the best path for us. So we set a plan to pay it down in 9 years. Before we talked to Travis, I was hoping to escalate the plan even more and pay it back in less than 9 years. After we made the change to REPAYE, I now have hopes to get rid of it all in 7 years or less. We are implementing a number of side hustles and budgeting tactics that are speeding up progress! I can’t wait to see how much more we could do. Thanks for being here, supporting our journey, and following along. 

 

Feature: How to Manage and Pay Off Multiple Credit Cards with Andrew Rombach

I LOVE credit cards. I think that credit cards are really useful when their perks are used efficiently, in things such as travel hacking for example. We use them frequently to fly to places around the world for free. However, my relationship with credit cards wasn’t always good. In fact, I used to hate them. My money egg story here explains how my perception of money was greatly shaped by my parents’ influence. At sixteen years old, they had me open a few credit cards under my name, and then maxed out those credit cards. By the time I was a freshman in college, I was getting letters in the mail saying that the credit card minimums are not being met and that my credit score was being affected. When I confronted my parents, their answers were “Don’t worry about it. We have it under control.” Since 2007, they had maxed out my cards at $20,000. Eventually, when I was 21 years old, I became brave enough to say “No more” and shut down all credit cards that they had access to so that they couldn’t keep using them. To this day, they still owe $8,000 towards that debt. This relationship with money is what made me fear my student loans, and it is eventually what propelled me to knock ’em down! Because this means that all this time, my parents were paying massive amounts of interest on credit card debt, and they still have not been able to pay it back. Credit cards have some of the highest interest rates and unless they are paid back in full at the end of every month, they only work to hurt your financial journey. Therefore, while I advocate the use of credit cards in order to propel you forward in reaching your finance goals, I also warn that you must have the wherewithal to be able to handle credit cards well. If you are starting from a place with existing credit card debt, my advice would be to work with all you’ve got to pay it down … OR COMMIT FINANCIAL SUICIDE! We don’t take credit card debt very lightly around here. So when Andrew Rombach from LENDEDU asked if he could share some tips with my readers, I was all on board. If you are struggling with paying off your credit cards, I hope you find some useful info in this post. 

Do you find yourself in the vicious cycle of trying to pay off your credit card debt? Do you have multiple cards and aren’t sure where to start? You’re not alone in that struggle. Credit card debt is a common problem for consumers. It’s all too easy to fall into. Just take a look at a few nationwide statistics.

According to the Federal Reserve, households in the United States owed a collective $999 billion in credit card or revolving debt by mid-2018. Some sources put average credit card debt at over $6,000 per consumer, and cardholders typically have 4 credit cards. That’s quite a hefty sum to deal with for any household, and if you find yourself in this situation, then you may find yourself stuck paying the minimum endlessly on several cards.

While getting out of excessive credit card debt is hard, it’s certainly not impossible. There are a few ways to manage your credit cards or transfer the debt that can save money, make your life simpler, or both. Check out a few of these tips if you want to find a different approach to your credit card debt.

Try Debt Consolidation Loans

A debt consolidation loan is basically a personal loan used to pay off various forms of debt, or credit cards in this case. To put it simply, you apply for and take out a loan from a bank or lender, which is usually unsecured. That loan pays off your credit card balances. Now you must make monthly installment payments on just one loan instead of various credit cards.

Consolidation loans provide the benefit of simplifying monthly payments to just one payment; plus, it adds certainty to repayment because you can stick to one repayment schedule with an end goal in sight. Furthermore, clearing your credit cards may lower your credit utilization ratio. Finally, a possible interest rate reduction on your debt could save money. This new debt consolidation loan comes with a new rate, so it could be lower than your credit cards depending on your credit.

A drawback is the eligibility requirements for a new personal loan. Lenders prefer applicants with a great credit profile and high income; in fact, those applicants are more likely to get lower interest rates. Also, remember to use newly-cleared credit cards wisely moving forward. You don’t want to be left with a loan balance and mounting credit card debt again.

Time Your Payments Accordingly

Some credit card debtors consider timing multiple monthly payments to save on interest. Interest cuts into your principle payments and extends the repayment process, but timing additional payments can help reduce your principal balance before interest accrues.

After making your monthly interest and principal payment, your interest balance should be lower moving forward. Before it accrues again, it may be worth making an extra payment on your cards. This will cut into the principal balance more significantly, and it also reduces the amount of interest paid on the next scheduled monthly payment.

On the negative side, not everyone has the extra cash to make a second payment each month. If you don’t have the money, then you may need to settle for another way to save money and expedite repayment. 

Try Either the Debt Avalanche or Snowball Method

The debt avalanche and snowball methods are two different ways to handle multiple credit cards over time, and neither requires taking out a loan or new credit card.

The avalanche method requires you to make large credit card payments on the account with the highest interest rate, while paying the minimum on all other accounts. After you pay off the high-interest credit card, you repeat the process with the next high-interest card.

It’s counterpart, the debt snowball method, works in a similar way, except you must prioritize low-balance credit cards. You would make larger payments on the credit card with the least debt and maintain the rest. When paid off, start paying more on the next low-balance card.

A major benefit of these methods is simply organization. They help you get on track with a plan of action. By prioritizing high-interest debt with debt avalanche, you’re paying off multiple debts more efficiently which should save money (eliminating high-interest debt reduce interest costs). With the snowball method, you can simplify repayment by cutting out low-balance cards from the equation. It’s generally accepted that avalanche saves more money than snowball, but that is still up for debate.

These methods are ideal because they require budgeting with your own cash (no loans involved), but this may also be a drawback because it’s very hard to pull off without the extra money for larger payments.

Balance Transfer Credit Card

If you opt for this method, you will take out a new credit card that comes with a lower interest rate, preferably a super-low or 0% rate during an introductory period. You then must transfer your credit card balance to this new card and begin repayment. It’s similar to debt consolidation, but the debt is transferred to another revolving account instead.

The point here is to get a lower interest rate on your credit card debt in order to save money. Ideally, you can get a zero-rate offer for up to a year or more which would save the most money. The goal is to pay your debt before that intro period is over.

Like with debt consolidation, you may be tempted to rack up more charges on a freed-up credit card. Remember that the debt doesn’t go away; you still need to pay it off. Also, balance transfer cards may be less suited for transferring multiple balances depending on your new credit limit.

Find the Method That Works Best for You

Each method offers its own set of benefits and drawbacks. One method could suit your budget perfectly, but another may not be the best fit. If you have the cash and organization skills, then maybe debt avalanche/snowball would work best. If your credit is stellar and you’re used to loans, a debt consolidation loan could be the solution.

Finding the method that works best for you is what matters most. Be honest with yourself and look at which style will best suit you – and then starting acting on it.

Andrew is a Content Associate for LendEDU – a website that helps consumers with their finances. He got his start in content and finance by writing all about credit cards. When he’s not working, you can find Andrew hiking or hanging with his cats Colby and Tobi.

Frugal Challenge: Getting Rid of a Daily Commute

I cannot believe that I can finally say this, but I have now created a lifestyle where I have gotten rid of a need to commute! Two years ago, I heard about this concept of creating a lifestyle where there is no need for a car, which is unheard of for most Americans, let alone those who live in California. The average commute for an American is 16 minutes, but for those who live in California, it is not uncommon for the commute to be thirty minutes or more. At first I thought to myself, “How impossible!” I mean, if you Google “How to Get Rid of Your Commute”, most sites don’t actually tell you HOW. Rather, they tell you that even though commutes are “unavoidable”, there are better ways to cope with it. I initially thought the same thing. My whole life, I’ve driven to places regularly, such as work, the groceries, and the bank. Yet over time, as I transitioned into more like who I am today, the concept of driving places really started to bother me. The depreciating cost of a car, the cost of maintenance and repair, the cost of insurance, the rising price of gas, the hours wasted getting from place to place, the health repercussions of a static posture, and the environmental impact… all of which emptied our bank accounts, risked our health, and slowly killed the Earth. And for what? Convenience.

Ahh, that word convenience. Everything that slow processes fight. Okay. I’m not anti-convenience. But I AM against unnecessary conveniences when the costs are too great. When the balance becomes off kilter, for the sake of speed. And as time passed, the thought of driving my lazy self from place to far-away place bothered me more and more. Why am I living this way? Is there something we can do better?

Off course there is. And there are limitations to those things, too. But I find that, in life, if you want something bad enough, it will eventually come. Not because there’s a magic genie somewhere answering your three wishes. Rather, it’s because you are living with your eyes open. A sense of awareness keeps you poised to strike when an opportunity presents itself, and usually, those that have their eyes open and searching are the first to take advantage.

So no. Maybe today is not the day that you implement the no-car-frugal-life-hack. It took me TWO YEARS to finally get it down. But I just kept moving towards a direction, you know?

What we haven’t touched on yet but what I want this post to mention was the amount of savings we make by getting rid of my commute. We are all about pinching pennies and redirecting them to something more meaningful (aka: this debt). I mean, if you think about it, I used to need 1.5 tanks of gas per week to get my normal activities done. 1.5 tanks cost me around $55 in a Scion XB. Which meant that each week, I spent $55 to live. This equates to $2,860 per year, without including all the driving I do for FUN. I understand it’s California, but MAN! I just couldn’t stomach that! Can you? Now that I’ve found a way to get rid of it, I never want to go back!

So how did I do it? I presume actionable tips are what you’re searching for.

Live in a central location.

Well, for starters, we bought a house. Some might not even consider it a house. In fact, we bought a live-work loft situated in the heart of downtown. The house has many benefits, one of which is its location. While a few may look down on the transient dwellers and the busy streets, the loud music from the clubs next door and the occasional trash after a staged concert in the parking lot across the way, there are many perks that living downtown presents. For example, we have FOUR stellar third-wave coffee shops within a two block radius from us. Not that we buy coffee everyday since we prefer to make them, but we do love a weekly coffee ‘splurge’. We have dining options galore, and a few microbreweries and pubs. We don’t go out to drink on weeknights but there ARE free trivia nights and stand up comedies at these locations. Come one, come all! We have clubs, one of which is not more than 500 feet away from our front door. Not that we go clubbing. We’ve got groceries down the block and we can see the city hall and government buildings from our second floor bedroom window. We can walk ten minutes to get to where we got our marriage license, and also where I got my citizenship approved. We are situated across from the Yost Theatre, and are a short walk from the post office and the library. Events plague our calendar, and I have watched concerts for FREE from my bed. Social gatherings are easy to come by as we invite friends to talk over coffee, attend the free Trivia night, join pinball tournaments, and more.

All of this to say that by moving into the heart of downtown, we have surrounded ourselves with all essentials. That was the first step.

Make work close to home.

This is the second biggest hurdle, and probably the most difficult to accomplish. Most people cannot work just anywhere. I was actually very fortunate in that I have been working with the same dental practice for almost three years and have known my boss for almost ten years. There are two offices, we bought our home 0.6 miles away from one office. The other office resides at a location 26 miles away from our home, but less than a mile away from my parent’s house. So either way, I have what I would consider home within 1 mile from both offices that I worked at. For the last two years, I’ve split my time between the two, but when an opportunity arose to become full-time at the one closer to my house, I decided to take it. It came with a price cut, that’s for sure. I will no longer get to take my lunch break with my parents three days a week. And the production will be much less. But it was more in line with the community I wanted to serve, the one that I really belonged to. It also aligned with my dream to nix my commute.

So I made work close enough to home that I could walk. It takes me 12 minutes to walk to work on a regular day, and ten minutes when I am running late, which I often am.

Make work AT home.

This was the next step. As you know, dentistry is not my only job. I also am a baker and a dog-sitter. However, you likely also already know that I try to structure my life in the most ideal way possible. I used to work my midnight shifts at a bakery that I loved, but I recently got rid of it for multiple reasons, health being the most prominent but the commute not much farther behind. At the time, it was the only other thing that prevented me from claiming my zero-commute life. It was a nice cherry on top to say that I now own my own bakery and do ALL of my baking in my own home. Any pastries I sell are either within the local community and delivered by walking or are scheduled for pick-up. On top of the bakery, I am a dog-sitter on Rover.com. There are many services that one can offer on the site, including dog-walking, house-sitting, and checking in on a pet. However, those all require you to go to someone else’s house. I only offer one service, and that is dog-sitting at my own home. Pet owners must come to my home to drop off their pets and they must swing by after their vacations to pick them back up.

What about all else?

Now I know what you may be thinking. Commuting encompasses everything, including vacations and going to social events, et cetera. There is no absolute way that all those things could occur in the vicinity of your home. But what I said at the very beginning of the post was that I have gotten rid of the need to commute. As in, if I got rid of my car, I would still survive, make money, have a place to eat, and ways to entertain. I did not say that I have gotten rid of the want to commute. But! I generally never want to commute anymore these days. When we DO drive, we try to rope together errands with pleasure. It helps that we typically have only one day off together (Sundays), so we do our weekly trip to Neat Coffee to get our free drink, our Whole Foods or Farmer’s Market run, our PetSmart run (across from Whole Foods), and any trips to the beach or to our parents’ house all-together. This entire route consists of a loop that passes by each of these locations. Yes, occasionally we will drive out of town to visit a friend. But in all honesty, we are kind of a pair of home bodies. We aren’t going to be driving around town in search of brunch or in hopes of experiencing a new restaurant or bar. No. Our form of entertainment involves board game nights, or movie nights, or reading on the bed. He likes to dabble in video games and guitar, I like to spill out and consume words. It seems like all the things we’ve been building in this intentional life just happen to connect with nixing a commute. It might be too soon to tell, but I don’t think I’ll miss it.

How about you?

Finance: Make Money Dog Sitting with Rover

This blog post is in affiliation with Rover.com, a platform that connects dog owners with dog sitters. I, myself, am a dog sitter at Rover and this hobby-turned-side-hustle is one of my additional sources of income!

I love watching dogs for other people. Actually, I love watching animals, period. But especially in the past half-year, I have dedicated my time to taking care of other people’s pets while their owners are away. How? Through ROVER. Rover is a hobby-turned-side-hustle and it is one of my most favorite gigs. Today, I wanted to take a few moments to share with you the benefits of becoming a dog sitter for Rover, plus a few tips on how you can start earning your own extra income by taking care of pets!

But first, why be a dog sitter?

I don’t like the idea of placing dogs (or cats) in kennels or small spaces overnight, and since my husband and I have plenty of room and time to spare, we have taken on a number of dogs in the past year. We have no children of our own, but we like to think of ourselves as temporary parents to these loving creatures. In return, being a dog-sitter gives us a number of life benefits. Here are a few of our favorites.

Benefits to Being a Dog Sitter

  • Increases Income – Dog sitting is a side-hustle. It increases our income, thereby allowing us to pay off my student debt faster. The amount of money you earn from Rover depends on what services you provide, as well as how much you choose to charge. That’s right! Rover lets YOU decide how much to charge. Off course, a cheaper price will increase your market, but a more expensive price will also reflect your level of expertise. Currently, we charge $30 a night for dog-sitting services. And since dog sitting for us is FUN, I like to think of it as getting paid for having a good time. We earn over $200 for a week’s stay. If you can manage to book your calendar more frequently or if you charge more for your services, you can easily earn up to $900 as a part-time Rover sitter. Rover reports that sitters who work full-time and take on 2-3 dogs at a time earn an average of $3,000 a month! I can see how someone can earn even more than that by adding multiple services to their profile – such as dog-walking, house-sitting, and in-house visits. However, do remember that Rover charges 20% for the use of their platform.
  • More Frequent Exercise – I will be the first to say that Mike and I hardly get any exercise. It’s a fault of ours, I know. Barring early morning yoga stretches with Adriene, and occasional laps at my parent’s community pool, Mike and I do not have an existing exercise routine. Being a dog-sitter forces us to at least walk two to three times a day for thirty minutes. On weekends, it forces us to take the dogs to parks and beaches, and we sometimes run (gasp!). Typically, the weekends involve longer walks that span one to two hours, or more activities such as ball tossing and frisbee soaring.
  • More Productive Mornings – I wrote recently about predawn priorities and ensuring productivity in the early mornings here. Dog-sitting facilitates all of that. We usually wake up early when our cat signals that it’s time to eat … at 6 am on the dot. It escapes me how he knows it’s time, but to avoid any interferences with his breakfast schedule, we take the dog out as the cat feeds, instead of crawling straight back into bed. Having a dog around makes sure that we are up and about in the wee hours of the morning, and by the time we’ve walked, the cool refreshing morning air and mild exercise has prepped us to start our day. I lay out the dog’s bowl of water and food, Mike hops into the shower, and I make breakfast and coffee.
  • Further Exploration of our Neighborhood – We are lucky in that we live in the heart of a downtown area. So there are plenty of places wherein one could take a dog out on a walk. Dog sitting gives us a reason to explore more of our neighborhood. It gets us out in the later hours of the evening, and allows us to see the vibrant city life that we would otherwise avoid due to our homebody-ness.
  • More Quality Time – What I cherish most about dog sitting is the quality time it lends to Mr. Debtist and myself. My favorite moments include playing chase with a new pup, tossing a ball between us as the dog runs back and forth, going on long walks along the beach on weekends, or having long conversations as we walk our own neighborhood. I also love snuggling on the couch as I read and he plays video games, with a dog on one side of our laps and a cat on the other. We make a great team, dedicated to walking the dogs together, and taking turns feeding the pets as well as socializing them with our cat. We kind of create these little memories for our family, and I like to think the dog appreciates the quality time just as much!

Now that you’ve heard my favorite parts of being a sitter, let’s talk about how you can start your own journey to getting paid for playing with pets! But first, why Rover?

ROVER connects dog sitters to animal lovers.

Pet sitting is an ever-growing industry, and we are far from reaching its peak. As travelling becomes more accessible, we will see a continual increase in the need to have people watch over the pets who are left behind. Most people would report that they would rather have their pets stay in the comforts of someone’s home rather than be caged in a kennel overnight. This is not only great news for pets, but for people who are seeking to earn extra income in this line of work as well! But how does one get started in building a name for themself and connecting with dog owners in their area?

Enter Rover.

FOR SITTERS…

Rover is the perfect platform for both new and experienced dog sitters. It connects potential dog-sitters with pets in the area without needing to put up flyers or create ads on Craigslist. The audience that you have on Rover is specifically made up of people shopping for dog sitters. And dog owners love Rover too, because it lists a number of different services, including dog boarding, house sitting, dog walking, doggy day care, and drop-in visits.

Not only does Rover connect you with dog parents, it is also a great space to build credibility. Reviews after each sitting are public, and is a great way for you to spread your quality services via “word-of-mouth”. You can also upload photos of yourself with dogs or of your home where dogs will be staying to convince dog owners that you are the right person for the job.

However, this does not mean that everyone should be a sitter. You need to make sure that your home is a loving and safe environment. You also need to be confident in your ability to take care of pets. This not only includes dog walking but also feeding, administering medicine, and reading dog behavior. You have to be active enough to give the dogs an appropriate amount of exercise, flexible enough to cater to the pet’s walking and feeding schedules, and patient enough to understand and learn each dog’s unique needs and wants. Lastly, you need to be a good communicator to the doggie parents, and competent in caring for the pet in case emergencies arise.

FOR OWNERS…

For pet owners, Rover makes searching for the appropriate sitter an easy task. You simply enter the dates, the appropriate zip code, and you can search through a number of profiles to find a match that would be good for your furry family member. As suggested per Rover, you can schedule a meet-and-greet to see if your pet and the sitter will get along, or to visit the house that your pet will be staying at. You can read profiles and reviews of your sitters, and rest assured that Rover performs a very thorough screening process for all sitters.

In fact, according to Rover.com, only 1/3 of the applicants make it through the screening process. And just to give a real life example, I actually applied to Rover upon hearing that a dentist colleague of mine also applied. My colleague has owned dogs before, currently owns a dog, and is a responsible and fun guy. We applied at the same time. Unfortunately, he didn’t get a position on Rover.com, who’s to say why. Rover requires all applicants to fill out a generic form, submit some photos, write essays, and answer situational questions. Examples of such questions include: “What would you do if the dog you are watching starts to fight with another pet at a dog park?” or “How will you ensure that your pet will not accidentally escape from your home?”. They ask how you would communicate with the owners if an accident were to happen, or how you would facilitate a meet-and-greet. It is obvious that the pets are Rover’s number one priority.

Lastly, Rover offers complimentary insurance for all services booked through Rover, as well as access to 24/7 vet consultation and partnerships for the sitters. Their cell phone app makes communication easy between sitter and pet parent and it allows photo sharing for those who wish to keep a visual tabs on their pet.

A Guide to Becoming a Dog Sitter

If you are a dog lover interested in earning some extra income, or if you are someone hoping to make dog sitting a full-time gig, then here are the steps to growing your new-found doggy business.

  • Apply to Rover by filling out their general application form.
  • Gather photos of your experience with dogs.
  • Collect references that Rover can call. Let these references know that you’ve given the company their name. It is best to refer either dog owners who you’ve helped in the past or people who have seen you interact with dogs before.
  • Rover will send you a questionnaire full of situational questions. Answer them to the best of your ability. Try to keep at the forefront of your mind the pet’s welfare. Be honest in your answers.
  • Once approved, you need to set up a sitter profile. Include photos of your home and interactions with dogs. Tell people a little bit about yourself and your experience.
  • Part of the job is managing your own calendar. If you have any other engagements, you need to put that in the calendar so that searching dog owners will know what days you are available. Rover makes it very simple for you to create a recurring weekly schedule. Blocking off dates for personal time is made easier with the Rover mobile app.
  • Define your parameters. Determine the size of dogs you are willing to watch. Figure out which services you wish to provide. For example, I am solely a dog sitter, which means the pups have to stay at my house. You may wish to be a dog-walker, or a house-sitter, or offer in-house visits. List all your precautions and requirements. For example, I only choose to watch dogs that get along with cats. I also only accept dogs who are completely potty-trained. Lastly, I only take one dog at a time, unless there are multiple dogs from the same family, in which case, I take a maximum of two dogs. No two families may book with me at the same time, in case two dogs do not get along well with each other. At the end of the day, this is your business! You get to decide your limitations.
  • Offer owners a discount by providing a link that Rover gives you. This discount link gives your bookers a $20 discount while still allowing you to be paid in FULL. This discount only applies if the dog owner is new to ROVER. With the discount, you are more likely to get a review as well, so I would kindly ask everyone who books for one. These reviews can get you even more bookings in the future, since most people would trust sitters with a great history. However, you want to ask for honest feedback, not just five-star reviews. You want to know how you can improve your services because only great customer service will have dog owners coming back.
  • Now you are waiting for your first booking. Rover will send you a notification when someone wants to book with you.
  • Schedule your first meet-and-greet. I would recommend doing a meet-and-greet with every pet. You want to make sure that the pet is trained and compatible with yourself and your family. It is always best to be introduced to a pet on neutral ground, such as a public park, rather than at your home where a pet may feel intimidated.
  • If the meet-and-greet goes well, confirm the booking. Request feeding schedules, walking schedules, drop-off and pick-up times, emergency contacts, veterinary hospital numbers, as well as a list of behavioral tendencies. Ask for permission to take the dog out on any adventures you may have planned and inquire whether the owner prefers to get updates or photos throughout the stay. I like to communicate at least once a day with an owner.
  • After every stay, I follow up with the owner and ask for that review! As you get more reviews under your belt, the bookings come more easily. Eventually, enough people will know your name that you create good relationships with them and you no longer need to use the site to get more bookers. Tip: the best times to get bookings is on holidays and weekends. Being in town and able to watch pets during the holidays is a great tactic for dog sitters, since most families do their traveling during this time!

And that’s it! You can create a savvy side-hustle or full-time gig taking care of pets today. If you think you’re ready to start earning money dog sitting with Rover, sign up here. If you are a pet owner and want to be matched with a sitter, right this way. If you would like to have me watch your pup, this is me. And for all who are new to Rover, why not get $20 OFF with this discount: SAMANT24058 ? See y’all there!

 

Freedom: In Taking A Month Off When Owning Your Business

About a year ago, I heard of a man who worked for himself as a photographer. During Christmas time, his calendar for booking a photo shoot was entirely grayed out, indicating that there were no days available for last-minute holiday cards of procrastinators. At first, one would think, “Entirely booked for the holidays – he must be doing well!” Until one looked at the bottom right corner and saw an asterisked note.

“*We are accepting no bookings in the month of December in order to dedicate our time to our loved ones.”

To some, they may still come to the same conclusion. “He must be doing well to take THAT much time off.” But to others, myself included, a lightbulb flickers. An “Aha” forms quietly on the lips. And I think the inverse instead: “He’s got it all figured out, that which makes him well.”


R E :   M Y  T A K I N G   A   M O N T H   O F F 

In the month of June, I turn thirty years old, with my date of birth landing directly on Father’s Day, as it sometimes does. Life has been one crazy ride these last few months, and I thought to myself, why not take the month of June off?

Okay, not entirely, persay.

But my time has been disproportionately skewed towards my recent baking venture, and I have been looking for an opportunity to swing things back to a more balanced state. I’ve missed writing, and feel the loss of the introspection that only a year ago predominated my life. Plus, I also miss that slow lifestyle that has so rambunctiously sped up. I’ve quite made up my mind. I want to be like the photographer. I have my own bakery, and no one is requiring me to bake. In an effort to exit my twenties full of opportunity for moments of self-reflection and enter my thirties with half my wits about me, I have decided not to take any orders for Aero Bakery during my birthday month.

Off course, I will still be working as a dentist during part of my birthday month (we leave for a two-week trip to Alaska towards the end – how we get our flights for free here), and I will still continue helping Rye Goods bake off their bread and pastries. But with regards to my own business, I will close in observation of this life event, and in an effort to respect my mind and body which have both been craving time and space.

In addition, I have decided to quit the midnight shifts at Rye Goods after June and focus solely on Aero when I return in July. It was a difficult choice since both gave me so much happiness, but I had to choose between the two, or continue to deprive myself of the lifestyle which I have worked so hard to build. So, you see, I couldn’t keep both. I wished not to keep both. The choice ultimately came down to which one I had more control over, and Aero happened to be the winner. 


R E :   B U S I N E S S   O W N E R S   T A K I N G   A   M O N T H   O F F

I think it’s important to address the freedom in taking time off when owning your business. While it may seem straight-forward, unfortunately, the majority of business owners do not realize this freedom. As with most American dreams, less is not considered more. Closing a business (for a month or more, no less!) is considered business suicide. Taboo, almost. Many suffer from the feeling of, “No choice”. One simply doesn’t do it. Or at least, that’s how they want you to think.

Business owners experience a lot of pressure in competing with other business owners. Held prey to a scarcity mindset (you know, that sinking feeling that if someone else is getting a customer, you are, in turn, losing one), many owners fear taking the time off. In fact, they are less likely to take the time off than a person working for someone else.

I hope to remind you that it isn’t really the case.

It takes a whole lot of courage (and even more trust) in your abilities, or self-worth, or what-have-ye.

But it’s worth it.


R E :   F R E E D O M   I N   T A K I N G   A    M O N T H   O F F 

We talk a lot here about financial independence, and it is this freedom that this life affords.
The ability to say, “No, not today.”
The ability to walk away.
The confidence that it will be there for you when you return,
and if not, then you can build another.
Eventually, I want an entire life built around this freedom.
A simple one, free of debt, so that all I have to earn is the food I am going to eat.
I wish for a life’s work that is in my hands.
A job that we don’t depend on, because we don’t need to make money.
The ability to choose a different path, in an instant, without hesitation.
Eventually, I hope to work mostly for myself.
In fact, I hope to l i v e only for myself.
There. That’s better.


R E :   O W N I N G   A  (D E N T A L)   B U S I N E S S 

People in this space ask why I don’t own a dental practice, so that I may be free from my student debt sooner. But just as I refuse to work full-time as a dentist, I find that owning a practice gives up freedom now for freedom later, and the cost is too great.
I want to do work that is not dictated by money … nor insurances, nor patient wishes.
Currently, I counter-balance the need to fit into a box dictated by what is just, and good, and scientifically-proven, and paid for by insurance, and perceived by the patient, et cetera, with baking for myself, and myself alone. This is kind of where my life is headed. I wanted to be a dentist to be of use to people. I likely will not give up dentistry entirely any time soon, because I find that there is truth in my initial intention. But in dentistry, I cannot say with certainty that the end-product is truly my work. It’s manipulated by other people, factors, institutions, and the politics doesn’t allow for something more pure. It is because of this I do not own a dental business. And there is some pride in that.


R E : C A P

Regardless, looking forward to having a month sort-of-off. Looking forward to a lot of memory hashing and story-telling. Looking forward to, well, looking forward. My twenties were chalk full with life-affirming moments. I wish for my thirties to be filled with much the same. And much less ranting. As, I am sure, do you.