Fix Financial Hiccoughs In The New Year

More than just your waistline could be hurting after a very merry holiday. The season has a way of getting out of control despite your best efforts. Between travelling, handing out presents, and all of the extra seasonal accoutrements that come your way, you can end up going over budget. Before you know it, it’s a new year and you’re stuck with the financial consequences of 2016. At least there’s an easy way to fix your financial discretions, and it all starts with a direct lender.

Direct lenders are quickly becoming a preferred alternative to conventional lenders because of their quick and convenient processes. Many traditional, brick-and-mortar lending companies still rely on in-person meetings and in-depth review of your credit. A direct lender has eliminated these time-wasting elements from their practice. They still require basic financial information, but they collect it online through a simple application form. If there’s any data they need to verify, a representative will call at a convenient time and clarify them. Millions of Americans prefer these methods to the bureaucratic red tape of the nation’s top banking institutions.

By conducting the majority of their business online, direct lenders can connect you with the money you need quickly. Their applications shouldn’t take longer than 20 minutes to fill out, and you’ll know if you qualify almost instantly. Should you be approved, your small dollar loan or line of credit can be directly deposited into your account within one business day. This efficient and speedy response means you won’t have to wait endlessly as a whole team of financiers look over your application. Instead, you’ll have the money you need before the upcoming due date of your bills.

These basic features are shared by most direct lenders across the States, but each company will differ slightly from the next. In some cases, direct lenders will stand out because of the predatory rates and fees that are associated with their products. It’s important that you stick with lenders such as MoneyKey that follow your state’s lending laws. These regulations were put in place to protect consumers by limiting the rates, terms, and interest allowable on their products. You can go online to learn about online direct lenders and see how a lender like MoneyKey intends to ensure their short terms loans remain a responsible lending option.

Confirm with your lender if even the state-regulated rates and terms are something you can accommodate in your budget. One of the representatives available at MoneyKey can discuss their products and processes in depth so you understand the extent of your loan. Once you have a small dollar loan or personal line of credit at your disposal, you can easily tackle the leftover bills from an overeager holiday.

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Why I Keep Bugging My Wife About My Fitness Goals

I’ve been driving my wife a little nutty, and she has no idea why. I’m not normally one for New Years resolutions, but I set one this year.  And it’s not really a resolution as it is a goal.  Here are my fitness goals and why I keep talking about them to my wife.

My 2016 Fitness Goals Fail

I’ve had a target weight for a number of years.  I’m about 5’8″ (or maybe a little smaller as my wife says I’m shrinking).  I’ve never been muscular and I’ve never been dramatically overweight.  I hover somewhere in the average range.  My ideal weight is 155 pounds, along with a 15% body fat percentage.  I’m normally closer to 160-165 pounds, and around 20% body fat.

To start last year, I was around 162 pounds and 21% body fat.  I wanted to run regularly for the full year, and figured that I could maybe get to my target weight goals.

It didn’t happen.

Instead, I went backward.  I actually checked in a few times throughout the year, and I basically went in a straight line upward.

I only put on about 6 pounds but every 3-4 months I’d be 1.5-2 pounds heavier.

It was annoying and as I got to the end of last year, I decided it was time to offer a little more than lip service to the idea.

My 2017 Fitness Goals

My goals were simple: The same as I’ve set in the past.  155 pounds and 15% body fat.  I realize that as I get older, these are probably harder and harder to reach.  Your body just seems to add a little here and there along the way.  But, I figure at 42 I have a shot, right?

My Plan To Reach My Goals

So what am I doing to hit my goals?  Nothing drastic.  I’m not going on any big diets or embarking on any big fitness changes.  It’s a series of small things that I hope will add up for me.

Admitting I Failed

I actually spent some time looking and thinking about what went wrong.  I not only missed my goals, but I went completely in the opposite direction.  Seeing that I missed the mark throughout the whole year was evidence that I didn’t just miss my goals.  I’d failed.

Revamping My Exercise Plan

I have really enjoyed running since my wife introduced me to it a few years ago.  I do this activity primarily on the treadmill at the nearby Planet Fitness.  My problem is that I set a goal last year to run as many times as I did the year before.  So all I did was run.  I ignored all advice, both from professionals as well as my wife, urging me to do different exercises.  I never lifted weights.  I never did other cardio.  I just ran.  This year, I stopped tracking running and started tracking walking, running, weight lifting, and other activities.

Getting Serious About Cutting Back Snacking

I love to snack.  Practically every day at work, I’d reach into my drawer and pull out a Nutri Grain bar or some crackers or something else.  I’d get home from work and have something to get me through dinner.  Then, after dinner and before bed, I’d be good for something else.   Three snacks, each probably 200-350 calories.  This was a couple of thousand empty calories per week.  While I haven’t and probably won’t cut snacking altogether, the plan is to cut back my snacking intake about 80%.  So far, I’ve made the adjustment and kept up.

Reducing Calories From Drinking Alcohol

My drink of choice for the past few years has been whiskey and coke.  I’m going to try to reduce my alcohol intake but am also going to shift to what a few others around me have taken on as their drink of choice.  This is vodka mixed with La Croix.  Just changing mixers will cut at least 100 calories each time I pour a drink.  Add that together with trying to reduce my intake, and it should again cut some significant calories.

Having An Accountability Partner

As I mentioned to start the article, I’ve been keeping my wife in tune with how things are going.  When I get back from the gym, I’ll tell her about what I did that day.  If I get back from work, I’ll mention if I had any snacks or that I haven’t snacked (so far it’s only not having snacked).  I’ll make a point of saying that a drink has 100 calories less than one I would have had last year.  When the scale tells me I’ve lost half a pound, I’ll let her know.   I know this amuses her, but I do it so that I can stay accountable.

I learned last year that trying to be accountable only to myself didn’t really do a lot.  But by telling her of how things are going or what I’m doing, it keeps me accountable and keeps me more on track.  I don’t need her to do anything more than listen, but just having someone that I know is keeping track other than me (even if she doesn’t mean to), is a difference maker.

Staying Focused Is Key

So far I’ve seen some positive results.  I’m down 3.5 pounds to 165 pounds and down to 19.5% body fat (starting off at 21%).  With the fact that I’m just making small changes, I know that hitting my targets aren’t anything in the immediate future.  But, I’m hopeful at this point that I can make slow progress to at least get closer.  More importantly, I’m hoping that this year my trend doesn’t go up.  Even if, at a certain point during the year, my progress flattens, that will be a turnaround in itself versus what happened last year!

Readers, do you have any fitness goals for 2017?  Do you have a plan?  Does one of them include any type of accountability partner, whether that be a family member, significant other, or even something like a blog?  Let me know in the comments below.

 

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Planning Our Spring Break Trip To Madeira Beach, FL

Our last big family trip was to Disney World in November 2015.  It was great and we had a great time.  As soon as we were done, we started thinking about our next trip.  We didn’t want to do anything as big as Disney, but we wanted to do another trip to Florida.  This time we were thinking Spring Break.  In order to give ourselves time to catch up financially, we targeted the spring of 2017 for our trip.

Well, spring break is almost here, and we’ve gone ahead and planned most of our trip.  Here are some of the details.

Picking Our Spring Break Destination

We knew that we wanted to do a beach trip.  Our family loves camping in the summer and most of our trips seem to be centered around the beach.  We both have had various trips in the past to Florida, so we initially looked at two locations.

  • Panama City Beach. I did a six month assignment in 2005 down in Panama City.  During this time, I fell in love with the beaches and knew that a vacation there would be awesome.  I had a good feel for many of the areas and was able to get a good start on looking for places.
  • Tampa Bay area (Maderia Beach, to be exact).  When my wife was younger, they did family beaches to this area.  We actually went a few years back with my in-laws.  My son was only a baby and my daughter hadn’t
    Image from MorgueFiles courtesy of Lash.

    even been born yet.  Still, with us having been down (my wife many times), we again knew the ins and out.

We actually started planning last fall and the price comparisons weren’t even close.  Since we were limited to the week that the kids are off for spring break, we knew we’d be hitting peak times.  The pricing for comparable units (we planned on renting a condo) was about 30% different.

So, Madeira Beach it was!

Lodging

Our lodging was the first thing we addressed.  We knew that things would be pretty full with us competing with peak spring break times. There were a few different options along the beach and near a popular boardwalk and started contacting owners or managers.  We ended up finding a unit in the same building where we took our last trip.  The pricing was pretty high, but we knew that it would be going in.

We put a deposit down and were able to cross a big item off of our checklist.

Transportation – Driving

When we started planning the trip, we said that we would drive down. With every 4-5 hour trip we took, we lamented on how things would go for a 19 hour drive, which is about what it would take.  Our plan was to do a considerable amount of driving at night, splitting time for the overnight hours.

Our driving options would likely be centered around renting a minivan or SUV to get down there.  I have a pickup truck and it would be ill suited to drive down with all of our stuff.  My wife does have an SUV but we are leasing, and putting the miles plus the wear and tear were just not something we wanted to do.

Renting a minivan or big enough SUV looked to be around $700-1000 for the time we were looking.  Additionally, we factored gas to cost at least another few hundred.

Transportation – Flying

We started looking at flying.  For our last two trips to Florida, we’ve flown Delta.  Their prices were ridiculous.  It would cost around $3,000 to fly down there.

Then we found Southwest Airlines.  We’ve never flown but have heard great things.  They’re cheaper.  You don’t pay for bags.  And, the prices were a lot more reasonable.  Still, flying down from Detroit would cost around $2,000.

My wife did some reading and someone suggested checking different airports.  We looked at the other airport in Michigan that they fly out of and the pricing was no different.  However, we started looking at airports in neighboring Ohio and the difference was staggering.

We ended up finding a deal where we fly in and out of Columbus (about a four hour drive) for a total cost (with all taxes and fees) of $1,220.  This is a non-stop flight there and a quick (1-hour) layover on the way back where we don’t even switch planes.  All at times that were ideal.

We decided to do this and sign up for a Southwest Airlines credit card that will give us 50,000 free points.  This, combined with our mileage, will likely earn 1-2 free flights the next time we want to fly down to Florida.

A Night At A Luxury Resort

The pricing on our flight had us flying down one day earlier.  If we would have flown down on the original day we’re staying, it would have cost around $300 more.  So what are we going to do for a day?

Stay at a brand new 4-star resort for a night.  The room we’re staying at would normally go for $475.  How much are we paying?  Not a penny.

Last spring we surprised my son with a one night trip to Great Wolf Lodge for his birthday.  It was just for him and he loved it, as this is about his favorite place in the world.  We stayed one night and we were having such a good time that we decided to rent a room at a nearby hotel so we could stay at the water park until the end of the day.  We booked online at a Howard Johnson a couple miles up the road.

When we got there, there were huge problems.  The manager was rude to us, rude to his employees (he made someone cry in front of us) and the place was filthy.  We ended up walking out.  I contacted Wyndham, the parent company, and explained what had happened.  They provided me a free night at any Wyndham location in the United States.  So, when we found that we could use the points on our early arrival at a 4-star high rise on Clearwater Beach, we jumped.

Other Costs

We won’t have a car while we’re down there, but that shouldn’t be a big deal.  We’ll take Uber rides from the airport to the hotel to the condo and back to the airport again.  We can probably use them to go out and make a grocery store run when we get to the condo.  Everything else we need is within walking distance.

We’ll have to pay for parking at the Columbus airport, which is around $7-10 per night.  This is a welcome surprised since Metro Airport (Detroit) is at least double that.

All in all, we are really looking forward to our vacation.  We love the beach. The kids do as well and we’re excited to show them the ocean, as well as build some more great family memories.  Since we’ve worked hard to find savings in multiple areas, we’re excited to have a great time on what looks to be an affordable budget.

Readers, do you have any spring break plans or big trips planned?  How have you saved money?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Are Credit Companies Giving Out Too Much Credit?

We recently added another credit card to our household.  We’re heading down to Florida for a family Spring Break.  Since we’re flying Southwest Airlines for the first time, we get a big bonus by opening up a Southwest linked card operated by Chase.  When I opened up the envelope and saw the details, I had a bit of sticker shock.  How?  They had given me a credit limit of $26,000!  It made me wonder if companies are offering too much credit.

Card Limits Have Been Jumping

My wife and I have great credit scores, both well north of 800.  As such, we’re not surprised when we get approved for high limits.  Still, the $26,000 limit was way higher than I’d ever seen.  Still, I started thinking about how the limits have been steadily increasing each time we’ve opened a new card.  These are just in the past couple of years.

  • Costco American Express.  Our first AmEx card was the Costco branded card that came out a few years ago.  This was the first time we’d gone considerably over $10,000 for a limit.
  • Costco Visa + Blue Everyday American Express.  When Costco switched our card to their new Visa branded card, the limit stayed the same.  American Express also wanted to keep our business, and offered us a great deal on a Blue Everyday card.  They matched the credit limit on our old card, meaning we now had double the limit between the two cards.

Impact Of Credit Limits On Our Credit Score

When we got the Southwest card, I became uncomfortable.  There’s no way in the world we need that much TOTAL credit, let alone all on one card.  I started thinking about requesting lower limits.  Then I started to consider whether this would have implications on our credit score.  I thought of this in regards to two variables:

  • Available Credit.  When your credit is pulled, I’ve heard that one of the factors used is your available credit.  If you have $100,000 available, another lender might be reluctant to give you more.  This would mean you could get denied for a loan or be charged a higher rate due to the perceived risk.  Obviously this hasn’t been the case so far for us given the new limit, but still something to consider.
  • Used Credit.  One benefit of having a big pool is that, as long as your usage is consistent, you’re using less of a percentage of your available credit.  So, let’s say you max out at $5,000 on your cards.  If you have $20,000 in available credit, you’re using 25% of your credit. But if you have $50,000 in available credit, you’re using only 10%.  It’s my understanding that using a high percentage of your available credit is actually a flag.

We Requested Two Credit Line Decreases

I ended up reducing the Southwest card and our American Express card by a total of $30,000.  We’ll never use this amount of credit.  Even with the lower amount, we’re still using a very small percentage of our credit.  So, I think it was the right move.

Two of our credit cards allow us free access to our FICO scores.  I keep track of it about every month.  I’ll be interested to see what might happen when the dust settles, to see if my score goes up or down or stays in the upper range that we’re used to.

Readers, have you noticed credit limits offered by credit card companies to be on the rise?  Have you ever requested a credit line decrease?  Let me know what you think of our moves and such in the comments below.

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.