Mastering credit cards took on a whole new meaning when our finances took a turn for the worst in the not-so-great depression of 2008. We went from being middle class to becoming part of the former middle class. The Introduction to my first eBook, The Poor Middle Class Crisis, details what happened to us. As a result we had to find new ways to survive. We created a financial survival toolkit. One of the most essential money making tools became credit cards,the ones we had and new ones we have gotten since then.
Our Financial History Over The Last Decade
Over almost the last decade, we have had to develop credit cards mastery as our invaluable this financial survival tool. It turned into an active endeavour, even an art this year due to the need to visit family in Colorado. That’s when travel rewards credit cards really came into the picture. Before that, our focus had been primarily cash rewards credit card. Due to the need to find a way to afford our trip, we had to learn to master the travel rewards cards.
Earning Credit Card Benefits
The first step in mastering credit cards is learning about them. So that is exactly what I did. I did research locating the best sites and blogs about mastering credit cards. Then I practiced and learned how to do it myself. As part of the process, I created a ‘cheat sheet’ that I could easily refer to. It is called, ‘Tips for Mastering Credit Cards’.
Tips for Mastering Credit Cards
Even though I continue to gather more helpful tips, I think that the ones on this list give me and anyone who reads them a pretty good start. What I would like to do for the rest of this post is go over them and explain any that are not completely transparent already. The detials will cover several blog posts because there is so much information to share.
1. Pay credit card bills in full before the report date and by the due date
The companies that you have credit card and other ‘debt’ with report the amount of that debt. They usually report the current amount of debt to the credit report agencies on a monthly basis. To have them report $0 debt, pay in full before the reporting date. Your credit card companies are supposed to provide you with that date if you request it. Make sure you do and keep track of that date, the due date and the closing date.
2. Learn to build and maintain excellent credit
There are many resources for learning to build your credit. They are listed at the end of this post. Notice the colored sections in the image above. They indicated credit levels. Excellent credit is the bright green bar.
3. Get new credit cards with cash or points bonuses
Many credit card offers include a promotion of either cash or travel points. This is in addition to the regular cash back % and points that they acru. Be sure to compare offers. There are several variables. This includes the promotion, the amount that must be spent to get it, and the regular benefit. The best ‘investment’ I have ever made was a $200 bonus on a $500 required expense. That’s a 40% return. Where else can one get that kind of a deal. It also happens to be a very decent cash back credit card. What a way to use a credit card. This is why we want to learn to master them.
Note the cashback % on this card: 3% restaurants, 3% gas, 1% the rest. Later in this post I will discuss credit card pairing. Therefore if you buy groceries more than you eat out, you can use another card for groceries at 3% like the BoA Cash Rewards card. If you pair these two, you get 3% for both groceries and gas. Then you can really benefit by using the Quicksilver card as one examples which pays 1.5% across the board for other expenses. This will be elaborated on later in this post.
Please note that this post is in several sections and will continue with Mastering Credit Card Tips: Part Two.
I’ve talked a lot about credit cards lately. It feels like I am living in a credit cards world. Actually, this for two reasons. One is because I have wanted to learn everything I could about them, credit scores and credit reports, too. The other reason, probably the most important one, is that credit cards have become one of my most important survival tools.
The Credit Card Maven
As a result of my intense interest and need to know everything I can about credit cards, I’ve even created a Facebook page called The Credit Card Maven. This is where I post information as I have researched and sourced it. I have found a number of websites, blog posts, Facebook pages (listed here) and groups that are extremely helpful resources in my quest for knowledge as The Credit Card Maven in my credit card world. Included are:
• Credit Card Mastery
• Credit Karma
• Wallet Hacks
• Wise Bread
Credit Cards as a Survival Tool
As I mentioned at the start of this post, credit cards have become a survival tool in my credit cards world. It was not by design that this came to be.
It was more a matter of circumstances. Once I got a feel for how useful and profitable using credit cards could be, my desire to use them and master it increased. Let me give you an example.
I have had a cash rewards credit card for a number of years. I can accumulate up to about $40. in a two month period. That was a good beginning. Then I decided to get a travel rewards card in anticipation of someday going to visit my family in Colorado. I used it and kept on accumulating points.
Credit Card Currency
When I went to check on the conversion to paying for an airplane ticket, the results were not impressive. I had to find something better. This time by design, I set out to find the best deal I could for air travel benefits using a credit card. I found one that I ultimately used for my flight. It rewarded me with 30,000 points and a $100. discount on my airplane ticket. This was such a great deal that I have enough points to return to Colorado for free, right now.
Now that’s what I call using credit cards as currency. If I could do that with a travel rewards credit card, I wondered what other benefits and rewards I could manifest in my credit cards world. I familiarized myself with a few other travel rewards cards as part of getting a second ticket for my husband and having funds for other things related to our vacation. All in all, my activities resulted in a savings of between $400 and $500 for our trip.
Credit Card Investing
Let me present one more situation where the skilled use of a credit card became very profitable. I found an offer for a cash rewards credit card that would refund $100 on spending $500 within 90 days of acquiring the card. That would be a 20% profit. I had never accomplished that in the stock market. It seemed like a very good investment to me. I wasn’t sure if I would be granted another card as I had accumulated quite a few by this point. But it came through. I fulfilled the requirements. Now I am just waiting for my investment to pay off.
Credit Card Monthly Rotation
I made another discovery. It may seem a bit confusing. In fact, I am kind of surprised that I am even able to do this. I am calling it credit card monthly rotation. It is based upon a combination of the nature of credit cards themselves and good credit card hygiene.
Each credit card has a closing date and a payment due date. Since I have several credit cards and they have different closing and payment dates, I can use them and not have to pay them at the same time. If I make my purchased and schedule my payments using my monthly rotation system, I have a revolving credit situation. In other words, if my budget in a particular month needs to be exceeded, I can use a card that has a closing date that will allow payment the following month. I just have to make sure the funds will be available then.
Based upon my understanding and goals to achieve Credit Card Mastery, I believe that I am on my way but I have not achieved mastery yet. When will I achieve it? There are several requirements that I have established for myself:
• My credit scores average will be over 800 again. It is only about 10-20 points from that now.
• My monthly rotation system will have proven itself to work and I will have a sense of mastery in my credit card world
• My Credit Card Management Chart will be complete and committed to memory. As a result, I will have a firm grasp on all my cards and a natural flow for their use in rotation as needed.
To many people, understanding credit scores and reading credit reports are overwhelming and confusing. There is no need to not have transparency and clarity about your credit cards world. Credit cards are an important tool and can even be crucial for personal survival and business development. Study the resources provided. Take the Credit Card Mastery Course if you can. Having one’s finances in order and being able to live solvently in a credit card world are not luxuries. They are necessities and everyone deserves to have them.
I am The Credit Card Maven. I have learned ways to master the use of credit cards for survival and profit. This post is designed to share these techniques with my friends and followers.
I started using charge cards many years ago. I never abused them. The bills were always paid on time. But they were not credit cards. They were charge cards for department stores. At one point, I decided to eliminate most of them.
Credit Cards Replace Charge Cards
My FICO score has always been in the excellent range. In spite of that, I had no idea how FICO scores worked. It was just one of those mysteries of life. I continued to carry a limited number of cards as well as having a credit score of over 800. When our financial situation changed in 2008, credit cards took on a totally new meaning for us.
Credit Cards Become Currency
Due to circumstances which I detail in my first eBook, The Poor Middle Class Crisis Introduction, our financial profile changed drastically. Our equity was gone as well as our income. We no longer had savings. Suddenly credit cards became a way to earn money and derive other benefits from them, as well.
The biggest incentive to use credit cards as currency was our need to take a trip to Colorado to visit our families. Because of that, I signed up for a total of four travel rewards cards. One of them was the airline travel rewards card. I signed up during a promotion. If I spent $1,000 in three months using this card, I would get 30,000 bonus points and $100. off the airfare. I have earned enough points for a free trip to Colorado and back, again. Hopefully it won’t take six years to see our families again.
Credit Card Mastery
As you can imagine, using so many cards can become very confusing. I am still perfecting my system. But I can tell you what I have learned so far. We are fortunate enough to have excellent credit. So we were easily able to secure all the cards we wanted. If you don’t have great credit, do everything you can to improve it. There is a link to an article from NextAdvisor.com in the Sources and Resources section about paying down if not getting out of debt. Do read it.
Treasure An Excellent FICO Score
For the person with excellent credit, you want to keep it. Great credit is precious. Here are some golden rules on how to train yourself to use your credit cards wisely.
• Sign up for cards that best meet you needs and spending habits. There are websites that show you which to use.
• Always pay bills in full and on time.
• Make a chart of closing and payment due dates for all your cards.
• Keep an accounting of how much you spend each month so that you do not exceed your budget.
• Use no more than 30% of the credit limit you have on each card.
• It is better to charge larger amounts on a few cards than to charge small amounts on many cards.
• For cash rewards cards, write on the card itself the cash back % you get on each category of purchases.
• Do not close old credit card accounts. It is best to have as long a credit history as possible.
• Avoid fee based cards unless the benefits greatly outweigh the out-of-pocket expense.
Credit Card Myths and Tips
Myths about credit cards abound. So here are some tips to dispel them.
• A credit score will not necessarily be lowered by having numerous cards. But don’t sign up for too many too close together. That can appear to the credit card score companies like you are in crisis.
• Almost every credit card company has a ‘Check Your FICO score’ feature. You can use it without negatively impacting your score. This is a ‘soft’ check.
• A ‘hard’ check can negatively impact your score. That could be checking by a loan company, a future employer,etc.
There is so much more that can and will be said about credit cards, their use and mastery in future posts. Credit cards can be like a loaded gun. They can be dangerous, even deadly if you do not know how to use it. On the other hand, they can be a lifesaver when properly trained.
What differentiates survivalism from frugality? What distinguishes frugality from frivolity? When is it appropriate or necessary to practice which? Is my lifestyle necessarily by choice, survivalism, frugality or frivolity? These questions stuck in my mind after reading a comment made by a member of one of my Facebook groups.
She wrote, “This is a good idea for a group. But, to me, flying anywhere is not what a person on a budget will consider as being frugal.” This was her response to my mention, in a page post, that I had taken a trip to Colorado recently. The trip was to visit family we hadn’t seen in six years. This included three great nephews and a great niece we had never met. I did not consider this frivolous. We needed to visit our family. In fact, the way we managed our trip was by a savvy use of travel rewards credit cards.
She continued, “To me, BEING FRUGAL means saving your money for unforeseen emergency circumstances. To me, it means getting the most from every dollar you spend and not wasting even one penny. To me, SURVIVALISM means not spending money needlessly for things you can live without so you will have money when you really need it.
She concluded, “So, for me, it would be good if you taught me how to SAVE MY MONEY and how to stop spending it on every little thing that catches my eye which ultimately becomes clutter which ultimately hampers my enjoyment of life. You know … kinda, sorta like … learning how to minimize my carbon footprint, as they say, so I can enjoy the pleasures of not being tied down to so much stuff. What do you think?”
A state of survivalism can result from a crisis, disaster or state of emergency. In other words, survivalism is a situation where one has to learn to make due in an unfriendly environment including minimized access to the modern conveniences.
Perhaps, in retrospect, the name I gave my group, Senior Suburban Survivalism, favored alliteration more than an accurate definition of survivalism. In any case, a senior who lives in suburbia faces a survivalism type challenge. It has been a continual test to live frugally. We do have an occasional slip into frivolity.
“Freedman emphasizes that frugality is not punishment, but rather, a power move. Controlling your spending urges, scaling back a bit on entertainment and dining out, and other frugal strategies will ultimately help you reach your financial goals. So while the road to reaching those goals may seem long, you shouldn’t view your careful money habits as restrictive and misery-inducing, especially if they lead you to paying off your mortgage and retiring early. Because isn’t that the whole point?”
Clearly, there is a substantial difference between survivalism and frugality. Survivalism is having to make due without, not by choice. Frugality is a choice to limit or postpone immediate gratification as well as self-indulgence towards a greater, usually longer term goal.
In my view:
• the difference between frugality and frivolity is a choice. For example, I am wearing an old dress to the party rather than buying a new dress.
On the other hand:
• the difference between survivalism and frugality is not a choice. As an example, I am homeless with no roof over my head or I have a place to live with a roof over my head. To her next comment. “So, for me, it would be good if you taught me how to SAVE MY MONEY and how to stop spending it on every little thing that catches my eye which ultimately becomes clutter which ultimately hampers my enjoyment of life.”I answered, I would like to quote from Lesson 2 in Donna Freedman’s second book, “Frugality is not a punishment”. In terms of compulsive spending, it might be best to take a deep breathe then ask ourselves:
• ‘Do I need this or just want it’?
• Will this bring me immediate pleasure but then gather dust and become clutter later on?’
The answers will determine if this is frugality or frivolity.
I am not totally opposed to frivolity. in fact, I think part of the joy in life is a little treat once in awhile. But here are the parameters:
• A treat should not cause harm to the environment by increasing my carbon footprint
• Something special should not unbalance my budget
• I still need to pay my bills in full as well as on time
Therefore, I hope I have clarified my position and brought more transparency to these lifestyle differences.
I am a Savvy Savings Shopper. Why do I call myself that? It is because I have had to learn, adopt and develop as many money saving, frugal habits and techniques as possible so that I could survive.
It has taken time, energy, research as well as trial and error to learn what to do and how to do it so I could be considered a savvy savings shopper. Consequently, the things that work have helped me to go from being One Day From Homeless, to a Senior Suburban Survivalist and now to A Savvy Savings Shopper.
Therefore the purpose of this blog post, A Savvy Savings Shopper, is to review some of these techniques, tools and tips I have learned. I wish to share what has worked for me with other people who need and want to survive, too. In addition, recognition goes to others who have accomplished a similar feat and to recognize them with The Savvy Savings Shopper Award.
ASKING FOR HELP
Back in 2008 when the stock market crashed and my husband was laid off from his job, all within one week, I realized we were going to need help. It really sank in when we had to use his pension and lose my savings just to survive. We needed help. As a result, I had to swallow my pride then learn to ask for help.
We researched and applied for whatever social services we could qualify for. We sought help from our local senior center. We got food stamps which were very helpful initially. This was because the amount we got is based upon a peculiar formula reflecting past income and medical expenses. But as time went on, our income was reduced to unemployment and there was less money for medical expenses. As a result, our monthly food stamp allotment diminished substantially.
APPLYING AND QUALIFYING FOR GOVERNMENT ASSISTED LIVING
Since we had such limited income and minimal food stamps, we had to find other sources for food. There are food pantries in just about every town where we live. Most are open once a month and some are weekly. We have found the ones that work best for us. But even then, there is still a shortage of fresh produce and meat.
GOING TO FOOD PANTRIES FOR CLOTHES
Some food pantries also have clothes that have been donated. Depending upon the source and the community, the clothes can be very good quality. Since I cannot afford to even go to thrift stores any more, these ‘Lord’s Taylors’, as my husband calls them, are a tremendous help.
Some websites are specifically for coupons for food, household and all kinds of item. One of them is coupons.com.
AARP.COM is a great source for senior discounts. In addition, there are restaurants and stores that give discounts to seniors. But don’t wait for them to tell you. ASK rather than wait for them to let you know!
Some supermarkets give everyday discounts to seniors, like Wild By Nature. Others have senior discounts one day of the week, like Gala Fresh and Compare. Riteaid gives seniors a discount on the first Wednesday of the month.
SHOPPING AT DISCOUNT STORES
There are all kinds of discount stores from cheap dollar stores to high end ones. My favorite is HomeGoods. In fact, if you use their credit card for purchases, you earn points and get a $10 store coupon for each 1000 points earned.
SHOPPING WHERE I GET GREAT SAVINGS
CVS Pharmacy, their official name, carries much more than prescriptions. I buy all kinds of household items there. Because they regularly offer discount coupons, I regularly shop at their stores. In fact, they just acknowledged me as being in the top 4% of supersavers in their New York stores. This is because I regularly make purchases at deep discounts from CVS. These include:
• all my paper goods
• kitchen accessories
• dental care products
• occasional candy and dessert treats
• nasal and vision aids
• over the counter medical needs
• clothes and shoes
• hair care products
• special body soaps
• skin care products
GETTING FURNISHINGS FROM THE TRASH (STREET FINDS) AND GARAGE SALES
Unless something is made out of fabric and stuffing, like beds and chairs, I have gotten almost all our furniture from street finds or garage sales. In fact, the quality of old wooden furniture is far superior to the new cheap materials, chipboard and fast growing pine. Consequently, old furniture is in demand.
A manual that describes the process step-by-step is in progress. This makes it possible for anyone to upcycle old furniture and furnishings.
USING CREDIT CARDS RESPONSIBLY
PLEASE NOTE THE NEW SECTION DEVOTED TO CREDIT CARDS USAGE. BECAUSE OF THIS, CREDIT CARD USE SYSTEMS ARE NO LONGER PART OF SAVVY SHOPPING SAVINGS TOOLS.
Because of the potential financial dangers of using credit cards irresponsibly, I especially caution that only people with excellent credit and extreme diligence with their use of credit cards follow these ideas. I compiled two booklet from resource materials that detail the best credit cards to use for cash back and travel rewards. They are The Best Cash Back Credit Cards and The Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards. Furthermore, there is a website creditcards.com that will actually calculate which are the best credit cards to use for individual needs.
PARTICIPATING IN SOCIAL MEDIA ON THIS TOPIC
Participating in Facebook groups and pages as well as websites can provide lots of new information. The groups can also function as support groups. I strongly recommend joining and participating. Some of my favorite sources are listed below.
READING AND WRITING BLOG POSTS WITH SUGGESTIONS ON THIS TOPIC
Reading and writing blog posts are two great ways of learning new tips as well as processing what one knows on this topic. Here is another blog post I wrote on this topic, Living A Consciously Frugal Life.
READ EVERYTHING I CAN ON THIS TOPIC AND WRITE AN eBOOK ABOUT IT
Especially relevant to writing on this topic to read, are other sources of material. Based upon extensive research and writing, I composed, The Poor Middle Class Crisis eBook. It is designed to ‘tell our story’, going from ‘One Day from Homeless’ to where we are now. The book is filled with savvy savings shopper tips.
In conclusion, the list of resources is growing exponentially. It will continue to grow as the need and demand for savvy shavings shopping tips increases.
Credit cards can be both a blessing and a curse. The suggestions given here about them apply only to people who use the responsibly and have excellent credit scores. I have used credit cards for as far back as I can remember. I have always paid them on time. My credit score is excellent, as a result. I have written previous blog posts about credit cards. But very recently, I realized recently that there was much more to be gained from having credit cards than just having an excellent credit score. They can be an essential tool of savvy shopper savings.
When I realized their invaluable potential, I began an in-depth research project into their use. There are two types of credit cards that fit into this category, cash rewards cards and travel rewards cards. My study has included both. Many websites and blogs specialize in savvy shopper savings with the use of credit cards. Here are two PDF booklets I compiled for the abundance of information available from research on the Internet.
Savvy Shopper Savings with Credit Cards: Conclusion
The responsible use of credit cards for cash and travel rewards is just one of countless ways to live a consciously frugal life. Future blog posts will reveal more about the use of credit cards as one-time high yield instruments as part of our savvy shopper savings strategies.
People are in shock when I tell them that my husband and I had been one day from homeless. They respond, NO WAY! They can’t believe it. Friends knew us as middle class. We still look middle class. We behave middle class. There is not really anything that gives us away. Since everything fails to confirm our financial situation and living circumstances, I have no choice but to tell them our story, One Day From Homeless.
When my husband and I became a couple in 1994, everything was fine. We had a house at the beach. We each had a car. Both of us had college degrees. I had a small business. He had a job and was completing a Counseling Certificate.
We both came from good homes. I was from Long Beach, NY. He was from Manhasset, Long Island’s North Shore. We had good upbringings and were community members in good standing. There was nothing to foretell what was to come.
A MIDDLE CLASS LIFE
We lived a comfortable middle class life. Things all seemed headed in a great direction. The house we owned skyrocketed in value. We sold it at the top of the market right before housing decided to turn south and crash.
My husband was able to go back to school full time due to an injury from his job and a layoff. He studied graphic design and got a terrific job in NYC in 2000. I had my decorative painting business. It was going well. For a while, things were fine.
FINE TAKES A TURN FOR THE WORSE
But then the stock market showed signs of instability. My planner said it was just a bear market that would correct itself. My gut disagreed. But she was the professional, so I held on. At the same time, there were changes going on at my husband’s job. He had to commute one and a half hours each way to New Jersey during reconstruction of their Manhattan headquarters.
When they returned to NYC, he got a new boss. From day one, they were like ‘oil and water’. The working relationship went from bad to worse. As if it had been orchestrated by some quirk of fate, everything felt like an avalanche gathering downhill speed simultaneously.
THEN CAME 2008
My husband had just turned 62. So he could collect social security. But he preferred to keep working and wait until age 67. But he got laid off. It was bound to happen. Better than the homicide or heart attack I feared would happen from working with his boss.
My mutual funds that were supplying a small income for me were competing in a similar down hill race. And it all crashed at once. That was 2008. Job gone. Income gone. If it had not been for President Obama’s extension of unemployment insurance from 26 to 99 weeks and his decrease in COBRA insurance from $1500/month to $500/month, our demise would have come much sooner.
THE HANGOVER OF 2009
As we continued to live on dwindling savings and my husband’s pension, I felt more and more despair. I had never felt this way before. I started carrying my toothbrush and dental floss with me everywhere I went. Something didn’t feel right. At first, I started having terrible pains in the area of my gall bladder. In attempting to heal that without surgery, I started to have a severe emotional swing, a downward crash actually.
As much as I fought it, I could not stop falling. I fell into a deep, dark hole where there was nothing. There was no hope; no future and time almost came to a standstill.
I was having a nervous breakdown. With five visits to the emergency room, I ended up in the psychiatric unit of the local hospital from two of the ER visits. That is where I spent much of my summer, in and out of it the unit. Then I was in the aftercare program. I don’t know which aspect of that ordeal was the worst part. I think all of it was. The only saving grace was that I was in air conditioning all summer.
VEGETABLE OR HUMAN
My husband was terrified that the prescribed medicine overload would leave me a vegetable for life. But he stuck by me visiting me in the hospital every day, twice each day. He didn’t even tell me about the day he got hit by a car when he was riding his bike. He didn’t want to upset me. He told me about it years later. Thank God, he was OK.
Somehow, I finally got on the right medicine, from seven at one point down to a reasonable, workable two. I found a wonderful therapist and started to see a pinhole of daylight out of that black hole.
SAYING GOODBYE TO OUR MONEY
But on thing did not stop. That was the drip, drip, drip of our money going down the drain, as we had to support a Middle Class life of expenses on a Poor Middle Class income. But we did not identify what it was at the time.
My husband continued to seek work to put us back in balance. But in terror, I counted the months our funds would last. By then, we were in ‘the system’, Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps. But what were we going to do about our housing situation?
We had a two-bedroom apartment and no idea what we were going to do or where we were going to go. We thought the answer was to get evicted since that would bide us time or so we thought.
Thank God, we did not go that route. It would have been a mark against us for future housing applications. Our landlord was wonderful. He patiently worked with us, accepting what we had left to give him. First it was our deposit as a month’s rent and then one of my husband’s best paintings as the final month’s rent.
By then we were down to another level in ‘the system’, the search for emergency housing. Miraculously, with the help of a friend, we found a senior housing opening. It usually takes years to get in. First you apply to a waiting list to wait on another list to apply for an apartment.
LIFE IN A STUDIO APARTMENT
But the housing that we found in record time, two weeks, was a studio apartment. That was the only drawback. The building was lovely, centrally located and most importantly, it would provide a roof over our heads in a very nice building. For a number of weeks before we found the studio apartment, we thought we could end up homeless.
Then there was a paperwork screw up with the county’s bureaucracy at the very last minute. We had gone there for our ‘one shot’, the money for our apartment deposit. We waited over 3 hours for it. But at the very last minute, it was denied to us. We had $8. too much money to our names. We were supposed to be delivering the deposit for the new apartment the next day. I totally panicked. That was the closest we have come to becoming homeless. It is something I pray that we never experience again.
MIRACLES DO HAPPEN
At the last minute, the money we needed for our deposit was made available by a charitable organization when they heard our story. After the three unnerving hours we had spent in the county’s facility, we drove another hour to the place that saved us with their donation. But I have to admit that the six months starting with the countdown of funds to almost homeless was probably the scariest time in my life. I felt so powerless.
It is hard to believe that we have been living in our building for about four years. We were even able to move into a one-bedroom apartment about a year and a half ago. It feels like a palace after two and a half years in a studio. We see the trees out our window and feel like we live in the sky.
My husband was able to go for advanced training in the counseling field. He has been interning doing that. I have been learning how to adjust to being Poor Middle Class, not as a punishment but as a badge of courage.
We believe that we have been given the experiences of the last 8 years to learn how to survive from a place of surrender, gratitude and humility. It has been and is still quite a journey. What we have learned and continue to learn is a gift.
It is a gift that has been given to us to pass on to others. Let us continue to experience this new life as a gift. Let us also continue to pass on joyfully, what we have learned and continue to learn. Let our experience help others who are now where we once were, almost homeless and part of The Former Middle Class.
How We Took A Frugal Vacation As Members of The Former Middle Class
This fact is in spite of what Erika Rawes wrote in The Cheat Sheet entitled, ’10 Things the Middle Class Can’t Afford Anymore’. At the very top of her list was the word, VACATION.
This blog post will disprove her statement. In addition to disproving her, I also pronounce that the Middle Class she referred to is disappearing and becoming The Former Middle Class. Even with that added financial burden, it is possible to take a frugal vacation.
It is different from a Middle Class or Upper Middle Class vacation. I will not dispute that. Actually, it involves actions that a middle class person would not take or need to take. Nonetheless, it is still a vacation. I have proof. That proof is what this post is all about.
I had not seen most of my family for six years. They live in Colorado. In fact, the last time I had been to Colorado was for my nieces weddings. Their four children were not yet a gleam in anyone’s eyes. We were long overdue to visit now that I had become a great-aunt. Since we had become member of The Former Middle Class, I did not know how that was going to be possible. As it was, we were barely making ends meet.
But as my husband and I told ourselves, life is short. We are both hovering about our seventh decade and live a day at a time. So one never knows how many days, weeks, months or years that might be. Time was of the essence even if the funds were not apparent. I was determined to make this the year we would return to Colorado, it’s beautiful mountains, past great fly fishing experience and now three great nephews as well as a great niece.
This Is How Financing Our Frugal Vacation Came Together
Pay close attention to this part because this is how to create the opportunity to take a frugal vacation. There are essential ingredients to this alchemical formula. They include and are primarily:
• Travel Rewards Credit Cards
• Help from family
• Help from friends
TRAVEL REWARDS CREDIT CARDS
Without having any idea when a trip to Colorado would happen or what it would cost, I went ahead and signed up with our first Travel Rewards Card, The BankAmericard Travel Rewards Card. It was with a highly reputable bank and the one we also had other cards with. After using it for a little while, we accumulated a few hundred travel rewards points. One ticket was charged on that card. This card happens to be the top card recommended by Wise Bread in this article.
I then took advantage of another promotion towards realizing our frugal vacation. It was a Travel Rewards Card from Capital One, Venture One.
By the time I had paid for the airline tickets, I did not need to use the equivalent in travel points of $200.plus. I called Capital One and they were able to upgrade me to the Quicksilver Cash Rewards Card. This became the equivalent of cash I could use anywhere for anything. It actually paid for our out of pocket expenses on our trip.
In continuing my Travel Rewards Credit Card research, I came upon a number of articles about what were considered the best cards for travel rewards. One in particular recommended the Delta SkyMiles Credit Card. It just so happens that Delta Airlines flies to Denver. Also, the promotion for this card included $100 off the first trip and 30,000 additional points if a certain amount of money was charged within a certain amount of time. From past experience, I knew this would be manageable. Due to some confusion with signing up, I ended up with two accounts, saved $200 on our flights and am now working on the 30,000 travel rewards points.
When it came time to go home, we decided to try the SuperShuttle. We had taken the newly completed light rail system from the airport to the hotel. It was a bit grueling as it happened to be raining and snowing that particular day in May. Although it was a thrifty $9. for both of us. Using that method of return transportation was out of the question.
In arranging for our $38. Super Shuttle ride to the airport, there was a prompt on the phone that gave us the opportunity to receive two $20. refund coupons. I usually ignore these kinds of offers. But as a Former Middle Class, I felt it was my duty to investigate. We signed up for $1 to try the greatfun.com website. If we didn’t like it, we could cancel within thirty days and we would receive no other charges. I have to make sure I contact them before June 23. If not, the fee goes up to $16.99 per month.
THANKS TO FAMILY AND FRIENDS
Our family treated us royally providing food and lodging. Friends drove us to and from the airport, lent money to fill in the gaps and one friend in particular lent us two suitcases which she then said we could keep. Let me not forget our neighbor who took in our mail for the time we were gone so we did not have to deal with the post office.
We already miss the mountain view outside our hotel window. With all the travel points we are now accumulating who know how soon we will have a snow capped view when we look outside. We hope and plan that it will be soon.
From when we first started pricing our trip, the flight costs rose daily. My husband searched for several days and became dizzy between all the various supposed discount options, Orbits.com, Travelocity.com, AARP.com and others. For some reason, I decided to try again. It seemed to me that there had to be a way to get to where we wanted to go and back for under $1200. By the time I finished the research, locked in our fares and got promotional discounts, our airfares were $650 including flight cancellation insurance. Now that we have shared some of the ways to took our frugal vacation, we hope you will find these tips helpful so you can take a frugal vacation, too.
Money, as a government produced commodity is more friendly to the wealthy and decreasing so as one approaches poverty. As a Senior Suburban Survivalist, or a member of The Former Middle Class, The Poor and even the dwindling Middle Class, we need to find more impartial, equitable survival resources. They need to be less dependent on government produced and controlled money.
In addition to the inequity of money is the fact that many of us no longer have enough income or savings to live the traditional life we grew up with or used to have. In other words, we are no longer Middle Class Americans. We are part of the Poor Middle Class Crisis. Many of us are in debt. Many of us baby boomers are now seniors and beyond significant employability.
The most devastating causes of the loss of one’s money can be a serious illness, a death, the termination of a good job, as well as storms and earthquakes. A significant economic downturn can scoop up more of the Middle Class and deposit us, like yesterday’s trash, into the heap of The Poor Middle Class. Some people ended up in the depths of poverty and homelessness from the horrific hurricanes of 2005 and 2012 and the stock market crash of 2008.
Here is an introductory video to the homesteading life, Off Grid with Doug and Stacy.
It is time for a change, a paradigm shift to a new kind of economy. We need an economy that offers alternatives to money as its foundation. We no longer have a large Middle Class or the ease to be part of it. Our government’s focus has shifted. We have a growing Poor Middle Class and increasingly fewer people in possession of the government produced money.
If the economic paradigm does not shift, this is the direction we are headed in. Many people will have to live like slaves. They will continue to have to work two and even three minimum wage jobs. Even then, they may barely make enough money to survive. Also, they may still need government assistance, like food stamps to make ends meet and health insurance to survive.
Disastrous Results From Uneven Distribution of Government Money
If people are not fortunate enough to find work, are not able to work, can’t support themselves or their families and cannot get enough government assistance, they may also become homeless. The number of homeless people in this country is also increasing. One of the changes that needs to take place does not involve going backwards.
The problem will not be solved by increasing jobs in outmoded technologies that will be short lived and not provide health insurance. It will also not be solved by the government’s shifting money around where even less goes to the needy and more goes to national defense. As we know, the haves will rarely give enough to help the have-nots unless they are forced to. It does not look like the current administration is of the mind to force the very wealth to do so. This would require a substantial tax restructuring. This is not going to happen, either. Therefore, what is required is a completely new kind of economy.
Exempt From Disaster
The ultra-wealthy 1% and other very wealthy people might be exempt from needing to be part of this paradigm shift. They could keep their money. In fact, they would continue to monopolize this government commodity. But for those of us who suffer from the lack of money and the results of the unwillingness of the wealthy to share theirs with us, we need a system for The Middle Class, The Poor Middle Class and The Poor to rely as little as possible on government controlled money. As the saying goes, ‘the solution is not in the problem’.
Alternatives To A National Government Money Based Economy
I believe that we are in the beginning of this paradigm shift. Money is becoming harder to come by for too many of us. Therefore, we need to be less dependent on it. As a matter of fact, cash produced by our government is much less involved in our daily goods and services transactions. Here are some of the ways this has already changed:
• Paying with credit cards and being rewarded for it with cash or travel points. See posts about Cash Rewards Credit Cards and Travel Rewards Credit Cards.
• Community currency or local currency is defined by Wikipedia as “In economics, a local currency is a currency that can be spent in a particular geographical locality at participating organisations”.
• Bartering all kinds of food and products (on an individual or community cooperative basis) The Barter Network
• Acquisition without money such as foraging for food, using natural sources of energy, street find, reuse of existing found materials, scavenging for food and other usable items
• Homesteading and off grid living as close to what nature can provide with a bare minimum of cash to live such as Off Grid with Doug and Stacy
• Bitcoin is a digital, international coin system not produced by the US government
This is just the beginning of opening the doors and windows of the proverbial ‘thinking outside the box’. Paradigm shifts do not take place overnight. They only appear to in an historical perspective. We do not have that perspective, yet. This movement is much too new. But the good news for many of us is that is it a is happening and it is in its beginning.
Senior suburban survivalism has become our new way of life. The purpose of this blog post is to explain what this new way of life or lifestyle is. I also detail our need for it. In addition, I explore this lifestyle so that the knowledge of survival tools is made available to others members of The Poor Middle Class. I want to inspire hope in others who are in the same or similar financial situation to us. Learn much more about The Poor Middle Class on earlier posts of my blog and in the chapters of The Poor Middle Class Crisis eBook.
Surviving In A Middle Class Suburban World As Part of The Poor Middle Class
Because we are part of The Poor Middle Class, life has become increasingly challenging for us. As seniors aka boomers and part of The Poor Middle Class, we have had to find new lifestyle tools to survive in suburbia. We strive for a good life in spite of our limited financial resources. We are proud because we are rich in resourcefulness and hope.
Both senior suburban survivalism and homestead/off grid living have contributed to our new life. By preference, we are adopting lifestyle changes that are intrinsic to homesteading and off grid living. By necessity, we have become suburban survivalists. In fact, one could say that Senior Suburban Survivalism is a new alternative lifestyle for suburban members of The Poor Middle Class. We are learning to balance these alternate lifestyles to create a new life that is affordable and that works for us.
What Is Survivalism?
Survivalism is defined in Wikipedia as “. . . a movement of individuals or groups who are actively preparing for emergencies, including possible disruptions in social or political order, on scales from local to international.” Preparation tends to involve the ability to live in rustic, primitive conditions. It can include altering one’s relationship to the political, social and economic establishment.
For The Poor Middle Class, serious disruption to our social (economic) order has already taken place. It means that we are no longer middle class financially. But we still live in a Middle Class material world. There are steep financial requirements to live comfortably and securely in that world. But they are beyond our reach.
Additionally, the current political climate may cause our social order to be disrupted even further. Be that as it may, there are aspects of survivalism as well as qualities of homesteading and off grid living that we are applying to our suburban, poor middle class lives. Out of necessity, we have become suburban survivalist. Out of desire, we are also adopting homesteading and off grid living qualities. Our hope is that our new formula for living will work even when life is more of a challenge.
Homesteading and Off Grid Living
Homesteading involves living off the land, in a simple and close relationship with nature. Off grid living involves the absence of municipal utilities such as electricity, gas, heating and cooking sources as well as water. This elimination of this dependency is by choice.
Both of these lifestyles sound exciting and romantic to me. But these alternate lifestyles are for younger folks who are more robust than we are. Therefore, a compromise of incorporating homesteading/off grid qualities into our lives as senior suburban survivalists is one way we can live our dream. Below is the video introduction to Off Grid with Doug and Stacy. They are well respected ‘leaders’ of the of homesteader/off grid living community. As you can see from the video, Doug and Stacy have found great joy in their homesteading/off grid life.
Our New Life As Senior Suburban Survivalists
We have been forced into senior suburban survivalism rather than able to chose homesteading/off grid living for two reasons:
• our age-the rigorousness life of homesteading/off grid living is for younger folks
• our financial circumstances-we do not have any financial resources to purchase land or materials to create an off grid homestead
In spite of our limitations, we still derive great pleasure from aspects of our new life. Here are ways that we have adopted into our daily lives what we can of ‘the real thing’ as homesteader/off grid type folks:
• Housing-our senior housing is affordable, we have no mortgage to pay and we would be homeless or close to it without this amenity
• Food-the weekly food pantry we get food from has become our personal vegetable garden
• Foraging-local parks and green spaces make foraging still possible in the suburbs
• Traditional food & beverage preparation and preservation-these techniques are totally viable, easy to learn, close to nature, full of healthy probiotics, are frugal and avoid food waste • Living a simpler and slower life-we have chosen to slow our lives down even though we still live in the fast paced suburbs
• Budgeting-we spend very carefully and as little as possible while sticking to a strict budget
• Acquiring things like Clothes and Furniture-we utilize free resources from our food pantry, our neighborhood, flea markets and thrift stores
I am an eager beginner in understanding what homesteading, off grid living and survivalism are and how we can incorporate them into our lives. I feel that we have embraced the spirit of them and welcome whatever works into our home and lives. So far, we have found that as we simplify and scale down, our lives have become richer and fuller. We look forward to the bounty of adventures and discoveries that lie ahead on this journey of our new life.