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.