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03/22/17 Saving , Travel #

5 Ways to Save on a Short Vacation

5 Ways to Save on a Short Vacation

I went to spring training in Arizona recently with some friends, and while it’s difficult to call four days away from home a real vacation, the short vacation still felt like a worthwhile one.

Four days off in a row is basically a long weekend, and it can be hard to justify the expense of a flight, hotel, rental car, meals, souvenirs and other expenses that often come with a vacation.

I’m a big baseball fan and a trip to spring training is worth the expense, but spending a lot of cash for four days of fun is still hard to justify. For example, spending $1,000 over four days is a lot more expensive per day — $250 — instead of over a week, though extra time will add to your cost. But my thought is if you’ve already spent the money on a flight somewhere, you might as well enjoy being there for more than a few days.

With some planning and the generous help of friends, I made the visit to Arizona an inexpensive trip. The financial tactics I used can be used for any trip, short or not, but can be especially helpful on a budget for a short trip.

Here are five ways to save on a short vacation:

Go where friends and relatives live

short vacationI have family and friends living in Arizona, and while I didn’t impose on them during this trip for a bed to crash on, some have invited my wife and I to stay in their homes if we’re ever in the area.

You never know if those invitations are sincere or not, but if they are, then three nights is probably the most amount of time you’d want to spend there for the sake of everyone. You want to be a good guest, and after three nights it can get difficult.

The high school friend who hosted us during this trip is an incredibly nice guy and has offered to let me stay at his house. On this trip I was traveling with two other friends, so there wasn’t room for all of us.

Still, he was nice enough to drive us around, and offered to let us use his family’s second car — which we declined. Luckily, we found a place to stay that was a short drive from his house. And that’s another area to see if a friend or family member who lives in the area you’re visiting can help you out in — transportation. Many people have second cars that sit idle all day, or you could use Lyft, Uber and public transportation. Continue reading

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03/14/17 Travel # ,

A Local’s Guide to Visiting San Francisco

A Local’s Guide to Visiting San Francisco

 

Any first visit to a major metropolitan area can be fun and stressful at the same time. Visiting San Francisco, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, can be difficult for new visitors but I think it’s still a lot easier than other big cities because it’s relatively small.

I’ve lived in the Bay Area almost all of my life. I live in a suburb that’s about 30 miles east of San Francisco, and we can get to the City, as it’s sometimes called, in about 45 minutes or less by car or subway.

I’m not an expert on all that is happening in San Francisco, but there are some areas I like to regularly visit and events I like to go to every once in awhile. What follows isn’t a comprehensive guide to visiting San Francisco, but are some insider tips on getting around, what to do and what to avoid.

It doesn’t include every tourist attraction in San Francisco. Not that those aren’t worth a visit. I’ve just found the ones listed here are more interesting than driving down a crooked street.

How to get around

visiting San FranciscoTo get to San Francisco, and many places in the Bay Area, the easiest method is riding BART. The Bay Area Rapid Transit District is more costly to use than other mass transit systems, and the trains don’t run as often as they do in other cities (Europe), but the seats are comfortable and it’s a lot easier than driving.

The map at left shows how far BART goes. Taking it from San Francisco International Airport to Concord takes 1 hour and 13 minutes. That trip costs $11.30 one way for an adult and $4.20 for a youth or senior.

A roundtrip ticket from the Concord station, near where I live, to the Powell Street station in San Francisco is $11.60 roundtrip for an adult and $4.30 for a youth or senior.

Each rider must have their own ticket. If you’re going to ride BART more than once during your trip, I’d recommend putting as much money as you think you’ll need for your trips on one ticket. The fare will be deducted each time you exit a station. Otherwise, add only enough money to cover a round-trip ticket. Continue reading

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03/01/17 Work #

3 Big Ways to Continually Improve Your Skills at Work

3 Big Ways to Continually Improve Your Skills at Work

Going to work for five straight days each week can become monotonous. You can feel like you’re running on a treadmill and it can take all of your energy to just get through the workday — only to do it again the next day.

If you’ve reached that point, it’s a good sign that you need a vacation. But vacation time can be hard to come by, and there’s never enough of it.

A better solution, I think, is to keep yourself refreshed by continually improving your work skills. Doing this has two big benefits: job satisfaction as you enjoy improving the work you do each day, and a better chance at a pay raise.

Just like exercising and regularly and eating well, improving your work skills is a process that needs to be done regularly. Here are three of the biggest ways I’ve found to improve your skills at work continually:

Sharpen the saw

This skill is from the Stephen Covey book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” It’s a great book and one worth reading for your personal and professional life.

Sharpening the saw means renewing yourself in four areas:

  • Physical: Eating, exercising and resting well.
  • Social/Emotional: Making connections with others.
  • Mental: Learning, reading, writing and teaching.
  • Spiritual: Being in nature, meditation, music, art, prayer or service.

These are all big steps, but can be done continually at work and away from work to put balance in your life.

Take for example, self-development expert Trevor McClintock, who writes on his blog about how taking care of yourself will lead to being more productive. Making time for social interaction in your workday is important, McClintock writes, as is having time to daydream to spark creativity. Continue reading

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02/15/17 Minimalism , Work

Why I’m Dropping Another Side Gig

Why I’m Dropping Another Side Gig

For the past two years I’ve tried to increase my semi-passive income by buying two websites. As a side gig to my work as a freelance writer, I thought that they’d be easy enough to keep going while helping me meet an important financial goal — paying my family’s monthly mortgage.

It didn’t work out as well as I hoped it would, and I recently sold an investing website called Before You Invest after about two years of ownership. It was an interesting side gig, but I found that I didn’t have the time to devote to it that I thought it deserved.

The sale comes about six months after I sold another site I bought as a side gig and a way to add some semi-passive income — FamousParenting.com. I wrote about this sale in 2016, explaining that it was taking up too much of my time and wasn’t making much money.

After starting with a sudden change from how the site had been running for years with weekly posts on the best parenting sites, it looks like the new owner of FamousParenting has changed it to original blog writing that should hopefully attract more readers. Continue reading

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02/06/17 Debt , Investing # ,

Financing Solar Panels for Your Home

Financing Solar Panels for Your Home

The sun’s energy is free, but harnessing it isn’t.

Figuring out how to finance solar panels can be tricky, with more options for putting solar panels on your roof than there are loan options for buying a home.

Solar panels and the equipment that goes with them to convert the sun’s energy into electricity is expensive. Based on the average house paying $75 per month for electricity, a solar system that generates that much power costs around $25,000 to $35,000, according to the Solar Power Authority.

Utility company incentives, tax breaks and other subsidies can cut the cost in half, but even then it can take years for the solar panels to pay for themselves in energy savings.

A system that costs $18,000 — which includes installation, labor and the solar power system — has a payback period of about 20 years, the Solar Power Authority estimates.

Cost considerations for solar panels

How many solar panels your home will need and if solar power is worth installing depends on a number of factors. These include the size of the roof, amount of sunlight your home gets, energy needs and how much electricity you’ll still need to buy from your utility company.

Since the sun doesn’t shine on your home 24 hours a day, it won’t generate power all the time. Unless you live in a sunny state such as Arizona or don’t use much electricity and your solar panels produce more electricity than you’ll use, you’ll need to buy electricity from the power company when it’s dark or your solar system isn’t providing enough electricity.

The good news is there are many ways to finance solar panels and eventually power your home for free with power from the sun. Continue reading

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Hi, I'm Aaron Crowe. Welcome to CashSmarter. I'm a personal finance freelance writer who enjoys spending my money wisely and using minimalism to make my money last longer while increasing income.