My Solo Cross-Country Road Trip

Adrenaline started rushing through my body as I looked behind me to see the city of Baltimore. I was on highway I-95 and could see the skyline that painted Baltimore in front of overcast skies; the Raven’s stadium stole the spotlight and I could see the busy morning streets that usually fill Charm City. Wow, I’m really doing this. I connected my aux cord to my phone and hit play on Spotify to shuffle my road trip playlist. Leon Bridges’ “River” played and I started to feel at ease. I got this. I planned this trip pretty well

…right?

To be honest, my decision to drive across the country was a bit spontaneous. I was contemplating between that or flying – but then that meant having to sell my car and deal with that whole process. I honestly didn’t want to give up my Honda Civic as it has been so good to me. But…I have never driven more than 6 hours on a road trip by myself. However, driving was far more intriguing to me because I liked the challenge of completing a cross-country drive on my own. After I decided I was going to drive from Baltimore, MD to Boise, ID I set out to build my itinerary.

The planning process

After researching many road trip planners and sites, I found the almost perfect website that helped me start my solo venture: My Scenic Drives – the ultimate road trip planning website.

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I call it almost perfect because it seems a bit outdated with its graphics, and you have to do a bit of navigating before you realize the awesome features the website offers. Not only can you plan different stops along the way, but you can also:

  • choose how many hours you want to drive each day (and what time you want to start and end)
  • add the car you’re driving and estimate mileage and gas costs
  • plan your stays at hotels if you decide to go that route; you can even book the hotels and see the ratings on their site
  • download the trip onto your GPS
  • share your trip with family and friends
  • and my favorite feature: you can completely avoid tolls (I know GPS allows you to do this but sometimes it reroutes you and it’s just a mess)

I was planning to have to pay for tolls and set cash aside because I didn’t think I could possibly avoid all of the tolls. To my surprise, I managed to drive the entire way without having to pay a single cent on toll roads. It was incredible. Also, this was crazy timing, but I got out of the east coast right before hurricane Florence hit. I wasn’t aware of the storm until I was in Indiana.

Excitement aside, there were many factors that went into planning this road trip.

Tips to consider before starting your driving adventure:

  • get your car serviced (oil change, check tires, filters, battery, etc) and make sure you have a spare tire.
  • check with your insurance or credit card company to see if they offer roadside assistance, if not get AAA for the time you’ll be on the road
  • share your itinerary with family and friends (download your trip offline on GPS)
  • iPhone users, turn on your “sharing location” feature under Find My Friends. The people you share this with will be able to see where you are at all times. I shared this with my sister and a few friends. Android users, I’m useless here – sorry.
  • purchase a car phone charger (especially if you’re directionally challenged like I am – you’ll need it).
  • buy an old-school map – it will come in handy if for some reason your phone dies and you can’t access GPS. Can you believe this is how people got around back in the day?!
  • download your favorite podcasts and audiobooks – I listened to My Favorite Murder with Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark for the majority of my trip. Great choice when you’re driving by yourself and you start suspecting everyone is a murderer.
  • stock up on all the snacks you love

I planned all the above within 3 days, but if you want to actually plan like a normal person, plan your trip at least a week in advance. I let my friends and family know about my trip, however, I did not tell my mom. Not only did I want to surprise her, but I knew if I told her she would freak out and make me wait for her to fly out to Baltimore to help me drive. Even if I didn’t wait, I know she would call me 100 times a day and that would just add to my anxiety. Mom, if you’re reading this I know you mean well and I love you!

Let’s get this show on the road

I started my trip with an open mind and a cautious heart. I didn’t expect everything to go as planned; I wanted to spark up conversations with strangers but also keep my guard up. I planned to only drive during the day and to stay at hotels at night. Staying at an Airbnb might have been cheaper, but I wanted to have the option to change my plans at the last minute. Thankfully, I only had to stay at one hotel because I was able to stay with a friend at one of my stops. I drove through 11 states: Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, and Idaho.

Break down of my trip

Stop #1: Richmond, Indiana; Hotel: Holiday Inn

I didn’t explore much here, unfortunately, but I did have a meal with a stranger that shared her life story with me, which was amazing.

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Stop #2: Rochester, Minnesota; stayed at my friend’s place and explored Rochester a bit

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Stop #3: South Dakota; this was a spontaneous decision…originally, I was planning on driving through Nebraska, but I went to go see Mount Rushmore instead and it was wonderful! I continued my drive afterward.

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Stop #4: Wyoming; so this is where I was a bit reckless…I was supposed to stop in Laramie, WY but instead, kept driving because I had energy and I’m impatient. Before I knew it, it was dark and I got reeaallly tired. So I stopped outside a gas station for a bit and fell asleep in my car. Mind you, this was a very busy and well-lit gas station. Oops?

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Stop #5: Idaho! 35 hours, 11 states, and 2,432 miles later I made it home! I FaceTimed my mom at the Welcome to Idaho sign and she started bawling and yelling at me. They were happy tears, but she was so mad at me for driving by myself, haha.

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Costs

Car Service: $19.77

Gas: $185.96

Hotel: $140.00

Food: $45 (meals and snacks)

Tourism: $10 (Mount Rushmore)

Total cost: $400.73

Not bad, right?! If there was anything I planned right, it was my budget, the “meal prepping” and the snacks. I made breakfast burritos and turkey & avocado sandwiches that lasted me 3 days. I didn’t stop at any fast food place, and I made sure to pack enough snacks and plenty of water.

Lessons learned

  • September is the BEST month to go on a road trip; kids are going back to school, no one is really going on vacation (not on the road at least), and there isn’t a lot of traffic. I am grateful I had such a smooth drive through the country.
  • Early morning drives are the best; I started each morning around 5am or 6am.
  • Don’t drive during an intense rainstorm and don’t rely on the driver in front of you to lead you (this actually happened and I’m not sure how I’m still alive). I literally could not see anything except the dim tail lights of the car in front of me.
  • Don’t turn on the “avoid tolls” feature for Wyoming. The drive through Wyoming was SO long. I took a lot of back roads and lost service for a good two hours.
  • Don’t fall asleep outside a gas station

This was my first solo cross-country road trip. It was challenging in the best way possible; I had a meal with a stranger, drove through an intense rainstorm, stopped by to see Josh in Rochester, saw Mount Rushmore for the first time, and surprised my mom. Just me, my Honda, and the open road – what an amazing and freeing adventure!

Hopefully, my tips and lessons learned will help you when you plan your next road trip. Let me know of your road trip adventures (and if you have any tips to add) down below!

P.S. I’ll be uploading a video to my YouTube channel on my whole solo cross-country road trip experience soon!

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401(k): Does that mean I get $401,000 toward retirement?

I had a good laugh the other day when my cousin asked me: “does a 401(k) mean I get $401,000 toward my retirement?” While this may be a silly question to some, it made sense he would think that. I mean, he is in high school and usually, a number followed by a ‘k’ means $$.

I explained to my cousin that 401(k) is referring to retirement investment plans and 401(k) is just the name of the tax code section for those plans under the U.S. Code. Feel free to check out the link – you’ll have to scroll pretty far to see section (k), though.

All this seems pretty simple, right? It can be. Again, why they don’t teach this in school is beyond me.

So how does a 401(k) plan work? In a nutshell, eligible employers, or your job, allows you (the employee) to contribute some of the money you make toward a retirement savings plan. This is actually very important if you ever want to retire. When you can contribute varies from employer to employer. If you’re questioning whether your employer offers a 401(k) plan talk to your HR department.

When should you start thinking about retirement?

The sooner we learn about savings and retirement, the better. It’s important to know your options and determine when you should focus on different financial milestones.  Ideally, those of us who are in our 20s, should tackle credit card debt, student loans, if any, and save up for emergencies first. But it never hurts to learn about retirement and what to expect when we enter that era.

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Researching 401(k) plans, along with IRAs (Individual Retirement Arrangements), can get a bit confusing if you don’t know what you’re looking for, so I’m breaking down two common plans:

Traditional 401(k) plans: you can contribute money toward your retirement savings before taxes with each paycheck. You will have to pay taxes when you decided to withdraw that money, however. The catch? You can’t access that $$ until you’re 59.5 years old. I guess that’s something to look forward to on your 60th birthday.  If patience isn’t your strongest suit, you’ll get a penalty of 10% on top of the taxes you’ll already be paying. Might want to wait.

Roth 401(k) plans: the money you’re contributing toward your retirement savings has already been taxed and therefore, you won’t owe taxes upon withdrawal. Also – you have access to the account as long as your account has been active for 5 years.

How much should you contribute toward retirement?

A good amount to start with would be 10% of your earnings – you may be able to contribute more or less depending on your expenses. This will vary from person to person.

In my opinion, it’s never too early to plan for retirement. I used to play the “ignorance is bliss” card on retirement, savings, and my future finances but the truth is, I can only do that for so long. However, now that I’m in my mid-20s, I’m facing these adult responsibilities head-on. I figure it’s better to learn and research on what my financial future will look like than to be clueless at 35. It feels good when you learn about your options and you can plan for the best from there.

Check out the graph below that Business Insider created advocating for young individuals to start saving for retirement. This is not to say you absolutely have to start saving now, but it wouldn’t hurt.

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Millennials get a bad rep because we supposedly don’t know how to save. Hey Gen-X and Baby Boomers, instead of giving us a hard time, help us advocate for financial education early on. The more educated we are on finance, the smarter choices we’ll make…right?

I explained all this to my cousin the best I could, and needless to say, he’s not so excited about retirement anymore. What misconceptions about finance or life, in general, have you had? Let me know below!

Next, I’ll be talking about another fun topic and something that EVERYONE in their 20s (or even younger) should have: Emergency Savings. Yay!

 

Featured image by NeONBRAND

Got wanderlust? Here are some of the best beginner travel reward credit cards

Want to travel and earn rewards while doing it? Of course, you do. I’m always down to have a credit card company reward my spending habits. Whoever first came up with travel rewards on credit cards is a genius. In my last post, I emphasized the importance of credit. Why? Travel credit cards are why. When used wisely, they can really pay off.

The information below was last updated as of August 13th, 2018.

I consider these “beginner travel credit cards” with the exception of the Chase Sapphire Reserve because: $450 annual fee. Pocket change, right?

Ready to maximize your travel? Here are some travel credit cards I think are pretty great:

Credit Card Annual Fee The Good Stuff Foreign Transactions Additional Info Current Offers/Bonuses (as of 8/13/18)
Southwest Rapid
Rewards Plus
 $69.00 2 points/$1 spent on SW and Rapid Rewards hotel and car purchases; 1 point/$1

spent on all other purchases; 3,000 anniversary

points each year

3% of each transaction in USD all points count towards a Companion Pass (lets a friend fly with you for free) Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1000 in the first 3 months
Southwest Rapid
Rewards Priority
 $149.00 2 points/$1 spent on SW and Rapid Rewards hotel and car purchases; 1 point/$1 spent on all other purchases; 7,500-anniversary points each year; $75 annual travel credit; 4 upgraded boardings/year when available; 20% back on in-flight purchases None all points count towards a Companion Pass (a friend gets to fly with you for free!) Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1000 in the first 3 months + earn 25,000 points after you spend a total of $15,000 within the first year
Chase Sapphire Preferred $0 for the first year, $95 after 2 points on travel and dining; 1 point/$1 on all other purchases; trip cancellation & insurance; no blackout dates; travel and emergency services None 25% more in travel redemption; 50,000 points = $625 toward travel 50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months + 5,000 points after you add first authorized user in the first three months
Chase Sapphire Reserve $450; each authorized user: $75 3 points on travel and dining; 1 point/$1 dollar on all other purchases; $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases; trip insurance; Global Entry/TSA PreCheck Fee Credit None 50% more on travel redemption when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards; 50,000 points = $750 toward travel; Complimentary Priority Pass to 1,000+ airport lounges after activation 50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months
Bank of America Travel Rewards None Unlimited 1.5 points/$1 on all purchases, everywhere; bonus 3 points/$1 at the travel center None 2,500 points = $15 20,000 points when you spend 1,000 within 90 days
Bank of America Premium Rewards  $95.00 Unlimited 2 points/$1 spent on travel and dining; 1.5 points/$1 spent on all other purchases; up to $100 in annual airline credit; $100 in TSA Pre/Global Entry credit None redeem for cash back as a statement credit, deposit into BA or Merill Lynch accounts, gift cards, and for purchases at the BA Travel Center 50,000 points when you spend $3,000 within 90 days of account open date
Delta SkyMiles $0 for the first year, $95 after 2 miles per $1 spent directly with Delta; 1 mile for every eligible dollar; first checked bag free; discounted Delta Sky Club Access ($29/person) None Travel accident insurance; priority boarding 60,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 within the first 4 months (expires 9/19/18)

As you can see – Chase Sapphire Reserve has an annual fee of a whopping $450. However, when you take into consideration all the perks and credits you receive – it kind of balances out. I would love to get my hands on Chase Sapphire Reserve, but I don’t travel that much…YET. I’m pretty happy with my Sapphire Preferred credit card for the time being.

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this is the fanciest credit card I’ve ever held (it’s heavy!)

A few things to consider if you’re thinking about applying to get one of these travel reward credit cards:

  • most cards have a 17.74%-24.7% Annual Percentage Rate (APR) based on your creditworthiness 
  • all these cards won’t charge you interest as long as you pay off the entire balance by the bill due date – remember my mom’s advice?
  • there are penalty fees associated with each one if you don’t pay the bill on time depending on the balance
  • if you ever read the fine print on something, it should be the terms and conditions on the credit cards you are approved for; here’s an example of one.
  • do your own research – don’t rely on people like me to make up your mind – or do – but still, do your research

Travel on, Marty McFly.

Do you have a favorite travel rewards credit card? Let me know in the comments below.

 

Featured photo by Annie Spratt 

What is Credit? And how does it work?

The reality of being an adult means you can no longer see the world behind rose-colored glasses – I mean you can, but you’ll be greeted with a slap in the face. I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with looking at the behind the scenes stuff. You know – learning about how things really work.

When I was younger, I naively thought: people grow up, make big grown-up decisions, and everything magically falls into place.

Well, they say ignorance is bliss for a reason because there’s so much more that factors in when you make these big decisions as an adult. Learning about credit and how it works wasn’t necessarily magic-shattering but it did open my eyes to a whole new world.

I'll always cherish the originalmisconception I had of you

So what is credit?

Whether you’re borrowing money from a bank or a friend (do not recommend unless you can Venmo them in a timely fashion), you are expected to pay it back — actually, banks REQUIRE you to pay it back – friends just expect it.  If you don’t pay the money back on time, you’ll either lose a friend or worse yet, get charged interest. You’re given that credit (trust) – now whether it becomes good or bad, that’s up to you.

My mother always cautioned me to not purchase anything with a credit card unless I could pay it off completely by the end of the month. I still follow her advice to this day. Unless there’s some sort of emergency, I don’t recommend you purchase anything you cannot pay off by the credit card bill date.

Why credit is important

Building credit is important for when you want to make next-level purchases such as a house or a dog (yes, I really want a dog if you haven’t realized by now). In order to make these purchases, you might need a loan and banks need to know they can trust you first. They do this by looking at your credit report. This report contains all your information – think: SSN, DOB, credit and payment history, income, current and former addresses, jobs, civil lawsuits (not scary AT ALL). All this is peculiarly analyzed to predict future behaviors – will you pay on time or are you bound to mess up? I still have yet to learn how this really works as it’s a bit ambiguous (what gives, FICO?). Anyway, your credit report generates a three-digit number that becomes your credit score that ranges from 300 to 850 (the higher the score, the better). The number then has the power to determine your creditworthiness.

Your credit score can determine future interest rates, loan eligibility, and can even influence potential employers and insurance companies. No pressure.

Don't tell me how to spend my money (1)Like Yin and Yang – there’s good credit and there’s bad credit. Factors that can negatively affect your credit are late payments, bankruptcies, foreclosures and opening up to many credit lines at once. This information can stay on your credit report for up to 7 years. The good news is that your credit can always be improved.

Here are some tips to build “good” credit:

  • Pay off your credit card every month
  • If you feel comfortable – set up autopay. Almost every company has this option now – thanks internet.
  • Don’t purchase something you know you cannot pay off at the end of the month to avoid being charged interest
  • Keep track of your purchases (Excel is your friend)
  • Don’t close your old accounts – the amount of time credit card accounts are opened (and paid off) can impact your credit score; usually, if you have a history of these two things it can positively impact your credit score.
  • Even if you’re given a high credit limit on your credit card, don’t go chasing waterfalls – keep your balances low

Total household debt is at an all-time high at 13 trillion dollars. This includes mortgages, student loans (I despise you, Sally Mae), consumer debt…definitely enough to yell “I DECLARE BANKRUPTCY!” You don’t want to add to that debt if you can help it. I took out student loans that I’m still paying off (side note: WHY is school so damn expensive?!), however, as far as credit cards go – I try to contain myself.

PSA to all you wanderlusters – I’ll be talking about the best Travel Credit Cards next -you’ll definitely need a decent credit score for those.

Disclaimer: I didn’t major in finance but I do a ton of research and make educated guesses/conclusions – choose wisely.

About: The Smart Money Network

The Smart Money Network was created with the goal of early financial education in mind. I strongly believe that every person should be taught the importance of budgeting, saving, and investing early on– especially with the US consumer debt being over 3 trillion. As a strong advocate for equal pay, I particularly want to urge young women who are finishing up high school, going to college or entering the workforce, to educate themselves on being financially healthy.

PHOTO BY JIMI FILIPOVSKI

Ballin’ on a Budget: What I wish they taught us in school

Scraped knees, carefree, imagination running wild – you could be a crime-fighting superhero or an astronaut fighting extraterrestrials in space; you’re a child that knows a bill like a Taurus knows how to accept they’re wrong.

How I miss those days, not having to worry about payments, big responsibilities, and work.

I honestly don’t remember ever not working. I do remember getting my first paycheck, though. I was shamefully careless with my money; still in high school, living with my parents, and I would run to The Buckle (is that still a store?) and blow my whole paycheck on their jeans. I wish I could slap my young, naive, reckless self because not only was I making the minimum wage in Idaho (a whopping $6.55/hour), but I also wasn’t thinking about my financial future. Instead, I was dropping money on $100 jeans! Who let me do this?! Why didn’t my mother hide my paycheck? Let’s be real – she probably tried to no avail.

Anyway, I’m going to lay out a few things I wish I knew about budgeting and money then, and that I’m still learning about now. Not all of these things may apply to you, but hopefully, it can help you start thinking about your financial future. It’s never too late – right?

Tracking your spending

Let’s start with an important question: how much money do you have coming in a month? You can work with your salary instead, but I find it easier to track my spending when I go month to month.

So do you know how much you’re making after contributing to paying the government’s debt (aka taxes)? If you do,  you can start tracking your spending. There are many apps that help you track your spendings such as Mint and Fudget. However, I find that manually tracking my expenses works much better, especially because you have more control over what you see at once. I use good old Excel to input my spending every day and I check in on my totals every two weeks. You can even do it the real old school way and use pen and paper.

You can start with the monthly expenses that you don’t have much say in – such as your rent/mortgage, car and phone payment, the dog you want to adopt…

Now you can start to track how much you’re spending trying to live the lavish life on a budget – groceries, coffee, monthly subscriptions, restaurants, drinks, Amazon (pro-tip: don’t drink and Amazon), etc. This is where you really have control and you can start asking yourself: Do I really need to be eating out every day? Do I really need Spotify Premium? Can I use/hack my sister’s Netflix account? Determine your wants and needs.

You can do this.

I made a list for mine:

wants and needs

These lists don’t encompass everything, of course, but this is a start. When you look at the amount you spend on all these great inventions you might be really surprised. The money adds up. You can refer to the classic “$4 a day for coffee that turns into $1,100 a year” example. That’s a vacation to pretty much anywhere in the world! Now imagine if you contributed $5-$10 a day to a savings account or used that money to pay off your debt (student loans anyone?)? Debt is a monster that needs its own blog post or ten.

Determining/predicting how much money you have left over

Now when you do this, don’t freak out like I did, just remind yourself you are a badass for planning out your financial future. We’re owning adulthood! After you determine how much money you have left every month you can start setting financial goals to form healthy spending habits.

Make a short-term and long-term list of goals. As far as timeframe – give yourself a year for your short-term goals (paying off a loan, saving for a trip) and think about retirement (can we even do retirement anymore?), weddings, kids, savings – all that fun stuff – for long-term goals. Also, if you haven’t caught on by now, sarcasm is my third language. My ex hated it, lol.

Turn your list of goals into action

Based off these goals, you can really get into how you can budget around them. What can you cut out every month? Or better yet, what can you do to earn extra cash? Don’t worry about tackling everything at once – start small and work your way up. A small change a day could really go a long way. There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself once in a while, just be cautious of how often and how much you’re spending.

We live in a crazy world right now full of consumerism and material things. We shouldn’t argue with the baby boomers about who had it easier financially (and let’s be real, mentally). Instead, we should be educating one another about finances early on so we don’t make too many foolish mistakes as we enter our adult years – you hear that Betsy DeVos?

In the end, it’s all about balance (pro tip: try saying that at any meeting regarding any subject – people will agree every time).

Also: check out this accurate representation of my life living on a budget.

I covered a few of the basics, barely scratched the surface on financing. There’s SO much more. But I really think it’s exciting to learn about it. Do you have any questions about money and budgeting? Leave them below. I’ll research and deliver. We can handle the truth! I’ll be writing about ways to make more money without exhausting yourself next (looking at you, side-hustlers).

Disclaimer: I didn’t major in finance but I do a ton of research and make educated guesses/conclusions – choose wisely.