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7 Things You Can Learn From The FIRE Movement

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Meet the FIRE movement, a lifestyle system followed largely by millennials that’s focused on the goal of achieving financial independence and retiring early.

FIRE adherents are uber-savers ― they save 50 percent or more of their income ― who strive to stop working for others sooner rather than later. They aren’t interested in gaining more wealth in order to have more to spend; it’s quite the opposite. They are intent on living their best lives for less. And it starts by rethinking their relationship with money, with an eye to achieving financial independence.

Adherents closely track their spending and consider every purchase in terms of opportunity costs. Dollars spent are equated to “hours of life energy,” a phrase coined by Vicki Robin, the now 72-year-old co-author of the 1992 bestseller Your Money or Your Life who has unwittingly become an idol of the FIRE movement. So if you earn $300 a day and want to buy a $100 pair of shoes, you should ask yourself whether those shoes are really worth nearly a third of a day of your precious time on Earth, as Time explained in a piece earlier this month.

FIRE devotees gather in multiple forums, camps and retreats, and, of course, they write blogs, and more blogs. There is also a growing FIRE subreddit called /r/financialindependence that now has more than 365,000 subscribers. There, followers discuss strategies, techniques and lifestyles with the goal of simplifying and redesigning how they live so they can reduce their overall spending and instead save and invest their money for the future.

Success stories are celebrated, tips are shared and there is much conversation about separating needs from wants and how to find contentment with less. Those interested in gaining wealth for the purpose of excessive consumption are in the wrong subreddit, for sure.

But it quickly becomes clear reading the forum that while FIRE is a lifestyle choice, it is not one totally free of issues. Those who adhere to a “financial independence, retire early” philosophy sometimes struggle finding partners who share their values and approach to money, and are often misunderstood by family members who conflate the idea of not wanting to work until a traditional retirement date with being “lazy” or “unambitious.” Community acceptance among like-minded people seems to be one reason the subreddit thrives.

The message of the FIRE movement is this: Let’s blow up the idea that we should work for 40 to 45 years of our life before having fun and getting to do what we want. Why spend the bulk of our healthy years working for someone else?

Even if retiring at a young age isn’t necessarily your goal ― or you’re in a job that hardly pays enough to save at all ― there are lots of practical tips to take from FIRE that will help you save and manage your money. Here are a few:

1. Make saving money your default action.

Most people treat savings as whatever is left over after all their monthly expenses are paid. Reverse that and fund your savings first, said FIRE devotee Justin McCurry, a transportation engineer who retired in 2013 at age 33 and now has $2 million in investments with his house paid off.

McCurry lives in Raleigh, North Carolina. His wife retired a few years after he did, and the couple has three children. Two of them will be attending college in less than five years, an expense McCurry already has covered.

He says success all starts with your approach to spending. Here’s what it should look like, he told HuffPost: When you get paid, immediately put half of it in a savings/investment vehicle, and then whatever you have left is what you will live on.

And, yes, people living in high-rent areas like New York City and Los Angeles are going to struggle with this, he allowed. “But you really can’t spend 50 percent of your income on housing” and expect to retire early, he said.

2. Use a money tracker to know what you spend.

Just like keeping a food journal of what you eat for a diet accountability program, FIRE adherents track what they spend. You should know where every dollar goes, McCurry said.

He uses Personal Capital to track all his spending as well as all investments. It provides a summary of all income, expenses and investments on one screen ― and, yes, it is free.

3. Having a social life can cost a lot of money but doesn’t have to.

Many of us socialize around food. We eat out and drink with friends as an evening’s entertainment. It’s a budget-busting behavior, and it’s one that’s hard to change.

Newbie FIRE starters, unsure how to engage with friends in other ways, are advised to get out in front of the problem and start organizing less-expensive activities for their friend group. Hikes, bike rides, a beach picnic, board games and concerts in the park are all free. So are programs at the public library, many events at local colleges and just binge-watching TV at home with friends.

Begin by tackling work-arounds for eating and drinking out, like a potluck meal or enjoying drinks in someone’s home. Be creative: How about an Instant Pot potluck? Or a wine-tasting at which everyone brings a different bottle to find the best bargain for under $10?

If you do go out for drinks, bring enough cash for just one drink and nurse it. If you go for dinner, order an appetizer only or get a reasonably priced dinner and drink water. If a friend wants to “just grab dinner,” be ready to suggest a couple of places and talk them up as “hole in the wall” joints with great food but low prices.

If you need further motivation to cut down on dining and drinking out, just look hard at how much you spend each month at restaurants and bars. For what a glass of wine with dinner costs in a restaurant, you could likely buy a whole bottle. Apply the “what is it worth to you” question here: Is the act of having someone else pour the wine and wash out the glass really worth paying three times what you would spend if you did that yourself?

Be the one who issues the invites for less-expensive activities, advised a subreddit poster. Ultimately, the poster added, you just may need to make more friends ― ones with less-expensive tastes.

4. Do it yourself whenever you can. And if you can’t, offer to swap services.

Mow your own lawn, clean your own house, walk your own dog and make your own lunch instead of having UberEats deliver it. When you pay for convenience, you are spending money that could be saved.

Instead of paying for a ride to the airport, ask a friend to drive you and promise to repay the favor when they travel. Exchange pet sitting services. Help your neighbor’s son with his homework if he helps you paint the garage.

Learn to change your own oil, fix your own sink leak and refinish your own table.

When you change your money priorities to funding your savings first, you will have less to spend on convenience, and doing things yourself will ease the pain of paying someone to do things for you.

5. Shop just for necessities, and do it smartly.

End recreational shopping, both online and in stores. Don’t buy things just because they are a good deal; buy only what you need and will actually use. Having a bad day is not an excuse for binge-shopping.

You can borrow books from the public library for less than it costs to own them. Hit thrift stores before you buy something new. Garage sales are also great for shopping on a budget. Organize a clothing exchange with your friends or at your children’s school. Never buy new clothes for a single-use occasion, like a wedding, a ski trip when you live in a warm climate or a dress-up outfit for your child. Instead, try to borrow what you need or make due with what you already have.

FIRE followers also suggest that for gifting occasions, ask for gift cards that can be traded or exchanged. They also buy them for themselves when they are on sale or cost less than the stated value.

6. Kids don’t have to be budget-busters.

The estimated cost of raising a child from birth through age 17 is $233,610, or as much as almost $14,000 annually, the Department of Agriculture says. That doesn’t include paying for college, and it may actually be higher in urban areas.

It behooves parents to ask why kids cost so much. Who hasn’t seen a toddler play more with a cardboard box than the toy that came in it?

Without question, children will cost money. It is not surprising that in a survey of FIRE followers on Reddit, 77 percent said they didn’t have and weren’t planning to have children.

Raising your kids to be savers will do all of you a favor. They really don’t need to upgrade their phone every time Apple releases a new one, nor do they need expensive summer camps, designer clothes they outgrow in two months or the latest and greatest electronic games.

Instead, spend time with them, McCurry says, which, if you retire early, you will be able to do in spades. When we spoke to him, he had just spent two weeks volunteering at his kids’ school on a project.

“I never would have been able to do that if I wasn’t retired,” he said.

7. Yes, you can still travel ― but do so more frugally.

There is no place like home when it comes to staying on a budget. But who wants to do that when there is a whole world out there waiting to be explored?

FIRE adherents travel, and they stay with friends or relatives, do house-swaps and use discounted gift cards, for example.

“I bought $200 worth of Airbnb gift cards for $173 at Raise.com [a gift card buy/sell exchange] when they offered 10 percent off sitewide,” said McCurry.

Another reader tip is to get loyalty rewards whenever you can. Many cruise lines offer special pricing for repeat customers who join their cruise membership programs. Some use ebates.com to book travel (and shop) to get further discounts.

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20 Percent Of Americans In Relationships Are Committing Financial Infidelity

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Nearly 30 million Americans are hiding a checking, savings, or credit card account from their spouse or live in partner, according to a new survey from CreditCards.com. That’s roughly 1 in 5 that currently have a live in partner or a spouse.

Around 5 million people — or 3 percent — used to commit “financial infidelity,” but no longer do.

Of all the respondents, millennials were more likely than other age groups to hide financial information from their partner. While 15 percent of older generations hid accounts from their partner, 28 percent of millennials were financially dishonest.

Regionally, Americans living in the South and the West were more likely to financially “cheat” than those living in the Northeast and Midwest.

Insecurity about earning and spending could drive some of this infidelity, according to CreditCards.com industry analyst Ted Rossman.

When it comes to millennials, witnessing divorce could have caused those aged 18-37 to try and squirrel away from Rossman calls a “freedom fund”.

“They’ve got this safety net,” Rossman said. They’re asking: “What if this relationship doesn’t work out?”

As bad as physical infidelity

More than half (55 percent) of those surveyed believed that financial infidelity was just as bad as physically cheating. That’s including some 20 percent who believed that financially cheating was worse.

But despite this, most didn’t find this to be a deal breaker.

Over 80 percent surveyed said they would be upset, but wouldn’t end the relationship. Only 2 percent of those asked would end the relationship if they discovered their spouse or partner was hiding $5,000 or more in credit card debt. That number however is highest among those lower middle class households ($30,000-$49,999 income bracket): Nearly 10 percent would break things off as a result.

Roughly 15 percent said they wouldn’t care at all. Studies do show however that money troubles is the leading cause of stress in a relationship.

That’s why, Rossman says, it’s important to share that information with your partner.

“Talking about money with your spouse isn’t always easy, but it has to be done,” he said. “You can still maintain some privacy over your finances, and even keep separate accounts if you and your spouse agree, but you need to get on the same page regarding your general direction, otherwise your financial union is doomed to fail.”

With credit card rates hovering at an average of 19.24 percent APR, hiding financial information from a partner could be financially devastating.

But, Rossman adds, it’s not just about the economic impact but also the erosion of trust.

“More than the dollars and cents is that trust factor,” he said. “I think losing that trust is so hard to regain. That could be a long lasting wedge.”

Kristin Myers is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

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7 Examples Of Terrible Financial Advice We’ve Heard

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Between television, radio, the internet and well-meaning but presumptuous friends and family, we’re inundated with unsolicited advice on a daily basis. And when it comes to money, there’s a ton of terrible advice out there. Even so-called experts can lead us astray sometimes.

Have you been duped? Here are a few examples of the worst money advice advisers, bloggers and other personal finance pros have heard.

1. Carry a balance to increase your credit score.

Ben Luthi, a money and travel writer, said that a friend once told him that his mortgage loan officer advised him to carry a balance on his credit card in order to improve his credit score. In fact, the loan officer recommended keeping the balance at around 50 percent of his credit limit.

“This is the absolute worst financial advice I’ve ever heard for several reasons,” Luthi said. For one, carrying a credit card balance doesn’t have any effect on your credit at all. “What it does do is ensure that you pay a high interest rate on your balance every month, neutralizing any other benefits you might get from the card,” Luthi explained. “Also, keeping a 50 percent credit utilization is a surefire way to hurt your credit score, not help it.”

Some credit experts recommend keeping your balance below 30 percent of the card limit, but even that’s not a hard-and-fast rule. Keeping your balance as low as possible and paying the bill on time each month is how you improve your score.

2. Avoid credit cards ― period.

Credit cards can be a slippery slope for some people; overspending can lead to a cycle of debt that’s tough to escape.

But avoiding credit cards on principle, something personal finance gurus like Dave Ramsey push hard, robs you of all their potential benefits.

“Credit cards are a good tool for building credit and earning rewards,” explained personal finance writer Kim Porter. “Plus, there are lots of ways to avoid debt, like using the card only for monthly bills, paying off the card every month and tracking your spending.”

If you struggle with debt, a credit card is probably not for you. At least not right now. But if you are on top of your finances and want to leverage debt in a strategic way, a credit card can help you do just that.

3. The mortgage you’re approved for is what you can afford.

“The worst financial advice I hear is to buy as much house as you can afford,” said R.J. Weiss, a certified financial planner who founded the blog The Ways to Wealth. He explained that most lenders use the 28/36 rule to determine how much you can afford to borrow: Up to 28 percent of your monthly gross income can go toward your home, as long as the payments don’t exceed 36 percent of your total monthly debt payments. For example, if you had a credit card, student loan and car loan payment that together totaled $640 a month, your mortgage payment should be no more than $360 (36 percent of $1,000 in total debt payments).

“What homeowners don’t realize is this rule was invented by banks to maximize their bottom line ― not the homeowner’s financial well-being,” Weiss said. “Banks have figured out that this is the largest amount of debt one can take on with a reasonable chance of paying it back, even if that means you have to forego saving for retirement, college or short-term goals.”

4. An expensive house is worth it because of the tax write-off.

Scott Vance, owner of taxvanta.com, said a real estate agent told him when he was younger that it made sense to buy a more expensive house because he had the advantage of writing off the mortgage interest on his taxes.

But let’s stop and think about that for a moment. A deduction simply decreases your taxable income ― it’s not a dollar-for-dollar reduction of your tax bill. So committing to a larger mortgage payment to take a bigger tax deduction still means paying more in the long run. And if that high mortgage payment compromises your ability to keep up on other bills or save money, it’s definitely not worth it.

“Now, as a financial planner focusing on taxes, I see the folly in such advice,” he said, noting that he always advises his client to consider the source of advice before following it. ”Taking tax advice from a Realtor is … like taking medical procedure advice from your hairdresser.”

5. You need a six-month emergency fund.

One thing is true: You need an emergency fund. But when it comes to how much you should save in that fund, it’s different for each person. There’s no cookie-cutter answer that applies to everyone. And yet many experts claim that six months’ worth of expenses is exactly how much you should have socked away in a savings account.

“I work with a lot of Hollywood actors, and six months won’t cut it for these folks,” said Eric D. Matthews, CEO and wealth adviser at EDM Capital. “I also work with executives in the same industry where six months is overkill. You need to strike a balance for your work, industry and craft.”

If you have too little saved, a major financial blow can leave you in debt regardless. And if you set aside too much, you lose returns by leaving the money in a liquid, low-interest savings account. “The generic six months is a nice catch-all, but nowhere near the specific need of the individual’s unique situation… and aren’t we all unique?”

6. You should accept your entire student loan package.

Aside from a house, a college education is often one of the biggest purchases people make in their lifetimes. Often loans are needed to bridge the gap between college savings and that final tuition bill. But just because you’re offered a certain amount doesn’t mean you need to take it all.

“The worst financial advice I received was that I had to accept my entire student loan package and that I had no other options,” said Gina Zakaria, founder of The Frugal Convert. “It cost me a lot in student loan debt. Now I tell everyone that you never have to accept any part of a college financial package that you don’t want to accept.” There are always other options, she said.

7. Only invest in what you know.

Even the great Warren Buffett, considered by many to be the best investor of all time, gets it wrong sometimes. One of his most famous pieces of advice is to only invest in what you know, but that might not be the right guidance for the average investor.

In theory, it makes sense. After all, you don’t want to tie up your money in overly complicated investments you don’t understand. The problem is, most of us are not business experts, and it’s nearly impossible to have deep knowledge of hundreds of securities. “Diversification is key to a good portfolio, and investing in what you know leads to a very un-diversified portfolio,” said Britton Gregory, a certified financial planner and principal of Seaborn Financial. “Instead, invest in a well-diversified portfolio that includes many companies, even ones you’ve never heard of.”

That might mean enlisting the help of a professional, so make sure it’s one who has your best interests at heart.

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How To See What Facebook, Google, And Twitter Know About You

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants you to know that your data is important to his company. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed published Thursday evening, Zuckerberg laid out why Facebook collects data to use for advertisements, and how it lets you control that information.

The op-ed is meant to explain how and why Facebook collects information about its users: It lets the company sell ads and keeps the service free to consumers.

Zuckerberg’s op-ed comes at an important moment. In a recent Pew Research Center survey, 74 percent of Facebook users said they had no idea that the company categorizes their interests based on their actions on the social network.

Facebook isn’t the only company that creates these kinds categorizations. Google and Twitter follow the same formula. Thankfully, the three companies also offer you a means to see how these services view you, and let you opt out of having your data used at all.

How Facebook follows you

If you’re a Facebook user and want to see what the company thinks it knows about you, follow these instructions:

From your desktop, navigate to Facebook.com and click the arrow in the top right corner of the screen. Select “Settings” from the dropdown menu and click “Ads” toward the bottom left of the screen.

From there you’ll be taken to the “Your Ad Preferences” page where you can see interests and advertisers associated with your account. Click on the “Your Information” tab and then select “Your Categories.”

These are the categories Facebook believes best match you. It can include your marital status, whether you use Gmail, if you travel frequently, the type of devices you use to access Facebook, and more. Using my profile and habits, Facebook was able to determine I’m a technology early adopter, that I am a commuter, that I recently changed my smartphone, and that I’m a gamer.

None of that is exactly top-secret information. I assumed Facebook knew at least that much about me if not more.

If you’re so inclined, you can delete these categories by clicking the “X” icon in the top right corner of each category box. You can also turn off custom ads by clicking the “Ad Settings” tab and changing “Allowed” to “Not Allowed” under the “Ads based on data from providers” and “Ads based on your activity on Facebook Company Products that you see elsewhere.”

You can also ensure that Facebook doesn’t use your social actions in any ads. For example, if you like a page for a movie, your friends may see ads for the movie indicating that you liked it. To turn that feature off, click “Ads that include your social actions” and change the dialogue to “No one.”

Checking your Google account

Like Facebook, Google assigns you with specific categories it believes align with your interests. But Google’s list is far more comprehensive than Facebook’s, ensuring it shows the most pertinent ads. Google also has the ability to scoop up information from you from a whole host of services ranging from your search history to the YouTube videos you watch and locations you look for in Google Maps.

To see how Google categorizes you, navigate to Gmail in your browser, click on your account image in the upper right corner of the screen and select “Google Account.” Choose “Data and personalization” on the left rail, scroll down to “Ad Personalization” and click “Go to ad settings.”

From here you’ll be able to see every category Google believes interests you and how it reached that conclusion, whether that was through web searches or YouTube videos.

You can turn off ad personalization from the top of the screen to ensure Google doesn’t use your information for ads, but that doesn’t mean it won’t still track what you do. To turn that off, you’ll need to go back to your Google account homepage and select “Data and personalization” from the left rail.

Scroll down to “Activity controls” and choose “Manage your activity controls.” This is where you can see the kind of detailed information Google has saved about you, including where you’ve been around the world, what Google Docs you’ve accessed, and which voice searches you’ve performed.

It gets to be a little creepy when you realize how far back all of this information goes. I haven’t been to Germany in almost six years, but Google still has that data.

If you don’t want Google to collect this kind of information, you can turn off each setting by adjusting the slider next to each category.

Twitter’s data tracking

As with any other free social network, Twitter collects on its users. To see what Twitter has on you, log into your account on your desktop, click your profile icon in the top right corner of the screen, select “Settings and privacy,” and then click “Your Twitter data.”

Scroll down to “Interest and ads data” and choose “See all.” You’ll then see a list of the inferred interests Twitter has matched to your account.

If you want to ensure Twitter doesn’t collect such data, you can disable the app’s controls by clicking on your profile icon, selecting “Settings and privacy” and clicking “Privacy and safety.”

Scroll to “Personalization and Data” and click “Edit.” From here you can choose to individually disable how Twitter uses your data, or simply turn the features off completely.

Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@oath.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley. Follow Yahoo Finance on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.finance.yahoo.com/

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