Saving Money Is Always a Big Deal

My Brother-in-law is a Groupon Coupon groupie.

He loves the vast selection of coupons (55,000 totally free coupons from over 8,000 retailers) and takes advantage of them regularly. Christmas presents, birthday gifts, or a discount on clothing or tech gadgets, he gets coupons for them all. He is always congenially bragging about the savings he gets and since he’s retired, that’s an added bonus to their lifestyle.

While he lives with my sister in a coastal town in Central California, the grandchildren live in another state. You might think this would pose a problem, but no! He simply puts in the town’s name and zip code and is able to enjoy Groupon Coupons for restaurants in a location far from home! Since he usually picks up the check for the whole family, these savings are always welcomed.

Groupon Coupons is available online and in the popular Groupon mobile app for iPhone and Android, so he finds coupons whether he’s at home or out and about.

Are you thinking “Yeah, but these coupons are never for places I like”? Check out some of these top retailers: Walgreens, Nordstroms, Amazon, Macy’s, Michaels and Sears!

So the next time you go shopping, go for these exclusive coupons from Groupon that you won’t find anywhere else! Save some money! It’s a big deal.

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Did You Really Say, “Far Out, Man?”

Garret Mathews is retired from writing the metro column for the Evansville, Ind., Courier & Press. He penned more than 6,500 columns in a career that began in 1972. Mathews lives in Carmel, Ind., and happily babysits his new grandson four days a week. 

Garet MathewsI’ve written a lot about men and women who came of age during the Second World War. They’re living history lessons, and I’m not shy about popping the questions.

What was the Depression like? Did you know anyone who toiled in make-work jobs provided by the WPA and CCC? At the time of your enlistment in the service, what was the furthest you had been from home? Unlike mobilizations in Vietnam and Iraq, public support for World War 11 was close to 100 percent. What was it like to have such unity of purpose?

Face it, folks. Despite our best efforts, one of these days we’re going to be old. One of these days, a young fellow will knock on my door at the nursing home.

“You’re a living history lesson,” the lad will say as I scoop another portion of Metamucil.

“Is it OK to pop some questions?”

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The tables will be turned. What will their generation want to know about my age group? What will they be curious about? What are some things that happened on my watch they’ll want explained?

Here’s what I came up with:

– Do you remember the day your father carried the family’s first television set across the threshold? How much did it weigh? How many knobs did it have?

– Talk about the Cold War with a special focus on the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. The United States and the Soviet Union were on the precipice of nuclear war. Were you afraid you were going to die?

– In the heyday of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, did you know any racists who worked at a restaurant or a hotel or a department store who denied service to blacks?

– What was the first thing you filed on your Commodore 64 computer?

– Did schools let out when John Kennedy was assassinated?

– Let’s go back to the 1970s. No Internet. No cable news on TV. No sports stations. What was it like to fall asleep during Monday Night Football and have to wait until the next day’s newspaper to find out who won the game?

– How in the world did that geek Nixon get to be president?

– What was the first television show you saw in color?

– Did you like the Beatles better before their “Revolver” album, or after?

– What was it like in the days before fast-food restaurants? Did people actually eat at home?

– Do you remember the first car you rode in that had air-conditioning?

– Let’s go back to the beginning of the fitness revolution. Can you remember the first time you saw a grown-up jogging who wasn’t being chased by the police?

– When your family left the drive-in movie at the end of the picture, did your dad ever pull out with the speaker still in the window?

– When you were in college, did you really say, “Far out, man?”

Other articles by this author

The Early Years

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Free Money From the IRS – Child Tax Credit

Guest post by John Ohe, IRS Enrolled Agent and chartered Financial Analyst.

John Ohe 1For many expat families with children under 17 years of age, it is possible to get a “refund” from the IRS without having paid any U.S. taxes. This wonderful subsidy is called the Child Tax Credit. Basically, it’s money that the U.S. government provides to middle income families to help with the cost of raising kids. The Child Tax Credit can be worth as much as $1,000 per child.

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples:

Nancy and John – Nancy works, and John is a stay-at-home dad

Nancy and John have 3 children, all under the age of 17. Nancy earns $30K per year. The family does not have any additional income. At this level, Nancy and John do not owe any income tax (because their income level falls below standard deduction and exemptions). However, they can expect a check (or direct deposit) from the IRS in the amount of $3,000 – assuming Nancy and John file their tax return.

Open up to new possibilities abroad.

Susan and David – Both Susan and David work

Susan and David also have 3 children, all under the age of 17. Susan earns $100K per year as a consultant. David works at a non-profit and earns $30K per year. With a combined income of $130K, this family is earning well above middle class income. The Child Tax Credit normally begins to phase out at $110K in income. However, many U.S. expats have the advantage of exercising the foreign earned income exclusion (FEIE).

Susan qualifies for the FEIE, and will basically wipe out all of her income on their tax return. David will purposely not exercise the FEIE, so that his income will qualify the family to receive the Child Tax Credit. Same as with Nancy and John, Susan and David can expect a check (or direct deposit) from the IRS in the amount of $3,000.

Can I get money back from past years?

Yes. However, there is a 3-year statute of limitation, after which one cannot claim a refund. Therefore, one has until April 15, 2015 to file a 2011 tax return (which was originally due on April 15, 2012).

Tax Deadline Reminder

April 15th – interest on any taxes owed begin accruing
June 15th – due date for filing without the risk of a late penalty
October 15th – due date if you filed an extension

Other articles by this Author

U.S. Expat Taxes – An Introduction

Buying and Selling Real Estate (Foreign or Domestic) from a Tax Perspective

If you would like to submit a tax-related question, please visit us:  HolaExpat.com.

All responses are provided by John Ohe (IRS Enrolled Agent and Chartered Financial Analyst).

Hola Expat helps Americans living abroad with their U.S. tax returns. Our professionals are IRS Enrolled Agents with expertise in expatriate tax return matters. Take a look at our fee schedule. We offer the most sensible pricing among our competitors.

Disclaimer: The answers provided in this article are for general information, and should not be construed as personal tax advice. Tax laws and regulations change frequently, and their application can vary widely based on the specific facts and circumstances involved.

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Protecting Your Home When You Are Away on Vacation

By Jane Brown

Summer vacations should be a time to unwind, kick back, and relax. However, statistics show that summertime is also burglary season and your time away from home leaves it vulnerable.

Security experts report that a home burglary happens every 15 seconds in the US. Summer vacations are a particular favorite for burglars as most homes are left unprotected and empty.

According to statistics reported by the FBI, victims of all kinds of burglaries lost more than $4.5 billion in 2010 with home burglaries accounting for at least 73% of all burglaries in the US. A good proportion of all of these home burglaries were vacation homes.

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It is important that you have peace of mind while on vacation. This peace of mind can be guaranteed by following a few protective tips to keep your home secure. The protective measures include:

1. Use of Technology and Security systems- This is by far the most reliable measure to keep your home secure while on holiday. Numerous home security technological solutions are available to satisfy varying homeowner security preferences. These solutions include;

• DIY camera options- DIY camera options make use of features on your Smartphone or tablet to provide you with real time surveillance of your home.

A homeowner can install WiFi enabled security cameras that enable you to stream videos on your smart device of the situation of your home. Some options are coupled with door and window break-in sensors that activate the system to send you a text message if something goes wrong.

• Timer switches for lights- A cheap but handy solution, timer switches can turn your lights on and off in accordance to a programmed schedule. This gives any potential burglars the impression that someone is home.

• Home Security system- Easily the most effective measure to secure your home from intrusions during vacations, home security systems guarantee a fuller security system.

Houston Home Security Systems offer video surveillance, door and window sensors, motion sensors, alarm systems, alarm response and many other surveillance options as part of their numerous home security packages.

Some security systems also offer interactive solutions that allow you access to check in even while on holiday.

2. Basic Preventive Measures- In addition to all the technological solutions available to secure your home while on vacation, it is also important to follow some basic preventive measures.

These measures include

• Don’t Broadcast your upcoming vacation online- Online discretion is fast becoming a necessity given the number of criminals waiting for tip offs on the web.

It is important that you explain to your children how talking about their upcoming vacation on social networking sites is equivalent to inviting burglars to rob your home.

• Stop the mail- one of the most definitive clues to criminals that a home is vacated is a pile of papers on your doorstep. Stopping the mail is sometimes as easy as just putting it on hold at USPS.com.

• Alert the police or your neighborhood watch- One of the easiest and low tech ways to keep your home secure is to ask a trusted friend or a family member to go over your home a few times a week while you are away.

An additional level of security would be to ask your local police department to do a ‘vacation check’ on your house a few times a week.

References:

http://www.asecurelife.com/protect-your-home-while-on-vacation/
http://www.foxnews.com/leisure/2013/08/02/protecting-your-home-while-on-vacation/

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House Sitting – Travel the World and Your Lodging Is Free

Guest post by Josie Schneider. Josie is a freelance writer, international house sitter, Airbnb host, and experience junkie. To help others get started in the rewarding and low-cost world of house sitting, she offers tips and inspiration at her website, HouseSittingTravel.com

DSC_0431Would you travel more often – or to more exotic locations – if the cost were lower? Imagine being able to travel where you’ve always dreamt of, but couldn’t afford it. Or how about finding a house sitting assignment near your grandchildren and visit them every day for a month. House sitting may be the answer.

Our Adventures

My husband Conrad and I discovered the amazing world of house sitting in 2008 and we have enjoyed several European locations and in the States. We hop from one assignment to the next while exploring the world. We “lived” in a large and comfortable renovated home in Denmark for six weeks. Our next “home” was a remote off-the-grid mountain cabin in southern Spain where we rejuvenated our souls in the glorious natural surroundings for two months. We got ten days of free apartment lodging in amazing Tuscany in return for harvesting olives. And right now we are tending a gorgeous home near Washington D.C. for a year while the two doctor-homeowners are in Italy on work assignment. As I type this, I’m listening to the bubbling fountain in the back yard through the open French doors. Tough work!

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350 year-old adobe home on the mountain

350 year-old adobe home on the mountain

What About You?

Is house sitting for you? If you are flexible, and enjoy discovery and adventure, then it could be a fabulous way to travel for less cost. Most assignments are an even trade – the homeowner gets peace of mind knowing their home, (and sometimes animals), are looked after, and you get free lodging. Lodging costs are a big proportion of your traveling dollars, so without that expense, traveling longer or farther becomes possible.

Visiting family is more feasible too, when you house sit nearby. And because the assignment may be for long periods – like our current one-year house sit – you can really get some quality time with your loved ones.

Downside

When you house sit for someone else, their home, and pets, you don’t have a choice of travel dates. You must be flexible enough to adjust to their schedule. And once there, you can’t call the front desk to bring fresh towels. All of the chores – laundry, cleaning, cooking, walking the dog, or mowing the lawn are yours. In addition you are responsible for the well-being of house and animals.

In Tuscany, Italy

In Tuscany, Italy

The Up-Up-Up Side!

The most compelling upside is that your lodging is free. That’s a perfectly good reason to jump for joy, but it is by no means the most important upside, and all seasoned house sitters heartily agree with this next sentence. Cultural immersion and living like a local are by far the most life-affirming and life-changing events that occur while house sitting. Not only do you understand a place after several weeks of living there, but you can choose house sits in locations that are completely unavailable to “regular” travel. Want to look after a cattle farm in the Australian Outback? What about an off-the-grid mountain home in Southern Spain – we did! Or perhaps you’d like a regal Irish castle, all to yourself, in which to spend your summer vacation.

The Procedure

So how do you start house sitting? Websites connect homeowners and house sitters together. The matching-up process is fun and safe, as correspondence is internal, so you keep your privacy. As a potential house sitter, you receive daily emails detailing new assignments. You initiate a back-and-forth communication until a good fit with a homeowner is found. House sitting assignments are available in virtually every state, every country, and every corner of the planet, with very little exception.

Three good house sitting sites, (but there are many):
TrustedHouseSitters.com
HouseCarers.com
MindMyHouse.com

Wishing you safe and happy travels!

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Family-Friendly Events in Oklahoma

By Jane Brown

Whether you live nearby and are looking for a few family-friendly events in the area or you’re planning a family vacation, Chickasaw Country has plenty to see and do throughout the year. From the heart of winter to the peak of summer, there’s no shortage of events for people of all ages. There’s an impressive variety to choose from, including farmer’s markets and the annual Rush Springs Watermelon Festival.

Here’s a closer look at some upcoming events and festivals for children and adults in 2015.

Dugout Canoe Exhibit

This event began on September 27, 2014, but there’s still time to get in on the action as the exhibit will run through May 6, 2015. The exhibit originated from the biggest archaeological find in the world, including 101 ancient dugouts that were found in a dry lake bed in Florida nearly 10 years ago. You’ll find a number of related objects here, including tools, fishing equipment, model canoes, and fun hands-on activities such as canoe-making. Not only does the event run seven days a week, but it’s also a great pick for budget-conscious families as admission is free.

Simplify, simplify, simplify

Kachina Dolls by Mike Aguirre

The highlight of this exhibit is Mike Aguirre’s unique hand-carved dolls, which are located in the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, Oklahoma. This exhibit runs through March 13 and is open to the public from Wednesday through Friday as well as on Sundays. The dolls, which Aguirre believes may be of Aztec descent, are crafted from soft cottonwood material. There will also be details regarding the dolls’ dances and history. According to the self-taught artist, there are over 500 styles of Kachina dancers. There will be various textures on display, including an array of organic elements and handmade Native American jewelry. In addition to the dolls, visitors will also get to see Aguirre’s own handcrafted peace pipes and knives.

Three Sister’s Spring Celebration

You can catch this spring celebration in action from March 9 through 22 at the Chickasaw Cultural Center. Aside from recognizing the rebirth of spring, the festival pays homage to the three sisters — corn, beans, and squash. In ancient gardening, the three sisters involved a closely connected system to primarily grow corn, beans, and squash in an effort to ensure healthy crops of food and long-lasting soil fertility. There are many related activities for visitors of all ages, such as cultivating crops, preparing a garden, planting tips and preparing food. Living History players will provide a variety of cultural demonstrations and performances in the traditional village.

National Geneology Day

This event occurs annually on the second Saturday in March. The goal of the day is to recognize and honor your family’s history and take a detailed look back and your heritage. There’s lots to see and do at the Chickasaw Cultural Center during this fun day, including a genealogy lecture, a panel discussion with family genealogists, and a fun family tree activity geared towards kids.

If you’re looking for fun and rewarding events in Oklahoma for the whole family, head to Chickasaw Country. There’s a generous selection of indoor and outdoor activities along with annual and daily events and exhibits. From art to artifacts and unique cultural heritage, topics are varied and designed to appeal to visitors of all ages.

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Preparation Prevents Aggravation

By Jane Brown

Living a traveler’s life carries an amazing set of benefits. The opportunity to see the world, meet fascinating people, and eat unique foods is one with universal appeal for the nomadic modern man or woman.

Of course, nothing can take the literal and figurative wind out of your sails quite like logistical headaches. Rookie travelers who are making their first foray into long-duration trips with experience only in the 10- to 14-day work holiday face a very steep learning curve, and that curve can be brutal when you derail from it. And in a changing world, there are far more potential problems to hedge against than merely a mistake on a rental car or difficulty finding your hotel.

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In years of experience on the wheel and on the wing, most travelers pick up on some durable truths about avoiding problems in their journeys. They’ve learned the hard lessons; if you’re just beginning an intense life of travel, you’re wise to follow their lead rather than learn the hard way.

Be Language-Ready

The world has gotten smaller thanks to smartphones. There are many apps available that can quickly translate phrases into and out of a multitude of languages. Many newbie travelers quickly download such apps and then start booking hotels, but it’s important to become fluent with the app if you’re not fluent with the language. Spend some time working through the app and making sure you know how to use it before approaching someone on a Barcelona street and taking five minutes to piece together “Where is this address?” It is not endearing to the locals to watch you swipe and stammer your way through a rudimentary question.

And don’t assume that such technology will be all that helpful in verbal communication. Just as you speak with a natural dialect from your home, residents of other countries have their own flavors of speech as well. For example, the German word “Ich”, meaning “I”, is pronounced “Ish” in some locales and “Ick” in others. There is not an app for that. So learn some basic phrases in the language to improve your travel-worthiness.

Be Luggage-Ready

There has been plenty said and written about what items to include in your list before hitting the road. But it’s not just what you pack, it’s what you pack it in. Some travelers feel that they’re better off to go with cheap luggage. They do this for several reasons, including fear of damage and a desire to avoid looking like a wealthy traveler with expensive items in the bags–or on their person.

But thieves don’t generally waste time reading luggage labels. Most such thefts are crimes of opportunity; a distracted traveler puts down the suitcase to take a phone call and a thief swoops in. A cheap brand name will not inspire the criminal to drop the item and look elsewhere.

And while you may scuff and scratch your bags, a more quality piece will tolerate it better than a cheap one. The cheaper stuff will have flimsier latches, weaker hinges, and fragile handles, as opposed to Samsonite luggage, which is durable and portable. Off-brand items will lead to you climbing desperately through baggage claim to find your spilled garments.

Be Baggage-Ready

This isn’t another section on luggage. This is about the political baggage you may encounter during your travels.

Part of being a world traveler is being world-aware. Before you start choosing and booking destinations, read the newspaper. Talk to your government. Make sure that you aren’t going someplace that could develop a situation where you might be in danger, or at the very least, delayed in your departure.

Just as there is more to a destination than the brochure you received, there is more to planning a trip than setting an itinerary. Managing this behind-the-scenes planning will help you focus on those postcard moments and keep you safe and efficient in your adventures.

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What Will I Do with All That Free Time in Retirement?

Hi Billy and Akaisha,

Thanks for your article on ‘Are You Afraid of Retirement?‘ and would love to see more articles dealing with the psychological aspects of retirement.

It is a timely article as well as it’s something I am dealing with right now. As you mention, fear can come up and rear its ugly head and as I get older, fear of the unknown is uncomfortable.

I feel as though I have been ‘institutionalized’ by working for almost 40 years and the freedom that appears to be there for me creates fear as well- what will I be doing with all that free time? Traveling around the world isn’t my cup of tea as after about 3 weeks I am ready to go home no matter how exotic the location.

I guess there are different types of retirees and I just gotta figure out what type I am…

Best Regards,
Robert

Do not let Fear make your decisions for you. Risk has a price and so does security.

Hi Robert,

Nice to hear from you again and happy to learn that you enjoyed our “Afraid of Retirement” piece.

Sometimes the anxiety we feel can actually be excitement but we don’t recognize it as such. Then again, it is probably a very good idea that you make a list of the things that you are interested in, things you might want to learn or even teach, and places you might want to go. Empty days have a way of filling up anyway, and if you can direct some of that energy into what you want to do, you will have more joy about it.

You could always join a club (gardening, chess, photography, hiking, tennis, etc.) or become a mentor (little brothers and little sisters, volunteer,) or take a class at your community college or city park or even at UDEMY or an online university (painting, accounting, computer class, woodworking, learn about world history, art) — there really is so much to do to fill up one’s days.

Take a look at our Preferred Links Pages for some ideas.

But the best thing is to know who you are and what you want. What do you want to do? Start there.

Thanks again for writing, and good luck. Once you get started I think it will be easier for you and you will have some excitement about your retirement future.

Best,
Akaisha

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The DIY Will: Do You Really Need an Attorney?

DIYWill1If you have assets — particularly if you have a spouse and children — you need to have a will. Your will saves your heirs from the hassles of state intestacy laws, and it ensures that everything you leave behind goes to the right people.

Many websites offer do-it-yourself wills, which let you fill in certain information and then generate complete and legally binding wills. You make your will, print the form, get witness signatures, and let people know where to find it. So do you really need an attorney to create a will? The question depends on the complexity of your financial situation. Let’s examine whether you can get by with a DIY will or whether you should consult an estate lawyer.

Who’s Getting Your Stuff?

If you want your assets to go to your spouse or another relative or friend, then a DIY will provides all that you’ll need. However, if you want some assets to go to your minor children and bypass your spouse, or if you’re divorced and don’t want to leave your estate to the mother or father of your children, you might need an attorney to set up a trust. Also, if you’re leaving your assets to a child with special needs, a trust is essential.

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With a trust, you can hold your money or assets until your child reaches a certain age. You can make access to the trust contingent on attending college, or you can hold the funds until your child earns a certain level of income on their own. Setting up a trust isn’t cheap, and the more complicated it is — if you add requirements for college attendance, for example — the more it will cost you. However, if you want to bypass a spouse or ex-spouse, setting up a trust is a good idea.

DIYWill2How Much Do You Have?

Estates over a certain size are subject to estate taxes. For federal taxes, your estate would have to be valued at over $5.43 million before you’d pay an estate tax to the IRS. States have their own individual tax floors, and they often apply to estates worth less than $1 million. In New Jersey, for example, the state takes estate taxes if your estate is worth just $675,000. With a trust, you can bypass some estate taxes. If you have a high-net-worth estate, consider talking to an attorney.

What About Your Kids?

For people with young children, it’s crucial to decide who will have guardianship of the children if something happens to you. Most DIY will kits let you specify what would happen to your kids if you pass away, and they allow you to name a property guardian for your children’s inheritance. If you leave assets to your children without naming a property guardian for those assets, the probate court will choose a property guardian for you.

Also, if you have life insurance, and you want to name a property guardian to manage the funds for you, then you can express your wishes in a DIY will. However, if you want to set up a trust for the money, you should probably talk to an attorney.

Additional Paperwork

When people create wills, they often create other important documents, including power of attorney documents and advance directives, or living wills:

DIYWill3Power of attorney. A financial power of attorney takes charge of your finances if you’re incapacitated and can’t make decisions for yourself. A health care power of attorney makes health care decisions when you can’t make them on your own.

Living will. Your living will explains whether or not you’d like doctors to take measures to prolong your life. Many hospitals have generic forms that you can use, or you can use the forms that come with your DIY will.

Funeral instructions. Along with your will and living will, provide a letter letting your family know exactly what funeral arrangements you’d prefer. Let them know if you’ve prepaid your funeral and where, and spell out what you want for your memorial service.

Create Your Own Will

Unless your finances and relationships are complex, most DIY wills will work fine for your situation. Have the wills signed by witnesses and notarized, if your state requires it, and make sure someone knows where your will is kept.

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Would You Retire in Today’s Financial Market?

Hi, I’ve emailed you a couple of times in the past on other issues, but just read your latest article on “fear” of retirement.

This question is for both of you, but I know Billy handles a lot of the investment ideas etc. Our fear being under 50 years old, but with enough invested to handle the traditional idea of 4% withdrawals, is that the investment climate is so different than when you guys retired in the early 90’s.

We have markets at new highs and bonds at all time low yields and CD’s and money market instruments basically pay nothing. I’m wondering if you could imagine yourselves making that decision now based on today’s investment horizon, would you have saved more to account for what might be a much smaller SWR like 2-3% instead of 4%, or anything else different you might have done?

Thanks so much.

Darin

Do not let Fear make your decisions for you. Risk has a price and so does security.

Hi Darin,

Thanks for taking the time to write. We appreciate it.

The fact is that in January of 1991 we had no idea of what the market was going to return in the future. All we could do was base our best guess on past returns. And honestly I cannot tell you what it’s going to do from here. However we have faith in ourselves and a strong will to succeed.

The S&P 500 has had a compound annual growth rate of better than 10% over the last 70 years. So pulling out 4% leaves you 6% for inflation and growth. Sure, if you can get your withdrawal rate lower than 4% all the better. There have been years when we went above it, however on average we have stayed below.

Flexibility is key, tracking your expenses and knowing what percentage of your net worth you are spending at any point in time is valuable.

If you are concerned for the next few years you could also have a larger than normal cash position.

At some point you have to have faith in yourselves and know that you can manage accordingly.

Would we do it again? Heck yes!

Regards,
Billy

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