Swell Investing $50 Referral Bonus

Swell Investing is a robo-advisor service that lets you invest in high-impact, high-potential companies that are focused on a positive future. There are six thematic impact portfolios that you can invest in.

You can currently get started investing with Swell Investing with a minimum investment of just $50 and you can get a $50 bonus if you sign up using my referral link. The bonus will be paid out after you have maintained your account for 90 days.

It is easy to sign up with Swell Investing. I was able to open my account in less than 10 minutes. I’ve decided to stop chasing smaller account sign up bonuses. However, I think a $50 bonus is worth pursuing. Especially when it is quick and easy to sign up.

My money has been divided between the clean water, zero waste, renewable energy, green tech, healthy living, disease eradication and Impact 400 portfolios. I have no idea if this is a good investment, but in the few days I’ve had the account open it is up slightly. Since I only invested $50 and I’ll be receiving a $50 bonus in 90 days my chance of having a positive return is quite good.

Once you sign up they currently have a promotion where you can receive a $300 bonus for referring 3 others to invest with Swell. That is why I’m hoping at least 3 people sign up for Swell Investing using my referral link. That referral bonus would give me a very good return for my investment.  There is a max of 18 referrals allowed. I doubt I will hit that limit, but it would be nice if I did.

Swell Investing is backed by Pacific Life so they are a legit company. There are no trading fees. They make their money from a 0.75% annual fee applied to your investments.  That would just be a 38 cent fee on a $50 balance.  There is no fee to close your account if you wish to close it after receiving your bonus.

If you are interested in signing up for Swell Investing and receiving the $50 bonus please consider using my referral link.

Why You Should Always Pay in Local Currency When Traveling

When you are using a credit card in a foreign country and asked whether you would rather pay in dollars (or whatever your home currency is) or the local currency, you should always pay in the local currency.  This is because if you choose to pay in your home currency rather than the local currency you will be overcharged.

This is due to a scam called dynamic currency conversion. This “service” is provided by the credit card payment processor. It is touted as a benefit to the consumer since it is easier for them to understand how much they are paying when the price is paid in their home currency. However, it is obvious to me that this just a way for the merchant and card processor to make actual profit. If it was actually a service the merchant would explain the choices and disclose that there is a fee for using the home currency. In my experience they never disclose that it will cost you more to choose your home currency.

When you use dynamic currency conversion you are charged an extra fee for converting from the local currency and home currency and a much worse exchange rate is also used. This results in you being overcharged for your purchase by several percentage points. Even though this overcharge is just a few percent it can really add up over several purchases or on a large purchase.

I have a couple of examples from my current visit to Thailand. I am having some dental work done that is going to cost me a little over $1200. After my first visit I was asked to pay for half of the cost of the dental work. I was asked whether I wanted to pay in dollars or baht. Since I was aware of the dynamic currency conversion scam I knew to choose to pay in the local currency of baht.

Out of curiosity of how much extra I would have paid for using dollars, I noted the price for the dollar option. By paying in dollars I would have paid $637. By paying in the local currency and letting my credit card company convert the currency from baht to dollars I only paid $616. If I had opted to pay in my home currency I would have been ripped off of $21 by the dynamic currency conversion scam.

Unfortunately, sometimes the merchant doesn’t even ask you if you want to pay in your home currency or the local currency. I had that happen at a Thai pharmacist. He didn’t say anything about paying in dollars or baht. It wasn’t until after I signed the credit card slip that he gave me an additional slip showing that the price was charged in dollars.  The credit card slip I signed showed the price in baht, although it may also have displayed the price in dollars somewhere on the slip. I will be sure to check my credit card slips more carefully from now on and specify that I want to pay in baht even if they don’t ask what currency I want to use. Although I was only overcharged $1 by the pharmacist I will be disputing the purchase amount. I do not want them to profit at all from this scam.

I am hoping that someday merchants will stop using dynamic currency conversion or the credit card companies will not allow the payment processors to add-on dynamic currency conversion charges. For now, all I can do is decline to pay in my home currency and stop frequenting merchants that try to rip me off.

I need to get a dental implant in addition to the dental work I’ve already had done. Since my current dental office tried to rip me off I will not be getting the implant from them. After my current dental work is done and payment is completed I will let them know why I am not getting the implant from them. Perhaps if enough people complain and stop using merchants that employ this deceitful practice it will stop being used.

In addition to always paying in the local currency, you should make sure that you always use a credit card that does not charge a foreign transaction fee. This a fee (usually 3%) that many credit card companies charge you for making a transaction in a foreign currency. There are many credit cards that don’t charge this fee so the fee can be easily avoided. Make sure that any credit cards you bring for international travel do not charge a foreign transaction fee. I brought three credit cards with me for this trip and I made sure none of them charge foreign transaction fees. There is no reason to pay more than you need to.

Were you aware of the dynamic currency conversion scam? Have you ever been victimized by this scam?

Lifetime Earnings – What I’ve Made and What I’ve Got

After recently reading Budgets are Sexy’s post on lifetime earnings and the wealth ratio I decided to take a look at my own total lifetime earnings and wealth ratio.    According to Social Security’s records I have made a total of $409,128 over 35 years. At the time I looked up my total earnings I had about $57,500 in retirement savings. Dividing my savings by total earnings would give me a wealth ratio of about 14%.

However, the wealth ratio is supposed to be calculated by dividing your net worth by your total earnings. I haven’t calculated my net worth for a while but a reasonable guess is that it is about – $70,000.  Using my net worth to calculate the wealth ratio I will obviously have a negative wealth ratio.  That is not a good result.

lifetime earnings

Looking at my earnings record, it is pretty clear why I don’t have a better net worth. My main financial problem is that I have never made very much money. It is only the past few years after obtaining my tax job that I’ve made halfway decent money.  Some of the years in the 90s when I was working as a blackjack dealer in various casinos were also decent earning years. Adjusted for inflation, I was probably making as much back then as a blackjack dealer as I am now as an attorney.  Even though my law degree and passing the bar has resulted in a higher income it hasn’t resulted in anywhere near a higher enough income to be worth the expense of law school. Getting my law degree did not pay off.

Looking at J. Money’s total earnings he has made over twice as much money in about half the number of years. This makes it obvious that a higher income is the key to getting ahead financially. Even though I’ve been very frugal most of my adult years (most of the time I had to be) I have nothing to show for it.

Even if I hadn’t made the huge mistake of going to law school and taking out massive amounts of student loans to pay for it I probably wouldn’t have much. In 2005 before I started law school I had no debt, but I also had very little in the way of assets. I had an old car and $1000 or so in the bank. I’d like to think that without law school I still would have found a way to increase my income a bit. I doubt I’d have the $57,500 of retirement savings that I have now though. On the other hand, considering I’ve paid about $40,000 of interest on my student loan so far maybe I would have that much in savings or even more. It doesn’t really matter since I did go to law school and that can’t be changed now.

Averaging out my lifetime earnings I’ve made a bit over $11,000 a year. Adjusting for the high school years and some income that wasn’t subject to social security I would still only have a little over $12,000 a year average income. When you only make that much money basically all of your money needs to go to living expenses. There isn’t really much if anything left for savings.

A little explanation for some of my low earning years. The first few years out of high school I worked various minimum wage jobs that usually only offered part-time hours. Even though I was employed most of the time the income didn’t add up to much.  In 1990 and 1991 I was employed full-time most of each year and my income was still really low. If I remember correctly, I was making $4.50 an hour and my bi-weekly paycheck was about $350. I was living on my own and barely making more than my living expenses, but I was always able to pay my bills.

The next few years I worked a restaurant delivery job. Since a big portion of my pay was in non-taxable mileage reimbursement my earnings for these years appear a bit smaller than they actually were.

The next few years I worked as a blackjack dealer at various casinos. This is when I should have started to get ahead financially. Unfortunately, I also had a serious gambling problem during these years. Although I was making significantly more money than I previously had my finances were in much worse shape. I went through a bankruptcy during this period and even after that gambled away a lot of money that should have gone to savings.

Eventually I decided I needed to get out of the casino industry so I could break my gambling habit. I moved to Dallas and later Austin, but never managed to find a good paying job. I also started during medical studies during this time. The pay from medical studies isn’t subject to SS tax so this is why my earnings appear so low during most of this time. In 2003 though, I was employed all year as a pizza delivery driver and later providing roadside assistance and I still didn’t make much money. I’m not sure how I got by living on my own that year.

After that I decided to go to law school so I could finally start making good money. If you have been reading the blog for a while then you know how that turned out. That pretty much brings us up to the present.

Going forward, I need to significantly increase my income. I”m not sure how I am going to do that. I can work a little more overtime at my tax job when it is available. I can drive for Uber or do a different side job when I don’t have overtime available. To really increase my income I will need to find a higher-paying job or a high-paying side hustle. I don’t know if I want to leave my tax job since it is the first job that I’ve halfway liked that also paid well, but I may have to. I’m not sure what I would do for a side hustle.

When I get back from Thailand increasing my income will be a priority. Next year needs to be my highest income year ever.

I’m Semi-Retired (kinda) ?!?!

This year I will be trying out semi-retirement. I have been working seasonally at my tax job the last few years, until last year when I was hired to work year round. Working all year had its pluses. I made more money and I didn’t have to worry about what I was going to do to make money when tax season was over. The downside was that I was working all year. Even with what most would consider a very generous amount of time off – eight weeks- I didn’t feel like I had nearly enough time to do all that I wanted to do. Also, my health continued to decline. I gained more weight, my blood pressure stayed high, and my blood sugar rose to the pre-diabetic level. During my eight weeks off I lost five pounds and my blood pressure dropped to almost normal levels. Once I returned to work, my weight and blood pressure quickly returned to their previous levels. Although I know working 40 hours a week is normal, I find it stressful and draining. After a normal work day, I am tired and just want to relax with my laptop and eat junk food. It was obvious to me that something had to change. I’d probably die before I was able to retire if I continued the way things were going.

Last week, I took some action to change things. I talked to my boss and let him know I wanted more time off. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I figured they would let me go back to working just the 3 1/2 month tax season even if they weren’t happy about it. I was pleasantly surprised when my boss offered to let me work 5 1/2 months. He wanted me to work about 6 months, but the scheduling didn’t quite work out for that. Working 5 1/2 months is going to be great for me. It will allow me plenty of time to travel and pursue other interests while still easily making enough money to live. I have my expenses low enough that I can easily live off 5 1/2 months of wages. Considering the amount of overtime I work during tax season my hours might be closer to 6 1/2 months of hours. I expect to still be able to save a few thousand dollars a year. I’ve already saved $5000 in my 401k and IRA this year and I plan on adding more to them.

My Plans for This Year

This year I plan on heading to the Appalachian Trail and finally completing the trail. I’ll leave the first weekend in May and it should take me about 6-8 weeks to finish. I’ve already booked a train to the trail and a hotel room for the night I arrive since it will be too late to start hiking that night. Hiking the AT can be a pretty cheap activity so I don’t expect my living costs to be much more than normal while I’m hiking. It should cost me about $1000 a month to hike which is about what I spend at home. I will have to keep paying rent while hiking so my overall monthly expenses might be a little higher than normal.

In September I will leave on a 2 1/2 month trip to SE Asia. I’ll leave on Labor Day and return the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. I’m flying from LAX to Kuala Lumpur and returning to LAX from Bangkok. This was a super cheap airfare that I was able to get for just 25,,000 points from one of my credit cards. I’ve already booked 5 hotel nights for super cheap price of about $40 out of pocket by getting free nights using my Starwood points and booking a really cheap hotel on the other nights. I still need to add a couple of regional flights. Since they are nonrefundable and seem to be reliably cheap I’m going to wait a little while before booking them.

My main reason for traveling to SE Asia is to check out Chiang Mai, Thailand. It is known for being host to a lot of digital nomads and having a very low cost of living. It is hard for me to get my cost of living much lower than it already is, but it might be possible in Chiang Mai. If I end up liking Chiang Mai my plan is to return there every year after the tax season. This will allow me to really stretch the dollars I earn during tax season and hopefully save up some money to eventually be fully retired rather than semi-retired.

If things work like I envision it will be no problem to work tax season a few more years while relaxing in Chiang Mai during the rest of the year. Of course, I won’t just be relaxing the entire time I’m not working my tax job. I’ll write on this blog more often and possibly revive a couple of my other blogs that have been mostly sitting idle the past few years. I’ll also be exercising regularly. I’m sure I’ll find another interest or two to keep me busy as well. Since I am lucky enough to be given this time off from my job each year I want to make sure I don’t waste it.

That is the basics of my semi-retirement plan. I’ll update you on the details as my plan solidifies.

What do you think? Will the plan work or …? I’d love to hear any questions or comments you have about my semi-retirement plan.

Finally I Have a 401k

Earlier this there was a lot of press covering the 401k millionaires.  The long bull market combined with steady savings in theirs 401ks resulted in the largest number of 401k millionaires.  A 401k can be a great way to build wealth, but many people – including me until this month – don’t have access to a 401k.  A lot of smaller employers don’t offer them and many larger employers make you wait a few months or a year before you can contribute.

My employer has offered a 401k since I started working there. However, as a seasonal employee I wasn’t eligible to contribute. After switching to a 10-month seasonal position last year I finally amassed the 1000 hours in a year needed to qualify for the 401k. Even though I qualified last September I wasn’t eligible to enroll until the beginning of the year. And then for some reason I had to wait 30 days to actually set up the account. It wasn’t until last Friday that I finally had a contribution come out of my paycheck. It would have been great if I could have contributed last year as soon as I met the hourly requirement. Although, I maxed out my IRA and also contributed to an HSA and Solo 401k I wasn’t able to reduce my AGI as much as I wanted. That resulted in a larger amount of taxes owed than I planned on and having to repay $750 of the advanced premium tax credit I received.

Now that I have a 401k I will be doing my best to max it out. Since I’m 50 I can contribute $24,000. Being over 50 also allows me to contribute up to 100% of my paycheck. Those under 50 are limited to contributing 75%. I had 50% held out for my first contribution. Since I’ve been working so much overtime my paycheck was just a couple hundred dollars less than normal. For the next paycheck I have increased the contribution rate to 76%. After that paycheck I’ll see if I need to adjust the contribution rate up or down. My health insurance and taxes do have to be paid out of my check so I’m not sure what would happen if I increased the contribution rate to 100%. Maybe I have to pay my employer on payday? There are three paychecks in March so I might experiment with having one at 100 and then I’ll know how it works.

After tax season is over and I no longer have overtime I will have to move my contribution rate back down. I think a 50% rate will be sustainable, but we will see.

I wish I would have had access to a 401k when I was younger. I actually did have a 401k at one casino I worked at, but I moved and quit about a month after I started contributing. There may have been other companies that had them and I didn’t know since it wasn’t something I was overly concerned with back then. I switched jobs a lot so I probably wouldn’t have been eligible at most places anyway. There is nothing I can do about that now. I’ll just contribute as much as I currently can.