Can't get yourself FIREd? You can still have a LIFE.

FIRE stands for financially independent, retire early. The movement continues to grow, with retirees in their 20's through 40's. It has caught on because it is unexpected - we don't picture retirees being so young.

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Credit & Debit Cards to Use Abroad


Are you traveling abroad this summer and unsure which of your "plastic" you should bring with you? Travel is already a luxury but it can get even more expensive when each purchase is racking up additional fees. Recently I went to Asia and did some research of my own. Hopefully, this will help you decide which of your cards you should bring, what fees you should know about, and when to use a debit card versus a credit card.

Credit Cards


Foreign Transaction Fees. This fee is a surcharge for making a purchase in a foreign currency. Most often the fee is about 3% of the total transaction. Foreign Transaction fees are very common on most regular credit cards, but many travel cards do not have this fee. The Chase Southwest credit card, for example, does not charge a foreign transaction fee.

Good To Know

Check your card benefits. Credit cards often offer nice benefits, such as included travel insurance or lost baggage reimbursement, when you book your travel with your card. Check your card benefits before you buy extra trip insurance when booking flights and hotels, as it might be double coverage you don't need. Easily dispute a wrong transaction. Keep all of your receipts until transactions are posted to the card, as this will give you proof against fraudulent transactions. Always choose the foreign currency. You might be asked if you want to charge in dollars or the foreign currency. Always choose foreign currency because your card issuer will give you a better exchange rate on foreign transactions than the vendor will. If you brought a card that does have a foreign transaction fee, it could be better to charge in USD to avoid the fee depending on the difference in rate.


Check if your provider is accepted where you are going. When going abroad, it is best to stick to Visa or Mastercard, as American Express and Discover are less widely accepted worldwide. Cash is king. In many countries, you will find that most places are cash dependent. Remember credit is not always accepted and you will need to have some cash on hand.

Debit Cards


ATM fees. This fee is often set as a dollar amount per withdrawal charge for using a non-affiliated ATM. The Wells Fargo preferred debit card, for example, has an ATM fee of $5 per withdrawal. Foreign Transaction Fees. On top of ATM fees, debit cards also have foreign transaction fees like credit cards. The Wells Fargo preferred debit card, for example, will also hit you with a 3% foreign transaction fee. Withdrawing $500 would cost you $20 - $5 ATM fee and $15 in foreign transaction fees.

Good To Know

Check if your bank is prevalent or has ATM partners abroad. Citibank, for example, partners with the ATMs in 7/11 stores. Anywhere there are 7/11's you can use an ATM with no fees. Many large banks have foreign counterparts. Get cash from ATMs only. Exchange rates are often best at large bank ATMs. The worst rates are at the exchange kiosks, especially the ones in the airports. ATM fee reimbursement. Some banks, mostly ones who are entirely online, with no brick and mortar ATMs, will offer a per-monthly-cycle reimbursement of ATM fees. For example, the Ally debit card gives a $10 per month reimbursement on ATM fees. This is nice, but when abroad and using an ATM multiple times in a short period, the $10 would not be sufficient.


Little to no protection. There is practically no protection against fraudulent money transactions on a debit card. Once money has been withdrawn, you do not have the same ability as you do with a credit card to refute the transaction. If your debit card and pin were stolen, the amount in your checking or savings might not be recovered. Do not use your debit card when you are out. It is best to leave it in the hotel room's safety deposit box or in a safe place. I keep my checking and savings account balance at a minimum when I travel as I find it is easier for me to transfer money when needed than take the risk. Daily ATM withdrawal limit. Debit cards can limit the dollar amount you can withdraw in a 24 hour period. I have seen this range per bank between $300-$2,500. Not every card does, but it’s something you want to know before you leave home so you can plan accordingly.

Security Abroad

Set Travel notifications for all cards you are bringing. Notify your cardholders of when and where you are going abroad. This can be done online usually under the travel section of the website, in the bank app or over the phone.

Use your cellular data. Cellular data on your mobile phone (LTE, 3G, etc.) is a private channel and can not be accessed by others (unless allowed by opening your personal hotspot). If you must access bank and credit card information over public wifi, do so on your personal laptop and use a VPN service like encryptme to make sure your internet connection is private. Never use a public computer, especially with public wifi, to access any private information or anything requiring you to enter a username and password.

Download phone apps before you go and use fingerprints to log in. Fingerprint login's, like on the iPhone, are safer. Your fingerprint cannot be copied or stolen over the web, unlike a typed password. By downloading apps before you go and setting up a fingerprint login, you can do most all your web searching abroad without ever having to type in a password.

Make sure your phone and all apps are locked with a code. This ensures that if someone steals your phone, they can't access your personal data.

In Summary

It is better to use credit cards for purchases and debit cards to get cash. If you have multiple debit and credit cards, make a list of their fees and decide which is best to use and only bring a few cards. Don't forget to keep your research handy and somewhere easy to locate to remind yourself for your next trip!


PWR's Cash Flow System

To take control of your financial life, you have to be organized, and the most effective tool for this is a budget.

We created the PWR Cash Flow System to help our clients and readers get started with an easy-to-use solution to track their spending.

Start by downloading the excel found here on our downloads page. You can also watch a video on how to use this sheet on our YouTube page.


The excel file has three tabs shown at the bottom. We will walk through how to use the three tabs and what goals, terms, and data are needed for each sheet.

Step 1 - Create a Spending Plan

The goal of step one is to analyze your current income and expenses to create a budget you can stick with. This starts with knowing your actual current spending. If there are areas you can cut or categories you would like to spend more in, adjust them here to create your new monthly budget.

Frequency: In column D you will enter how often an expense occurs. If you only pay for your auto insurance every six months, you would enter 2 in frequency (2 times a year). If you buy groceries every month, you will enter 12. We have entered the most common frequency per category type to get you started - adjust these as necessary. *Note: If you get paid "bi-weekly" or "every two weeks," your frequency for salary income will be 26. If you are paid twice a month, it will be 24.

Income: Enter your monthly income. Include any take-home wages (minus taxes and other required deductions such as insurance), family contributions or other income sources that occur regularly on a monthly basis. Then, enter your periodic income. Periodic income happens occasionally during the year. If you have a side job or if you typically receive a bonus, list those amounts as well.

Expenses: We classify types of expenses as fixed and discretionary. A fixed expense is an expense that is static and recurring. Insurance premiums and rent or mortgage payments are examples. A discretionary expense is something that varies month-to-month or can be reduced if necessary.

To obtain your expenses, review your bank and credit card statements. It is best to have the average of the last three months. The easiest option is to review annual statements from credit cards and banks who will have already categorized your expenditures for the previous year. If you have access to only what you spent last month that is still a good start. Use the numbers you have access to for now and step 3 will give you more accurate information in the future.

Savings: Your savings consist of all income that is not used to pay for your expenses. Examples of savings include retirement savings at work, a brokerage account, an HSA account or a Roth IRA. If you have goals you want to save for, such as a house down payment or a vacation, add a line item for them and enter your annual savings goal into the budget column.

Spending Category Goals: The Goal % is an excellent way to know if you are spending too much on any one cash flow category. Review the goal % column, compared to where your current category %'s are. In your budget, reduce spending in areas that are over the goal % and reallocate to areas that are under the goal %. Most importantly make sure your cash flow has either a surplus or is neutral ($0 at the end of the month). If your cash flow is negative, set guidelines on where you will cut expenses in the budget column.

Budget: Once the annual total is calculated, you can manually create your budget by typing your revised total in the total budget column. If you do not update this column, it will be equal to the annual total column. If you want to spend more or less in a specific category, enter that dollar amount in the column associated. Example: You spend $1,000 a year on gifts, and you want to reduce that to $500 a year, type $500 into the budget column for that expense. You can update this at any time if your budget changes. Note that the budget column is an annual total.

Step 2 - Create a FLEX Plan

The third tab, creating a flex plan, is optional but helpful for people trying to reduce overall lifestyle spending while not feeling deprived. The flex plan lets you strategize ways to create a cash plan for sticking to FLEX expenses.

You will see a monthly and weekly total at the bottom of Step 2. Once the FLEX money is gone, you are done spending in those categories until the following month.

This can be set up in many ways. Traditionally this is a Cash Only method, like the envelope system, and you can take out weekly or monthly cash to pay your expenses. You can also set up a separate checking account that you fund with the weekly or monthly total and use a debit card only. Try it out and determine what works best for you.

Step 3 - Track Your Expenses Monthly

Now that you know what your current spending is and you have a budget set, stay on track by filling out step 3 monthly. Review your expenses to see your successes and pitfalls each month, then adjust your plan as needed.

If you are a PWR client, we can review this spending sheet with you and use it to build your financial plan and annual updates.

If you want help with building your budget and using this spreadsheet, reach out to us at

Best Money-Saving Apps of 2017: Part 2.

Money-Saving Apps Part 2

I am back with another 3 great "money-saving" apps to share.


Cardpool is one of my favorites. I use it all the time to buy discounted gift cards for Starbucks, AMC and Nike purchases. They have gift cards for Target, Costco, Gas stations and plenty others. You do have to spend the money upfront to buy the gift card, but I usually purchase the "instant cards" from my phone app right before I know I am making a purchase. Also, from my last blog post, you can use at the same time (if purchasing online, like Nike) and get savings both ways!

"Cardpool is a gift card exchange that makes it easy for anyone to safely and securely buy discounted gift cards at up to 35% off or sell unwanted gift cards for up to 92% of their value. Cardpool customers have saved over $32 million and counting." - Cardpool Website


While I keep my eating out to a minimum, when I do choose to go out I always book my table through OpenTable . It is so easy to use and, it is a loyalty program where you earn points for booking. You then get to trade in your points for a gift card to a restaurant or Amazon. It is another great and simple way to save some money on your eating out budget.

"OpenTable members can earn OpenTable Dining Points when they make and honor reservations made through, or our related mobile sites and apps. Please note, reservations made directly through a restaurant's website or by calling them directly do not earn OpenTable points. Reservations typically earn 100 Dining Points, but up to 1,000 Point reservations are available at select restaurants and times." - OpenTable Website


CharityMiles isn't a "money-saving app" in a sense that it saves you money on your regular purchases, but it does allow you to take your everyday exercise and turn it into money for a charity of your choosing. This is a "feel good" app and I found it at a great time. One of my close friend's father was recently diagnosed with ALS, a horrible disease, and CharityMiles is affiliated with them. Now my friend and I both use CharityMiles to help fund research for ALS! It's not much, but it feels great to be able to help and support in my own way.

"Charity Miles is a socially-driven, for-profit company connecting charities, individuals, and corporate sponsors to create social change. Our product is an iPhone/Android app enabling you to earn money for charity every time you walk, run, bike, skip, dance or any human-centered activity. Just choose from 1 of our 37 charity partners like Feeding America, Pencils of Promise or The American Diabetes Association and get moving. It's that simple! ... Based on how far you go, you can earn money for charity. The money comes from our corporate sponsors who are repurposing their advertising budgets for good." - CharityMiles Website

Happy money-saving! - Alicia

*Again, I am not sponsored by any of these companies to give feedback and do not receive kickbacks of any kind.*

Produce Pro: Tips for Summer Fruits and Veggies

My father's family has been in the produce and grocery business since the 1930's and have owned stores in Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Saratoga, California. He started working in the stores when he was 12. Growing up, I would always watch him diligently shop for fresh produce, and over the years, I have learned many tips and tricks . Here are some of my favorites, since summer is right around the corner. 1. Washing produce - Did you know you can wash your wax-coated fresh produce with a mix of white vinegar and water? Put equal parts vinegar and water in a spray bottle and spritz on any produce that has a wax coating (ex. apples, cucumbers, bell peppers, etc.), wipe with a towel and then rinse with water. No need to buy the expensive washes at the store.

2. Produce that is seasonal in May and June - May: cherries, apricots and stone fruits (i.e. anything with a pit). June: melons, grapes, squash and beans. Being located in southern California, you see these in the store all-year-round, but technically these are the months they are in season (meaning they should all be California grown).

3. How to pick the best melon - When you pick up a melon, how do you know its ripe? Cantaloupe: you want the outside netting (skin) with some orange/amber color to it (instead of green) and a slight fragrance. Honeydew: the non-stem end should have "give" to it and the outer shell (skin) should have a tacky feel (slightly sticky). Watermelon: should sound hollow when you tap/pat it.

4. Always check the ads in the mail for good prices - When the stores get in a large shipment they will put it on sale. By shopping these sales, and creating your menu around the peak-season produce, you will save money.

5. Bulk is not always best - The "Costco effect" isn't always true when buying packaged produce. Check the price per unit when buying in bulk. Sometimes it isn't cheaper, and most of the time it isn't the freshest.

6. Ever have questions while shopping? - Ask the people working in the produce section. They can tell you what items are in peak season and help you pick out ripe fruits and veggies.

Happy eating from Jim (Dad) and Alicia

Best Money-Saving Apps of 2017

Best Money-Saving Apps of 2017 

 Check out these money-saving apps that will save you time and money, with little effort. gives you a percentage (%) of cash back for online purchases (and a few in-store purchases as well). Create an account on their website, choose where you are online shopping, and they will automatically calculate your savings once you make the purchase.  In fact, they send you a $10 gift card just for signing up. 

Cons: You can’t use the app with every store. Also, they are tracking your purchases (and probably selling the data).

Meal delivery services

I tried 2 meal services, Gobble and Blue Apron, and loved both. It was fun to change up the typical meal prep routine with different recipes and ingredients.  Most of the services offer a free first meal valued at $60-70.

Cons: You need to cancel after the free trial if you decide you don't want to continue the service, or they will send you meals the following week with a bill. From my experience, both services were easy to cancel. 

Cartwheel for Target

Cartwheel is an app you download to your phone from Target. When I first started using it, I thought it was too much work. I was scrolling through hundreds of deals and the number of items listed was overwhelming. Over time, I learned that a better approach was to simply scan the items in my shopping cart using their scan feature. The feature will tell you if an item has a coupon.  Even if I don't do that, I still scan my phone at the register because you  receive 10 points for every dollar spent. Once you get 5,000 points ($500 spent), you choose a free gift from a list of items. During my last trip, I accumulated 5,000 points and received a new cooking pan with a retail price of $20.

Cons: If you mostly shop at Target Online, you are out of luck.  It doesn’t work for online purchases...but you can use Ebates! 

AMC stubs card

The AMC stubs program is a loyalty program for AMC theaters.   You scan or swipe it for every purchase and earn points. I decided to join the AMC stubs "premier" membership, which costs $15 for a one year membership. They have a free option as well, but the benefits aren’t as good.  I earn 100 points for every dollar spent. Once you get to 5,000 ($50 spent) points you get an automatic $5 added to your card to spend on anything at AMC.  The other perks are free size upgrades on popcorn and soda, cheaper ticket prices on Tuesdays, and waived convenience fees when buying tickets online.

Cons: There is no downfall to getting the free card - it’s free! For the premier benefits, you have to use it enough to justify the membership cost. 

In summary, there are a lot of apps that help you save money and require minimal effort. Give these a try to decide which ones are worth your time, but don’t forget to cancel any free subscriptions you don’t want to continue. 

Did I forget to include your favorite money saving app?  Email me and I will be sure to include them next time.  

Disclaimer: I do not get paid in any way from the apps or links mentioned above

How I use

I use to track expenses. While it is not the only automated system available, it is one of the most widely used and the price is right (free). That being said, I have a bit of a love / hate relationship with the program. I don't like being bombarded with advertisements and irrelevant recommendations, but it captures all of my monthly transactions across multiple accounts and provides clarity on our household spending versus our budget. Here is how I use it: Weekly: I log into Mint and let the accounts update (this takes a few minutes). Once they are updated, I go to "Transactions". View recent transactions and confirm they are categorized correctly.

Monthly: I go to "Budgets" and see how we did with our spending in various categories versus the budget. I focus on discretionary items like eating out and shopping since our mortgage, car payment and utilities don't really change month to month.

Monthly: I go back to "Overview" which is the homepage. Scroll down to the lower left-hand corner to view the Net Income chart. Make sure you are earning more than you are spending. If your goal is to have $1,000 / month surplus, the net income should consistently show around that amount.

Do not upload business accounts to Mint. Keep them separate for accounting and cash flow purposes. I use Quickbooks Online for business accounts and find it easy and effective once it is set up.

Other solutions I have heard of: You Need a Budget (YNAB), Toshl and Mvelopes. What system do you use? Email me at