Free Covid Tests for Family

Alright, let’s do this.

I’m about as over Covid as a person can be. Unfortunately, viruses don’t know when they have overstayed their welcome. Like most people, we got all vaccinated up and now, we just kind of go along and pretend nothing is happening. We also tested positive for antibodies before the vaccine came out, so maybe we’re super immune 🙂

So far, it’s worked.

Get Free Covid Tests from Government

The Biden administration has figured out how to get free Covid tests to American families. For now, at least, there is a limit of four free tests from the government. To get your free Covid tests from the federal government go to the website covidtests.gov (make sure you go to .gov not .com or anything else.)

free covid tests virus

Put in your information and the government will mail you tests via the US Postal Service. You get free tests, the USPS gets some extra revenue. Win / Win.

It is important to realize that it will take 7 to 12 days to get your tests. If you understand the way shipping in America works, you know that you will be on the shorter end of that period if you live near a big shipping nexus (bigger cities). You will also get a longer delay if a bunch of other people sign up with you.

If you’re sick now, you need a test now. There is a different way to get free Covid tests now.

Check out my article to see Is SoFi legit?

Free Covid Tests from Your Insurance Company

The government ordered insurance companies to cover Covid tests for your family for free. I don’t how that works exactly, but it does.

If you read the media, it sounds like nobody knows anything. As usual, do some work on your own and you’ll come out ahead. I have Cigna insurance this year. When I log in to the patient portal on mycigna.com I see this:

Click the link and you get a form. You can get 8 tests PER PERSON PER MONTH, which is unnecessary unless you are actually sick in which case, I guess maybe you test every day to see if you aren’t positive anymore.

If you are sick check out the best movies for kids and toddlers.

The form looks ominous, but it’s mostly name, address, and all that junk. Then you fill in what you bought, where you bought it, how much it cost, and then you send in a copy of the receipt. Then you mail it in, or if you have a working time machine, you can pop back to the 1990s to find a fax machine and fax it in.

My advice is to go to your insurance company patient portal. You can go to the main website, but it might not be as helpful as the site where you have to be a customer and log in.

Good luck out there. May Covid skip your house, and if not, may your experience be mild.

Peace out.

Posted in Health | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Free Southwest Companion Pass Makes Traveling With Kids Cheaper

Traveling with kids gets more expensive when they grow out of being able to ride for free on your lap or stop qualifying for things like the Southwest Airlines child fares. Fortunately, there are always tricks to make traveling with kids cheaper. Thanks to a bonus offer last year for new Southwest credit card customers, we are getting a free Southwest Companion Pass to make traveling with children cheaper.

What Is the Southwest Free Companion Pass?

Southwest Airlines offers a companion pass that allows one person, your companion, to travel free with you. Unlike the other airlines that continuously use rules, fine print, and extra fees to squeeze money out of their customers like the cash pinatas they are, Southwest treats customers fairly in most cases. As such the companion pass really is as good of a deal as it sounds like.

With the Southwest companion pass you get to choose one person to be your companion. Unfortunately, you cannot change who the companion is. You can’t fly with your mom as your companion in March and then fly free with your dad as your companion in June. It’s one person. Fortunately, for our family, that works just fine. We either fly just one of us (business, conference, friends, etc.) or we fly all of us (Disneyland, Disney World, beaches, Japan, Europe). So, I set my spouse as my companion, and we’re all set.

The even better benefit of the Southwest free companion pass is that it is in effect for the year in which you earn it, AND the following year. So, here we are in January. You get the idea.

How To Qualify For the Southwest Free Companion Pass

Usually, qualifying for the free Southwest companion pass takes 125,000 points, or 100 one-way flight segments.

That’s a lot of flying.

But, thanks to an offer for new Southwest credit card customers last year, we can earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $2,000. Then, we can earn another 50,000 bonus points after spending $10,000. The base earning on Southwest credit card spending is 1 point per $1, so after spending the $12,000 we would have 112,000 Southwest airlines points. The free Southwest companion pass is just 13,000 points away at that point.

Basically we can earn a free companion pass with Southwest credit card before flying a single mile.

I know what you’re thinking, and no we are not rich but you can use your credit cards wisely in order to maximize spending and points without ever paying a dime in interest.

Maximize Southwest Credit Card Spending to Get Companion Pass

Like a lot of Americans, we don’t pay for much with cash or check anymore. It is just more convenient to use a card. From pay-at-the-pump gas, to self-checkout, to online shopping, paying with a credit card is just so much easier than using cash or check.

Of course, that convenience can cost you a lot of money if you aren’t smart with your credit cards. We pay our cards off every month, so we never pay interest, fees, or penalties. Typically, we have a few different cards we use. My Chase Premier Visa pays 2x points on restaurants for example, so I use it there. My Capital One Venture card pays 2x points on everything so I use it for most everything else. But, here in January, we will exclusively use the Southwest Visa to spend out $10,000.

Now, we don’t usually spend $10,000 each month. It happens, but it takes unusual circumstances, like buying furniture, travelling, or signing the kids up for camps or something.

It’s January, so I have medical expenses to pay before I clear my out-of-pocket maximum. That happens a lot faster for me than most people thanks to my cancer treatments. That would be $10K right there, but the bills don’t come in that fast, so we’ll use it for everything else.

Kids school fees and supplies? Check.

Booking flights for trips we have planned? Check. (3x points for those Southwest Airlines tickets that aren’t free)

Internet, cable, and streaming? Check (2x points for those)

Memberships? Might as well go annual this month…

Bills that I can charge to a card? Yep.

Mortgage? I wish. They won’t take a credit card.

I know some people pay their taxes with a credit card, but you’d have to check and make sure the fees don’t cost more than the benefit.

Heck. One could get creative with some low-tier, legal, money laundering. Paying expenses for Mom and Dad with our Southwest card and then having them pay us back…

Seriously. If you think about it, there are plenty of ways to spend money.

Free Southwest Companion Pass Earned in January

With virtually every expense we have for the month, plus some non-monthly expenses should add us up to $10,000 in January. If we’re lucky, with some bonuses and extra creativity we could earn the points we need for a free companion pass in January.

That would make our Southwest Companion Pass good for most of 2022, and all of 2023. By then, we’ll come up with some more tricks for cheaper travel with children.

Posted in Kid Travel | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Saving for College with a Roth IRA

I’ve been running this website since my kids were babies. I spent several years of their early childhood as a financial planner and constantly counseled parents to save money for a child’s education in a 529 plan college savings plan. (Here is how to open a 529 plan in Colorado step by step.) But, now, with one of the kiddos starting to look at colleges, I’m moving on from theory to the real world, and I think some changes need to be made.

Alright, let’s start with the basics. First, if you care about financial planning or planning for financial independence, you should really be reading my Finance Gourmet website where I focus on personal financial planning.

However, if you are thinking, “No way, Jose, I’m not reading about personal money and finance,” then I’ll try to take care of you with a few paragraphs on the basics of Roth IRAs, financial planning, education planning, and even a smidge of retirement planning.

saving for college with a roth ira

What Is a Roth IRA?

All right, what is a Roth IRA after all?

A Roth IRA is one of several retirement savings accounts. What makes the Roth IRA special is that you do not get any tax benefit for making contributions to a Roth IRA. That may sound like a bad thing, but in exchange you can withdraw those contributions at any time, for any reason, without taxes or penalties, because you already paid tax on that money.

To make things crystal clear, let’s go over it piece by piece.

What Are Roth IRA Contributions?

Your contributions are the money you put into the Roth IRA. That money will grow inside of the account tax-free. The money you EARN inside the Roth IRA, whether it is interest, capital gains, or anything else is considered the earnings. Let’s do an example.

If you contribute $5,000 to a Roth IRA and put it in an S&P 500 ETF. You have contributed $5,000. That is your contributions. That number will never change unless you add more money into the account.

In the meantime, if your S&P ETF earns 20%, your account balance will be $6,000. That $1,000 is earnings. Over time, the earnings may be much larger than your contributions. No matter how much money you have in the Roth IRA, only the amount you put in counts as a contribution. Everything else is earnings.

Why am I belaboring this point?

Because, understanding the difference between contributions and earnings is crucial to understanding how to use a Roth IRA for college savings instead of a 529 plan.

Withdrawing Money From Roth IRA for College Expenses

Alright, a key feature of using a Roth IRA for college planning is that you can withdraw your contributions to a Roth IRA at any time. Any time means any time. The five-year rule does not apply. You don’t need a special reason, or any reason at all to withdraw your own contributions to a Roth IRA. Reread the above if you aren’t sure what the contributions are.

For easy math, let’s assume that you put $2,000 each year into a Roth IRA for 10 years while your kiddo is growing up. Now, let’s say it earned 8% per year for those 10 years, you end up with around $31,000 in the account. If you were paying attention so far, you know that this means there are $20,000 in contributions (10 years x $2,000), and $11,000 in earnings ($31,000 total – $20,000 contributions).

You can withdraw that $20,000 at any time for any reason. (Don’t be a fool, though.)

There are all kinds of rules about that $11,000 in earnings.

So, obviously, you could use the $20,000 for college.

What about the $11,000? Well, like I said there are rules, but one of the reasons you can withdraw that $11,000 is for college expenses. If you want details on that, you need to read my using Roth IRA for college savings article on FinanceGourmet where I go into more detail on this.

Why You Should Use Your Roth IRA for College Savings

Alright, now here is the deal that comes from some real-world knowledge. When colleges determine your eligibility they look at four things: your income and your assets, and your kid’s income and your kid’s assets. Your kid’s assets count against you way more than parent’s assets, so never save money in your kid’s name.

Most schools count a 529 plan as parent’s assets, so it is better to save in a 529 plan than in your kid’s name. Plus, the money grows tax-free, just like a Roth IRA.

Here is the kicker, the money in your Roth IRA DOES NOT count as assets. None of your retirement accounts whether a 401(k), a Roth IRA, a regular IRA, an annuity, or a pension, counts against you. Also, life insurance balances do not count against you either.

So, $25,000 in a Roth IRA counts as zero assets for determining need-based financial aid, but a $25,000 529 plan counts as $25,000 in parents’ assets.

Again, for more details, hit up my Finance Gourmet articles.

Why You Should Not Use a Roth IRA for College Savings

Believe it or not, you are going to need WAY more money for retirement than paying for your child’s education, and there is no such thing as retirement loans like there are student loans. So, if you need your Roth IRA for retirement savings, then prioritize that, and use a 529 plan for your child’s college savings.

However, if you aren’t maxing out your 401(k) plan, then you have somewhere else for those retirement savings. Even if you are maxing out your 401(k) plan, there is always the option to use only the contributions for college and leave your Roth IRA earnings in the account.

Again, more details if it is smart to use a Roth IRA for college on my Finance Gourmet page.

Posted in School | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

New Lone Tree Park

As a parent in Southwest Denver, I know that it can be tons of fun to take your kids to new playgrounds. Unfortunately, it can be hard to find them since they tend to be tucked away in neighborhoods where you wouldn’t normally drive by and see them.

Centennial Ridge Park

South Suburban Parks and Recreation recently completed a new playground in Centennial Ridge Park. The park has a brand new basketball court, and new playground equipment. According to SSPR, the playground also has a hop scotch (big whoop) and also a foursquare court.

Although both hopscotch and foursquare aren’t that hard to come by, new paint and uncracked pavement is always fun.

The district says that they will be adding picnic tables and a shad pavilion next spring. The park is just west of the Lone Tree Tennis Center on Lincoln Ave. The official address is 10022 Lone Tree Parkway, Lone Tree, Co, 80124.

The playground is one of the smaller structures the district puts in, but it has 3 slides on the big structure, a nice toddler structure, and a tiny playhouse as well as a small swing set. There is also a water fountain, and trails nearby.

All in all, if you need a new playground to stimulate your kiddos, this is a fun one with plenty of sunshine and not crowds… at least not yet.

You can find information on new parks and playgrounds that South Suburban Recreation District is working on at the website. It’s kind of fun to follow along, even if what they really need is a new tennis bubble so that the only one they have isn’t booked out months in advance with tennis classes that are impossible to get into unless you treat registration like concert tickets.

Happy parenting, enjoy the parks.

Posted in Denver | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Denver Attraction Memberships Are Worth It

Here in Denver, we are fortunate to have many cultural institutions, a lot of which cater to kids at least in part. It’s not particularly cheap to run a zoo, or an art museum, and frankly they get plenty of business one way or another, so tickets to these places aren’t cheap.

If you look hard enough, you can find a Denver zoo coupon or discounted art museum admission here or there. In Denver, several organizations have Free Days as part of their association with the Denver Scientific Cultural and Facilities District, known as SCFD.

Another option for a more reasonably priced way to enjoy local attractions is a membership.

At first glance, a membership often just seems like a different way to donate money to an organization, and in some ways that is true. However, if you look closer, the benefits of a membership are often greater than the price.

membership deals cost

This was especially true when my kids were younger. Before they started going to school and preschool, we would often go to the Denver Zoo at least once a week. We’d go to the art museum regularly as well.

One of the most recent favorites, especially for the youngest is the Colorado History Museum. Being members and getting free admission was a no brainer. As they got older, however, we started to wonder if it was worth it. I mean, we only go to the zoo a few times each year now.

Membership Cost and Benefits

As it turns out, most places have a family membership. A family membership gives free admission to both parents and all the kids of the family. Sometimes, the kids may be limited to 4 or something. The more kids you have, the better that admission deal is obviously. But for a family with just two kids like ours, the math still really works out.

Consider the Denver Zoo Family Membership which costs $155. In addition to free admission, you also get 20 percent off the gift shop (they have some good T-shirts, and we also ended up buying some Christmas gifts there as well.) We also get 10 percent off food and rides on the train and carousel. But getting $155 out of those discounts would be tough.

On the other hand, regular admission tickets cost $15 each for adults and $10 each for children (age 3-11). That works out to $50 per visit. If we go just three times during the year, we break even on our membership. Considering we go at least once to Denver Zoo Lights, and once for trick-or-treating at Halloween, odds are fairly good we’ll make it there once or twice just because. The end result? We’d be dumb to not be members.

And, it’s not just non-profit organizations either.

The local amusement park Elitch Gardens offers season passes as well. On the one hand this sounds really dumb for my family. It’s only open during the summer, and we only go a few times. But tickets to get into Elitch’s are expensive, and the season pass offers free parking which is also expensive. We break even on just TWO visits.

When it comes to local attractions, always be sure to check out the cost of membership, especially family memberships. The pricing will always seem high at first, but if you add it up, chances are that it is a good deal, especially if you do take advantage of parking or concessions.

For things that you only visit once per year because of distance, then the math won’t add up as well. Just get your single admission tickets and try and bring in your food to keep costs down.

Otherwise, never pass up a chance for an in-depth day of fun with your family at your local cultural attractions.

Posted in Deals | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment