Xbox For the Family

OK. Me and the head of the family (my wife) disagree on video games. I stipulate that video games (and YouTube and stuff) are the TV of this generation, and just like our generation had all of society hand wringing over TV ruining our minds, we are doing the same thing to this generation. Plus, you don’t really want our kids to be those, “We don’t have a TV,” kids, do you?

So far, I’ve been unpersuasive. One problem is that I’m limited to iPads, which get used a TON, and a Nintendo Switch that I play more than the kids. (Me gaming has nothing to do with this I swear on my mother’s grave…….. fine, she’s alive. That’s not the point.) The trick is that $500 is not a just do it purchase. We can afford it, but that level of spending is a joint decision. She already knows what they cost so I can’t stretch the truth about the price. But…

I can sell this. I could have sold this easier if she didn’t know the purchase price was $500 to start with. Drat!

We have recently cut some spending on some of the other family (dad/kids) entertainment subscriptions because they were out growing them. Plus, and this is a big selling point for me that I’ll have to push, having the DVD player in this thing means no more plugging and unplugging a USB cable to get the DVD player connected to the TV

We have 3 DVD ports, but one goes to the soundbar, the other to cable, and the third is currently Switch and DVD. If I take the Switch downstairs and make it more of a mobile device and connect the new Xbox, then the DVD player will be permanently connected.

I like this plan. I’m excited about this plan……………… it probably won’t work, but we’ll keep chipping away.

it's an xbox baby

In the meantime, I hear they are adding a bunch of new tracks to Mario Kart 8 on the Nintendo Switch. I already own one of those. It would be a good time to pick up a second Switch controller. And, you know, if we keep leaving the Switch hooked up because of all the Mario Kart we play, it just might get too frustrating to keep moving that HDMI cable to hook up the DVD.

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Interesting Kids

There is a scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where the father, played by Sean Connery, says to his son, “You left just when you were beginning to get interesting.”

Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade

That’s a cruel statement from an arrogant and self-absorbed man. Children are always interesting on a multitude of levels. What is truly amazing as a parent is that the way they are interesting and surprising fluctuations and changes over the years.

I remember being amazed when my 4-year old daughter told me a joke I never heard before and belly laughed for minutes. I also remember the deep love and admiration for the sparkle in her eyes. She made dad laugh, for real.

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Interrupting cow.

Interrup–

Moo

4-year old kiddo

Since then, I’ve seen a similar joke on the Big Bang Theory (interrupting physicist, of course).

New History From High School

There is a long period of time where you know more than your child, pretty much always. The only exception being events that you were not there to witness. She knows what happened at preschool and I don’t. However, when it comes to knowledge, you already know the math, and the clever facts, and the pranks, and magic tricks.

But, day by day, that becomes less true. First, they come home and tell you that hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backwards, and you think, “That doesn’t sound right.” Thank goodness for Google. (It’s true.) Later, you can’t help with their math homework without reading the whole chapter and groping around in your brain for what you used to know. Eventually, there are whole swaths of information and data that you not only don’t know, you’ve never considered knowing it.

One of the things I love about real, well-implemented, gifted education is that those days go by faster and faster, the result of deeper learning, and a wider look at all topics.

Carrots Don’t Give You Better Night Vision

The science is clear. Vitamin A may give you better eyesight, especially if you have a Vitamin A deficiency. If you don’t have a Vitamin A deficiency, then more Vitamin A may not help, or the improvements may be very minimal.

So, why then, do millions of Americans, and their children believe that Vitamin A gives them better eyesight, as well as better night vision?

The answer may be World War II.

Buckle up.

You Believe Vitamin A Give Better Night Vision Because of World War II

It was the British!

During World War II, the Germans bombed London during the London Blitz. When enemy bombers were detected, London would shut down all the lights and go dark. The reason, as far as the public, and the Germans knew was to make it hard for German bombers to see the target in the dark.

This worked, in so much as you can “miss” a city as large as London. Assuming enough bombers made it to London the first ones dropped there bombs where they thought London should be based on time and direction. The following bombers dropped their bombs where they saw fires, and maybe, if they got lucky their actual targets illuminated in flames.

What the British public and the Germans did not know was that British fighters had an early version of radar that allowed them to see the German bombers in the dark, while the German pilots could not see the British fighters. The story was that British fighter pilots ate so many carrots they could see better in the dark.

Whether the Germans really believed that was irrelevant. Whether they insisted there was no difference between British eyesight and German eyesight, or if they spent time testing it to see if it was true, what they were not doing was trying to find out what technology was giving the British an advantage.

According to 15, another purpose was served. If you needed a population to willingly eat some of the few foods you had plenty of, while also making them feel better about being able to see in the dark, then carrots improve night vision is literally the perfect story to tell. Your population ends up both less hungry (and restless) AND they feel better about having to move around in the dark after the warning sirens sounded.

carrots help night vision british world war 2 propaganda

Good propaganda isn’t a trick that people figure out. It becomes fact. This was good propaganda.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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