Questions About Travel Rewards, Water Bottles, Credit Card Balances, and More!

What’s inside? Here are the questions answered in today’s reader mailbag, boiled down to summaries of five or fewer words. Click on the number to jump straight down to the question.
1. Earning more interest?
2. Carrying a credit card balance
3. Disabled and taking next steps
4. Travel rewards
5. US citizen investing outside US
6. Water bottle when flying
7. Purchase-generating media
8. Trusting international foods
9. Assets included in net worth
10. Pokemon Go as frugal hobby?
11. Selling an old record collection
12. Epicureanism?

My wife and I are part of what is called the “sandwich generation,” meaning that we’re at a perfect age to watch our children grow from infancy into adulthood while, at the same time, watch our parents retire and suffer some of the challenges and indignities of becoming older.

Over the past few weeks, I had the opportunity to travel with my parents and my children at the same time, with my parents taking what will likely be one of their last long trips that they take as they’re simply not getting around as well as they used to.

To experience both at the same time while traveling was both wonderful and exhausting. It was wonderful because I know the time period in my life when I get to still enjoy the company of my parents as well as the joy of my children is a fairly narrow time period. It was exhausting because the desires and interests of everyone were so divergent, with my children wanting to do one thing, my parents wanting to do another thing, and Sarah and I often trying to find balances.

Exhilirating. Exhausting. Thought-provoking. Memorable. The last few weeks of my life were all of those things, for sure.

Q1: Earning more interest?

I am earning 1% interest on my cash at my online bank. The money at my Fidelity IRA is in a money market fund earning near 0%. How can I earn 1% interest on my cash at fidelity. Is there an ETF I can buy that is like cash but takes advantage of the 1% rate of return available at many MMAs? My credit union also offers 1.25% on IRA money. Can I open an account at my credit union and then tranfer the money between the IRAs? Any help is appreciated and I know anything you tell me is not investment advice.
– Tina

I’m going to assume you’re retired, because if you’re not retired, you should not have retirement money in an money market account. (To tell the truth, I likely won’t keep my own IRA money in a money market account when I am retired.) If you’re not retired, you really need to have that money in something else that offers a better long term return than a money market fund.

It does look like Fidelity’s money market fund isn’t a high performer. If you just want to transfer the money market portion of your IRA to an IRA with a better money market fund, that does make sense, and if your local credit union offers that, moving that portion over can be a good move. It will require some paperwork and so on, but if you’re talking about a significant balance, it’ll be worth it.

Just make sure that a money market account itself makes sense for you right now, regardless of a 0.15% interest rate versus a 1.25% interest rate. Is this money that should be earning a higher average annual return, even with a bit of risk?

Q2: Carrying a credit card balance

I came across TSD while researching for my first credit card. I am currently an undergrad student starting off in the credit world. My question for you is in regards to Mistake #3: Making only minimum payments in your article (Best Student Credit Cards/). I’m not quite sure I am understanding this section correctly.

What does it mean to carry a credit balance into the next month? Does it mean that I was not able to pay back what I spent that month on the bill?
– Lane

Exactly. If you carry a balance to the next month, that means you were unable or unwilling to pay off the full balance.

Most credit card bills have two different amounts on them. One is the total balance on your card, while the other is the minimum monthly payment. You’re only required to pay the minimum monthly payment.

However, whatever you do not pay is carried over to the next month. The amount carried over earns interest that’s usually compounded continuously, so that when you receive your next bill, it’s larger due to the interest that’s accumulated.

Because of that, it’s usually a good idea to pay as much as you can on your credit card bill each month. That way, the amount that carries over is smaller and thus there’s less money to build up interest.

Q3: Disabled and taking next steps

I have so many opportunities that I’m not sure where to begin. Please allow me an opportunity to let you know my needs and then you might be able to tailor a program to suit.

First, I have no cash. None. I have a small Disability check monthly, but it doesn’t allow for much. I was approved again for a $5,800 Pell Grant as well as a $9,500 loan. I’ve not used it yet in the 4 years since I’ve been applying. Business and family always came first. I am divorced now after 25+ years of misguided priorities and have recently remarried. I currently have two postal locations which are in Georgia as well as the Philippines. I want to get the easiest degree possible and even much, much, more importantly, the least expensive. I need to budget much of the left over monies to help with my household expenses as well as pay the books, tuition, etc.

Since there is a 12 hour difference in time between here and NY time, it’s difficult to speak to anyone on the phone (when it works). I can however email easily.

So, basically, I need to work online doing anything legally and ethically that generates money. The reason it needs to be online only work is that we travel plenty and I can still get work accomplished while we are in range if a cell phone and data towerwherever there is internet and possibly phone service. Please help me figure it out..

My background is I was a plumber since age 16. that gave me the money to go through 5 years of correspondence school (there was no online schools) at that time which gave me a BA in Education with a Minor in Finance. That turned out to be useless as the school lost its accreditation. (so basically toilet paper).

I worked as a teacher of science and special education at an inner-city high school for 6 years. I moved to Georgia and opened a mortgage and finance company for 8 years until the economy took a downturn. I was offered as a favor, the chance to work for Wells Fargo to which I took. it didn’t last too long as I got progressively worse with my diabetes. This led to complete kidney shut down requiring hemo-dialysis 3 times per 2 week leaving me exhausted. in 2012, I went through a routine checkup to get on the kidney transplant lists that I needed emergency bypass heart surgery. in 2013, due to the diabetes, I lost my leg. in 2014, I lost my best friend, mom at age 88. which devastated me. Finally in summer of 2015, my wife of 25 years decided to leave me.

I have a fresh outlook on life and a new bride. I want to fight for both of them but especially myself.

That’s the story. After you process this info, please refer a good recommendation to help. Don’t forget that I need the money to budget with my disability to make my budget.
– Tom

First of all, I would look at this list of low cost online bachelors programs for out of state students run by state universities. These schools are almost all smaller state universities, which usually means that they’re supported by the state they’re in, accredited, and offer a reasonably good education.

From there, I’d start examining career options. What kinds of things do you want to do? I’m not clear whether you just want an online education or you want to be in a situation to telecommute. My suggestion would be that, given your background, you either pursue something in education or something in business. So, I’d check out each of these schools, look at their online degree programs, and find one that matches the area you’re looking for.

I think that your grant, your loans, and your disability check can cover most of the cost of these degrees, given the pretty low cost per credit that these schools offer.

Q4: Travel rewards

I am looking to start earning travel rewards and I am trying not to mess up my credit score (which hovers just above 700). I currently have a Citibank Thank You Points card and a Discover It cash back rewards card. I have been happy (more or less) with these cards and I am not eager to change these cards because I am trying to build up a stronger credit history, but I want to get something with a different reward system (travel miles to be exact).

What card would be good for me? I do not want a card that charges an annual fee, but I want a card whose reward miles can actually be used at multiple airlines so I can start taking trips. I plan to pay all my monthly bills with the card to build rewards quickly and then to pay it off at the end of each cycle so if I could have one that earns miles with purchases and with payments that would be great!

Also, I’ve seen in your website that you recommend Discover It Miles card. If I transfer my account with discover from the Discover It Cash Back Rewards Card to the Discover It Miles Card, does that count as continuation of the same account (thus not affecting my credit score) or does it count as closing one account and opening another (thus lowering my credit score)?
– Thomas

The Simple Dollar has several different writers that focus on different areas. Personally, I rarely write about specific credit cards, as my credit card philosophy is that you should use one or two cards with programs that provide bonuses through the retailers you use the most, so I don’t have much reason to review lots of cards.

If I were to point at one single travel card, it would probably be the Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card. I think it hits almost everything you’re looking for – flexible travel points, no annual fee, a good rate for earning points, and so on. Kiplinger Personal Finance magazine named it one of the best travel rewards cards of 2015 and it stood out because of the lack of an annual fee (something that many other travel cards have).

It’s a very solid card that would work well for what you’re looking for.

Q5: US citizen investing outside US

I would like to open an investment account, and although I am a US citizen with a US mailing address and a SS#, I do not reside in the US. I keep hitting a dead end because most of the companies I contacted will not take me. Do you know of any reputable companies that accept non-residents?
– Carl

You’re going to have a hard time finding such a company.

The reason is that, due to the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), brokerages have a ton of additional tax compliance rules put on them if they operate outside of the United States. The reason for this is to keep American citizens from hiding money in offshore accounts, but the offshoot of that is that citizens living abroad have restricted access to financial services from American companies.

Although it will make taxes more challenging for you, your best approach is probably to use an investment house native to the country that you are in and simply deal with the tax challenges that will present. I’d look around for an investment house in your country and see if they will work with an American citizen.

Q6: Water bottle when flying

This is a comment to the story about expenses that can derail your travel budget. One of those expenses is buying beverages at an airport since you can’t bring any through security. When I fly, I bring an empty (reusable) water bottle with me and fill it up at the water fountain once I get past security. This saves a little money on each leg of my trip every time I fly.
– Tracy

This is a great tip that I should have included in the article because it’s something I do myself when flying; I just found myself mostly thinking about road trips when writing the article.

If you want to flavor the water, buy some of those little flavoring packets at the store that you can just dump into a container. They have lots of flavors and sugar levels and brands that you can try, and a single little bottle of flavor additive lasts for a long time and is small enough to go right through airport security (I’ve done it myself).

I prefer wide-mouthed Nalgene water bottles like these for airport and airplane use.

Q7: Purchase-generating media

I’m really struggling with spending too much on board games and I thought you could help. Like you board games are my favorite hobby so I play them three nights a week at board game nights and often read about them online in my spare time. What I have found is that even if I am not looking for new games I will see mentions of other games that I am unfamiliar with and in order to figure out what the person meant I find out about a new game that gets me really excited and fills my thoughts until I buy it and then I play it a few times and the cycle repeats itself. I’m just spending too much on games but I love this hobby so much and I don’t want to just quit it.
– Darren

The problem isn’t the board game hobby in general. The problem is the media related to the board game hobby. Sites like BoardGameGeek and Twitter and other discussion forums are really great for connecting with others who share your hobby, but that inherently means that conversations are going to swing toward games that you don’t have or aren’t familiar with. It just naturally comes with the territory.

My solution to that problem? Spend less time on the messageboards and spend more time with the games you have. If you’re at home, get off the computer. Read rulebooks. Bag and organize your components within the games. Set up games and play them solo. Find friends who will come over and play if you can’t leave the house.

If you’re at work and twiddling your thumbs, find something else to do. If you really want to engage in your hobby, plan out a game night and invite people. Maybe download a PDF of the rules for a game you want to play.

You’ll find that the hobby is just as wonderful as ever, but the endless desire for new games tends to trail off pretty fast.

Q8: Assets in net worth

What assets do you include in your net worth calculations? Do you include: (1) your house, (2) your car, (3) your collectibles?
– Avery

First of all, I don’t include any assets worth less than $1,000 unless it’s an account balance. It’s just not worth it to include lots of small and fairly random things when calculating net worth.

However, I do include any assets that I own that are worth more than $1,000, which would include our home and our car and some of our collectibles (among other things). These are all things that we could sell and continue our life.

The only asset that I might consider not including is our primary residence, because we do live there and we would need a roof over our head if we sold it. However, if we were in a situation to sell our home, we could simply move into an apartment and live there for many years on the generated cash, so we feel safe including it.

Q9: Pruning and life

I love your blog! As an avid gardener, the things you talk about on The Simple Dollar remind me of the practice of pruning. You’re basically treating your life as a plant, and when you practice frugality in the sense of cutting spending drastically on the areas that don’t matter, it’s much like pruning a plant. You’re removing the parts of the plant that are competing for nutrients so that the parts that matter get all of the nutrients you need. What happens after you prune? The parts you leave behind usually thrive! All of the lessons we need for life come from living things.
– Marilyn

That’s a great analogy! Frugality really is a lot like pruning. It’s not about tearing out everything, nor is it about leaving everything so that it all becomes overgrown and fails. Instead, it’s about carefully removing the stuff that doesn’t matter so that the stuff that does matter can really take off.

I pruned things out of my life like golf and expensive clothes and shiny cars because they just didn’t really matter to me in the big scheme of things. By doing that, I had plenty of resources left for the things that did matter – my family, my personal freedom, and a few hobbies that are deeply important to me.

Pruning isn’t about the things that you prune away. It’s about the things that you leave behind and how they’re going to thrive!

Q10: Pokemon Go as frugal hobby?

So for the last two weeks my husband and I have spent several hours on walks together playing Pokemon Go and just talking about life. It’s been wonderful. The app is free, gets us exercising! Highly recommended!
– Sara

Pokemon Go is a great little game to encourage people to get outside and walk around more. For those unfamiliar, it’s a game that can be played on smartphones that is location-dependent, meaning you have to actually move around in the real world and go to certain locations to play. Thus, it encourages you to go on walks.

It does have the drawback of having in-app purchases, but you can most certainly play the game to a high level without even considering those purchases provided you have an area to walk around in that’s active with Pokemon Go locations.

It also does require some kind of mobile data plan, but my son played many, many hours of Pokemon Go and used significantly less than a gigabyte of data, so you don’t need extensive data plans to play.

Seems like a good bargain to me!

Q11: Selling an old record collection

I inherited a large collection of records from the 1960s and 1970s. It’s mostly pop and hard rock stuff like The Beatles and Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. It has been in boxes for years and I would like to sell it but I don’t know where to start. How do I sell this and not get scammed?
– Gary

You probably have at least some value in your collection. The artists you mention all have people who avidly collect their records and memorabilia.

First of all, you’re going to want to evaluate what you have. Records usually fall into four categories – 78s, 45s, LPs, and 12″ singles. The easiest way to do this is to just sort them by size – 7″ records (45s), 10″ records (78s), and 12″ records (LPs and 12″ singles), and then by artist.

You’ll also want to note the condition. Condition is extremely important when it comes to records. If you see much wear at all, the value is drastically reduced – and I mean drastically. A scratched record is unplayable. A damaged cover isn’t as interesting for artistic purposes. Condition is critical.

Make a list of everything that looks like it is in very good shape. Note the artist, the title, and any identifying markers on it (like the number of the record if you can find it). I’d focus on musicians you’ve heard of as those are ones with lots of collectors.

At that point, I’d visit an online record collector’s forum and explain your situation. Include a list of what you have. Ignore any private messages sent directly to you as those people are probably scamming you. Look for public responses and figure that the average value is somewhat accurate. People will probably want high resolution images of the more valuable stuff.

From there, you can move on to individually selling the records or selling them in bulk. Good luck!

Q12: Epicureanism?

Loved your posts on stoicism. Really in line with the other stuff you talk about? Have you ever talked about epicureanism? I think you would find some great stuff there, too.
– Lisa

From Wikipedia: “Epicureanism is a system of philosophy based upon the teachings of the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus. […] Epicurus believed that what he called “pleasure” was the greatest good, but that the way to attain such pleasure was to live modestly, to gain knowledge of the workings of the world and to limit one’s desires. This would lead one to attain a state of tranquility (ataraxia) and freedom from fear as well as an absence of bodily pain (aponia). The combination of these two states constitutes happiness in its highest form.”

That sounds pretty appealing to me, actually. The goal is a life of pleasure, but that pleasure is achieved by living modestly and understanding the world.

I tend to think that epicureanism is something of an external philosophy, in that it’s about attaining external pleasures for maximizing freedom from fear and absence of pain through modest living and knowledge, while stoicism is something of an internal philosophy given that it is about separating one’s mind from emotions and trying to look at the world rationally. Some differences are obvious, like the relative disdain that stoicism shows for external pleasures (they view pleasure as an external emotion), but they do have some important overlaps, too.

I think a modern stoic and a modern epicurean could end up living very similar lives, but they would have big disagreements when they talked about the reasons behind it. I think, internally, stoicism makes more sense to me, but I understand and appreciate epicureanism.

Got any questions? The best way to ask is to follow me on Facebook and ask questions directly there. I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag (which, by way of full disclosure, may also get re-posted on other websites that pick up my blog). However, I do receive many, many questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.


Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.