I’m a big fan of winter getaways, whether you’re escaping to sunshine or heading to the snow. Today’s guest post is all about planning a ski holiday and getting the most out of it.
A winter holiday has an extra layer of luxury; not only do you escape the dark and dreary, but you are also getting away from it all when most people’s holiday is just a memory.
Connotations of the high life surround a ski holiday, not only because of your literal altitude, but also because the history of many of the resorts is tied in with the lifestyles of the rich and famous.
The chance to enjoy the spectacular landscapes at some of the best resorts in the world means that a ski holiday is something that everyone can enjoy to the full, as long as you make the right preparation. So here are our top five tips for making sure your skiing holiday goes to plan:
1. Gear up
Using the right equipment and wearing the correct clothes is essential on a skiing holiday. If you are a seasoned veteran and don’t mind using the check-in luggage services at airports, you may well have your own skis, boots and everything else you need. However, most of us will be happy to use the gear that is provided at the resort.
2. Know your skill level
As with every other type of physical activity, it is important to know your limits and not bite off more than you can chew. Ski slopes are graded for difficulty and beginners should be wary of finding themselves on a piste that they can’t handle.
3. Choose the resort
Your experience can play a large part in your choice of resort, but generally speaking, most will offer a range of skiing opportunities for all levels of skill, age and experience. Choosing one of the many great all inclusive ski packages offered by Club Med is a great way to make sure you have everything you need on site and can simply enjoy yourself to the full.
4. Après Ski
As important as the slopes and daytime activities are, the aprèsski scene is also an important thing to consider when choosing a destination. Chamonix Mont-Blanc and Méribel le Chalet in the French Alps are both known for their off piste facilities, as is Cervinia in Italy.
Of course, no matter how experienced you are, skiing can be an unpredictable pastime when it comes to the chance of injuring yourself. So making sure you have a good insurance policy in place to cover the possibility of any accidents is a really sensible thing to do.
Debt can be a heavy burden that weighs you down in the game of life. There are many causes and many different levels of debt. You might be making payments but you’d like a little help or you might be close to declaring bankruptcy. For each level of debt, there is a unique method to eliminate it but no matter how much debt you have you should aim to get rid of it as a primary goal.
The best way to get started is to first figure out where you are. Take a look at this infographic, put together by Consolidated Credit to help you analyse your financial position. Whatever your level of debt, Consolidated may be able to help you make your payment more manageable.
The shortest seven days ever.
Tags: europe, paris, photos, travel
Saving up for a downpayment is a challenge in itself – but if you’re self-employed, you’ve got a whole other hurdle to leap on the track to home ownership, as today’s guest post explains…
Self-employed people know a lot about the benefits of pursuing their dreams and doing satisfying work. In order to be successful, they also learn a lot about dealing with the consequences of being the boss, with no employer backing them up with a regular salary and benefits. When it comes to getting a mortgage, the lack of regular paychecks from an employer becomes a difficulty. But just like solving any other problems with your business and finances, you just have to know the score and work to find a solution.
Proving Income and Source
At the heart of the mortgage problem for a self-employed person is proving their income. Whereas people with “regular” jobs have an easier time in demonstrating their income, self-employed people generally have to use their tax returns as proof of their income. This often creates a Catch-22 situation, because it is usually beneficial for the self-employed to try to report their income to be as low as possible to reduce their tax burdens. But reporting low income limits their options when it comes to taking out a mortgage or refinancing an existing mortgage. Even if you have a great credit score and a healthy level of cash in savings, the lack of a verifiably good income stream can lead some lenders to disqualify you.
The other main problem is needing to prove the existence of your business, which is part of verifying the source of your income. Some lenders may be satisfied with tax returns, but others may also require a business license, website or client statements, or copies of your 1099 income statements. Regardless of whatever proof you have, most lenders will require two years’ worth of self-employment before they will approve you for a mortgage or give you better refinance rates.
How to Improve Your Chances
If there is a co-applicant for the mortgage, it may be beneficial to only use the co-applicant’s income to apply for the mortgage. This will affect the process and how much money you are able to borrow, but if you have low income or even a loss within the last two years, it may still give you better chances of being approved. Having good credit scores are always beneficial when it comes to taking out loans, mortgages included. Making large adjustments in your credit score require time and good financial choices, but you should at least check your credit report to verify that all of the information there is correct, to prevent incorrect data from hurting your score and your chances for a mortgage. Making a larger down-payment may also help, because it will change your debt-to-income ratio after you take on the mortgage. This can be especially useful to get you over the hump if you are close to qualifying. But the most important factor in being accepted for a mortgage or refinance is simply the ability to prove that you can repay the loan, and having verifiable income is always the key to that. Your quantifiable income will determine the amount of money you can borrow.
Travelling through foreign countries takes its toll after awhile. For us, London was a breath of familiar air – first after our Asian stint, and again for a day after our Eurotrip. I’m a little embarrassed to admit to how nice it was to be greeted in English at the airport and in shops, to be able to read all the signs around us, at how relieving it was to have everything be easy again. T was just happy to be able to drink milk again, and you can bet he gorged and gorged. The milk’s nowhere near as good as the stuff at home, but at least it’s cheaper.
That said, London is blimmin’ expensive. Here’s how we tried to keep costs down:
Now that I’m a seasoned metro traveller, I wish we’d taken the Tube from the airport into the city when we first landed; as intimidating as all the transfers would have been, I think we could have coped. Still, we opted for the cheaper Heathrow Connect train rather than the Heathrow Express, which is half the price.
Travelling off peak can save you a decent amount if you’re travelling around underground; otherwise, assuming the weather cooperates, you can walk around like we did as much as possible. If you do need to travel a lot by subway, there is, thankfully, a maximum daily price cap, so you won’t pay any more than that.
Hostels, while not exactly cheap, are still your best budget option. I’m not sure if we were extremely lucky, but we found dorm beds for a mere 12 pounds each at Hyde Park Smart Inn hostel, which was in a convenient and pretty swanky area. Downside: the hostel itself was horrible, though I think this may be par for the course in London in general.
For our second visit, I found dorm beds for 15 pounds at Journey’s King’s Cross, but thanks to some generous friends, we ended up crashing in a Clapham living room for free.
It’s amazing just how much prepackaged food there is in the UK – and not in a good way. Nonetheless, supermarkets are your friend, be it Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Cooperative. They all seem to offer $3 meal deals with a sandwich, drink and snack, though we mostly bought breads, dips, and salads (I got hooked on the tomato, olive and spinach pasta salad from the get go). And if you spot a ‘pound store’, don’t walk in – run in! Stock up! Cheap samosas from Spar near our hostel were also a staple.
The one attraction we paid for (and regretted) was the London Eye. Aside from that, simply strolling around taking in the architecture, exploring the south bank, wandering past Buckingham Palace and through all the huge parks, and nipping into some of the many free museums in London, was enough to keep us occupied.
What other suggestions have you?
Tags: london, money, travel
Until we got to the Mediterranean, I was unexcited about the cuisine through middle Europe. I gorged on potato salad for weeks, but otherwise, the meats and such weren’t terribly enticing. Perfectly serviceable food, and filling too – just not the kind that would get me out of bed in a hurry.
For example, bread bowl soup in Prague was cute in a gimmicky way, though overpriced, as was all the other (albeit tasty) street stall food we bought during our brief visit.
Things started to come right in Greece. Succulent lamb. Dolmades. Salad with feta.
But Italy? Italy blew my tastebuds out of the water. Stopping to take photos before devouring food proved too difficult in many cases, but here are a few meals I did capture.
One of our first pizzas (if not the first) in Italy – in Bologna, to be precise
A lunch stop in Orvieto – Umbrian wild boar with pasta!
A simple bolognese in Rome
Tiramisu at an all-you-can-eat Roman lunch buffet
‘Squid ring’ pasta at La Buca di san Fastino, Viterbo
Followed by sausaged stuffed eggplant
My kinda salad…
Splurging on seafood in Amalfi town
And again, in Naples
Naples was a bit of a bust, much as I wanted to love it. Like Bologna, it’s meant to be a city of great food, but I found it somewhat underwhelming. Many places were shut down, being early/mid August when locals go away on holiday (timing couldn’t be helped in this instance) and while we had a LOT of great meals (including countless excellent pizzas) we also had one terribly underwhelming one. Never mind – Pasticceria Mazzaro more than made up for that.
After eating our way through the country, I can only say that it has totally changed my outlook on food. Particularly after our HelpX stint, where we ate veggies and fruit fresh from the garden almost every day, I am committed to shaking up how we eat when we get home. Simple, GREAT ingredients. No more quick and dirty pasta dinners, with a $1 packet of pasta, $3 jar of sauce, maybe some minced meat and a handful of veggies. Nope. Just some top-notch EVOO, tomatoes, cheese, and maybe some courgettes, eggplant, or string beans. For example:
Not only do I want to change my diet, I think I need to change how I eat overall. I’m not going to give up sugar or fried food, but my body definitely knows what it likes. I was almost constantly hungry on the farm in Italy while HelpXing, but hunger aside, I felt great. Even though we rarely had dessert and didn’t snack, I didn’t have any cravings at all. On days that I did ingest meat or sugar, I definitely felt an immediate difference, digestively speaking. It was like a second, more complete detox post-Asia.
Tags: food, travel
Should you ever find yourself in the position of looking to sell a structured settlement, today’s guest post is all for you.
While many people might be able to live comfortably with their payment structure after a settlement, that’s certainly not true across the board. In fact, more and more people find that they’re struggling to make ends meet when they should be relatively secure, financially speaking. Whether you’ve run up high medical bills due to your injury, or had to make expensive lifestyle changes because of your injuries, selling your structured settlement can give you access to the funds that you need. However, most settlement holders have several questions about the process. Read on to learn the answers to the most common questions.
Is It Legal to Sell My Structured Settlement?
In a nutshell, yes, it’s legal to sell your structured settlement. However, it’s not the same thing as selling a car or even a home. You’ll have to go back to court and the judge must sign off on your sale. If the judge doesn’t approve the sale, you can’t sell it.
Do I Have to Sell All of My Settlement?
Many structured settlement holders are under the impression that selling involves an all or nothing proposition, when that’s not the case. You can choose to sell as little or as much of your structured settlement as you like. You can sell just a small fraction of it. You can sell half. You can sell the majority, or you can sell it all. It’s completely up to you.
I’m in Bankruptcy, Can I Still Sell?
Bankruptcy is a tricky process, and you’ll find that it makes selling your structured settlement a little more difficult. If you’re still in the middle of the bankruptcy process, you can still receive quotes and sell your settlement, but you’ll need a partner to work with your trustee or other representative.
Can You Sell a Structured Settlement Portion If You Previously Sold Some?
If you have previously sold a portion of your structured settlement, you can still sell as much or little of the remainder as you like. However, your payments may not be worth the same amount as previously, and you’ll need to work with a trusted ally to determine the worth of your remaining payments before starting the sales process.
Do I Give Up My Rights at Any Point during the Sales Process?
You are completely protected during the sales process, up to the point that the sale is finalized. You are free to change your mind regarding the sale at any point up to the finalization of the sale. You are also protected after the sale because the funding company is required by law to fulfill their obligations to you, the seller.
The Best Way Forward
Ideally, you’ll work with a trusted company with a long history in the structured settlement sales industry. This ensures that not only do you have a way to enter this unique marketplace, but that you can take advantage of certified buyers, and receive bids on your structured settlement without having to do anything other than fill out a brief form.
Today’s thought: It’s so much easier to travel when you’re still young.
The time/money tension is an interesting one. You have more of the former and not enough of the latter when young. Meanwhile, you might have less of the former and more of the latter when old. But money, at least theoretically, is something you can always earn more of. Time is finite. Sure, you might have student loans weighing on your back, but you’re less likely to have a mortgage and/or a family to support.
And there’s no telling what your health might be like later on. In your 20s, you’re more likely to be physically up for roughing it on a budget, not having become used to luxuries.
Right, now, we’re on the eve of embarking on our whirlwind North American tour. As exciting as it is, it’s also going to be gruelling. We’re as young and energetic as we can ever expect to be, though that’s not saying much. We’re kind of oldies at heart. For example, we ended up getting a taxi (actually more economical than the train) after landing in KL rather than the cheap bus. After an 11 hour flight, T wasn’t up for any more discomfort, and after having gone through the equivalent of my own body mass in tissues up in the air, I was inclined to agree. And T is already carting around the body of an old man, thanks to old sports injuries, high level athletics, and physical work – which has held us back at times.
I have no idea what kind of shape we’ll be in when we’re middle-aged or retired, but I am pretty confident we wouldn’t have even the (limited) stamina we have right now. Further, I’m not sure we’d be comfortable dossing on floors and couches (physically or otherwise), HelpXing, Couchsurfing, or AirBnB-ing. But then again, who knows what might have cropped up in that regard in 20 years’ time?
Visas are another thing to consider. As a New Zealand citizen, I’m lucky – we’re welcomed almost everywhere, and have visa waivers/exemptions in many countries. If you can swing it financially, fresh grads can move to the US to work and travel for a year as part of the snappily named New Zealand and Australia Twelve-Month Student Work and Recent Graduate Travel Program. If you’re 30 or under, there’s a dizzying array of countries offering working holiday visas, which to my understanding are virtually guaranteed – it’s just a matter of applying and paying the fee. Australians and New Zealanders seem to enjoy the most choices, but there are options for citizens of other countries, too.
For what it’s worth, the youth/under 26 discounts available to you might also be worth considering. We qualified for cheaper Eurail passes, an ISIC youth card, and other random discounts along the way.
An added benefit of travelling in our 20s is that it’s been a real growth experience. An invaluable experience. A life-shaping experience. I’m not sure we’d be as open-minded as we are now 20 or 30 years down the track; as receptive to new experiences and ideas. And let me tell you, if there’s one thing travel has taught me, it’s that I’m NOT as open-minded as I would like to think I am.
Travel is not for everyone. I’m not going to try to sell you on travel, if it’s not your cup of tea. And I don’t think it’s a terrible idea to wait to travel by any means, but if it’s a priority for you, there’s no time like the present.
Tags: reflections, travel
Our one and only HelpX experience is done and dusted, and we’ve lived to tell the tale.
Adjusting to life on the farmstead was way more difficult than I could have imagined, and not in the way I would have thought. It was a whole lot of land, with a big veggie garden, tons of fruit trees, chickens, dogs, and horses, run by a musician. The stereotype of flaky creatives exists for a reason.
The hardest part? The lack of routine when it came to meals. Lunch could be at 1pm or 2pm, or as late as 4pm. Dinner was always late, sometimes 9pm, and sometimes closer to midnight. The long gaps were only worsened by the fact that while we ate amazingly well – in terms of quality and flavour – we didn’t eat much. Our hosts ate like birds, and I have no idea how they functioned, especially on hard labour days. T and I both have fast metabolisms and healthy appetites – and we were burning through food practically within minutes. On top of all that, we largely ate vegetarian (with few starches/carbs). Again, that was great, but not in terms of keeping us fuelled.
The heart of the house
In week one, we were helping get the place ready for a small concert to be held on the grounds at the end of the week. The hired handyman/groundskeeper came about every other day, and wound up beating us to a ton of the things on our to-do list, not to mention doing them a million times better. It was like we were just in his way most of the time. Getting used to doing physical labour took a few days. I was so exhausted, I started taking siestas in the middle of the day (though I later adjusted and no longer needed to nap).
In week two, things were a little more settled. We went along on a supermarket trip and got some extra food items. T got increasingly frustrated by some of our host’s personality quirks/management style, and by a few of the long days we put in. I got frustrated by his attitude. Personally, I take cues from those around me, and I’m not comfortable relaxing while my host is busy doing stuff, even if I’ve already racked up my hours for the day. I believe in putting in what it takes to get stuff done rather than simply doing the bare minimum of hours – and of always going the extra mile, giving before you get, giving more than you get. (Obviously within reason; I see no reason to bust your butt for years for a corporate without ever seeing any rewards for it, for example.) I really do wonder if his outlook would have been different if we had been getting paid, and then paying for board, for example, rather than it being a straight exchange of work for board. Getting used to working again after such a long break was also probably a challenge.
In week three, T came across a viper in the house while going into the toilet. We took a day trip to nearby Viterbo, where we stuffed ourselves silly with gelato, pasta, and burgers (him). It was a full house, with a couple renting the next door cottage, and a family of four crashing in the main house as well. (The young boys were undisciplined terrors, though they had their moments.)
Corn we picked and strung up
For our first and only HelpX experience, I don’t think we could have done better. There were trips to the nearby beach and lake, a free concert, a night out with our host’s son (SO many underage Italian kids partying up at the local yacht club/bar), and dinner parties. A lot of them. We had no idea what was going on conversation-wise a lot of the time, but it was good fun, with interesting and lively characters. Everyone was so friendly, and those who did speak English engaged us in conversation, wanting to know how we liked Europe, what New Zealand is like, and offering travel tips. Almost everyone was a musician (I never thought I’d meet an opera singer, let alone this many), and we were treated to plenty of performances. Plus, we looked forward to dinner party nights, as there was usually ample food for a change.
Old Etruscan tombs/caves on the farm
In a nutshell: an unforgettable three weeks; a frugal three weeks (one day trip, a couple of extra supermarket stops, a couple of nights out and a small contribution to the house kitty); a unique way to farewell Italy.
Tags: europe, italy, travel
Hello there! We’ve finally escaped the Mediterranean heat and are cooling off in Paris. A little too much, perhaps; yesterday brought the first rain we’ve been exposed to in a couple of months, putting a damper on the day. Ah well, we had three decent days before that, and a couple more ahead of us. Can I just say: WE LOVE PARIS. Weather and language barrier aside (and maybe the prices), I could definitely live here. It reminds us of London, but with better food, and just generally all-around more awesome.
I haven’t been doing as much reading as I’d like to, but here’s what’s caught my eye so far this month:
The seven deadly sins of freelancing, via Susannah Breslin
Financial Samurai pens an ode to endless summers
Afford Anything explains the four types of retirement
Over at Zen Habits, Jodi Ettenberg on finding mindfulness through food
Should we all just live like we’re poor? Via Mochi and Macarons
Nicole at A Life Less Bullshit reveals the one word you need to embrace
Over at Grow, five ways to avoid the online personal ghetto
Krystal wants to know: how much does your car really cost you?
The Everyday Minimalist outlines three ways to feel happier about your spending
At Yes and Yes, an insight into the life of a Grand Canyon worker
When should you quit a side hustle? Via Budgets Are Sexy
Finally, here’s what Kim of So Many Places knows about happiness