How to fly for free on Southwest

Over the past few years my wife and I (and occasionally our kids) have flown at least 10 domestic flights for free. At first we didn’t have much of a strategy. We would just utilize the bonus points from a new credit card to purchase flights whenever we were headed out of town. But over time a system emerged that made it easier for us to take full advantage of credit card rewards that allows us to fly for free. Always.

Our airline of choice has pretty much always been Southwest. The main reason is that they offer flights from Baltimore (BWI), where we live, to Rhode Island (PVD), where my mom lives, St. Louis (STL), where my mother-in-law lives, and Minneapolis (MSP), where my wife’s extended family lives. Another reason is that they typically have the lowest airfare, especially when Wanna Get Away seats are available. And the Rapid Rewards (frequent flyer) program is one of the best in the industry.

It’s important to realize that much of what I’m going to tell you requires excellent credit — and in many cases it’s going to cause you to juggle a bunch of credit cards at once. Do not attempt this if you are not a responsible credit user, or you do not trust yourself with more than one card.

Full Disclosure: I have no affiliation with neither Chase nor Southwest Airlines.

The best cards to accrue Southwest points.

As of right now, the 7 best credit cards to rack up Southwest Rapid Rewards are all issued by Chase; Chase Ink Plus, Chase Ink Bold, Southwest Plus Business, Southwest Plus, Southwest Premier Business, Southwest Premier, and Chase Sapphire Preferred.

Between all of these cards you can earn 260k bonus points. You would also earn — at a minimum — an additional 17k points by spending the minimum required amount to receive the bonus points. To put this into perspective, I can fly between BWI and PVD for as low as 8,726 points per roundtrip (4,363 one-way). This means that I can fly to Rhode Island and back 31 times on points alone (there is a minor charge called the “September 11th Security Fee” of $5.60 per one-way flight that you can’t pay for with points).

Ease into it.

If you are new to travel hacking and are moderately interested, but you don’t want to pay any money out of pocket to try it, then your best bet is to start with the Chase Sapphire Preferred. This card offers 40k Ultimate Rewards (UR) that can be transferred from your Chase account to your Southwest Rapid Rewards (RR) account at 1:1 (this means if you have 40k UR, you will have 40k RR after transferring). Plus, it doesn’t charge a first year fee.

Once you have been approved and receive your Sapphire Preferred card, you will need to spend at least $3k within the first 3 months to obtain the bonus points. If you don’t normally spend $3k in a 3 month period, then you shouldn’t increase your spending just to meet the minimum (this is illogical and a waste of money). You may want to wait until a large purchase is on the horizon (new appliances, skilled labor, etc) before signing up for this specific card.

If you’re married then you and your spouse can both open separate Sapphire Preferred cards essentially doubling your rewards — remember that this can only be done if both you and your spouse have excellent credit. It may be better to stagger this if your monthly credit spending averages less than $2k.

When it’s time to get another card.

When you are coming close to reaching the spending necessary to receive the bonus points, it’s a good idea to start looking for a new card. Since credit card rewards change so frequently it’s a great idea to keep a spreadsheet of the cards that offer either Ultimate Rewards or Rapid Rewards, their associated fees and the dates that you opened your accounts. This will help you decide which cards to sign up for and when, and how long your accounts have been open (important for deciding if/when to close accounts).

My wife and I will typically sign up for a new credit card every single month. This month I signed up for the Southwest Premier card which currently offers 25,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in the first 3-months. This isn’t hard for us to reach, especially considering that childcare costs us $1,290 per month. We essentially have to swipe our card once to receive these points. Next month she will sign up for this card so we can double our points.

Fees and “paying for points”.

A few of these high-tier cards come with both annual fees and first year fees. The Southwest Premier is a good example of this. Before I even received my card in the mail I had a $99 fee charged to my card for opening the account. This is enough to scare many people away, but it can make sense if you think about it in terms of “buying points”. For example, the 25k points that I will receive from this card will cost me $.004 per point ($99/25,000) — this is almost enough points for me to fly to Rhode Island 3 times.

The previous two cards that I’ve mentioned are consumer cards. The final consumer card that I’ll touch on is the Southwest Plus. Currently, they’re offering 25k bonus points after spending $1,000 in the first three months. With a first-year fee of $69, this equates to about $.003 per point ($69/25,000). This card also has an annual fee of $69.

By utilizing only these three cards you can rack up 90k bonus points and you will only incur $168 in first year fees, leaving you with an average of less than $.002 paid per point ($168/90,000).

Business-specific cards for even more points.

The remainder of the cards are business specific, so if you have a small business then you should definitely look into these cards. It’s possible to open these cards without being an employer by using your Social Security Number, however you should figure out if you qualify as a business owner first. You might be pleasantly surprised to find out that you actually do have a business.

The Ink Bold and Ink Plus which have respective bonus points of 50k and 70k do not have first year fees. They do, however, have annual fees of $95 each. The Southwest Premier Business is directly equivalent to the Southwest Premier, and the Southwest Plus Business is equivalent to the Southwest Plus in every sense, besides the fact that one is a business card and one is a consumer card.

These 4 cards will allow you to rack up another 170k points, while only having to spend $168 on first year fees. This comes out to roughly $.001 paid per point.

Reducing or canceling cards.

As a consumer with excellent credit and a small business owner I am eligible to receive all of the above stated cards. With my inclination to frequently sign up for new cards with bonus points, it’s important that I keep a spreadsheet detailing when I would get hammered with annual fees (which would raise my paid per point costs).

About 2-3 months before each card reaches their 1 year anniversary I will contact the credit card issuer and ask them to either reduce my account to a lower-tier card with no annual fee, or ask them to cancel the credit card completely. One common fear is that opening and closing so many cards will damage your credit, but if you have excellent credit this should hardly have an impact.

It’s completely possible for a married couple to accrue as many as 554k points together, simply by each opening the 7 cards that I’ve mentioned in this article (and spending the minimum required amounts for the bonus points). If, for whatever reason, you wanted to blow through these points immediately, you would be able to fly every other weekend for an entire year, and still have points left over.

Bonus!

Another huge perk of flying Southwest is their illusive Companion Pass. This rarely obtained pass allows a named companion of your choice to accompany you for free on all flights for a full calendar year. The two ways to get this pass are to fly 100 one-way flights or by accruing 110,000 Rapid Rewards points. The three aforementioned consumer cards will get you up to 90,000 points. The remaining 20,000 points can be earned either through business cards or by your spouse transferring their Chase Ultimate Rewards points to your Rapid Rewards account.

For more info you can check out the Companion Pass’s terms and conditions here: Southwest Companion Pass

Zero your cerebral inbox.

Our brains are capable of amazing things. They’re responsible for every single advance in human civilization, and after thousands of years of evolution our brains have grown in size and complexity. We know more now than we ever have before. But, without fine tuning our thought process and how we actually act on our thoughts our brains end up being piles of mush that just spew ideas back and forth creating stress and anxiety in our lives.

Researchers say that everyday about 50,000 thoughts go through our heads. This can be anything from thinking “damn that girl/guy is sexy” to “I need to buy a garbage bag full of lemons this week.” 50,000 thoughts that range anywhere from the trivial to the oh-shit-total-life-crisis and most of these thoughts that could be actionable end up wasting brain energy.

I used to think that I was operating at maximum efficiency as an intelligent human being. I wrote down stuff occasionally that I wanted to complete, and I was actually completing most of the things that I had written down. Occasionally things would slip through the cracks because some of the line items became obsolete, some of them were too big and got deferred, among other reasons. Writing down goals is a great way to start, but it’s only the first step toward clearing your mind and absolving it of stressors.

Have you ever had a thought that occurred more than once concerning something that you had to accomplish? Maybe your thought was something like this: “I really need to send a card to my uncle Norbert”. You didn’t act on it, because you knew that you didn’t have to immediately. But then that thought rolled into your subconscious mind again. What you don’t realize is that this thought is actually causing you stress, and that’s why your brain regurgitated it. Your brain has been silently stressing itself out over your lack of action.

So, potentially you have 50,000 thoughts that need some form of exodus from your brain so your subconscious will stop harping over the petty — and the huge — stuff that’s on your mind. Fortunately for us there is a better way to live, although few people figure it out — mainly because they think they’re already operating at maximum efficiency.

You’ve heard of Zeroing your email inbox, right? The following approach is a way to Zero your brain — and it’s super easy to put into action.

1. Get it all out.

The first thing you need to do to clear your mind, and begin tackling problems logically, is to write out every single thought you have that needs to be acted on. Seriously, it doesn’t matter how trivial it is, because these thoughts need somewhere to go. We don’t want our brains to think that we aren’t in control.

Writing down EVERYTHING gives us a little bit more control, because we’ll start to realize that we have a lot more that we want to accomplish than we think we do. The more we get out, the more other thoughts will have room to surface. This is great, but it’s just the beginning.

Don’t write down aimless thoughts. You can’t act on something like “ooooh that car is a shiny blue”. But if you thought “I should paint my car a shiny blue” then you need to write that crap down!

2. Organize and categorize.

Every time a new thought is added to your list you need to create two labels for them. One is urgency — how soon does this need to be completed? And priority — should I complete this task first or another one? At first you’ll be labeling everything like crazy. After a few days using this system you’ll only have to determine the urgency/priority of new thoughts, because we’ve already taken care of everything else.

3. Add your organized thoughts to a calendar.

Here’s where things start to get cool.

After we’ve assigned our urgency, we’ll know roughly when our task should be completed. Now we can assign a date to the task and add it to our calendar. This lets us focus on the tasks with a closer deadline now, and defer ALL other projects until later. Our minds will start to relax at this point, because we’re telling our brains that the stuff it wants to get done WILL get done on our terms.

Our subconscious mind should start to shut off and open up, because it likes to not have to think about the same stuff over and over again.

4. Don’t let yourself think repetitively.

Your thoughts have been written down, assigned a priority/urgency level and have been added to your trusty calendar. Now, it’s time to see if things are working efficiently in your brain. Having everything out of your system should free your mind to think more creatively. Stress levels will be lower, because you know that you have everything under control.

A repetitive thought is a way for your brain to tell you that it needs something done. If you’re having repetitive thoughts that have already made it to your calendar, maybe you should reclassify its urgency. Your subconscious is pretty powerful, and if it’s making suggestions, it’s probably right.

5. Assign first/next actions.

This is the part of goal or list making that people don’t usually take into account. Sometimes tasks are vague, and just thinking about them stresses the shit out of us. This is because we haven’t defined our path to completion for the task. Every task can be completed if we break them into tiny chunks. If you think to yourself that you want to build a house, you can imagine yourself banging in the last nail and standing back thinking about what a good job you did. Thinking about how to start the project may be a little bit harder.

Say that our goal was to build a house and we labeled it with a high priority. You want to start building your house next week. How the hell do you make that leap if you haven’t completed one step of the process yet? Easy. You’d figure out what the first thing you need to do is. That’s what goes on your calendar. It may be “talk with an employee at Home Depot”, “watch some house building videos online” or “read the local laws to determine what permits are needed”.

The first action should be added to every item on your calendar (unless the tasks are single steps, of course). Once you’ve completed the first action, you’ll go through a similar thought process to determine what the next action should be to complete your task. Add the next action to your calendar.

Repeat this process constantly and don’t stop when you think you have it under control. This process will become second-nature and should be maintained for the foreseeable future to reduce risk of unnecessary stress.

6. The “five minutes or less” rule.

How often have you thought that you should do a task that would only take you about 5 minutes to complete, but instead you put it off until later? Things like doing the dishes, sweeping the floor, making the bed, or folding laundry often end up being put off which means two things: you’re robbing your future self of time, and you’re adding stress to your brain whether you think you are or not.

Every time you have a thought (and right before you write it down) you need to think “Could I complete this task in less than five minutes?” AND “Do I have five minutes to spare right now?”. If the answer is YES to both of these questions, then guess what. You’re going to be completing the task immediately. Then, you don’t have to worry about the dishes, or the bed, or the mail or whatever.

7. Drop it like it’s hot.

You know yourself better than anyone else, so you should understand whether your goals will come to fruition or not. Don’t lie to yourself, because it only hurts you (and adds more stress to your life).

Drop any tasks that you don’t think you stand a chance of completing. It’s nice to think that you’re a superstar and you can do anything you put your mind to, but WILL YOU? That’s the real question. If you won’t, then toss that task in the shredder.

Handy resources.

When I started keeping track of everything in my life I started using Evernote. It’s a free online service that offers a companion desktop application as well as mobile apps, and it’s main goal is to help you organize your life. Since you’ll typically always have a computer in front of you or a cell phone in your pocket, what better way to keep your thoughts in order than a program that was designed to keep your thoughts in order?! Evernote is free if you’re uploading 60MB of data or less each month.

Google also has their own version of Evernote, that I’ve actually migrated to. It’s called Google Keep, and I think it’s fantastic. It’s completely free. It syncs across your Google devices automatically. And it has a beautiful color-coordination system which is useful for setting priorities on your goals. I highly recommend this for anyone looking for a good productivity enhancement tool.

If you want to read more about this topic and how you can apply it to a more business-oriented setting, then you can check out Best Selling author David Allen’s book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity  from either Amazon or your local library. He goes into heavy detail about how to prioritize work-related tasks, through most of the steps listed above, and the use of filing cabinets, inboxes, etc. He’s a super smart dude and it’s a nice quick read.

A Kick-in-the-teeth Guide to Investing

Most people aren’t rocket scientists when it comes to investing. I’m not either, but I know enough about it that hopefully I can teach you something about it in the next five minutes.

You need to know why you’re investing.

The first thing you need to do is develop a purpose for investing. Without this you’re just going to sock away money for no apparent reason. By developing a purpose you’ll provide yourself with motivation by knowing what you’ll get when you’re ready to start making withdrawals.

  • Do you want to retire decades before your peers?
  • Do you want to travel the world?
  • Do you want to start your own business?
  • Do you want to put your kids through college?
  • Do you want to sleep on a bed made of money?

Then, you need to develop a timeline. A timeline will help you understand when you’ll actually achieve your financial goals. Make sure they’re realistic and within your reach. You could then apply your timeline to each of your investing goals. “I want to retire in 10 years with $1,000,000″. This is a properly formed goal. Now you have to figure out how you’re going to get that Million bucks.

How much of your income should you invest?

I’m not going to answer this question. Instead, we can explore it a little bit, then you can make your own determination.

Let’s say your goal is to save $1 Million and you’ve decided that your timeline is 10 years. The market grows at about 8% per year (on average). And inflation eats about 3% of your money. This means that your money will grow at an inflation-adjusted rate of 5% per year on average.

By plugging in a few numbers into the MoneyChimp compound interest calculator you can see that you would need to invest $75,718.65 annually to reach your goal of $1Million within 10 years. Realistic or not, that’s for you to decide.

I will say that 20% of your take home pay is a good number to start with, but over time you should increase this amount as you become more efficient with your money. For example, I can safely invest 70% of my income every month, because I constantly exercise my ability to optimize my finances.

How to invest.

When I became debt-free I was pretty confused when it came to investing. There’s almost too much information out there and no one to simplify it. I’ll make it as simple as possible. If you’re a pro investor then feel free to not read this.

You’ve heard of stocks, bonds and mutual funds before. These may just sound like words with no meaning, but each of them has their specific purpose. Stocks are tiny portions of companies. If you own stock in a company then you own part of a company. Bonds are money that you lend organizations or governments who then pay you back over time for your investment.

I invest all of my money in either mutual funds or ETFs. These two things are pretty much the same thing, but have slightly different tax structures. Mutual funds and ETFs are ways of investing in many companies at once. They reduce volatility (extreme gains or losses), because your money is spread loaded to hundreds or thousands of companies.

Kick-Ass places to invest.

The following are my suggestions of where you should be investing your money.

  1. The first and least obvious place to invest is your 401k. This is an investment! You can invest $17,500 into your 401k this year which will shelter your money from taxes. You’ll have to pay taxes when you withdraw money, but your money will grow tax free. Pretty slick.
  2. Vanguard. Vanguard is the mecca of investing. All of their funds have extremely low expense ratios (explained in the next section). They have many index mutual funds and ETFs, as well. This means a computer picks the allocation rather than a human, which means you pay less over time. Open a Vanguard account today.
  3. Betterment. Betterment is great because they make investing extremely easy. They automatically allocate your money and create an instantly diverse portfolio for you. You don’t have to know anything to use Betterment. I’ve had an account with them for over a year now and it performs just as well as my Vanguard account. My personal Betterment returns since February 2013: 10.0% Open a Betterment account today.
  4. Prosper. Prosper is a way to crowd-source loans for people. Someone may want a $10,000 loan. As an investor I can buy a $25, $50, $100, etc portion of that loan. The borrower then pays back the loan plus interest. While this shouldn’t be the foundation of your portfolio, it can add some nice diversity. My personal Prosper returns since July 2013: 9.38%. Open a Prosper account today

Terms you should know.

There is a very limited portion of investor lingo that you need to concern yourself with. Most of the other stuff is meant to confuse you and to make Wall Street employees feel good about themselves.

  • Expense ratio – The cost of operation for a mutual fund or ETF. The lower the expense ratio the better. Vanguard’s average expense ratio is 0.19%. That means they take a small cut of your money every day. The industry average is 1.11%. That means other companies charge nearly 600% of what Vanguard charges you.
  • Active vs. Index – Active management requires a human being — or a team of human beings — to decide the allocation of a fund. It costs money to pay these people, who are essentially throwing darts and making educated guesses with your money. Index funds use spiders, or robots, to decide the proper allocation. It costs less because there’s no one expecting a paycheck. Index funds reflect the market more accurately.
  • Dividend – This is free money that is distributed to you for owning shares of a fund. Think of it like a thank you. This money then gets reinvested into the fund, which provides you more shares — shares that you didn’t have to pay for. You do have to pay taxes on dividends every year.

Taxable vs. Tax-Advantaged.

There are three main categories that I’ll cover here. They are the three that I currently use, and the ones that I personally recommend.

  • 401k / TSP / 403b – These three investment options are pretty much the same thing. You can invest up to $17,500 per year of your pre-tax money here. You can access this money when you’re 59 and 1/2 penalty free. You can access your money earlier, but you’ll pay heavy fees, so I don’t recommend it. You’ll pay taxes when you withdraw from these accounts.
  • Roth IRA – This is a way to shelter an additional $5,500 per year from taxes. You use post-tax money (money that you’ve earned that’s already been deposited into your bank account), and you never have to pay taxes on this money again. It grows tax-free and you can withdraw it tax-free. The same rule applies that you have to be 59 and 1/2 to withdraw penalty free. However, you may withdraw the contributions you’ve made penalty-free at any point.
  • Taxable investing – This is where you invest the money you want to touch before you’re 59 and 1/2. You’ll use post-tax money to invest. You’ll pay taxes on the dividends and interest they generate, AND you’ll pay taxes on any capital gains or losses (these are generated when you SELL shares).

How to apply these principles.

At this point you may still not know how to invest and that’s fine. Here’s an example so you it will become clearer:

You decided you wanted to start investing $500/month so you could reach your goal of having $75,000 in 10 years. You know that in 10 years you’ll still be under 59 and 1/2, so you decided to open a TAXABLE account with Betterment.

Betterment only asks you one question: What percentage of your portfolio will be stocks and how much will be bonds? You answer by saying 100% stocks, because you’re young and you can afford short-term losses.

You set up an automatic $500/month withdrawal from your checking account every month and BOOM, you’re an investor. That’s it. Since you can reasonably expect your account to earn 5% (inflation-adjusted) per year you should easily reach your goal.

How to track your investments.

The only thing that I use to track my investments is Personal Capital. They have a streamlined interface that shows the growth of your accounts and your net worth over time. It isn’t a budgeting site like Mint, although they do track your purchases automatically which is nice.

Personal Capital is a powerful tool that can help you find hidden fees in your investment accounts — especially the tricky ones that hide in your 401k.

 

Crap that I avoid.

  • I don’t listen to people who try to convince me they have a way to get rich by buying or selling stocks.
  • Penny stocks. The people that buy them are misguided, and are subsequently throwing away their money.
  • Up-and-coming sectors. I don’t buy into hype, and you shouldn’t either. Broad-based index funds ONLY.
  • Sensationalism. The market goes up and down. Big media blows this out of proportion in whatever direction it’s moving. Don’t listen to these people, they’re just sensationalizing the market for ratings.
  • Emotional investing. If you let your emotions get in the way of your investing, you’ll be heartbroken when your holdings slide and excited when they climb. Leave your emotions out of it, and let the stock market happen.

Not so Kick-Ass disclaimer.

You’re ready to start investing. You know what an index mutual fund is and what expense ratios are. You know that you’ll earn money in dividends and you know you should avoid penny stocks. Blah blah blah.

Now you need to understand that you might LOSE money when you invest. Like I said, the market goes up AND down. Be conscious of this from the beginning. This doesn’t mean you should be fearful. It means that you should remain confident even during market turbulence. Recessions are eminent, but don’t let that scare you — especially if you aren’t withdrawing your money for a few years.

Quit your job and do something you love

When I created this site my goal was simple: to retire by age 35 and to document the 7 year journey. During these past 15 months I’ve gone through many life changes. We downsized to a smaller house, brought a 3rd baby girl into existence, and I quit drinking soda (this was huge for me) and eating french fries just to name a few.

As a family we went through even more financial changes. This site ended up becoming profitable (see below for details). We started generating passive income through our rental property. We began peer-to-peer investing through Prosper. We also started investing through Betterment. We moved the bulk of our investments to Vanguard (VTSAX). And we started tracking our finances down to the penny using YNAB.

A year ago we were doing most of our shopping in bulk at big box stores. Now we’re buying mainly organic (whenever possible) and gluten-free products locally.

And a year ago I was a penny pinching ass (I’m still conscious about my spending, but I’m far more laid back now). Optimizing our finances has opened new pockets of money for us to spend every month, so while our savings rate hasn’t dropped, our disposable income has increased.

My new goal for the future (and the future of this site) is to discuss financial independence to help us leave our full-time jobs and either become self-employed or work jobs that leave us feeling fulfilled. Getting locked into unfulfilling careers for decades can make the rest of life seem bleak, so why the hell should we let ourselves fall prey to this lifestyle?

Being unsatisfied at work typically leads to creating fulfillment in other ways. Shopping. Alcohol. Nice cars. The ability to purchase these things may make your career seem worth it, but they’re just band-aids that cover your problems instead of fixing them.

To find happiness and achieve success — however you define it — you may have to get off the treadmill and leave your job.

What does it take to leave your job?

As a general rule of thumb, you shouldn’t quit your job until you’ve satisfied at least one of three conditions:

  1. You have secured another job that will cover all of your normal monthly expenses (lateral moving).
  2. Your passive income has outpaced your monthly spending.
  3. You have 100 times your monthly spending saved/invested.

Without making enough to cover your monthly expenses a new job will soon become another stressor in your life. It may feel like a nice change of pace, and you may feel happier doing the work that you’re doing, but the fact that you aren’t earning enough will start to eat at your financial house sooner than later. And you may start panicking when the money starts running out and the bills keep rolling in.

Option #2 is the best possible situation, but it takes the most money, and usually the most time. If you can swing it, props to you.

I would almost always recommend option #3 whenever possible. Although similar to the Rule of 300, this plan assumes that at least some portion of your income is going to be generated either by self-employment, or working in a career field that you’re passionate about.

Given a 5% rate of return (8% market returns MINUS 3% annual inflation) your money will last for 10 years without supplementation of income. That’s 10 YEARS to start generating income or to turn your passion into a money maker.

Small businesses and sole proprietorships fail constantly. One of the main reasons behind this is because the business owners rely on their business income to pay for their lifestyles. When you have 100x of your typical monthly spending saved, you’re less dependent on the money that your business is generating, which gives you the freedom to grow without simultaneously having to stress out about paying your mortgage.

My plan for the next two years is to bring my savings up to 100x our monthly spending level. That will give us a solid 10 years to get our shit together. It will give us the independence to leave our current jobs and to explore our options for self-employment.

For those who are less entrepreneurial, I would recommend figuring out what your passions are and once you have 100x times your income saved, try to find a career in this field. Working for other people isn’t always terrible. Personally, I love being my own boss, but it’s not for everyone.

I stated in a previous post that I would disclose the income that this site generates. I don’t know if I’m going to do this monthly or not (if you would rather me not post this stuff, feel free to let me know).

February earnings breakdown for this site:

  • Google Adsense (I use it sparingly, mostly on old posts and search engine favorites): $253.51
  • FlexOffers (Credit Sesame and Personal Capital): $155.65
  • Republic Wireless referrals: $57.00
  • Impact Radius (Betterment): $80.00
  • You Need A Budget: $84.00
  • Bluehost: $270.00
  • Amazon: $9.56
  • Total: $909.72

I actually had no idea I made THAT much until just now. As you can tell by looking around, I hardly advertise on this site. Most personal finance sites that you’ll visit are filled with ads. They litter the sidebars. Sometimes they’re smooshed into the articles, and they detract from the value of the sites themselves.

My goal is to provide you with the best possible reading experience while occasionally mentioning products that I personally use and love that I think you’ll love as well.

Writing is something that I’m passionate about, and it’s become both a habit for me AND a source of income. This should be proof that it’s possible to earn money doing something you love. Crafting, traveling, cooking, eating, writing, photography, design (graphic, interior, etc) — among other things — can all be considered “hobbies”, but can also generate a decent income — especially if you have the ability to dedicate more time to them.

Finding happiness

During the fall of 2013 Mrs. M and I attended a workshop in Ecuador which covered the basic topics of Happiness, Freedom and Wealth. One of the presenters (who also happened to be the host), Cheryl Reed, led a class on happiness. Specifically, it was about discovering what you are most passionate about.

She gave us a test and the instructions were simple: make a list of 10 things that bring you happiness (your passions). Then, compare each list item against the others to determine what your personal top 5 passions are. These are the things that would be essential for you to lead an ideal, happy life.

Mrs. M and I filled out our own personal lists of our passions and without peeking at each other’s papers this is what we came up with:

Johnny’s top 5 passions:

  1. Being with my family
  2. Laughing
  3. Building and maintaining friendships
  4. Educating our children
  5. Financial Independence

Mrs. M’s top 5 passions:

  1. Spending quality time with my family
  2. Catching up with my mom
  3. Reconnecting with my best friend
  4. Being well-rested
  5. Making memories

What we discovered through this exercise:

The first thing that I realized was that I have an excellent spouse. Well, I obviously already knew that, but it’s refreshing to see proof that we have similar passions and that our minds are in the same place.

I also realized that everything on our lists — short of financial independence — is FREE. It doesn’t cost anything to have a great time with family or friends. Laughing is free. Making memories can be accomplished anywhere, anytime and at little to no cost.

It also gave us a good perspective on the future life that we’d like to lead.

Since we took this test almost six months ago we’ve refocused our lives around creating happiness. We’ve become more social and have been building and maintaining existing relationships. We’ve been traveling to see our families more and calling them over Skype whenever we can. We’ve been coloring, building and dancing with our kids. And we’ve been hosting a game night every couple of weeks at our house.

We realized that we don’t need to be financially independent to complete any of these things. We don’t even need to have money at all to find happiness. Happiness is obtainable, and the answer to your own personal happiness is probably sitting right in front of you.

We also realized that we are extremely happy in life. We have a great family. We have legitimate, obtainable goals. We work our asses off to be the best people, friends and relatives that we can be. We try to help other people, and we’re teaching our kids to behave and to eat well. We travel. We laugh. A LOT. We are happy without even trying. But after realizing what our passions were it made complete sense why we had felt so fulfilled all along.

As for the well-rested part. That may not happen in the near future, especially with three kids running around the house, but it gives us something to look forward to in our eventual early retirement.

Find out what you’re most passionate about.

You should take a few minutes and take this test too. The exact instructions for the Passion Test can be found HERE.

After you know what you’re truly passionate about, ask yourself if you’re devoting as much time as you could to each of your items. If your #1 passion is doing puzzles, then ask yourself if you’re doing puzzles enough. If it’s something that’s unobtainable, ask yourself “why”.

Could you devote more time or energy to your passions? Do you have to set money aside or take vacation days to live your passions? Could you change your lifestyle so that you were able to base your life AROUND your passions (and not the other way around)?

If you start acting on your passions, you’ll find that you’ll live a happier, healthier, and more financially satisfying life without even trying.

What are you passionate about? I want to know. Leave it in the comment section below.