How to Plan and Save on Holiday Travel

Some of my fondest college memories aren’t from going to homecoming games, attending my first college party or walking around campus when no one else was going to class. Some of my favorite memories are going home for winter break and seeing all my high school friends. Seeing old friends was always so fun, especially since we had all matured during the previous semester.  

But getting home was another story. I went to college in Bloomington, Ind., a small college town where the university was the main attraction. That meant getting a flight back to my hometown of Memphis, Tenn. was always a struggle. I hated having to coordinate buses and flights while in the middle of finals. 

Here’s what I learned about booking flights home, so you don’t have to struggle like I did.  

Plan Ahead 

The first step to saving on holiday travel is planning ahead. If you wait until the last minute to buy plane tickets, you’ll probably pay more. You may even be completely out of luck and not find any flights that work for you. 

You can sign up for travel alerts through Hipmunk.com, which aggregates flights from most major airlines. You can also look at Google flight alerts or sign up for emails for your favorite airline.  

Learn about what airlines fly out of your hometown’s airport and what alternative routes there are. For example, if you’re struggling to find cheap flights coming out of Louisville, look at Cincinnati’s airport. You might have to get creative and look at airports you never consider. 

According to the travel website Skyscanner, the best month to buy plane tickets for Christmas is in October. Yes, it might seem crazy to book tickets for winter break when the leaves are barely falling off the trees, but you could save lots of money. 

Carpool with Other Students 

If you’re at a big university, you might find someone who’s also traveling to your destination for the holidays. If you carpool with them, you’ll save money on transportation while also dividing the driving time. 

I did this a lot in college because I didn’t have a car, but I only needed to travel a couple hours for Thanksgiving break. It was easy finding someone who was also going that way.  

If you’re not traveling to a popular city, you should put out feelers ASAP. Make a shareable post on Facebook, put a physical notice in your dorm’s common area or ask your college advisor if there are any official student carshare groups. 

Look at Buses 

Even though the US isn’t known for its public transportation system, buses can be a decent way to save money on travel if you’re going somewhere close. For example, you can find MegaBus tickets as little as $5 if you book way in advance. Some of these buses include WiFi and let you pick your seat beforehand. 

Buses almost always take longer than driving, but are a good option if you’re on a budget and have time to kill. If you’re lucky, you can find a fellow student who’s also traveling by bus and book your tickets together.  

Compare Alternative Dates 

If you’re flying home for winter break, you probably have some leeway on when you arrive and when you need to leave. Being flexible on travel dates can save you a lot of money, especially during the holidays. 

When you look at flights, you can often look at dates with one to three days of flexibility. Flights that leave or arrive on Tuesdays and Wednesdays are often less expensive than weekends. You should also use an incognito browser when you book tickets. 

If you find an especially good deal that coincides with class, ask your professor if you can get an excused absence. Some may be ok with you taking a final early or if you miss the first day of classes for the new semester. 

Again, ask your professors about this ahead of time. They may be more lenient if you’re asking in early November instead of the week before finals. 

Use Credit Card Points 

If you or your parents have a travel rewards credit card, see if they have enough points to book a flight. This works best if you book early, because flights often increase in price as the dates get closer. 

Travel rewards programs all work differently so it’s good to compare offers before you book a flight. Your parents can book your flights using their account, or they can transfer points to your personal account. This doesn’t work for every credit card, so call and ask if there’s a way to do it for free. It may be easier to do if you’re an authorized user on the account. 

Read the Fine Print 

Nowadays airlines are trying to cut corners everywhere, by trimming seats and charging more for basic amenities. When you buy your flight, read through the ticket agreement to understand what’s included and what’s extra. In some cases, a carry-on bag costs extra just like a checked bag. But a checked bag may be cheaper than a carry-on. 

If snacks aren’t provided, bring your own beforehand. Also, try not to pack your bags completely full. If you’re like me, you’ll have Christmas presents and new clothes to take back with you. And who wants to pay a $30 carry-on fee?  

Understand What Your University Provides 

If you’re lucky, your college may have some free transportation options. For example, my university was in Bloomington, Ind., an hour away from Indianapolis. There was a free shuttle to the Indianapolis airport that left every two hours. 

There’s also a student-only bus that goes from Indy to Chicago and Chicago-area suburbs. This is only available during the holidays and is very affordable.  

The key to saving on holiday travel is to plan ahead, ask other people and do lots of research. You may discover someone in your dorm who’s driving through your city on their home or someone who also takes the bus home.  

 

The post How to Plan and Save on Holiday Travel appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Altcoin vs. Stablecoin: Pros and Cons  

A cryptocurrency "compass"An altcoin has one of two definitions. It is either any cryptocurrency that is not Bitcoin, or any cryptocurrency that is neither Bitcoin nor Ethereum. Regardless of which definition you pick, this term refers in general to all of the “other” cryptocurrencies on the market. One segment of altcoins is a specific type of cryptocurrency called a stablecoin. A stablecoin is a type of cryptocurrency with a set, defined value. While not as useful for investing, the fixed price of a stablecoin makes it useful for cryptocurrency transactions. Here’s how they compare.

A financial advisor can help you plan for the future, including investing in cryptocurrencies. Find a local advisor today.

What Is an Altcoin?

The phrase altcoin means any cryptocurrency that is not Bitcoin. It can also mean any cryptocurrency that is not Bitcoin or Ethereum, although that usage is much less common.

Cryptocurrency is dominated by one asset. At time of writing, the cryptocurrency market was worth more than $2.6 trillion in overall value. Of this, Bitcoin alone was worth more than $1.2 trillion. Bitcoin has always dominated the total cryptocurrency market. Often it is an overwhelming majority, with Bitcoin generally being worth between 45% and 70% of all crypto value at any given time.

Bitcoin also dominates the conversation around cryptocurrency. It was the first cryptocurrency issued, and it introduced the concepts of both blockchain and crypto to the wider world. Crypto is so thoroughly dominated by Bitcoin that, for many people, the two ideas are interchangeable.

  • The Lesser Use of Altcoin – While the value and culture of cryptocurrency is dominated by Bitcoin, the second-largest currency on the marketplace is Ethereum. Like Bitcoin, the comparison is not even close. At time of writing Ethereum was worth approximately 20% of the entire cryptocurrency marketplace, and this is around where its value usually fluctuates. Ethereum is also an important example of a transactional cryptocurrency. This asset is built to execute contracts and help computers share resources across a decentralized network. Many, if not most, transactions in the cryptocurrency and blockchain community take place using Ethereum’s network, making it a backbone of this technology sector.

The dominance of Bitcoin led to the term “altcoin,” which refers to any of the thousands of other cryptocurrencies for sale and trade. In 2021 investors could trade anywhere from 2,000 to 12,000 different cryptocurrencies. The speed, volatility and chaotic nature of this marketplace makes it very difficult to track how many cryptocurrencies actually exist at any given moment. In particular, without a centralized marketplace it’s all but impossible to determine exactly how many cryptocurrencies are being traded at one time.

All of them, however, make up the category known as altcoins.

What Is a Stablecoin?

A stablecoin is a type of cryptocurrency where each coin’s value is fixed to an external asset. By definition, any stablecoin is also an altcoin. The value of a stablecoin can be pegged to any asset, although most stablecoins are defined by the U.S. dollar or the euro.

“Fixing” one asset to another means that you always ensure the two values keep the same relationship. For example, say that you release a stablecoin called XYZ Coin. You decide to fix (or “peg”) the price at 1 XYZ Coin to $1. This means that once you release your coin, you intervene in the market as necessary to ensure that the price of the asset is always as close as possible to $1. This is a practice shared by some national economies around the world. While not common, developing nations will sometimes fix their national currency to a larger currency in order to avoid market disruptions. As with cryptocurrency, it is most common for nations to fix their money to the U.S. dollar.

There are several ways that a cryptocurrency project can ensure the stability of its value. Usually the most important step is a combination of guaranteed buyback and inflation production.

Take our example above. Say you have released XYZ Coin and would like to ensure that it remains at $1. First, you might guarantee to the market at large that you will always buy back XYZ Coins for exactly $1. This is called being “backed” by an asset. It means that you can convert between the two assets at a guaranteed exchange rate because the secondary asset literally exists in an account for that purpose.

Backing sets a minimum price for an asset, since anyone who wants to sell their coins least can always sell them to you for $1. Then, you might monitor the market price of XYZ Coin. Whenever the price climbs above $1 you might release more coins, expanding the supply and therefore reducing the price. However, since you have guaranteed the minimum price-per-coin, there’s no risk of inflation pushing the price below $1.

This is not, however, an exact science. While backing an asset is the most reliable way to ensure stability, it also requires enough cash reserves to make good on that $1 per coin guarantee. Given the largely unregulated atmosphere in which cryptocurrency operates, many industry analysts suggest that leading stablecoin projects actually have far less cash on hand than they claim. This could lead to a collapse of the stablecoin if people ever try to sell it back and cannot receive their guaranteed purchase price.

The alternative is called algorithmic stability. In this process, a stablecoin will attempt to regulate its price through pure supply. When the coin’s price drops too low, the project will buy back and remove its coins from circulation to tighten the supply. When it rises too high, the project will release new coins into circulation. An algorithmic approach is cheaper than backing, but it also guarantees some degree of variation in the stablecoin’s price and may not always keep up with the speed of market pricing.

Why Do Altcoins Matter?

While a minority of the market by value, by definition altcoins make up almost the entire cryptocurrency marketplace. This makes them essential to any interested investor. In particular, altcoins are valuable to investors looking for opportunities such as:

More Affordable Investments

Altcoin key on a PC keyboard

As the market leaders, Bitcoin and Ethereum are both expensive assets. At time of writing Ether (the coin associated with Ethereum) sold for more than $4,200 per token, while Bitcoin sold for more than $62,000 per token. This can deter many investors who don’t want to buy into such a high-priced asset. Altcoins, on the other hand, tend to be inexpensive. Other cryptocurrencies can sell from hundreds of dollars per token to a fraction of a cent. This allows investors to access cryptocurrency without having buy high-priced assets.

Emerging Assets

By definition any new cryptocurrency will be an altcoin. Investors who would like to buy into a new or innovative product will need to track altcoins. This is particularly important for investors seeking potentially explosive returns. The kind of gains that come from investing early in an undiscovered asset can only come from altcoins. This is as opposed to Bitcoin and Ethereum. Although these assets are both highly volatile, they are as established as any cryptocurrency can get.

Portfolio Diversity

Most cryptocurrency investors put their money into Bitcoin and, to a lesser extent, Ethereum. This is why these two assets dominate the cryptocurrency market. Chasing this value also will limit your investment portfolio. In order to diversify your assets, you will need to invest in altcoins. There are, however, limits to how useful diversification can be in cryptocurrency. Most of the market still moves in tandem with Bitcoin, meaning that even a well-diversified portfolio will still likely mimic that one asset. This doesn’t mean that diversification is useless, but it is worth being aware of.

Why Do Stablecoins Matter?

Stablecoins are … difficult. In fact, they encapsulate one of the biggest problems with the cryptocurrency market as a whole.

The idea behind stablecoins is that they allow you to move money in and out of cryptocurrency. Despite the promises of industry evangelists, no cryptocurrency has yet emerged as a true spendable asset. Prices are too volatile for either users to spend or merchants to accept, and it generally takes a long time to process a transaction by modern standards. This is also a problem if you want to cash out your cryptocurrency. Unless you transfer all of your holdings to cash all at once, you’re left with an asset that might be worth radically different values from day to day.

As a result many traders convert their investments to a stablecoin, then hold those stablecoins until they want spendable money (such as dollars and euros) or until they want to reinvest in other cryptocurrency assets. The promise that a stablecoin will hold one, fixed value allows that system to work.

This makes stablecoins a potentially essential utility for cryptocurrency investors. However, they are not an investment asset in and of themselves, since the value of a stablecoin will rarely fluctuate. If it did, that would create an almost immediate opportunity for arbitrage. To see how that works, let’s look at an extreme example. Say you had the following trade values for XYZ Coin:

  • 1 XYZ Coin::$1.
  • 1 XYZ Coin::0.5 Bitcoin
  • 1 Bitcoin::$57,022 (accurate at time of writing)

This means that for $1 you can buy one XYZ Coin and vice versa. For one XYC Coin you can buy half of a bitcoin, and one bitcoin would buy you two XYC Coins.

In this case, you could use $1 to buy an XYZ Coin. You could then trade that XYZ Coin for 0.5 Bitcoin. Then, lastly, you would trade your 0.5 Bitcoin for $28,511. This would effectively make each XYZ Coin worth $28,511. Since that can’t happen (the price of an XYZ Coin to the U.S. dollar is fixed), instead the market would shift until an XYZ Coin was priced at about $1 worth of Bitcoins. This process is called arbitrage. While it rarely plays out to such extremes, even very small price fluctuations are usually smoothed out quickly by high-volume traders.

While critical to any kind of frequent cryptocurrency investment, at the same time many stablecoins have proven unreliable. Given the largely unregulated nature of cryptocurrency, stablecoin companies have drawn increasing scrutiny. Market watchers have accused them of not actually having the financial assets necessary to guarantee the pegged value that their currency promises, instead coasting by in an unregulated environment where nobody looks too closely at their books.

This is potentially disastrous for investors who move their money in and out of stablecoins on a regular basis. Like real currency, a cryptocurrency that cannot back its guaranteed price will almost certainly collapse in value. For a utility currency built to make the system work, that’s a serious potential problem.

The Bottom Line

Glowing bitcoinAltcoins are a catchall term that means any cryptocurrency that is not either Bitcoin or Ethereum. They make up almost the entire cryptocurrency market by numbers, although not by value or volume. Most altcoins are speculative investment assets that give you the chance to invest in a cryptocurrency without the high price tag of Bitcoin. Stablecoins, on the other hand, are utility assets that investors use to move their money in and out of crypto.

Tips on Investing

  • Cryptocurrency is volatile, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Volatile assets can go up just as fast as they go down. Still, before you dive into this mercurial marketplace, you should consult with a financial advisor. Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors in your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • Do you know how much you’ll need to have saved for retirement? SmartAsset’s Retirement Calculator can help you estimate how large of a nest egg you’ll need to fund your retirement lifestyle.
  • Altcoins are one way to get new exposure to the cryptocurrency marketplace. They’re not the only way, however. Introducing the Bitcoin ETF, the first of its kind in the United States… and maybe a more stable way to start investing in this history-making asset.

Photo credit: Â©iStock.com/asbe, ©iStock.com/Arnon Thiankheaw,  ©iStock.com/onurdongel

The post Altcoin vs. Stablecoin: Pros and Cons   appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

“Can I Put a Tiny House on My Property?” What to Know So You Don’t Break the Law

a40757/iStock

For some of us, downsizing to a tiny home is the dream—the ultimate minimalist lifestyle, a chance to try living closer to nature, with none of the stress of paying off a mortgage for the rest of our prime years. It’s a new house movement whose time may have come.

After all, for most of history, families lived without huge living rooms and spare bedrooms. Why not trade big house living and all that space you have to maintain for living in your own tiny house?

Can I put a tiny house on my property?

But before you and your family start plotting your new, full-time tiny-house living, it’s important to remember that these cute creations still occupy a gray zone.

The law often sees tiny houses as ambiguous little islands floating somewhere between camper vans (aka recreational vehicles), mobile homes, and traditional single-family residences. So it’s easy to get confused about what’s legal and what’s not.

So how can you make sure your own small house isn’t an outlaw? Let’s go over some of the most common issues in planning, zoning, building, and living in a home that’s tiny, but still has just the room you need.

Decide which type of tiny house you want

First, a quick primer on the tiny-house movement: To officially be considered tiny, the house has to be 400 square feet or less (excluding lofts), according to the International Code Council.

Tiny living also comes in two different forms: movable (on wheels) or stationary (on a foundation). Which one you pick will largely influence where you’re allowed to live, so it’s important to know what’s what.

“There’s a lot of confusion in the [tiny-home] community,” says Andrew Morrison, who builds tiny houses and co-wrote the National Tiny House Building Code. “The house has to be put on a foundation for it to be an actual house.”

Why does it matter? If your small house has wheels, it may fall under the recreational vehicle code, which is far less stringent than the code required for a house on a foundation. It may even sound good if you dream of the off-grid life.

But that flexibility comes with a catch: If you build using an RV code, it will be a lot harder to get residential status if you and your family want to put down roots with your living space later on. (More on that later.)

On the other hand, small homes on foundations fall under the same building code as residential homes. This can throw a loop in zoning regulations. Buildings are generally required to be more than 70 square feet in size, but in some areas they are required to be at least 1,000 square feet.

The square footage required also depends on which county or city you’re planning to build in. In some places, it’s illegal to build a home smaller than a certain square footage. So make sure to check your local ordinances before you get started.

Decide where you’re going to park it

Maybe you’ve been dreaming of living the tiny life on your favorite waterfront spot. It’s easier and faster than building a house or even a cabin.

There are no neighbors, no traffic, no noise except for the sounds of nature. But we’ve got bad news: You can’t plunk down a tiny space and start living just anywhere.

Before you sell your house and downsize to something tiny, start by calling your planning or zoning department to ask about the local ordinances: Are there any restrictions on areas where you’re thinking of building? How are tiny homes zoned, what’s the required square footage, and where is tiny living allowed?

Of course, some spots are more open to tiny homes than others. Some communities, such as Sarasota County, FL, and Philadelphia, have no size restrictions for tiny homes as long as they meet building codes.

Other jurisdictions, like El Paso County, CO, are adopting new legislation to allow tiny homes wherever mobile homes are allowed—usually in unincorporated areas.

Then there are cities that allow living in tiny homes as accessory dwelling units, which means that tiny abodes can be put on a property and used for living anywhere that already has a residential home. (This is more common in urban areas, such as Los Angeles; Portland, OR; and Seattle.)

To find out more info about living in small spaces in a particular area, check the national, state, and local regulations compiled by the American Tiny House Association.

“If you can, forming an advocacy group will be to your benefit—the more public interest, the better,” says Alexis Stephens, co-director of Tiny House Expedition. “Together, you can set up an educational session for your city officials and planners.”

So what does a tiny home need to be up to code?

Whether or not you build the house yourself or hire someone to build it, it’ll have to meet your local building codes.

“Facilities for eating, sleeping, washing, and living are required, plus a source of heat,” Morrison says.

It sounds pretty standard, right? Here are some other things a tiny house must have in order to be up to code:

  • Plumbing: A tiny house requires at least one separate bathroom.
  • Stairs: Tiny homes are allowed to have stairs, including ladders, ship ladders, or alternative ways for people to reach the loft.
  • Minimum ceiling height: The habitable living space must have a minimum ceiling height of 6 feet 8 inches. Bathrooms and kitchens can be a bit lower, at 6 feet 4 inches.
  • Windows: A tiny house does not need a minimum number of windows, but has to meet the standard for emergency exits.

The tricky part about building your home as an RV

If you build your tiny home on wheels, you have a lot more flexibility. You can pack your tiny dwelling up and head for new scenery any time. But you’ll operate under a whole different set of regulations for small spaces, some of which are quite constricting.

Many local ordinances prohibit people from taking up permanent residence in RVs, even in the backyard.

“Therefore, they end up with an illegal home,” Morrison says. “There are some exceptions, but in general, an RV is not a tiny house and can’t be substituted for one.”

So before you go this route, check local restrictions.

The post “Can I Put a Tiny House on My Property?” What to Know So You Don’t Break the Law appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

Understanding How Liquid Alternatives Work

Stock brokers discuss liquid alternativesCreating a strong investment portfolio means diversifying investments to hedge against volatility and loss. One way to do that, especially for investors who are unable to access hedge funds, is with liquid alternatives. Here’s what you need to know about this type of security. A qualified financial advisor can help you decide whether liquid alternatives are a wise addition to your portfolio. 

What Are Liquid Alternatives?

Put simply, a liquid alternative investment (or liquid alt) is a blend of lucrative hedge fund management strategies with the daily liquidity of a mutual fund. Liquid alts can be a substitute for traditional hedge funds, though they are often much more accessible for everyday investors.

Nearly all liquid alternative investment funds were created after the 2008 global financial crisis. The idea was to provide retail investors with portfolio diversification while also helping protect against downside, with daily exposure to a variety of alternative investment strategies. Done properly, this could reduce long-term risk and limit overall investment volatility.

Alternative investments include a variety of assets that don’t fall into either the bond or long stock categories. This may mean real estate, commodities, derivatives, private equity, distressed debts or even fine art. However, these investments aren’t typically very liquid in nature — if an investor needed to sell off very quickly, he or she would have a much tougher time with a fine art or real estate asset than a more mainstream stock holding.

This is where liquid alternatives aim to come in. These investments are broadly accessible to investors and offer daily liquidity, like a mutual fund or exchange-traded fund (ETF). This means that they can be bought or sold on a daily basis, as opposed to traditional alternatives — many of which are redeemed on a monthly or quarterly basis, if that.

Examples of Liquid Alternatives

Asian Muslim financial advisor These hedge fund-like investments come in a variety of flavors and mutual fund structures. Some of the more popular liquid alt categories include:

  • Macro trading
  • Commodities (managed futures)
  • Options trading
  • Event-driven
  • Equity market neutral funds
  • Multistrategy
  • Systematic trend

Many of these categories have a low correlation with traditional stocks and bonds. Instead, they tend to closely parallel the strategies implemented by hedge fund managers.

Investing in Liquid Alternatives

Before an investor considers adding a liquid alt to their portfolio, there are a couple things to keep in mind.

The first is that liquid alts tend to have higher fees than average mutual funds. Though these alternate investment vehicles offer similar liquidity to your everyday mutual fund, they tend to have higher fees than those mutual funds. Some investors may find this added cost worthwhile, since liquid alts employ many of the strategies employed by hedge funds.

Next is that liquid alts typically have lower investment minimums. While many hedge funds are inaccessible to everyday retail investors, liquid alts tend to have lower investment minimums. This may put these alternative investment vehicles within reach for lower-income or net worth investors.

Lastly, it’s important to note that many critics of liquid alts point to their age as an added risk factor. Since the majority of these investments were only introduced post-recession, they have largely benefited from the bull market we’ve had since. They simply haven’t been around long enough for investors to know how they will perform in a big market downturn.

The Bottom Line

Asian money manager helping to diversify a client's portfolio

Liquid alternatives combine the daily liquidity of mutual funds with the high-performing strategies of hedge funds. They do so without the large income, net worth and minimum investment requirements of most hedge funds, putting them on the radar of many retail investors. Liquid alts are a fairly new investment vehicle, however, and haven’t given us much data regarding their downturn performance. They also have higher average fees than comparable mutual funds, meaning that investors will need to weigh their cost with benefits such as portfolio diversification.

Tips for Investing in Liquid Alternatives

  • A qualified financial advisor can help you decide whether liquid alternatives are a wise addition to your portfolio. Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors in your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • Use our free asset allocation calculator to help determine whether or not you need to do more to diversify your portfolio.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Credit:SDI Productions , ©iStock.com/Pongchart, ©iStock.com/ktasimarr

The post Understanding How Liquid Alternatives Work appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com