I’ve traveled with my toddler to 9 countries

STARTING a family doesn’t have to instantly mean that your plans to travel the world must disappear forever.

If you know how to get your child to easily fall asleep, traveling to different countries will suddenly feel a whole lot easier.

Traveling with a young child is possible, according to Jordi Lippe-McGraw's tips


Traveling with a young child is possible, according to Jordi Lippe-McGraw’s tipsCredit: Getty

A woman named Jordi Lippe-McGraw shared her story about how she’s able to accomplish a life of travel with a toddler to Insider.

She’s been able to accomplish getting him to fall asleep while spending time away from home on vacation.

She explained that she and her husband traveled to every continent after their wedding day in 2015 – before having any children.

In 2018, she gave birth to their first son, but they weren’t ready to quit traveling just yet.

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One of Jordi’s first tips when it comes to traveling with little ones is requesting an accessible bathroom wherever you go.

If your child has to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, it will be a lot easier to handle the situation with a bathroom nearby.

Oftentimes, you’ll be able to request a complimentary upgrade that includes an accessible bathroom.

She even mentioned that hotel bathrooms have doubled as ideal sleeping spaces for her child in the past.

Jordi’s second tip is utilizing something called a SlumberPod.

For those who have never heard of SlumberPods, they’re blackout tents that can snuggly be pulled over nearly every hotel crib in existence.

The purpose of SlumberPods is to ensure enough darkness for your child to stay on their sleep schedule.

The SlumberPod will shield them from any sunlight that might peer in through hotel windows.

According to Jordi, SlumberPods and bathroom upgrades can help with toddler's sleep schedules on vacation


According to Jordi, SlumberPods and bathroom upgrades can help with toddler’s sleep schedules on vacationCredit: Getty

Jordi’s next tip is to pack a sound machine when you’re traveling with your child.

Hotel sounds can wake a child up in the middle of the night whether it’s loud elevator dinging or partiers laughing obnoxiously throughout the hallways.

Sound machines can drown out any of that tacky noise.

The last tip from Jordi is to pack the comforts of home with you when you’re going on a trip.

Does your child have a favorite stuffed animal? If so, bring it!

Does your child love to fall asleep with a special blanket? Make sure to pack that!

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Making sure your child can experience some of the same calm and peaceful sensations they have at home is super important.

Having kids truly doesn’t have to mean your traveling days are over for good.

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I’ve lived with a plastic bag ban for 3 years. Here’s my tips on how to get by.

On May 4, the rest of New Jersey gets to do what my Hudson County neighbors and I have been doing since 2019 — going cold turkey on our single-use, plastic grocery bag addiction.

Both Jersey City and Hoboken instituted municipal plastic bag bans in 2019, and Hoboken strengthened its policy in 2020. Since I live in one of those cities and shop in both, I’ve been living with a bag ban for three years now.

With a big plastic department store bag at home, overflowing with other plastic bags, I welcomed it. Even reusing the plastic grocery bags for trash disposal still left me with a hefty (get it?) surplus. There are new routines to get into, but you can benefit from my bag ban “beta-testing.”

Buy plenty of reusable bags

I’m single and I have a dozen plastic and cloth reusable grocery bags and one insulated bag in my collection. It allows me enough bags to rotate them between the car and home without getting caught in a bag shortage. This should give you an idea of what you need or want.

Try different types of reusable bags

Different bags have a variety of carrying capability. The most common, big heavy plastic shopping bag styles are the cargo haulers, able to swallow bulky and heavy items and carry a lot. Cloth bags seem to work best as back-ups.

My two prized bags are older Whole Foods cloth bags that are a pain to pack, but the shape prevents small cans (such as the many cans of cat food I buy) from getting loose in the car. You also can buy tiny cloth fold-up bags and net bags that fit in your pocket, work bag or pocketbook for that sudden unanticipated store stop on the way home.

Pocket sized shopping bag

This pocket sized shopping bag can be there for that unplanned stop at a store after New Jersey’s bag ban takes effect in May 2022.

Not all bags are equal. I’ve had hybrid bags made from cloth and plastic fibers that tore or disintegrated, and I avoid buying them.

Supermarkets offer various types of bags that are reasonably priced, which is where I’ve bought mine. I’d recommend testing different type of bags out early, before May 4.

ABC (Always Be Carrying)

This new, sometimes annoying habit you’ll have to get into is returning the bags to your vehicle after bringing a load of groceries home. It’s a delicate balance of shopping terror. I try to have enough bags in the car for two grocery runs, plus a couple of backup bags.

Sturdy, heavy, plastic department-store shopping bags also are good choices to keep in the car as back-ups to your back-up bags.

I try to put the reusables from the last grocery trip into one bag and leave them at the front door as a reminder to put them in the car. Since there is a supermarket within walking distance, I try to balance my stock between the bags I leave at home for walking/biking trips and the ones I keep in my car.

ABC (always be carrying)

Always return your empty reusable grocery bags to the car is one of the tips for coping with New Jersey’s bag ban that starts May 4.

Always bring more

I can’t stress this enough. If you think four bags will be enough, bring five. I call it the just-in-case bag. A couple of unanticipated 2-for-1 sales can fill the bags quickly. There have been a few terrifying trips when I left that spare bag in the car and regretted it.

Cloth bags are the best for this, since they compact in the bigger bag if unneeded, and you can use the last of your old pre-ban plastic grocery bags as an emergency overflow bag. (Yes, just because plastic bags will be banned at the register, doesn’t mean you can’t bring and use the ones you have).

Prep your bag for the heavies

The better reusable plastic bags come with a piece of thicker plastic on the bottom to help provide support for heavy items. Without one, the bag bottom sags in the middle and scrapes the sidewalk.

If your bag didn’t come with one, or the plastic piece is too thin to support the load, cut a piece of cardboard from all those Amazon delivery boxes to fit the bottom of your bag. The extra support is especially important if you walk to and from the supermarket and helps when walking from the store to the car.

Prevent saggy bottom bags

This cardboard insert provides support so this plastic shopping bag isn’t scrapping the sidewalk when loaded with groceries.

Get insulated for summer

Similar to a trip to the beach, you’ll need an insulated bag when the weather gets hot for your cold and frozen groceries.

I say this with a caveat: If you have a short ride between the store and home, you can live without one, except for melty groceries such as ice cream. If you’re stopping to shop in the middle of your commute and still face a 30-minute drive, you might want to consider buying an insulated bag and an ice pack. I use an ice pack only on the hottest of days.

I have a cheat code when I forget the insulated bag, which has been successful, as in no food poisoning. Load all your cold and frozen groceries in the same bag (or bags) for the trip home. Divide the load so you have some frozen items and cold in the same bag. You’re using the frozen items as an ice pack to keep the cold stuff from getting warm.

Bag up smartly

I had to learn to pack these bags so all the heavy stuff isn’t in one bag for the sake of my arms and the bag. A half dozen big cans of tomato sauce may fit into a big heavy plastic shopping bag, but that doesn’t mean you should do it.

Luckily, I haven’t tested the weight capacity of the big plastic reusables. And I don’t want to learn the hard way by having one break. So I divide my heavy items between bags and fill it in with lighter items.

You also need to isolate breakables in glass containers or produce in light, but very crushable plastic containers and carefully pack items sensitive to cold or bruising (I’m looking at you, bananas).

Different bags types for different groceries

This old Whole Foods cloth grocery bag is in dedicated cat food service. The shape of the bag makes it hard for little cans to roll out in the car. A bonus — it’s machine washable.

Wash them

Your laundry has a new friend. Cloth bags need to be periodically washed, especially after hauling leaky groceries, such as poultry. I throw them in with other laundry and let them air dry. Cleaning them also extends their life.

Plastic bags can be cleaned as needed with a wet wipe. Your other new chore? Toss the receipts that cluster in the bottom of the bag.

What I hate about the ban

OK, this is my place to vent. I’m totally on board with using reusable bags, and carrying them quickly becomes a habit.

One annoying aspect is the loss of those single-use bags as small trash bags or dog doo bags. For years, I’ve had to sneak into the suburbs to buy groceries just so I can get a load of free plastic grocery bags. They’ve been my secret stash that lines my kitchen trash can.

Now, when the statewide ban hits, I and people like me, will likely have to buy small trash bags — which will get one use before they go to the landfill, unlike my plastic grocery bags that got a double shot at being useful

What will be my workaround? That’s to be determined.

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Larry Higgs may be reached at lhiggs@njadvancemedia.com.

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‘I’ve got terminal cancer. Here’s why I’m prioritizing travel’

(CNN) — Kris Sokolowski has always been active, spending his free time mountain climbing, running and practicing martial arts.

And at every opportunity, he could be found boarding a plane, en route to explore the world. On his first official date with his now wife, Sokolowski booked flights to South Africa for two weeks. The couple have a son, now 11, who also joins them on their adventures.

Sokolowski’s outdoor pursuits have helped keep him healthy. At his last yearly physical checkup in December 2020, his doctor called him “Iron Man.”

But around six months after that appointment, Sokolowski started experiencing what he describes as an “odd feeling” in his stomach.

“It was kind of like a gurgling, like you’re hungry. And it just wasn’t going away for a couple of days,” he tells CNN Travel today.

Sokolowski went to get checked out and was told it was likely acid reflux. He was given some pills and sent home. A couple days later, the gurgling sensation was still there, so he sought further medical advice and a scan, after which he was told to see a gastro specialist right away.

Sokolowski’s doctor told him there was a “big mass” on his colon and liver and he suspected late stage-four cancer. Stage four is the most advanced stage of cancer and usually means it has spread from its origin.

“My first reaction was, ‘How can this happen? I’ve never missed an appointment,'” Sokolowski recalls.

But at 48, Sokolowski hadn’t been old enough for recommended regular colonoscopies in the United States (the age has since lowered to 45). And until the gurgling sensation, he hadn’t experienced any symptoms.

An MRI scan, colonoscopy and tissue sample confirmed the worst: Sokolowski had stage four colon cancer.

“The MRI showed it in six places on my body,” says Sokolowski. “So it was my colon, my liver, my sternum, my spine, my lymph nodes, and the walls of my abdomen.”

Oncologists told him there was no cure for his condition.

“They gave me a lifespan between two and a half and five years to live,” he says.

Love of travel


The Sokolowskis traveled to China in 2015, here they are on the Great Wall.

courtesy Kris Sokolowski

Atlanta-based Sokolowski is the first-generation American son of two Polish immigrants. He says his love of travel stems from the many childhood summers he spent back in Poland. In his 20s, he started traveling whenever he could, regularly exploring Europe.

When Sokolowski met his wife Elizabeth in his thirties, the two realized they were united in a thirst to see the world. That first date in South Africa sealed the deal, and the couple were married six months later.

“When our son was born a year later in 2010, we made a commitment that every year, we would take him out of the country,” says Sokolowski.

It’s important to the couple to introduce their son to cultures and experiences outside of the US.

Since he was born, the family has been to 19 countries and counting.

“We both work for corporate America, but we save up all year, and usually take about three weeks to travel, whether it’s Asia, the South Pacific, Europe, wherever we can go.”

Solowski says he and his wife always look forward. They rarely return to the same place, and focus on how they can make the best of their current circumstances and plan something exciting for the future.


Here’s the family in Seoul, South Korea.

courtesy Kris Sokolowski

It’s that attitude that Sokolowski brought to his terminal cancer diagnosis.

He says he’s on the highest dosage of chemotherapy available. He was warned by doctors of side effects of fatigue, vomiting, hair loss and weight loss.

“I said, Look, I’m a young guy, I’m 48 years old, I have a 10-year-old at home. Throw everything you got at me now while I’m young and strong,” recalls Sokolowski.

So far, side effects have been minimal and he’s continued to exercise and run regularly.

“I’ve never been sick a day from it,” Sokolowski says. “Fatigue kicked in a little bit, but I was able to overcome it. So everything they told me was going to happen, didn’t happen with me.”

Sokolowski and his family canceled a planned trip to Iceland in summer 2021, but as the months rolled on, he was advised that, against the odds, his tumors were shrinking, and he was well enough to afford to skip one of his chemo treatments — which occur every two weeks — to go on vacation abroad.

Even catching Covid-19 in November 2021 didn’t put a stop to plans — fortunately Sokolowski was vaccinated and only mildly ill with the virus.


The Sokolowskis love to get outside on their vacations. Here they are exploring in Slovenia.

courtesy Kris Sokolowski

When he got the go ahead to travel with his family over the Christmas period, Sokolowski was thrilled.

“Even above my health, travel was still a priority,” Sokolowski says. “Because it was a commitment that we made when we got married, it was a commitment that we made to our son when he was born — that we would take him out of the country every year. So to me, that was always priority number one.”

Sokolowski and his wife Elizabeth and son Braden started planning a trip for Christmas and New Year. They settled on a three-week adventure in French Polynesia, heading to Bora Bora, Moorea and Tahiti.

Sokolowski traveled with his chemo pills, as well as a precautionary letter from his doctor to ensure he could get back into the United States — “just in case there was some kind of lockdown because of Covid. And that letter basically stipulated that ‘Kris has stage-four cancer that’s terminal, that he’s really dependent on his chemo.'”

While Sokolowski had avoided many side effects of his treatment, when departure day rolled around he was suffering from a condition called hand-foot syndrome, which can cause the bottom of your feet to become really tender and prone to blistering and swelling.


The Sokolowskis rarely go to the same place twice. Here’s the family on a past trip to Malta.

courtesy Kris Sokolowski

“When I was running before our trip, it caused me to have blisters on both of my feet, I think I had four on each foot and it was extremely difficult to walk — it was almost like walking on razor blades,” he says.

“So the day we were leaving for French Polynesia, we went through three different airports. We went through Atlanta airport, LAX and then in Tahiti, and in all three airports, I had to be in a wheelchair because I couldn’t walk, and that was kind of difficult.”

But Sokolowski says arriving in Bora Bora and diving into the turquoise waters was almost instantly healing.

That was likely the salt water at work, he says. But Sokolowski also thinks the happiness and delight he felt at being on vacation in a beautiful place with his loved ones lifted his spirits, providing invaluable palliative care.

Under warm blue skies, the family enjoyed swimming with black tip sharks, jet skiing, exploring volcanic landscapes and relaxing.

“We spent an enormous time out on the water. I mean, how can you not? It’s crystal clear. It’s a turquoise color that you’ve never seen before. You know, you could see right down to the bottom where the fish are swimming. And it’s just very peaceful and relaxful.”

Living for the moment


Kris, Elizabeth and Braden Sokolowski, pictured here on the island of Moorea, fell in love with French Polynesia during their trip at the end of 2021.

courtesy Kris Sokolowski

For Sokolowski and his wife, it was important to be candid with Braden about his father’s cancer, while also easing him into this new reality and supporting him through it.

Sokolowski says the family’s focus is on making memories, and continuing to encourage their child to embrace new opportunities and adventures.

One of Sokolowski’s favorite moments from the 2021 French Polynesia trip was watching Braden diving with sharks for the first time.

“He was a little apprehensive about getting into water with sharks. But then he saw us doing it. So he jumped in,” says Sokolowski. “And the first time a shark came up to his face and then turned around and just left — I was underwater with him and the look on his face, it was just — it was pure excitement, adrenaline and joy. And I saw how much he enjoyed it and he couldn’t get out of the water, I mean, it was fantastic.”


Diving with sharks in French Polynesia in 2021 was a highlight for the family.

courtesy Kris Sokolowski

Sokolowski has yet to take his son to Poland, but he says that’s on the agenda for future travels. He’d wanted to wait until Braden was old enough to understand and fully appreciate the trip.

While the family are currently based in Atlanta, the Sokolowskis are also seriously considering moving to French Polynesia, if they can make it doable with remote working and healthcare.

“For 15 days, I had a smile on my face, ear to ear,” Sokolowski says of the family’s time there. “I honestly believe if there’s anything that’s going to cure my cancer, it’s going to be living a life of positivity and happiness.”

Wherever they’re based, travel will remain a priority. In 2022, the family hope to travel to Pamplona, Spain to watch the annual running of the bulls festival — a longtime dream of Sokolowski’s.

Prioritizing health and travel

Sokolowski hopes to defy expectations and statistics to recover from his illness. However much time he has left, he’s vowed to spend as much of it as he can exploring the world with his loved ones.

“I don’t know how long I have left on this earth, but I want to leave behind fond memories of travel and a legacy where my son can make our planet just a bit better,” he says.

Sokolowski has a blog where he recaps his own experiences with cancer. He’s become passionate about encouraging people with illness to travel if they can, and he’s similarly committed to encouraging people in their 40s to get a colonoscopy.

When he got his diagnosis, Sokolowski asked his gastroenterologist what the outlook would have been if he’d had a colonoscopy three years earlier.

“Before I even finished my sentence, he goes, ‘I would have pulled out a couple of polyps, and you wouldn’t even be sitting here, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.’ And that really struck me hard.”

Sokolowski says dwelling on this “what if” isn’t helpful for him.

“I do not look in the rearview mirror,” he says. “That doesn’t help me at all. It is what it is. And I only look forward, the only time that I look back is to tell people my story and say, ‘This is what happened to me. Don’t let it happen to you.'”

Instead, Sokolowski’s focus is on staying as healthy as possible, and looking forward to future adventures with his family.

His wife Elizabeth tells CNN Travel she has the same outlook.

“You need to live your life, you only get one life,” she says. “The memories is really what is going to make you happy in the end.”

Sokolowski adds: “The one thing I’ve always told people is get out of your bubble, get out of your city and go see the world.”

“It amazes me how many people are not interested in traveling — or interested and they tell me ‘Well, we can’t do this’ and they make excuses. Stop with the excuses and do it.”

Top photo: the Sokolowski family in Padar, Indonesia. Courtesy Kris Sokolowski

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As a long-time cruise enthusiast, I’ve sailed aboard about 40 different ships — and this trip was one of my all-time favourites

The sail-away is pure magic. As the last shades of orange and pink and violet fade, the lights of Southern Italy come up, twinkling on small boats scooting across the harbour, and on lumbering ferries that connect the toe-tip of Italy to Sicily, just three kilometres across the Strait of Messina. Glimmering villages climb the mountains on both sides of the gap. The coastlines, dotted with shops and restaurants and quays, shimmer.

Standing on my balcony, an aperitif in hand, I watch Italy fade away. Next stop: Greece, somewhere out there, on the other side of the Ionian Sea. But first? Dinner, in the restaurant conveniently located just downstairs.

Cruising the Mediterranean is the stuff of dreams. For my 15-day voyage from Barcelona to Athens aboard the Viking Sea, the list of ports-of-call reads like romance, each stop stirring the imagination: Monaco, Rome, Naples, Crete, Ephesus. This is the kind of itinerary that usually attracts veteran cruisers like me (I’ve sailed on about 40 different ships) — people who’ve graduated from short and sweet journeys to these ambitious, multi-country trips further afield.

But as I chat with those on board the small ship, I notice something curious: a preponderance of first-time cruisers, and people who’ve never set foot in Europe until now — some citing a sense of carpe diem urgency sparked by the pandemic.

Laura Lynn McCurry, for example, travelled from Oregon with a large group of family and friends. This kind of trip had long been on their bucket list, and when her mother recovered from illness last year, they agreed to make it happen. Like, right now. “We decided, given this crazy world, we needed to get going on this dream,” she says, noting that it’s their first trip to Europe. “When mom’s health started failing, this cruise gave us hope. And now, here we are!”

I hear similar stories across the ship, whose passengers are, on the whole, younger and more adventurous than other voyages I’ve undertaken. And everyone’s enchanted by pretty much everywhere we go.

On a shore excursion to Avignon, the tour group listens with rapt attention to a guide as we make our way through the Palais des Papes, walking through medieval Gothic splendour and learning how six popes ruled in the 14th century here, when this small city in Southern France became the seat of Western Christianity.

In the James Bond-glamorous Casino de Monte-Carlo, where we need to plunk down €17 and abide by a strict dress code just for the privilege of walking around the slot machines and card tables under dripping chandeliers, everyone’s happy to lose $20 (or $50) on red or black at the roulette. In Pisa, I join all the people taking shameless photos, beaming big smiles as they pretend to hold up, or push down, the namesake Leaning Tower.

“We never really saw ourselves as cruisers,” says David Sission, from Seattle, who’s travelling with his sister. He only had one previous voyage, on a small boutique line. “This just seemed like the best way to see a lot, really quickly. And then when we find our favourite places, we’ll come back for a longer visit.”

It’s a fair philosophy, and those on board split their time in port between organized tours and just roaming solo, exploring wherever their feet take them. And the ship, with its elegant, Scandi-style Wintergarden lounge area, its Nordic spa and its many restaurants, is always waiting to spirit us all to the next destination at the end of another exciting day. There’s a freedom in it, after so much lockdown, the Viking Sea cutting through waves on the open water, the horizon endless off the balcony, another new place to discover just around the corner.

We see historic ruins, like the Library of Celsus and the grand amphitheatre in the ancient port city of Ephesus (in present-day Turkey), where settlement dates back some 3,000 years. We take a winding tour through the tiny villages of the Amalfi Coast, our big bus just barely squeezing through the switchbacks, the land falling away to crashing waves below.

In Sicily, the day’s activity includes seeing volcanic sites where molten lava has frozen to black waves on the flanks of Mount Etna. And of course, there are culinary treats, too, when we arrive at Murgo Winery, situated 500 metres above sea level, where whites like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are the specialty. “We aim for lightness but also complexity,” says Michele Murgo, one of eight brothers who own the winery. (Only five are involved in running the place. “If there were more — too many — we would have a revolution,” he says, wryly.)

As we sip wines and graze on local meats and cheeses, including a particularly nice pecorino, he recounts the history, from the winery’s founding back in 1860, to the first bottling, much later in 1982. “We are off on a big adventure,” he says about their enterprise.

And soon, I resume my own adventure, the ship departing Messina, big seas ahead. Back on board, McCurry comments on the magic of her own day, and indeed the entire journey. “We did a ‘Godfather’ tour today — it was super-cool,” she says. “This cruise has been above and beyond, so much more than we’d even hoped.”

Writer Tim Johnson travelled as a guest of Viking Cruises, which did not review or approve this article. The federal government recommends Canadians avoid non-essential travel. This article is meant to inspire plans for future travel.

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5 Things I’ve Learned in 18 Months of Personal Finance Reporting

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There’s no shortage of great personal finance advice out there. The problem is figuring out whether or not it applies to you.

“Personal finance is personal before it’s financial,” Talaat McNeely told me during an interview earlier this year. McNeely is the co-founder of the site His and Her Money, which he runs with his wife, Tai. I’ve found this idea to be a helpful way to think about your finances and life in general. 

There is no single tip or money hack that will instantly change your life. But some principles and concepts can put you on the path to achieving your goals. You’ll just need to figure out a way to apply them to your unique situation.

Here are the most impactful lessons I’ve learned during my time as a personal finance reporter, and how I’ve applied them to my life. These tools and concepts helped my wife and me set aside over $20,000 to pay off student loans (once interest resumes next year), build our emergency fund, and feel less stressed about our financial future.

A good budget should manage not only your expenses but also your emotional relationship with money.

5 Things I Learned as a Personal Finance Reporter

Since launching NextAdvisor in the middle of the pandemic, our biggest priority has been sharing actionable advice readers can use right away in their daily lives. In the course of fulfilling this mission, we’ve learned quite a lot about ourselves.

Here are four personal finance concepts my wife and I have incorporated into our everyday approach to finances, plus one strategy we plan to use when we are ready to buy a house

1. Budgeting Is About More Than Just Managing Money

For years my budget was a homemade spreadsheet I updated sporadically in hopes of becoming a young Warren Buffet. It rarely worked as well as I wanted. In theory, my budget should have turned me into the ultimate saver. But what frequently happened was: I’d update it once a month only to find out I’d overspent on eating out. And it wasn’t helping me feel any less stressed about money.

One of the first stories I wrote for NextAdvisor was about creating a budget, and that is where I discovered zero-based budgeting (ZBB). Once my wife and I started using the zero-based budgeting method, we didn’t just start saving more but also began to feel less worried about money. In my experience, a good budget should manage not only your expenses but also your emotional relationship with money.

Piper after his surgery. He hated the cone of shame, so we put him in a baby onesie.Jason Stauffer/Getty Images

With ZBB, every dollar that comes in is given a purpose. We assign funds to pay for rent, cellphone, and other expenses. But we also assign money for more than just our current bills. This strategy helped us pay off student loans sooner than we expected. 

ZBB also helped us build an emergency fund for the first time in my life. When the cat needed a $2,000 emergency surgery this past summer, we already had that money set aside. If we hadn’t had an emergency fund, this surprise cost would have been a setback for other goals. Since this money was already set aside, it didn’t negatively affect our other financial obligations. 

We’ve been using the zero-based budgeting app You Need a Budget (YNAB) for almost a year and a half, and we absolutely love it. This app has effectively turned our credit cards into debit cards, which is important because I’m a full-blown travel credit card junkie. When I enter a credit card purchase into the YNAB app, the funds are immediately assigned to pay off that card. So even though I won’t actually pay the credit card bill for up to 30 days, the budget tells me that money is no longer available to spend. 

How to Find a Budgeting Strategy That Works for You

If you want to try zero-based budgeting for yourself, I think YNAB is a great place to start. It’s important to note that it’s not free. But there are plenty of free or cheap ZBB templates available. And ZBB isn’t the only budgeting method that works. As you explore different approaches to budgeting, zero in on why you want a budget in the first place. A budget can help reduce financial stress, and get you closer to your goals without turning you into Ebenezer Scrooge.

2. Prioritize Income Over Expenses

There is a limited number of Starbucks lattes you can cut from your budget—but an unlimited number of ways to make money.

I’ve talked with people who’ve paid off their mortgage in under six years and conquered six-figure sums of debt. One common thread from these success stories is they find ways to make more money. They start side hustles, businesses, or find better paying jobs. Having a budget that works for you is still the first step. But if you don’t net enough income after expenses, then saving for anything else will be a struggle. 

My wife and I are expecting our first child in 2022, and for us, it’s as important as ever to increase our household income. My wife is considering a move from freelance to full-time work, which would provide a more stable income. From there, we might explore other freelance or side hustle opportunities.

How to Increase Your Income

Starting a side hustle might not be as challenging as you think. Chances are you already have interests and talents you could use or develop to boost your income. One great bit of advice Marc Russell shared with me was to repurpose the skills from your current job into a side hustle. Russell is the creator of the personal finance Instagram account Betterwallet. “As long as there’s no conflict of interest with your current job, you can go off and create your own thing on the side and get paid for it,” he said in a previous NextAdvisor story.

3. Negotiating Can Be As Simple As Asking

The thought of negotiating has always terrified me. My idea of a good negotiator has always been a former Navy SEAL or pro athlete, someone who’s in control, confident, and used to winning. In reality, negotiating is often as simple as asking for what you want. Crafting a good offer sometimes includes offering something of value in return.  

I’ve never asked for much of anything, much less a discount on my housing costs. Recently, I was looking to move into a new apartment on a short-term 3-month lease. I emailed my current property managers to ask about two units downstairs I knew were vacant. I asked if either unit would be available for a short-term lease and I gave them valuable information, reminding them the one apartment had been vacant for over a year. Then I offered to pay all three months upfront if they would reduce the rent. 

Now I’m paying over $150 less a month and my landlord has $4,000 more than before I asked for what I wanted.

How to Negotiate More Frequently

Any negotiation is better than no negotiation. Find an approach that could help you ease into it and be more comfortable. Try making an indirect request and see if that’s easier for you. Instead of coming out and saying you want a pay raise, ask your manager something along the lines of, “what have people in my position done in the past to help increase their pay?” At the very least, it gets the conversation started. You’ll never get something if you don’t ask for it in the first place.

4. Be Patient and Consistent. Change Takes Time

Changing the trajectory of your finances takes time. 

That can be disheartening to read. Everywhere you look it’s one headline after another highlighting the youngest millionaire or someone who went from insurmountable debt to financial freedom in less time than it took to read their bestselling book.

Life is a marathon, but we only see the last few hundred yards of other people’s victories. Almost all financial achievements are preceded by a long period of learning and building momentum. Whether it’s learning to code before becoming a tech entrepreneur or saving up for a down payment on a house, meaningful changes take time. 

If you can only take small steps, just keep taking small steps. It can be tough seeing how fast everyone else seems to be moving. What’s not obvious is how much time it took them to develop the speed you’re seeing. Understanding how much time is involved in making meaningful improvements is the foundation for positive financial decisions. 

How to Use Time to Your Advantage

The best way to get time working for you is to start now. Start small, start slow, start without it being perfect. Then your job is to continue what you started, however slowly you’d like, and to learn and make adjustments along the way. 

5. Prospective homeowners: Ask about a zero-cost mortgage 

While reporting on mortgages, the most overlooked strategy I’ve come across for reducing your mortgage cost is to ask for lender credits in exchange for a higher interest rate. In this situation, the credits would be used to cover the loan fee portion of your closing costs. A zero-cost mortgage means you’d be paying a lot less out of pocket every time you buy a home or refinance.

Here’s why I plan to get a zero-cost loan:

  • By reducing the upfront cost I’ll have more liquidity. 
  • What I would have spent on upfront closing costs can be used to pay down the mortgage balance, invest in a retirement fund, or set it aside for unplanned home repairs
  • If I move or refinance a combined six times in the next 30 years, I’d pay closing costs (3%-6% of the loan) six times. So for me, taking the higher interest rate with a zero-cost loan is cheaper because our future plans aren’t set in stone. 

When researching lenders, ask if they have a zero-cost loan option. Compare your options and see which one makes the most sense for you. In my experience, the zero-cost mortgage is not as common or widely advertised. Also, the zero-cost mortgage is different from a no-closing-cost mortgage. A no-closing cost mortgage is when the closing costs are rolled into the total loan balance. 

How to Pick the Right Mortgage for You

Any time you take out a home loan, you’ll want to be sure that you understand all your options. Ask a lot of questions and work with a professional who will help you understand your options, rather than just someone who gives you “the answer.” In my experience, most borrowers are overly concerned with the mortgage rate and overlook the closing costs. Interest and closing costs can be easy to miss because they might be added to your loan balance, but you’re still paying even if you’re not paying out of pocket when you close.

Bottom Line

The above practices have given me the patience I needed to establish financial habits that will last a lifetime. They worked for me. But it doesn’t mean you should take the same approach. If nothing else, use these concepts to start thinking about how you can approach your finances differently or to start asking questions you hadn’t considered before.For more information, check out this library of resources on NextAdvisor’s savings page.

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7 ways I’ve changed my flight routine to make pandemic travel easier

7 ways I’ve changed my flight routine to make pandemic travel easier

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iPhone tip: I’ve been using an iPhone for years, and only just found this feature

My iPhone is rarely far away. I pick up the thing dozens of times a day, and I spend far too long staring into it.

Which is why I’m embarrassed that I only just discovered a feature the other day.

If you’re like me, you’ll have a lot of apps installed. In order to tame my apps, I moved away from having them spread across pages and pages on the home screen and put apps into folders (folders that start life being creatively named, but the name and contents quickly drift, rendering my naming convention useless).

I did this because scrolling across multiple screens is a pain.

Until I found out that there’s a much quicker way to scroll through the pages.

Must read: You’re using your Android and Mac’s fingerprint reader all wrong

If you have multiple screens of apps on your iPhone or iPad, you’ll notice that there are dots at the bottom of the page representing the pages. I’d always thought of these as page indicators.

Turns out you can use it like a scrollbar to scrub through your pages quick.

There’s also a lovely bit of haptic feedback as your go through the pages.

I can’t believe that it’s taken me this long to find out I could do this. There’s a part of me that’s sure that at some point I knew this and forgot about it, but I don’t think so.

Apple has clearly realized that app overload is a problem, introducing the App Library in iOS 14 to help alleviate the problems.

That said, I find the App Library to be a bit chaotic, and it feels like an idea that needs some more work.

Ideally, I’d like to get my apps onto a single page, but alas haven’t yet unlocked that level of digital minimalism.

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