Our 24 Hour Parent Staycation in Franklin, Tennessee at the Hilton Franklin Cool Springs Hotel

Two months ago for Christmas 2018, the only gift my wife and I gave one another was the promise of an upcoming 24 hour window of existence that we would share together, in which we would have zero parenting responsibilities; including uninterrupted meals out, a stay at a nice hotel, and the ability to be lazy.

We both work full-time jobs, plus I manage 5 SEO side hustles, and we have two adventurous kids. So for us, the thought of a break from reality is the greatest gift we can receive at this point in our 37 year-old lives.

Last May when I started my new full-time job as a recruiter at a Fortune 500 Company in Franklin, Tennessee, I couldn’t help but notice that an 8 story building was being built right next to my office.

A few months later, a giant Hilton sign went up on the side of the building facing the interstate (I-65). Once the hotel opened last fall, my co-workers and I started going there for lunch, and were very pleased.

So by the time my wife and I came up with the idea of the perfect mutual Christmas gift for each other, I suggested we make our stay at the Hilton Franklin Cool Springs hotel right next to where I work; which is the halfway point between where we live in Spring Hill and where my wife works in downtown Nashville.

Sometimes in your mind, you build up an idea to the point it becomes an unattainable fantasy. But no, that was not the case for our 24 Hour Parent Staycation. In fact, everything went perfectly according to plan:

My parents drove up 2 and a half hours from my hometown in Fort Payne, Alabama, to watch the kids while we were out. As my son’s Saturday morning karate lessons began, to be followed by one of his classmate’s birthday parties our daughter would end up successfully crashing, my wife and I made our way over to H&R Block to file our income taxes and were so relieved we didn’t owe any money; despite my 5 SEO side hustles unexpectedly doing much better than I planned for last year.

We officially started out our responsibility-free adventure with lunch at Sopapilla’s New Mexican (like the state) restaurant en route to the Hilton. This was a big deal to us for more than one reason.

Not only was it the first time in… (years?)… that we have been able to enjoy a delicious meal out with no children putting a damper on the conversation or the cuisine or our peace of mind, but it was our first official meal out as a now non-vegetarian, non-vegan couple.

I would go as far as to say I am now obsessed with eating at Sopapilla’s, but I don’t know the next time we’ll be able to make it back there without kids.

As for the Hilton, it was every bit as glorious as I knew it would be. My wife and I realized this is the newest hotel we have ever stayed in; throughout our decade of marriage.

And our wish came true- we got to be lazy for our entire day. In fact, we never left the hotel until the next day when we checked out. We got to watch a few movies on TV, in between heading downstairs for dinner in the hotel restaurant, The Harth Restaurant and Lounge.

Not to mention, we got to sleep in! We naturally woke up, on our own, at 8:00 AM. That is unthinkable back at our house, thanks to our children’s internal biological alarm clocks, which are annoyingly set an a default of 5:55 AM.

Life is good. I admit, I’m enjoying the view from where I’m sitting on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid. Our 24 Hour Parent Staycation taught me that the motivational carrot in my life at this point will be getting to experience our next 24 Hour Parent Staycation. That is the rarest commodity I know right now: a break.

And when that time comes, my wife and I plan to do everything exactly the same way again. It’s a formula that works for us.

This is 37.

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Income Tax Returns at H&R Block: So Relieved I Didn’t Owe Taxes on My 5 Side Hustles in 2018!

As I recently crowned myself “The SEO Side Hustler”, announcing that in 2018 I had 5 SEO-based side hustles that earned a minimum of $1,000 each, I knew that title would come with a potential downside:

This month when my wife and I would file our taxes for last year’s income, instead of getting money back from the IRS as we have every single year we’ve been married, it would be a very real possibility we could actually owe several thousand dollars instead of receiving that as a return.

When I said that I had 5 side hustles last year that earned a minimum of $1,000 each, the thing is…

For some of those side hustles, it was a bit more than a thousand dollars… or even a lot more.

I had never made that much in side income before. It was never an issue or a concern for the years prior.

The problem is that my superhero power of finding random ways to make money from my SEO skills didn’t mean that I automatically knew anything about being prepared for the taxes I would owe on that money.

It was a bit intense last Saturday morning, walking into H&R Block, knowing that in just an hour, we would know our fate; for better or worse.

Forty-five minutes into our consultation, it was looking as if we were going to owe about a thousand dollars; which wouldn’t have been awful.

But fortunately, and I would even say miraculously, our H&R Block representative found a couple more items that had not been considered yet as tax write-offs; like how I mainly use my phone for managing my side hustles, and the fact I have a room in my house dedicated exclusively to my side hustles, serving as my office.

Plus, our H&R Block representative helped us get set up on a system where we are now able to easily pay back 25% of my side income earnings in advance each quarter, so that there’s no reason for anxiety in paying those taxes next February.

At the 55 minute mark into our hour-long consultation, it was confirmed: Even after the consultation fee for H&R Block, we would still get a few hundred dollars back!

Our sense of relief was actually greater than our sense of celebration.

And it was perfect timing, as that money would ultimately end up covering our “24 hour parent staycation” that began the moment we left the moment we drove out of the H&R Block parking lot.

Stay tuned for that…

Affording a New Home: How Much of Your Monthly Income Should Go Towards Your Mortgage? 28%? 25%? Less Than 20%?

If your family is currently considering buying a new home, one of the biggest questions should be this:

“What percentage of our household monthly take-home income should go towards our mortgage payment?”

If you depend on the unanimous results of a Google search, the answer is 28%.

If you put your faith in the results of a lender or a mortgage calculator found on the website of a new home development, you may be pleasantly surprised to see how big and nice of a home you can “afford” based on your household monthly income.

However, Dave Ramsey teaches no more than 25% of your household take-home income; in an effort to prevent becoming “house poor”; where you could afford to pay your monthly mortgage but could not live a comfortable lifestyle.

After meeting a 2nd time with our Associate Financial Consultant, Christina Tumbleson at Charles Schwab, where my wife and I recently starting investing our money, we learned that we are spending around 13% of our monthly take-home income on our monthly mortgage.

However, that number was based on the total of both of our full-time salary positions. That does not account for the monthly income I make from my 5 side hustles; for example, I made $531 last month from my two YouTube channels alone.

When we consider all my side hustle income, we can easily yet conservatively count on another 1%.

Therefore, at around 12%, we are fortunately spending a little less than half of the conservative 25% of take-home income Dave Ramsey suggests.

While it is undeniable that at age 37, my wife and I are at solid places in our careers and are being paid accordingly, we also have no other debts other than our home. I have been driving the same 2004 Honda Element for over 13 years now. Not to mention, I spend literally all my free time on my 5 side hustles; which provides passive streams income for our family.

But perhaps most important is the fact our 1900 square feet, 4 bedroom, 2 car garage home is still much more humble than it needs to be, according to popular American dream standards.

The main take-away is this: We choose to live way below our means.

If we wanted to sell our current home, we could pocket an easy $50,000 and then “upgrade” to a half a million dollar home. I could even trade in my old Honda Element for a new Toyota Tacoma.

We could “afford” to do that.

But if I am going to impress anyone by my finances, it’s not going to by how much I spend, but instead, how amazingly little.

A Paid-Off Car with High Miles, Not a Brand-New Car with Payments, is a New, Unspoken American Status Symbol

I noticed that back a few years ago, when I lived on the edge of Nashville, where income levels were lower than where I live now in my commuter town, that it was the norm to see so many fellow commuters driving luxury cars, on every side of me… which were obviously leased. Compare that to where I live now- people make more money, but drive older cars; not many Mercedes’ to be seen.

Owning a brand-new car is not worth celebrating, unless the person paid cash for it. Otherwise, the person is paying more money for something they couldn’t afford in the first place.

Imagine the irony: A person doesn’t have enough money to buy the product, so they agree to pay even more of the money they don’t have in the first place- in interest.

The Eighties and Nineties are long gone. No longer can we pretend we are doing financially well because of the false status symbols bought with credit. That mentality ended with the Financial Crisis of 2008; which happened to be the year I got married.

I believe our culture is now realizing that the new status symbol is being able to afford more, but choosing to save and invest that money instead.

If anything, the new status symbol is to be able to brag on how little money you paid for a product, not to allow others to believe you spent more. The new status symbol is being able to figure ways to save money and make money on the side, then share that info with everyone else. That has value.

We are living in the aftermath of the Financial Crisis of 2008. My generation is becoming the new version of those who lived through the Great Depression.

Being frugal and in full control of your finances is the ideal; not necessarily making a lot of money, only to continue to struggle to pay the bills and live in debt. Now it’s all about low overhead and living well within your means.

This month makes exactly 13 lucky years that I’ve owned my 2004 Honda Element, with 170,000 miles and a salvaged title; making it worth only about $500. Two years ago, it came within about $25 shy of being totaled, when an albino dear ran into my driver’s side door and wheel. (True story!)

But the way I see it, that car is worth a whole lot more than what I could sell it for.

It’s funny how typically, when a person “buys” a new car, the typical reaction is to be happy for them: “Oh wow! I like your new car! I wish I had something nice and shiny like that!”

When I overhear a conversation like that, I always privately think, “But yeah, now they have to be making monthly payments for the next few years, coupled with the insurance payments that accompany a new car…”

And it’s even worse if the car is leased, because there’s no chance of making any profit when the lease is done; in fact, you may end up having to pay more money if you drove too many miles or caused damage to the car.

So yeah, I am proud to drive my 2004 Honda Element. It’s a bit rusty and my kids complain about having to ride in it because, “It’s so old!”

But hey, it runs and it’s been paid off well over a decade.

Yes, I Accept Guest Blog Posts, If You Can Afford My $35 Fee to Help Boost Your SEO (3 Steps to Getting Published in 3 Days or Less)

If you are a fellow blogger, or you manage your own small business and would like to boost the SEO for your company or brand online by linking it to a website has healthy as mine, here’s your opportunity.

After constantly receiving inquiries all last year, and having to go through the arbitrary process of negotiating my fee with each potential client, I’ve now looked back on what ultimately was the going rate in 2018: It was $35.

So in 2019, I want to make this simple for both of us and save us a bunch of time. Here’s how to get your guest blog post published here on my site:

1. Write an informative article like this one with links back to your website, as well as links to larger websites. Ideally, you will want to have a number in your title. (For example, “5 Ways to…”) This is ultimately a parenting blog, so your content should be somewhat relevant to a family lifestyle.

2. Email me your article to nickshell1983@hotmail.com, with a relevant copyright-free photo attached, with this as the subject line: “$35 Guest Blog Post”. Also let me know the name of the person, blog, or company you would like to see credited as the author.

3. Pay me the $35 fee within 7 days. Once you complete the previous step, I will review and publish your article, sending you the link for your review along with an invoice through PayPal for $35. If payment is not received within 7 days, I will delete the blog post.

So it’s that simple. There is no need to send me an initial email to start the process or to try to negotiate the rate.

Just complete all 3 steps and within 3 business days, your guest blog post will be up live on my website, and shared through my website’s Facebook fan page, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+.

I look forward to working with you.

And if you can’t afford my $35 right now, I have a free SEO starter kit for you right here.

At Age 37, My Wife and I Have Begun Investing Our Money, Thanks to Charles Schwab

At age 37, I am fully aware that I am now at the halfway point of the average American lifespan. I suppose this is literally the most appropriate time to have my midlife crisis.

Finally, I can trade in my old paid-off Honda Element for a brand-new Jeep Wrangler, take a spur of the moment trip to Spain, and start training for American Ninja Warrior…

But instead, I am focusing all that energy into planning for the 2nd half of my life- and my wife’s, as well as our children’s future.

My wife and I got married 10 and a half years ago, right in the middle of the 2008 Financial Crisis.

The first half of our marriage was spent building our careers from entry level positions and trying to manage the tens of thousands of dollars of debt we were in; largely due to college loans and our wedding.

The most recent half of our marriage began with us finally becoming debt-free in 2013, buying the last steal-of-a-deal new home in the Nashville area, and both finding ourselves far enough into our careers and side hustles that we started making a comfortable living.

But as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid explains, your goals and motivations evolve as you overcome your previous more basic needs and desires.

Now the focus is… how to invest our steady stream of income into our future.

I thought it was as simple as just paying off our house, then worrying about retirement afterwards.

However, my wife has been listening to the Moneywise program on Moody Radio on the way home from work each day. She explained to me that based on our interest rate on our home, it would actually be a better investment of our money to start building our retirement now, alongside paying off our mortgage early.

My wife then set us up an appointment with Charles Schwab financial investment company, which she had been hearing endorsed on Moneywise.

Today was the big day.

Our financial advisor helped us rollover my 401K from my previous employer to traditional IRA and select a portfolio for it. She also gave us direction on determining our financial goals so we could better plan our retirement and our kids’ college funds.

This was a major milestone for us. Here’s to the second half of life!

Is Age 37 Too Young for a Midlife Crisis? 1st World Problems and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

I’m pretty sure that at age 37, I’m currently working my way through my midlife crisis. While at first mention, it might seem I’m getting mine out of the way a little early, consider that the average American man in Tennessee lives to be about 74 years old. So actually, I’m actually right on cue:

If I live that long, then my life is already halfway complete at this point.

Perhaps the biggest struggle I am sorting out is that, as of this year, I have officially found myself at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: Self-Actualization.

The way I like to explain how Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs works is this:

If and when you are able to overcome needs in each stage of your life, they are simply replaced by new ones that you didn’t have the privilege of addressing before.

Things started progressing quickly on my journey up the pyramid, in my mid-30s, when I discovered that it was always my decision whether I allowed other people to emotionally affect me. During that same time in my life, my wife and I had become completely debt-free, other than our mortgage.

Now in our late 30s, we have found ourselves in a new income level bracket; having both progressed our ways up the corporate ladder, in addition to the aforementioned pyramid.

I think the identity crisis I am going through right now is that we both work full-time jobs in offices, in addition to side jobs online. The money simply goes to paying off our mortgage, our kids’ college funds, and our retirement.

It’s just sort of demotivating to consider how much of our time is spent working- and how little time is spent together as a family.

Plus, I really want a Jeep Wrangler. I’ve been dreaming about owning one for years. But having gone years without a car payment, and knowing that buying my dream car would only take away from our savings and our ability to pay extra each month on our mortgage, I just wouldn’t be able to enjoy it anyway.

Clearly, I have first world problems. Yet according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, they are still legitimate challenges that I am sorting out in my life.

This is my midlife crisis at age 37.