education kids

Educational Travel Games for Kids

Passing the time during a long journey, or even a short one, can be a nightmare when you have kids in tow. “Are we nearly there yet?” – how often do you hear this throughout the course of a journey?

You might want to shout “not yet!” but you have to understand that travelling for little ones, or even big ones, isn’t the same as it is for adults. We understand that it takes time to get somewhere, and that the waiting is worth it, but they don’t, they just want to get where they’re going, and are usually over-excited as a result. The key? Stay calm, take deep breaths, and your serene exterior will hopefully seep its way to your children.

Despite that, the key is also to keep them entertained, and thanks to modern technology, with iPads and tablets now owned by most families, games with an educational twist can be played on the go quite easily.

There’s no excuse not to instil a bit of learning into a journey, after all, you might as well put the waiting to good use. Age plays a part in what kind of games you can play, so let’s check out a few suggestions.

Younger children (ages 0 to 6)

Bingo – a quick internet search will give you plenty of worksheets you can print out, and a fun child-friendly game of bingo is a great pass-the-time idea, which also helps children recognise numbers. You can also play this with shapes for the younger children in this bracket. The winner gets to pick a treat!

Match colours and shapes – again matching colours and shapes is a game of repetition, which is how we learn best. You can easily print out some shapes and colour blocks before you leave and put them in your travel bag, whipping them out when boredom kicks in, and this is also a different twist on a game of snap!

Words that start with… – Practising the alphabet and developing vocabulary is easily done on the go, simply say a letter, and get your little ones to give you a word that begins with that letter. Again, a prize for the best suggestions.

Eye spy – I’ve put this in the younger age range, but its great for any age really, and also helps develop awareness of surroundings and the alphabet again. You can pass hours with this one!

Older children (ages 6 plus)

iPad – Older kids do tend to turn towards technology for keeping their minds active. Whilst the iPad is great for playing games, you can also download some educational apps and play them together. Even games such as Candy Crush Saga can be used to help develop matching skills, but why not download a language app and learn some of the language of the country you’re heading to, together as a family?

Carmen San Diego – The famous computer programmes aimed at children of around 8-12 years will pass hours, and they won’t even realise they’re learning. Cleverly using characters and plots, weaving in word play and using alliteration, this is a good way to learn language skills and vocabulary, and can be done on the go.

Country’s flags and currencies – Weave learning into where you’re going, by matching flags and currencies, flags and languages etc.

As you can see, all our suggestions take away the focus of learning, yet sneakily kids will develop skills whilst they’re doing them. That’s the best way to do it in my opinion! Imagination games, word play, using awareness of space and surroundings, asking questions on what they think things are, and discussing it – these are all ways to pass the time and learn something along the way.

 

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Managing Your Digital Life Made Simple

Life these days is lived increasingly in mid-air, somewhere we can’t see, in the ether if you will. It can be easier paper-wise, so you don’t have a drawer full of receipts and files, but whilst you can’t see all this information, it can feel like you have no reins on it, no control. This is all a bit of a recipe for stress.

So, how can we organise our digital life, so to speak, to make it less stressful, more streamlined, and less destructive on those forests by cutting down the paper?

Be password savvy – Any secure website will require a password, and it’s never advisable to use the same password for them all. If you get hacked then you’re running a huge security risk if you don’t mix it up a little. Variety is the spice of life, after all. Having said that, you don’t want to be remembering a head full of different passwords, and you certainly don’t want to be writing them down. A good way to use a password manager like Last Pass. Always generate important passwords using a strong password generator, rather than using real words.

Back up your files – Whilst they’re not paper-based, computer files still need to be organised and backed up. If your computer dies, you don’t want to be losing all your data, so for that I’d recommend using Dropbox as the cloud-type of storage you read so much about these days. Simply logging into your account will drag your information down from the sky and onto whichever machine you log into. Simple, and much safer.

Organise your files – Creating folders for the month and storing all paperwork relating to that month within it will make it easier to find things on the go. You can easily download your online statements etc and store them in that particular months’ folder. To keep it up to date again, delete folders after, say, three months, and keep it on a rolling system, so you don’t end up with a computer full of useless folders from four years ago!

Spreadsheets – They sound geeky, but they’re really not. If you’re a freelance worker, or undertake any kind of freelance work, then you will of course need to keep records of your work for tax purposes. I find a spreadsheet is a good way to keep a basic running tally, to go alongside the other records you need to keep. A simple tally like this will help you make quick calculations, rather than stressing yourself out with trawling through more complicated records.

Review regularly – When you’re trying to go paperless, you’re basically streamlining your life, so the key is to keep it simple. If it’s not working for you, play around with it a bit, and keep updating everything as you go. I don’t like to leave things to pile up, because that’s what clutters my mind and leads to stress. If you can keep on top of your admin, then you’ll be freer and more organised as a result.

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The Upside of Investing That Spare $100

If you have a spare $100 and put it in into something that returns 6%, in 40 years time it’ll be worth $1096. If you’re older and leave it there 30 years, it’ll be worth $602. Basically anything you spend $100 on now is costing you $602 in future dollars.

If you only have a spare $50, and are prepared to let that money sit there for 40 years, it’ll be worth $548. Just think if you get that money invested and out of sight, out of mind whenever there is extra. Here are just a few ways to save $50-100. As you can see, leaving it there an extra 10 years, is almost the same as saving double now.

The key is making it real.

I’ve found that the key to getting myself to invest is coming up with some numbers that make it real for me.

For example, if I’d invested $1000 a month in the VTI fund, which tracks the US stock market, for the last 10 years, that investment would be worth $205,000 now, compared to $120,000 of contributions. That’s even with the massive crash of 2008.

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The Benefits of Giving Up an Unused Subscription

Let’s imagine that instead of paying $15 a month for a subscription you don’t really use, you’d invested that money for the last 10 years instead. In this case, even starting from $0, you would have over $3000 now after only depositing $1800.

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The calculator I’ve used for coming up with the above tables is http://www.buyupside.com/calculators/dollarcostave.php

What you you have a spare $1000?

I know for some people the idea of having a “spare $1000″ isn’t a reality, but also for many people it is. For example, you get a tax refund or the like.

Here’s what you can expect if you invest an extra $1000 that you have available.

At a moderate 6% rate of return, that money will have grown to

5 years: $1349
10 years: $1819
20 years: $3310

If you only have a spare $500, here’s what you can expected

5 years: $674
10 years: $910
20 years: $1655.

My Personal Long Term Savings Plan Revealed

It’s really hard to talk about money face to face. Different people are in different situations and it makes it awkward. For the sake of public accountability and just to share what I’m doing, I’ve decided to share my personal savings plan.

Calling it “retirement savings” doesn’t work for me. “Retirement” sounds like something that’s going to happen to someone else, not to me. This is what I call my “long term savings plan.” Renaming it in this way makes me feel like it’s me who is going to get to spend this money!!

At the moment I have around $100,000 invested. The two scenarios below involve me saving $200 per week or $300 a week for 20 years, which will put me at almost 54. Now, saving $300 a week consistently is not something I expect is going to be easy. To achieve this I’m going to need to put every bit of spare money into investments as soon as I get it, but as you can see, I think it will be worth it.

I’ve used a medium rate of return of around 6%, something that should be achievable after taxes and fees.

Here’s what my account should like like after the full 20 years. Clicking on the images will expand them.

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This is the much less impressive projection of what it should look like after the first 10 years. As you can see, it really is time and consistent investing that does the magic with compounding returns.

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The Cost of Waiting to Start Investing

People are often really intimidated by investing. In my view, 30 is the absolute latest you should start. Obviously earlier is better but for any people they won’t do that. Starting at 30 still gives you 40 years until your 70, which in my mind is the point where I don’t want to be doing any paid work anymore. I can imagine that between 55-70, I’d want to scale back but not stop completely. Assuming, I’m around and healthy that long of course.

The graph below shows the change in the amount of money you’d have if you invest for 40 years vs. an alternative strategy where you start regular investing 5 years later. As you can see, the difference in the total amount you invest is only $20,000 but the difference in returns is over $250,000. For these calculations, I’ve used a fairly conservative rate of return of 6%, which is around about what a broad stock market ETF (exchange traded fund) will return. This is when you buy a fund that just tracks the whole market rather than selecting stocks.

If you do this within a tax-free account like a ROTH IRA in the US, then you are all set to keep all of your profits. In my view everyone should be saving $100 a week, religiously. If you can’t do this, there are various ways to hustle to earn that level of extra income, just as working online on a site like odesk or fiverr, or helping a friend out in their business.

The calculator I used for this is from https://www.moneysmart.gov.au/

Simple Tips for Managing Your Investments

1. Everyone should have an investment plan.

This should consist of

1. Criteria for adding an investment to your watchlist.
2. Entry criteria.
3. Exit criteria.
4. Routines – specifically scheduled routines e.g., I’m going to invest in a broad based ETF (like VTI) once a week on Tuesdays at noon.

Exit criteria is probably more important for stocks than entry criteria.

2. Yahoo finance.

I like Yahoo finance for managing my portfolios. They’ll send a weekly email with the % your portfolio has increased or decreased in the last week as the subject line. They also put the biggest mover in your portfolio in the subject line. Great info without even needing to open the email.

3. If you’re self employed in the US, fully fund your Roth IRA.

This is a no brainer. The big advantage of a ROTH IRA is that you can take your contributions out at any time with no penalty. You only can’t withdraw the profits.

If you keep $25,000 in cash in your Bank of America checking you can get 30 free trades a month through Merrill Edge. This is more than sufficient for me.

Otherwise, you want want to just buy commission free ETFs. Pick the brokerage that offers the ETFs you want on a commission free basis. TD Ameritrade has a pretty good selection. This is a bit limiting but better than nothing. You’ll get free trades for 60 days if you open an account and deposit a minimum of $2000, so you could buy some additional stocks that you plan to just hold, during that period.

4. Don’t think your 30s is too late.

In your early 30s, you still should have 40 years of investing.

Check out this chart from Milford Asset which shows the power of a $10,000 start point, 10% p.a. returns after tax, and an additional contribution of only $50 a month.

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10% p.a. after tax is hard to achieve unless you’re using a ROTH IRA where there is no tax. This makes the scenario shown in the chart to be somewhat achievable if you can slightly outperform the overall market (which averages around an 8% p.a. return over long periods).

5. Don’t be scared of mistakes.

You will undoubtedly make a few mistakes in investing. This happens to even the most experienced and capable professional investors. Start small with your stock market investing so that mistakes don’t matter.

Never risk more than 1% of your money on a single stock. You can use stop-loss orders to achieve this. What you would lose if the stop loss order was triggered shouldn’t be more than 1% of your money.

A general rule is that you could put a stop loss in around 3% lower than the stock’s most recent level of support. The support level is where a stock has bounced back from a low. It indicates where people start to view the stock as cheap and come in and buy when the price goes down. You can see the support level if you eyeball a chart of the stock, which you can easily do online.

Disclaimer: I am not a financial advisor. These are just my opinions.

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How to Teach Your Kids to Be Good Travellers

Travel broadens the mind, but for kids it is also a case of travel really teaches them about the world, opens their eyes, and shows them differences and cultures. It is probably the best education there is, other than academia of course, so just how do we teach our little ones to be respectful and adventurous travellers?

Here’s five tips.

1. Help them learn some of the local language.

I’m not suggesting fluency, or even full sentences, but just ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are major steps, and also instils the importance of manners, which is one of the most important lessons in life as a general rule. A fun way to do this is by downloading an app which help them learn in a colourful and game-like way.

2. Practice eating street food, as well as in restaurants and fancy hotels.

Street food is a huge part of many cultures, and if you’re trying to travel on a budget too, you might find this the best option, and eating at a fancy restaurant every night will stretch even the most flexible of budgets. Many parents are a little wary of snacks bought in this way, because of the possibility of meat not being cooked properly or cross-contamination etc, but looking for vegetarian options will cut out worries over meat, or other foods that are deemed ‘safer’. It’s also a good idea to carry a small tub of anti-bacterial gel for washing hands on the go afterwards, which helps them also understand hygiene and travel.

3. Speak to people of different backgrounds in your home country.

Even without travelling, you can quickly and easily help your children understand that differences in where people are born or their backgrounds is just a difference, and that we are all equal at the end of the day, and that really, differences are what make us who we are. A good way to do this is to encourage them to mix with everyone, not just others the “same” as you, e.g. other middle class white people in your area, if that is who you are, etc. Visit Asian supermarkets, which also shows differences in cuisine and helps avoid food fads, and encourage welcoming behaviour to new neighbours from different backgrounds. Showing that equality is important is invaluable for life as well as travel.

4. Celebrate festivals and important landmark days

This doesn’t have to involve celebrating religious festivals of religions that aren’t your own, but discussing what they are and what they mean helps build understanding. A check on any calendar will give you the important days to note down. Also celebrate days such as Chinese New Year, by having a theme evening maybe, or Australia Day and discussing what happened on that day and what people do to celebrate etc. If you do this in a fun way, this is more likely to stick in their minds.

5. Encourage inquisitiveness, but discuss safety

Being scared of travel isn’t a good thing, yet on the other hand, being too gung-ho can equally be worrying. To get a happy medium, encourage inquisitiveness where travel is concerned, but talk about the importance of staying safe, such as crossing roads, not being too trusting etc, without instilling fear of the unknown. Road safety as a whole is a general skill, but explaining about how people drive on different sides of the road in some countries, how you need to look both ways and then again is useful. Also talk about things like holding onto your belongings when travelling, and not taking valuable things out with you.

Travel is a treat, and being respectful of different cultures and countries is something that all children should learn at a very early age.

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The Golden Rules of Simple Eating While Traveling

If you eat regularly at restaurants in the US, you’re almost guaranteed to pack on weight and consume far too much fat and salt. As an alternative, I like to self-cater while traveling. However, I just stay in normal hotel rooms. Usually they only have a fridge but sometimes they have a microwave or there is one available in the lobby.

Here’s how I make it work.

Rule 1: 4 ingredients max.

At home you can buy a bunch of ingredients, fill up the fridge and know you’ll use everything within a week or so. When traveling I stick to only meals that I can make with 4 ingredients or less. Usually this means under $13 or so for the meal, even if I need to buy all 4 ingredients.

Rule 2: Ingredients that can do double duty.

For example, wraps can be used to make mexican inspired burritos or middle eastern style hummus wraps, or a bunch of other options. Buy ingredients you know you’ll be able to use in multiple different meals with different flavor profiles.

I love baked savory tofu. The flavor is just a hint of umami and saltiness. Therefore it will work with Italian, Mexican, anything you like.

You can also get precooked vacuum packed lentils in many supermarkets. These can be used to add protein to salads, sandwiches etc.

Rule 3: Two fat options.

Choose whether you want cheese, mayo, butter/marg, or avocado but not all of these. Make do with two. This will give you some versatility in your dishes without a lot of waste.

Rule 4: Instant oatmeal is your friend.

You can make instant oatmeal in a hotel room by using the coffee maker for hot water if your hotel’s lobby doesn’t have hot water/coffee available. Instant oatmeal will work for an early breakfast or late night snack.

If you have an early flight the next day, grab some oatmeal sachets and a banana from the hotel breakfast (skip the breakfast – it might be free but it’s not free in terms of unhealthiness).

Hotels often start breakfast too late for people who have morning flights.

Rule 5: Convenience doesn’t have to be frozen and microwavable.

For example,

- If you stick to the 4 ingredient rule, it’s just as easy to make your own burritos as it is to buy frozen.

- You can get prewashed greens for sandwiches and salads.

- Having a basket of fruit visible in your room will encourage you to eat it. They say “out of sight, out of mind” and of course the reverse is also true.

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7 Types of False Economy When Traveling with Kids

1. Booking an early morning flight.

The last thing you want to deal with on your first day of a vacation is scratchy children whose sleep schedule has been disrupting while you too are also functioning on minimal sleep. Starting your vacation sleep-deprived sets a bad tone for the trip.

2. Booking a tiny rental car and hoping to be upgraded.

If you need to pay for an upgrade at the counter, you’ll usually pay through the nose. Make sure you allow for that you’re probably be underestimating how much room bags, strollers, and people take up.

3. Booking anywhere without air con.

If something seems cheap, it may be because it’s lacking aircon. Make sure you check. You might be able to tolerate heat but little people are less able to regulate their temperature than adults, especially toddlers.

4. Not booking a suite or apartment.

Everyone will have a better time if the kids can go to sleep in the bedroom and the adults can stay up and enjoy some adult time and a glass of wine rather than needing to stay quite once your kids have gone to bed at 7.30.

In a single hotel room, charges for extra children will often add up.

5. Attempting to get buy without a stroller.

Either take your own stroller or buy a cheap stroller at your destination (this is often a better option when traveling internationally).

6. Taking transportation that charges per person.

If you’re traveling as a family, there are lots of places where it’s cheaper to take a cab than pay for 3-4 fares on public transportation. This is especially true if you have older kids, whereas under 5s usually travel free on public transportation in most places.

7. Going in the rainy season.

Sometimes the rainy season won’t be too bad, but sometimes they’re dreadful. It’s hard to entertain kids inside while it is bucketing down outside! You might save a tiny bit of money by traveling in the off season but you might have to deal with extra costs for transportation because you can’t walk places in the rain and also safety/comfort issues like rough seas for boat rides.

photo credit: Unhindered by Talent via photopin CC

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7 Ways Being a Freelancer Saves Me Money

1. Travel Midweek.

Some destinations, like Las Vegas or Palm Springs, have MUCH higher rates on the weekends than midweek. Traveling midweek can result in reservations that are only 1/4 of the Friday and Saturday night rates.

Being a freelancer, I’m able to travel midweek.

2. Take advantage of collaborative consumption opportunities.

I have friends who live in very desirable cities. I’m able to say to them “Let me know when you’re going away and I’ll come housesit.” I’ll offer to pay some rent while I’m there and they usually either decline or we agree on something nominal e.g., $30 a day. I get a week long vacation for $200, which is about one night at typical vacation rental prices. If I plan to overlap with my friend, I can get to see them for awhile before they leave, which is awesome. If they decline to take any “rent” money, I will just leave money and say it’s to cover the bills.

3. Drive off peak.

Driving off peak saves (a) huge amounts of time and (b) moderate amounts of gas money that isn’t spent idling in traffic.

4. Negotiate discounts with service providers based on being able to book appointments at off-peak times.

For example, my massage therapist and I have negotiated a discount if I always book my appointments late morning or mid afternoon. These are times when she often has empty slots. It’s also much easier to use Groupons if you’re able to use them at off peak times.

5. Fewer work clothes.

I save both time and money because I have fewer work clothes. I don’t need to buy extra clothes just because I’m embarrassed my colleagues are seeing me in the same clothes over and over again.

6. Using money saving skills for work and personal.

For example, I might need to find a solution for work (eg. inexpensive but reliable cloud storage) and I can also use that same solution in my personal life, whereas if I was just doing it for personal, I might never get around to investigating the options.

7. Eating lunch at home.

When working it seems like buying lunch is a totally justifiable treat when you’ve been stuck in the office all day. Now I don’t feel like I need to buy lunch as a pick me up.

photo credit: Unhindered by Talent via photopin CC