Can’t Sell Your Home In Today’s Market? Here Are Some Suggestions.

A reader asks, “Our family needs to move to another state soon because of my husband’s job transfer. But homes for sale in our area are sitting on the market for a long time. We have enough in savings to cover a couple months of mortgage payments after our move, but after that, our unsold home will put us in a financial pickle. Do you have any suggestions?”

My Suggestions:

Drop the asking price. If this means you’ll be upside down with your mortgage, ask your mortgage company to consider a short sale.

Hire a home staging service. These expert home image consultants can dress up your home to appeal to buyers better.

Exchange free housing for private property caretaker services. This way, you’ll have someone around to keep an eye on your home, maintain the lawn, and keep it tidy for Realtor showings.  Advertise your exchange in the Caretaker Gazette or in your local classifieds.

Alternatively, rather than selling, consider turning your furnished home into:

  • business travelers / short-term corporate housing* Hotels get expensive and are often less comfortable for long-term business travelers. Contact local corporate housing departments to discuss their needs.
  • family vacation rental* This could be a viable option for you, depending upon your home’s location. Charge by the night or by the week. Peruse Vacation Rentals By Owner to research this potential market. You’ll probably need to hire a management and/or housekeeping service, so charge accordingly.
  • special needs housing* For example, lease to members of a substance abuse recovery program on a per-bed “all bills paid” basis. Give one tenant a discount for acting as “house manager”.
  • university student housing* If your home is located near a university, lease it on a per bedroom, per semester basis. Once again, provide one tenant a discount for acting as manager to maintain your home.

*Before selecting one of these options, make sure you check with your local zoning department and homeowner’s association first.

When calculating cash flow, don’t forget to consider the following expenses: mortgage payments, insurance, taxes, maintenance, repairs, management fees, utilities, a vacancy allowance, and lost opportunity costs.

Readers, please share your suggestions in the comments below.

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Retire Early Lifestyle

In 1991, Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age of 38. During the last 18 years, they have made it through bear markets and bull markets, lived in the States and overseas, and have traveled in an RV for over two years. They’ve owned homes and rented, and have found a different approach to health care. Today, at age 56, Billy and Akaisha already have more years of retirement experience than most people will have over an entire lifetime. They share their experience, wisdom and travel escapades in their book, The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement, 3rd Edition, available for download from their web site, Retire Early Lifestyle.

Recently, I had the great pleasure of exchanging interviews with them.

Billy and Akaisha, you’ve been enjoying life while young enough to take full advantage of financial freedom. What inspired you to retire so early?

We left the working world in 1991 at a very young age. We were at the peak of our careers and had a home near the beach in central California. On the outside it looked like we had it all, but on the inside we felt that we were missing out on what we really wanted to do and that was to travel, experience more of the world first hand, pursue passions, hobbies and to volunteer.

There were few role models and many of our friends and family thought we were crazy to be giving up such a comfortable lifestyle for something so uncharted. But we took two years to plan and to track our expenses. Billy ran the numbers and they worked for us, so we sold everything and began traveling the world. We are now into our 19th year of this adventurous and fulfilling lifestyle and we still love it.

Is early retirement everything you expected it to be? What has surprised you the most so far?

It’s everything we imagined and more. There have been so many opportunities for us to grow, to give, and to learn. And we have made friends all over the world. What surprises us is that more people don’t retire early. When considering the cost of the lifestyles many lead, they would surely have the money to do this.

I suppose that fear is a major factor in preventing people from making this change. What we have found in our experience though, is that the people who have actually made the leap don’t know why it took them so long to do so.

Where are you living now? As early retirees, what does your typical day look like?

When we were working we had typical days. Now each day is an adventure. We are currently living in Chapala, Mexico. Last year we lived for a year in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We figure that in our over 18 years of retirement, we have lived about 70% of the time overseas.

Depending on the country in which we are living at the time, we may pursue a volunteer activity like putting up lights on the tennis courts of Chapala. When we were in Thailand last year, I had a private tutor instruct me in the art of Thai massage. Billy was most encouraging in this, as he benefits from my skills!

We take advantage of travel opportunities wherever we are as well. Bangkok is a convenient hub to visit all of the countries in the Pacific Rim and we just finished a month touring the southern towns and beaches of Mexico.

We’re involved in the tennis community wherever we live which gives us great exercise and social connection. I also spend a good deal of volunteer time corresponding with people who visit our website answering their many questions about retirement, living overseas, how to reduce housing costs, relocate or how to find part time work in retirement.

It’s a very full life and we have never been bored!

How have the two of you learned to deal with doubts, unexpected issues and fear along the way?

We rely on each other. We’ve learned to support each other in ways that emphasize our individual strengths. We allow our past good financial behavior and personal habits to reinforce us when we might feel particularly challenged.

We’re survivors. We’ve come through years of demanding careers, were responsible for meeting the financial obligations of a thriving business, dealt with both bull and bear markets, and in our early years worked ourselves to the bone. We’ve developed a sense of self-reliance and confidence in our abilities as human beings and we see opportunities every day, everywhere. It’s up to us to take our lives in the direction we want.

If we get caught up in fear, we realize that we are looking in the wrong direction. It’s time to regroup and refocus. Sometimes a delay or side trip on the road of Life brings us some hidden treasure that we wouldn’t have if we had pushed relentlessly forward.

Generally, we look at the future as thrilling, not threatening. We have great faith in the future, feeling that the best is always yet to come.

You wrote: “We rely on each other. We’ve learned to support each other in ways that emphasize our individual strengths”. Can you give an example?

A good example would be the current financial problems that are happening around the world. This is a huge challenge for many people who have had their portfolios reduced and the uncertainty of the future can bring about a deep feeling of fear.

This is a time when we look to each other for support. It’s easy to fall into a sense of dread or anxiety, but we know that being in that frame of mind doesn’t allow us to see clearly and most of all it doesn’t allow us to see our options, or feel the freedom to take them.

Billy is very good at investments, at number crunching and at analyzing markets. I’m good at research and finding alternative ways to live our lives and still maintain comfort, and a sense of ease and joy.

We are both resourceful, flexible, creative and persistent. Together we have always been able to find an answer that suits the both of us, and our lives have become richer in countless ways because of it.

Why have you chosen to live in other countries?

Both of us have been travelers ever since we were teenagers. It was one of the appealing characteristics we found in each other before we were married. Our decision to live in other countries just developed from our traveling style. Wherever we go, we enjoy ‘getting local’ right away – whether it’s in Salmon, Idaho, Chiang Mai, Thailand or Chapala, Mexico.

We decided to increase our international traveling while we were still young enough to be flexible both mentally and physically, and before our comfort requirements chose our destinations for us. In traveling the world we found that we loved learning about the regional food, languages, customs and the people themselves. We picked up the languages whenever we could, joined in the community activities with volunteer work, and tried cooking the local fare. We found that not only was this challenging, invigorating and rewarding, it was really very affordable entertainment!

Our perspectives widened, the cobwebs of our minds were cleared away, and we found true joy and personal expression in this lifestyle.

How do you handle medical insurance and health care?

We keep a catastrophic medical insurance plan (basically) for when we visit or live in the States. Otherwise, we take advantage of the medical care in the country where we are living at the time.

Just to be clearer about this, for the most part we choose Thailand’s excellent care or Mexico for our medical needs. We speak more about this in our book, The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement, and on our website’s Preferred Links Pages we have many links to Medical Options sites and other medical and insurance information for self-education. Not only is the medical care in Thailand clean, professional and internationally accredited, it is far more affordable than the care offered in the States currently. We have also had very good care in both Chapala, and Guadalajara, Mexico.

What were your careers before you retired?

Our first serious career was owning a restaurant near the ocean in Santa Cruz, California. Billy was trained as a French Chef, working in several Michelin star restaurants in Cincinnati, Ohio, and after we traveled through Europe for 6 months, we bought our own place.

We were quite successful at this business venture, and five years later Billy was recruited by the then-financial house, Dean Witter Reynolds, to become a stock broker. He trained to be a broker and became a very successful one at that, and then he was recruited to be a manager of his own office. Meanwhile, I continued to run the restaurant until we sold it five years later.

How do you create income now to provide for your early retirement?

All of our income is generated from our stock investments. We dollar cost average out as expenses dictate.

Fifteen years into our retirement we wrote our book, The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement, to answer the repeated questions we received on our website. This has been a bonus, but nothing we needed to figure into our financial retirement plans.

Has the current financial crisis affected your long-term plans?

Not at this time. We reassessed our personal goals a few months ago, and found that our lifestyle – traveling the world, living locally, pursuing friendships and new skills, spending time with family and friends – is what we wanted to continue doing. Since we have no mortgage, car payments or credit card debt, we spend our money on living, not on maintaining things. We also derive great pleasure from our volunteer activities.

We believe there are always opportunities, and so if something appeals to us along the way, we will take advantage of it, but we aren’t actively looking for employment!

What personal characteristics do you contribute most to your financial success?

Perseverance, follow through, self-discipline and self-reliance, creativity for problem solving, optimism in the face of obstacles, commitment to each other and to a goal. We are also not afraid to step away from the crowd to be original. Neither of us are big consumers, preferring to emphasize experiences over owning things.

What is your #1 piece of advice for others who would like to retire early, too?

Don’t let anyone steal your dreams. Know what you want and don’t be afraid to go for it. If you know the ‘Why’ and commit to it, you will find out the ’How.’

Thank you, Billy and Akaisha!

After visiting Billy and Akaisha’s site and the interview I did for them, please visit the Carnival of Money Stories. I’ll be back soon with the rest of my story, Part Five: My Early Forties, soon!

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One Year’s Worth of Weekly Cheap Dates

I’ve been happily married to the same man for over two decades. What is our secret to marital bliss? Besides the biggies like communication, respect, kindness, compromise, commitment and shared values, the answer is HAVING FUN! Especially now that we’re parents, we find it helpful — no, necessary — to set time aside for one-on-one time. We schedule weekly date nights.

We’ve found that a lack of planning leads us to overspend on our dates. Without a plan, we find ourselves drifting to an expensive restaurant, then leaving with our wallets $70 lighter. But date nights don’t need to break the budget. To prevent indecision and consequential overspending, I like to keep a list of fun and frugal ideas. Hopefully I’ve come up with a few you can use, too.

Tip: Eliminate babysitter fees by co-oping with family friends: you watch their kids one night a week and in trade, they reciprocate.

1. Always a winner– wine, cheese, and a sunset.
2. Play Frisbee golf.
3. Create an “International Night”. Decorate your home with an international theme, dress up, prepare ethnic foods, listen to appropriate music, and watch a foreign film on DVD.
4. Try letter-boxing or geocaching.
5. Enjoy an art walk, gallery to gallery.
6. Watch a high school play.
7. For a reduced price, attend a matinée movie. Bring your own popcorn.
8. Play a rousing game of Laser-Tag.
9. Spend an evening playing board games by candlelight.
10. Attend a book signing at a local bookstore.
11. Go bargain shopping at a flea market or garage sale.
12. Take a hike.
13. Design a scavenger or treasure hunt. Write clues on pieces of paper and leave them all around the house, neighborhood park, or town. Design each clue to lead to the next. Place a small gift, bubble bath, or picnic basket at the end of the hunt. It’s best if the places and clues are particularly meaningful to both people.
14. Pedal a tandem bike. Culminate the ride with a picnic.
15. Attend a free concert or festival. Check the local newspaper for an upcoming event schedule.
16. Go to a free library event.
17. Go for a moonlight swim. Check with your local Parks & Recreation Department for pool hours, or hit a favorite lake.
18. Check the university schedule (if you live in a college town) for lectures, films and concerts.
19. Attend an independent theater engagement.
20. Try Glow Bowling.
21. Play Miniature golf
22. Visit a 4-H fair or carnival.
23. For group dates, create a thematic dinner club.
24. Participate in a progressive dinner.
25. Join a book club for couples.
26. Hold a private fondue party.
27. Attend a wine tasting. Check with local restaurants and liquor stores for schedule.
28. Take a factory tour.
29. Visit the zoo or museum on a free or lower admission day.
30. Sign up for Tai Chi classes.
31. Scramble at an indoor rock climbing gym.
32. Star gaze. Ponder the mysteries of the universe.
33. Dance the night away with ballroom or salsa dance lessons.
34. Check with the local home improvement store for free do-it-yourself instruction classes.
35. Create a fairy garden.
36. Sculpt a bonsai tree or topiary.
37. Watch an anime movie.
38. View home movies, scrapbooks and photo albums. Reminisce.
39. Craft a new scrapbook page.
40. Make homemade gifts or greeting cards.
41. Go to a drive-in movie. Bring popcorn and beverages.
42. Take a drive through the countryside.
43. Give one another facials or pedicures.
44. Create a time capsule and bury it.
45. Share a book by reading it out loud.
46. Take a stroll through downtown.
47. Go sledding with a thermos of hot apple cider.
48. Bake and decorate cookies, then deliver them to friends.
49. Play around: Visit a quiet playground (without kidlets). Share secrets or interview each other.
50. Fly a kite.
51. Go fishing.
52. Enjoy a classic movie marathon. Serve fresh buttered popcorn and snuggle under a big blanket.

If you’re fortunate enough to share love, make a conscious choice to nurture your relationship. Don’t wait until circumstances change. Make a standing date with your partner today. Have fun!

Please share your favorite cheap date ideas in the comments!

Relevant, recommended books:
10,000 Ways to Say I Love You (Paperback)
Romantic Antics: Creative Ideas for Successful First Dates, Adventurous Saturday Nights, and Playful Long Weekends (Paperback)
RoMANtic’s Guide: Hundreds of Creative Tips For A Lifetime (Paperback)

How I Became A Millionaire (Part 4: My Thirties)

Note: This post is part of a series that starts here.

Sticks And Bricks

Having two major home renovations under our belt, we opted to create our third home from scratch this time around. In 1994 at age 30, we invested the $40,000 cash we had earned from our two previous sweat equity projects into a seven acre piece of weedy land upon which to build a barn and our next home.

We planned to live in this home indefinitely, but we picked a floor plan and house design with resale in mind anyway. We cut out the middleman and acted as general contractor, hiring, organizing and overseeing various tradesmen to do the work we weren’t qualified to perform. My husband and I spent months painting walls, laying tiles, and transforming the weedy field into a garden oasis.

An after-construction appraisal indicated that nine months of hard work had earned us $130,000 in sweat equity.

+ $290,000 post-construction appraisal (in 1994)
– $40,000 cash down payment
– $120,000 construction loan
= $130,000 net equity

My Takeaway: Learning how to be a do-it-yourself-er can pay off handsomely.

Planning Parenthood

Money ranks as the first most argued topic for many couples. It has been estimated that an astounding 80% of divorces are the result of money disagreements. Having a child is now the single best indicator of financial collapse.

I wanted children, but I didn’t want to be one of those statistics.

My choice to form my family through adoption rather than pregnancy was a decision I made when I was an idealistic teenager. The way I figured it, why “make my own” child when there are countless orphans dying for a family already.

Since I planned to adopt, my biological time clock wasn’t a ticking time bomb. My husband and I wanted to achieve financial freedom before adopting our daughter because we didn’t want to repeat our own parent’s experiences. We both grew up with young, struggling, work-all-the-time parents and quite frankly, that often stunk. We didn’t want money issues to negatively impact our family.

But how would we accomplish financial freedom while we were still young enough to enjoy parenting?

My answer came in the creation of a plan using Microsoft Money’s Lifetime Planner. I used this inexpensive software tool to problem-solve, create “what-if” financial scenarios, and monitor my progress along the way.

My Takeaway: Keep an eye on the big picture as you tweak the details.


Part One of my financial freedom plan was to make more money. Not more work, though, just more money. Neither I nor my husband were willing to work overtime hours; we weren’t interested in giving up our evenings, weekends or holidays.

For 12 years, my husband had worked as a company-employed construction worker for hourly wages, earning $20,000 to $35,000 annually. Meanwhile, his boss made many times as much revenue off of my husband’s efforts.

At age 30, my husband quit his job, affixed a rooftop pipe rack onto an old Econoline van and became his own boss. He hired a bookkeeper to handle the office-related tasks, and after a year or two, his annual net income climbed to $60,000 before leveling off. He was on the right track, but for the hours he worked, he wasn’t earning what he could.

I reviewed his business operations and found inefficiencies. My husband is an excellent tradesman with fantastic people skills; however, the math and minutiae of business management wasn’t his strong suit. Thankfully, that’s where I shine so we joined forces and doubled the annual net income to $120,000 the following year.

Statistically, the majority of millionaires are self-employed business owners. But it’s difficult for one entrepreneur to wear all the hats. My husband and I both have different strengths that we bring to the table and together, we make a great team.

My Takeaway: Stick to what you’re best at doing and get help with the rest.

Outwardly Simple And Inwardly Rich

Part Two of my financial freedom plan was to cut expenses. Rather than keeping-up-with-the-Joneses behavior, we embraced a lifestyle of voluntary simplicity. We shared one used car, shopped at secondhand clothing stores, and didn’t buy stuff.

But that didn’t mean we lived a miserly lifestyle. Far from it, actually. We learned to live our lives and spend our money in ways that are in alignment with our values. For instance, since we don’t care much for stuff (fancy cars, designer clothes, glitzy jewelry, electronic gizmos), we could afford to spend generously on things that are important to us (recreation, weekly massages, organic foods, travel). We learned how to be green. By reducing our consumption, we saved money in the process.

My Takeaway: A life well lived does not require stuff.


Managing two businesses had me working more than I wanted, so I sold my pet care and training businesses ($60,000) and put a down payment on a single-family rental investment property. My initial plan was to add a new property to my real estate portfolio every few years. I had hoped this was my ticket to a lifetime of passive income. But after three years of landlording hassles, I realized this source of income would never be passive enough for me. I abandoned this plan and sold my rental at a net profit of $15,000.

My Takeaway: If it’s not a good fit, ditch it and move on.

Dear Broker, You’re fired!

I’m sure there are investment brokers worth the fees and commissions they charge, but I haven’t met one. I burned through five brokers before realizing that no one cares as much about my money as I do. Brokers are salespeople. Naturally, they cared more about their bottom line then mine.

Each year, I’d compare our broker-managed IRA accounts’ long-term performance with the stock market indexes (Wilshire 5000, S&P 500, Dow Jones Industrial Average, NASDAQ, MSCI EAFE, etc.). I found that despite paying a decent sum to brokers for their expertise, our portfolio was under-performing the standard index benchmarks.

I decided to make it my job to learn how to invest. For two years, I studied equity investing via books, web sites, and conversations with other investors. Once confident that I had acquired the knowledge, confidence and skills necessary to invest successfully on my own, I fired our broker.

Not only did our return on investment (ROI) improve, but over the course of our lifetime, we will save thousands of dollars in commissions and fees.

As I watched the astounding power of compounding grow our portfolio, I knew I’d discovered a source of passive income I could embrace. I paid ourselves first, investing 15-20% of our income plus all unexpected windfalls (such as tax refunds). I made maximum allowable annual contributions to our IRA retirement accounts and automatically reinvested the interest, capital gains and dividends.

My Takeaway: Become the expert of your own money.

Bubble Trouble

In 2004, I read a book that at the time sounded like science fiction. But author and economic consultant John Talbott presented the facts so well in his book, The Coming Crash in the Housing Market : 10 Things You Can Do Now to Protect Your Most Valuable Investment, that I was convinced financial aliens would soon be landing upon our house to snatch away our sizable home equity.

Talbotts’s analysis made so much sense to me that I decided to foil the aliens by selling our home and cashing in. We became renters.

In doing so (and when explaining why) most of our friends and family thought we’d lost our marbles. “Renters throw their money away”, they’d say. Everyone seemed to believe that real estate prices would always go up. So did many readers of my blog, when in the fall of 2007, I first shared that I was a renter. But there is no doubt about it now — the equity-sucking aliens have landed upon our rooftops. It should come as no surprise really; a 120-year historical graph shows that home prices in the U.S., adjusted for inflation, stayed relatively flat for 100 years, then began rising in 1981 and surged from 1997 to 2006. No irrational bubble can continue to inflate indefinitely.

In 2004, after sticking a “For Sale By Owner” sign in the front yard and selling the home we had built and lived in for nine years (at a net profit of $335,000), we rented and invested the cash – and our monthly savings — into a diversified portfolio of mutual funds.

Renting was much less expensive for us than owning and by putting our equity to work, our net worth surged exponentially.

My Takeaway: Follow common sense, not the crowd.

… continued in Part Five: My Early Forties

The beginning of this series started here: How I Became A Millionaire: Childhood

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How I Became A Millionaire (Part 3: My Twenties)

Note: This post is part of a series that starts here.

Wake Up Call

I was in my early twenties when friends and I took a fateful camping trip that changed our lives forever…

My friend, Linda, divorced for three days, was a nutty sass all weekend. She chased wild bulls through the remote Indian Reservation, cartwheeled across fallen trees bridging the river, and stopped us en route to our campsite to pour beer on a small lightning-strike fire to fan the flames. Then, perched upon the back seat of the Jeep I was following, with one hand tenuously grasping the roll bar to steady herself, she pulled down her jeans to flash me the moon.

That was her last act of sass. She fell head first out of the jeep and lay in the middle of the road, in the middle of nowhere, uncharacteristically still.

Linda’s premature death shattered my naïve sense of immortality. For several years afterward, I suffered from anxiety as a result of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). But along with my internal pain came an impetus for personal growth. The meaning of life became a subject of intense introspection for me.

My takeaway: It is only possible to live happily-ever-after on a day-to-day basis.

Buried Treasure

My husband and I married at the tender age of 23. Like many newlyweds, we wanted a wedding, a honeymoon and a home to call our own. But neither of us had any savings. Fortunately, we didn’t have a credit card, either, so we sold one of our vehicles to generate the cash to pay for a creatively frugal and fun wedding and honeymoon.

Additionally, by sharing one car we had reduced our monthly expenses enough that we could afford mortgage payments. We bought a foreclosure fixer-upper house priced below market value and spent much of our first two newlywed years stripping off dated wallpaper, tearing away landscape overgrowth, pulling weeds and patching holes in the roof. To raise cash for home renovations and furniture, we rented one of our spare bedrooms to a friend.

My takeaway: Where there’s a will, there is a way. Live within your means and pay with cash.

Moonlighting and Bootstrapping

I continued my work at a veterinary hospital and simultaneously started my own pet care and training business. I offered my employers a win-win situation: I’d teach dog training classes in the hospital’s backyard so they’d have a new service to offer their clients; I’d be self-employed with no start-up costs, minimal operating expenses, and a steady stream of customer referrals.

In addition to training, I recognized another need that I could fill. Many pets dislike boarding kennels, so I added home and pet-sitting to the services I provided.

Approximately one year later, I was earning more from my part-time business than I was working at the veterinary hospital, so I quit my job.

My takeaway: Starting a business can be done with little to no capital investment.

Leaving the Nest and Sprouting Wings

By the time we celebrated our second wedding anniversary, it was obvious that if our marriage was to survive, we needed to move away from his family. Quite frankly, my in-laws thought that I should “wear the skirt” and demonstrate subordination to their son, and since I was a “strong-minded” woman, they were not supportive of our relationship.

We packed our belongings and sold the assets that couldn’t move with us. Selling my pet-care client list fetched $10,000 and our renovated home netted $14,000 in capital-gains-free profit.

My takeaway: Reduce your exposure to toxic people.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Once in our new town, we opened our first retirement IRA accounts ($2,000 each at age 25, if I recall), banked the rest of our cash, and rented a small condominium. Hubby took a construction job, and I duplicated the same pet care and training business I had owned before moving.

Rather than spend money on advertising my services in a new town, I sought relationships with referral sources by introducing myself to complimentary businesses (veterinarians, groomers, kennels) and offered their staff free workshops and classes. My investment of time paid off profitably as my new business grew quickly via personal referrals. I hired a few part-time employees and created an apprenticeship program. It was at this point that I discovered the joys of working from home in my pajamas.

After a year of renting, we purchased our second foreclosed fixer-upper home, remodeled it, then sold it two years later (by owner) for a capital gains tax-free net profit of $25,000. We invested our earned equity into a seven acre piece of ground and built a home on it.

My takeaway: Replicate and expand upon previous successes.

…continued next in Part Four: My Thirties

Did you miss the beginning of this series? How I Became A Millionaire: Childhood