Ryan Ermey: We're still interested in the FIRE Movement and today we're talking with an interesting guy, Scott Rieckens, author of Playing with FIRE and star of the upcoming documentary of the same name, joins the show for a conversation about achieving financial independence.
- Episode Length: 00:32:17
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Ryan Ermey: On today's show, Sandy and I help you make sense of travel advisories and a new edition of Deal or No Deal features quips about timeshare rackets and talking like a pirate. That's all ahead on this episode of Your Money's Worth. Stick around.
Ryan Ermey: Welcome to Your Money's Worth. I'm Kiplinger's associate editor Ryan Ermey, joined as always by senior editor Sandy Block. Sandy, how are you?
Sandy Block: As always, I'm good, Ryan.
Ryan Ermey: Do you have any vacation plans coming up over the next few months?
Sandy Block: Yes, actually I do. We are going to Cape Cod at the end of this month and I don't think that has showed up on any travel advisory lists as of yet.
Ryan Ermey: No, I think it's probably the opposite of what we're talking about, which is how do you know if your vacation destination is safe? We had such a delightful time talking to Scott Keyes last week of Scott's Cheap Flights. I've gotten the chance to take some vacations to some exotic locales, but some places that people in this office seem to think are no-go's.
Sandy Block: Stay in touch, Ryan.
Ryan Ermey: Yeah, well I've been to nothing crazy. I've been to Istanbul, which at the time wasn't as... it's a little bit I guess sketchier now than it was when I was there.
Sandy Block: Especially, if you're a journalist.
Ryan Ermey: Yeah, I've been in Eastern Europe, Hungary, Tunisia.
Sandy Block: Tunisia, that was one I was thinking, yeah.
Ryan Ermey: Yeah. Miriam Cross has this story in the October issue of Kiplinger's about determining whether wherever you're going is safe. One of the places that she says to start is travel.state.gov where you can find the State Department's travel advisories and their guidelines for travelers. The countries are rated one to four with one being take normal precautions and four being don't go.
Sandy Block: Stay home.
Ryan Ermey: Don't go. Although, I got a chance to look around and she points it out in the story too that the State Department really includes every possible thing that could go wrong and you shouldn't let them scare you. Okay. Let's say you wanted to go to Oktoberfest.
Sandy Block: Beers, yes.
Ryan Ermey: Yeah. You want to go to Oktoberfest.
Sandy Block: Germany.
Ryan Ermey: They do it by country, so you search Germany. Germany is a level two, which is a little bit heightened precaution. Here is what it says, top line, "Terrorist groups continue plotting possible attacks in Germany. Terrorist may attack with a little or no warning, targeting tourists locations, transportation hubs, market/shopping malls, a local government facilities, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, parks, major sporting and cultural events, educational institutions, airports and other public areas." In other words, every place.
Sandy Block: Everywhere.
Ryan Ermey: Every place.
Sandy Block: Nowhere is safe.
Ryan Ermey: Every place you're going to be when you're there. You have a better chance of getting sick, or getting in a car accident, or getting some petty theft, getting your pockets picked then you do of something quite so drastic like this. So you probably shouldn't let the State Department advisories alone keep you from going someplace that you want to go.
Sandy Block: Right. I think you can also just use them as a way to think about, okay, if I am going to go to this place, what precautions should I take? You can go places and take efforts to be safe without staying away from it entirely.
Ryan Ermey: Yeah.
Sandy Block: Just be smart about it.
Ryan Ermey: Miriam points out that the State Department is the only site that's going to give you precautions geared specifically toward American travelers. But if you want maybe a possibly toned down version of the same advisory, it's worth it to check out travel advisories for other governments who are going to be probably a little chiller than we are.
Ryan Ermey: She also recommends the GeoSure, that's G-E-O-S-U-R-E, smartphone app, which scores cities and the neighborhoods within the cities for certain risk factors, which includes women's safety, LGBTQ safety, which is really, I think valuable because safety isn't the same for everyone in every city.
Sandy Block: Right, right. Again, sometimes it's just a matter of common sense.
Ryan Ermey: Right.
Sandy Block: Protecting yourself.
Ryan Ermey: Yeah. Moscow isn't the same for LGBTQ people, it's just not. Some other precautions if you're worried or even if you just want to know where in the city should I be staying, where should I be avoiding, maybe you want to go to Cairo, but you don't want to be right in the middle of Tahrir Square or whatever, so booking through a travel agent can help with that. They're likely to know the ins and outs of wherever you're going and they can walk you through the parts of your destination that are safest and the parts that might be dicey.
Ryan Ermey: Then the last thing that we wanted to mention was that trip insurance, which we've discussed a few times on this podcast, may cover you if you have to cancel your trip due to these kind of factors.
Sandy Block: Or, if there is an actual... terrorist incident before you leave.
Ryan Ermey: Right, exactly.
Sandy Block: Yeah. Oftentimes you can get covered. I don't think they'll cover you just because you're nervous, no.
Ryan Ermey: No, they won't cover you just because you're nervous. You need to read the policy because they may not cover you if you plan on traveling to what they already deem a high risk country, or if there is already a certain level of advisory in effect. So are you going to be able to get trip insurance for your upcoming trip to Venezuela this week? Maybe not, maybe so. It's worth it to shop around. But it might be a tough ask.
Ryan Ermey: The bottom line is keep your wits about you. Don't get scared out of going on your dream Oktoberfest, or Carnival, or whatever other party based vacation that I can come up with just because the State Department wants to give you thorough advice.
Sandy Block: Or because you heard one story about one thing that happened to one person. I think our minds are sort of anecdotally... Where I'm going in Cape Cod, they have a lot of sharks.
Ryan Ermey: Sure.
Sandy Block: I'm not going to stay home because statistically the likelihood that I'll get bitten by a shark is extremely low.
Ryan Ermey: Yeah.
Sandy Block: But if there is a shark attack between now and then, you know it's going to be on the news.
Ryan Ermey: Or the classic thing is, my buddy has lived in Tunisia for years now and if something happens in any of the entire country of Tunisia his mom is calling him to make sure he's okay. He's like, "I'm on the other side of the country. It's fine." So don't overreact to news. Don't overreact to travel advisories. Take the vacations you want, just take precautions as well.
Ryan Ermey: When we return, Scott Rieckens joins us to talk financial independence, how retirement can look different than you think and his new documentary. Don't go anywhere.
Ryan Ermey: We are back. We're here with Scott Rieckens who is the author of the book Playing With FIRE, and also the subject along with his family of the upcoming documentary of the same name, which will be released digitally sometime in November. Scott, thank you so much for coming on.
Scott Rieckens: Absolutely, my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Ryan Ermey: I got a chance to to meet you and your wife, Taylor at an event here in D.C., and I got a chance to see the documentary, which was incredibly heartwarming I think for a documentary revolving around money.
Ryan Ermey: As the title implies, it revolves around the FIRE Movement, which we've talked a little bit about on the show before. We had Brad Barrett from ChooseFI on, but for people who didn't get a chance to listen to that episode or to read a piece that we published about it in the magazine, what are the basic tenants of the FIRE Movement? I mean, what does it stand for, first of all?
Scott Rieckens: Yeah, so FIRE stands for Financial Independence, Retire Early. It's a little bit of a mouthful, so we turned it into an acronym, I guess. The FIRE Movement is really, I think it's a collective mindset. There is a lot of like minded people out there who believe in this mantra. The tenants or the basics for this mantra is that if you can normalize your annual spending, then if you save up 25 times that annual expense, then you can safely or fairly safely reach financial independence.
Scott Rieckens: The inverse of that is the 4% rule. You can actually sip off of 4% of your investments in perpetuity pretty safely. There is some discussion if it's 3 1/2% or something like that, but that's the general framework. And so when I heard this I thought, oh my goodness, that's pretty simple to understand. The cool thing about it is, is the lower you get your annual expenses, the faster you can get to that 25 X.
Sandy Block: One of the interesting points someone made in your documentary is that the R in FIRE doesn't necessarily have to match up with the dictionary definition of retirement. What do they mean by that?
Scott Rieckens: The idea there that was presented in the film as well was, people have a traditional framework or idea of the definition of retirement. I'd say a pretty average estimation of a traditional retirement looks like, okay, you're not working anymore. You get to go pursue your hobbies, play some golf, maybe go on a bunch of vacations, sip some pina coladas on the beach and after working 40, or 50, 60 years that might be what you want or need to do, and that's great.
Scott Rieckens: But there is a bit of a stigma on this R in FIRE, the retire or actually it's the RE, the Retire Early. This idea that you've got 30 year olds who have figured out how to crack this code and retire early, people worry that if too many people do that in their 30s there is far too many people on the golf course sipping pina coladas and not enough productivity happening, not enough going on.
Scott Rieckens: My peer Chris Hutchinson, he retired early as well. What he was saying in the film was, it was essentially that his definition of retirement is completely different. He's the least retired person that he knows because while he reached financial independence and considers himself retired from mandatory labor, he's working his butt off and he's doing so with things that matter to him. He's working on things that are purposeful.
Scott Rieckens: I think, that's an easy one to answer and a totally reasonable thing to initially question. With everyone that I've met in this FIRE world, this community is incredibly creative, incredibly inspired. They're driven by purpose and I think that's really what draws us to this movement as well.
Ryan Ermey: The narrative arc of the documentary centers around the fact that adopting this lifestyle is rewarding for a lot of people when you see them at the end, but the journey it can be a tough road for someone, and for you, and your wife and your daughter, you definitely went through some tribulations. What would you say is the most difficult part of that journey?
Scott Rieckens: We decided to take it as far as we could. What I mean by that is, we pushed our savings rate as far as we felt comfortable. We went as far as moving in with my parents. I hadn't lived in this house since I was in high school. We had a two year old child. And while we were very fortunate to have that luxury to be able to come save some rent and hang out with my folks, and we see that as a benefit, that was also a bit difficult. And then on top of that, we are slashing our expenses left and right, food, entertainment, vehicles, everything we possibly could.
Scott Rieckens: I'm glad we did it because we pushed it as far as we felt comfortable, so that we could come back and equalize at a great spot instead of slowly chipping away, and I felt like that might be a bit more of a slog. And so this was more of a chance to just go a little more extreme and see. You liken it to a runner. If you don't push yourself, if you don't continue to keep running until you literally can't move anymore, then you really don't know how far you can go, or how fast you can go, and so we wanted to try that out.
Scott Rieckens: I would just say that the most difficult thing about all of this was really coming to grips with our relationship with money. Honestly, it was those feelings of guilt that we would have when we wanted to buy something and we knew we shouldn't based on these new tenants that we had picked up. I think that's honestly the hardest part and it still is. It still is. I have shiny object syndrome just like everyone else. I see something new and amazing and I want that. Taylor still feels strongly about vehicles for some reason. She can't even explain it.
Ryan Ermey: They're pretty.
Sandy Block: ...a car, yeah.
Scott Rieckens: They're pretty.
Sandy Block: Well Scott, we have a column in the upcoming issue about FIRE-light, or people who are sort of FIRE-ish. I wonder if you have some tips for people who maybe don't want to move in with their parents, or save 70%, but want to adopt some of the principles of the FIRE Movement to gain more independence and maybe give themselves more freedom? Any advice for people who are just putting their toe in this water?
Ryan Ermey: FI-curious, I believe I called it once.
Scott Rieckens: That's awesome. I haven't heard that one. For people who might be FI curious I would say the it's really helpful... It was really helpful for Taylor and I to look at the big three and that's housing, transportation and food. We were living in a high cost of living area. We had two brand new leased cars. We were going out to eat two, three times a week maybe because we were busy and we were tired and that seemed like something we wanted at that moment. And then we would also maybe drive to the store that was maybe a little more expensive for groceries because it was little easier to get to. We didn't need to deal with traffic as much by driving to the one that's further away that was cheaper, all those things.
Scott Rieckens: We were just constantly convincing ourselves that convenience was worth it. And when we looked at those big three, there is so much room, there was so much room for us to slash and burn that it was kind of fun because those immediate hits of additional savings in our bank account they really helped us move along. They really helped us stay inspired and push through some of the harder times. So those big three are where you'll find the most savings, I think. That's well documented.
Scott Rieckens: But I think the thing about FIRE that really inspires us, it's less about the little tricks and tips and hacks and tactics because you can find those online, you can find them all over the place, they're constantly be written about, but honestly, if I needed to point someone anywhere it'd be FIRE is more about the mental framework of how and why you would want to drastically cut on things that you, at this moment, think you might need.
Scott Rieckens: I think for us it was a mixture of that and then a crash course in financial acumen, a financial literacy that we didn't have before. We didn't have a financial mentor. We didn't have someone who was like, oh, here is how you can really take care of your finances, and be really smart about your investments and end up or being finished with mandatory work a lot earlier than you thought possible.
Scott Rieckens: When we got that, and then we realized there was this community online of people discussing this and supporting each other at our fingertips, that was a big revelation. That's what caused us to pick up everything and move and drastically cut our expenses and make a documentary about it because we saw the power of this and wanted to share it with as many people as we could.
Ryan Ermey: Yeah. I mean, you say a community online, but I went and met them, a lot of them firsthand. It's certainly a really vibrant community. Like I said, I found the documentary very inspiring, absolutely fascinating stuff. Where can the listeners find all of this stuff that you're involved in and all of the information that they could ever want about FIRE?
Scott Rieckens: Yeah, Ryan, thank you for joining us in at FinCon. That was a lot of fun to meet you. Yeah, and as far as the whole FIRE world, there are all kinds of amazing podcasters and bloggers and authors, and they're easier and easier to find because this FIRE thing is growing and it makes me happy.
Scott Rieckens: As far as the stuff we've been working on, we just made a film and we wrote a book during the same time. They're both called Playing with FIRE. You can find the book on Amazon. It's for sale right now. The film is enjoying a little screening tour all across the country. I don't know why I said little. It's actually screened in over 100 cities across the country in a little less than two months and we've spent $0 million on marketing. We sold right around 10,000 tickets, so it's pretty, pretty exciting.
Scott Rieckens: We are about to launch it digitally wherever you can buy or rent movies, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, things like that, and that will be coming an early November. I don't have a date just yet, but it'll be early November. So if people want to go to playingwithfire.co, they can sign up to our email list and we'll be keeping everyone updated there.
Ryan Ermey: Alright, it sounds great, Scott. We'll be looking forward to it. And once again, thank you so much for coming on.
Sandy Block: Thanks, Scott.
Scott Rieckens: Thank you both. Thanks for having me.
Ryan Ermey: After the break, find out when in September you can score a free yoga, coffee and museum admission. Deal or No Deal is next.
Ryan Ermey: We're back, and before we go, another round of Deal or No Deal. Sandy, I know that yours involves timeshares, which already puts us in murky territory.
Sandy Block: That's right. This is definitely not a deal. It's a timeshare exit firm. And these are companies that basically prey on people, often retirees, but can be others as well who bought a timeshare, maybe they went on vacation and got lured into the free...
Ryan Ermey: Free buffet or whatever, yes.
Sandy Block: Yeah, or it's more than a buffet, they'll put you up.
Ryan Ermey: Oh, that's right.
Sandy Block: And got a timeshare and they're not using it anymore. But the problem with timeshares is even if you don't want to go there anymore you still have to pay maintenance. You also have to pay insurance. A lot of people have found that timeshares are very hard to get rid of. This is a supply and demand situation because the supply is great and it can get greater all the time. There is no limit to the number of timeshares a resort can create.
Ryan Ermey: Right.
Sandy Block: And demand is not as great. In an upcoming issue, we'll also be talking about this. These firms will approach people and say, for $25,000 up front, we'll get rid of your timeshare.
Ryan Ermey: Jeez.
Sandy Block: Yeah, but people think they'll get that money back, right.
Ryan Ermey: Oh.
Sandy Block: Yeah, they think that they'll put it up front, but... then they're going to get back their investment, or more than their investment. Oftentimes, these firms will claim they're with the resort, like they'll say we're with Wyndham, or something like that.
Ryan Ermey: Right.
Sandy Block: People pay the money, and then the firms just disappear.
Ryan Ermey: Is it like a boiler room kind of thing?
Sandy Block: Yeah, it is because apparently a lot of them around Branson, Missouri, which is a big destination vacation place.
Ryan Ermey: I know about Branson.
Sandy Block: Yeah, not dangerous at all. But yeah, they just disappear with the money is the bottom line. The Better Business Bureau has gotten lots of complaints, the resort companies themselves have said.
Sandy Block: What I think is interesting is often these firms will use the same tactics that were used to sell the timeshares in the first place. They'll invite you to a free meal and maybe even give you a free iPad or something like that.
Ryan Ermey: Oh, nice.
Sandy Block: But the bottom line here is this, there are strategies to get rid of a timeshare and as I said, we're going to cover some of those in an upcoming issue, but you should never pay up front and the best you're going to do is pennies on the dollar.
Ryan Ermey: Right.
Sandy Block: You should not expect to get your money back. If you can offload a timeshare so you don't have to pay the fees anymore, that's probably about as good as it's going to get. If you have a timeshare that you want to get rid of your first stop should be the resort itself. Call them [crosstalk 00:23:31] up. Oftentimes, they will offer deals. Again, you're not going to get reimbursed. You're not going to get all of your money back, but they're legitimate. They're not going to ask you to pay $25,000.
Sandy Block: There are some other tools that we'll recommend in an upcoming issue that are legitimate ways to get rid of a timeshare. But if somebody contacts you and says you, asked you to pay a lot of money to get rid of your timeshare, you need to walk away from that deal.
Ryan Ermey: Well, and it stands to reason because if there is so much supply, then why would anyone buy your timeshare when they can go to Wyndham and get it for full price?
Sandy Block: Right... There is also a really healthy secondary market in these things.
Ryan Ermey: Right.
Sandy Block: Exactly, if people are trying to get rid of them. So this is also a heads up about buying one in the first place.
Ryan Ermey: Wow!
Sandy Block: Don't expect to get your money back. I mean, I know people who have timeshares and really enjoyed them.
Ryan Ermey: Well, and they use them.
Sandy Block: And they use them.
Ryan Ermey: Yeah.
Sandy Block: But the problem is those fees will keep on going no matter what you do.
Ryan Ermey: Yeah.
Sandy Block: So be prepared for that, and don't give anybody money up front to get rid of a timeshare you don't want.
Ryan Ermey: When I used to write the calendar, and I talk about this a lot on the show or at least in these deal segments, September was, always felt like, and I think a lot of people feel like this in general, it always felt like we we're returning to real life. Over the summer there is nothing but fluffy, nothing deals, oh, National Cotton Candy Day, or whatever it is. You had to come up with stuff like, oh, you want to go see a concert this summer? September, it's back to business.
Sandy Block: Serious deals.
Ryan Ermey: There is some real fun good stuff. One of them is the Smithsonian's Museum Day.
Sandy Block: Oh, yeah.
Ryan Ermey: It's something I included in the calendar anytime I could. It used to be called Museum Day Live, but I guess they've re... It's just Museum Day and is on delay or something now. I don't know. It's a one day event in which participating museums and culture institutions across the country provide free entry to anyone presenting a ticket. You can download a ticket or you can download two tickets per person online, one email address per entry, so you get two tickets per email address. So I guess if you and your spouse wanted to each do an email address, you can get four tickets and take a friend.
Sandy Block: What day is Museum Day, Ryan?
Ryan Ermey: It is September 21st.
Sandy Block: Okay, start planning now.
Ryan Ermey: You can go online and we'll put the link in the show notes and find all of the participating museums near you. Of course in D.C., all the Smithsonian Museums are free as it is.
Sandy Block: But that's not true. The reason I love this is that that's not true everywhere else in the country.
Ryan Ermey: Exactly.
Sandy Block: Oftentimes museums can be pretty expensive.
Ryan Ermey: Super expensive.
Sandy Block: So this gives you an opportunity to check out the museum in your hometown for free.
Ryan Ermey: Another one that I love in September is National Yoga Month.
Sandy Block: Oh, yeah.
Ryan Ermey: Because a lot of these national days and national months and national weeks are like made up by some website and they don't actually...
Sandy Block: Give you anything.
Ryan Ermey: You don't actually get anything...
Sandy Block: Yeah.
Ryan Ermey: ... for National Fry an Egg on the Sidewalk Day. That's a real one.
Sandy Block: My parents used to do that.
Ryan Ermey: National Have a Picnic Day, you don't get anything for those, but for National Yoga Month you do. If you go to yogahealthfoundation.org, you can download a Yoga Month card and use it to get one free week of yoga at one of 1,600 participating studios nationwide.
Sandy Block: Which is great because a lot of times with yoga it's hard to figure out which class is right for you because there is so many levels and all that, so this gives you a chance to shop around and find a class that you would want to pay for.
Ryan Ermey: I love yoga. Now, I don't know about you. I've only done it a handful of times. Although like you say, you have to find the right one.
Sandy Block: You've got to find the right class.
Ryan Ermey: I did a couple of the gentle restorative ones. It's like you take a nap for 10 minutes at the end and there is a blanket as part of the accoutrement. That I'm not into. But I did some hot yoga.
Sandy Block: Hot yoga, baby.
Ryan Ermey: Oh, and that's an actual experience.
Sandy Block: It's a workout, you sweat.
Ryan Ermey: Yeah, that's it. Oh, I mean I sweat anyway and my goodness, my goodness it was a scene.
Ryan Ermey: The last one I want to talk about, now that the listeners are feeling appetized, is National Coffee Day.
Sandy Block: Oh, man. And you know those FIRE people are lining up for that.
Ryan Ermey: That's exactly right. Man, yeah, so I went to that FIRE event and these people... I should say I was tackling the buffet because I was trying to make dinner out of it. And when I remarked to somebody, forgetting that it was the FIRE crowd, that I was trying to make dinner out of a big plate full of bacon wrapped dates and spanakopita and stuff, they're like, "Yeah man, frugality, you got to."
Sandy Block: You're in. You're a FIRE man.
Ryan Ermey: I was like, oh my God, my people.
Sandy Block: You didn't know. You've been FIRE all along.
Ryan Ermey: Here I thought I was a buffet enthusiast. A lot of these free food days aren't really free. You have to buy one and you have to get one half off. This hasn't been reported yet. Back when I wrote the calendar, I would have had to have called all of these places up in July to ask them about what they were doing September 29th, which is National Coffee Day. It has been for the past several years. And instead of calling everyone up, I'm just going to tell you folks to go online and check it out when it comes around. Last year, the places offering legitimately free, no strings attached coffee were Cinnabon, Krispy Kreme, a regional favorite Wawa.
Sandy Block: Oh, yeah. Wawa has good coffee.
Ryan Ermey: And a couple that I'm not familiar with, Pilot Flying J...
Sandy Block: Oh, that's if you're on the road, man. That's where the truckers go.
Ryan Ermey: ...and Stewart's.
Sandy Block: I don't know Stewart's, but I know Pilot Flying J.
Ryan Ermey: It's a gas station, right, Pilot?
Sandy Block: Yeah, but it's on the turnpike.
Ryan Ermey: Oh okay.
Sandy Block: Yeah.
Ryan Ermey: And then Cumberland Farms, you had to text a number and get a coupon and they'd give you free coffee.
Sandy Block: That's a big New England chain.
Ryan Ermey: Yes. And then Tim Hortons...
Sandy Block: Oh man, I am so happy... Timmy's.
Ryan Ermey: ... for the Upstate people and for the Canadians. It appears as though the deal was good for U.S. and Canadian coffee drinkers on the same... And they give you a couple day window. I was wondering if maybe our National Coffee Day was different from theirs, like Canadian Thanksgiving. Like they were offset by a couple of weeks.
Sandy Block: I don't know, but I will be checking with my people in Detroit to find out because Tim's is everywhere in Detroit.
Ryan Ermey: People are into them.
Sandy Block: Oh yeah, yeah.
Ryan Ermey: They go get a double double, the whole thing.
Sandy Block: Yeah, you got it.
Ryan Ermey: That's going to be your free stuff. Sadly, Krispy Kreme, I know, I went back through my old calendars, Krispy Kreme stopped giving free donuts if you talked like a pirate on Talk Like a Pirate Day, which is September 19th. But frankly, I don't think I should stop you from going in there and doing it.
Sandy Block: Maybe they'll break down.
Ryan Ermey: Yeah. Anyway folks, keep an eye out for deals and obvious no deals as Sandy points out. But yeah, go get your free stuff and talk like a pirate.
Ryan Ermey: That's it for this episode of Your Money's Worth. For show notes and more great Kiplinger content on the topics we discussed on today's show visit kiplinger.com/links/podcasts. You can stay connected with us on Twitter, Facebook or by e-mailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you liked the show, please remember to rate, review and subscribe to Your Money's Worth wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening.
Links and resources mentioned in this episode
Block joined Kiplinger in June 2012 from USA Today, where she was a reporter and personal finance columnist for more than 15 years. Prior to that, she worked for the Akron Beacon-Journal and Dow Jones Newswires. In 1993, she was a Knight-Bagehot fellow in economics and business journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has a BA in communications from Bethany College in Bethany, W.Va.