20 Things I Wish I Knew In My 20’s.

Your twenties are to be enjoyed, to make mistakes and to start figuring out your future.

Your twenties are to be enjoyed, to make mistakes and to start figuring out your future. Here is just my personal list of things I wish I knew sooner or I wish I would have practiced a bit more in my 20’s.

  1. If you can only get one personal finance book, get The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. I prefer the audio version.
  2. If you live with your parents still (I know many who still do–thanks Salliemae), try to pay off as much debt as you can and or save as much as possible.
  3. Ride out that hooptie car until you can’t any more and if you can, avoid a car payment all together. “Act your wage.”
  4. You don’t have to attend every event you are invited to just because a friend or a close acquaintance asks. “No” is a full sentence.
  5. Sis, you don’t need a new dress for every time you go out, who do we think we are? Focus on less material purchases and more experiences.
  6. Only get a master’s degree if it’s going to move you to next the step in your career. Forget the letters, if there is no concrete benefit, skip it.
  7. Read as much as you can. Never stop learning.
  8. Try more hobbies, learn a new skill.
  9. Stop being so hard on yourself.
  10. Say yes to the things you are afraid of.
  11. Apply for that job you think you are not qualified.
  12. You do not need to keep relationships just because of the length you know people.
  13. Remove yourself from toxic people, family included. Anything that costs your peace is too expensive.
  14. Stop comparing yourself with your friends’ accomplishments, God knows your timing. A grateful mentality will take you far.
  15. Keep your personal business to yourself and your therapist, specially when speaking negatively about significant others during a fight. You might forgive but your friends and family won’t.
  16. Don’t just vacation but travel as well, learn something new about a different culture and share your own with them.
  17. Stop doing things you think you like for the gram. If you are more focused on capturing the moment, you are not enjoying the actual moment.
  18. Give back, even if it’s just with your time.
  19. Be conscious of your privilege whether in education, career, upbringing, big or small, and check yourself whenever you have to.
  20. When you learn something new and useful, share your knowledge, resources, and even your network with others. You are not the gatekeeper of useful information and connections.

Why you should refrain from asking “When are you getting married? When are you having kids?”

Holidays are fast approaching and with that comes gatherings and the intrusive questions. Here comes a written rant to hopefully make some of us think before we ask or make unwelcome comments. 

Holidays are fast approaching and with that comes gatherings and the typical intrusive questions. Here comes my written rant to hopefully make some of us think before we ask or make unwelcome comments.

Asking someone who has been in a long relationship when they are going to get married is almost on the same level as asking someone when they are going to have kids. First, it’s really none of your business, maybe the first question should be “do you want to get married?” and from their response you can continue to ask questions and not mind your business.

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I get it, especially in the Latino culture, it’s shocking to be in your late 20’s, early 30’s, or in a long term relationship and not be engaged, married or not have kids. Now, I have nothing against people engaged, married or with kids. I actually think it is amazing but everyone moves at their own pace. If a couple wants to get married 3 months after meeting on Tinder, hey–that’s them. If they want to get married 12 years after being together or never get married then that’s also their damn problem. It doesn’t affect your life whatsoever, it’s just that some of us are ingrained with the concept that our life cycle involves a relationship, a few years committed, ring, marriage, kids.

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Now, I am not saying I don’t want my boyfriend to be my husband, I really like how that sounds but it’s not my main priority in my relationship. I have been in a lonnng relationship and I think the fact that we have been able to work on the multiple ups and downs shows how much our love for each other is worth fighting for and no marriage license or ceremony is going to be more powerful than that. And no, I am not trying to diminish the value of this sacred communion (I’m not religious at all FYI). I think it’s great that many hold such level of value, passion and respect towards it but don’t assume everyone has to think like you, value things like you, or prioritize like you, that is where my issue lies.

I personally think the same applies to asking someone when they plan on having kids as if you are assuming they want any or they are not already trying. I know people who really are trying to get pregnant and they simply can’t at the moment and this intrusive question hits a nerve and may be hurtful.

For the ones who are not sure if they want any kids or maybe do not want any period, asking this question over and over becomes frustrating especially when you actually respond and say “at [insert age in 30’s] and they respond “oh no, you will be too old then and will not enjoy them.” So you wanted an answer, I gave you one, and now it’s not the right one–give me a break! Then, your question should have been “you are only getting older, shouldn’t you start having kids now?” to what I respond, in my head, “no the fuck I’m not” or “if it means my kids will turn out like yours, I’ll just sell my ovaries instead.”

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I think some people are getting better with this, but others insist with this question as if the creation of kids would somehow complete me, validate my existence, or make me happier.

But one of the reasons I am honestly writing this is the feeling I get when I am asked these questions. First, I don’t really care about how nosy you are, but there are times I get this feeling that I am being judged because I am not fulfilling an imaginary timing protocol. It’s like your question implies an attempt to define how my life should evolve. Or that for some reason, I am not good enough yet because I don’t have a ring on my finger, have a marriage certificate or kids. I know I have to work more on not caring what others think and work on not creating imaginary judgments passed upon me. But the people who also ask those questions should reflect a little more before asking them.

Are you asking because you genuinely care about my thoughts on my future family or are you asking to be nosy or to make a statement on how I should be planning my future and insinuating I should put more urgency in it. But urgency to what?

It’s 2018, it’s not like I am waiting to get married to lose my virginity or I have a life expectancy of 45 years–it always kills me when others say I’m too old to have kids and won’t enjoy them, what are they a piece of ice-cream? Are they going to melt as time passes?

Maybe the day will come and those who matter to the couple will know when it happens, I mean after asking such question did you expect the answer to be–well we think in 3 months but we haven’t announced it yet but thanks for asking, uh no honey, lol it’s not likely you are going to get that.

All and all, I think there are better questions to ask a person who is in a long relationship in their late 20s or 30s without assuming marriage or kids are the ultimate validation to it. Ask me how am I doing, if I’m happy, what makes me happy or ask me about my interests, my future plans and upcoming goals, that’s it. I think I make sense, right? Anyway, thanks for reading my rant, until the next post, chau!

Disclaimer: I know these questions are not always asked with bad intentions. Everyone is not intrusive and many do not speak from their preconceived stereotypes and judgments.

EMPOWERING OTHERS DOESN’T MEAN FORCING YOUR BELIEFS OF THE PERFECT LIFESTYLE UPON OTHERS OR EVEN ENCOURAGING THEM TO MIMIC THE PATH OF “THE BEST YOU.” THERE IS NO ONE WAY OF DOING THINGS.

10 Ways to Save: Holidays are Approaching!

With only 10 weeks before Christmas and other holidays, I decided to prepare earlier this year rather than to just wait until the week of. Every year I realize I get overwhelmed with shopping and more often than I want to, I have to dig into my main savings account. This year I made a simple plan…

With only 10 weeks before Christmas and other holidays, I decided to prepare early this year rather than wait until the week of to purchase gifts. Every year I realize I get overwhelmed with shopping and more often than I want to, I have to dig into my main savings account.

This year I made a simple plan, I budgeted about 4 months in advance, you can still try to do this in 10 weeks. Here is how:

  1. Set a Definite Goal|Make a Plan|Set a Time-Frame: Let’s say you want to save $500 for Christmas gifts. Set the goal and stick to it but make a plan with a time-frame. For example since there are 10 weeks left until Christmas, that means saving $50 weekly. Work around your pay period and if you get paid every two weeks, double the amount to $100. Make sure as soon as you get the direct deposit, you are withdrawing the cash and putting it in an envelope dedicated for this only. You can use this same technique for larger savings. Let’s say I want to save $5,000 in one year. I get 26 paychecks, therefore I need $192.40 saved from each paycheck. $5,000 / 26=$192.40.
  2. Insurance: See if you can have your primary health insurance be your primary medical portion for car insurance to save on premiums. In NJ, a big portion of your car insurance is the medical part. I was told to contact my health insurance first to see if they cover car accidents and they did. I called back my car insurance and asked them to have my health insurance be my primary in case of a car accident. Disclaimer: I am no expert in this area, and thanks to God I have not been involved in any car accidents and hope I never do. I cannot tell you more details about the exact process if a claim went through, all I know is my health insurance is pretty amazing. Before making any decisions consult with an expert.
  3. Ask for Discounts: Call your homeowners insurance or car insurance for discounts in bundling or if there are other offers. I recently increased my homeowners insurance to their suggested coverage amount and by doing so they gave a discount which resulted in my premium going down while my coverage went up. Thank you NJM Insurance.
  4. Check if your Health Insurance Offers Rewards Programs:  I get $250 for just going to my doctors, getting an annual physical and getting a flu shot along with other online short activities. NJ Well is the program I am enrolled in.
  5. Cable: Call to see if there are current promotions running that can help lower your bill. Also, see if buying a modem can save you money in the long run since you pay a rental fee for using their modem (Comcast). You could also get rid of the extra cable box from a guest room you really don’t use.
  6. Meal Preparation instead of Eating Out:  This is my weakness but I have cut down a lot. Make sure to have a grocery list and a menu list for the week. Being prepared will really help you avoid eating out or buying takeout.  Here is a freebie for you. Meal Planner Menu & Grocery List.
  7. Side Jobs: I came across this article for 50 Ways to Make Money in 2018. Hope there’s something creative you may like in there.
  8. Subscriptions: Analyze your expenses, especially subscriptions and see what you need and what you don’t and cancel those immediately.
  9. Take Advantage of Free Trial Periods: to get free shipping or free audio books, from Amazon Prime, Pandora, Apple Music, etc. Just make sure you set multiple reminders to cancel them prior to the free trial period. If you are forgetful, just throw away this tip all together.
  10. Skip Extended Warranties: Now, I always say no whenever I’m asked to purchase extended warranties and I only rely on the free manufacturer’s warranty that may last 1 or 2 years. I’ve noticed that if something is going to go wrong with a product, it may be during the first year anyway. I have contacted companies for replacements for a portable heater and Nikon’s wireless adapter and they have sent me a new one by submitting a claim–again without any extended warranty. However, I have to tell you a story, the only time we bought an extended warranty was for a huge TV (the warranty was paid by someone else as a gift) and it just so happens that this year the TV was damaged by a thunderstorm and thanks to the extended warranty we were able to get a new one. I don’t know if this warranty jinxed it or saved it but this is just my opinion, you buy whatever gives you peace of mind I guess.

Hope this helps. As always, please share your tips with us and don’t forget to follow and subscribe!

“THE BEST TIME TO SAVE MONEY IS WHEN YOU HAVE SOME.”

10 Tips to Improve your Credit.

The best way to predict your future is to create it. Here are 10 tips to improve your credit score.

Majority of us will need good credit for a multitude of reasons, to get competitive rates on a car loan, private student loans, to get a rental property and to eventually buy a home. By any means, if you have enough cash on hand why get in debt; just pay up front in cash. To the rest of us, we need to be savvy enough to make good decisions to keep and to better our credit.

Facts: Just so you know, there are many items that will remain in your credit report for 7 years according to Experian, items such as late payments, bankruptcy (chapter 13) and civil judgments.
Bankruptcy (Chapter 7) will stay in your history for 10 years. Tax liens, depending if paid or not, will stay either 7 or 10 years from date of filing.

Even if we have made bad decisions in the past we can still move forward and work on the present and future. We first have to have an idea what determines our credit score.

There are 5 factors determining our credit score and they are:

  1. Payment History (35%)
  2. Total Debt compared to Limits or Amount Owed (30%)
  3. Length of Credit History (15%)
  4. New Credit Open (10%)
  5. Types of Credit Lines Used (10%)
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I have almost a perfect score and I don’t say this to brag but simply to tell you it’s possible with discipline and you can have it as well. I have followed many tips and I have helped others with the same advice. Here are 10 tips for you to start improving your Credit Score:

  1. Don’t Close Credit Card Accounts: These accounts will show the length of your credit history. Even if you are not using them and don’t want to be tempted, just put them away in a safe place.
  2. Don’t Max Out Your Cards and Do Not Go Above 30% Of Your Limit: For example if you have a $1,000 limit, do not charge or carry a balance over $300 dollars. Your utilization is a big factor in your score. If you have 2 cards, 1 with a $1000 limit and the other with a $2000 limit, now your overall limit is $3000. 30% of $3000 is $900(.3*3000=$900), so you should not have over $900 charged in those two cards combined.
  3. Pay On Time, Pay On Time, Pay On Time: This is the most important factor here. If you were late before, get caught up. If you can get a separate checking account for bills only and set automatic payments, do that so you won’t forget again and you won’t ever make a late payment. To date, the only bills that are not in auto-pay are my gas, electric and mortgage. Either because they fluctuate based on the season and because my mortgage is the largest payment and we get a 15 day grace period to pay depending on our pay date.
  4. Pay Off Delinquent Accounts: Remember that utility bill you stopped paying for at an old apartment? That urgent care bill or copay you forgot and went to collection?–yes–all of them, pay them off. Even if they stay on your report, showing it has been paid off is a plus for you and the clock will start, so it can be erased down the line. This will not help you increase your credit fast, the fastest way may be submitting a claim to all credit bureaus so they can ask the collection company for validation of debt.
  5. Reduce Your Overall Debt: First, know your debt to income ratio. The lower it is the better because it shows a good balance between your debt and your income. Whenever you are applying for any loan or even to rent, your debt to income ratio will be a factor. Add up all your monthly debts (mortgage, car loan, student loans, credit cards). Then add your monthly gross (before taxes) income. For example, let’s say your mortgage is $1,000, car loan is $300, student loans are $300 and credit cards are $200 with a total of $1,800. For this example, let’s say your total monthly gross income is $5,000, therefore you would divide your total monthly debt payments by your total monthly gross income.
    Total Monthly Debt Payments/ Total Monthly Gross Income= Debt to Income Ratio.
    $1800 /$5000=36% debt to income ratio.
  6. Check Credit History Report and Remove Errors If Any: Do an overall review of your report and make sure there aren’t any open accounts that you have not opened, if an account has been paid and the report does not reflect it, make sure to dispute them with each credit bureau. I found this article that discusses this tip in more detail, How to Dispute Credit Report Errors in 3 Steps. Don’t forget to access your free report Here.
  7. Get a Lower Interest Personal Loan: If you have a large balance on high interest credit cards but your credit is still good, you may qualify for a lower interest rate on an unsecured personal loan that you can use to pay off your cards. These loans will have a fixed term, meaning an established number of years for you to pay off the loan, so your payments will most likely be higher than the minimum payments you were paying on your cards. You will save money in the long run with this because the rate will be lower and you will pay it off sooner. When getting a loan ask for the rate (make sure it’s fixed), term, if there are any prepayment penalties and see if by enrolling in auto-pay you can get your interest rate lowered.

  8. 0% Interest Credit Cards: Again, if you have a large balance on high interest credit cards but your credit is still good, you may qualify for 0% interest credit cards. Keep in mind these 0% cards only have a short promotional period ranging from 6 months to 18 months give or take. Also, almost every time you transfer a balance to these cards, you usually pay a transfer fee which could be 3% or more of the total amount transferred. So let’s say you want to transfer $3,000 from a high interest credit card to a 0% card, if you transfer this amount now, your new balance, with a 3% transfer fee, will be  $3,090 ($3,000*1.03%). Now, let’s go a step farther, and let’s assume this card has a 12 month promotional period for 0% interest, this means after 12 months the card’s interest will sky rocket to God knows what-(well you will know, they have to tell you). I only recommend a transfer if you can pay off the full balance during the promotional period. In this case, you will have to pay $257.50 monthly ($3,090/12) assuming you will not charge one additional penny on this card just because you think “well it’s interest free.” Remember, this is a way to pay off debt faster not accumulate debt faster. Disclaimer: I only recommend the 0% interest and personal loans to people who have a plan and know they will stick with it. You have to be intentional with your financial goals and this is not a matter of just moving debt around. You have to be disciplined or you are just going to be in a non-ending debt cycle.

  9. Don’t Open Cards Just To Open Them: Remember 10% of your credit score is attributed to new credit lines opened. Going around opening every department store credit card just to save 10% on your new pair of shoes is not smart, in reality it’s costing you 10% of your credit score; do the math.
  10. Get A Secured Credit Card: I have no experience with this one but I have been told that you could go to some banks or online and get a secured credit card to start helping you build credit. With these cards, you have to put money down to be able to use it, kind of like a debit card but debit cards don’t help you with your credit. I think this is good for young adults trying to establish and build credit responsibly and for adults who may not qualify for major credit cards. I came across this post about some secured cards, but again I cannot personally recommend one so do your research and ask around or please drop a comment below if you have experience with a good one.

Additional Tip: Become An Authorized User: This tip didn’t make it to my list above due to its riskiness but it could help you if done right. If you have someone who is financially sound and you trust completely and they are willing to add you as an authorized user, do it. Pretty much the credit card company will issue a card with your name on it on your friend’s limit and already existing credit card. Now, the person responsible for this account is someone you trust, so I am not saying go ahead and go on a shopping spree on their name. I’m actually encouraging you to not even touch the card, but let this person just continue to use it so it helps you with building credit. This can backfire on you though if your friend stops making payments or is late on any payments. Think this tip thoroughly because it can also lower your credit.

“THE BEST WAY TO PREDICT THE FUTURE IS TO CREATE IT.”

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3 Tips For First Time Homebuyers.

Today, I will be giving you three tips you should highly consider prior to starting the home-buying process and a free worksheet I use to keep track of my credit score and credit report history.

Looking back to when I was house hunting for my first house, I remember the million questions I had, but I also remember the trustworthy people along the journey that helped me through this process.

Today, I will be giving you 3 tips you should highly consider prior to starting the home-buying process. Also, don’t forget to check out my Real Estate website. 

  1. Check your Credit History and Credit Score: Scores run from 300 to 850 and of course the highest your score the better your mortgage rates may be. You are entitled to 1 report annually for free and you can get it here. Also, if you have a credit card, many offer credit scores for free as a cardholder benefit, if not look into sites like Credit Karma. Some of the things you can start to enhance your credit is pay down debt, credit card debt, pay off delinquent accounts and remove paid debts or errors that appear in your credit history report. This can take a while so it’s always a good idea to start now. Here is a free worksheet I use when I review my score and report annually.
  2. Get a mortgage Pre-Approval: Would you ever go to the grocery store with a list without knowing how much cash you have in your wallet or how much you have in your bank account? No, right? So this concept applies here as well. Doing this step is essential to know exactly how much mortgage and property taxes you can afford. Be mindful that mortgage lenders are different but some of the typical requirements for a pre-approval include tax returns, pay stubs and bank statements. You can shop around for a lender or you can also ask a trusted Real Estate Agent for a lender recommendation.
  3. Save your Pennies|Down Payment|Closing Costs & Other Expenses: The sooner you start saving the better you will be. Needing 20% as a down payment is a myth, nowadays you can buy a home with as little as 3% or 5% down depending on your mortgage lender. However, keep in mind that if you can’t put 20% down, you have to pay a monthly payment towards Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI), this is protection for the lenders. But don’t let this stop you either. Although I am not a mortgage lender and do not know the factors they use for their underwriting and to figure out this payment, I’ve seen some PMIs at around $30 monthly, which is still better than paying hundreds towards a rent and you see nothing in return at the end of the lease.  Keep in mind you will also need funds towards closing costs which can be some thousands of dollars; make sure to ask your future lender all these questions.
    As a homeowner having an emergency fund is necessary to prepare for unanticipated repairs, maintenance and or renovations. You will no longer have a landlord to run to when a problem arises but it’s a beautiful feeling knowing something is yours.

“DON’T WAIT TO BUY REAL ESTATE, BUY REAL ESTATE AND WAIT.”

Hello Cuba!

Cuba is more than puros (cigars), salsa and classic cars, Cuba is about its warm and happy people who are hungry for more…

5 days in Cuba-2018

I was a little worried about being able to go to Cuba with the new regulations imposed by the new administration but I was glad to find it as easy as traveling anywhere else with our privileged blue passport.

During this trip, in July 2018, I chose to travel a bit slower and not overwhelm myself with multiple cities in a short period of time. All I can pretty much share is my experience in Havana and a day trip to Viñales.

From what I experienced, Cuba is more than puros (cigars), salsa and classic cars, Cuba is about its warm and happy people who are hungry for more and are persistent in their pursuit to provide a better lifestyle for themselves and their families.

Before Going to Cuba: Visas & Research

Visa: In order to travel to Cuba, American citizens must get a visa and select 1 of the 12 traveling categories, I selected Support of the Cuban People. You can buy your visa at the airport for around 50 dollars but since I am a control freak I wanted to buy them in advance. I purchased them here for $85. They also charge a nice $25 for shipping but it was waived for us since we booked our flights with American Airlines.

Research: You can find the 12 categories on this site including a link to restricted places by the US Government. I did not have a problem with many of the restrictions since I planned to stay at airbnbs, also known as casas particulares. I personally think that’s the best way to do it. While researching I found some great articles/blogs that explain more in detail the new restrictions imposed at the end of 2017: What to Know Before you Go to Cuba and What’s the Result of New Cuba Restrictions.

Also, I read a lot about Cuba from my favorite travel blogger How Not to Travel Like a Basic Bitch, she has an entire section about it, you can check it here.

I had absolutely no problem getting into Cuba or coming back into the US, no questions were asked. I’ve heard some people have an itinerary ready in case they are questioned while they are there. No one asked me anything. I always have an itinerary regardless. The only time I was asked the reason for me going there was by the monitor when I was checking in my flight at the airport.

Besides staying at casas particulares, I also ate at paladares (privately owned restaurants), did some tours in Havana and Viñales, visited museums, and got lost in the middle of the night in Central Havana. Some of my readings said to keep receipts in case you get audited by the US government. I have yet to hear anyone getting audited for going to Cuba. I was not worried about that, I got pictures and a vague itinerary and if that’s not enough well “lo bailado nadie me lo quita” (what I have enjoyed nobody can take it away).

In Cuba

Money: Take cash, cards don’t work there, at least American cards. Well that is what every blog and person I know told me so I did not even try to use a card while there but who knows maybe things are changing; I would not risk it. I changed my dollars at my local personal bank to euros because the exchange rate is better when you go there and you have to change it to CUCs (Cuban Convertible Pesos). CUCs are one of the two currencies they use. This is the money you will use there. The other currency is the CUP (Cuban Peso) which is about 1 CUC= 25 CUP approximately. Just so you have an idea if it’s worth it to change your dollars to euros, here it’s an example with the rates given to me:

  • $1000 / 1.2466=802 euros. 802 euros x 1.3874=913 CUC

If I would have taken just dollars, I would have received this:

  • $1000 *.87=870 CUC

If you are scratching your head, based on the above I had about 43 more CUCs just by taking euros instead of dollars. Is it worth it? that’s on you. Take into account that exchange rates fluctuate often. I also heard from a friend, who visits Cuba often, that you can get a better rate (.90 or a bit more instead of .87) at La Moneda Cubana. I changed my money at a CADECA, casa de cambio, (money exchange house) in Obispo Street. You can also change some at the airport but their rates are a bit lower.

Just to give you an idea, I spent about 600 dollars in 5 days including souvenirs, tours, airbnbs, food, museums, etc. That does not include my flight and some of the costs were split with my boyfriend.

Where to Stay: Casas particulares (Airbnb) are definitely the place to stay, you get to mingle with local Cubans and get an idea of how they really live. This was my first international Airbnb experience sharing someone’s house and I loved it. They give you tons of tips and Cuban’s hospitality was excellent. I spent 35 CUC on average per night. You will not get luxury but a clean room with air conditioner was all we needed.

What to See: Havana has many zones but the ones most people visit or talk about are Old Havana, Central Havana and Vedado.

There is a lot to do in Old Havana (Habana Vieja), we were lucky to stay right next to Plaza Vieja, a charming old square. Some restaurants and souvenir shops are here but I would suggest to go the Almacenes for that. Obispo Street is one of their main and busiest streets for tourists that leads you all the way to Parque Central where the Capitolio, Paseo del Prado, Jose Marti’s statue, Museo de las Bella Artes and the Hot Corner are located among many main hotels, and more.

Watching the sunset at the Malecon (seawall) is a must, take some change or small bills as you will have many people approach you trying to sell you fruit, gum or simply start serenading you with some salsa, don’t just dance with them, a tip goes a long way. Not everyone there is going to solicit from you either, some people just like to know where you are from and want to have a conversation. If you can head over to The Christ of Havana Statue on La Cabaña Hill for some nice panoramic views of the city, it’s worth it.

We did the Habana Bus Tour for 10 CUC per person; it’s a hop on, hop off bus. We also did a two-hour classic tour for 70 CUC. It was actually a little over 3 hours. I am not sure if that was a good price for those tours or not but we enjoyed it.

We got lost in Central Havana our first night there, it was full of old alleyways with houses crumbling down and with people just walking or hanging outside. We kept being told that it was very safe regardless of how dark it may get in the streets at night and they were right. We also walked down the Malecon and let me tell you, on a Saturday night, that is where all the locals go. They gather in small or large groups while playing music on their phones or speakers and just hang there in the dark. You may also find some kids just twerking there lol, don’t ask, or couples engaging in some exuberant PDA– hey it’s their place not mine. It was a site to see, I wish I would have taken a picture but the simplicity of enjoying just their own company was refreshing.

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Somewhere in Havana Central

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Somewhere in Havana Central

Our last night, we rented a private studio in the Vedado area which is their more residential neighborhood. Here we had some wonderful massages for 25 CUC for one hour and an amazing facial for 12 CUC. We checked out their “mall” a galeria de tiendas that consisted of a handful of clothing stores, a large electronic store and a food market. You can also catch a little train for 1 CUC that takes you via the Malecon area from Hotel Melia Cohiba all the way to the Almacenes San Jose (huge flea market).

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Classic Car Tour

We were able to go to their local beach, Santa Maria del Mar or Playas del Este, it was about 20 to 25 minutes away from Parque Central. We took a bus for 5 CUC round trip per person. The last one runs at 6pm. There were three stops for the beaches. We got off at the last stop recommended to us for a more private area. It was a Tuesday so it was not busy at all. At first, I was going to go to Varadero but I am glad we did not thanks to my fave blogger’s suggestion. I was just as pleased with this beach. Soft white sand with clean and pristine water was all I needed; I had a great time there.

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Playas del Este

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Playas del Este

We also went to Viñales on a day trip, from 7:30am to 7:pm. The cost was 67 CUC per person which included pick up from a major hotel, lunch, a free drink (if you want to call it that, some green liquid), a tobacco tour, a cave tour and a quick stop at a mirador for some panoramic views. You can purchase the tours at major hotels or you can rent a private taxi which may be about 120 CUC or more, if you split it with more people then you are better off.

If you have time, stay in Havana 2 to 3 nights and get out the city and explore places like Trinidad, Cienfuegos, Santiago, etc. I just scratched the surface but I will be back.

Food: Food was okay but it was not great and this opinion can be biased since I am used to the taste and seasoning of Caribbean American food and this may have messed up my taste palate. Keep in mind they don’t enjoy the luxury of having supermarkets with 1 million products and seasonings as we do in the States. Some of the typical dishes I enjoyed were rice and black beans (moros y cristianos), puerco asado (roasted pig) yuca, tostones and veggies. Also, their lime soda nacional is bomb.

For breakfast, we mainly ate at our hosts’ house for a small fee of 5 CUC per person which included eggs, fruit, coffee, smoothies and bread with some type of spreading.

Food was relatively cheap at restaurants depending on where you go. I loved Don Julio’s Cafeteria-Pizzaria in Plaza Vieja. We had ropa vieja (shredded or pulled stewed beef), a pizza pie and two mojitos for 14 CUC total plus live music. Besides the lady who screamed at me because I did not want to buy a rose at that moment, I think that was my favorite place to eat. Castropol had excellent views of the Malecon and decent seafood. The paella was better than the one I ate in Valencia Spain but I also only tried one paella while in Valencia so don’t pay my paella reviews too much attention.

WiFi: What they say is true, WiFi is not really at hand’s reach but you can have it if you really want it. You need to buy a WiFi card, I got mine from Etecsa their main WiFi and phone company for 1 CUC for 1 hour or 5 CUC for 5 hours. They also sell it at other places for a slight premium. You can get WiFi at different parks or near certain buildings by the Malecon. It’s very easy to spot them since you will see a lot of Cubans all on their cellphones. I was lucky one of my casa particulares hosts had a WiFi router, which later on I was told it was illegal by another Cuban; if that’s true, well you got to love the ingenuity. There and at Floridita Restaurant were the only places I used WiFi for a total of a few hours during my entire stay. Being able to unplug almost completely was beyond relaxing, I guess one does not realize how dependent we can be to our phones until the internet vanishes.

What I learned: I was told repeatedly the average monthly salary for a Cuban is between 20 to 25 CUC, while a doctor may make 40 CUC a month.

They want more. They don’t understand how they have some of the best doctors in the world and they still get paid 40 CUC a month. I mean damn, I don’t understand either.

Cubans are highly educated, all my casa particulares’ hosts were former attorneys. One of the drivers was also a former attorney and the other a recent graduate of economy. They all turned to the tourism industry, Cuba’s highest paid industry. While all the people we spoke with seemed to express their desire for more for their country as far as income and a better quality of life, I did not get the same sentiment from my hosts. I actually asked the wife of one of my host if her husband was out working another job when I did not see him at home and her response was “no, this is more than enough.” This same sentiment was shared with us by some friendly guys at the Hot Corner, it seems like there are people doing pretty well for themselves with private businesses but this is not reflective of the pueblo (all the people). Our friendly masseuse said the same; she told me she knew the deal and some will be better off than others and that is how they will prosper. It was amazing to engage in conversation with them and how willing they were to speak with you just by us asking them how was Cuba.

Cuba also gave us a reality check of the privilege we often take for granted. For a Cuban just to get a passport can cost him 100 CUC, that can mean a 4 month salary for some. That’s not counting the visas, a visa interview can cost you a little over 150 CUC just to be denied and told to come back and try next year.

One other thing I noticed was the long lines at the Spanish Embassy, a fairly new legislation now allows Cubans to apply for Spanish citizenship if they can prove their grandparents lost or gave up Spanish citizenship as a result of exile. Having a Spanish passport would allow some the ability to travel more freely.

During Obama’s administration, they said there was an invasion of Americans, they did not know what to do, their prices skyrocketed but with the new administration that stopped quickly. They don’t see American tourists too often now.

One of our drivers mentioned Facebook and how his view of Cuba has shifted. He was only 22 and said when he was a kid he thought Cuba was the best country ever. Now that he can see more via social media and how others around the world live and enjoy life, he said that regardless of how hard he may work, he knows there is more to life that he cannot attain. I tried telling him it’s not always greener on the other side but who was I to really say that. Yes, I lived in poverty in Peru until 13 but I was given the chance to have a better life with more opportunities that others may not enjoy.

Cuba was refreshing, it was warm (well hot af in July) but you know what I mean, it was eye opening. It is not your typical all inclusive island vacation. There was obvious poverty, crumbling buildings left and right, dirty alleyways and a smell you get used to while wandering some streets. There were complaints from many, even the ones who made more money by working in the tourism industry. Not everything about Havana was colorful, in every sense of the word, but it was welcoming and beautiful at the same time, and I think you should all go experience it for yourselves. Take your dollars and enjoy.

You don’t travel for others to abide by your standards, you abide by their standards when you are traveling.

Money Saving Tips while Shopping

As women, we like to look good and enjoy the feeling of getting glammed up and putting a new outfit on to impress our damn selves, not anyone else. Today, I’m sharing 13 tips I practice to shop a little smarter and I hope they can help you a bit!

Look Fabulous Without Breaking Bank.

I personally think people should not spend a large amount of their money to look good at all. Save your money for things you need and will eventually help you like getting out of debt, a down payment, an emergency fund, a trip or 10, etc.

Nonetheless, as women, we still like to look good and enjoy the feeling of getting glammed up and putting a new outfit on to impress our damn selves, not anyone else. Today, I’m sharing 13 tips I practice to shop a little smarter and I hope they can help you a bit!

  1. Clearance is for you. If you can’t give up clothes and shoes shopping, like me, buy items that will beat flash trends in the clearance section. No shame in my game. There are items that you will use over and over again and you will need as your staple pieces i.e. a nice blazer, a light jacket, interchangeable blouses, work dresses, etc. I’m not talking about items like bell bottoms, velvet dresses, fanny packs (ugh who let them come back). Those trends last too short and not worth the hype. Shop for quality staple pieces and you will have a greater and longer use for them.
  2. Shop at the end of season. Know your clearance seasons at your favorite stores. I love this local retail store called Boscovs in South Jersey and I have learned that if I want to buy winter boots or winter clothes I probably have to go late April or May to find up to 90% off markdowns. I got my favorite over the knee high heel boots for $10! I still shop name brands, I just don’t ever pay retail price for them.
  3. Go thrifting. I only do this a few times a year but I found a few great pieces. I still can’t get used to the smell lol and I get a bit overwhelmed. Plus, I often find great deals on sales events that even the thrift store can’t beat.
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  4. Only Buy if you Love it. Don’t buy any item unless you love it. Literally ask yourself “can I live without this?” If you really can’t decide, then just put it down and forget about it or put it on hold and if you really want it, you will go back and get it. This really helps impulse shopping.
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  5. Ask for a Discount. If there’s a minor defect that you know you can fix yourself, ask for a discount always. Just remember most likely it will be a final sale, make sure to love it.
  6. Budget ahead for Shopping. If you try to deprive yourself from shopping, and you are someone like me, it won’t work for too long. Giving yourself a strict budget is more realistic and it will force you to get into the habit of browsing more for what you really want or need. At one point, I gave myself a $10 dollar budget for a week (I know, “she is nuts!”) but I would end up browsing a lot and ended up with pieces I really loved, even if it was as small as a quality nail polish, the little things can make you happy too.
  7. Forget the labels. Name brands don’t always mean better quality. I often get asked what brand are my purses because they look expensive or just because they are different and stylish to which I proudly tell them they are no pricey bag or no name brand bag. I’ll let you spend hundreds while I walk around with a $40 dollar bag that will likely last me as long as yours. If your bags are worth more than your savings, you have a problem sis, sorry not sorry; knowing there is a problem is a step.
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  8. Clothes swap. Now, this is not a tip for shopping but to get creative while getting new clothes; well new clothes to you. Just ask your friends to come over and bring the clothes that they no longer wear and you bring yours. Free to you and free to them. I get excited when I have a new piece of clothing and I honestly don’t care if it has a tag or not–it’s just a new piece to my ever changing recyclable collection.
  9. Sell everything you no longer love or have a use for. That size two dress you wore 5 years ago and keep for inspiration, that velour sweatsuit that should be burned but you still keep for memories, and everything else that is just taking valuable space in your closet needs to go.  All the clothes you swear you will one day fit into or will come back into style, they won’t, sorry. But why not make a few bucks for them. I’ve used a few sites like OfferUp and Mercari but none compare to Poshmark. I’ve been selling my gently used wardrobe on Poshmark for almost a year now and I absolutely love it. It’s simple, they get a small fee of 2.99 or a percentage if below a price and the buyer pays for shipping. All you do is mail the item out after someone buys it and Poshmark emails you the shipping label. Recently, I’ve been trying to shop only when I sell something so I’m not spending additional money from my budget. Check out my Poshmark closet and use my code susu_hj to sign up and get a $5 credit!
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  10. Save your receipts. Have you ever bought something and never wore it? Yes, we all do it, buyer’s remorse happens too often. Save those receipts and don’t take the tags off the clothes until you wear them. I keep all my receipts and after a month or more I just try to return anything I have not worn unless it was bought for a special occasion or as Christmas gifts (I do my shopping early). Even if it’s past due the return date, get the store credit and buy something that you will actually use.
  11. Online Shopping. Read reviews extensively when shopping online and wait for coupons to not pay for shipping. If I have to pay for shipping, I usually don’t buy it. Most online stores usually run specials during July 4, Memorial Day, Black Friday, Cyber Monday and any other holiday you can think of.  Same as with shopping in a brick and mortar store, check out the clearance section and shop during the end of a season for garments to be used the following year. My two favorite online stores are Shein and Lulu’s. For Shein, you really have to check the reviews like a detective to make sure you get the right size. Also, you must be patient with Shein’s shipping, although they have gotten better recently and I love the no shipping regardless of price.
  12. Buy versatile clothing. Items you can wear out and in the office (assuming you have an office job). I can’t express enough the importance of this. We have all spent too much money on going out dresses and only worn them once, it’s just wasteful. I have legit wore a club dress as a top and put on a sweater or blazer on top to the office. Look for dresses that can be dressed up and down to be worn at dinners, functions, work, family events, etc.  Shop purposely.
  13. Have a Shopping Spree with others’ money. Is your birthday coming up? Make a list with links to the items and send them to whoever buys you gifts during your birthday or a special holiday. This is usually when I splurge with others’ money and since it’s a thought out process (kinda), we all win. I get exactly what I want like name brand make up, outfits, purses, etc. and they don’t have to worry about what I want or what I may or may not like. I hate getting cash as I end up spending it on items like gas or lunch, I mean we all need gas but who WANTS gas for their birthday. I can finance my own needs, buy me my weaknesses, thank you.Some of my favorite physical stores are Boscovs, Macy’s Burlington, Ross, H&M, TJMaxx and boutiques. Most of these stores also sell online but I just have to shop and browse in person; maybe it’s just their websites I dislike.

    Hope this was insightful in some way. I believe in balance and while I am a semi-strict budgeter, I have a love for clothes that I know I won’t give up, at least for now. It’s just a matter of finding ways to shop a little smarter. Please share some of your favorite online stores below and any shopping tips!