Magic Classroom Bringing Education to Rural Villages

Guest post by Victoria Sanchez of Miracles in Action.

In Guatemala 40% of children do not make it through 1st grade. They start school at age 7 often times not speaking Spanish (they speak an indigenous language of their mother) and do not have the preparation of kindergarten.  After failing the first year most children drop out or fail again.magic1b

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Photos Above: Blankets, hats, backpacks, and toys were distributed on a previous visit to our schools, who now have Magic Classrooms.

Retired American, Fred Zambroski saw this problem and took action by forming the non-profit charity Let’s Be Ready. They hire unemployed teachers and provide them with early education training for 4-6 year olds, and established 25 preschool programs in rural villages. Since 2010 Miracles in Action has sponsored 5 Let’s Be Ready preschool programs, with some of the teachers being graduates of our scholarship program.

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Classroom Facilitators in Training having fun using their radios and tablets.

In our remotest villages there are no teachers to hire for a Let’s Be Ready preschool. Seeing this problem, Fred developed the Magic Classroom program, where he hires 16-24 year olds and trains them to become preschool classroom facilitators. Pre-recorded music, lessons, and learning activities are played via a computer tablet, magically transforming the classroom into a fun filled place to learn and grow. In February 2015, Miracles in Action supported the first magic classroom programs in our schools located in the Cuchumatanes mountains of Huehuetenango at 9-10,000 feet elevation.

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Cuchumatanes mountain range – easy to see why there are few teachers available for an LBR preschool. Magic Classroom works well here.

Thank you Fred Zambroski, and Project Manager Michael Estill for developing this innovative solution to bringing education to the remotest, poverty-stricken villages in Guatemala.

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(Left) Fred Zambroski, Founder of Let’s Be Ready with Michael Estill (Right) Project Manager

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Panic!!

Q&A from a Reader

Hello Billy and Akaisha,

My husband and I are both 56 years old, and have been planning that we’d spend our retirement in a similar way to you.

We figured that by the time we were 60 we would be able to afford to do it quite comfortably, but yesterday my husband came home with the news that he’s about to be laid off, and we immediately began to wonder whether we could afford to retire now.

We have a daughter getting married in July, and have already committed financially to that, so we’re already a bit behind! I guess we’re just very nervous, and a bit panicked at the moment about the idea of “giving it all up.” We have homes in California (we still have a mortgage on), and Scotland (we’re from Scotland), which our oldest daughter rents from us, and of course we have some investments, but I think more than anything it’s the decision to jump!!

Reduce your cost of living. Pay less for medical care. Find better weather. Create a healthier way of life.

We haven’t looked in depth about how to begin or where to go. I do have your book, and it’s certainly helped, but you are seasoned travelers now, you make it look easy! We also own a cat and a dog which may not help when it comes to traveling?

I guess I’m just looking for advice on where to begin? A simple question which could help us to change our lives.

Sincerely, Janice

Hi Janice,

Wow! a lot going on for you and your husband. Thank you for taking the time to write and for sharing your story with us.

Probably the first thing to do is to take a deeeep breath and relax so that your minds can clear. When things are swirling around inside your head it’s harder to see what’s available or where to go first.

Do you know your Average Cost per Day or your Average yearly spending? These are good places to start from the point of view that this will tell you what amount you need to cover for your annual expenses from your investments and — if the number is “too high” — where to start to cut back or replace with another option.

I guess the next place to go would be to look at your housing costs. (Remember, the highest financial output in any household is housing, transportation, taxes and food.) Do you want to keep two homes? Do you want to rent out the one in California while you travel? You might need to have a manager to run your property in case something comes up that needs to be repaired or replaced. If you can afford to live in your California home and keep up the mortgage, you might consider joining a house sitting service and have a house and pet sitter stay in your place while you travel and/or utilize another house sit for the lodging expenses when you yourselves travel to another location. In this way you could keep your pets and know they are being cared for while you are gone and you won’t have kennel expenses.

Or you could choose to rent a room out in your home with the understanding that this renter would watch over your pets and keep the house together while you are gone.

Or you could downsize… Or move to an Active Adult Community where the lifestyle fees cover most everything you might need – Not your utilities and internet of course, but you would have entertainment, a social life, and the cost of maintaining a home in one of these places is far more affordable than owning a brick and mortar home and having to take care of all the maintenance yourself and pay property taxes. Insurance is more affordable as well.

Take a look at our Housing Alternative page which could give you some ideas.  There are walkable cities and places where you could go car-free, for instance, cutting back on the 2nd highest expense in a household. Or you might pare down to owning only one car — unless you travel as a lifestyle, then you wouldn’t need a car at all. Let me know if you would like some ideas about being car free.

Have you considered what sort of lifestyle you might like in retirement? You mentioned a traveling lifestyle — would that be “full time” or coming and going, having an apartment or smaller home to return to?

We know of people who rent a studio apartment type of home base from which they travel half of the year. We also know of people who have a manufactured home or park model where the housing costs are very affordable, and it is from there that they travel. If you are traveling as a lifestyle, you might consider a combination of house sitting and renting an apartment or living out of a nice apart hotel.

It is our experience in many foreign countries that public transport is very available and there isn’t the need for a car. If you live out in the country, perhaps a motor bike might suffice, or call a taxi – which again is very affordable in countries such as Thailand, Mexico, and Guatemala.

I would imagine that if you start here in the places I have suggested, that there would be another set of questions that could come up and we could go from there. Also, if you clarified these places in your retirement plan, you would get a handle on where you might want to go from there.

Please feel free to write again if you have other questions.

Life can shake us up sometimes and it can be unsettling. However, you have succeeded in your life up to this point, have faith that you can manage this change as well.

Wishing you all the best for a wonderful future.

Akaisha

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2016 Key Tax Changes

By John Ohe, CFA and IRS Enrolled Agent. John is a partner at Hola Expat (www.holaexpat.com), which specializes in preparing tax returns for U.S. expats.

John Ohe 1With the New Year underway, we’d like to take this opportunity to review the important tax changes impacting US expats living around the world.

3 Extra Days to File Tax Return

Normally, US tax returns are due on April 15th – before penalties and interest begin to accrue. However, the deadline this year is April 18th, because Emancipation Day happens to fall on a Saturday. Without change, US expats have until June 15th to file their tax returns. Please note that interest charges begin accruing on April 18th (when taxes are owed).

IRS Can Revoke Passports

A new law signed on December 4, 2015 provides the IRS with the ability to revoke a passport when one has a tax debt exceeding $50K. US expats often do not know that they have an outstanding tax debt (e.g., cashed out of retirement accounts prior to leaving the states). Furthermore, penalties and interest charges accrue rapidly, and can quickly exceed the original tax bill.

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Increase in the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion

The foreign earned income exclusion, widely used by US expats to minimize taxable income, has been increased to $100,800 for 2015. Standard deduction and exemption amounts work in conjunction apply on top of the foreign earned income exclusion. Bottom line: one can have income exceeding $100K, and not owe taxes to the IRS.

Obamacare Penalties Increase

The Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) was created to bring affordable health coverage to all US persons. The law requires everyone to obtain adequate health insurance coverage, or pay a penalty via the tax return. Obamacare penalties are increasing this year to the greater of $695 per adult and $347 per child, or 2.5% of household income.

Tax Rate Table for 2016

The table below details the marginal tax rates applicable for this year. The rates are based on taxable income (before deductions, exemptions, and exclusions).

Tax rates 2016

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Think you have a Food Allergy? Here is how You Can Know For Sure

By Josh Moran. Josh has been suffering from different allergic reactions for a long time without relief. It’s only after he used ELISA testing that he knew exactly what was causing his allergic reaction. Visit his blog to learn more of what he knows about allergies.

Many people out there suffer from food allergies. You might start wheezing after eating some types of food or get teary and itchy eyes after dusting the house. Perhaps you are the type that knows the seasons have changed with sniffles and sneezes.

Allergy blood testing can be one of the best ways that can help determine what triggers your allergy symptoms and this way your doctor will know what type of treatment is best suited for you.

Reduce your cost of living. Pay less for medical care. Find better weather. Create a healthier way of life.

How the Testing Works

Allergy blood test detects the amount of specific antibodies in your blood. When your body comes into contact with an allergy trigger, which is also referred to as allergen, the body automatically produces antibodies against it.

The antibodies cause the cells to produce certain chemicals. These chemicals are the ones that bring about allergy symptoms.

Allergy blood test in most cases screens for at least 10 of common allergy triggers. These allergy triggers include dust, weeds, grass, pet dander and molds. The test is also very helpful in detecting food allergies.

Types of Allergy Blood Tests

Allergy blood tests are commonly referred to as immunoassay tests and they include;

  1. ELISA (Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay)
  2. RAST ( Radio allargo sorbent test)

Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay is the most commonly used allergy blood test and has almost fazed RAST out. This test is used to measure the specific allergen in the blood.

The RAST test also looks for specific allergen-related antibodies in your blood to help identify the allergy triggers.

Why Allergy Blood Tests?

In most cases, skin allergy test is used to determine whether or not you are suffering from allergies. Below are some of the instances when allergy blood tests can be ordered instead of the skin allergy test:

  • If you have an unstable heart condition.
  • When you are on medication that might affect the test and cannot be stopped for some time. Some antidepressants, antihistamine and steroids are some of the drugs that can affect some tests.
  • If you are suffering from severe skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis and dermatitis.
  • If you are so scared of the numerous needle scratches that are required in skin testing then this is an option
  • If in the past you have had a severe case of reaction after skin testing or you suffer from anaphylaxis which is a life threatening skin reaction.
  • To determine how well the allergy treatment is working.
  • The test can also help determine whether you have outgrown the allergy.

Allergy blood test results

When an allergy blood test comes out positive, it shows that allergy specific antibodies were detected. In this case, it means that you are suffering from an allergy. The blood test will reveal exactly what you are allergic to.

It is also important to note that, the test can reveal that you are allergic to something when you are not allergic to it at that particular moment.

All allergy blood test should only be interpreted by an allergy specialist.

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Visas, Ai yai yai! The Schengen Visa

By Randy and Lori Grant. See their blog at Freetirement

Schengen photo

By far, the hardest part of traveling abroad is the visa process. This determines how long you can stay in country, when you have to leave and when you can return. It is a major headache that most people, especially Americans, take for granted.

As a U.S. citizen, getting into most countries does not require a visa. More than likely you will get a visa on arrival when you go through passport control. We have only traveled to a few countries that we had to have a visa prior to entering the country (i.e., China).

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Most countries will grant us a tourist visa when we enter the country. This can be for 30 days (Thailand) or 90 days (Japan, Croatia, Malaysia). India even grants a 10 year multiple entry tourist visa for only $100!

Countries are pretty easy to figure out; however, it gets complicated when you involve the EU (European Union). This is the most convoluted system we have ever seen. If you don’t believe me, just watch this clip explaining it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O37yJBFRrfg

Are you scratching your head in confusion now? Me too. But, we think we finally figured out this system and how it will affect us during our future travels in Europe.

The two things you need to understand when visiting Europe for more than 90 days is the difference between the EU and Schengen Zone. Many countries belong to the EU, but not the Schengen Zone. A person can travel in the EU for up to 90 days in a 180 day time frame. After that 90 days you have to leave. Let’s use Germany and Croatia as examples.

Germany is part of the EU and Schengen Zone. We can stay there for up to 90 days as a tourist. Once we leave, we are not allowed back in for another 90 days. So, we have to leave the Schengen Zone. Croatia is part of the EU, but not part of the Schengen Zone. Croatia will allow me to stay 90 days, but once we leave, we are not allowed back there for another 90 days. So essentially we could go back and forth for the rest of our lives as long as we hit those precise timelines.

Some countries like Malaysia are not so strict. You get 90 days upon entry and you can leave for one day at the end of that period and return the following day and get another 90 days. Thailand is the same, but they have a 30 day policy. In Thailand, they do have a visa extension that you can pay for in country and get an additional 30 days, but that is it. You will have to leave after the 60 days.

Since most of us travel as temporary tourists, this problem will not arise often, but it is always wise to check out the visa requirements of every country you visit. The last thing you want to happen is to be turned away at immigration before you even get started on your dream vacation.

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Memo to family: Do not hyphenate me.

Garret Mathews is retired from writing the metro column for the Evansville, Ind., Courier & Press. He penned more than 6,500 columns in a career that began in 1972. Mathews lives in Carmel, Ind., and happily babysits his new grandson four days a week.

Garet Mathews

Memo to family:

Do not hyphenate me.

 I’m talking tombstone here.

You have permission to take advantage of the early-bird special and buy the slab of rock.

You do not have permission to carve in the year of my birth and leave the rest blank.

There’s enough pressure in my life. I don’t want to take a stroll in the graveyard and see “Mathews” on the stone and beneath it, “1949-.”

I’d feel like a loose end.

The guy at the monument company waits with chisel in hand to complete the job.

And waits. And waits.

Does he pound in “2043,” or “2048,” or, hopefully, “2063?”

The poor fellow can’t collect full payment on the job until I breathe my last.

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The only polite thing would be to go to his office every December and apologize for being alive.

“Look,” I’ll tell him. “I know I’m being a pain for continuing to enjoy good health. Maybe this will be the year my bile duct explodes and you can finish the inscription.”

Understand this, family members. Thinking ahead is one thing. Foreshadowing my demise is quite another.

Hyphenate your own selves. Leave me out of it.

I have nothing against inscriptions provided they don’t suggest the end game. I submit the following for your approval:

“Here lies our beloved father and husband. He liked children, dogs and the way Angelina Jolie looked in “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.”

Or:

“Now you can turn the thermostat up.”

Or:

“Here lies the mortal remains of Mathews. He was born in 1949 and we have absolutely no idea when he is going to die.”

Or:

“Give these bare bones a place to rest.

“Never mind that he lacked a crest.

“About one thing he was a holy terror.

“He hated to make a grammatical error.”

Or:

“The typist buried here lived simply.

“There’s little he would have amended.

“So, in death, we grant one last wish.

“That his tombstone not be open-ended.”

Other posts by this author

Want to Know Sports Lingo? An Insider’s View

The Early Years

Did You Really Say “Far Out, Man?”

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What Is “Slow Travel?”

Hi Billy and Akaisha,

You used the term below this week and yet you did not give an explanation of what it was. What exactly is “slow travel”????

We know a man who does some “slow travel” and he lives on $12k a year and seems to be able to manage that fairly well. It’s definitely doable and not impossible.

Neal

All of our books lead to adventure. Don’t miss out on yours!

Hi Neal!

“Slow travel” just means that a person doesn’t spend 2-3 days in one place, then spends money on transport to go to another place and spend 5 days and then goes to another place and spends 3 days and then goes to another…

When a person travels slow, perhaps spending months in one location, they are able to get deals on lodging (discount for longer stays) and are able to find where the locals eat (spending less on food) and can find the markets for fresh food instead of eating out all the time. Slow travel is cheaper all the way around than going quickly from place to place.

Housing and Transportation are two major costs in anyone’s budget, and if you can pare those expenses down, then you can live more inexpensively and on a limited budget. This style of travel becomes a lifestyle, not a vacation mindset.

Hope this helps!

Best,

Akaisha

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Secure Online Transactions When Traveling

Q&A with a Reader

Hi Billy and Akaisha!

I corresponded with you a few times in 2008-2009, and decided to take the plunge and “retire” (without a pension or gold watch) at 48 years old in 2009.  I’m glad I did!  Fortunately, my portfolio is bigger now than it was when I retired thanks to the stock market.

Since then, I have not been traveling a lot or having too much adventure, but I am thinking about going to teach English in Thailand for 6 months.  I have never been to Asia, and have never traveled for more than 2 weeks at one time.

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I have a question about how you conduct secure online financial transactions when you are away from a home, secure internet connection.

I would like to be able to move money around between accounts, for example, without fear of my information being stolen over public Wifi.

I’m wondering how you accomplish this; any advice would be greatly appreciated!

All the best to you!

Kevin

Hi Kevin,

Congratulations on making the leap to early retirement.

As far as Wifi security goes, we use the normal precautions such as an anti-virus program, a firewall and so on, plus common sense. That said, we check our accounts regularly for any issues. So far we have never had a problem. Sometimes we use a VPN but that is a different issue.

Also we only access our accounts from our computers, not from public computers. We have no financial account information stored on our phones.

I hope this helps and good luck with teaching English. Something tells me this will change your life.

Regards,

Billy

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I am forced to think about retirement as I have been laid off my job

Q&A with a Reader

We’re looking for some advice on how it’s possible to retire at 55, with
3 children in college (Sophomore getting second degree, and 2 Freshman), and one a sophomore in high school.  Two boys and two girls.

We’re looking at retiring, but we’re not as interested in traveling as
much since our children range from 15 to 24 years of age.

I find the complexity and uncertainty of figuring retirement out
daunting with College costs, medical insurance cost, possible wedding
cost, etc.  But now I’m forced to evaluate it because I’ve been laid
off at 55.  Any advice on how to figure this out?  I use Quicken and
everything is in there.  I was going to try to use Quicken to work on it.

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My wife is currently working part time and trying to get it up to full
time to get some insurance benefits.

We have a significant savings built up, but need some direction. Can you
help?

Rob

Hi Rob,

Thanks for taking the time to write with your questions. We appreciate it.

We are sorry about your being laid off your job. Another way to look at this is that it is a terrific opportunity. This situation didn’t just happen to you, it happened to your whole family unit. Consequently, it’s a strong moment for Team Family.

Get your children involved – it’s a wonderful chance to teach them about money, and planning for their future. It may be too late for the ones already in college to apply for scholarships, but maybe not. Working part time while going to college is also very common and is done by many students. For the one still in high school, you could have him/her work towards achieving a scholarship and have them realize that they will need to pay for some of their own college expenses. This is not a hardship, it’s Life.

The same goes for the wedding expenses – Get them involved. Say you can budget “X” for the wedding (or towards the down payment of their home) and if they want something more, it will need to come from them. Be reasonable about that amount and don’t place too much stress on yourself over it.

The point is, while it might be disappointing for them in terms of what they had expected, it does teach that life is full of change, and that they are better off in their futures by developing self-reliance to achieve their dreams.

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Let your children know how important it is for them to give you their support of working together and that it will make the Family stronger in the long run.

In terms of health care, have you looked into Obamacare plans? With a single income now, you might qualify for subsidies. I don’t believe the eligibility for plans have anything to do with your net worth, but rather your managed gross income. You might be able to qualify for a policy next year, since you probably made too much money this year to be eligible.

If you have all of your figures in Quicken, you should be able to figure out your average cost per day and your annual yearly spending. The categories of highest spending in any household is housing, transportation, taxes and food. If you make changes in any of those categories you will be able to “find” extra money.

I would suggest that you find both the figures for your cost per day and your annual spending. These figures are ones that you have the power to manage.

At some point you might consider downsizing your home, or moving to an area where cost of living is cheaper. While that might seem drastic to you right at the moment, there are many options open to you. Take a look at our Relocation Page for ideas.

If moving or downsizing your home doesn’t appeal, could you rent out a room to a student or a vacationer to your town? AirBnB is one way people have used rooms in their homes or casitas or the like to make a bit of extra money. If your town is close to a hospital, a sporting arena, or has tourist attractions, sign up for AirBnB and get some extra cash flowing into your home.

While I understand that most families in the U.S. have several cars, you might consider other modes of transportation that are cheaper, doing carpooling or paring down the number of cars you are financing and utilizing. Perhaps your older children can pay for their own car insurance and gas. The cost of car ownership might surprise you. Take a look at our Transport Page for more information.

If you have been tracking your expenses in the food category, you can reduce your total costs by eating out less, and taking advantage of rolling grocery sales using these times to stock up on food in your freezer. Have a cooking day once a week or twice a month where you make lasagna, cooked roasts, blanched vegetables, tuna noodle casserole, etc. and then portion out meals to put in the freezer. That way delicious food is always available and the temptation to go out or call for carry out is lessened.

While you have been laid off your job, you still have talents and abilities. How can you utilize them to your benefit? You might try putting together some kind of courses based on your talents and interests and sell them on Udemy. Len Smith has done this and makes quite a bit of money in this fashion.

Do you want to look for part time or full time work? Take a look at our Retirement Jobs Page.

You could write a blog about your experiences, your hopes and fears, what you face getting your family involved and tell your journey. Add videos. Monetize your blog.

These are only a few ideas and once you get in the mindset of finding solutions, utilizing your options, managing your cost per day, then your vistas will open up. You have lots of opportunities.

Taking action is very energizing, and I hope that some of these suggestions are useful to you. This could be an opening for you to create a satisfying transition to retirement.

Feel free to write and let us know how you are doing, or if you have further questions.

We wish you the very best during this time, and hope that you make the most of it.

Best regards,

Akaisha and Billy

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Following My Passion

Hi Billy & Akaisha

Wow. I’ve been following you guys for almost 10 years now!!! Very crazy. I started researching about early retirement when I was 23 and found your site and read your book. You inspired me to quit my job as a scientist when I was 27 and pursue my real passion, music. It’s always inspiring to hear from you guys.

I started in the spare bedroom or my apartment and now I run a full blown music school with 200 students which has provided me the financial freedom to not work as much as I used to. My goal is to be completely free of “work” by 2017. I’m building my business to run without me so that by the time I’m 35, I can start enjoying the world more.

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Thanks to you guys, I try and live very simply anyway. Even with high housing costs just outside the Boston area, I can comfortably live off of ~$2200/month with no debts. I try to save as much as possible. My fiancé and I would like to eventually move to VT where the cost of living is cheaper, the scenery is much better, the lifestyle is much slower and less stressful and we can participate in one of our favorite activities, hiking, whenever we want.

Thank you again for the inspiration. I haven’t written in some time, but it’s always nice to see your Newsletters in my inbox.

Lauren

Hi Lauren!

What a joy to hear from you after all this time! And of course we are so inspired by what you have chosen to do with your life and the success that you have found. We congratulate you on your creativity and determination to live a fulfilling life in the style that suits you.

We are thrilled with the accomplishment of your music school. How satisfying that must be for you. And that you and your fiance have been able to pare your lifestyle down to affordable amounts and still have the gratification of life, music, nature and each other.

We are quite impressed and wish you and your fiancé all the best in the future.

Thank you for your kind words about our website and thank you for keeping in touch. It’s always great to hear from you!

Wishing you both every good thing,

Akaisha and Billy

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