CNBC make it 2024-03-04 02:50:51

41-year-old and her family left the U.S. for Costa Rica and live on less than $30,000 a year

Kema Ward-Hopper never imagined she’d raise her children in the middle of a jungle.

But in 2018, after Hurricane Harvey destroyed her Houston home, a trip to Costa Rica with her husband Nicholas Hopper and then 9-year-old daughter Aaralyn became a permanent move. 

“The housing market was just insane in Houston because of so many people losing their homes to the storm,” Ward-Hopper tells CNBC Make It. “At the time, we were living in a small garage apartment above a neighbor’s home, with no relief in sight.”

Hopper suggested they house hunt elsewhere. “I thought he meant we should move to a different city in Texas or a different state, but he looked at me and said, ‘No Kema, let’s leave the country,’” Ward-Hopper, 41, recalls. 

From Hopper’s perspective, moving to Costa Rica was a no-brainer. 

The couple got married there in 2016 and had been itching to return, but life — whether it be bills, jobs or family obligations — kept delaying their plans. 

“When we came back to Houston [after the wedding], we both had this calmness about us, and I felt like we were missing out on something by staying in the states,” Hopper, 43, says.

In July 2018, after spending six weeks scoping out different neighborhoods along Costa Rica’s northern coastline and debating if they were ready to become expats, the Ward-Hoppers signed a one-year lease on a house (or “casita” in Spanish) in the middle of the jungle on Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula. 

The two-bedroom, one-bathroom house sat on seven acres of land in the middle of the jungle near Playa San Miguel and came with an outdoor kitchen as well as panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean — plus, rent was only $500 a month. 

“Ten years ago, I would not have believed you if you told me that this is where we would be,” Ward-Hopper says. “But it feels like luck or fate led us here.”

Fast-forward six years later, and the Ward-Hoppers are now permanent residents of Costa Rica, with no plans to move back to Texas. “We’re a lot happier living here than in the U.S.,” Ward-Hopper says.

Finding a healthier lifestyle for body and soul in Costa Rica

Another pivotal moment in the couple’s decision to leave the United States was Ward-Hopper’s cancer recovery.

In April 2016, mere months before her wedding, Ward-Hopper discovered she had stage 2B breast cancer. 

“Undergoing chemotherapy was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life,” she says. “I only completed half of the prescribed infusions because I felt like if I did any more, it would kill me.” 

Ward-Hopper paused treatment right before her wedding. She expected to feel ill during her ceremony and honeymoon but, much to her surprise, Ward-Hopper says she felt better than she had in months while vacationing in Costa Rica.

“Suddenly I had enough energy to get up in the morning and do yoga and go on hikes, I was eating more,” she says. “I really felt like I was healing while we were there, in no small part because of the fresh fruit, clean air and water.”

The Nicoya Peninsula is one of the five original Blue Zones, home to the longest-lived people and highest life expectancies, according to longevity researcher Dan Buettner.

Some of the factors that make Nicoya a Blue Zone, Buettner discovered, are the Nicoyans’ diet, which includes fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains as well as their focus on family and community.

Both Ward-Hopper and her husband say that they saw immediate benefits from living in a Blue Zone for their health including getting sick less, losing weight, feeling more energized and less stressed. 

An added bonus was the birth of their son Nico in 2020, even after doctors said chemotherapy had rendered Ward-Hopper unable to conceive. “I got pregnant within 13 months of living here, which I thought was impossible,” she says. “It was a small miracle.”

Nico’s arrival also introduced another element of stability to their lives by making the entire family eligible for citizenship in Costa Rica. Previously, the Ward-Hoppers stayed in Costa Rica on tourist visas, which meant they had to leave the country every 90 days, time they used as opportunities to explore neighboring countries like Nicaragua or visit family in the U.S.

Ward-Hopper’s doctors in the U.S. said they no longer detected cancer calls in her body in 2017, and in 2021, her doctor re-affirmed that she was cancer-free, an outcome she attributes in part to her decision to live in Costa Rica. For many breast cancer survivors, the risk of recurrence five years post-diagnosis significantly decreases, according to the American Cancer Society.

“Health-wise, I did a complete 180 after moving here,” Ward-Hopper says. “I healed both physically and emotionally.”

Ward-Hopper also credits Costa Rica’s health-care system for her improved well-being. 

As citizens, the Ward-Hoppers receive their health care through the CAJA system, a government-run program that grants 100% coverage for all medical procedures, appointments, hospital visits and prescription drugs. The Ward-Hoppers spend about $83 per month on their family’s health-care plan. 

Even when they were uninsured, Ward-Hopper says their medical expenses were negligible at best. “I remember one visit I had to the emergency room for chest pains and anticipating a bill that would cost thousands of dollars, as it would in the U.S., and it was less than $200,” she adds.

Living comfortably on $30,000 a year

Right before they moved to Costa Rica, the Ward-Hoppers quit their corporate jobs as a research analyst and mortgage broker, respectively, to pursue new careers as entrepreneurs abroad. 

Navigating their new careers — and lives — in Costa Rica didn’t involve much of a language barrier, Ward-Hopper says, as most Costa Ricans speak English, and she and her daughter are proficient in Spanish. Hopper, meanwhile, is enrolled in a beginner Spanish course.

Ward-Hopper now balances four part-time jobs: She’s a health and fitness coach, a Spanish teacher, a host for wellness retreats and, most recently, an author. She self-published her first book, “For my Beloveds: An End-of-life Journal for Guidance & Wisdom,” in September 2023.

Last year, her different income streams earned her about $10,500, according to financial documents reviewed by CNBC Make It. 

Hopper, meanwhile, runs his own remote logistics business, which earned him about $19,500 in 2023.

“Living here has allowed me to explore my passions so that my methods of earning income don’t feel like a job, it just feels like I’m getting to do the things that I love to do, which is to be of service to others,” Ward-Hopper says. “We make less money, but we’re still living pretty comfortably … our money definitely goes further here than in the U.S.” 

In May 2023, the Ward-Hoppers moved to a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath house in Nicoya to be closer to Aaralyn’s school, which is public and tuition-free.

Here’s a monthly breakdown of the Ward-Hoppers’ spending (as of November 2023):

Food: $1,200

Rent and utilities: $628

Discretionary: $330

Nico’s school tuition: $284

Phone (U.S. phone plan): $223

Insurance (health, life, car): $99

Subscriptions and memberships: $78

Gas: $67

Total: $2,909

Daily average: $97

Finding their forever home abroad

For the Ward-Hoppers, the biggest challenge of relocating to Costa Rica has been being far from their family and friends in the U.S., and also losing access to certain American resources and products, like Reese’s peanut butter cups, a family favorite they haven’t found in local supermarkets.

But by most measures, the Ward-Hoppers have found the qualify of life to be “much better” in Costa Rica than in the U.S. 

“I’ve had great experiences in the U.S., but we can’t deny the way that people of color are treated there, and we have not had that experience here at all,” Ward-Hopper says. “In Costa Rica, I feel that people are treated as humans first, people are incredibly respectful and kind here.”

In banks and grocery stores, for example, Ward-Hopper has noticed that people will encourage pregnant people and elderly customers to skip to the front of the line. “While it’s not impossible to get that in the States, the baseline isn’t this theme of love, acceptance and community the same way it is here,” she adds. 

The Ward-Hoppers say they plan to stay in Costa Rica for the rest of their lives, even if they plan extended trips to Africa, Europe and other countries in South America. 

“This is where we always want to return to,” Hopper says. “Ultimately, our goal is to build up our savings and build a nice finca [the Spanish word for “estate”] for our family here.”

Hopper says the lower cost of living and community in Costa Rica has far outweighed any feelings of homesickness he’s felt since the move.

He adds: “I’m definitely happier living in Costa Rica than I used to be in the U.S. I’ve gained my family back being here, I’ve gained the opportunity to spend more time with them and not only create more freedom in myself but also more freedom within our family to explore our dreams.”

Want to land your dream job in 2024? Take CNBC’s new online course How to Ace Your Job Interview to learn what hiring managers are really looking for, body language techniques, what to say and not to say, and the best way to talk about pay. CNBC Make It readers can save 25% with discount code 25OFF.

Residents of these 10 states are the most stressed out in America—New York didn’t make the list

More than a quarter of U.S. adults say that most days, they are so stressed out it’s hard to function, according to the American Psychological Association’s “Stress in America” poll.

While some stress is normal and can actually be good for you, once stress reaches a chronic level it can cause health problems like insomnia, anxiety, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And residents of some states seem to be more stressed than others.

DON’T MISS: Utah is the happiest state in America—California and Florida didn’t make the top 3

Wellness brand, Komowa, created a ranking of the most and least stressed states in America. The company compared U.S. states based on 16 key indicators of stress including hours worked, credit card debt, divorce rates, commute times and more.

Key indicators were grouped by similarities and boiled down to four main categories:

  • Money stress
  • Work stress
  • Health stress
  • Family stress

To create the ranking, Komowa used data from the CDC, U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics and more.

Surprisingly, New York and California didn’t make the top 10 on the list. In fact, New York landed the 24th spot and California came in at No. 25.

States were also ranked by individual categories including the highest credit card debt and the longest commute time.

New York earned the top spot for the longest commute time with an average of 33.2 minutes, but actually didn’t land at No. 1 for the most hours worked. Residents of Louisiana seem to work the most with an average of 44.3 hours a week.

Alaska earned the top spot for the highest credit card debt with an average of $7,338, and Wisconsin had the lowest credit card debt average of $4,808.

The state with the most stressed residents in America: Tennessee

At No. 1 for the overall list of the most stressed states in the U.S. is Tennessee, according to Komowa.

The Volunteer State scored very high for the most health stress, coming in third place for the highest level of depression prevalence (24.4%).

15.5% of residents also said “their physical health isn’t good for more than 14 days a month.”

Residents of Tennessee also work more than the average American. The state came in at No. 3 for most hours worked with an average of 42.3 hours a week.

Tennessee also scored pretty low when it came to residents’ yearly income and ability to work from home. Residents also had one of the longest average commute times.

The top 10 most-stressed states in America

  1. Tennessee
  2. Alabama
  3. Oklahoma
  4. Louisiana
  5. Nevada
  6. South Carolina
  7. Georgia
  8. Arizona
  9. West Virginia
  10. Indiana

Alabama ranked at No. 2, largely due to work stress and health stress. Residents of the Heart of Dixie worked more hours than most Americans, earned a lot less and had one of the highest divorce rates.

Coming in at No. 3 is Oklahoma with the top spot for health stress which can be directly linked to the percentage of residents without healthcare. The level of depression prevalence is high for residents of the state as well.

Want to land your dream job in 2024? Take CNBC’s new online course How to Ace Your Job Interview to learn what hiring managers are really looking for, body language techniques, what to say and not to say, and the best way to talk about pay. CNBC Make It readers can save 25% with discount code 25OFF.

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Mark Cuban shares 1 thing he wishes he’d done differently: ‘That’s not being old. That’s being wise’

Age is just a number, if you ask Mark Cuban.

The 65-year-old billionaire says he now regrets stressing about his age every time he hit a big numerical milestone. “People always ask me what I would do differently in my life. Just one thing: I wish I hadn’t thought I was getting old at every milestone [birthday]… 30,40,50,” Cuban wrote in a recent post on Threads.

“I was young and should have known it,” added the Dallas Mavericks co-owner.

Staying positive about the aging process can actually be good for your overall health: It can improve your memory and blood pressure, according to the work of Yale University psychologist Becca Levy. Thinking negatively about getting older can have the opposite effect, even inadvertently hastening the process, researchers at Foundation University Islamabad in Pakistan found in 2022.

Cuban’s comments came in response to a post by author and fitness coach Steve Kamb, who wrote a list of ways to “stay strong and fit with a low body fat [percentage]” as you age. Kamb’s advice: Stay physically active, and acknowledge that often uncontrollable factors like “luck, genetics [and a] flexible schedule” can greatly affect your physical appearance.

The more you self-aware you can be about body and fitness abilities changing as you age — without stressing too much about it — the better off you’ll be, social psychologist Yoav Bergman told CNBC Make It in 2022.

“The key is a realistic understanding of the gains and losses associated with aging,” said Bergman.

You may need to change your habits as you age to stay healthy, Cuban noted. In the past, he’s talked about being proactive when it comes to making changes to his habits and diet to stay healthy as he gets older.

“I just try to be smart,” Cuban told Recode in 2019. “It’s interesting: As you get older, your body is more receptive to vitamins and food and all these different things, [like] allergies I never had until I hit 35 and 40. It’s really interesting to try to figure some of these things out.”

Rather than getting frustrated about those changes, embrace them, Cuban wrote on Threads.

“Your body will change. Your diet will need to change,” he wrote. “But that’s not being old. That’s being wise!”

Disclosure: CNBC owns the exclusive off-network cable rights to “Shark Tank,” which features Mark Cuban as a panelist.

Want to land your dream job in 2024? Take CNBC’s new online course How to Ace Your Job Interview to learn what hiring managers are really looking for, body language techniques, what to say and not to say, and the best way to talk about pay. CNBC Make It readers can save 25% with discount code 25OFF.

Couple earns up to $70,000 a month, but still feels stressed about money

Sandra, 46, and Brad, 48, have checked off two important aspects of wealth-building: a large net worth and a clear idea of where their money goes each month. But Sandra still doesn’t feel like they’re doing well financially.

“On paper we’re not broke, but it feels like we are,” she recently told self-made millionaire Ramit Sethi on his “I Will Teach You to be Rich” podcast. Their last names were not used.

The couple has been married for 25 years, amassing a net worth of $1.3 million as of the time of the podcast’s recording. But they’re at odds with each other over how they each approach and handle money.

Brad has been the primary breadwinner throughout most of their marriage, but his income varies month to month. Sandra didn’t contribute much income-wise to the couple’s finances until a little over a year ago, she told Sethi.

Sandra’s main financial contribution is tracking the couple’s inflows and outflows and policing spending whenever money is tight, which happened often at the beginning of their marriage.

″[Budgeting] became easy when we were making a lot of money,” she said on the podcast. “When it’s not easy, it’s watching everything and being meticulous with where the money’s going and keeping track of it and being stressed about it.”

Sandra maintains a number of spreadsheets where she tracks dozens of goals and spending categories, but doing it on her own and having to tell Brad when they can’t spend any more in a given month makes her feel stressed out and guilty. Brad feels like he does all he can to achieve their goals, but will never meet the high standard she sets, he told Sethi.

As Sethi has pointed out to other couples, it isn’t always about the numbers.

“Most people genuinely believe that this process of tracking every last cent puts them in control of their money,” Sethi said. “People even describe this process as ‘managing money.’ But it’s not.”

Here’s why Brad and Sandra struggle to see eye to eye and how Sethi helped them understand what it really means to take control of their finances.

They have false money identities

Brad works in the mortgage industry, which has meant earning between $60,000 and $70,0000 a month in a good year for the housing market. But there have also been leaner periods where he relied on income from an event business and savings from the better years.

Going through so many ups and downs has contributed to the fact that Sandra never feels secure about money, even in a month when they’re bringing in $70,000.

“The identity you have created for yourself around money might not be fully accurate with reality,” Sethi told her.

There’s nothing wrong with playing it safe when it comes to spending, especially when you have a variable income. But being too afraid to spend the money they do have has added stress to Sandra’s budget plan and the couple’s relationship.

On the flip side, Brad tends to overcompensate for his lower-earning periods with risky investments that add to Sandra’s unease.

“One of the primary reasons for Brad’s extremely risky approach with money is that once people feel behind, feel like they have to catch up or even that it’s too late, they start to make increasingly frantic, risky decisions, which, of course, is a cycle,” Sethi said.

They get hung up on small details

Because they’re so focused on budgeting around the fluctuations in Brad’s income, the couple has become somewhat paralyzed in terms of long-term goal-setting and financial planning, Sethi said.

“They use [variable income] as an excuse not to move forward, when in reality, it’s the tiniest of speed bumps,” Sethi said. “And by using that as an excuse, they get to avoid doing the real substantial, often hard work.”

It goes back to Sethi’s point about what it truly means to manage money. Brad and Sandra may be getting caught up in small details that won’t ultimately move the needle. Brad says he goes so far as watching his speed while driving to ensure he’s maximizing his fuel efficiency to fit in with Sandra’s budget, for example.

“Managing money is focusing on high value areas, like deciding what your rich life is, setting up appropriate categories and discussing what kind of monitoring you want for those categories,” Sethi said. ”[It’s] deciding on critical questions like your savings rate and your debt payoff date — those decisions are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

They struggle with communication

While Brad and Sandra may be too hung up on the numbers, Sethi said the bigger issue is that they don’t have the same goals for those numbers.

“The real issue is that they have so many layers of distrust and contempt that they can’t really communicate about this one thing,” he said.

Sandra stresses the budget and the frugality so much because she’s afraid they won’t be able to take care of themselves and their kids. Brad also wants to make sure his family is taken care of, but feels like there’s not a dollar amount that will actually make Sandra feel satisfied.

“I get very frustrated with that same conversation over and over again, whether we’ve got a lot of money in the bank or whether we’ve got very little money in the bank,” Brad said. “I feel like we’re playing a very opposite game.”

Sethi challenged them to ask each other what safety really means to the other person and how they can get there together. If it means a higher income, then they have to compromise and work together to bring in more money, not rely on one party to handle it on their own.

Communicating more clearly and specifically, plus collaborating to find solutions that work for both partners, can help them figure out a financial plan that fits their needs, allowing them to stop fighting over every dollar.

“I understand the fear, [but] being frantic is not going to get you what you want,” Sethi told Sandra. “It’s actually going to be more important for you to connect with Brad.”

Check out the full podcast episode here.

Want to land your dream job in 2024? Take CNBC’s new online course How to Ace Your Job Interview to learn what hiring managers are really looking for, body language techniques, what to say and not to say, and the best way to talk about pay. CNBC Make It readers can save 25% with discount code 25OFF.

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23-year-old’s dorm room side hustle brings in $124,000 a year: ‘You can start with as little as $5’

This story is part of CNBC Make It’s Six-Figure Side Hustle series, where people with lucrative side hustles break down the routines and habits they’ve used to make money on top of their full-time jobs. Got a story to tell? Let us know! Email us at

Technically, Sophie Riegel didn’t spend a penny starting her side hustle.

She began with items she already had, searching through her closet for old clothing to sell online. After making $200 off her own used clothes, she turned to some of her favorite places to shop: thrift stores.

“I’ve been a thrifter my entire life, because I don’t like spending money,” says Riegel, 23. “I’d much rather spend $5 than $100 on a pair of pants.”

Since April 2020, she’s turned that habit into a lucrative side hustle. Riegel brought in nearly $123,800 in revenue last year reselling items she bought from thrift stores on online marketplaces like eBay, Mercari and Poshmark, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It.

She’s made more than $192,000 in net profit over the past four years, because her costs are minimal: Riegel estimates she’s spent just over $50,000 on the thrifted clothing she’s sold. Other expenses include shipping costs and gas money for driving from thrift store to thrift store. Online marketplaces keep between 10% and 20% of her sales.

Much of her business’ growth came from her dorm room at Duke University, where she graduated last year with a degree in psychology. She’s pursuing a full-time career as a professional writer, speaker and life coach —  and expects her side hustle to comprise roughly 50% of her income this year, she says.

“I started buying things for $5 to $10, flipping them for $50 to $100,” says Riegel. “That seemed to work really well. I had maybe 200 or so items in my dorm room my sophomore year, and now I have 1,300 items [in a storage unit].”

Here, Riegel discusses the work she put in to turn her love of thrifting into a six-figure annual business, along with tips for anyone else to follow in her footsteps.

CNBC Make It: You’re already coaching clients to start their own thrifting side hustles. What are some of your best tips for people who want to replicate your success?

Riegel: The biggest thing is you’ve got to have fun with it. If you’re not enjoying it, don’t do it.

Start with what you know the most about. If you know a lot about clothing, start with that. It can be really easy to just buy a lot — that’s the fun part — but it doesn’t sell if you don’t list it. So even if your listing is imperfect, get it up, get it out there, because there’s a market for everything.

Keep learning. If you go in with a mindset of “I already know this stuff, I don’t need any resources,” it’s likely that you won’t do as well as if you went in with the mindset of “This is a great opportunity for me to learn more about myself, about brands, and all of that.”

I followed tons and tons and tons of other resellers on YouTube. I spent hours and hours learning brands, learning how to use all of the platforms. I’ve learned the strategies of each of the stores I go to, and figured out when they put out the new shoes when they do X, Y and Z.

The Goodwills in my area put a new color out every week. So, when I go to those stores, I only look for that color.

How much cash do you need to start a thrifting side hustle?

Factoring in shipping and all of that stuff — obviously, you need to pay for gas — $100 makes sense.

[In terms of the thrifting], you can start with as little as $5. You get one good thing for $5 and you’ve got more money already: $5 turns into $20, turns into $100.

If you start with your own stuff, you need $0.

What are the most important traits someone needs to succeed at this?

You’ve got to be consistent and persistent. Right now, I list 10 to 20 items a day. And because I list every day, things are selling constantly.

You’ve got to be organized. You have to be patient — I’m not very good at that, but I’m working on it.

The biggest thing is: You’ve got to be willing to ask for help when you need it. You don’t have to do this all alone. When I first started, my dad helped me with all of my shipping. He helped me move everything from different storage units. I didn’t have to do it alone because I asked for help.

Do you see yourself expanding your side hustle in the future? What would that look like?

I’m pretty happy with where I am. I do see, in the future, potentially having employees do all of the stuff that I know I don’t want to do — like the shipping, listing and photographing. That would be great. It is a lot of work for one person.

But right now, I wouldn’t change it because I love what I do.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Want to land your dream job in 2024? Take CNBC’s new online course How to Ace Your Job Interview to learn what hiring managers are really looking for, body language techniques, what to say and not to say, and the best way to talk about pay.