Monday, February 1, 2016

January side hustles 2016

The great thing about doing side hustles to generate extra income is that you can hustle on your own terms.  The more hard work, time, and creative effort you put in, the more extra money you can make.  You can hustle as little or as much as you want, whenever you want.  It’s your extra money, and you can choose how you want to spend it.  Instead of focusing on what ideas don’t apply to you, try focusing on different side hustle ideas that you can implement to work for your situation.

Did everyone have a good January?  With balancing out work, social life, a 7-month-old baby, and a dog, it seems like time just flew past us. 

Highlights from our short vacations
We took a short trip to San Diego and redeemed Starpoints towards a free hotel stay.  
We took our son on his first visit to the Birch Aquarium.  
He was very fascinated by all of the colorful sea creatures.  
We had tasty hamburgers at Burger Lounge.    
Grass fed burger with grilled onions and applewood smoked bacon
I had a paid work conference in Las Vegas, so I brought the family for a 3-night stay.  Our son loved looking around and seeing all of the bright lights and crowds of people.  

We took a stroll through the Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Garden.  
No Vegas trip is complete (for us) without a visit to the Shark Reef at the Mandalay Bay.  
We had delicious waffles and coffee for breakfast at Tiabi Coffee & Waffle
One day, we enjoyed lunch at Burger Bar at the Mandalay Bay shopping center.  
American kobe beef burger with swiss, caramelized onions and sliced avocados
Another day, we enjoyed lunch at Cucina by Wolfgang Puck in the Aria shopping center.  I had the burger (really been craving burgers lately) and my wife had the tortelloni).
Wood grilled burger with calabrian ketchup, fontina cheese and prosciutto
To keep things simple, we got take-out one night and ate in the hotel room.

January was an expensive month for us
I’m glad that we are natural savers since we spent much more money this past month than we normally do. 

It’s been getting cold in our area and our 1980s aluminum single pane windows have not been able to keep heat inside our room.  We’ve never felt the need to upgrade our windows before.  But now with a baby in the house, we decided that it was time to improve our windows.  Upgrading our windows to energy efficient dual pane windows cost us $6,960.  Anyone that owns a home over 30 years old knows that upgrades and repairs are always on the horizon.  A home is not an investment (great rant from Ramit Sethi); it’s a stable place to live.

Since the lease on my wife’s previous vehicle expired, we bought a new car and paid cash.  The total after taxes, license, and vehicle registration was a whopping $36,313.64.  One of my big financial regrets was leasing a vehicle 3 years ago.  At the time it seemed fun  - get a brand new vehicle with no money down, have a low monthly payment, and then return it for another vehicle after 3 years.  We aren’t really “car people” and as long as a car can bring us to where we want to go safely, we are not too picky.  I felt pretty annoyed having to make so many monthly payments with nothing to show for it at the end.  Leasing may make sense to a lot of people (such as independent contractors who can write off the lease payment, or car lovers who want to drive a new vehicle every 3 years), but I am glad that we paid cash for our newest vehicle – no more monthly car payments!  I looked into a used vehicle purchase, but could not find one with considerable savings.  We were comfortable buying new and will own this car for a long time. 

Going on vacations subsidized with points or paid for by an employer is great, but it still involves spending money to eat out and be entertained.  Since we don’t eat out often, every time we get a chance to go eat at a restaurant, it feels like the ultimate luxury - even if it’s an economically priced restaurant.  We definitely spent a lot more money on eating out this past month - $625.97 in January!  Clearcheckbook and Mint help us track our finances easily.

When we are away from home, we need a pet sitter.  We have several graduate school students available to watch our dog Abby every time we are out.  The going rate for a pet sitter in our area is about $30 a day, so for our 5 days out of town, we paid $170 (tip included).

As our son is getting larger, he has quickly outgrown the infant car seat and stroller that was donated to us.  Thanks to Slickdeals, I was able to find a hot deal on the Diono Radian RXT (a highly rated and extremely safe car seat) for $184.44 after tax, when it normally sells for around $280.  
We also picked up a Mamas & Papas Armadillo (a nicely rated stroller) for $221.02 after tax, when it normally sells for around $299.  
That’s $405.46 worth of baby stuff; the most we’ve spent on our son since he was born.  Thankfully, pretty much all of his other items including clothes, high chair, toys, infant car seat and stroller, swings, and more were all donated.  We purchased durable items because we will be using the stroller until our son is around 3 years old and will be using the car seat until our son is around 4 years old.

One month of side hustles doesn’t cover all of our expenses; our savings does.  Having regular side hustle income definitely helps cover our costs and allow us to invest regularly.  Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it can buy you peace of mind and freedom from stress.  Here’s our monthly summary of side income that we have generated in the previous month of January:

Friday, January 29, 2016

55,000 bonus points from the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card for my wife

When people ask me what my favorite rewards credit card is, one of the first cards I always recommend is the Chase Sapphire Preferred. 

This is card that offers a big sign up bonus: currently 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points (my favorite kind of points) after spending $4,000 within 3 months as well as 5,000 points after adding an authorized user and having your authorized user make a purchase.  This card earns 2x points on travel and dining expenses, has no foreign transaction fees, and has points that can transfer to several airlines and hotels (British Airways, Korean Air, Singapore Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, IHG, Marriott, and the Ritz Carlton).  This card also gets 20% off travel when redeeming for airfare, hotel stays, car rentals, and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards travel, giving the 50,000 points a cash value of $625.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is such a great credit card that I’ve applied for it, my wife has applied for it, and I even recommended that my mom apply for one as well (we were all approved of course)!  A little known secret about churning the Chase Sapphire Preferred card: if you’ve previously earned a sign up bonus with the Sapphire Preferred over 24 months ago and you no longer own the card, you can apply for the same card again and earn another sign up bonus!  The only annual fee that we currently pay for is my Chase Ink Plus – since we both share our Chase Ultimate Rewards points, no need to pay more than 1 annual fee for a premium Chase card.

I tried unsuccessfully to apply for another Chase Sapphire Preferred card 6 months ago.  This was due to an unwritten new “rule” Chase made up to curb bonus churning.  Starting around May 2015, Chase began denying applications for its Ultimate Rewards earning personal credit cards if the applicant has opened 5 or more credit cards in the prior 24 months.  This rule is unofficially known as the “5/24 rule”.  See this Flyertalk thread for more details on applying for Chase credit cards.

While I had opened 5 or more credit cards in the last 2 years, my wife had not.  Since we planned on doing around $7,000 worth of renovations in our home (new energy efficient dual pane windows), we figured that now would be a perfect time for my wife to reapply for another Chase Sapphire Preferred card.  Note: she downgraded her previous CSP card a few years ago to a regular Sapphire card to avoid the annual fee after the first fee-free year was over.

Since we were going to make a large credit card purchase, the best way to maximize our return on points was to combine the large payment with a new sign up bonus.  By signing up for a new Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card and adding me as an authorized user, my wife will earn 62,000 points (7,000 purchase + 50,000 sign up bonus + 5,000 authorized user bonus points).  That is getting around 9% cash back for the transaction.  The other option for making the purchase would have been to earn only 7,000 points with one of our existing credit cards or $140 with our Citi Double Cash card, for 1-2% cash back.

I’m happy to share that my wife applied for the Chase Sapphire Preferred, got approved, and with the first statement already received her 55,000 Ultimate Rewards points bonus!  We paid for our home remodel with 2 payments, one before and one after completion - only the first payment showed up on my wife’s statement.  If we wanted to go big, we could have applied for another credit card and split payments between 2 cards to get 2 big sign up bonuses!  Always pay off your credit card statement completely in full.  If you can’t afford to pay something with cash on hand, you can’t afford to use your credit card to pay for it. 

We don’t have any big international trips planned in the near future, so we are slowly stocking up on points.  You can apply for your own Chase Sapphire Preferred at 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Dollar cost averaging our investments during market volatility

The market over the last 3 months
For those following the stock market, things have been getting very volatile.  In just the first few weeks of the new year, US Stocks are down about 8% and international stocks are down even more.  The financial news headlines make it sound like we’re going back to another recession.  We’ve lost over $16,000 in our portfolio in just the last few weeks.
Here’s the thing with investing in stocks: there will always be risks.  On any given day, the market may go up or it may go down – affecting your portfolio value.  Many investors rush to buy when they hear how the stock market is doing well (paying high prices) and then sell when they hear how the stock market is doing poorly (selling low).  Paying high prices for stocks and then selling off stocks at low values is a good recipe for financial ruin.  
No one can predict the future of the financial markets: not tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, or the next ten years.  Tomorrow your investments may plunge in value – or they may soar.  Any decrease in your portfolio is only a paper loss.  You still own all of the index fund shares that you’ve purchased.  You only really lose money when you sell at a loss, and lock in your paper losses.  If you are investing for the long-term, short-term market fluctuations really should not worry you.  No one out there can consistently time the market.  But that’s okay, because you don’t have to time the market perfectly to be a good investor.     
The market from 1928 until today
The long-term trend has been that the market always pushes further upwards.  If you are diversified in your investments, you can count on them to reward you in the long run.  Most decreases in your portfolio are only temporary and eventually rebound.  Our investments are made up of 90% stocks (70% US stock market, 30% international stock market), and 10% US bonds.  This includes over 6,100 US stocks, over 6,400 international stocks, and over 5,800 bonds.  We are comfortable with this asset allocation and we sleep well at night knowing that we are well diversified.  
If you find yourself in this situation, the value of your portfolio doesn't matter
Worst case scenario, if the stock market really loses ALL of its value, and ALL of the companies collapse, it will be the end of money.  Even cash saved under the mattress will have no value.  If such a meltdown occurs, the only thing you can count on will be your own survival skills, food, shelter, and weapons for protection.  Losing portfolio value will be the least of your concerns.  I don’t see that type of apocalypse happening anytime soon.  Remember: life is long, plan accordingly.           
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