Monday, December 23, 2013

Credit cards with annual fees: keep, cancel or convert?

Today I will answer the question: “What do you do when you get charged with a credit card annual fee?”
The credit card programs offering the best sign up bonuses almost always have annual fees. Most of the time, this annual fee is waived the first year of being a card member. This is great because you get to test out the card for one year to see if it's worth keeping the next year.

When your credit card gets charged the annual fee, there are 3 options: keep, convert, or cancel your credit card.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Does applying for credit cards ruin my credit score?

When it comes to finances, we have enough to worry about: saving enough for retirement, paying the rent, buying a house, buying a car, paying the bills, entertainment expenses, etc.  Wouldn't it be great if you didn't have to worry about your travel expenses?  Wouldn't it be great if your airline tickets and hotel stays could be paid for with credit card rewards points instead of cash?  

This is where travel hacking comes in.

By taking advantage of credit card sign-up bonuses, doing some manufactured spending (Amazon paymentsVisa gift cardsVanilla Reload cards, and more) and using our credit responsibly, we've been able to generate a large amount of airline miles and hotel points to use for our vacations over the last 2 years.

We open many credit cards on a regular basis, usually opening 1 or 2 cards at a time every few months. 

When people hear about how me and my wife have been traveling for free on credit card rewards points, I often get asked 2 main questions:

Does applying for credit cards ruin my credit?” and “What do you do when you get an annual fee?”

Today I will answer the first question.

Monday, December 16, 2013

My favorite Christmas gifts

It's that time of the year again.  In the month of December, people spend too much money and eat far too much unhealthy food.  People stress out, fight crowds and traffic to find the "perfect" gifts that don't really benefit their recipients.  This is the month where people start going into crazy amounts of credit card debt and gain extra pounds of weight along the way.  

By the time New Years comes around, these poor and fat individuals then make resolutions to get out of debt, finally lose that weight and get into shape

Okay, I'm making broad generalizations.  But hey, I've been guilty of all of the above and I'm sure many of you have as well.

I've heard lots of friends and family complaining about how "hard it is" this month and how "money is so tight right now."  Bear in mind that these are people making anywhere between $50,000 a year to over $100,000 a year. 

In our society of consumerism, it has been ingrained into our minds from childhood that giving gifts is the best way to show how much you love someone.  Millions of dollars worth of advertising is done yearly to convince us which gifts are the right ones for your mother, father, spouse, and children.  People show off their gifts on facebook with pride.  People spend way out of their budget to get the right gift for the one that they love.

What happens when you get a gift that disappoints you?  How often have you heard people complaining about the Christmas gifts that they've received?  Weeks after Christmas, millions of consumers, with their gift and gift receipts in hand, go back to the stores where their gifts were purchase to exchange them for what they really want.

"I didn't get the exact purse / wallet / jewelry / camera / iPad / headphones that I wanted."  

The gift giving situations can get worse when you're married.  Once you are in a committed relationship with your significant other, your finances are connected.  When a man gets a gift for his wife, he's basically spending HER money on the gift.  And when a woman gets a gift for her husband, she's basically spending HIS money on the gift.  How does this benefit their financial futures?  

I know of couples who go deeper and deeper into credit card debt, just for the sake of impressing each other with fancy gifts.  Why should your happiness depend on gifts from others?  And if you have to ask your spouse for a specific gift, what meaning is there really? Make sure you have the money talk with your significant other or spouse as soon as possible. 

Instead of working separately to "out-gift" each other, what about working together towards the best gift of all: reaching financial freedom.  If you're in any debt whatsoever, giving gifts to your spouse is unacceptable.  Save that money and use it towards getting out of debt.  You will never become wealthy if you're always spending all of your income or going into debt.

Now with all this being said, it can be difficult if not seemingly impossible to get out of our gift giving traditions.  We still give our family gifts for important days like birthdays and Christmas.  I don't think my mom would take kindly to not receiving a gift.  Hopefully when we have children one day, we will be able to teach them never to worry about getting gifts for mommy and daddy.  

This year, the two of us decided that we already have everything that we could possibly want.  We will not be going through the stress of worrying about what gift to give each other.  

Sunday, December 15, 2013

We just switched to low flow shower heads

I'll admit it, I love taking a good, hot 10 to 12 minute shower daily.  I find showers to be one of the few things I find relaxing.  Sometimes I take a shower to help me wake up in the morning and I always take a shower after my 30 minute bike commute home.  

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), showers account for nearly 17% of indoor water use.  A typical 10 minute shower uses up to 25 gallons of water from a 2.5 gpm shower head.  Showers also use up energy to heat and deliver water to your shower head.  
Low flow shower heads offer an inexpensive and easy way to save water, money, and energy.  Low flow shower heads can reduce the normal flow rate by 1 gallon of water per minute and reducing water usage by 40%. I've read estimates on how much money we can save on water and energy costs ranging from $70 to over $150 a year. This savings can be especially important if there are several people living in your home. At any given time, we have 4 people total in our home (me, my wife, and 2 roommates). 

I first read about the benefits of a low flow shower head from a post by Mr. Money Mustache.  Later I stumbled upon another post about switching to a low flow shower head by Mustachian Acolyte.

While the benefits of using a low flow shower head were clear, this was a purchase that I kept putting off and forgetting about.  Maybe I should have put it on my to-do list earlier. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Continuing to increase my 401(k) contributions

While my employment has changed slightly (new ownership) over the last few years, I've been with my new company for a little over 2 years now.   When I was re-hired by my new company, one of the benefits that I was most excited about was the opportunity to participate in a company 401K plan. Prior to that, I had a trivial amount of savings and only contributed a little bit into my Roth IRA.

I started contributing to my first 401(k) account in October 2011. 

Currently, any employee can contribute up to a maximum of $17,500 a year into their 401(k) or 403(b) if your employer offers it.


Wow, sounds like a ridiculous amount of money doesn't it?

When I first read about my 401(k) contribution limit of $17,000 (limit was lower in the past, recently increased to $17,500), I rolled my eyes and scoffed.

I will NEVER be able to contribute THAT much.”

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Our American Express Small Business Saturday experience

As many of you know, yesterday was the 4th annual American Express Small Business Saturday. This year, AMEX cardholders could earn a $10 statement credit after making a purchase of $10 or more at participating small businesses. 

While the promotion was not nearly as good as it has been in the past ($25 off $25 spend), free money is still free money.   We had 9 American Express cards between the two of us to work with:

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Barclaycard Arrival World Mastercard Review, and free FICO score

I just found out that earlier this month, Barclaycard announced that it will offer some of its card members complimentary FICO scores. This applies to several cards including: the Barclaycard Ring, Barclaycard Arrival, Barclaycard Rewards, NFL, Juniper, Frontier and Carnival cards. You can check your free FICO score from Barclaycard here

One way to get a free FICO credit score (Equifax) is to go to myFICO and sign up for a free 10 day trial. Be careful because if you don't cancel within 10 days, you will automatically be subscribed to their service for $14.95 per month for a minimum of 3 months!  And if you obtain your FICO score through myFICO and try to cancel, be prepared to have a difficult time trying to your account cancelled when you call in. The reps will do anything possible to get you to keep the service. You can request similar free trial FICO scores through Experian and Transunion. 

When it comes to checking on my credit score, I still prefer using the following methods of obtaining my simulated credit score for free: credit karma, credit sesame, quizzle, and

When you apply for credit (whether with a new credit card, auto loan, mortgage, or personal loan), the company you are seeking credit from checks your credit report and credit score. The credit report chosen is one generated by Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion. Many companies use their own propriety method of calculating your credit score, however, it is estimated that the score used 90% of the time is your FICO score. The FICO score is the global standard for measuring credit risk. To learn more about your credit score, read this pdf on consumer credit education produced by FICO.

Since I already have a Barclayscard (NFL card I sign up for the $400 bonus), I decided to check my own FICO score:
808. Nice! This just goes to show that applying for credit cards and responsibly using your credit to travel for free will not lower your credit score.

Of the Barclayscards that allow you to view your FICO score, there is currently only one card that I would recommend: The Barclaycard Arrival Plus(TM) World EliteMastercard®.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

New Chase credit card bonuses

Edit: this deal is now expired

I did not have much time to monitor for new credit card deals while on vacation. While this may be old news to many, I figured it was still worth sharing.

Earn 50,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards points with the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months from account opening.

This is a hot deal because for the longest time, the Chase Sapphire Preferred sign up bonus was 40,000 points.

Without a doubt, the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card is one of my favorite cards. You can earn 2x points on travel and dining at restaurants. There is also a 7% annual points dividend on all new points earned on purchases throughout the year. There are no foreign transaction fees. 

This deal gets even better because you can earn an additional 5,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Our trip to Asia

As you may have noticed, I haven't been able to post lately.  I have previously written about our free* trip to Asia here:
We just finished our 5 day stay in Seoul, South Korea and are now spending our time in Taipei, Taiwan. In a few days, we will travel to Hong Kong.

I will return in a few weeks to return to regular blog postings. I will also update this post with some pictures.  Here are some pictures:

Hong Kong

*Free flights usually have some taxes and fuel surcharges attached, a small fraction compared to the cash value of a booked flight.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Eating IN for lunch

I've noticed an interesting trend over my last few years of working.  It seems like those who often complain about money seem to consistently eat out the most.  It is ironic that these are the same people who are always waiting for their next paycheck so that they can "pay their bills.”  They are always complaining that "they can never get ahead.” 
To make matters worse, they often eat lunch at the most unhealthiest of locations: McDonald’s, Tommy’s burgers, and Panda Express.  It’s also common to see these same individuals come into the office with Starbucks coffee in hand or McDonald’s Egg McMuffins and Hash Browns in the morning.

I’d estimate most people who eat out are spending $7 to $10 per day on food, drinks, taxes, and vehicle expenses.  When it comes to some office workers, they are essentially spending the first hour of each workday to pay for lunch.  These people truly believe that the only way to get rich is to win the lottery, marry rich, or get an inheritance.  

Maybe you’ve noticed this trend at your office?  Are you are part of the trend?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

I fought my traffic ticket and won!

This post applies to anyone receiving a traffic citation in the state of California, where we live.
A few months ago, I was driving home and I passed through a construction zone. There were some orange cones and signs put out on the side of the road to indicate that construction work was going on. No construction workers were on duty and I was driving at a reasonable speed with the flow of traffic.

Next thing I know, a police officer stops me and gives me a traffic citation for “unsafe speed for prevailing conditions.”

I couldn’t believe it. I haven’t had a traffic ticket in over 8 years! Up until this moment, my driving record was completely clean. I always strive to drive at reasonable speeds without heavy acceleration. This makes sure that I am not only safe on the road, but I save money on gas (we only spend around $105 a month for fuel).

A month passed and I received my citation in the mail. I was blown away by the bail amount(s):
If I chose to attend Traffic School, I had to pay a fine of $579.00

If I chose to pay my citation instead of attending Traffic School, I had to pay a fine of $525.00

Both options seemed terrible. Ugh.

99% of all people receiving a traffic ticket simply just frown, shrug their shoulders, and then reluctantly pay the full bail amount. If eligible, they can also pay ~$50 extra for the privilege of attending traffic school, then pay the traffic school of their choice $10-20, and finally then spend 400 minutes completing the traffic school requirement. 

Chumps (Hey I was one of them the last time I received and paid for my ticket).

If you’ve already attended traffic school within 18 months, then you are no longer eligible to attend traffic school again. If you get points on your record, your auto insurance company may increase your rates or even cancel your policy.

If you are living paycheck to paycheck, a traffic violation will definitely give you that “oh shit” feeling when it comes to your finances. If you are living paycheck to paycheck, a traffic ticket can be one of those minor emergencies that you pay for with your credit card (causing you to build up debt).


Saturday, October 19, 2013

AMEX Personal Savings review

Most people have heard of American Express credit cards and charge cards, however not everyone knows that American Express also offers a high yield online savings account. I have several friends who currently choose to have their online savings account at American Express, and have highly recommended that I check it out myself.
As I've mentioned previously, we currently keep most of our money in Capital One 360 accounts, and use Chase as our primary big bank checking account.
I just checked with Chase and noticed that a Basic Chase Savings interest rate is 0.01%. Pathetic. If you have over $250,000 in a Chase Plus Savings account, your interest rate only goes up to 0.15%. Pathetic. 

There is absolutely no reason for you to keep the bulk of your savings in a regular bank savings account. While Chase has an excellent checking account that I highly recommend, we don't have any money sitting in a Chase savings account at this time. 

We have just moved the bulk of our emergency fund to our new AMEX Personal Savings account.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Another Saveup prize win!

I woke up this morning, logged into my account, and was greeted with a nice surprise:

I won another Saveup raffle prize! This time I won a $100 Amazon gift card. I'll be sure to put this nice little bonus to good use. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Life is long, plan accordingly

Live for the moment!”

Life is short!”

You only live once!”

I'm sure you've heard phrases such as this before, often sprouted by the youth from teenagers to young adults in their early thirties. These are statements usually used to justify doing things for instant gratification or behaving recklessly. Such actions include spending money in irresponsible ways or doing drugs.

While life expectancy depends on many factors such as lifestyle, current health, and genetics, the actual fact is that more people are now living longer than ever

In the United States, women have an average life expectancy of 81 years and men have an average life expectancy of 76 years. The average life expectancy of Americans is 78.7 years.
A 21 year old screaming “you only live once!” at the club may realistically be looking at over 55 long years ahead.

Every now and then it's nice to be reminded why it's important to stay on the right financial track.

If you haven't done any planning for retirement, here is your wake up call.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Free flights to Portland for the holidays

I received an email from Southwest Airlines a few days ago that advertised some great low fares starting at $49 for a one way ticket.  With the holiday season quickly approaching, I decided that it was a sign for me to look into our holiday travel plans.

As I've shared before, my wife's family is from Portland, Oregon and we try to visit her family at least once or twice a year.   Unfortunately, there were no discounted flights from our airport (SNA) to Portland (PDX) this time.
Pricing out our December flights in cash, it looks like two round trip tickets would have cost us a total of $809.20. Wow, pretty pricy if you ask me. Thank goodness we never pay full price for our flights.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

myVegas and our Vegas trip

We just returned from a short getaway weekend in Las Vegas, Nevada. I was there for a business conference and I brought my wife along for the trip.  Here are some details from our trip.  

You have probably seen some of your friends on Facebook play the myVegas app.  MyVegas is an app that rewards its users for playing casino games like blackjack or slots for real Las Vegas rewards. This app is affiliated with MGM Properties and their loyalty program, Mlife.  Many of the big properties in Las Vegas are actually owned by MGM, including: Bellagio, Aria, Vdara, MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, Mirage, Monte Carlo, New York – New York, Luxor, and Excalibur.

While the myVegas app was launched on July 17, 2012, me and my wife did not start playing the game until after January 2013.  With some regular playing here and there, we were able to redeem these pretty awesome free rewards by July 2013 for our recent trip:

- 2 free tickets to Zarkana, the cirque du soleil show at Aria ($143 value)
- 2 free tickets to KA, the cirque du soleil show at MGM Grand ($143 value)
- 2 free lunch buffet passes to the Bellagio buffet ($43.98 value)
- 2 free entrance tickets to the Shark Reef exhibit at Mandalay Bay Hotel ($36 value)

Sunday, September 29, 2013

300,000 pageviews update

I just logged into Google stats for my site to find out that I’ve reached a small milestone in the history of Since its beginning (January 7, 2012), this site has now received over 300,000 pageviews!
I am constantly reading, learning, and applying different ways to improve our financial situation.  I want to show you how earning a middle class salary can lead to financial freedom, true wealth and happiness.

I’d like to also use this opportunity to give a big thanks to my wonderful wife, Jen.  She was the one who first suggested that I write and publish my thoughts for others to read.  She is my number one editor-in-chief, and helps me proofread all my material to make sure there are no spelling typos, grammatical mistakes, or factual errors.

As a part time blogger, it’s pretty exciting to see that my ramblings are being read online (my own page views are not counted).  I’m just living my life and trying to share my ideas with the world whenever I get a chance.  This site has kept me accountable in my own lifestyle.  Here is an update on some of the ways we are staying financially fit:

Monday, September 23, 2013

Bloomberg retirement infographic: will you be able to retire?

I just came across this great infographic that Bloomberg posted today (click here for larger view):
Millions of baby boomers, individuals born between the years 1946 to 1964 (now ages 49 to 67 years old) can’t afford to stop working because they haven’t come close to saving enough for retirement.   

The facts are sobering, especially this one: the typical household facing retirement will rely on Social Security for 70% of their retirement income.

Bloomberg has also posted an article about a 77 year old man whose lack of proper retirement planning has forced him to continue working two jobs well past the average retirement age, just to scrape by.

Have you started thinking about retirement yet?
Get started with my series on investing here

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Stop renting your Internet modem from Time Warner Cable

This month I got a reminder from Manilla that my cable Internet bill had increased by $2.04 from the regular $38.94 bill to a whopping $40.98.  How could this happen?  Instead of just shrugging my shoulders and blindly waiting for my autopay to cover the bill, I decided to call Time Warner Cable and see what was up.

Internet Modem Lease fee
While chatting with a customer service representative, I found out two interesting tidbits about my cable Internet account. 

First, I found out that I was being automatically charged $3.95 a month for Internet Modem Lease fee for the last 8 months.  Time Warner Cable used to offer use of its cable modem hardware for free for its customers if you supplied your own router.  This all changed starting 8 months ago when TWC started charging the monthly $3.95 fee to all its customers who were using their equipment.  This little fee has added up to $31.60 (8 x $3.95) over time.  I was quite annoyed with myself for missing that sneaky charge.   

The second surprise with my Internet account was that Time Warner Cable has just decided to increase their Internet Modem Lease fee to $5.99 a month!  This little $2.04 monthly fee increase makes the new Internet Modem Lease fee $71.88 a year.  Now I was getting mad at Time Warner.

I knew I had to stop paying for this stupid and sneaky fee like a chump.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Bike riding update

It’s been a hot few weeks this summer with temperatures reaching over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Southern California.  I have been hearing people complain nonstop about how hot it’s been, but this heat hasn’t stopped yours truly from consistently biking to the office twice a week.  Things are only going to get better as the weather starts to cool down.

Biking to work continues to be a fun and enjoyable workout for me.  The steep uphill climbs improve my muscular endurance.   With each passing week, I feel my strength and stamina improving with each ride.  I can feel myself riding faster with less fatigue.

Runtastic Road Bike
I just discovered this great free app on iTunes called Runtastic Road Bike.
Runtastic Road Bike uses your phone’s GPS to provide you with important details of your ride such as: distance traveled, duration, average speed, maximum speed, elevation, calories burned, average pace, and route taken.  The app tracks your ride in real time and uses Google maps.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Learned helplessness

Experiments on dogs
The psychologist Martin Seligman performed experiments on dogs.  When dogs were repeatedly hurt by electric shocks from which they could not escape, they eventually stopped trying to avoid the pain.  These dogs curled up and became helpless.  When the dogs were given the chance to escape, they made no attempt to do anything, even as they continued to be shocked.  Psychologists call this phenomenon learned helplessness.

Learned helplessness in people
It is a common misconception to believe that most people will do whatever they can to escape a bad situation.  In reality, people who don’t feel like they have any control over their situations eventually learn to helplessly accept their circumstances. 

When you’ve been pushed down with multiple setbacks and adverse events, it’s hard to be optimistic.  If someone goes through a series of failed attempts to accomplish something, their brain learns to believe that an outcome cannot be controlled.  An individual can become conditioned to behave helplessly, even if opportunities to escape become available.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I just won another Saveup prize!

As I’ve shared before, is a website that I visit on a daily basis.
The website lets me check on my wealth building progress and rewards me with credits every time new money deposits into any of my linked accounts. 

The data aggregation used by is provided by a company called Intuit, owners of 

Each morning, I login to and enter to win some online drawings.  You are given 3 plays a day and can exchange 100 credits for an extra play up to 5 extra plays.  This helps me get my “lottery fix” for free.  As long as I am earning, saving, and investing money, I continue to get free credits from Saveup.

I usually just pick a prize or two that seems interesting and fun and enter the raffle drawings.

Two days ago, I logged into my Saveup account and was pleasantly surprised to find out that I won another drawing! 
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