Saturday, May 31, 2014

Meet Abby, our new puppy!

Meet Abby, our new puppy!

Hi everyone, I wanted to take a moment to introduce the new addition to our home: Baby Abby!

We have been thinking about getting a dog for a while. I've always been leaning towards NOT getting a dog, due in part because we both work full time, Monday to Friday.  Would we have enough time to have a meaningful relationship with a dog?  Also, I have been weary of the financial implications of owning a pet.  How much would owning a dog slow us down in our relentless pursuit of financial improvement?

Only recently did we give serious consideration to bringing home a dog.  An opportunity came up for us to adopt a stray puppy.  One of our mutual friends recently was given this 6 month old terrier mix that needed a home.  It turned out that our friend could no longer take care of this puppy and asked us if we would like to. 

When we went to visit Abby, it was love at first sight!  Abby was extremely enthusiastic around us.  She could not stop jumping, play biting, cuddling, and licking.  This dog’s innocence and playfulness really tugged at our hearts.  We waited a week to consider making the adoption.
Is owning a dog a waste of money?

The first thing I did when I heard about this opportunity was google “owning a dog budget” which brought me to this old Kiplinger article called “9 Costs Every Dog Owner Should Budget for.”

Monday, May 19, 2014

Weekend trip with free hotel stay, thanks to Starpoints

This upcoming weekend, me and my wife are headed on another road trip from Southern California to San Francisco to attend a small family reunion (with my wife’s family).

There were many hotel options to choose from and one factor that was important to me was whether we could book our hotel stay for free.  After some google searching, we decided to use some Starpoints to cover our stay at the Four Points by Sheraton San Francisco Bay Bridge.  Some benefits include parking, free morning coffee, and free high speed wireless internet access.

Whenever a vendor takes American Express, we like to use our Starwood Preferred Guest credit card to earn Starpoints on our purchase.  Starpoints can be extremely valuable at up to 2 to 4 cents per point. 

It’s easy to redeem Starpoints for free hotel stays.  Simply go to to look up hotel options by location and travel dates.

The Four Points hotel had a rate of $139 each night.  This is an SPG category 4 hotel, which means that 10,000 Starpoints can be redeemed for each night.  If we were to book 2 nights with cash, we would be spending $278 ($139 x 2). 

Instead of paying for the hotel with cash, we are redeeming 20,000 Starpoints for a free hotel stay and saving $278.  This redemption gives us a Starpoint value of 1.4 cents.  This really isn’t the best use of Starpoints; however, it’s okay because we are not trying to hoard any points right now.  It’s nice to have a surplus of Starpoints.

Using points instead of cash for hotel stays helps us save money for other travel related expenses.  It doesn’t get much better than free.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Lowering our Internet bill with a simple call

Every few months, I make a simple phone call to lower my bills.  I consistently do this for my cell phone, car insurance, and any miscellaneous fees.

When I received my recent cable internet bill from Time Warner Cable, I noticed that my rate had gone up. I have been paying $41.99 for our high speed internet for the last 6 months.  Now our promotion expired and the rate had gone up by $2.04 for a new bill of $44.03.

It’s insulting to me that a company would offer their best promotional rates to new customers and not existing loyal customers.  I get it though; once signed up for a service, most people will just accept any rate increases without complaint.

Most people see a $2.04 increase in their bill, shrug their shoulders, and then pay the bill.  People generally don't enjoy negotiating their bill rates. 

Not me.

This rate increase was my chance to call and get our rate plan adjusted.

I looked up the customer service number and called it.

When the automated system answered, I clicked the prompts that directed me to "cancel my service."  This will instantly connect you to a company’s customer retention department.

Companies want to keep you as a customer and the retention department representatives have the capability of lowering your rates.

The representative on the line first try to sell us additional services besides high speed internet.  He asked if we were interested in bundling home phone or cable television services.  I nicely explained that we use our mobile phones to make calls and that we don't watch any cable television.  We canceled our DirecTV and purchased a Roku internet streaming device two years ago and never looked back.

I nicely explained to the rep that I have been a customer for several years and am upset about the rate increase.

The rep looked over my account and immediately offered me a $5 monthly credit for 6 months.

I immediately asked: "is there anything else that can be offered to me?"

The rep wouldn't budge, but I'm glad I tried asking.

The entire phone call took less than 15 minutes, and will save us $30 over the next 6 months. Whenever I call to negotiate a bill or fee, I make sure to document the name of the customer service rep that helped me, as well as the details of my offer.  I usually just email this information to myself so that I can review it later.  

When the rate goes up again, you better believe I'm going to call my internet service provider’s customer retention line.

Have your rates gone up?  Are you going to just pay the difference or are you going to make a simple phone call to do something about it?  What you decide says something about how you value your money.

As Mr. Money Mustache would say, a millionaire is made ten bucks at a time. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The new Barclaycard Arrival Plus(TM) World Elite MasterCard®

I was pleasantly surprised today when I found out that my Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard was being upgraded. When credit card features get refreshed, it’s usually a downgrade of the program.  In this case however, Barclaycard has refreshed and significantly upgraded their Arrival card.  The new card is now known as the Barclaycard Arrival Plus(TM) World Elite MasterCard®.

New improvements to the Arrival Plus card:
  • The Arrival Plus card has a sleek and attractive new design that is cyan-colored, with chip technology.  The new card is supposedly more durable.  This is a great improvement in my opinion because I think the previous Arrival card really was quite ugly!
  • There are now additional categories for travel redemption such as theme parks, museums, taxis, limos, buses, timeshares, ferries and tourist attractions.
  • The previous 90 day limit for miles redemption has now been extended to 120 days.
  • The card now has EMV Chip & Signature with PIN.

You can read more about the official Barclaycard announcement here.

Everything else with the Arrival card stays the same.  This includes the big sign up bonus of 40,000 bonus miles, which is easily attainable after $3,000 in purchases within the first 90 days from account opening.  With this card, you still earn 2x miles on every single purchase.  You still get 10% redeemed miles back when you redeem for travel.  Another great benefit of the Arrival Plus card is that you get free access to your online FICO® Score. 

The Arrival card is currently one of our most heavily used cards; this new upgrade makes the card even better.  My wife and I recently used our Arrival miles to pay for our free 7 day cruise vacation.  We are looking forward to receiving our new upgraded cards soon.  You can apply for your own Arrival Plus card here.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Lionfish hunting in Costa Maya, Mexico

My wife in front of the lionfish tank at the Georgia Aquarium
Lionfish facts
If you’ve visited an aquarium or fish store before, you have likely admired the beauty of the lionfish, a venomous marine fish originally found in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.  These red and white striped fish can grow up to 18 inches in length, and weigh up to 2.9 lbs.  They can live from five to fifteen years.  They prey mostly on small fish, shrimp, mollusks, and anything that can fit into their mouths.

The lionfish is one deadly fish.  Lionfish stings can cause heart failure and death in young children, elderly individuals, or immune system compromised individuals.  Venom from a lion fish spine can cause extreme pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, breathing difficulties, a drop in blood pressure, convulsions, dizziness, headache, numbness, heartburn, diarrhea, and sweating.  Due to their venomous spines, they have very few natural predators. 

Lionfish invasion into the Atlantic
Lionfish have become an invasive species in the Atlantic Oceans.   They are not native to this ecosystem and have decimated many coral reef fish populations, disrupting the natural balance of the reef.  Without many natural predators in the Atlantic, lionfish can reproduce extremely quickly; one female can produce 2 million eggs a year.

There is some speculation about how the Lionfish entered the Atlantic Oceans.  Many believe that private aquarium owners introduced the species into the ocean when the fish grew too big for their home aquariums.  It is also speculated that Hurricane Andrew caused the accidental release of several lionfish from a damaged aquarium in 1992.  Other theories suggest that the lionfish hitched rides onto large cargo ships traveling between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

James A. Morris, Jr., a scientist for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) wrote that the lionfish invasion may be “one of the greatest threats of this century to warm temperate and tropical Atlantic reefs and associated habitats.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

60,000 point bonus on Chase Ink Bold and Plus business cards

The Chase Ink big 60,000 point signup bonus is back!  If you haven’t already heard (since it’s already been mentioned on almost every hot deal or frequent flyer blog / forum), Chase has increased the sign-up bonus for the Chase Ink cards for a limited time only (no indication of how long).

You can now earn an additional 10,000 points for Ink Plus and Ink Bold credit card signups for a total of 60,000 bonus points (after spending $5,000 in 3 months). 

Chase is also increasing the sign up bonus for the Ink Cash and Ink Classic cards, which are now 25K bonus points instead of the normal 20K bonus points.  While these cards have no annual fee, I recommend applying for the Ink Bold or Ink Plus to take advantage of the first year free and much larger sign up bonus.  You can always downgrade your card into one of the no fee Ink cards later.

You may already qualify for owning a business: 
If you sell things online (ebay, craigslist, etc), you can be considered the sole proprietor of your own business, under your own name.  There is no need to use a “legal name of business” if you apply as a sole proprietor.  There is also no need for a business tax identification number as you can use your own social security number.

You can apply for a business credit card even if you are thinking of opening a business and would like to separate your personal expenses from your future business expenses.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

April side hustles 2014

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.

Welcome to May, the start of another brand new month!  Are you feeling new energy, motivation, and determination to succeed?
It’s also time for another summary of our side hustles from the previous month!  Here is our monthly summary of side income that we’ve earned in the month of April.
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