Sunday, December 18, 2016

Disneyland with our Chase Disney Visa Debit card

The Chase Disney Visa Debit card offers the same features as your regular Chase Debit Card, but has 4 different card designs available and provides special Disney perks.  You are eligible for this card as long as you have a Chase checking account.  You can convert your normal Chase debit card into this Disney debit card for free, and there is no annual fee. You can use your card at the ATM just as you normally would with your Chase debit card.  The Disney Visa Debit card has the same security and safety benefits as the normal Chase Visa Debit card, such as fraud monitoring and liability protection.

The Disney Visa Debit card gives you special discounts at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, Disneyland Resort in California, Disney Cruise Lines, as well as other Disney Resorts.  This includes 10% off select merchandise purchases at Disney Stores and 10% off select dining locations.  You can choose between 4 different card designs.  
In my opinion the coolest feature is a special Disney character “meet and greet” at Disneyland Resorts at a private location reserved for cardmembers only. I first wrote about the Disney Visa Debit card over 4 years ago in 2012 here.  We finally got to use our card at Disneyland last week. 

My sister in law and her two kids came to visit us for a few days.  My wife and I took the Monday off and we all went to visit Disneyland and California Adventure.  While the parks were pretty packed, we did get to go on a fair amount of rides, with our son going on his first 3 Disneyland rides (Flik’s Flyers, Monsters Inc. and The Little Mermaid).  
We loved seeing all of the holiday decorations set up around the parks.  Our son enjoyed the Disney Junior live stage show.  It was great seeing the look of amazement and wonder in our son’s eyes. 
While we were in California Adventure, we dropped by the special Chase reserved area for Disney character greeting.  
Benjamin got to meet Minnie Mouse up close and personal!  He was all smiles and giggles, not shy at all.  There was no wait; all we had to do was show identification and the Chase Disney Debit card.  
Note: your card only allows you to meet a character one time.  I believe different characters come to the area every 4 hours. 

We all had a great time at Disneyland.  With a help of a few Fastpasses, we were able to go through all the rides we wanted to with less than a 30-minute wait each time.  Our Chase Disney Debit card helped make our day a little extra special by giving our family a special one on one time with Minnie Mouse!

I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Over 250K invested

Just logged into my account and noticed that we hit another major financial milestone: our investments have now surpassed $250,000 in value!  It has been a steady journey for us, with simple and consistent investment contributions. 

What’s the point of living a simple lifestyle to save and invest more?  Freedom.  I’ve been wealthy and I’ve been poor, and I choose to never be poor again.  We know what it’s like to live with the dissatisfaction and stress of living paycheck to paycheck.  By not focusing on material things, and focusing instead on happiness and enriching experiences, our quality of life has improved drastically.  Investing helps us make money work for us.  We work hard and invest as much as possible so that we don't have to work forever.
My family motivates me to succeed.
Our largest investment accounts have been with our 401Ks.  With every paycheck, our contributions get automatically deducted and invested.  When the market is down, we purchase extra shares, and when the market is up, we purchase less shares.  There is no need to think about what to contribute because it is all done automatically.  Investing in a 401K allows us to put in pre-tax dollars; so more money is deposited with each contribution. This also lowers our income tax bill by a significant amount.  (Our dependent care FSA also lowers our tax bill by $5,000 each year).    

Our other investments include money with Vanguard in our Roth IRAs, taxable accounts, and now our son’s 529 college fund.  We don’t consider our home as an investment so our home equity is not included.  The last big financial milestone for us was when our investments surpassed $100,000 in value in June 2014. 

Our investments are simple, mostly in the Boglehead 3-fund portfolio.  This portfolio includes a piece of over 3,600 US stocks (Apple, JP Morgan Chase, Google, Chevron), over 5,500 international stocks (Nestle, Toyota, HSBC), and over 6,300 individual US bonds.   

I recently opened a very small position (less than 6% total investments) in VHCIX, Vanguard’s Health Care fund.  VHCIX invests in stocks of companies involved with providing health care products, services, technology, and medical equipment.  This fund normally has a minimum investment of $100,000!  Luckily, I can access this fund through my work 401K, and I contribute 10% of my 401K investments into VHCIX.  I believe in health care as an industry and this helps me support it.

The US stock market is currently in record highs.  However, international stock markets haven’t performed well lately and the US bond market has recently dropped quite a bit.  Our 3-fund portfolio allows us to stay diversified.  We have been rebalancing by investing more in international and bond funds lately.   

It has taken a while for our investments to reach a quarter million.  While we are proud of what we have accomplished, we still have a long way to go before we reach financial freedom.  I’m not trying to brag or show off; I feel like we have a lot of catching up to do with our investments compared to other people our age.  We started investing around the end of 2011.  If we had begun our journey towards financial freedom back when we both started working, I have no doubt that we would have 500K in our investment balance by now.  I'll post an update when we hit 500K.

If you are just getting started with investments, realize that while the best time to have started investing was when you first started making money, the second best time is right now.  I recommend first contributing to your company 401K enough to get the company match.  Then aim to max out your IRA contribution.  Afterwards, I would focus on increasing your 401K contributions until you max it out.  If you do not have access to a 401K, I would look into opening a taxable account.  While investments into a taxable account don’t offer any tax benefits initially, long term capital gains tax are only 15%.  Taxable investments are extremely liquid and you can access them anytime.  Should the stock market do poorly, you can tax loss harvest.  You can’t do this with retirement accounts in your IRA or 401K.   

For more reading about investing in mutual funds, I wrote a brief series of investment articles beginning here.  For even more in-depth and excellent reading on stock market index fund investing, read the Stock Series by JLCollinsNH.  

What are you doing to work towards your financial freedom?

Friday, December 2, 2016

November 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.

Welcome to December, a brand new month! Can you believe that 2016 is almost over!?  

Did everyone have a good Thanksgiving?  We both appreciated the paid time off received for Thanksgiving and the day after.  We spent a lot of quality time with family and friends, and ate plenty of food.  It was great not having to deal with any stress of work.  There is so much to be thankful for each day.  We are thankful for our health, our family, and our friendships.
Reading free books at the children's library
It was nice to experience freedom from work for 4 days in a row (Thursday through Sunday).  We had a chance to sleep in a little bit each morning, go for walks in the park, take naps in the afternoon and really just enjoy life at a slower pace.  These few days off felt like a glimpse into how early retirement could be.  It was so great to spend time playing with our son, instead of him spending hours each day at daycare.
Our boy loves his mega blocks!
Strolling through the park

Our son getting his hair cut for free at home
We survived Black Friday and Cyber Monday, supposedly the days of greatest possible discount, without spending too much money.  We did buy a new Nest 3rd generation smart thermostat for $175.15 after taxes, a great deal since the retail price is $249.99 before taxes.  Our previous thermostat was probably about 30 years old, and was having a few electrical issues.  Best part of the deal was that we qualified for a $125 rebate for purchasing a smart thermostat! 

$50 (after discounts and rebates) for a new smart thermostat where we can control temperature from anywhere with our iPhones is quite the hot deal!

Here’s our monthly summary of side income that we have generated in the previous month of November.  It was a pretty slow month of side hustle income for us.  We were too focused on family and relaxing to hustle hard.  Also have been spending more time planning out or upcoming trip to Japan and Taiwan early next year.
Here’s our monthly summary of side income that we have generated in the previous month of October.
Paid surveys
On 11.2, I received $3 PayPal deposit from Pinecone Research
On 11.21, I received a $5 PayPal deposit from Pinecone Research

Rental Income
On 11.1, I received a check for $700 from our temporary housemate.  With utility costs going up, it was time to increase the rent by $100.
On 11.6, we received a net profit of $455 from our rental property. This includes a $25 late fee.  Hopefully paying rent late does not happen again. 

Monthly Totals:
I earned $8 from paid surveys
We earned $1,155 from rental income

All of this totals $1,163 from our side hustles for the month of November.  While we are used to bringing in much more side hustle income, this little bit still helps. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

100,000 Membership Rewards points from the AMEX Platinum card - It's back!

EDIT: Offer is dead, lasted 6 hours 
My friend just let me know that the American Express Platinum card is now offering a huge sign up bonus of 100,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $3,000 in 3 months.  The normal sign up bonus is only 40,000 points so this bonus is huge.  

While this card has a hefty $450 annual fee not waived the first year, there are a few nice benefits that help to offset the annual fee.  With the Platinum card you get free lounge access, Hilton Gold status, Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status, $200 yearly airline fee credit, and extra benefits such as Global Entry or TSA Precheck credit.     

If you select United Airlines for your Airline Fee Credit, then download the United MPX app for your phone, you can purchase a $200 gift card and then get a $200 statement credit on your account.  The Airline Fee Credit gets renewed each calendar year.  If you keep this card for one year, then the $450 annual fee can be offset with $400 worth of gift cards airline fee credits.  Edit: Amazon gift cards via the United MPX app NO longer trigger the statement credit.  AMEX stopped this.

American Express has upgraded the card benefits by adding 5x points on flights booked directly with airlines or with AMEX Travel, 2x points on trips booked through AMEX, and 1 point per dollar spent on everything else.  

You can apply for the AMEX Platinum card here.  Note: the link works if you open "incognito" mode on your web browser.  This offer comes around once in a while and it doesn't usually last long!  Read more discussion about this card in the Reddit thread here.  

Note #2: Do NOT under any circumstances do any manufactured spending such as buying gift cards with your new Platinum card. American Express may and can freeze your points balance.  See this Flyertalk discussion for more details.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Your lifestyle has already been designed, but it doesn’t need to be permanent

I recently read an old blog post on, a great blog I recently discovered that focuses on life hacking.  It’s a great post that has resonated with me titled: “Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed.”  The author David Cain writes about how corporations have helped to sustain a culture of consumerism, aided largely in part because of the 40-hour workweek. 

For as long as people have been employed in modern jobs, it has always been accepted that 40 hours a week is the standard.  Even with all the advances in modern science, technology, robotics, and software, the corporations still demand that employees put in 40 hours of work each week.  This leads to having less time to do the things we really want to do, and less time to spend with the people that we love.  David Cain at writes: “under these working conditions people have to build a life in the evenings and on weekends.  This arrangement makes us naturally more inclined to spend heavily on entertainment and conveniences because our free time is so scarce.”

Think about it.  For those working 40+ hours a week, what do they often do in their free time?   If your commute to work is over 30 minutes each way, how do you have time to cook food, exercise, entertain yourself and spend quality time with your family / friends when you get off work?  With free time being so limited, many people end up spending money to make themselves feel better and to make their lives easier.  People eat out instead of cooking healthy food at home.  People buy expensive cars to show off how successful they are.  People buy things to make themselves feel better, then let all this extra junk accumulate in their basement, garage, or public storage locker.  I’ve written before about how 75-80% of our neighbors have so much junk in their garage that they have to park their cars on the driveway or street. 

David writes that the 8-hour workday is too profitable for big business, not because of the amount of work people get done in eight hours but because it makes for such a purchase-happy public.  Keeping free time scarce means people pay a lot more for convenience, gratification, and any other relief they can buy.  It keeps them watching television, and its commercials.  It keeps them unambitious outside of work.  We’ve been led into a culture that has been engineered to leave us tired, hungry for indulgence willing to pay a lot for convenience and entertainment, and most importantly, vaguely dissatisfied with our lives so that we continue wanting things we don’t have.  We buy so much because it always seems like something is still missing.”  Such a true statement; and I see it everyday with my colleagues and friends.  Almost every one of my coworkers eats out for lunch daily – spending money on food and adding extra miles to their vehicles and extra weight to their bodies.  Eating out daily is unhealthy both for your physical self and also for your bank account balance.  Doctors at my hospital complain about not getting paid enough when many of them are making over 300K a year.  The doctors-only parking lot is filled with Teslas, Maseratis, Porsches, BMWs, Mercedes Benz, Audis and other luxury cars.

The 40-hour workweek is almost unavoidable in many careers.  For many employed jobs, either you work 40 hours a week or you don’t work at all.  If you don’t work a minimum amount of hours, you may lose access to company-sponsored health care, retirement plans (401K, 403B), paid time off, and more.  Most people have the same routine: wake up, get ready for work, commute to work, spend 8-9 hours in the office, commute from work, get home, eat, relax for a few hours, and then get ready for bed.  Repeat every weekday for 30+ years and then hope to have enough to retire someday.      

The 40-hour workweek is exhausting.  But it is the lifestyle that has been designed for many of us.  While conveniences and money spent towards travel and experiences can definitely be fulfilling, there needs to be a balance between saving and spending.  Saving aggressively towards financial freedom is best way to get out of the 40-hour workweek.  Otherwise you will be trapped in this vicious cycle of living life only in the evenings, weekends, and the occasional vacation – until you can no longer physically work.      

We are both working hard towards financial freedom right now.  We are saving and investing at least 50% of our income, and trying to have fun along the way.  We’ve made big advancements in our careers, yet we still have a long way to go.  A few years ago I made partner in my group, which has given me a few freedom benefits such as a 35-hour workweek and 7 weeks paid time off.  I’m looking to reduce my workweek to 4 days within the next 5 years.  My wife is hoping for an opportunity to work remotely from home.  While we both have a commute less than 15 minutes, we still feel like there isn’t enough time in each day. 

While we are stuck in this designed workweek and workday, I’m thankful that we have both found careers that are valuable and fulfilling.  Has your lifestyle been designed already?
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