Saturday, February 20, 2016

Two free round trip tickets to San Jose, CA on Southwest

We have a wedding to attend in July 2016 in San Jose, California.  Weddings are a joyous occasion where you celebrate the beginning of a new chapter for the couple.  The food and entertainment are a plus also!

This is another opportunity for us to use our points towards free airline flights! First, I went to Southwest Airlines to check the cash price of the flights.  The cost for one round trip flight to San Jose came out to be $245.96 per person.  If we were to pay for both flights with cash, we would be paying $491.92.  That’s quite a bit of money. 
The cost for one round trip flight using Southwest Rapid Rewards points was only 14,180, or 7,090 points per person each way.  We used our Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card to transfer Ultimate Rewards points into Southwest Rapid Rewards points at a 1:1 transfer rate.  I booked one free round trip flight for my wife.  The total came out to be 14,180 points and $11.20.
Then I booked one free one-way flight for myself from SNA (Orange County) to SJC (San Jose) for 7,090 points and $5.60.

Earlier in the year, I earned a $100 airline fee credit from my AMEX Premier Rewards Gold card by purchasing a Southwest Airlines $100 gift card.  My mom also gave me her $100 airline fee credit from her personal AMEX Gold card.  This was the perfect time to redeem its value in combination with using points for our flights.  I booked a one-way return flight for myself from SJC to SNA and paid $122.98 using gift card balance.
By using a total of 21,270 points and paying $139.78 with Southwest gift cards ($11.20 + $5.60 + $122.98), we were able to save $491.92 for our flight.  We will use the savings towards hotel stay, food, wedding gift and entertainment!  

Where will your points take you?

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:
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