Wednesday, December 20, 2017

It’s the season for gift giving: how should you participate?

Is everyone ready for Christmas?  This is the happiest time of the year, when friends and family gather together to celebrate the birth of Christ and look forward to the coming of the New Year.  There are family dinners and holiday parties filled with cheer.  I love the magic of Christmas time.  I love seeing lights and decorations.  I love hearing holiday music.  I love seeing people share kindness. 

Underneath the cheerful surface of Christmas, there is stress, anxiety and sadness.  Common traditions and the media will have you believe that Christmas is less a religious holiday, and more of a gift-buying and gift-giving holiday.  Our consumerism society has ingrained into our minds from childhood that giving gifts is the best way to show how much you love someone.  There seems to be tremendous social, marital, and family pressure to shop for and give gifts to everyone that you care about.  Gift giving is even considered one of the “five love languages” of commitment to your relationship.  Many people feel obliged to buy for others just to keep up with the status quo.

Millions of dollars in advertisements will have you believe that you have to purchase a gift for every special occasion: Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, graduation, work promotions, milestones, etc.  The list goes on and on.  

Many people around me find December to be the most stressful time of the year.  A great deal of that stress revolves around money, or not having enough of it.  There is also a great deal of anxiety finding the perfect gift for important people in their lives. 

People end up spending way too much money when they aren’t financially qualified to be buying expensive things.  I know people with significant credit card debt hidden from their spouse, yet still looking to buy an expensive Christmas gift way over their budget.  I’ve already heard several coworkers talk about how “money is so tight right now.”  Some of these individuals are making between $50,000 to over $100,000 a year.

In the past, I’ve been guilty of overspending and stressing out over finding the perfect gift.  I remember the year that I got my first decent paying job.  I really went all out and bought nice gifts for all of my family members: a digital camera for my dad ($500), a Playstation ($400) for my cousins, a Louis Vuitton luxury purse for my mom ($1,800), and much more.  I felt proud to give them such nice things.  Then I received my credit card statement and started the New Year heavy in debt. 

In the past, I’ve felt the heavy weight of gift giving obligation on my back.  I’ve gone to the mall and battled the crowds trying to make last minute gift purchases a few days before Christmas.  I’ve experienced the disappointment of receiving gifts that I had no interest in: clothes that don’t fit or random knick-knacks that go straight into the trash bin.  Looking back, this was all extremely stressful and pointless. 

One of the best decisions that my wife and I have made regarding gifts was to just agree not to shop for surprises for each other.  If we really need or want something, we just agree to go and buy it – no need to connect the purchase to a random “gift giving” holiday.  We already have almost everything we could possibly want.  We are trying to minimize the junk we own.  Anything else would just clutter our home.   

Sometimes it is hard for people to understand why I don’t buy an anniversary gift for my wife, or why she doesn’t get me anything for my birthday.  Our attitudes go against common consumerism culture.  Once you are in a committed relationship with your significant other, your finances are linked.  You are now saving for financial freedom together.  Spending money from our same bank account doesn’t benefit our financial future in any way.  Our best gift to each other is sharing the common goal of reaching financial freedom together. 

Every year, I struggle with the gift giving traditions of our society.  My in-laws love to give us gifts, even though we tell them that we are happy just to be in their presence.  They know that I don’t need any material things, but it truly makes them happy to be able to give me a gift.  And if it makes them happy, all I can do is accept their gifts with a big smile.

Gift giving is not necessarily a bad thing.  We still participate in group Secret Santa or White Elephant gift exchanges.  Buying one gift instead of several doesn’t break the bank.  When thinking about gifts for others, we try to put thought into purchasing a gift that the recipient will find value in.  Consumables can be a great gift because it won’t end up in some landfill.  Experiences can also be a memorable gift that lasts.  We recently gifted my father business class flights on Japan Airlines and Singapore Airlines by redeeming some of our credit card points.  My dad has only flown in economy all of his life and these flights will be a real treat for him.  This year, the partners in my group all pitched in to treat all of the staff out to dinner.  We gave speeches of appreciation to our team, praising them for all of their hard work.  They all valued our kind words and the good food.  

Gift giving holidays can motivate people to be generous in donating to charities.  Others can be motivated to give the gift of their time in volunteering for those less fortunate.  There is a shortage of these kinds of gifts.

We will celebrate the season by spending time with our families, sharing joy.  Our health, and the meaningful relationships we have with each other, family, and friends are the most important things in our lives.  We are going to start a new tradition with our kids.  They will never have to worry about getting the perfect gifts for mommy and daddy.  They will grow up knowing that they don’t need to give gifts to show their love.  Their love will show through their attitudes and actions.

Yesterday, we took a family stroll through our neighborhood to enjoy all of the festive Christmas decorations.  Our son was mesmerized by all of the vibrant colors.  This cost us nothing and he had an amazing experience.  

Did you find yourself spending way too much money (and time) on the perfect gift this month?  Did it stress you out?  Remember that Christmas is not about plentiful gifts under a decorated tree.  The best present you can give someone is your presence and your time.  

Friday, December 1, 2017

Side hustles November 2017

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.

Once a month (usually on the 1st), I like to post a short summary of our personal and financial situation for the previous month.  Here I’ll share some of what’s been going on with our lives and our side hustles. 

Welcome to December, did everyone have a good November?  It was a month filled with Thanksgiving gatherings with our family, friends, and colleagues. I let my guard down this time of the year and eat lots of delicious unhealthy foods (especially sweets).
We took our last vacation as a family of three before our new baby arrives later this month.  We spent 4 days and 3 nights in Carlsbad to visit Legoland and Sea Life Aquarium.  Most of the time was spent chasing our son around the amusement park.  
Our son continues to grow up so fast.  It’s amazing how quickly he is learning now.  He is like a sponge, soaking up everything he hears.  He is starting to say 3 word sentences.  He knows his alphabet, can count up to 20, knows his months of the year, and is learning how to properly say the days of the week.  

Our son continues to love exploring the neighborhood.  He loves touching the grass, flowers, and leaves.  
He just learned that limes come in different colors.  
He’s growing so fast.  
Here’s our monthly summary of side income that we have generated in the previous month of November.

Cash back
On 11.1, I received a $0.90 deposit into my Discover Cashback Checking account.  New Discover Cashback Checking eliminates the previous 10 cent per transaction benefits of the checking account and converts it into a straight 1% cash back debit card.  It won’t be as fun earning 10 cents back on micro transactions and checks cleared.  However, this may open up some extra cash back options since I might be about to pay our mortgage with a debit card and no fees. 

Survey Income
On 11.24, I received 2 checks for $35 each from E-Rewards Medical totaling $70 for survey income.
On 11.30, I received a $40 Virtual Visa debit card from E-Rewards Medical for completing an online survey

Rental Income
On 11.5, we received a net profit of $475 from our rental property.  Our tenants were late on their rent payment and they had to pay $45 in late fees.  This happens every now and then.  They are still great tenants and we hope they stay with us long term. 

Website Income
On 11.21, I received a $100 direct deposit into our checking account from Commission Junction for income generated by the website.  We appreciate your support.

In other news, I was walking my dog and bumped into my neighbor who was about to take his unused mountain bike to the dump.  It was in great condition and I could not let such a beautiful bike go to waste.  I asked if I could take the bike off his hands and I scored a free mountain bike!
Monthly Totals:
We earned $0.90 cash back
I earned $110 from paid surveys
I earned $100 from income generated by this website
We earned $475 from rental income

All of this totals $685.90 from our side hustles for the month of November.  It’s been a busy month so we haven’t been able to bring in as much side hustle income as in previous months.  We are expecting more side income next month.  Can you believe 2017 is almost over?  What have you done to bring in extra money? 

Monday, November 27, 2017

Legoland with a 2 year old

We just got back from spending 3 nights in Carlsbad, California to visit Legoland.  We wanted to take one last trip as a family of 3 before our daughter joins us next month.  Since our son loves to run and explore, we figured Legoland would be a great place for him to visit.
Grand Pacific Palisades Hotel
We stayed 3 nights for free at the Grand Pacific Palisades hotel, paid for with Chase Ultimate Rewards points.  The Grand Pacific Palisades hotel is a 5 minute walk from Legoland (it’s right across the street).  We booked our stay here because their rate was cheaper than staying at the Legoland Hotel (which is located just outside the entrance of Legoland).  The best part was that we could use our Ultimate Rewards points to cover the cost of our hotel stay!  We booked our 3 night stay at the Grand Pacific Palisades hotel through the Chase travel portal with 30,687 Ultimate Rewards points.
The Grand Pacific Palisades has some really nice amenities for adults and children.  For adults, there is a heated pool and jacuzzi that opens until midnight.  There is also a small gym with some machines, free weights and treadmills where I worked out at night.  For children, there is a separate children’s pool that is only 3 to 4 feet deep.  The children’s pool is also heated.  
Just next to the children’s pool is a small water park where kids can splash around.  There is also a small children’s play area with a castle and slides. 
We enjoyed dinner at Karl Strauss brewery restaurant on our first night.  This restaurant is located right on the Grand Pacific Palisades property.  They also provide in room dining service if you don’t feel like leaving the hotel to go eat.

I enjoyed the Big Beer Burger, described as “based with Columbia Street Amber, topped with Red Trolley Ale onions.  Tower 10 IPA mushrooms, beer-brined bacon, Wreck Alley Imperial Stout cheddar, tomato, lettuce, and fries.  Served with Tower 10 IPA steak sauce.”  It was delicious!  My wife enjoyed the Fish n Chips, with “battered Alaskan Cod, caper remoulade, and house-made broccoli slaw.”  The fish was crispy on the outside, and flaky on the inside.  Our son had the kid’s chicken strips meal. 
We went to visit Legoland on both Friday and Saturday, for two packed days of fun.  Legoland opened at 10am, and we were one of the first in line to enter the park on both days.  
It was great to visit Legoland a week before Thanksgiving, since the park was extremely empty on Friday, and not very crowded on Saturday.  There was no wait for every ride that we wanted to go on.  And our son could run around the park freely without bumping into anyone. 
Legoland offers rides and activities for individuals of all ages.  They specifically offer a What to do when you’re 2 guide.  There are rides with no height restrictions, while other rides have height restrictions starting at 34”.  A few of the rides even had a maximum height restriction.  We were able to go on several fun rides including:

Safari Trek (Explorer Island) – a jeep ride through a jungle filled with Lego animals.

Fairy Tail Brook (Explorer Island) – a boat ride through various Lego created fairy tale characters.
Legoland Express (Fun Town) – a mini train ride surrounded by Lego animals.
Coast Cruise (Miniland) – boat cruise around a lake surrounded by Lego miniature buildings of famous places including the Taj Mahal, Eiffel Tower, Mt. Rushmore, and New York.
Our son loved playing with Legos of various sizes at building stations throughout the park.  
He admired all of the Lego created mini cities and I gawked over the Lego Star Wars sets.  
He loved playing with the Coast Guard Build A Boat and watching the boats go down the waterslides. 
He enjoyed running around the Duplo interactive playground and slides at Fun Town.  We also got to enjoy a fun little concert with the Lego Friends.

Legoland Sea Life Aquarium
Sea Life Aquarium is an attraction packed aquarium located near the entrance of Legoland.  Our son already knows the names to many of his favorite sea creatures.  He was so excited to call out all of the creatures he recognized at the aquarium, including sharks, octopi, stingrays, fish, sea stars, crabs, and more. 

We spent almost 8 hours at Legoland 2 days in a row!  

Dining at Legoland
We enjoyed lunch at Legoland both days.  There are many restaurants here that all looked very tasty.  First we had lunch at Urban Kitchen, a market style restaurant where your meal is made in front of you.  I had the tasty Philly cheese steak sandwich while my wife and son shared the shrimp spaghetti.
The next day we had lunch at Wok n Bowl Ramen, a Japanese style Ramen house.  Our son’s current favorite food is noodles so we were glad Legoland offered this food option.  We each had the ramen, while our son had the teriyaki chicken stir-fry.
Each day our son laid down in his stroller to nap for two hours, giving us the chance to relax over some coffee.  We stopped for some delicious Granny’s Apple Fries, which were some type of fried apple coated with cinnamon and topped with vanilla cream. 
For amusement park restaurants, we found the food to very reasonably priced and pretty good.

Legoland ticket prices
Legoland admission varies quite a bit, depending on whether you purchase your tickets in advance online or whether you purchase your tickets the day of your visit.  The standard price seems to be $95 for adults (13+) and $85 for children over 2 years old for a one day visit to the theme park.  Legoland has 2 separate add on park attractions that cost extra on top of your normal ticket price: Sea Life Aquarium (additional $22) and Legoland Water Park (additional $30).  There are frequent deals to Legoland throughout the year, which you can find with a quick Google search.  Through my work, I was able to get 2 day park hopper tickets to Legoland including Sea Life Aquarium for $140.98 for 2 adults (our 2 year old was free).  This gave us 2 full days of Legoland and Sea Life Aquarium for $35.25 each person, each day.        
While our son wasn’t tall enough to go on many of the Legoland rides, he still had a blast.  Since there were no lines, we were able to go on the same rides over and over again.  Legoland offers an excellent value for the price, amount of activities to do, and light crowds compared to a place like Disneyland.  We had a great time and will definitely come back to Legoland again as a family. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

My Chase Ultimate Rewards collection

Last month, my wife got approved for her Chase Ink Preferred Business card.  I recently applied for and just got instantly approved for my own Chase Ink Preferred!  

With this new card, my Chase Ultimate Rewards collection is complete:
Here’s the list of the Chase cards I’ve picked up and the sign up bonuses I’ve earned from Chase over the last 5 years:
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve – 100K points after spending 4K
  • JP Morgan Palladium – No bonus points. I applied because I wanted a card made of Palladium to add to my collection.  
  • JP Morgan Select – downgraded from my Palladium card.
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred – 50K points after 1st purchase
  • Chase Sapphire – downgraded from my CSP.
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred #2 – 45K points after spending 4K and adding an authorized user.
  • Chase Freedom Visa – 30K points after 1st purchase.
  • Freedom MasterCard – previously converted from my Sapphire card.
  • Freedom Unlimited – converted from my Freedom MasterCard
  • Chase Ink Plus – 70K points after spending 5K
  • Chase Ink Preferred – 80K points after spending 5K
  • Chase Ink Bold – 60K points after spending 5K
  • Chase Ink Cash – 30K points after 1st purchase.
  • Chase Ink Cash #2 – downgraded from my Ink Plus
  • Chase Disney Debit cards – I’ve churned the Chase Checking account bonus a few times.  It’s free to convert your regular Chase debit card into the Disney debit card.  There are 4 fun Disney designs to choose from and the card offers some perks at Disneyland resorts.
  • Chase Business Debit card – $300 bonus after depositing $1,000 and performing 5 qualified transactions.

By far, the Chase Ultimate Rewards program is my favorite credit card points program.  We’ve used our points towards free flights and hotel stays around the world.  The sign up bonuses from the cards above total 465,000 Ultimate Rewards points!

The Chase cards I continue to use regularly include my: Sapphire Reserve, Freedom, Freedom Unlimited, Ink Cash, and now my Ink Preferred.  I’ve had a good run with Chase and will continue to utilize their Ultimate Rewards program.

How many credit cards have you collected?
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