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?

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Major milestone reached: over 200K invested in my 401K

Someone on the ChooseFI Facebook group pointed out that the above balance is an 8 digit palindrome made with only 2 different numbers!
I just hit a new milestone in my 401K: my investments have surpassed 200K in value!  This bull market has really helped to boost our investment returns.  While 200K isn’t enough to retire on*, it’s a great milestone to reach and keeps us encouraged to stay the course with our investments.  My last big 401K milestone was surpassing 100K in value in September 2015.  Second to our real estate portfolio, my 401K is our best performing account.

A 401K is an employer sponsored salary deferral account that allows you to contribute part of your income towards your retirement.  These contributions come out of your paycheck pre-tax and can be invested into a portfolio of mutual funds.  Contributions into your 401K lower your adjusted gross income, which can lower your tax liability.  Currently you can contribute a maximum of $18,000 a year into your 401K (if you are under age 50).  Starting next year in 2018, you can contribute a maximum of $18,500.  For more information regarding 401Ks, read this Investopedia article.

I started contributing into my 401K in October 2011, a little over 6 years ago.  I started off with a 3% contribution from my paycheck.  Then I kept slowly ramping up my contributions, just 1% every month or two.  I increased the contribution amount and then made our lifestyle adjust to the decreased take home paycheck.  I didn’t start maxing out my 401K until June 2014, when the maximum was $17,500 per year.

It’s amazing how much money you can accumulate by consistently investing into a bull market.  I’ve been a part of a profit sharing program with my company for the last 4 years, and distributions go into our 401Ks.  I actually prefer that these distributions go into my 401K, and not my bank account.  This helps me hide my bonus money from myself so I’m not tempted to spend it all.  Also having a company match provides an instant return on your money.  Saying no to the 401K match is like saying no to a free raise.  Don’t leave free money on the table.  My company offers a 3% match, while other companies may offer more.  Company matching contributions do not count towards the maximum individual contribution amount.    

People (and the media) have told me countless times to get out of the stock market for various reasons (double dip recession, European debt crisis, Grexit, US government shutdown, terrorist attacks, oil crisis, Brexit, a new president, etc). The entire time I just kept my contributions on autopilot, investing whether the market was up or down and just ignoring the noise.  Consistent contributions into my 401K allow me to dollar cost average into the stock market.  When the market is down, I purchase extra shares and when the market is up, I purchase less shares.  This takes the emotion out of investing.  My taxable and IRA accounts didn’t perform as well because I was always over thinking my investments: waiting for the market to pull back before buying more shares, exchanging stocks for bonds when the market reached a new high, or only making new purchases on a down market trading day.

Automatic investing simplifies your investing so you don’t overthink your investment timing
.  Fidelity investments did a 
study of the portfolios that performed the best from 2003 to 2013.  They found that the best performing accounts were from investors who were dead!  This is because these dead investors didn’t try to dance in and out of the market.  The investors who tried to time the market ended up performing far worse than those that just stayed the course.   

Right now I am 90% invested in 3 funds designed to mimic VTSAX, the Vanguard Total Stock Market (71% S&P Fund, 6% Vanguard Mid Cap, 13% Vanguard Small Cap Growth) as well as 10% into a Vanguard Health Care index.  These are simple index funds and there is no magic to our asset allocation. 
This last year has been great with a 26.2% rate of return.  I don’t expect that to continue going forward.  But I do expect to continue maxing out the 401K.  This all goes towards funding our financial freedom and retirement. 

Are you maxing out your 401K contributions?  If not, it’s time to increase your contribution amount - even a 1% increase will make a difference long term.  

*Someone from the ChooseFI Facebook Group pointed out this link where you can read about 8 countries where 200K is enough to last 30 years! 
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...