Let’s Talk Retirement

It seems like almost every week there is an article saying how American’s don’t have enough for retirement.  Here is a nice graph from the Economic Policy Institute.  It looks like people at the top may be alright with $163,000, but really that is simply less than $1,000 a month over twenty years.  Coupled with Social Security you’re not going to have the same quality of life you had previously, unless you were making around $24,000 a year.  Yet, the news gets worse.  The first graph is just the average which is driven up by people who have saved a ton.  The typical person in that category has only $17,000!  I think we all know that’s not going to make for a lovely retirement.

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Experiences on Points

Previously I said that our cash expenses on vacations are primarily food and the occasional experience because you can’t use points for those.  Well I figured out you sure can!  I was hoping this article would be one where I could say look what I won, but unfortunately I was outbid.

Introduction to Auctions

Instead of using your hotel points or airline miles for hotels and airlines, it is possible to get something unique.  Some items are fancy meals while others are trips around the world or tickets for a sports match.  You can even meet Mariah Carey.  This can work out great because you may have a pile of points and would prefer an experience to a hotel stay.  Don’t get carried away, it can be tough to win, but if you do there can be some great value.  Let’s look at some examples.

My case

First, there was a trip for two to Japan with 7 nights at a 5-star hotel and a 4-day guided tour with business class flights.  The price for the tour alone was $4,000 per person.  All together I estimated the trip was around $12,000.  It ended up going for 651,000 United miles.  Close to 2 cents a point is not a bad use of miles.

Next, there was a trip to Telluride that included two pairs of custom skis.  The skis were worth $3,500 and the lift tickets another $1,000.  Add in hotel, flights, and car and this package was around $8,000.  That sold a bit higher than all the miles we have at 400,000 United miles.  Again, they are getting around 2 cents a point.  That’s not to say there aren’t even better deals.

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Negotiation Class

I’m back in school and I’m taking a negotiation class because who doesn’t want to be a better negotiator?  I sure do because then I can get better deals on everything and hopefully find creative value-creating solutions.

Getting to No

One of our assignments is to make requests and get rejected ten times.  I think this is a great idea!  It has made me try more extreme asks.  I challenge you to go ask for things because only good things can happen.  I asked my kitesurf instructor to make a package of lessons and got €5/hour discount.  Same thing happened for my Portuguese lessons.  If they say yes, then maybe next time you should try a larger discount.

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Budget Airlines

Europe is full of budget airlines and yet I’ve managed to avoid them, until this week.  I bought a roundtrip on TAP, but I decided it would be easier to fly back earlier, so I bought a ticket on EasyJet.  Still no plans to use RyanAir though.

Decline of service

I find it funny how much people complain about flying.  I see it as more of situation of you get what you pay for.  If you would like to pay $19 for a two hour flight, then you may have to be cramped, forego a check in bag, and go without a snack.  If you want better service you are free to fly other airlines or pay for another class.  Airlines have simply been taking our actions of getting the cheapest fares and acting accordingly to try to reduce their costs.  Simply, you get what you pay for, but there are deals and there are always airline miles.

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Iceland: Lots of Hype

I have heard wonderful things about Iceland and I probably wouldn’t have gone, except for a friend strongly recommended that I tried to get there.  Well, Lisbon isn’t too far away, so I made it.  Now I’m back to tell you about it.


Everyone says Iceland is so expensive, but I did not find it to be that bad.  The groceries at Bonus were similarly priced to America, but restaurants were about double the amount.  Like Norway, gas was $8 a gallon.  However, the car rental was much cheaper at $160 for a manual Fiat 500.  It was a tiny car, but it was fine on the Ring Road.  We stayed in hotels for $70 to $150, but the expensive one was because it was remote.

We were able to get one flight free from the Merrill+ card.  The price of flights showed up as $500 when I searched from Lisbon to Iceland going through London.  However, for my wife’s ticket we booked two roundtrips, Lisbon to London and London to Iceland and the price came to only $300.  It is a risk because if the flight gets delayed you will miss

The total cost without flights was around $900 for 4 days for two people.  Not bad for a pricy place.

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Norway: Crazy Beautiful, Insanely Expensive

We just returned from a vacation to Norway.  It was amazing.  The entire time I felt like I was driving through Yosemite.  We were constantly going through tunnels and driving along fjords.  On both sides there were dozens of waterfalls.  It was a really great drive going along some narrow roads, hairpin turns, and even through the longest tunnel in the world!


There are probably ways to get to Norway affordably on Norwegian Air.  However, I had $1,000 in free flights from my Merrill+ card, so you can’t beat free.  We booked the flights on KLM and Wideroe from Lisbon to Molde and returned from Bergen.  Since it was under $1,000 I was able to use my points and pay nothing.


There was no cheap option for renting a car.  However, we did get lucky.  I booked the car and later found that I could get 10% off if I booked through Expedia.  That brought the cheapest option to $464.  I ended up choosing the $496 option for an Elite vehicle.  We got a manual Passat TDI Alltrack, my new favorite car.  It worked out really well because it is Diesel and gets over 40 MPG.  Diesel is cheaper than gas, but still $7 a gallon.  The fuel totaled to around $120. Continue reading →

Road Trip: Surprisingly Expensive

Last weekend we took a three-day road trip from Lisbon to Gibraltar and Seville.  I don’t think I would ever plan a trip to Gibraltar, but since I was able to drive there, why not?


The car is a crucial part of a road trip.  The difference between a miniature and a economy size was $1 a day, so I went for the economy one.  The automatic car was an additional $30 a day, so I went with the manual.  The only reason I learned to drive a stick was to save on rental cars.  The car was only $8 a day but had $57 in initial fees for crossing the border and the toll collection device.  If the trip were longer the price would have been really great as it would just be $8 for additional days.

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Cost of Living in Lisbon

After a summer in Austin, I’ve been back in Lisbon for a month.  I don’t budget, but I track my expenses on Mint, however I recently found a great new tool called Keep Thrifty that allows you to input your expenses.  Mint is great, but I have so many transactions that Keep Thrifty was a good way to isolate my Lisbon expenses.

The picture shows how the site nicely sums each category’s transactions.  In the picture it shows dollars because that’s the only option, but I spent Euros, so I’ll convert it in my totals below.


We got a great deal on housing through a platform for student housing.  It is located in Bairro Alto which is a good part of the city but can get really loud as there are lots of bars.  We have our own place with a living room, bedroom, kitchen, patio, and bathroom.  In the first five months we were in an apartment with 10 people in seven bedrooms and had to pay $648, so this is really a deal.

If you want to rent a room you could probably find something for $400, even in Lisbon.  Every other city in Lisbon is going to be even cheaper.

Total cost: $720

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This entry was posted in Living.

The Colony Tour: Cancelled

The Colony Tour.  That’s what we were calling our trip, but it sounds like something Coldplay or the Queen would do.  Just last week I was telling you how there were many things which I had spent big money on that I didn’t regret.  Well, there was a tinge of regret on the after graduation trip, so now plans have changed!  I’ll take you through my decision and why I decided to modify the trip.

Original plan

On the tour we were to see the United Kingdom, Singapore, New Zealand, and Hong Kong.  See the colonies?  We were to start and end in America, so maybe add that to the list.  The plan was sparked by having a lot of British Airways points and a Travel Together ticket that was burning a hole in my pocket.  The huge catch of this “benefit” that is earned with the British Airways card is that you have to pay the fees for the both tickets even though you only need to pay the points for one.  Wanting to maximize it I did a route from the US to London first class, seven days later London to Singapore economy, then on the way back it was Hong Kong to London economy, and London to the US first class.  Pretty snazzy right?  I’ve never flown first class although I did business class once with points.  On top of this we had business class flights and from New Zealand.  Pretty swanky right?

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Big Money That I Don’t Regret Spending

College DegreeI write a lot about being frugal, but sometimes I spent a lot of money.  Therefore, I give an expensive purchase lots of thought before I pull the trigger so it is not often I regret it.  I have never had a wild weekend in Vegas where I blew a bunch of money because it is unappealing to me.  However, I have had some pretty luxurious vacations and spent more hours in school than you can imagine.


I used to think going to UC Berkeley was a waste of money and I could have gone to a local state school.  However, looking back I think it was a really good challenge and experience.  Also, when I travel around the world most people recognize the brand.  I can’t compare it to what I would have done if I went to Cal State Fullerton, but looking back it was worth it.  You will not necessarily be able to apply the skills you learn in college at your job, but it is an experience and shows you accomplished something.  I think this will change in the future, so if I have kids I may not recommend it, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Now I’m doing an MBA.  What is different is that I am paying the entire sum this time rather than just part of it as I did in college.  Thank you parents.  I compared schools and chose one that fits my budget and my desire to live abroad where I can learn the language.  I chose one that is only a year long so it has even less opportunity cost.  Looks like it is all going to work out!

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Personal Finance Weapons of Mass Destruction: Being Unprepared

Have you ever been in a meeting and someone asked a question that you couldn’t answer?  Being put on the spot when unprepared feels awful.  In other parts of our life we end up spending money to get out of the situation.  I’m not talking about being unprepared for retirement, although being unprepared at the each step before then will not bode well for your retirement either.  Before you get confused, let’s see some examples.


If you woke up late you may not have time for breakfast which means you will likely end up buying breakfast at a drive-through.  Then at night, when you get home you realize that you don’t have groceries and decide to order pizza.  If you took steps to prepare ahead of time you could save money on food and have a healthier lifestyle as well.

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MacBooks are the Gold Standard

I found this picture and thought I should write something about it, because this picture captures hustling.  In the picture there are 7 MacBooks.  There is also a Trader Joe’s mailer which I used as packaging, because why buy something when you could be creative.  Like most things, they depreciate over time, so I made sure to sell them as quickly as possible.


Why did I buy so many MacBooks?  Well, I got them because Discover was having a ridiculous deal of 10% cashback on purchases using Apple Pay which would be doubled at the end of the year for new Discover IT cardmembers.  In order to prepare for the promotion my wife got the card and an iPhone 6.  I have had a Discover card since college, still loving it, but was able to call customer service and have them change it from a Discover More to Discover IT which allowed me to get my rewards doubled.  This proactiveness allowed for hundreds of additional dollars in rewards.  You can’t get get what you don’t ask for.

Using as a unit of measurement

I buy MacBooks a bit cheaper than most people, but it still costs around $1,000.  That is a good measurement for other things because it is easy to compare in utility and experience.  Now a vacation may cost 3 MacBooks, woah that sounds expensive. A really fancy meal for two with wine, half a MacBook.  An iPhone costs a MacBook, well I can skip it. Continue reading →

This entry was posted in Earn.