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.

Costs

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!

Flight

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.

Car

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?

Car

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.

Housing

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.

School

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.

Food

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.

Rewards

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.

How to Conduct a Firesale

Before

In the last three years we have lived in 3 apartments/condos in Irvine, both our parents’ homes, Taiwan, China, Portugal, Austin, and I just arrived at a new place in Portugal.  Moving is not fun and made worse when you have so much stuff.  However, it is great to have friends to help.  Ever since deciding to go to Asia last summer we had to sell our possessions or pay a lot for storage.

To store or not?

As you can see, we had a bunch of furniture and that probably could have been thrown in a $200 a month storage unit.  If we did that last year, it would have sat in there for at least 18 months and cost $3600, or about the value we paid for most of our furniture.  However, we sold it all aside from a bed for $1600.  So it would have only been better to store it if we could have stored it for a short period, but with so much uncertainty we didn’t want to be paying when we may have not even returned to the same location.  It worked out well because it doesn’t look like we’ll end up in the same city we we would have stored it.

How to go about selling

If you know you are going to sell your stuff you are going to want as much time as possible.  If you wait until the last minute you will be forced to sell at whatever price you can get.  So you should begin by listing things on Craigslist and any other marketplace where you may get interest.  We listed our furniture two months before we were set to leave.  The bigger the item the more we wanted to get rid of it because we could store some stuff in our childhood rooms, but not everything.

Someone gave me a call a few hours after I listed it and came over in the afternoon to check out the dining table.  He wanted it and after speaking a bit we learned he was new to town and needed to furnish his apartment that week before his wife and kids moved in.  We told he we had a bunch of other stuff and he ended up buying two dining tables, our couch, and coffee table.  He then went to the bank got cash and called movers.  Meanwhile, another person called and bought our bookshelf which worked out well because they arrived when the movers were their to help us.

 

After

Conclusion

We lived in the condo for a month without furniture, but it worked out well because we had cash rather than heavy chunks of wood and leather to worry about.  Giving yourself time is the best you can do when selling something and is probably good advice in general.  So take a look at your surroundings and see if you can’t find something you’d like to sell.

All the Credit Cards I’ve Had

When I tell people that I’m into credit cards sometimes I get the question what is my favorite?  I would probably say the SPG card, but really it is whatever card will get me the most rewards.  Often that changes with who is offering the best bonus.  So in this article I’ll go over the cards and my reasons for getting them.  You will get some insight into my thinking and uses of cards.  Now days my rule is to only apply for a card if I think I can get at least $500 of value from it.  In 8 years I have had 18 cards, many which I still carry.

The list

Bolded cards I will keep forever to make the average age of my accounts longer.  Italics mean it is a card I would strongly recommend.  Obviously each card can be useful, but I wanted to point out some really good ones.

  • USAA
    • My first card I got in college because I needed to establish a credit history. No bonus, no annual fee so I plan on carrying it forever.
  • Discover More/IT
    • Wanted to get better cashback. No bonus. Later converted the card to Discover IT.  I have earned so much with the 5% categories. If you apply through link above we’ll each get $50.
  • Bank of America Card
    • I have no idea why I got this card, probably didn’t need it. No bonus.
  • Citi AA Gold
    • First time I received a bonus. 25,000 AA miles.
  • Amex Blue Sky
    • Signed up to get $500 worth of free travel. Keep it for Amex offers and it has no annual fee.
  • Chase Southwest Plus

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Bike Like You’re In The Netherlands

One of the best parts of going to the Netherlands was biking.  The country makes it easy and safe to do so with bike lanes everywhere, parking lots, and an informed public that makes it less likely to get hurt.  Biking is great for exercise, enjoyment, and saving money and is beloved by Mr. Money Mustache.

Saving money

Since this blog is about saving Hamiltons I’ll tell you right away that a bike is going to save you a ton of money.  This summer I’m in Austin and have no car.  Today I took a trip down to AAA to get an international driver’s permit which was around ten miles from where I’m living.  Such a trip in a car would have cost around $10.  However, I rode there in the blazing sun, bought lunch, and took the $1.25 bus back all for $10.  If you can have a bike instead of a car then you are saving hundreds a month in addition to each trip.

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Amazon Prime is for Suckers

Reckoning day for my prime subscription was July 26th.  I decided to cancel it because there are better ways to spend a Benjamin.  I don’t plan to totally stop using Amazon, but to use it in a more conscience way that doesn’t have me defaulting to purchase things with Prime.  I made a business out of finding products cheaper elsewhere and reselling them on Amazon, so I know that there you can often find better prices off the site.  After coming out of many years in the fog, I can say why for the majority of people that Amazon Prime will be unnecessary.

Reading

Using Prime books is nice, but if you need a book to read you should head to the library or better yet, use the digital library.  Getting rid of Prime still allows you to use your Kindle and even the Owner’s Lending Library.  So lacking free access to some OK books should not be the reason that you keep Prime, if you feel a tug to remain that may be laziness.

Music

Amazon is great for music and makes it very easy to download for offline listening.  But you know what else is easy?  Spotify.  It is free if you can handle commercials.  I got a three month trial of the premium version for 99 cents.  If you are constantly listening to music then Prime may make sense for you to get the membership, but I bet this is not the majority of people.

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