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 →

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How to Conduct a Firesale


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.




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.


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.


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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Dialing for Dollars

Ulysses S. GrantOnce upon a time I was a unpaid summer intern at a financial services company.  My boss had a half an hour a day where he would call people trying to get a sale which he appropriately called ‘dialing for dollars.’  I don’t think people need a financial advisor as you could do it for much cheaper all by yourself, but, today I will talk about how a different version of ‘dialing for dollars’ can work for you.

Credit cards

If you are willing to play the credit card game you will have to cancel your card at the one year mark or pay an annual fee.  However, it is possible to call the credit card company and ask if they have any retention offers.  I just did that for a United card which has a $95 fee and they offered a $50 statement credit.  That is a pretty good deal because now for $45 I am able to keep the card and its perks.  The perk that is valuable for this card is that there is more saver award availability which could save me a lot of points.  Earlier this year I was also able to get a $40 credit for my SPG card.  Some cards will not give you money but instead offer you extra points to stay.  So before quitting, ask, because as my dad told me, you can’t get what you don’t ask for.

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iPhone Users Rejoice

Are you an iPhone user?  Well, I may have a good phone plan for  you.  Previously, I wrote about phone plans that were good deals and I still think those are good choices.  However, something new has arisen since then that may be worth looking at if you are an iPhone user.  My wife an I are in America for the summer and she was living on wifi until I found the Virgin Mobile USA Inner Circle.

What’s Inner Circle

Virgin Mobile USA has gone to all iPhones and if you join before the end of July you can get a year of service for $1.  You have to buy a new phone and port your number, but that is a good deal for an unlimited plan.  This could be a great deal because if you pay even a low $30 a month you can save $360 less the cost of the phone.  The downside is that after a year it is $50 a month, at which point I will move on to the next deal I find.


You’ll need to buy a phone from them or the Apple store, but since Virgin Mobile has good deals you might as well buy from them.  You can get a new iPhone SE for $280, and iPhone 6 for $320, all the way up to $970 for iPhone 7 Plus 256GB.  This is a much better deal that Freedompop which charges $390 for a refurbished iPhone 6.  Plus you can get the phone unlocked.  It is unclear exactly when, after 14 days or after 12 months, but either way you will have a very low bill.


Switching phones can be a bit of a pain, but think of an amount of money that you would do it for.  If you could save $200 to go through the pain would you?  For us that was an easy calculation, rather than $30 a month with the T-mobile Walmart plan, we bought an iPhone 6 32GB and sold our iPhone 6 16GB.  The savings were $360 (plan fee) – $320 (new phone) – $1 (new plan) + $190 (sold old phone) = $219, but most people will probably save even more.  Finally, it was good to do because now we are down to three phones.

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Travel for Nearly Nothing: Hotel Points

I hope you got a lot of good ideas from my last article and won’t be spending much money on airfares in the future.  Being able to travel for only a small amount of money can be life changing.  However, even with free flights you need a place to stay and that’s where hotel points come in.  If you are going to visit and stay with a friend then you are all set and you can stick to earning airline miles and cash back, however if you want to venture to new places, let’s see how we can go about it.

What are hotel points?

Hotel points are a reward system that entices you to be loyal to a hotel.  I find hotel points a bit simpler than airline miles because the rules are more straight forward.  You collect them each time you stay at a property and redeem them for hotel stays.  Just like airline miles you can earn a huge amount through a credit card sign up bonuses.

Choosing a program

I chose Marriott at first and later added Starwood which worked out well because now they are merged and you can transfer points between the programs.  Other programs include Hyatt, Hilton, Best Western, Choice, IHG, and some other smaller ones.  Each program has its own number of points you need to redeem for a hotel which will be a smaller amount for less high end properties and more for properties that are in good locations as well as the luxury ones.  For instance, Marriott redemptions run from 7,500 points for Category 1 properties up to 45,000 a night for Category 9 properties.

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Travel for Nearly Nothing: Airline Miles

I’m going to start a series on traveling for nearly nothing.  I hear lots of people say how they would like to travel but are often held back because it costs a lot.  And indeed, it often does, so let’s find ways to reduce the costs.  Short of finding money on the ground, the best way is through accumulating points.  It is crazy to think I only started collecting points after I got married.  My parents did set me up with a United and American accounts back in the day, but I think all I got were some free magazines occasionally.  In fact, a few months before I took a trip to Singapore on China Airlines and didn’t bother earning the points for it.  Well, it isn’t that hard and I’ll explain it to you as best as I can so you get to traveling for close to free.

What are airline miles?

Airline miles are a type of reward system that entices you to be loyal to an airline or an alliance.  Each program has their own rules for how to earn miles and how to redeem them.  But almost always you can earn them by flying with the airline or its partners and you can redeem them to get a ticket.  Airline rules will vary on how much you earn for each flight as some are based on the distance you fly, but now most are based on how much you spend, your status in the program, and the class of service you are flying.  The amount of miles needed for a free flight vary by the region you start from and are going to and each airline sets their own number of points.

Here is an example of the chart for American Airlines if you are flying from the lower 48 states in economy class.

You’ll notice that there are up to four different prices just for economy class.  That is because the number of miles to redeem for a ticket also varies upon when you are flying.  If you want to fly right before holidays you’ll have to use more points.

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Personal Finance Weapons of Mass Destruction: Beverages

Didn’t think beverages were so powerful did you?  Well, they have the power to destroy net worth, so I think they are rightfully called Personal Finance Weapons of Mass Destruction.  So get someone to hold your beer while you read this article.  Let’s go!


While on the trip in New York City I bought a big bottle of water for $1.80.  Water is definitely something that we shouldn’t be buying.  It is practically free, just open the facet.  However, without preparation I had to pay.  If you’re in America, practically all the water from the sink is potable, so take advantage by filling a bottle up and taking it around.  Cities have made it even easier by providing drinking fountains.  If you are drinking from water bottles you are spending money you don’t need to.


You mean soft drinks?  Yeah, that is a ridiculous way to call them, softer than pure acid I suppose.  Despite this negative take on the drink I must admit that occasionally I drink them.  Often it will be when I am at a party and it is available for free.  I probably have two to three servings a month.  If you are drinking soda regularly, I’d advise stopping to save money and lots of sugar.

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NYC Vacation on the Cheap

This weekend I took a group of 24 people to New York City.  I charged a commission and got to go for free, NOT.  It would have been fair, but I paid along with all my classmates, so our incentives for a cheap trip were aligned.  So of course we headed to one of the most expensive cities, but with my skills it wasn’t going to cost a fortune.

Getting there

We were going for the budget trip, so the cheapest ride was the bus.  The ticket to get from Boston to NYC was $35, but the return trip only cost $15.  By not buying a roundtrip ticket we were able to save $20.  Alternatives were the train or plane, but that probably would have ended up saving an hour or two total.


We stayed at a hostel in Chinatown.  The best rooms were the ones with 4 bunks and a bathroom, but I booked all of those so some people had to stay in double beds.  The double beds were only $45 a person per night.

I only stayed with the group for one night because one night we used a Ritz-Carlton free night certificate.  This was one of three that came as a sign up bonus for the Ritz credit card.  The hotel was nice, but I wouldn’t spend $350 for a hotel.

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