My Goals for 2011


It is new years eve and soon the beginning of a new year. This is the time when everyone makes "resolutions" that are almost never met. I always set goals to work towards on this day. They may take more than a year to complete but I do make progress. I did pretty good last year and am looking forward to more of the same!

Goals for 2011:

  • Fully fund my emergency fund -- top priority
  • Restart Roth IRA contributions monthly
  • Visit a new country
  • Finish my 2-year IT Degree (only 1 course!)
  • "Game the system" of credit card bonus offers to cover some of my vacation costs
  • Eat at home more (at least 70% of the time) to cut food costs
  • Increase my salary at least 5%
As I slowly move from debtor to saver I am finding myself looking for more ways to lower expenses and increase my income. This year I am looking into beefing up my resume and keeping my options open. In order to meet my large, long term goal of financial independence the math tells me I need more income. This will be a primary focus this year!

Travel Deals Blog: Frugal Travel Guy


I found a great blog and resource for travel deals and travel credit card bonus offers. This guy is the king of getting bonus points to obtain free hotels, airfare, car rentals, etc. He goes into the details of all the offers, analyzes them, and puts instructions on how to take advantage in plain English. Saves me leg work!

His title is similar to mine as a coincidence. Until a few days ago I had no idea his blog existed. While his site design is not the best the information is. He posts daily with deals he finds, tips from his readers, and anything else of interest to us travel lovers. He also posts on really low and "mistake" airfares which can be great for saving a lot on your next vacation.

His blog inspired me to take advantage of more of the bonus offers. I am going to attempt to use offers to get free airfare for myself in 2011 for my trips. With the offers that are out now this should not be an issue! Credit card companies want customers and are giving away a lot of points to do it. I need to jump on this boat and ride the wave!

Only 2 more days to make your final tax moves!


There are only 2 more days left in the year to sell off losing stocks, make donations, and any other tax moves that you need to make. The tax on Roth IRA conversions can be split between 2010 and 2011 to lessen the sting if that is in the cards for you also!

I am happy to report that my investments gained this year. I am selling them off so I can transfer the funds to my Roth IRA which makes more sense long term for tax purposes. I have plenty of mortgage and student loan interest to offset so I won't have that much of a hit on my refund. They are also long term gains which are taxed lower too!

I am donating some old clothes and the like as I will be itemizing deductions this year and each dollar helps! I am going to clean out the closets and bit and get a few more dollars back from Uncle Sam. It is a win win as people get items they really need and I get rid of them plus a tax break.

Don't wait until the last minute to make your moves now or you may miss the deadlines!

2010 Goals Review


We are nearing the end of the year. I am looking back over the past 12 months and reflecting on my progress both in life in general and financially. Overall I feel it was a pretty good year with quite a few milestones hit. As I look forward to 2011 I can hope it will be more of the same.

Major Milestones for 2010:

  • All credit cards paid off
  • Refinanced my house to a much lower rate
  • Achieved a positive net worth
  • Negotiated a one month vacation from work to visit Asia
  • Substantially increased my savings on all fronts
Other honorable mentions include a focus on getting more side income from consulting work, I did get to see 2 new countries, and I went from a 10% pay cut to my normal salary again at work. I also have been eating better but I feel I could have done more. I am certainly more health conscious overall I it seems to help with my day-to-day life. 

How have you done with your 2010 goals? Meet them? Exceed them? Miss the mark?

Travel: Headed home for Christmas


Today I am working a half day then driving back home to St. Simons Island, GA to be with my family over the Christmas holiday. I will return to Atlanta on December 27. I am looking forward to excellent food and seeing most of my family that I don't see the rest of the year.

I will be taking a break from blogging until I return. I hope you all have a great Christmas holiday!

Save your money and one day it will save you!


The title is a quote from an African proverb that was used in another post I read elsewhere. I stuck me with the powerful simplicity of the statement. I understand it to mean that the more money you save the more situations you are financially "ready" for. This is the underlying logic to having an emergency fund--before anything else!

During this time of year even I tend to spend more than I would like too. Gifts, travel, meals, etc. all add up quickly. The quote in the title reminds me to stay focused on my goals. Even though I don't like these extra expenses they are worked into my budget for the most part. My best bet is to stay the course and focus on getting extra side income to "lessen the sting" of holiday expenses.

I am sharing this so that you too can keep the focus!

My Take on Christmas/Holidays: Travel & Financial


Being the frugal person that I am I always try my best to minimize my expenses around the holidays. I do this partially by continuing my tradition of traveling to a less expensive country overseas. For the Christmas holiday I visit family. This can get expensive as holiday travel always comes with higher prices.

Most years I drive back home for Christmas. The airfares are usually too high so even though I have to buy 3 tanks of gas I still come out way ahead. It also makes it easier to transport gifts. I like having my car for getting around back home (a small town). I always check airfares for great deals but they tend to be rare. They were all too high for me this year so I am driving!

For gifts I make it a point to get something practical that I know the recipient will use. Nothing is worse than getting "more junk" that you have to sell or donate (or worse more clutter). I really dislike when others buy me clothes as they are rarely what I want. I find that about 90% of the clothes that are gifted to me get donated with the tags still on. This is why I give practical gifts. I believe if it is just going to sit on the shelf it can do that just fine at the store without me having to buy it!

Over the years I have greatly reduced the gifts that I give. I make it clear to almost everyone that I do not buy gifts and expect none in return. December is usually a rough financial month for me and this is how I combat it. I offer to do dinner or drinks instead of gifts as I enjoy the time with the person more. This also is part of my anti-consumerist streak showing. We don't have to exchange gifts to prove we are friends.

I normally am happy once December 26 comes around. The shopping headaches are over, I can visit with family and friends without stress, and I can look forward to the new year. I admit that Christmas is one of my least favorite holidays and to me is another financial battle to get through. I have to remind myself that it is about family and friends and not money. This is difficult as money seems to fly out of my hand at the same time. Traditions can be expensive!

Incheon (ICN) Airport Seoul: Spa On Air


There is a great spa on the public side of Incheon (ICN) Seoul, South Korea airport. I heard about it from a couple of travel forums but oddly enough could not find any solid information about it online. All I could get was patchy information from those who had visited it in the past.

The sole purpose of this post is to have all of the important info on the spa in one place so people will not have to search forever and hope for the best like I did. I am shocked they do not advertise it more or even mention it on the airport website but I digress...

Spa On Air: Seoul International Airport:

  • Price: 15,000 won during the day or 20,000 late at night
  • Private Sleeping Room Add on: 20,000 (if available first come first served)
  • Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week all year long
  • Amenities: hot tub, shower, sauna, massage (Thai, pay per session), lounge
  • Sleeping mats and limited chairs and couches are available.
  • Snack bar with light snacks and soft drinks for purchase
  • Lockers for shoes (separate) and big lockers in spa for clothes
  • Swim trunks and shirts (men) provided at no extra charge
  • Towels at no extra charge
  • Soap and shampoo in all shower stalls
  • Luggage storage up front monitored by staff
  • Located in basement of ICN. Go all the way down and check directory
I went to the spa twice myself. It is a great deal and is wonder after a long flight over the pacific. A great place to sleep after a relax in the spa. It made my flights and long layovers much more bearable and I looked forward to the spa!

This information is accurate as of December 4, 2010. That was my last visit there personally. Hopefully they will get this information online soon but until then this is the best guide I have seen!

December Airline Extras!


I noticed a couple great deals while traveling this week. The first is the free WiFi on a few airlines with GoGo access. Google Chrome has sponsored access for everyone until January 2, 2011. I have used GoGo in the past and it is a very nice service and handy for work.

Secondly Delta has a deal at their Sky Club lounges. You can buy 5 one day passes for $99. This is a good deal since the passes are normally $50 each! I travel enough where these will be handy for when I am delayed or have a long layover. I was actually delayed a few hours in Boston and the free wifi, drinks, snacks, comfortable chairs, and clean bathrooms made it much easier for me and I was able to get some work done!

I am always on the lookout for good deals like these and want to make sure of all you are in the know!

Smartphone Service: Line 2 Review


I found a service that was a great concept and decided to give it a try. It is called Line 2 and they offer unlimited Voice over IP calls and text messages from your smart phone namely the iPhone. There is a 1 month free trial and it is $9.95/month thereafter if you decide to keep it.

I must say that overall I am very impressed. I used it over wifi to make a few calls and they were clear like normal calls. I used it in Cambodia to check my voicemail and my girlfriend phoned family for the Thanksgiving holiday. No issues at all!


  • Voice calls: you get a real US Phone number.
  • Texting: you can also text to and from this number.
  • Forwarding: If you are off wifi or the app is closed it can forward calls to your normal cell number for free.
  • Conference calling is also allowed!
  • Voicemail: if you chose you can set up voicemail for the second line and it has visual voicemail much like that on the iPhone.
  • The application itself strongly resembles the Phone application on the iPhone so it is easy to navigate and use.
I tested all of these features except for voicemail and I am impressed with it. It works very well! The price tag is great for what you get and is definitely a good alternative to the costly AT&T iPhone plans. It is most certainly the cheapest way to use the iPhone while roaming. As long as you have wifi you incur no extra costs!

I would certainly keep this service if I was a heavier phone user. Currently I have the minimum iPhone voice and data plans with AT&T. Paired with 1500 texts I am more than covered for my needs. I will definitely keep Line 2 high on my list if my needs change. For only $9.95 more per month I can save a fortune in overages.

One extra benefit is that this app and it's paired services will also work on iPads and iPod touch. Just add headphones and you are up and running! This can be handy in certain situations such as you are already using your iPhone and need to send a text or handle another call.

You can also use it over 3G cellular data but I have not tried it myself. I have a lot of access to wifi so there is no real need and I am on the low 200MB data plan with AT&T. Every kilobyte counts! I would use it to send texts from the Line 2 app but calls would burn through my data fast! It is nice to have the option though!

I highly recommend this service to anyone trying to lower their iPhone bill. By dropping to the lowest plan with AT&T you more than make up the $9.95 it costs for Line 2. They have a great idea and a product to match and I hope they succeed. Staying connected does not have to cost over $100 per month anymore!

December 2010 Prosper Lending Update


It is the middle of the month again and it is time for my update on lending. It has been a quiet month with business as usual. I have 2 slightly late loans and 0 more have paid off completely. I three open bids at this time.

I did get a large collection payment from a defaulted loan which I will always welcome!

I am have decided to begin reinvesting in Prosper once again. I have drawn down my account and my financial situation has improved. I will add no new money at this point.

I "write off" all loans in collections as a loss.

Here are my stats as of today:

Outstanding Loans:

Late: 2 (< 30 days)
In Collections: 0 (written off)
Current: 31

Closed Loans:

Charged Off: 10
Paid Off: 22

Open Bids: 3

Total currently invested: $699.39 (Principal Value)
Cash in Account: $122.36 (includes open bids)

Total Principal: $821.75

Moving to Schwab: Saving money!


Today I have decided that I am moving all of my investments from Firstrade to Charles Schwab. A few years ago I would not have even considered this because of Schwab's high fees. The landscape has changed and now I am making my move just in time for tax season!

Here are my reasons for moving, in order of importance:

  • The big one: $0 commission on Schwab Funds and Schwab ETF's versus $6.95 currently.
  • Consolidation: Accounts in less places (combining with new Schwab Checking Account)
  • Schwab has branches: If I have an issues I can visit a human!
  • access: I can see my Schwab accounts in Mint. I cannot for Firstrade
All of above make this move make sense for me. I especially like that I can invest in ETF's with no commission. It makes re-balancing possible and MUCH cheaper over the long haul. Every dollar counts in a Roth IRA! I will combine this move with a re-balance as I will sell every position and move cash to start clean and save on transfer fees.

One final step I am taking is to take what used to be in my taxable brokerage account and move it to my Roth IRA. This requires me to sell all positions (which I have done for a gain!) and deposit cash as a contribution. It makes sense to do this now since it will count as a 2010 contribution and leave me more room for 2011. This will also cut my tax bill over time significantly!

Long term I plan to start using my Schwab Checking account more too. It refunds all ATM fees AND does not charge me a percentage for foreign ATM withdrawals. As a lover of international vacations this can save me thousands over the long haul. As long as this policy continues I may considering using them for other things as their account pays a small amount of interest too!

My First Estate Sale!


This past Saturday morning I was out running some errands. On my way back home I noticed a sign for an estate sale 2 neighborhoods away. I decided to stop in and have a look.

The sign said the sale was from 8-5 and it was around 10:45 by the time I arrived. I assumed most of the "good stuff" was gone but had a look around anyway. I ended up with a small stuffed bear (for a gift) and 2 pot holders. It cost me a whopping $2!

$2 is not bad for a gift and something I actually needed for the kitchen. Going to an estate sale was on my 101 goals in 1001 days list so now I killed three birds with one stone: a list item, a gift, and something I needed!

Once home I started thinking about it: I should do this much more often! I can get things I need at a very good price, help someone else out, and possibly find things I can resell on craigslist or ebay. I also do not have to pay sales tax and it can be a fun hobby to boot. I am certainly going to look into this more!

Success Story: Flying 35,000 miles for $418 USD!


I stumbled onto this article from a friend on twitter. It is a story of a guy who booked flights totaling 35,000 miles of travel for only $418 out of pocket. He used all sorts of travel hacks, tools, and creativity to make it happen.

How did he do it?


The $418 he spent was the taxes for the flights. He booked it through American Airlines using his miles. He earned them without ever setting foot on an airplane: AA Rewards credit card. He gamed the system to get bonus points and miles to get the number he needed to book his ticket.

This is exactly what I intend to do someday just on a much larger scale. I am banking miles now for use later. Steve in the article above used 140,000 miles to book his trip around the world for 12 months. I intend to do something like this for multiple years in a row. I am going for 1 million miles!

This is a great example of what I plan to do when I leave the full time work force. This guy hits the nail on the head on what I aim for every time I am booking a vacation. The goal is to have the best experience possible by gaming the systems to have the lowest cash outlay. I wish him happy travels and the best of luck!

More Work Travel: Maine!


No sooner do I get home and settled and work has me on the road again! I am not complaining as I love to travel and I have not been to Maine before. Due to the short notice I am flying out on Sunday 12/12 and returning on Thursday morning 12/16. It was the only way to get the flights under $500!

I will be working in the Kennebunk area which I hear is small but nice. I can check off another state on the list and I might actually have time to have a look around some if all goes well. I will be flying in and out of Boston due to flight times and costs. I hope the weather is ok while I am there.

Best of all: more miles!

Back from vacation and back to the grind...


I arrived back home on Dec 4 in the evening. I had a stuffy nose from the long flights and change from hot to cold and didn't think much of it. I awoke on Dec 5 with fever chills at 4 AM and felt much worse. I have a sinus infection.

I was due back at work on Dec 6 and went as scheduled. Fast forward to today and I am feeling a better and my illness is down to a common cold. Unpleasant but manageable. I am still trying to get back into the swing of things. I have a lot of cleaning, laundry, work, finances, blogging, and a thousand other things to catch up on.

The lack of posts lately is a combination of being sick, short on time, and busy (ie overtime) at work. I am trying to get back in the habit now so I can share my financial information and get re-focused. Hopefully by next weekend I will be pretty much caught up!

December 2010 Net Worth Update


It is the 1st of the month again and it is time for my net worth report card. I had a great month this month! I am officially credit card debt free and pay my balances in full every month. I spent the past month in Cambodia on vacation and my reduced costs at home gave me a boost as a result!

As of today my current net worth is $2,926.14. That is an increase of $2,022.53 over last month. The major contributing factors were a long vacation in an inexpesnive, side income from a client, increased savings amounts across the board!

I expect next month to be a slower month. The holidays always slow me down financially with travel and gifts to buy. I am hoping for a nice work bonus to offset it.  I will remain focused on debt elimination and increasing my income in any way I can!

Alternative Income this past month:

IT Consulting: $60
Rebates: $25

On my way home! (PNH - ICN - ATL)


It is December 4 and my time in Cambodia is over. This is the sad part of the trip where I must return home and go back to work. I have 1 long layover on the way back. I will go to the spa and lounge in the Seoul airport to pass the time. It could be worse!
I must say I have really enjoyed my time in Cambodia and most certainly will be back! The beaches are wonderful, people very friendly and warm, and the food is great. It is an inexpensive country to travel in and I could see myself living here part time as a home base one day.

My next post will be from back home in Atlanta!

Quick Cambodia Update


First off: Cambodia is great! I love it here. The food, people, scenery, and culture are amazing!

I have found internet access here to be limited and unreliable so I am unable to post as much as I would like,

That said I have been to a deserted island, a beach town, the capital, and now I am writing from a smaller typical town in the northwest. I have taken a cooking course, ridden on a bamboo train, and done all sorts of other great things I could not do back in the USA.

This is what I live for. This is the type of things I want to see and do as opposed to sitting at a desk answering emails and fixing computers. Traveling every year like this keeps me focused on this goal of seeing the planet one country at a time.

Hope all is well back in the states!

November 2010 Prosper Lending Update


It is the middle of the month again and it is time for my update on lending. It has been a quiet month with business as usual. I have 0 late loans and 2 more have paid off completely. I have no open bids at this time.

I am have decided to begin reinvesting in Prosper once again. I have drawn down my account and my financial situation has improved. I will add no new money at this point.

I "write off" all loans in collections as a loss.

Here are my stats as of today:

Outstanding Loans:

Late: 0 (< 30 days)
In Collections: 0 (written off)
Current: 33

Closed Loans:

Charged Off: 10
Paid Off: 22

Open Bids: 0

Total currently invested: $715.26 (Principal Value)
Cash in Account: $88.94 (includes open bids)

Total Principal: $804.20

How to Save for a Month-Long Vacation


I decided this post would be most appropriate while I am on my month-long vacation!

When planning a long trip such as this one you always have to start with costs. You have to factor in airfare, hotel/guesthouse, local transport, food, entertainment, splurges, and so on. Once you have the big number calculated you have to plan your savings strategy to make it happen.

I always start by looking at my monthly budget. In the 1-month vacation example I can immediately see that the "Food" and "Gasoline" budget items are at my disposal. I won't be home using gas in my car nor will I be going to the grocery store or eating out at home. Those I allot to the vacation budget immediately.

Next I start shopping around to reduce costs. Is there a cheaper airfare (maybe with a layover)? Can I use any miles or points I may have to reduce or eliminate the airfare cost? Do I need a 5 star hotel or will a 2 star bed and breakfest or guesthouse do just as well? What sort of things to do are available for free? This list can go on forever. Look at every cost on your vacation list and explore options.

Once I have some more exact costs and itinerary determined I work up a monthly savings amount to fill the gap. Remember to include the actual month you will be gone as you will still get your paid time off money even though you are not here! Start an automatic savings plan to reach this goal. This is a great use for a savings account from Smarty Pig!

Now all you have to do is plan all the fun stuff that you will do while you are gone. You have the savings on autopilot and are on your way. I highly recommend getting a guidebook, such as the Lonely Planet, for your destination so you can get good idea of costs, activities, local information about your destination. Planning the vacation is half the fun so get to it!

Looking Forward: The Savings Snowball


I have heard and read a lot about the debt snowball method. You pay your lowest balance debt first and work your way up until you pay it all off. This is a great method that I used myself to pay off my own credit card debts. I believe we should take it one step further: the savings snowball.

The basic idea is the same but there are some slight tweaks to it. We all have a list of goals to accomplish. A lot of them require money and a lot of savings to cover them. Here is what I propose as the "Savings Snowball" method:

  1. Make a list of financial goals and prioritize (ie retirement, kid's college, emergency fund, etc)
  2. From your budget see how much cash flow you have left each month to dedicate to savings
  3. Come up with a monthly amount for each item. 
  4. Start saving money towards each goal in order.
I recommend putting the emergency fund first. I also recommend putting all savings toward that emergency fund until you reach the target. Plans fall apart fast when you have a financially burdensome emergency and no money to cover it! Next I would put retirement. We have to live and eat after we stop working so that is the next most important. All goals after that can be in the order you wish.

The idea is simple. You put all your savings toward an emergency fund. When you finish you do not stop! You take your monthly savings amount and put it towards retirement. If you have enough to cover your retirement needs you move on to other goals. As they become funded you keep moving down the list. Chances are you will never run out of goals!

This idea is not as simple as the debt snowball but works off of the same principal. The major factor that has to be determined first is how much you will need to retire and how to invest your savings to meet that goal. This varies widely for everyone and sometimes professional help is best here. Once you establish "I need to save $X per month for the rest of my working days to retire" you can work out all the other numbers on your savings snowball. It all falls into place after that!

Pre-Plan Salary Increases to Prevent Lifestlye Inflation


Most of us, if we are lucky, get some sort of raise every year. It may be fixed or it may be decided by someone above us in the company. It is very tempting to simply add your raise to your "fun money" and move on with the status quo. Don't do it! Plan ahead and make sure you get ahead!

I got a salary increase last month. In fact it was a reinstatement of my old salary when my company had to cut pay to make it thru an economically challenging time. Once I got work that I was getting full pay back I went to work on my budget to be sure I utilized the extra money effectively. Once I figured out what the take home increase was I update my excel budget. Here is what I did with the "new" money:

  • Increased my 401(k) contribution
  • Restarted my emergency fund deposits (monthly)
By planning ahead and foregoing the opportunity to spend the money unwisely I am now well on my way to meeting my big goals. Most of us get some sort of warning before a raise kicks in. You must act immediately to be sure you stay on track. This is a good problem to have!

Arrived in Cambodia!


After a long time in transit I am finally in Cambodia! Today I will be making my way down to the beach for some relaxation and unwinding from all my flights and my day in Seoul. It is summer-like weather here and I don't miss the cold one bit!

I will post updates from my travels here as time and internet access permits. I hear there is some wifi around but I am sure my access will be limited. That is ok because I am on vacation!

iPhone 4 as a travel tool


I am a proud owner of the iPhone 4. I use it extensively every day and absolutely love it. It has tons of very useful features and applications and I get a really good value from it. Since I love to travel it also has lots of great tools that I can use on the road. Since I am in Asia I am going to list all it's uses:

  • Camera - It has a 5.0 megapixel camera (also with HDR function) and a flash. It is great for when I don't have my normal camera on me and also for quick snaps on the move. I can also record video as an added bonus in HD.
  • Internet - With WiFi everywhere I can surf my usual sites and check emails. I can also get maps and look up local information with ease.
  • Media - I can watch movies, listen to music, play games, and otherwise entertain myself on planes, trains, buses, etc.
  • Texting - When I am abroad I get texts for free under my plan and can send back for 50 cents each. Not bad for getting an instant message back home when needed!
  • Notes - I can note down places, times, etc as needed.
  • Contacts - I have all my contacts with me. I can add numbers, emails, facebook, etc of people I meet and want to keep in touch with.
  • VOIP Phone. On WiFi I can make calls using Line2 or Skype for little cost to me. It is a great way to keep in touch cheaply. 
Above are the basic uses of my iPhone for travel. I find that these benefits far outweigh my monthly bill and well worth the convenience of only having to carry one device in my pocket. I look back at when I used to travel without it and I can see just how great it is to have now. My iPhone served me well in Thailand last year and I expect more of the same in Cambodia!

On my way to Asia!!! (ATL - YYZ - ICN - PNH)


Tonight I fly into Toronto and onward to Seoul, South Korea. I will spend the day in Seoul seeking out wonderful street food and checking out a couple sites before flying into Phnom Penh that night.

I am excited about this much needed, month long vacation in an area of the world that I love. I am looking forward to $5 guest houses, the beach, cold beer, and good times.


Mobile Office Checklist: What you need to work from anywhere


With many innovations it is getting easier and easier to live and work form anywhere. I do a great deal of work travel and have learned many tricks to make working on the road easier. I find there are a few key items you need in order to operate in a travel office setting:

  • Internet Access
  • Telephone Access
  • Printing
  • Computer
  • Backing Up
  • Navigation
Internet access is probably the most important element of working while on the road. It allows you to access email, maps, travel information, and just about everything you need. You can operate off of a wifi signal such as one at a hotel or coffee shop or you can get a 3G USB modem. I like the 3G option as you have a lot more freedom to move around. If you get a SIM card based modem it can be unlocked and used worldwide on cellular networks. A third option is to have a phone that allows internet tethering to your laptop via a USB cable.

Telephone access comes in a lot of forms. The best is cellular phone which works when and where you need it. If you have a good enough internet connection you can use VOIP services such as skype, line 2, google voice, etc. A lot of these can forward to your local number as well. If you need to fax things I find that eFax or are good choices.

Printing can be difficult outside major towns or cities. When abroad I seek out an internet cafe where I can pay per page. I print very little so it is a lot more cost effective for me. I also do not wish to carry a printer and have to worry about buying ink. In the USA Fedex Office or UPS Store have great printing abilities. Many countries around the world will have some sort of print shop you can utilize to fill your needs.

Computer access sounds simple but it can be complicated. Laptop is always the best choice but you can also use internet cafes, a smart phone or pad, and netbook if need be. Security is a concern in an internet cafe but using your best judgment prevents security problems. Keep your passwords and data safe! If in doubt go without!

No matter which method you use be sure to have a way to back up to an external hard drive or flash drive. You can pair this with a free service such as dropbox that syncs files with secure online storage. Laptops (and especially hard drives) do break eventually so backing up your data is crucial. You should be able to connect your external backup to any computer and be back in business in 20 minutes or less. I recommend daily backups while on the road!

Navigation is the last concern. Maps are good but limiting. A proper GPS device is good if you already own one and have the local maps. If not a smart phone with map abilities will do. If you already have a local data plan you should be good to go. Getting around can be made much easier with navigation tools at your disposal!

Working on the road is not hard if you plan ahead and have all the devices and know-how to use them properly. I am nearly to the point where I can work from halfway around the world with little or no issues. This is part of my big picture goal of being completely independent of not only a salary but also a stationary office. I want to be able to live and work wherever I want!

Cost / Benefit Analysis of my Delta Skymiles American Express Card


I already know for a fact that I get a LOT more value than the annual fee that I pay for my Delta American Express card. I have had some difficulty convincing others that it is worth it. This post will describe in detail how much I get from the card versus what I pay for having it in my wallet!

First the numbers:

Annual Fee: $150 per year

1 Delta Skymile earned for each $1 spent. 2 miles per dollar on Delta purchase. (plus various bonuses)

The Analysis:


  • 1 Free domestic (exclude HI) companion ticket per year. Value: $200-$500.
  • Free checked bag for having card. Value: $25 per flight ($50 per round trip!)
  • Discounted SkyClub Acess. Value $25 (normal visit for public is $50)
  • Miles earned. Value: varies but well more than $150 (up to $2000 in my case!)
  • Bonus Offers. Value: varies. Lots of double miles and Elite Status offers
The free domestic companion ticket (1 person flying the exact same round trip route as you) alone is worth more than the annual fee. The waived baggage fee adds up too. You only need 3 round trips in a year on Delta to break even. The SkyClub Lounge discounted access can be well worth the $25 if you are delayed severely. Having a comfortable seat, open bar, free snacks, less crowds, nice bathrooms, free internet, and a business area can be well worth it.

In my case the miles I earn alone far exceed $150 in fees. For the past 2 years I have scored award flights to Asia and back. This would not have been possible without using this card for all of my purchases. If I had bought the tickets with cash it would have cost me a total of $3,800 for both. Using miles I only pay taxes. Even if you add in the annual fees I only paid $555 out of pocket. I got great experiences, a cheaper vacation, and saved a lot of money too!

As you can see if you take full advantage of all the travel benefits associated with an airline miles card you can get a lot for $150 per year. Having this card has also helped me to maintain my elite status with Delta which comes with it's own benefits in addition to the ones list here. I get free upgrades to first class, can book an exit row seat, and so on. Be sure to fully analyzed your reward options and get the most for your money!

Weekly Blog Roundup


This is a series where I link to my favorite blog posts from the financial blogs that I follow and read directly. These are the articles I found particularly useful or good in some way. I hope you enjoy my choices and learn something too!

Week of 10/25/2010:
These are my favorites for the last week. Feel free to comment and share some others that I may have missed or not even know about. Have a great week!

Note: This will be the last weekly roundup until I return from Asia.

November 2010 Net Worth Update


It is the 1st of the month again and it is time for my net worth report card. I had a great month this month! I am officially credit card debt free and pay my balances in full every month. I also got a nice bonus from work as well as getting my old pay reinstated. Things are looking great!

As of today my current net worth is $903.61. That is an increase of $3,291.21 over last month. THIS IS MY FIRST MONTH IN THE BLACK!!! The major contributing factors were a work bonus, side income from a client, pay reinstatement, and paying off of all of my credit card debts!

I expect next month to be a good month. I will spend November in Cambodia which is a very inexpensive place.  I will remain focused on debt elimination and increasing my income in any way I can!

Alternative Income this month:

IT Consulting: $150
Extra Rent: $100

Staying Focused: Mini Rewards for Goal Milestones


Since I have been working very hard to pay off my debts, save for financial independence, and try to balance my life overall I find it difficult to stay focused some times. There is a constant mental battle between wants and savings that I am usually good at winning for savings.

I have found that the best solution is to give myself small rewards along the way. For example I just paid off my credit cards and as a reward to myself for that I spent a weekend in Denver, CO visiting my cousin while I was in the area for business. We went out, had a good time, and caught up on things. It was nice to relax a bit and take my mind off of work and money for a bit.

Now I am back on course. I have my vacation coming up in 10 days and have my finances sorted out so I can minimize surprises and issues while I am gone. I have money in my "fun account" so I can easily see where I stand at all times thru online banking while I am there. I can safely say my biggest worry over there should be where and what to eat that night and to remember to use bug repellent on the islands.

I find that I am not alone with the mini-reward system. We need motivation to sock away as much as we can per month "for later" and I think giving yourself a treat now and then does exactly that. You can say to yourself: "When I pay this off I can finally go for a weekend trip in Vegas to celebrate" for example. As the goals get bigger so do the "carrots" that we get to have. My next milestone, yet to be determined, will include some sort of travel that I always wanted to do. I am looking at the World Cup 2014 in Brazil. If I have my student loans paid off by then I will go!

Yet Even More Work Travel!!!


Things are really heating up on the work travel front right before I leave!

I just booked a trip that covers the entire state of Maryland in 3 days. Once I return I only have 2 days before I depart to Asia. This makes me happy as I can clock in some more miles to beef up my account balance and contribute to my elite status for next year. This will make a total of 8 flights in 2 weeks. That is probably the busiest travel month I have had to date for work.

This will also make me appreciate my vacation time more and give me more miles to use next year. I hit my AMEX's bonus threshold and am nearing 200,000 redeemable miles. The per diems I get for travel also give me a little more fun money that I can use while I am in Asia as well. As a result I am looking into visiting a second paradise beach island while I am there.

I do love spending time "Up in the air" as we like to say at the office.

101 Goals in 1001 Days Update


I have another update! I have been busy this month and was able to knock out a few more items on my 101 in 1001 list. It is a great feeling to check things off!

Here is what I have accomplished:

  • Visited a dentist (finally!)
  • Learned how to cook 5 new dishes
  • Got a fireproof safe
I am most happy about riding myself of credit card debt. I have a big feeling of relief. Best of all I did it before my month-long vacation in Asia in a few days! I can go to the beach and relax a little easier knowing I don't have those payments hanging over my head. This is a big list but I already feel like I am making real progress in many areas.

It's Official! I have paid off my last credit card!!!


Today marks a milestone for me. I have officially cleared all of my credit card debt. My last payment cleared my account today and I am now free of 3 payments! I have room in my budget to work towards other goals and of course more room to breathe. It has been a long process.

This is a big milestone for me. I have worked hard, sacrificed, and budgeted frugally to make this happen in (my opinion) record time! I used the debt snowball method of paying my lowest balance debt first then worked my way up to the largest balance. I did have the help of some bonuses, a home refinance, a reinstatement of salary, and successful ebay/craiglist sales to make this all happen. I admit I was in some hard times financially and mentally. It is all behind me now!

I am now reworking my monthly budget to utilize the extra cash flow effectively. I have increased my 401(k) contribution, restarted my automatic deposits to my emergency fund, and am looking into other options. Having money leftover every month is a great problem to have. Now is the time to get it put to work for me!

Weekly Blog Roundup


This is a series where I link to my favorite blog posts from the financial blogs that I follow and read directly. These are the articles I found particularly useful or good in some way. I hope you enjoy my choices and learn something too!

Week of 10/18/2010:
  • Dave Ramsey Debt Snowball Payoff Strategy @ Bargaineering. Jim wrote up a good post on the debt snowball strategy, which I used myself, to pay off debts.
  • Why NOW is the Time to Think Long Term @ Get Rich Slowly. This guest post encompasses exactly what I think all of the people who "live for today" with no forward looking goals should embrace.
  • 20 Favorite Dirt Cheap Meals @ The Simple Dollar. This is a great quick list of cheap, easy, and delicious meals that can fit just about anyone's budget. I have done a few of these myself!
These are my favorites for the last week. Feel free to comment and share some others that I may have missed or not even know about. Have a great week! 

Buying Stuff: My Newly Refined Mental Process!


We all buy a lot of stuff. From food and clothes to iPhones and cars. With the relentless and extremely overwhelming marketing these days it's no wonder why most people don't have a savings account at all in this country. Rants aside, I have refined my process for how I decide if I want to buy something or not. This doesn't apply to everything but works in most situations I face.

Steps in my buying process:

  • Why am I buying this item?
  • Is this a need or want? (Needs get priority)
  • Is their an item I can sell/trash/donate for it to replace (my anti-clutter tactic: something must go for new to come in!)
  • Do I have the money available to spend? (and can I used a gift card I have to cover it?)
  • Are there alternatives? What do they cost and are the rated better?
  • Does buying this item interfere with other goals or needs?
  • Does buying this item reduce costs somewhere else?
  • For wants: I put on a 30 day calendar reminder to revisit if I still want it. This gives me time to fairly evaluate and budget if need be.
  • Do I still want/need the item? Y/N
  • If above is "Y" then buy item from cheapest vendor (usually online!)
As you can see I put myself through multiple ways to say "No" before buying stuff. I am forced to reduce clutter and check my budget before running out and buying something. I also bargain shop and examine alternatives. This will block a lot of my impulses. The 30 day wait is also very good. I have yet to buy something on the 30 day wait list!

International Travel: Eliminate ATM and Foreign Transaction fees!


I really wish I found this last year for my vacation Thailand!!!

While doing some research online I stumbled across Charles Schwab. They offer a "side-by-side" interest checking and brokerage account with $0 minimum and $0 maintenance fees. I looked at all the benefits, made a call to Schwab, and confirmed that they reimburse and unlimited amount of ATM fees (monthly) from any ATM worldwide. On top they do not charge the 3% foreign exchange fee that is very common these days in the USA.

I am going to try this out myself while I am away. I will be going through South Korea briefly and into Cambodia. Research tells me that Cambodia now charges a $4 ATM winthdrawal fee for all foreign cards. After some quick and dirty math I should save roughly $30 in fees by using the Schwab account. They also offer free basic checks too boot!

If this works out well Schwab may get a lot more of my business. Their mutual funds offer good expense ratios on the index funds and $0 transaction fees to trade their mutual funds or their ETF's. This has come a long way from the old Schwab that used to charge a lot more. I think they realized discount is what people ultimately want. This works out for all!

If you have any planned trips I strongly suggest looking into using Schwab while you are away. The fee savings alone can really pay off. They offer a lot of other great services for investing and are much more competitive these days. Being able to use margin as overdraft ($0 fees there too!) and instantly transfer between brokerage and checking are 2 features I really like. Have a look for yourself:

Even More Work Travel: Buffalo, NY!


Every time I go on vacation it seems like an avalanche of work at the office. We went from a more or less dead summer of doing next to nothing to scrambling beginning late September! I am now scheduled and booked for a same day turnaround in Buffalo, NY on October 27. Another new place to pin on the map!

This short trip will be for a brief visit with a client to include lunch. I certainly will enjoy the travel and earning the miles associated. This will be my last work trip before Asia unless something dire comes up. With all this busy-ness I am looking forward to "boring beach time"!

I am headed back home this evening from Detroit and off to Denver tomorrow morning. This is what I get for complaining about too little work travel. Now it's endless! (yay!).

Travel Week: Detroit, MI & Colorado Springs/Denver, CO!


This week is a busy travel week for me!

I will be spending Oct 19 and 20 in Detroit for work. I stay one night at home the fly to Colorado on Oct 21 and stay through Oct 24 helping a friend get a house ready to sell. I have never been to Colorado before so I can check off another state and see my cousin who lives in Denver for a bit. Double win!

These flights will more than solidify my Silver Medallion status for 2011 with Delta!

After this I will be back home for a couple weeks before I am off to Asia for my month-long adventure! It is nice to have some road time again after a long and dismal summer of almost no travel here at work. It has put me behind on my mileage target but such is life. I just have to travel more on my own to make up the ground (yay)!

Weekly Blog Roundup


This is a series where I link to my favorite blog posts from the financial blogs that I follow and read directly. These are the articles I found particularly useful or good in some way. I hope you enjoy my choices and learn something too!

Week of 10/11/2010:
These are my favorites for the last week. Feel free to comment and share some others that I may have missed or not even know about. Have a great week! 

October 2010 Prosper Lending Update


It is the middle of the month again and it is time for my update on lending. It has been a relatively quiet month with business as usual. I still have 1 very late loan and 2 have paid off completely. I have one open bid at this time on a group member's loan.

I am no longer bidding on prosper loans unless they come from my lending group. I am drawing down my account for now. I "write off" all loans in collections as a loss.

Here are my stats as of today:

Outstanding Loans: 35

Late: 1 (< 30 days)
In Collections: 1 (written off)
Current: 33

Closed Loans:

Charged Off: 9
Paid Off: 20

Open Bids: 1

Total currently invested: $803.36 (Principal Value)
Cash in Account: $80.73 (includes open bids)

Total Principal: $884.09

End of Year Tax Planning: Start Now!


We are almost halfway done with October! That means we have a couple months left to make our year end tax moves. I always like to have a look at my income for the year, project what I will be earning for the rest of the year, and make moves accordingly. Luckily I am on salary so this is relatively simple.

This is the time of year when I take a good look at everything. I project what my tax refund or liability will be and use that to form a plan. I decide how much to donate, what stocks to sell and keep (if any), what to contribute to my retirement accounts over and above my normal contributions, and so on. All of these have an impact on my tax bill.

I also use this time to go through my stuff. The holidays are coming up so I start to dig through my things. I can donate food and clothes to those who really need it. I look through my stuff for anything I can sell or use as a gift (one less to buy!). I do a thorough cleaning of my closest to reduce my clutter. I am in a never ending battle against stuff and this helps out the cause!

I also do a little searching online for extra tax credits. I want to get all the credits available that I can to reduce my tax bill. The rules and credits change all the time so it is good to knock out a few housekeeping items to be sure you get the most out of your 1040. Examples: Energy efficient credits, healthcare itemized deduction threshold, healthcare spending accounts, etc.

My final and arguably most important item on the list is to make a list! The list includes:

  • Projection of tax refund or amount owed.
  • To Do list of donations, selling, investing, etc.
  • Cleaning and paring down of my stuff.
  • List of all tax forms that I will need to file my return (1098's, 1099's, W2's, etc).
  • My intentions of how to use a tax refund (if any). 
Tax Planning does not have to be just numbers, calculators, and hard decisions.  Doing this bit of work now saves scrambling later, missed opportunities, and added stress during the holiday season. You don't want to be worrying about selling stocks or making donations at the dinner table with extended family. Save yourself some grief and get to work now!

Cutting your bills: What I did to get my monthly costs down!


In light of a very financially good 3rd quarter for me personally I am posting this small success story about myself. Even though I cut a lot of bills over the years I found that there is still room to move. I am willing to bet that you can find some places to cut back even more! Here are some examples of what I have done recently to reduce costs:

  • Cable Internet -- I don't have cable TV just internet access. I called equipped with a price from AT&T for DSL and got my rate dropped $15/month for 1 year with Comcast ($180 saved!).
  • iPhone Plan -- AT&T has a handy, somewhat hard to find chart on your data plan usage on their website. I had a look and based on where I spend the majority of my time (work and home) I have wifi and do not need a big data plan. I am downgrading to the lowest plan to save $15/month (another $180 saved!)
  • Mortgage Refinance -- I just refinanced my house to roll in my line of credit used for repairs and my old 6% first mortgage. I now have it all locked in at 4.5% for 30 years. I freed up $200 per month that I can use for retirement, other debt payments, health insurance, and more!
  • Homeowners Insurance -- I shopped around after I closed on my refinance. I saved another $250 per year by switching. This was easy to do and took a couple hours.
  • Oil Changes -- I normally do these myself but I found some coupons on where I can get it done, along with some other extras, for less than the cost of the oil alone! I have used 2 of the coupons and have 1 left.
As you can see all of the above are small changes that add up to a lot over time. I now have a much better monthly cash flow and I can add the extra money to my debt snowball. All of this began with comparison shopping for services and asking myself: "Do I really need _________?". I now have a habit of searching for deals, coupons, and alternatives if I need a product or service.

    Craigslist: A short success story

    0 comments has gotten a lot of good and a lot of bad press. Being a completely open, unregulated advertising and buy/sell classified ads site has it's drawbacks and it's advantages. In my personal experience I have had mixed experiences but largely a successful endeavor.

    This past weekend I sold a stove on craigslist. I listed it almost 3 weeks before hand and got a few responses. Some didn't write back a second time and others changed their minds. I finally got a nice lady truly interested in the stove and she came with family to pick it up Sunday. That put me $350 ahead!

    Before this past weekend I had success selling and iPod touch that I got as gift. I didn't really want or need it and decided to try local to avoid ebay fees and shipping hassles. It worked out well and I sold to a guy who really wanted it at a fair price. We both won!

    I also would like to add that my current job of 3+ years I landed off of craigslist in 2007. In fact when I was job searching in 2007 I had 2 job offers and they were both from craigslist. I never got any other offers or even contact from any of the other job sites I used.

    The downside of craigslist is the hordes of scammers, cheapskates, and all out spam that comes with being an open site. It is pretty easy to see and filter out most of the junk. I usually stick to the job boards and classifieds to sell stuff every now and then. It also happens to be a good place to find focus groups if you live in a large metro area. The best rule for craigslist applies to everything: If it sounds to good to be true then it probably is.

    Weekly Blog Roundup


    This is a series where I link to my favorite blog posts from the financial blogs that I follow and read directly. These are the articles I found particularly useful or good in some way. I hope you enjoy my choices and learn something too!

    Week of 10/4/2010:
    • Commission Denies Postage Rate Hike Request by Post Office @ Bargaineering. Jim shares a great story that the US Postal Service was denied a request to raise rates yet again. Now if we can just get someone in there to streamline that mess that they made...
    • Bargain Shopping Gone Berserk! @ Get Rich Slowly. JD did a nice write up on when you can take bargain shopping too far. I have written about bargains I find but it is only a bargain if you need it and it is at a discount!
    • What Does "Financial Independence" Really Mean? @ The Simple Dollar. Trent wrote an awesome definition of what financial independence is. I have touched on it here and this is a great big picture article on the subject.
    These are my favorites for the last week. Feel free to comment and share some others that I may have missed or not even know about. Have a great week! 

    More Travel!: Denver & Colorado Springs, CO


    I have some more travel on the horizon before I leave for Asia. I am doing a mixed work/fun trip out to Colorado Springs to help a co-worker get a house ready for sale. It needs some cleaning and organizing so it can be sold to a new owner. I will also visit with my cousin who lives in Denver as an added bonus.

    I have never been to Colorado before so it will be a new place to add to my list. The flight was reasonable and I got a rental car for a whopping $3.49 per day! I have always heard of the crazy rental car deals like this but this is the first time I actually found and was able to take advantage of one!

    The business end of this trip is that when the house sells I will earn some money. I am OK with this arrangement as I am fronting all the costs of my travel expenses and my time to do the work that needs to get done. This will work out well for me and give me a nice boost financially. It is a triple win: I get money, I get to travel, and I am helping out a friend in need.

    I will be in Colorado from Oct 21 to Oct 24.

    Travel Abroad: The pre-departure checklist


    As I travel abroad for vacation as much as possible I have formed a checklist over the years so that all loose ends are tied up before I go. I want to limit surprises on the road and reduce my unexpected expenses as much as I can. This is done with a little planning and forethought. A little work now saves a lot of hassle later.

    Packing for the trip:

    • Create a packing list and pack the items in it.
    • Repack the bag and with each item ask yourself: Do I REALLY need this for this trip?
    • Put away removed items and weigh your bag. You have to carry this heavy thing around!
    • Check your packed bag for and tears, broken zippers, and other problems.
    • If you have time live solely out of the bag for a couple days. Do you have everything you need?
    • Make sure everything is fully charged up if it has rechargeable batteries. Pack all chargers.
    Housekeeping Items:
    • Set up scheduled payments for all bills that come due while you are gone.
    • Day of departure: Unplug everything that does not need to be on while gone
    • Get $100 in emergency cash that can be exchanged locally if needed
    • Clean the house. No one wants to come home to a wrecked house after 20 hours in transit.
    • Use up perishable foods. Stop going grocery shopping a couple weeks before you leave. Eat up what you have first!
    • Give a key to a trusted friend or family member to check up on things while you are out.
    • Take care of any pet boarding (if applicable)
    • Call all associated banks that handle all credit and debit cards you intend to use abroad and inform them of your trip location and dates. Don't get cut off because of "fraud"!
    This list can save you lots of hassle both at home and on the road. I found that by following it I can reduce my overall stress before, during, and after my trips.The idea is to enjoy your vacation and not have to worry about stuff back home. That is why we travel in the first place!

    Getting started with retirement investing


    I find that the biggest barrier for saving for retirement is that most people do not know where to start. People tend to get confused by paperwork, minimum investment, tax laws, what to invest in, etc. The main thing to do is to take the first step and get started. What to invest in can come later but simply putting the money aside each month or each pay period is the crucial first step.

    The best option is to start with an employer sponsored plan. This can be a 401(k), SIMPLE IRA, or some other similar plan. Most of the time you fill out paperwork and the savings is deducted directly from your pay. This makes it easy for you as the money never hits your checking account. You can start by putting the money in a money market fund while you learn more about the other investment choices and can make an educated decision on what to invest in.

    If your employer does not have or you are not eligible for the plan you need to venture out on your own. A Roth IRA is the best choice as all the money grows tax free. A lot of brokerages and mutual fund companies have a set minimum, usually $500 or $1000 to get started. A lot offer $0 minimum if you commit to a set monthly amount to automatically transfer in. I always suggest Vanguard as they offer low fees on accounts and have a good selection of funds to fit most peoples' needs.

    If you are venturing on your own and need to meet a certain minimum start by transferring a set amount each month or each paycheck to a savings account. When you hit the minimum target open the account and make the transfers go there instead. Automating your savings will make sure you get it done and that it happens without temptation to spend the money elsewhere. While you are saving up for the minimum do your research and be sure what you want to invest your money in that fits your tolerance for risk and goals.

    The time is now to stop with the excuses and save for retirement. The sooner the better. Time is in your favor when saving for retirement if you start early enough. Social Security should not be considered at all when calculating how much you need to retire. The system is mathematically upside down now and will only get worse. Benefits will shrink and starting age will get older and older. If you do end up with a some social security money then you have extra. Pretend like what money you have will be all you will ever have and you will be covered!

    What's in my portfolio?


    Disclaimer: This is what my portfolio consists of and this is not investment advice. You should make your own educated decisions before investing you money in any way.

    I realized that I talked a little bit about investing but never really divulged how I actually invest my retirement money. I am currently very passive about my investing. I will represent all of my portfolio in percentages to give a broad, easy-to-read picture. Luckily in my case it is simple!

    I currently have 3 investment accounts: Taxable Brokerage, Roth IRA, and SIMPLE IRA (my work's 401 (k)-like plan). The majority lives in the SIMPLE IRA and all previous investments were rolled over and converted to my Roth as they were relatively small.

    Portfolio Breakdown:

    • Cash (Money Market): 0.19%
    • GE (General Electric): 1.16%
    • HYF (High Yield Bond Fund): 13.01%
    • RIT (Real Estate Income Fund): 1.00%
    • IWO (iShares Russell 2000 Growth): 2.43%
    • IWN (iShares Russell 2000 Value): 3.26%
    • IWF (iShares Russell 1000 Growth): 3.92%
    • IWD (iShares Russell 1000 Value): 3.23%
    • EFA (iShares MSCI EAFE Index): 3.02%
    • EEM (iShares Emerging Markets Index): 7.08%
    • VFIFX (Vanguard 2050 Retirement Fund): 61.70%
    As you can see over half of my portfolio is in my company plan. I have been here 3 years and the 3%/100% matching contribution has really added up. My second largest holding is HYF which pays a large dividend that I reinvest. I hold GE with my "play" investing money and is a very small position that I set for dividend reinvestment. All other holders in my Roth. I diversified what little I had with iShares since I did not have enough at the time to buy into a single mutual fund. I will simply hold these until I retire or find a better alternative.

    I am definitely taking the "lazy man's" approach here as I am focusing on debt elimination and don't have a lot of time to seek out the absolute best investment mix at this time. I am happy with the mix I currently have and will stick with it until I start more heavily contributing. All my investments are currently in the positive and I plan to keep going!

    Weekly Blog Roundup


    This is a series where I link to my favorite blog posts from the financial blogs that I follow and read directly. These are the articles I found particularly useful or good in some way. I hope you enjoy my choices and learn something too!

    Week of 9/27/2010:
    • New 2011 From 1099-K @ Bargaineering. Sell stuff on eBay? This new form is how the government keeps track of what you sell. Good to know! See post link for details.
    • Re-Thinking Retirement: Beyond Conventional Wisdom @ Get Rich Slowly. JD wrote a great post on what retirement really means and how to plan for it. Retirement is more than investments!
    • Vocation, Career, and Job @ The Simple Dollar. Trent does a great job of explaining what each words means. Which one applies to your situation?
    These are my favorites for the last week. Feel free to comment and share some others that I may have missed or not even know about. Have a great week! 

    October 2010 Net Worth Update


    It is the 1st of the month again and it is time for my net worth report card. I had a negative month this month but I am OK with that since I had an astounding month in August.

    As of today my current net worth is ($2,387.60). That is an decrease of ($1,312.67) over last month. The major contributing factors were expenses due to closing costs, a few planned purchases, and slightly increased spending in entertainment.

    I expect next month to be a better month. I have more work travel plans and no more big financial changes on the horizon. I will remain focused on debt elimination and increasing my income in any way I can!

    Alternative Income this month:

    IT Consulting: $30
    New Rent!: $400

    Getting control of your finances: You have to be willing to put in the effort!


    I have a few friends, who will remain nameless, who always say things like:

    • "I wish I could save more money"
    • "I spend too much on ________"
    • "I need to open a savings account"
    And many more similar items I hear. They all have one thing in common: These are empty statements that they never do anything about. They are always running out of money before the next paycheck and are probably behind on their bills.

    The source of the problem: They do not track their money in any way. Most of them spend without thought and just log into online banking once in a while so see if they are overdrawn. I cringe every time I hear about when they are overdrawn or have 47 cents left with 10 days until payday.

    The issue is that either they don't care enough to track their money or lazy or simply do not know how. I am not sure which is the case with my friends but frankly it doesn't matter. It bothers me to see them like this as I cannot even fathom being like that myself. I am a very conscious spender and know where I stand at all times.

    The bottom line is that in order to get ahead you have to put in time and effort to actively track your spending. Every day. No exceptions. You have to budget your money and know when to stop. Some of my friends were laid off, fell way behind, and still struggle even with new jobs. They easily make twice what I make and have nothing to show for it. I have tried to convince them to change their ways but it falls on deaf ears.

    This is partly the fault of our education system. I personally believe that everyone should have a mandatory personal finance class in high school and/or college. I did it as an elective and learned a lot more than I imagined!

    How much do you save (per hour)?


    I find a great tool in convincing myself to save more money is to look at it on an hourly basis. I currently work for a set salary. I have to first translate that into an hourly wage. There are 2080 work hours per year so I divide my annual salary by 2080. In this example I will use a $50,000 annual salary.

    A $50,000 annual salary works out to be $24.04 per hour. That is a pretty good wage and should easily cover basic expenses and then some. Next we have to annualize the various amounts that we save. This includes cash savings, IRA's, 401(k)'s, etc. Here is an example:

    1. 6% of salary goes to 401(k) (includes company match) which is $3,000 annually.
    2. $50 per month goes to emergency fund which is $600 annually.
    3. $50 per month goes to travel fund which is $600 annually.
    The total annual savings is $4,200 annually. This number represents less than 10% of the total salaried income. If you divide that total by 2080 you see that they save $2.02 per hour. This means that $22.02 of the salary goes to taxes, expenses, needs, wants, and other spending. If you follow the general rule of "you need to save at least 20%" then that hourly number should be $4.81 per hour. This means they need to more than double their current savings by cutting expenses where they can and increasing contributions to their various savings vehicles.

    This is a great exercise and it shows you not only how much you save from 1 hour of work but can also reveal how much of your salary you use for "today" and how little you use for "tomorrow". All of the millionaires and financially independent have very high "tomorrow" figures. I am working on increasing mine to 20% (at least!).

    101 goals in 1001 days update


    It has been quite some time since I have updated on the progress of my list. I have actually gotten some good progress on many friends that I would love to share. I feel that by following this list I can already tell that a lot of areas of my life feel more orderly and sane. This is a great exercise!

    Here is a sample of my recent accomplishments:

    • Closed all unused credit card and bank accounts.
    • Earned real money from my blog!
    • Eaten at a couple new, great places
    • Increased my monthly savings
    • Planned a month off from work to go to Asia
    • ...and much more!
    For the full details check out my 101 list page

    Weekly Blog Roundup


    This is a series where I link to my favorite blog posts from the financial blogs that I follow and read directly. These are the articles I found particularly useful or good in some way. I hope you enjoy my choices and learn something too!

    Week of 9/20/2010:
    • Rule of Thumb on Insurances To Avoid @ Bargaineering. Jim shares a great rule on which types of insurance you should and should not purchase and why. Very good ideas!
    • The War on Work @ Get Rich Slowly. JD wrote a great in depth article on Financial Independence and getting to the point in which you no longer have to work. Awesomely done.
    • The Myth of the Exceptional Life @ The Simple Dollar. The term "exceptional life" is a marketing term. It does not exist. Trent explains this in detail and is a great post to help us all refocus.
    These are my favorites for the last week. Feel free to comment and share some others that I may have missed or not even know about. Have a great week! 

    Southwest to buy Airtran


    I saw the news story this morning on Google. This is good news in a way and possibly bad news in another. I am happy to see the god awful excuse for an airline (Air Tran) go away and be replaced with one that knows what it is doing. On the same note flying Southwest tends to be a bit of a mad house at check in and on the plane.

    The good points I see is that Delta, the other major player here in Atlanta, may have to stop charging baggage fees. Southwest has never charged baggage fees and Delta would lose a lot of business to this. Also it could mean lower fares on domestic Delta flights for more or Southwest would simply raise fares. That is yet to be seen. Southwest would be handy if they offer the really good sale fares out of Atlanta.

    The down sides are Southwest does not assign seats on their flights. They also have much less comfortable planes. I have flown Southwest a couple of times and you get what you pay for. A madhouse at the gate and during boarding since everyone makes a mad dash for the seat they want. I think this is ok for short flights but long haul flights I prefer Delta, the chance (or even option!) of first class and of course the miles I can use to go overseas. Southwest is domestic only.

    We shall see how this will turn out! I hope it is for the better.

    Rant: Calculating how much I need to "retire"


    I am not a fan of the word "retirement." It has a bad connotation of working until you cannot work anymore to have enough money to live out the rest of your life. That doesn't sound very good to me. I prefer financially independent where I don't necessarily have to collect social security to stop working. I am currently working on my target net worth number to mark the day I quit working full time.

    I have found that a lot of other things have to be considered than just the total amount. I also have to include:

    • Expected income from investments
    • Income from other sources (side work, contracting, etc.)
    • What the other income sources are
    • Cost to travel (I want to do this as much as possible)
    • Expenses that have to be paid after I stop full time work
    • Making sure I am happy with all the above choices
    This seems simple enough but each of the above items has a lot of complexity. I have to make estimates on what I will earn from my investments. What sort of side work would I do, how often, and how much could it potentially pay? Travel costs fluctuate wildly. I have to decided where to travel, for how long, and get a reasonable estimate of costs. Expenses are the easiest to predict but not completely. And most of all I want to be happy with my choices and no stressing over these items all the time. Everything has to fit right!

    As it stands now I am nowhere close to being able to say with 100% or even 75% assurance of what each in the above list should be. All I do know at this point is that I want to travel at least half the year to various countries worldwide. I have a good grasp on the home-side expenses but still working on the travel part. The expected income from investments is like trying to see the future. I know what sort of returns I would want but attaining them is another story. I am also working on ideas for side work, projects, and contracting to help me fill the gaps.

    Being able to stop 100% relying on salary is a long process. I do know that saving as much as I can everyday will get me closer. I am a person who likes numbers and measurable goals so I am going to come up with a target and put 110% of my effort into it. I have a lot of variables to juggle. It's called life. I have to take a step back and not worry about every detail being hammered out. With plan A, B, & C I will make it work somehow. Time to get to work!

    How to stay frugal at the airport


    We all know that travel is expensive. Especially air travel. There are many costs in flying that most of us don't think about. First there is the cost of getting to the airport. Next you have baggage fees (if you don't pay them in advance). Once through security you might want a drink or need to have a meal. These both are much higher in the airport.

    I have some tips that help combat this. I will address each one above.

    • Getting to the airport costs include: gas, parking, train fare, taxi etc. Explore all your options. Compare total cost of daily parking versus train, bus, or taxi. You will be surprised how much it costs!
    • Baggage Fees: If you are not "elite" with the chosen airline you most likely have to pay for checked luggage. The best avoidance is to not check a bag. If you do need to check a bag a lot of airlines offer a cheaper rate if you prepay the fee online.
    • Food and Drink at the airport: Use the free water fountains. The restriction on security is for liquid. You can bring 50 sandwiches if you want. Bring your pre-made meals or snacks with you. If you must buy a drink the vending machines are usually cheapest. If you want alcohol look into a day pass cost for the business lounges (open bar) versus how much a drink is at the terminal bar.
    No matter how you slice it travel costs money. Following the tips above can "reduce the damage" if executed well. Traveling can be expensive but that does not mean it has to be. Happy travels!

    Home Insurance Shopping: Lesson Learned!


    I recently switch my homeowner's insurance since it would save me nearly $200 per year. Doing so I went online to to get quotes. To be fair I did get some quotes and the end result was good. On the down side I am getting endless calls from insurance agents. I will not do this again!

    It was good to get multiple quotes so I can be sure that I get a fair price. The problem lies in the agents. They almost all work on commission and are aggressive. I am to the point now where I simply hang up on all of them as they don't seem to understand that I have bought and am completely not interested in anything they have to say.

    I know now better for next time. I will look up and contact a few companies directly so some website doesn't fan out my phone number to 20 people. The fact that this burns my cell phone minutes is a minor annoyance to the calls I get all day long while I am at work. I was also annoyed that most of them did not simply email the quote I requested. They wanted to call and try to sell me other insurance. Lesson learned!

    Work Travel: Detroit, MI in October


    Things are picking up at the office! I am starting to travel for work again and I must admit I am happier as a result. Being busy and on the road keeps me occupied, provides some break in routine, and best of all I earn a little more money!

    I have not booked the travel yet as I am still waiting on some hard dates but I know I will be going in October for sure. I should be there for 2 days total as it will be a quick trip up and back. Makes for a great mileage run! It will put me close to renewing my elite status for next year with Delta.

    I also got word that I might get some more travel to Baltimore in December and January. Yay!

    Weekly Blog Roundup


    This is a series where I link to my favorite blog posts from the financial blogs that I follow and read directly. These are the articles I found particularly useful or good in some way. I hope you enjoy my choices and learn something too!

    Week of 9/13/2010:
    These are my favorites for the last week. Feel free to comment and share some others that I may have missed or not even know about. Have a great week! 

    Tip: Saving on Insurance Costs - Pay Premiums Annually


    For those with good money discipline you can save a bit on insurance by paying your premiums annually. I do this with my homeowners, auto, and life insurance. In all cases it costs me less. I have a "Bills Escrow" savings account in which I transfer money monthly for annual (and other irregular) expenses.

    Example: My Life Insurance -- I have the option to pay $12.85 per month or $146.00 per year. $146 works out to be around $12.17 per month. The difference between the two is not large ($8.20 annually) but it costs me 5.62% less over the 1 year span. I have a 20 year term life policy so over 20 years that saves me $164 which essentially means the 20th year is "free" versus the monthly payment.

    Also while the money sits in my "Bills Escrow" online savings account I earn interest. This is a double win since not only am I paying less for my insurance but earning interest while the money sits there on top! I simply take my annual premium and divide it by 12. I transfer that amount each month into the savings account. When the bill comes I transfer the amount I need back and pay it. Simple!

    I looked into my other insurance premiums and I found that by paying them annually I save roughly 5% of those premiums by paying annually. This adds up fast on more expensive insurance. Everyone can do this with some planning. To start today you simply call up the insurance company and ask them to switch you to annual payment plans. In most cases you have to pay the difference between now and the next bill immediately.

    The next step is to open a "Bills Escrow" savings account (I use ING Direct) and start the monthly transfers to the  account. I like to do separate transfers for each insurance policy for budgeting and ease of tracking. The only slightly tricky part is figuring out the initial deposit. You have to deposit the total amount you should have saved by now on a yearly plan.

    Example: Your car insurance is $1200 per year if you pay yearly. You are currently on a monthly payment plan. Let's say you originally got your insurance in June. Most insurance companies will make annual payments due on your policy's anniversary. It is now September. If you switch to an annual plan today you will have to pay ~$900 to the insurance company now (to pay off the rest of this year for the insurance). Now you need to calculate your "back payments" to put into the savings account.

    June through September is 3 months. That means you should have $300 in your savings account today. This is your initial deposit for your auto insurance. Starting in October you will set up a transfer of $100 per month to the savings account. By next June (9 months from now) you will have the $1200 you need to pay the annual premium again (plus interest!).

    Some numbers: Let's say the total of all the insurance premiums on a monthly plan add up to be $3,000 per year. If switching to an annual payment saves you an average of 5% then you have $150 more per year (plus the interest you earn on the savings account!) to work with. The more expensive insurance you carry the more you win! This will take you a couple of hours to calculate and set up. Great return on investment!

    Frugal Tip: Recycle before you Recycle


    Trent over at The Simple Dollar wrote in a post "find a second use for everything" as a tip to become more frugal. I never really thought of it that way and it struck me as a good idea. He used the example of using worn out clothing for rags which I have done in the past. He was alluding to a form of recycling.

    The idea does have it's limits. It can lead to having too much stuff or hoarding problems. It is most certainly not a tip for "pack rats" as they already have too much!

    Problems to overcome:

    • Taking up space: limit yourself to a certain amount of each item. Maybe just one small bag of old clothes or a small box of plastic bottles to use later.
    • Accumulation of too much stuff in general: Keeping things because they might be useful one day is a bad idea. If you are keeping something to reuse have a specific purpose for it and make sure you will actually use it within 1 year.
    • Hygiene: Reusing things has cleanliness limits. Make sure to thoroughly clean anything you intent to reuse. Too much can attract pests and rodents to live in your stuff!
    Now that I have all the problems out of the way I want to share what and how I reuse some stuff around my house. I try my best to limit my waste and recycle what I can as a starting point. After that I start looking at things in a new light and figure out if I can use it to fill another need. Here are some examples:
    • Plastic Grocery bags: I get a lot of these (free in GA) and use some of them as trash bags for my small bathroom trash bins. They cost me nothing and I don't have to buy bags instead. I get way too many and return the ones I don't use to the grocery store for recycling monthly.
    • Old and worn clothes: Aside from Trent's rag idea I keep a couple old or slightly torn tshirts to use for house projects and working my car. This goes for shorts/jeans too. If some of them are in reasonable shape I donate them for the tax benefits.
    • Food Scraps: I don't compost as I don't garden but I know people who do and just go over and put my scraps in their composter. It costs me nothing, helps a neighbor, and saves some waste in landfills.
    • Jars and Bottles: I keep a bin of jars and bottles of various sizes. Some can take the place of expensive tupperware. I use them for a wide range of things: mixing home made sauces, storing small amounts of liquids and powders for transport in my car, small ones as travel size containers that I can take to the airport, and so on. I limit myself only to what my "empties bin" will hold. I recycle the rest.
    I could go on for a while with reuse ideas. The above are the ones I use the most often. I always suggest that "when in doubt recycle it first" so that you don't end up over accumulating stuff you will never use. Finding a second use for items does save money but moderation must be applied and we should not buy something simply because it could have a second use.

    September 2010 Prosper Lending Update


    It is the middle of the month again and it is time for my update on lending. It has been a quiet month with business as usually. I still have 2 very late loans and one is currently slightly late. I have no open bids at this time.

    I am no longer bidding on prosper loans unless they come from my lending group. I am drawing down my account for now. I "write off" all loans in collections as a loss.

    Here are my stats as of today:

    Outstanding Loans:

    Late: 1 (< 30 days)
    In Collections: 2 (written off)
    Current: 35

    Closed Loans:

    Charged Off: 8
    Paid Off: 18

    Open Bids:0

    Total currently invested: $894.92 (Principal Value)
    Cash in Account: $25.95 (includes open bids)

    Total Principal: $920.87

    New Site Title: Explained


    I decided today that my old blog title did not fit anymore. Since I have altered my focus a bit to include my travels as well as financial topics I decided that the new title is more appropriate. I also feel it describes me a lot better.

    As of today this blog will be known as "The Frugal Backpacker". Both of the words describe me accurately and paint a picture for those who have never met me. It is also my chosen direction in life and encompasses a lot of my lifelong goals.

    What does it mean?

    First I must break down the title to explain it:

    Frugal - to me frugal means I make conscious choices with how I spend my money. It does not mean that I am cheap. I am not afraid to spend for quality but I do make sure my purchases are with good reason. By carefully tracking my spending and making educated decisions I buy myself more freedom. This includes the ability to travel more often.

    Backpacker - A lot of people here this word and generally think of two things. The first is someone who hikes in the mountains a lot. The other is the "broke college kid" traveling in Europe and staying in dives or sleeping in a train station. To me a backpacker is a traveler who carries a backpack with everything he needs to live in it. I tend to stay in backpacker-style accommodation including hostels, guesthouses, and budget hotels. I travel to see the country, the food, and the people--not to see the inside of another Hilton. There is a lot of places out there to see and you shouldn't have to spend a fortune to do it!

    I find that in my case the above two mix well. I make frugal choices at home as well as on the road. I apply the principles of each in my daily life. Everyday I am working I work toward the ultimate goal of traveling again. The goal is to travel wherever I want and whenever I want to do it. Frugal practices and financial independence is the only way I can make this happen. This blog will be a record of my journey both physically and financially.

    I hope that this blog will help not only me stay motivated and focused on my goals, but hopefully someone will find the information that I share useful. It would be great to make money from this site but it is not the ultimate goal. In my experience I have found that if I make my goals public I am more apt to attain them. This blog servers exactly that purpose.

    Weekly Blog Roundup


    This is a series where I link to my favorite blog posts from the financial blogs that I follow and read directly. These are the articles I found particularly useful or good in some way. I hope you enjoy my choices and learn something too!

    Week of 9/6/2010:
    These are my favorites for the last week. Feel free to comment and share some others that I may have missed or not even know about. Have a great week!

    I just saved $180 with a phone call!


    I did some looking around online to day at internet service. I noticed that AT&T has DSL for significantly less that my current comcast bill. I got on the website chat with comcast customer service and they directed me to call about lowering my bill.

    I called comcast billing and told them I can get the same internet a lot cheaper from AT&T but wanted to give them a chance to match. The billing rep told me there were no specials that I qualified for. I threatened to cancel and then was transferred to the "Loyalty Department". These are the people with power. I got $15 per month knocked off my bill for the next 12 months!

    This adds up to $180 saved over the next year for no change in service. I have set a calendar reminder to revisit the internet rates then and see if I should switch or continue as I am. Don't be afraid to call and ask for a discount. Threatening to leave in such a cut throat internet market can yield you discounts!

    Refinance Closing Complete! Consolidation Begins!


    Today I closed on the refinance of my current mortgage and HELOC into a new 30-year mortgage. I went through my local credit union and lowered my interest rate from 6% to 4.5% on my entire balance. This is a great rate and I freed up almost $200/month in cash flow as a result!

    I finished my closing around 2 hours ago and I feel a big relief. All the paperwork, applications, appraisal, inspectors, and general hectic mess is over. I am now paying just shy of $400 per month for my newly remodeled foreclosure home in a great area. It took me 1 year, 2 months to get to this point. It feels great!

    Now some real work begins. As I write this I am on hold with yet another credit card company. Now that I am past credit checks and needs for borrowing I am doing an "avalanche" of account closings. I have multiple cards that I no longer use. I opened them to get bonuses and rewards and am now closing the accounts I don't need.

    I am in the big process of simplifying my financial life so I can focus on other things. I have paid off all of my credit card balances except for 1 and that will be paid off this month and I will close that account too. I will be left with only a handful of my oldest accounts to maintain my credit history and to have for emergencies. I will continue to use my Delta SkyMiles card to earn my free travel rewards as usual.

    Weekly Blog Roundup


    This is a series where I link to my favorite blog posts from the financial blogs that I follow and read directly. These are the articles I found particularly useful or good in some way. I hope you enjoy my choices and learn something too!

    Week of 8/29/2010:
    These are my favorites for the last week. Feel free to comment and share some others that I may have missed or not even know about. Have a great week!

    Going to Asia? Shoot for a layover in Seoul!


    No matter where you are headed in Asia you are almost guaranteed a layover flying from the USA. Especially us on the east coast. Through various research I have determined that Seoul, South Korea is usually your best option. It involves long layovers but they have figured that out and offer a lot to do with your time.

    Options include:

    • Transit lounge - At the time of writing the access to the lounge costs $21 USD (approximately) and the lounge offers internet, clean bathrooms, comfortable seats, open bar, buffet food, showers, business center, and great service. 
    • Spa on Air - The Incheon Airport (ICN) has a spa outside the secure area. It includes hot tubs, saunas, message (paid), sleeping rooms (limited, extra costs), and lounge with couches, recliners and TV's. You are allowed to sleep in the lounge. Cost: 20,000 Won at time of writing. Add 15,000 if you want a private bedroom if it is available.
    • Day Trips - There are lots of options. On the expensive end you have tours into Seoul and the DMZ zone with North Korea. For the budget minded you can take the train that connects to the Seoul subway system and have your own tour. Buses also run into the city but cost more and are susceptible to traffic. Seoul has great food, shopping, shows, and sites to see to kill 5+ hours.
    • Free Sleeping Lounge - I used this back in 2006! There is an area with beds in the transit hall. If one is available have a nap and catch your next flight if you arrive at odd hours or just not up to leaving the airport
    • Restaurants - some offer free internet access with purchase. Others have entertainment such as music and TV's. No matter your budget you can find something to pass the time!
    • Airport Hotel - Asiana and Korean Air offer free stays in the airport hotel under certain conditions. It is best to call the airline when you have a ticket booked to get details.
    South Korea is less expensive than other major hubs (such as Tokyo or Beijing) and is a lot more tourist friendly as they are heavily promoting tourism. With all the above amenities in the airport I cannot think of a better place to be "stuck" on a long layover. If you face a long layover why not pick an interesting and relatively inexpensive place?