Get the Most Value from Delta's Pay With Miles Program


As a Delta American Express card holder I have the option to use some of my miles mixed with cash to pay for plane tickets. The basic idea is that if I spend 10,000 miles it will knock off $100 of the ticket price. I can go in increments of 5,000 miles for an additional $50 off up to the total cost of the ticket.

The downside is that if you use this program you cannot earn miles on any portion of the flight. I have a few strategies to reduce this downside as much as possible. It involves some work but most certainly worth it. Here are my tactics:

  • Book two one way tickets: Compare the cost of the round trip and 2 one-way tickets. If they are close enough book one of the legs using pay with miles and the other with cash. This way you earn half of the miles for the trip instead of 0.
  • Compare to award ticket costs. If the lowest level award is available you should compare to buying the ticket. At the rate of 10,000 miles = $100 you have easy math. If the flight is $800 or you can use 25,000 miles to redeem an award ticket you take the award flight. If the flight is $300 and the award ticket is 60,000 miles you pay for it using pay with miles (only costing you 30,000 for the same seat!).
  • Mix Pay with Miles and award flights. This can get complicated. I only use this if I am stuck with my dates and must go no matter what. If the cost is high you can book two one way's using a mix of award tickets and pay with miles. You have to check inventories and compare the total mileage costs. A good time to use this is for a serious illness or death and you must leave on short notice.
As of this writing Pay with Miles is only available to the Delta AmEx Gold, Platinum, and Reserve cardholders. They have announced plans to open this up to all Skymiles members which will make it useful for all of us! This is a great way to be frugal with your travels!

I made money with Google AdSense!


It has been a long haul (almost 3 years) but I recently had a deposit to my bank account from Google. I finally crossed the $100 threshold of AdSense earnings. This is combined earnings from my defunct travel blog and this site. Though it is not a lot of money for all the work I have done I will take it!

It is encouraging to see that persistence on blogging can pay off. I have a renewed motivation to keep going with this blog so I can reach the next $100. This, in part, fueled my idea to change the blog to a more enjoyable finance/travel combined blog to keep me interested in writing the posts. Pure finance was getting a little stale in my mind.

So what do I plan to to with the money? Pay off debt of course! It gives me a little boost where I am close to turning the corner and emerging from credit card debt. By year end I should have all of my credit cards paid off which is well ahead of my projections. I also just started to add money monthly to my emergency fund to build it back up!

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 8/22/2010:

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!

Work Travel: New York City!


Today I am in New York City! I am here for work to do an installation for one of our clients. Since the airfare was the same I will be staying in New York through Sunday evening. I plan to meet up with a friend of mine so he can show me some cool stuff int he city.

I got a first class upgrade on my Delta flight up last night and hope to get one on the way back Sunday. I am earning miles on this flight and am that much closer to another ticket overseas! I will also be earning miles from work expenses that will go on my Delta AmEx card also. Every dollar/mile counts!

While I am here I will go see a couple of the usual sites but also want to have some great, reasonably priced food. I am on the hunt for good NY Pizza, Mexican, and Chinese this time around. For the work portion of my stay I will be staying at the Pod Hotel which will be a new experience for me as well. I love it when work pays for a new experience!

This trip allows me to check New York City off "the list" of domestic places to see. I have been able to see a good bit of the domestic places I want to see because of work and am thankful for that. I hope that I will be able to get the majority of it cleared within the next couple of years.

House Appraisal: $98,000!


I just got my appraisal in for my mortgage refinance. My home value, according to the appraisal, has risen $8,000! This is great news as I can now refinance with no out of pocket costs. This also means my net worth has risen a bit too!

I am moving forward with my refinance at 4.5% which is a lot less than the 6% I am paying now! I will also roll in my HELOC to make one payment and total monthly out of pocket too. My HELOC is at 4% but it is a variable rate that will eventually rise so I am OK with locking in 4.5% now.

This is a big leap forward for my monthly cash flow and overall interest rate on my mortgage debt. I am locking in one of the lowest interest rates in history for my 30-year mortgage. I intend to pay extra toward the mortgage once I have exhausted all of my other debts to speed up the repayment. I will continue my debt snowball as planned.

Now is the time to refinance if it makes financial sense!

My Budget for Asia in November


As mentioned before I will be spending roughly 1 month in Cambodia. I have worked out a budget for my time over there and calculated how much I will need to cover all of the costs. A lot goes into a travel budget and here is what I have come up with:

Flight Taxes: $165
Seoul Day Trip: $50
Visa: $20
Angkor Temples Entrance: $20
Daily Food/Hotel: $10 x 28 days = $280
Transport: $100
Slush Fund: $100

Total: $735.00

Notes: I am only paying taxes on flights since I used miles for the ticket. I have a long layover in Seoul (16 hours) so the day trip is extra fun. I will be sharing the majority of food and hotel costs with my girl friend for 3 of the 4 weeks I am there.

I picked a $100 "slush" fund to cover unexpected expenses while in country. It helps cover transport for last minute change in plans and also price increases for various things. I also use it for splurges that were not planned. Having extra money while traveling is always good. I suppose you could call it the "emergency fund" for my vacation but really it is just fun money.

The above categories are relevant to all travel I plan to do. It is a good basic table to research and fill in no matter where you plan to go. Cambodia happens to be a very inexpensive country hence the long time (1 month!) that I will spend there. This table works for a 1 week trip or 1 year trip (separate for each country) or for perpetual travel.

When calculating how much to save I subtract my car fuel and food budgets from home. I won't be here to spend on food in the US or driving my car so therefore will not incur those expenses. They help offset what I need to save up and have on hand. I also paid the airfare taxes now since they must be paid at the time of booking.

A Change in Direction (for this blog)


It just hit me today as I was reflecting on my "big picture" life goals and how I think and operate from day to day. I started this blog as a financial diary of sorts to keep me on track to reaching my ultimate goal: become financially free so I can travel whenever I want. I am working to pay down my debts and make my liquid net worth turn for the positive.

Keeping this blog (aka my financial diary) helps me to record my progress, post great deals and ideas that I find, and gives me a way to express my feelings towards money with the world. It does get tedious sometimes but I still come through and get my postings done. Writing is not easy! I do struggle to find things to write about sometimes and it can be frustrating with a busy schedule.

Today I hope to end the struggle and frustration. I am going to change the shape and content of this blog to more closely match my interests. I love learning about finance, saving money, and investments. I have a finance degree from college. I have learned I like the subjects but not full time work in that industry. My true passion is travel and seeing new faces, cultures, foods, and history.

As a result I am going to change this blog into a hybrid of financial advice and travel advice. It will be part on being frugal, saving, investing, and finance. I am going to start mixing in more of my travel research and tips as well since it is another subject that greatly interests me. I will often mix the two subjects as they tend to go together quite a lot!

Basic post types to expect to see:

  • Purely Financial - These are financial topics that may not apply to travel. Mortgages, investments, etc.
  • Personal Updates from me - Net Worth Updates and my personal travel plans
  • Deals - I post deals that are just too good to not share!
  • Hybrid - These will involve some sort of travel and finance idea together
  • Travel Planning - Planning the trip is half the fun! I will share my tips on this subject.
  • Living abroad - I plan to eventually live outside the USA. My research on this will be shared.
Looking at my past posts I have noticed that my blog has vaguely been going this direction already. Up to this point it has been mostly financial but I plan to add more travel-related items going forward. I have a lot of travel experience and feel the urge to share it with the world!

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 8/15/2010:

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!

Tips for increasing gas mileage


Since I am on vacation 6 hours away from my home in Atlanta I did some digging to see what I could do to make my drive smoother, safer, and cheaper. These steps are simple and easy for anyone to do! A little maintenance goes a long way with cars.

Steps to take to increase life and efficiency of your car:

  • Change Oil on Schedule: A well oiled machine works best. This also means the oil should be changed according to your car's manual specifications. In general it is 3,000 miles for regular oil and 5,000 for synthetic.
  • Keep Tires Properly Inflated: low pressure in your tires means the engine has to work harder to move the car. Keeping them properly inflated increases gas mileage. It also makes it safer to drive!
  • Run Air Conditioner Less: You can save gas by manually turning the air on and off as you need it. Leaving it on all the time burns more power and gas.
  • Change Brakes When Squeaky: Change the brake pads when they start to squeak. The squeak is an indicator built into the pads to let you know they are low and need changing. Waiting too long leads to much more costly repairs on your brake system
  • Tune Up on Schedule: Having tune ups done as recommended by your car's manual prevents a lot of expensive repair by changing fluids, belts, and other inexpensive parts before they wear completely out. 
  • Accelerate Lightly: Flooring the pedal after each red light burns more gas. It is also rougher on the engine and transmission. Lastly, it is also unsafe to "gun it" all the time.
Performing the above regular maintenance on your car not only saves money but keeps you and your family safe. You also head off a lot of expensive repairs down the road by preventing the problems to begin with! You invest a lot of money into your car and you should take care of it to get the most return from that investment!

Dimmer Switches Cost You Money!


There is a lot of talk these days about using less power, installing CFL light bulbs, and going "green" at home. While all of these are good things I realized that dimmer switches/lights are a problem. They do not work with fluorescent bulbs!

The problem is chemical. The older incandescent bulbs consume a lot of power dimmer switches were created so you could get a softer light effect and the act of dimming reduces the power used. While it may look kind of nice it is still more expensive than using CFL bulbs at full brightness.

The solution here is to get rid of the dimmer switches. Replace them with ordinary on/off switches and switch out your bulbs for fluorescent lighting. The bulbs pay for themselves in the first year and after that you gain money via lower power bills. They also last longer so you don't have to change them as often!

Cutting the Food Budget (and keeping it down!)


As with most people I find that food is a major expense each month aside from housing and utilities. It is something we all need and buy on a regular basis. Doing our best to save money on food is a way to keep our wallets and our stomachs happy. Today I am going to share my method of finding the best place in town to get groceries for the lowest price.

  1. Shop around for your staples: Everyone has items that we consume regularly and frequently. Examples: Bread, milk, eggs, meat, pasta, fruit, vegtables. Write down your top 10-15 items and comparison shop at all the stores near you. Don't forget to check Wholesale Clubs and WalMart-like stores too. Do this at least once per year as prices do change.
  2. Use coupons: I am a big fan of the grocery game and subscription to the Sunday paper. Coupons allow you to save on what you already buy and stock up when sales come around. Your freezer is great for stockpiling things like meat or frozen vegetables on sale!
  3. Go local: Buying you produce and spices from local farmers and/or farmer's markets not only saves you money but the quality is much higher too.You are also helping out the local community instead of imported foods.
  4. Read and learn: seek out blogs, websites, books, and articles on cooking. Learn new tricks to use less or cheaper ingredients in your recipes. Seek out inexpensive recipes to try new things and reduce costs. Find an ingredient you like on sale then seek out recipes for that item!
 I do all of the above myself and I am very satisfied with my results. I find that I am now creating cheaper, tastier meals at home for almost half of what I used to spend. I use all leftovers if at all possible and keep waste to a minimum. I let the weekly sales drive my menu choices. This all adds up big time!

Frugal Vacation: Myrtle Beach, SC!


On Wednesday (tomorrow) evening I will be driving to Myrtle Beach, SC to stay in a beach house (for free!) until Monday. This will be my last mini-vacation until Asia and I have to say I am looking forward to beach, grilling, and getting far away from work.

I always keep my ears open for good vacation deals. Networking can be great for this as you may know someone who knows someone who has a vacation/rental in a nice destination that you can get cheap or free. In this instance my costs are gas, food, and incidentals which will make for a fun and frugal 5 days.

I am looking forward to fun in the sun! I do have a bit of a passion for beaches and even though east coast USA is not ideal I cannot really complain for the price. It makes me wonder: Who else do I know that I could work out a frugal vacation from?

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 8/8/2010:

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!

August 2010 Prosper Lending Update


It is the middle of the month again and it is time for my update on lending. I had 1 come currnet and several more charges off to bring my "prosper official" default to 8 loans. I currently have 2 fairly late also. I have 1 open bid on a group member's loan listing.

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: 0 (< 30 days)
In Collections: 2 (written off)
Current: 36

Closed Loans:

Charged Off: 8
Paid Off: 18

Open Bids: 1

Total currently invested: $932.13 (Principal Value)
Cash in Account: $106.35 (includes open bids)

Total Principal: $1,038.48

(Some) Mortgage Fees are Negotiable!


Everyone knows that mortgages are expensive. Closing costs can add up really fast and you normally have to come up with the money in the case of a refinance. I have been working with a local credit union and I am negotiating the closing costs a bit.

I recently got a home equity line of credit on my house to repay family for borrowed remodel money. It had $0 closing costs and a good interest rate of 4%. It is a variable rate and I believe rates will begin to rise in a couple years. Fixed rates are low too so a refinance in my case makes sense as my current mortgage is at 6% (FHA).

I have to get the appraisal on my house updated as a result. Appraisals are costly and normally are $325. I got them down to $225 since I had one done 3 months ago and nothing has changed much. That's $100 in my pocket!

I am now working on getting them to remove the points on the mortgage. As I do intend to sell the house one day and not live out the entire 30 year term of the loan I am OK with a little higher interest rate as it will save me $720 right now. Points are expensive (and pure profit to the lender)!

It is also good to thoroughly check the good faith estimate. People make mistakes, including mortgage underwriters, and that happened to me. They had me set up for escrow of my insurance and taxes and I had it removed (it is optional in my case). I would rather earn the interest myself thank you very much! That brought down my closing costs since I don't have to maintain a surplus in an escrow account!

As always with a mortgage it is best to shop around. I suggest getting 3 good faith estimates from the institutions in your area offering the best rates. is a great place to start looking!

Three Stages of Personal Finance


JD over at Get Rich Slowly often mentions the 3 stages of personal finance. It's a topic that I have not covered here until now. My "road map" of personal finance is a little different. I will compare the two here.

3 Stages of Personal Finance:

  1. Learning the Basics
  2. Putting Basics to Practice
  3. The "What Next" stage
In JD's system he starts with understanding concepts of compound interest, paying off debt, and saving. In the second stage he says we are paying off debt, saving for goals, exercising frugality. Lastly the third stage covers having basic savings (emergency fund) covered, retirement covered, and then pursuing the goals you want as you have the financial ability to do so.

JD says he has reached the third stage and for that I applaud him! He made it through the hard road and now can enjoy life a lot more. His path is one I also am taking right now. I can safely say that this is not easy and a constant struggle. I am frustrated on a daily basis but must move forward. This why my system is slightly different:

My Road Map of Personal Finance:
  1. Obtaining Values, Beliefs, Practices
  2. Learning how to handle money
  3. Accumulation
  4. Financial Freedom (most call this "retirement")
In my road map I start with childhood. You usually get your money, saving, and spending values from your parents and family. You tend to do what they do (right or wrong). In the second step you are off to college or work in the "real world" and you learn how to handle money. This usually involves credit card debt, expensive mistakes, and no savings (in my case). A lot of us have to hit the proverbial "wall" before we realize and embrace the need for change.

Once we figure out what we need to do we make a plan to pay off our debt, save for an emergency fund, save for retirement and other needs, and finally get a feeling of getting our financial lives in order. I call this the Accumulation step since we are working toward a positive net worth and beyond. (This is where I am right now).

Finally you reach the Financial Freedom step. I suppose this is what I would consider my "What next?" stage since at this point I have all debts paid, have very substantial savings, and don't necessarily have to work unless I want too. I can go extended periods of time without the need of a paycheck. This is the basis of the title of my blog: "The path to $1 million".

My actual goal may change to something other than $1 million. I am using that number as something to aim for. I may figure out that it does not have to be that high in order for me to get to the 4th step. For me (at least) I am more prone to exercise extra frugality with a loft goal of $1 million as opposed to say $100,000. I do what works for me!

Daily Struggles That Affect My Finances


The old adage says "we all have problems" and that is true. Some of these problems can have impacts on our financial well being. I do my best to combat this but in the end some of it still happens. We can only do so much damage control.

Things in my life that negatively affect my financial situation:

  • Stress: This one can cause me to spend where I otherwise wouldn't. I get a great deal of stress from work (IT Industry) and this sometimes makes me purchase outside of my budget. Whether it be a few drinks after work here and there or eating out from a long day where I have no energy to cook.
  • Worrying about money: I do this daily. I now it is not a good thing to do but having debt makes me worry. Will I lose my job? What will I do? I also have to fight against myself to not buy the new toys I want. It is hard to convince yourself that debt repayment is #1!
  • Unhappy with my job: I like working in the IT Industry but my particular job is of little interest to me. I am stuck because of my bills and cannot seem to locate a replacement that provides the same level of income (recession). This adds to me stress.
  • Feast and Famine Spending: From time to time I tend to go on somewhat extreme spending restrictions. When I do this I hit a wall and then spend money I shouldn't. Over time it evens out a bit and I am trying to find a happy medium. So far no luck.
I can attribute most of my bad money decisions in recent memory to stress and unhappiness at work. I am doing the best I can to alleviate this in a rough job market and am researching alternatives. I am not planning any big change until after my month-long, much needed vacation to Asia in November. This also gives me time to save up some extra cash and plan my move before I make it.

Vacation: Great Online Resoruces


As stated many times before I love to travel. I love researching for my trips, finding the best deals, the best food, the coolest places, and the nicest beaches. I do a lot of homework before packing my bag and hopping on a plane. Researching where you are going pays off in experience as well as making it cheaper.

When planning here is what I research before hand:

  • Airports: How much does the fare cost? Is their another cheaper place to fly into or layover on the way? What transport is available to my hotel and how much does it cost?
  • Weather: When is the best time to go? Will I need rain gear? Jacket? Is it rainy or dry season?
  • Best time to go: Is their a festival going on to jack up prices? Is it going to be crowded or is it the low tourist season? Google searching "best time to go to _______" works well!
  • Currency: What is the exchange rate? Are ATM's plentiful or do I need to change money? What are the costs associated with exchange?
  • Budget: How much is the average hotel? meal? taxi ride? tours? airport transfers? subway fare? All this adds up!
  • Where to go/What to do: What sites do I want to see? What activities are a must-do for me? How will I fill my time without over extending my self?
Above are all the questions you should answer when planning a vacation. It takes a while. Now I will share my resources that I use to get those answers:
  • Airfare Matrix: I search this site as they search most major airlines for flights worldwide.
  • Kayak: Another good airfare search site
  • Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Forum: Great for asking specific questions on all topics for your destination. Reponses are usually fast!
  • FlyerTalk Forum: Good for specific ins and outs of airports and which airlines fly which routes. These flying geeks know their stuff!
  • Travelzoo: Good for getting weekly deals via email to catch a cheap vacation or flight deal that you otherwise may not find.
  • Google: Good for everything!
Plenty of other resources are out there as well. Google and the above are great places to start looking and planning. Doing your homework first ensures a smooth and restful vacation. I have done my work and will have a nice time with my month in Southeast Asia!

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 8/1/2010:

  • Convert Purchases from Dollars into Time @ Bargaineering. Jim writes that we should look at how much time at work we spent to earn enough for that $5 latte or $20 toy. This is a great practice to learn and use to curb impulse spending and increase frugality.
  • The High Cost of Modern Living @ Get Rich Slowly. JD Wrote an interesting post on how all the modern conveniences today really eat away at our bank accounts. This is why I cut cable.
  • Building Skills for Free @ The Simple Dollar. Trent tells us that learning a new skill does not cost a fortune (or any money for that matter). Good tips in here!
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!

Another Credit Card Paid off!!!


Today is a small milestone for me. When I started this blog I had 3 credit cards with balance transfers on them at reasonable rates. The majority of the debt was from a failed business venture that I really should not have gotten into in the first place.

Reasons aside, I have paid off the second card! I sent the last payment today and the debt snowball method is working well for me. I am down to the last one and hope to have it knocked out in a year (or sooner if I get more side income and bonuses!). It is a great feeling to send a final payment on a debt and gives a sense of increased freedom.

My patience and persistence has paid off. Literally!

Happy Birthday to ME!


Today is my birthday. I am now 28 years of age.

I am taking the day off of blogging as a small gift to myself (and a very frugal one!).

Hope everyone has a great day!

Retirement: My Vision


I saw this post over at Get Rich Slowly and it got me thinking about my own definition of retirement. To some it is a quiet small house in the woods or mountains. Some want to live on a beach in Florida or California. Others are happy just being near family and friends and taking up hobbies and volunteer work. My vision of retirement (which is the day I reach financial freedom) is sort of a mix of the above.

When I "retire" I actually mean that I no longer rely on a steady paycheck to cover my expenses. Ideally I would travel extensively and spend most of my time outside the USA. I see my self traveling in Asia, picking up volunteer work and/or teaching English from time to time. I am also considering owning my own bar in a nice beach town in Asia with friends (if they are willing/interested) as sort of a home base. My income would come from savings and investments.

I would have minimal material possessions. I would live out of a backpack and day bag most of the time. I wouldn't need a lot of money invested just enough to generate income for me to travel cheaply. I will take local transport and move slowly. I will stay for the duration of my visas to really get to know the place. There are enough places to travel too in the world that I could do this for the rest of my life.

I would also pick up contract and side work along the way to offset costs when I can. Teaching English is a very good option. I work in IT and some types of work can be done anywhere in the world. I have lots of options and will explore them fully. I am also not above hotel/hostel/bar work if it helps me break even on living somewhere for a couple months.

Getting out of the rat race and doing what I enjoy is my primary goal in life. Every day I work and every dollar I save ultimately gets me closer to this. I keep travel photos around my room so I can be reminded of what I am working for when I get down or stressed. I constantly remind myself of why and what I am working for. Without a sense of direction I will fail.

August 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 and am very happy with my results!

As of today my current net worth is ($9,443.66). That is an increase of $2,721.12 over last month. The major contributing factors were an up stock market, paying off another credit card with savings, a work bonus, and increased income!

I expect next month to be about the same as this month. I am starting to get more side work and have my spare bedroom rented out for the next few months. I will remain focused on debt elimination and increasing my income in any way I can!

Alternative Income this month:

IT Consulting: $0
New Rent!: $400

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 7/26/2010:

  • Beware the Rules of Thumb @ Bargaineering. Jim warns us that rules of thumb can sometimes be too general and work against us. Good read for specific examples.
  • Take Only Photographs: Frugal Souvenirs @ Get Rich Slowly. Staff writer Sierra Black writes about expensive clutter we buy on trips that we don't like. Good reasons not to buy that "cool thing" on your next trip.
  • Ten Big Mistakes #10: Poor Goal Setting @ The Simple Dollar. Trent writes about the big mistakes he made in life, what he learned, and how he fixed them. This one is particularly good and informative to me.
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!