Fighting burn out with mini vacations


Living in the USA vacation time from work is a premium. Most people get 2 weeks off. I am one of the lucky who gets 3. I also negotiate with my boss a little, toss in Thanksgiving holiday, and I can make that a month. I try to do this each year.

That said it leaves me with a long slog from November to November where I get very little or no time off. I have looked at my pattern of travel and realized that I jam in a couple 2-3 trips when possible. I realize that this is because I have to save my sanity somehow!

I realize now that these trips I take are to maintain sanity and keep me from getting too bored and spending on other things such as more gadgets or a new computer. If I am going to spend the money anyway I want to be sure it is spent on experiences and not stuff. I am at a constant war with stuff!

Examples of my mini vacations over the past couple of years:

  • Weekend in New York City
  • Memorial Day Weekend in New Orleans
  • 2-day Bahamas cruise
  • Weekend in Vegas for a friend's birthday
The list goes on for a bit. The point is that I take trips so I can keep going and save the majority of my time off for November. So far I have focused on Asia and don't see that changing for a while. I really love that area of the world with it's diverse people, food, and awesome sites to see. As a result of these long trips November has become my favorite time of the year! (for obvious reasons!)

My advice to those who want to travel is to plan one "big trip" each year that you save for and plan for well ahead of time. As great deals or opportunities for short trips arise do them too! I found that mixing these two is a great balance to work life (at least for me). It makes the year between trips seem a little shorter and less bleak and mundane.

The Grocery Game: Stage 2 Reached!


Today I have realized that I have hit "Stage 2" of the grocery game. I subscribe to a weekly database that finds the best deals each week in my local grocery store. It combines that with the current coupons available in the Sunday newspaper and I get lots of great "Double-whammy" deals.

I have reached the point where my freezer and pantry are mostly full. My grocery shopping has shrunk a lot and now I just replenish what I run out of and stock up on great deals that I know will get used. For example I like Powerade and stock up on it or Gatorade when they go on a great sale. I usually buy enough to last me 2 weeks as that seems to be the sale cycle on that item.

I am now mostly looking for good deals on my favorite meats, produce, and staple items. These are things that I constantly need. For produce specifically I find that the prices are lower and the quality is better at my local farmer's market. I am usually there every week to pick up what I need (its mostly natural stuff and spoils quickly).

It is nice to be able to cook form a full pantry as I have plenty of options to choose from. I do still buy specialized items if I am experimenting with a new recipe or agree to cook a specific dish for a group of friends. Other than that my grocery shopping has become less deal finding and more maintenance. As a result I save a lot of money on food!

Travel Planning! Time for the fun stuff!


I love travel planning. This week I am doing a bit of it for my planned vacations coming up.

With my recent Delta voucher wins I am going to New York City in less than 2 weeks for a weekend. I still have some vouchers left and am looking at the free beach house I have access too in Myrtle Beach or possibly New Orleans for Memorial Day weekend. I love both places!

I am also doing a little more research for my Asia trip in November (another month!) since I will be booking business class tickets using miles and using multiple airlines. It takes a lot more learning on my part. I have to figure out routing options, lounges I can go to, etc. It is all part of the fun for me! This is my big trip I look forward too all year long.

As of now I have New York done, narrowing down Memorial Day weekend and Thailand is probably around 30-40%. I am also waiting on some credit card bonuses to post so I can book the flights for Thailand and lock in my dates. I also have to figure out my itinerary for Asia so I can narrow down my flight options.

Emergency Fund: More than just a target number!


I have decided that a target dollar amount for my emergency fund wasn't enough. For most people it is ok but I like to be a little more detailed about it for my own life. I have come up with a list of sub-funds that the big number covers. I am assuring myself that multiple categories, in order of importance, are covered in the even of a financial emergency.

This idea spawned from the fact that I have multiple savings accounts. I originally got the accounts because of interest rate offers and other various reasons. I now have am using this to my advantage to repurpose them for specific parts of my emergency fund. The numbers happen to fall into place where I feel they needed to be.

Here is a break down of my target $10,000 emergency fund (in order of importance):

  • $5,000: Job loss/pay the bills general fund
  • $500: Medical co-pay and misc fund
  • $500: Car repairs
  • $1000: House Repairs
  • $3,000: additional job loss fund for more extended unemployment and misc. emergencies
I have the first 3 covered as of today. This brings me now to the extra $3,000 to add to my general fund. I am comfortable with a $5,000 general fund but would feel much better with $8,000. I am now adding $100 per month to the general fund and any extra income/savings will go to that as well. I calculate that I could live for 4-5 months off that $8,000 if I had too. The peace of mind I get is priceless!

Another "tiny" emergency fund that is built into my monthly budget. I have a $100 misc category that I will use up first before tapping into any fund. This keeps me from having to do $5-20 transfers for little stuff that would throw my budget off. It just makes my life easier to manage financially! I do track it and roll it over or transfer to savings if there is some left.

Pro Tip: Create a "Bills" Calendar on your Computer/Smart Phone


A while back I created a calendar called "Bills" on my computer. This calendar syncs with my iPhone and now I know when all of my bills are due. I have automated the majority of my bill paying but have a few that are not for various reasons.

Regardless if you automate or not this is a useful tool. I have reminders pop up and I can go check to be sure that the automatic payment went through or I just simply make the payment when it is time. This forces me to be aware of my money while still keep it 90% automated and less prone to mistakes.

I also use this to keep track of irregular payments such as insurance. I pay my life, auto, and homeowner's insurance once per yer to get the lowest rate. They are all due in different months. This calendar also reminds me when to send these payments which could be easily forgotten other wise!

Because of this system have virtually eliminated all late fees and associated stress. I don't pay the insurance company's "lazy tax" by getting on a monthly plan. That is just not frugal at all! It took me about 30 minutes to set up and I don't have to worry. Get an new bill? Add it to the calendar. Drop/or change a bill? Adjust as needed!

Making My Credit Card Bonuses work: Business Class to Asia!


I have been focusing lately on some credit card bonus deals so I can get my flights to Asia this year in business class so I only have to pay taxes. I am working 2 deals where I will have enough miles for a one way on Star Alliance (Continental, United, etc) and the other way on One World (American, British, Cathay Pacifc, etc) in business class both ways!

I am doing my first mileage run in May that will boost me up to the miles I need to cover the Star Alliance half. Once I hit $4,000 in spending on my American Airlines card a big bonus should come in and I can star searching and booking both halves of my trip. It will be nice to fly in business for a 24+ hour journey and actually get some sleep.

It will be nice if I can work deals like this every year where I get enough points to keep going on my overseas extended vacations and not have to pay a lot out of pocket! Only time will tell if this will happen but I will take what I can get!

Why Pay to Watch/Read Advertisements?


The title of this post is to make you think. People are spending around $100 USD per month on cable or satellite TV. They are essentially paying to be forced to watch the ads and relentless marketing that makes you buy more stuff. This is a very good scam in my opinion.

The same goes for magazine subscriptions. You are paying for them to mail you ads to read. Sure there may be a couple of interesting articles. But you are slammed with ads for the 20 pages between the articles you read. How else could they afford to send you the magazines for $3 per year?

The point is to ditch cable and magazines. They are 100% unnecessary and are a drain the money away from your true goals in life. If you must watch shows find alternate sources such as Netflix, Hulu, or the particular TV network's website. If you are a sports fan (which is also overrun by marketing) then I suggest looking for streaming online packages for the games you want. I promise they are less than $100 per month!

Start today! Cut the cord and move on with life!

How to use a United Airlines paper voucher


A friend of mine had some United Airlines paper vouchers, valued at $100 each, that he gave to me in exchange for a flight in the future using my miles. I needed this vouchers to purchase my upcoming flight to Boston for my Boston - San Diego - Boston mileage run.

I did some digging around online and also called United trying to figure out how to use the vouchers. Once I found out the steps it was a relatively simple process. I will explain the process in plain words for all to understand!

First you must call United reservations line. You cannot book tickets from paper vouchers online. I found it was best to find the flights you want online then call. You will be connected to India call center.


  • Only good for United flights on United planes. No partner airlines' flights. 
  • You forfeit any leftover value (In my case the flights were $264 but I sent in $300 in vouchers)
  • You must go to the airport within 24 hours or mail the vouchers by the 2 week deadline.
  • You can book for flights past the expiration date of the voucher. You only need to book before it expires.
 The agent will hold the reservation for you and you can view it, change seats, etc. online. I played it safe and used priority mail with delivery confirmation. It got there in 2 days and my flight was confirmed paid via email. My only cost was postage!

I must say this is a far cry from Delta where I simply enter in the numbers of my paper vouchers and can book my flight right then and there. It is a lot more efficient this way and I am sure cuts way down on overhead. I am unsure why United makes it so difficult (except that maybe they don't want them redeemed!).

Make sure to use your vouchers! It does not matter whose name is on them as they can be used to book a flight for anyone going anywhere. You can also mix vouchers and cash to pay. When you send in the voucher you have to include a copy of the ID of the person traveling as well as a copy of the ID of the voucher owner. In my case I had to send my ID as well as my friend's ID.

It is a but if paperwork, red tape, and hassle but well worth 30 minutes of my time for a free flight!

Tip: Avoid the US Mail if possible!


First off I want to say the mail has its uses. Good for sending letters, documents, checks, and so on. On the flip side they do a horrible job with packages and their tracking is horrible.

Long story short I ordered a new Garmin GPS unit to replace the one I stupidly left in a rental car. I put in my home address for billing and work address for shipping so I could be present to sign for it. I put the wrong zip code on the shipping address. It got sent out anyway--via US mail.

It is now nearly 3 weeks later and the item eventually went back to the shipper. I credit this problem to a few things:

  • I made a mistake. I will take some of the blame.
  • The website I purchased from did not cross-check the city/state and zip code. The zip code I entered was for a different city! A lot of online retailers do this check in background and ask you if something looks off.
  • The post office couldn't make any changes. They just sent it back. If I make a mistake with Fedex or UPS all I have to do is call to get the address corrected. For almost a week the tracking said it was in "Atlanta, GA". I called the postal service and by the time I got a call back the item was already returned the the person didn't tell me any information I didn't already have.
Bottom line is I will use the mail as a last resort. They are the most archaic and inefficient shipping service in the world. I would rather pay more for UPS or Fedex and know it will get there within a reasonable amount of time and have someone to call if things go wrong somehow. If I have no other choice then I will mail it but I will purchase delivery confirmation or even certified mail to be sure it gets there. The people who work at the US Mail have zero incentive to improve and that is why it is so bad in the first place.

Shipper/Receiver beware! US Mail is a gamble at best!

My top 5 most useful financial tools


I use multiple tools to keep track of all of my financial life. They all make my life easier and automate as much of it as I feel comfortable with. I am the type who checks everything on a daily basis and watches every dollar. I have a good budget built for how I live and it works well for me.

Here are my top 5 financial tools:

  1. Online Banking -- I bank with ING Direct. They have one of the best (in my opinion) online banking systems. I can send money electronically to anyone's bank account. I have free bill pay. I earn interest on my checking account. This is definitely my most useful tool!
  2. -- I use mint to help me keep track of my monthly budgets and it gives me a good "big picture" view of my current financial situation. It is about 90% automated now. I can log in, adjust the categories for a few transactions, and see where I stand at any time!
  3. Microsoft Excel -- I use excel to create and adjust my budget (and update Mint if I need too). I also use excel to track all of my non-budgeted items like car repairs and extras that are not specifically in my budget. I do monthly tracking so any "surplus" gets moved to savings and not spent. I also track my Net Worth in Excel monthly (and I post that here too!)
  4. iPhone - I make notes to myself related to finance such as budget adjustments I need to make, non-budgeted expenses and income, and ideas to research later. I have a calendar with my schedule of payments and reminders, I have online banking apps, and much more! Very handy.
  5. Annual Financial Review - I review my entire big picture once per year in April to look at my budget, taxes, investments, savings, and estate planning each year. I make sure I am still on track for my lifelong goals and make any adjustments that I deem necessary. This step is the most important!
Having the above 5 tools at my disposal makes keeping my finances in order and in line with my goals much easier. I am to the point where I can manage my finances from anywhere that I have internet access. This is important since I plan to live overseas at some point and need to be 100% online if at all possible. 

Happy St. Patrick's Day!


Today is considered a "drinking holiday" in the USA with everyone wearing green, drinking green beer, and packing full all of the Irish pubs nationwide. Today I am wearing a green shirt and will certainly be at an Irish drinking establishment after work today.

Have fun everyone and be safe!

"Everyone is Irish on March 17th!"

It's okay to splurge on Stuff: If you can afford it.


I read this post over at Get Rich Slowly and it got me thinking. Even on my blog I am a big proponent of experiences, especially travel, as well as great ethnic food and being super frugal. That article allowed me to a step back and realize that sometimes we want to splurge on stuff (such as an LCD TV).

I began thinking of my own habits and find that I do tend to use most of my splurge money on travel. That is my choice as that is what I enjoy. I tend to shy away from buying more stuff as it adds clutter to my house, is not that important to me, and I am working hard to reach lofty savings goals. Stuff just takes a very low priority in my life.

I also realized that given the above goals I still splurge on stuff from time to time. I recently ordered a new GPS system for my car. My iPhone works fine for navigation but I like the ease of use, the ability to stay on the low data plan, and my battery doesn't die as fast. The GPS System has more advanced navigation features that I also really like.

Personally when I am buying stuff I try to direct my money to things that I need now but can also help me in travel later. The iPhone is a great example as I can get a lot of things done from anywhere and it will also prove useful on the road later. I am trying to mold my buying habits in such a way where I think to myself: If I buy this item today I will have to carry it around with me all the time. This cuts out a lot of fluff and I end up with things that are mobile.

I realize that even though travel is very important to me someone else may value a 7,000 inch plasma TV more. Once we make sure we are on track for our goals it's ok to spend some money any way you see fit. I may say that travel and experiences are much more important but that is my opinion. Do what you want with your money! (Assuming all of your vital goals are on track first!)

March 2011 Prosper Update


It is the middle of the month again and it is time for my update on lending. It has been another quiet month with business as usual. I have 1 very late loan and 3 more have paid off completely.

I have decided to completely abandon Prosper. They have gone to a fixed rate system and that does not appeal to me at all. My ability to earn extra interest (arbitrage) has been eliminated. I will continue reporting on my experience until I have emptied the account.

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: 1 (written off)
Current: 32

Closed Loans:

Charged Off: 10
Paid Off: 25

Open Bids:0

Total currently invested: $591.02 (Principal Value)
Cash in Account: $46.65

Total Principal: $637.67 Success: 3-star hotel for $75!


I have to use Priceline at work a lot for our business travel hotels. Today I booked my hotel in Portsmouth, NH for my upcoming travel and used their famed "name your own price" tool.  It worked and I landed a $140 room for $75.

I have had good success with this tool in the past. I have used it for myself to get a hotel room in New York City for $99 on multiple occasions. My company has used it nationwide to book rooms all over. It really is a money saver!

When I begin my search I try to see what the going rate for lower level rooms are (I always go for under $100 per night everywhere). I then submit a bid at the lower level room rate ($75 in this case) for a 3+ star hotel. Sometimes I get it. Other times it suggests a higher bid or gives your a "one time offer" of the price they really wanted.

Overall I think priceline is excellent for hotel deals. I personally believe it helps to "name your own price" when it is closer to your travel time as hotels like to fill otherwise empty rooms. If you are a week out from the travel they know that it is unlikely they will fill the room at the full rate anyway in a short time period. This is where you win!

More Work Travel: New Hampshire!


Work is sending me to New Hampshire for a couple of days. All I really know about the state is that their motto is "Live free or Die" and the have no state sales tax. I will be in the border town (with Maine) of Portsmouth. It doesn't look like the most exciting place but it is only for one night.

I will be fly on a miles ticket so that means no earning for me. Being a sort of last minute trip this is to be expected. I will be on the road from Mar 22-23. It will be a nice change from the office!

I wish I could do trips like this every week! It would certainly make work more interesting...

Cash versus Card: Which is best?


An ongoing debate in the personal finance world is whether it is best to use cash or card for all of your purchases. Cash folks believe it is best because you cannot spend what you don't have. Card folks argue that you are missing out in interest, bonus points, etc. Personally I side with the card people. Here's why:

  • If a card is lost it can be replaced. Cash cannot.
  • I earn bonus miles for every purchase
  • I have automatic electronic tracking of my spending via
  • I am not wasting time and gas going to an ATM frequently
  • I earn interest on my "spent" money until the credit card bill comes
  • I am very aware of my finances and spending habits. I have self control
I use a credit card but the majority of the above can be achieved with a rewards debit card too. You only miss a little interest earned since the money is taken immediately.

I do use cash but rarely. I always have less than $20 on me at any given time unless I have a specific purpose. I would rather earn the bonus points and interest than have a wallet full of notes. I also find that I simply do not track my spending with cash either. All of this made me decide to use cards instead.

What do I use cash for?
  • Highway tolls. In most cases you have no choice
  • Small transactions where the merchant balks at my card
  • Yard/Garage/Estate Sales
  • Establishments that only accept cash.
  • Travel abroad
Cards and cash both have their uses. Here in the USA cards work out way better for me. When I am traveling overseas they are accepted a lot less and usually involve and addon fee. I simply use cash there and withdraw my daily budget (I get ATM fees refunded).

Do what works for you! This is my stance on the debate.

State Tax Refund Came!



I got my state income tax refund today. This is a record for them with only 2 weeks to get it to me. I usually have to wait a month or more. This will definitely boost my numbers this month!

My plans for the money are:

  • Pay for my college course
  • Pay an annual fee for a very lucrative credit card bonus
  • The majority goes to savings
It is nice to finally feel like I am not treading as much water and getting ahead!

My first mileage run booked!


This is a little geeky but I have just booked my first ever mileage run flight. I found a deal where I can Fly from Boston to San Diego via Houston one way and Washington, DC on the way back for $62 round trip. I could not pass this up!

I am doing this trip all in one day/night. This will boost the miles in my account to where I can have enough for a one way business class ticket to Bangkok! To me this is worth $62 and 24 hours of my time. I will spend most of it in the air with a good book and my laptop. It is on a Saturday so I do not have to miss work.

I am excited about the trip and look forward to using the books to book my ticket to Asia this year!

Back to School!


At the end of this month I will be taking an online college course to complete my CIS: Networking degree. I have worked in the IT field for over 10 years but only only hold a degree in Finance. Even though the degree I will receive will be from a 2-year technical school I believe it will help me in job searching.

In the IT field certifications and experience are the top two items that land you an interview. I have a couple of certifications under my belt with more to come this year. I am starting with completing this final class to get a degree and then plan to move forward with Microsoft certification. Having both of these opens up newer (and higher paying) job options.

This is all part of my big picture plan of earning more so I can save more. The more I can save the sooner I can stop working all of the time and focus on what matters to me: travel, helping others, and freelance consulting. I understand that money is not everything but I have to increase my income to have any chance of getting to my goal before age 60 or later. Time is money too!

Hello Bonus Miles!


I have ventured into credit card churning in order to get my self some free travel. Things are going very well!

I do not recommend this to everyone since you must be responsible with credit for this to work. It also involves reading and understanding all of the fine print and completing all of the steps to gain the bonus awards. You also may have to front some annual fees and have to do a cost/benefit analysis. For me it is worth the trouble!

So far I have gotten:

  • Continental Airlines: 50,000 miles
  • US Airways: 35,000 miles
  • American Airlines: 75,0000 miles
All of this is on top of my normal Delta earnings from my American Express card. For those who are not familiar with the programs this means that with American I can get a free round trip to Asia or Europe or South America, With US I can get a free round trip to Central America, and I am close to another free round trip to Asia or Europe or South America with Continental. 

My total costs for this so far is $85 (one annual fee). Not bad at all! This also gives me a chance to compare Delta + partners to others and see what is my best choice for the long haul. I can also compare programs, fees, and flexibility as well and figure out how I want to proceed.

101 Goals in 1001 Days Update


It has been a while since I have updated my progress on my list. You can find my list here.

Since my last update I have accomplished the following:

  • Visited a new country (The Bahamas) which brings me to 2 out of the 4 goal
  • Started recycling at home through the curbside recycle program
  • I went on a cruise last weekend! (The Bahamas)
  • My Skymiles Balance is almost halfway to the 500,000 goal!
  • I am registered for a class that will land me an IT credential (2 year degree!)
This list has really helped me much more than I realized to stay the course and move forward in my life as a whole. I am constantly improving both financially and otherwise. Why didn't I start this 10 years ago?!?

Next mini-vacation: New York City!


I am just off my cruise and I am already booking another trip!

I finally convinced a friend of mine to come with my to New York City. He has never been, always wanted to go, and with my experience in the city from work we are going for a weekend. I used my $300 Delta voucher to buy my plane ticket and scored a 3-star room in SoHo for $115 per night for the weekend! New York is expensive but it doesn't have to be!

I will be there from April 8 - 10. There is so much to see that I always save something for the next time I go. My main goals this time are to show my friend the good stuff, have a coney dog on Coney Island, and go to one of the nicer restaurants in New York for an excellent meal. The balance of the time will be spent exploring the city and visiting with a friend who lives there.

I am already excited about the trip and am doing some more side work to get extra money to cover the extras costs I will incur for that weekend. With around 5 weeks to prepare I should be all set!

March 2011 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 due to a tax refund and extra side work this month. I am also waiting on a few rebates that will boost later numbers.

As of today my current net worth is $10,361.06. That is an increase of $5,429.39 over last month. The major contributing factors: side income, a large tax refund, increase in investment values, and selling some stuff on ebay!

I expect next month to be good as well. I have a tax refund on the horizon and I am working on increasing my income on a special project.

Alternative Income this past month:

IT Consulting: $137.76
Focus Groups: $0
Rebates: $83.22
eBay: $473.96

Bahamas Celebration Cruise: What it really costs!


I am back at work from my 3-day weekend and 2-night cruise aboard the Bahamas Celebration. Overall it was a good experience and to date it is the longest amount of time I have spent on a boat. I was expecting to notice the motion of the boat but it was perfectly still almost the entire trip!

My opinions: I got pretty much what I expected from this cruise. The drinks were a little high priced, sodas cost extra, and the food somewhat on the top end of the spectrum. They were constantly pushing the excursion tours and certain shops on the island (they get a cut from them of course!) and it was borderline excessive marketing. Other than that I enjoyed the change of pace and scenery and there was some good entertainment in the evenings. The weather was perfect the entire time with sun and 80F during the day.

The costs: I spent a little more than I expected but overall not too bad. Between my girlfriend and myself we spent a total of $282.03 during the 3 days away from home. Here is a rough breakdown of what we spent it on:

  • Palm Beach Airport to Palm Beach Port and back: $41 shared van service ($10 per person each way and baggage tip)
  • Atlanta Airport Parking: $27
  • Ship Bar Tab: $142.64 (included drinks, mandatory tips, and $11.25 for sunburn spray for girlfriend)
  • Freeport meals, drinks, and incidentals: $71.39 (we had lunch there and a few drinks on the beach)
  • Freeport Share Van: $20 ($5 per person each way to and from harbour to beach)
On the surface it seems a little expensive but it is the Caribbean and prices are high there anyway.  These numbers also represent the costs for 2 travelers. It works out to around $47.00 per day per person. That is not bad at western prices! Our biggest cost was alcohol on the boat as expected. We went after the drink specials that were constantly changing so we had variety and kept the costs lower!

The all in cost of the entire vacation for 2 people was $793.63. Subtract airfare and the total is $551.13. That means the all in cost per day is $91.86 per day per person excluding flights. Having the majority of meals (except for 1) covered by the cruise made this much more affordable. We would have saved around $40 per day if we did not drink alcohol at all.  It is a good deal as most hotel rooms around would run you around $90 per day or more in The Bahamas.

I enjoyed the trip and would consider another trip like it again. For me personally I think 2-3 days on a cruise ship would be my maximum. Seeing the same surroundings and people 24 hours per day can wear on you over time. I feel I got good value for the over costs for the 2 of us to go. I wouldn't want to pay much more than we did the combined sale on the cruise and free airfare for my girlfriend made this possible.

For those looking for the cheapest way to try out the cruise scene I believe this is as good as it gets from a cost perspective. Your dollar commitment is not large compared to other cruises and you can "test the waters" before moving onto a longer cruise with a lot more dollar and time commitment. Give it a try and see for yourself!