Miles for Dining Programs: WORTH IT!


For a couple of years now I have been a member of Delta Skymiles Dining. It is a program that tracks where you go out to eat/drink and if you make a purchase at a participating place you get miles. It ranges from 3-5 miles per dollar. This is a great deal!

Once you get VIP status (10 dines in a year) you get 5 miles per dollar instead of 3. Note that this is on top of any mileage you get from using your card already! Since I travel for work and have to eat out a fair bit I always look for places near where I am staying to get some extra miles. Over the years it has yielded me 20,000 miles I otherwise would not have for money I spent anyway. Not too shabby!

Multiple airlines have a program like this. They are: American, Alaska, Delta, Southwest, United, and US Airways. If you need more hotel points you can do Hilton or Priority Club instead. You can also spread around by joining more than one. The only limit is that a single credit/debit card can only be assigned to a single "Dining for miles" program. In my case I have my Delta AMEX on Delta and my Continental Mastercard on United's dining program.

Don't miss out on free miles!

Travel Hack: Book tour with air, skip the tour!


One travel hack I used once is to keep an eye out for package tour deals. I find, especially these days, that tours that include airfare can be cheaper than the airfare alone. I am definitely not a tour type of person but in this case I would take the flights and maybe the first night of hotel to get settled.

It can also work out to a limited extent to use the tour flight for your outbound and buy or use miles for the return portion if the length of the tour does not match up with your trip. I have yet to try this out but am keeping an eye out for opportunities to do so. If I can save a couple hundred bucks by using a tour then why not?

This tip is not for everyone but is an option for some. These are usually the best deal for US to Europe tours where the total price can be well under the cost of airfare alone. has a lot of tour deals that they find and send out via email each week. I plan on trying out this travel hack within the next year. I will report back my results!

A phone call will save me $400 in the next year!


Today I got a call from State Farm who insures my home. They have called me several times in the past wanting me get a quote for auto insurance. Today I finally had time to entertain the idea so I had them do it. I was expecting it to me a lot more than my already low $400 per year through my Dad.

I was surprised to hear that they were $100 less per year and on top of that I would get a multi-line discount with them bringing down the cost of my homeowner's insurance as well. Between the 2 savings I will get my car insurance at no additional cost than my original homeowner's insurance premium. That pays off nicely!

As I learned on this call is still pays to shop around no matter how good of a deal you think you have. There could be a better deal out their to be gotten!

Back in Baltimore (very busy!)


Today and tomorrow I am back in Baltimore for work. I spend the entirety of today traveling up to BWI and at the job site working. This has been a trying day to say the least!

The good news is that tomorrow should be a lot smoother and easier. I have some finishing touches to put on the project and then will have some down time to catch up on other work things before catching the flight back home to ATL.

Even though today was a tough one this actually part of why I prefer the travel aspect of my job. When I am on the road I get to run into new challenges which are annoying at first but satisfying once overcome. All the while earning miles, seeing new people and places, and not being stuck at my desk in a downtown highrise. The grass is always greener on the other side!

Making the switch: Star Alliace!


As of today I have decided that I will officially divert my spend from my Delta AMEX card to my Continental Mastercard. See that I have a lot more travel options for the places I like to go abroad it makes the most sense to me. This will result in my earning on Delta coming from flying and bonus offers and the majority of my Star Alliance miles coming from spending.

It is also handy that Mastercard is practically taken everywhere so I don't have to worry about being AMEX centric with my choices. I am also going to consider flying Star Alliance if I can. Most of the time it makes the most sense to go Delta but if I can add a few more miles here and there I will. I will also keep an eye out for really good mileage run fares on Star Alliance to help as well.

I am going to try this out for a while and see if this is the best move. I am somewhat concerned that I will not be able to earn enough miles on Continental with only spending to cover my travel needs. I will see how it goes for now and evaluate again in a few months. Ideally I would like to earn enough to cover at least 1 yearly flight to Asia but that is a lofty goal at this point.

Capital One buys ING Direct: Good or bad?


For a while in the back of my mind I was wondering what would happen to ING Direct since they were going to have to sell off the American portion of ING due to regulatory reasons. That question has now been answered.

I am not sure how this will pan out in fee changes, website changes, and so forth. I am going to stay put for now and see what happens. I am working on a plan B in case I do need to switch banks. I am researching other options and getting ready just in case.

Personally I think (and hope) that Capital One will be smart and leave things as they are. ING is successful for a a reason. They don't nickel and dime customers, have a great online banking system, and don't have minimum balance requirements. Only time will tell but I am hoping for the best!

Travel Delays, Voucher, More Personal Travel?


Yesterday I flew back home from BWI to Atlanta on Delta. I arrived quite early to the airport to beat traffic and get a little work done on my laptop. I was on the last flight out of the day. The plane we were supposed to get on had mechanical issues.

Two hours later than the scheduled 7PM departure we are boarding. I get in my exit row seat (as usual) extra tired from the long day. Once in the air I write my official complaint to Delta. It was their fault I got home after midnight end felt they should compensate me somehow for it.

Today I got a response and they are giving me a $50 travel credit. Fair considering we left 2 hours later than scheduled. This got me thinking and now I am looking into a weekend trip to New Orleans (one of my favorite cities in the US) for voodoo music fest in October. Between the $50 and another voucher my ticket should be close to free.

I am not completely done planning for Asia but mostly there. I am waiting on airfare sales from the discount airlines there and have a few loose ends to take care of but I am ready to go tomorrow if I had too. I am excited!

This got me thinking about next year and the 100,000 mile British Airways bonus I am sitting on. Thanks to some learning about the ins and outs of their system I determined that I can use the miles to get myself and my girlfriend to Easter Island off of Chile for 40,000 miles round trip in coach. Awesome! I have always wanted to go to Easter Island and it is a very expensive place to get too. This is my chance!

This is a great case for planning ahead. I start figuring it all out now and nab the award tickets when available. In this case I am thinking April 2012 for a week and the rules allow me to include 2 stops in Argentina on my way back. It will be a bit of a fast trip but it makes the best use of my miles at the same time. Either way I am excited for the possibilities!

The 10 pillars of being a Frugal Backpacker


Since hitting my 500 post milestone and I have been thinking about my thought processes, my goals in life, and how that has molded this blog. As a result I have come up with 10 things that move me towards my goals. These can be applied to anyone's goals no matter how different form mine they may be.

They Are:

  1. Spend your time and money on what you are passionate about. Go as cheap as possible on everything else.
  2. Time is your most valuable asset of all. Manage it well and use every advantage you can.
  3. Get and stay out of debt. Build and emergency fund and eliminate all debts as fast as possible including mortgages.
  4. Pack Light. I lived for 18+ months out of a backpack that weighed 30 lbs by the end of my trip. Taking less with you makes travel so much easier and more enjoyable
  5. Have a cash buffer. An emergency fund is one of the easiest and most powerful things that you can have for peace of mind and insurance. Start with $1,000 as a minimum and build from there
  6. Know who your friends really are. Keep in touch and help each other when you can. No matter where you live in the world everyone needs friends. Life alone is a miserable existence.
  7. Take advantage of rewards programs. I preach a lot about points and miles here. These programs, when used correctly, can save you a lot of money and give great experiences on top of that. Keep and eye out for bonuses and promotions that you can profit from.
  8. Invest in experiences--not material items. You will get a lot more joy and a great memories from skydiving versus buying a Mercedes. Things come and go. Memories are for a lifetime and can never break or be stolen.
  9. Invest all long term savings. Simple savings accounts and CD's won't outpace inflation. You need a diverse portfolio of stocks and bonds to truly get ahead and to be able to stop working someday.
  10. Pursue your hobbies and dreams in your spare time. Make it a priority to do the things you wanted to do as a child and adult. Make a "bucket list" and get to work on it!
These are the ideas and goals I live by. I consider them when making all sorts of decisions including money, housing, where to live, where to work, how much to spend on each area, and so on. Following the above has made me much happier with life overall and is continuing to do so. By focusing on what is important you get to reap the benefits of them and increased happiness. 

500th Post: Site and General Updates


This is my 500th post to the blog!

It seems like I haven't been doing this for that long but I have reached this milestone. I'll admit that my posts aren't always timely with compressed work schedules and work travel but I do try to catch up within a few days time.

Here are some updates:

101 goals in 1001 days progress:

  • 5 more items completed
  • Mostly Financial Goals
  • Am falling behind!
Other things of note:
  • This site has moved from purely finance to travel and finance combined
  • My financial health has substantially improved since I started the site
  • The goal of this site keeping me on track is working very well
  • I still make mistakes and spend money on stupid things like the occasional big bar tab
  • I have learned a lot over the past couple of years!
I originally started this site as something to do when I was bored. It slowly has evolved into a personal finance and travel diary of sorts that I share with the world. I am sure it is boring and pointless to most but it helps me to get closer to my own life goals. For me, that is all that matters!

I have made a few dollars from the site through ads but nothing to support myself or write home about. To help come up with content I now read other sites regularly and gain knowledge as well as other benefits as a result. I have formed better habits on spending, budgeting, and saving and still have plenty of room to improve. My eyes are set on the prize: Financial freedom to travel the world as I please or to stop and work as I please. Getting out of the 9 to 5 grind and see our great world out there. I don't want to stare at a computer until I am 70. There is just too much to see and do in this world.

Charles Schwab Bank offers Mobile Deposit



I have always wanted to try this out as I was curious how it works and also how long it took to process the deposit. I found out about it by using the Schwab iPhone App and it allowed me to apply. I was approved a few days later.

I recently got a check for $50 and decided to try it out. All I had to do was take pictures of the front and back of the check, enter the amount of the check, and submit it over wifi to Schwab. It took seconds! I was very pleased with the process.

I did the mobile deposit on Sunday night. By Tuesday it had cleared and was available for me to use. Overall I am impressed and this can be very valuable to me when traveling. I can make deposits from anywhere in the world that I have WiFi access! What a great tool for a consultant/contractor.

I hope more banks, including ING (my primary) get on board with this soon. Chase pioneered the idea and now everyone seems to be heading that way. No trips to the bank, no wasted gas, time saved, money saved (less labor on the bank's end), and faster available funds. All good in my opinion.

If you have been debating using this service I highly recommend it. It makes life much easier and is done using a very secure connection via the internet. Welcome to the 21st century!

Work Travel Frenzy!


Wow! June became a hectic travel month in a hurry! I will be out of town for work for a total of 8 days this month. This includes 3 round trip flights and 2 different cities. My new joke is that I live in the airport and vacation in Atlanta.

I orginally had 2 trips planned for this month but it snowballed into 3 with a project push back from a client. That is fine with me so I can get more miles and AMEX reward certificates from the Sky Club. Now that I am back in the positive I will bank any points that I can get!

I still have other travel booked too for July and am told more in August too. It sounds like more will come up between now and then too to add more miles to my belt. Such is life on the road. It all pays off when I board that first class flight to Asia in November. The light at the end of the tunnel.

June 2011 Prosper Lending 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. Things seem to have settled down and payments stream in on schedule.

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: 0 (written off)
Current: 25

Closed Loans:

Charged Off: 11
Paid Off: 32

Open Bids: 0

Total currently invested: $385.95 (Principal Value)
Cash in Account: $54.11

Total Principal: $440.06

AMEX: Points Advance Paid Off!


I used the Platinum American Express card to give myself points in order to book my upcoming trip to Asia. I was a little short so I utilized their points advance feature where you can borrow points. I have now officially paid that balance off (and then some!) mostly due to the Delta Skyclub promotion of free points certificates for visiting.

On my flight up to Detroit this evening I went Skyclub hopping in both Atlanta and Detroit. This got me 6x 300 point certificates which more than paid off my 1,100 point balance. I am now back in the positive and my trip to Asia is officially "paid for". It always feels great to pay back a debt no matter how small (even if money is not directly involved!)

I will still get more points certificates until the end of the month. I now have 2 trips to Baltimore thanks to some plan changes at work and that should get me at least 1200 more points for free. I am going to sit on the points for now but will most likely transfer to Continental/United to continue building that account up again.

My Travel Packing Checklist


I travel a lot. Sometimes for work. Sometimes for pleasure. Between that and my around-the-world trip back in 2006-2007 I have learned a lot about packing. My packing checklist has evolved (and still changes a little from time-to-time) from this experience. Stuff is heavy and checked bags can cost money. I minimize this to make my life on the road as easy as possible.

The List:


  • 2 pairs of shorts
  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 1 nice button-up or polo shirt
  • 4-5 t-shirts
  • Socks and Underwear (depends on trip length)
  • 1 pair of sneakers and 1 pair of flip flops
  • 1 light jacket (such as a fleece)
  • 1 black belt
I adjust the clothes numbers depending on season and length of travel. Work trips are usually 2-3 days so I bring 2 t-shirts, 1 work shirt, and enough socks and underwear to cover the duration. For travel of 7 days or more I bring the above with 7 underwear and 7 pair of socks.

  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Hair brush
  • Deodorant
  • Floss
  • Mouthwash
  • Razor w/extra cartridges
  • Nail clippers
  • Shampoo
  • Bar of soap
  • Small bottle of lotion
  • Shower Towel
  • Toiletry bag
  • Roll of toilet paper (essential!)
  • Trident (for times when I cannot brush teeth)
Utility Items:
  • Swiss Army Knife -- so many useful tools in one package!
  • First Aid Kit - I bought a small one and overstuffed each item in it
  • Meds: Tylenol (pain/headahce), Anti-diarrhea pills, antacids
  • Spray sunscreen
  • Camera, camera case, camera USB cable, memory cards, mini-tripod
  • USB Flash drive for storage
  • Netbook laptop (long trips only)
  • Backup paper copies of all Credit/ATM cards and Indentification docs
  • iPod/iPhone and charger + headphones
  • $100 USD emergency cash
  • Light snacks for extended travel
  • BIC lighter
  • Pen & Pencil
  • Small notepad
  • Small book for reading
This list may seem like a lot but the majority of the items are pretty small and light. When I pack for a month long trip everything I carry weighs around 20-25 pounds total. The majority of these items can be bought at your destination if forgotten. Having less keeps you from taking a long time to pack and wasting energy on moving the heavy bag(s). It also saves time, money, and stress. Pack light and travel happy!

The Downsides of

0 comments can be a great resource for hotels. I have used it for myself and we use it a lot at work. Now that it has been common practice in the office I am starting to see a bit of a downside to it. The prices are great but that does not come with drawbacks. Here are a few:

  • Non-refundable. You pay for the room up front and the money is gone. Does not matter if you actually stay there or not.
  • Hidden Fees. I tend to use Priceline to score 3 star or better rooms. I get a good price but internet access can have an extra fee. Not cool.
  • No Points. Priceline bookings do not earn points with hotel rewards programs. Not a fan of this at all but I have no choice since I have to do what the work travel rules say.
  • No Flexibility. If I want to change my plans or go elsewhere the money is lost. I am stuck with it.
I am not saying that priceline is bad. It certainly has it's place. I am going to look into other options to increase flexibility. If it costs another $10 it can pay for itself over time since I can cancel normal hotel reservations without penalty if I give enough notice. Projects at work can change quickly so I need to be able to adapt without shelling out $100 of the company's money only to have to do it again.

I am exploring alternatives. I would also like to earn some hotel points so I can get more goodies for mylself :)

Long Term Travel: Ditch Delta Airlines?


Today was a day of thorough thinking about focusing my mileage earning on Delta. I cut a deal with a friend a while back to trade his United vouchers for a Delta award ticket. I got good use of the vouchers for my positioning flights for my recent mileage run to San Diego and back.

Today I booked the award flight for him. I had to fork over 40,000 skymiles to get the ticket. This also happens to be for an award ticket to San Diego from Atlanta. I have noticed recently that a LOT of award tickets are pricing for the medium and high tier of miles. It seems to be getting increasingly difficult to find the low level awards. The result: Delta Skymiles are worth a LOT less to me now.

I am a little back and forth since I more or less have to fly Delta for work out of Atlanta. I could do Airtran but they are horrible as an airline and even worse for award flights (no international to speak of). I will still be earning Delta miles from work flights. I will make the best use of them that I can.

If I did start diverting my credit card earnings I will go with United. I was surprised how easy it was to find low level award seats to Asia and Europe when planning ahead. It also helps that they are part of Star Alliance and have more options due to the sheer amount of airlines they can book with. They are not great out of Atlanta but I will take an extra layover if it takes half the miles to get me where I want to go. No matter who I earn with I get 1 mile per dollar spent. I need to maximize this!

I have not made my decision yet but I know my long term loyalty will shift to Star Alliance/United. As long as the award booking stays this plentiful and simple they will get my business. I am weighing the two options trying to balance long term versus short term needs. For now I may end up splitting it for flexibility. More on this when I finalize my strategy! A way to make use of aging point balances

0 comments is a tool that can be handy from time to time. I have had an account there for years but almost never used it because of poor exchange rates and high fees to trade with others. I simply did not see much value in it and I originally signed up to get 1000 bonus Delta Skymiles.

Today I found out that Frontier Airlines is offering 1000 miles for opening a frequent flyer account. I read a blog post over at the points guy that gave me an idea: sign up for the free points and use to a program I actually used. Wow! I did it in under 2 minutes and transferred 1000 Frontier miles (useless to me) into 153 Continental Airlines miles.

The above trade is a quite poor exchange rate but it took something useless to me and I get a little something I actually will use. This is a great way to make use of "orphan" points in other various programs to top off your useful accounts for airline and hotel rewards. I am going to explore this further to see what else I can use to my advantage!

Flying: I am Delta Silver Medallion until Feb 2013!


With my next work flight to Baltimore on June 20th I will cross the 25,000 mile threshold to become Delta Silver for another year. With the yearly roughly halfway over that is a pretty good track record! I am in line to rack up some more miles and hopefully pick up some upgrades along the way. I also really like that I can get an exit row seat with ease when booking my flights.

With some luck I might be able to hit the Gold level this year. It gives me a better shot at upgrades and also allows me to change my flights on the day of travel at no charge. This is really handy for work as I can come home early (or later) at no extra cost. A nice perk.

Either way being a Delta Elite gives me some perks on the road and more importantly bonus miles when flying. I go through all this domestic flying so I can have my vacation flights for almost free. Being able to see the world on the cheap is awesome!

Emergency fund philosophy - what is an emergency?


I have a good sized emergency fund. In order to come up with my target number I had to ask myself: What is an emergency? How much do I need?

I consider the following a financial emergency:

- job loss
- medical care
- car repairs
- house repairs
- emergency last minute travel

From that list I come up with an amount of money to cover each category. I total them to come up with the target number. In my case the total was $10,000.

I use ING Direct savings accounts to put my money for each type of emergency. My monthly contributions are divided among them until each goal is reached. At this point they are all funded except my target for job loss (the largest one!).

I'm almost there! I'm considering doubling the target once I fully fund retirement and still have more to save. With 20,000 I could cover nearly 1 year with 0 income. I really like the sound of that!

Using the above breakdown will help you find a target number that makes you feel secure. Create your target and get started with that first dollar today! It's hard to explain the stability you feel when you have a good buffer.

A lot more work travel!


We got busy fast! So far I have 3 trips booked with more on the horizon. I'm finally getting more road time (and miles!). I'm ready for a break from the office.

Next week I go to Detroit for 3 days. The following Monday I go to Baltimore for 2 days. In mid-July I head up to Boston for 2 days. I also have another Baltimore trip and Boston trip pending later this summer. I  am also going back home for 4th of July weekend for my dad's birthday.

Hopefully this extra travel will lead to a long overdue pay raise! It's been 2 years and my costs have gone up while pay has not. My work anniversary is this weekend so hopefully I will know soon.

Adding an extra payment per year to my mortgage


Starting this month I have increased my mortgage payment. The math works out to be an extra payment's worth each year spread out over 12 months. I used an online calculator such as this one to figure out that it will reduce the length of my mortgage by 4 years!

This move will save me $9,376.02 in interest over the life of the loan. That is well worth the small increase each month. Worst case I can go back down to the minimum payment if I have to during times of need. To have an extra ~9 grand in my pocket over the years is a nice incentive to get ahead.

This is the next step in my debt snowball. I was debating whether to invest/save more or pay down debts faster and struck this balance. I am focusing heavily on my savings goals but also working my debt down too. The sooner payments are gone the less I require to live!

June 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 not-so-great month due to a a major car expense.

As of today my current net worth is $14,480.11. That is an decrease of $(420.95) over last month. The major contributing factors: a large car repair expense and a decrease in investment values.

I expect next month to be better! My office has moved to a transit friendly place which will save on commuting costs. I am also traveling a lot this month for work (more per diem, less expenses!). I also have some IT Consulting that should help too!

Alternative Income this past month:

IT Consulting: $0
Focus Groups: $0
Rebates: $0