Getting things done: My "To Do" list system


I have evolved a system to make sure I get everything done that I need to get done. I constantly have ideas and things I need to do and it became hard to keep track and on top of. I use my iPhone to help me stay on top of things so I can write down things as they come up. Once complete they get removed from the list.

I have 3 To Do lists that I manage:

  1. Must get done today
  2. Do this weekend
  3. Catch-all holding list
Between these 3 lists I have most everything covered. I update my daily list of high priority or time sensitive tasks. Most of the time they are simple quick tasks that just have to be done by a certain day or time. I also use the calendar feature of the phone to set reminders for critical items. I try to keep this list short so I don't overload myself.

The weekend list are items that take longer, not as time sensitive, or they don't take a defined amount of time to complete. A good example is flight and destination research for my vacations. It may take me 10 minutes or 2 hours to find a good flight. I also like to spend time learning about my destinations so I come equipped with loads of useful info on the place.

The third list is where I initially put a task 90% of the time. If I cannot get to it right away I add it there. This list tends to be long and I work it down and pile it back up on a constant basis. I find that I add to this list when I am traveling to and from work or in flight. If urgent I add the task to today's list. This is a good way to make sure you eventually get to do something you have been "meaning to do" for a while such as uploading all of my travel photos to the web or renewing my notary.

Overall this system works well for me. I find that it prevents frustration of forgetting to do something important and also gives me a nagging list of things I need to get done. It keeps me on track most of the time.  My personal productivity has certainly gone up since implementation. This is a good starting point if you are a bit disorganized. The lists will start out long but dwindle over time. Stick with it!

Christmas Travel Booked! ...and why I am ditching Delta Skymiles


I decided to start shopping early this year. Since I am using 99% of my vacation time for Asia I have nothing left for my Christmas trip home. Driving doesn't make sense since I will only be home for 3 days. I decided I would fly down and try to use miles to book it. I made it happen but not how I would have liked.

I first searched for award seats to my home airport. Delta wanted 40,000 miles round trip. Really? For an empty 37 minute fligh? I'll pass.

Next I looked at what it cost to buy outright. $220.00 for the fare. Very reasonable for a holiday weekend to and airport where Delta is the ONLY airline that flies there. I turned my 40,000 mile ticket into a 20,000 mile ticket using their Pay with Miles option. Using 20,000 miles took $200 off the fare. I paid the remaining $20.

In the end I got the times and flights I wanted and it only cost me $15 more and 5,000 less miles than a standard award seat. A very good deal in my opinion and makes the already stressful holiday much easier. I don't have to do the 5-hour drive each way alone, no unpaid time off work, and no traffic to deal with.

This is one of several award ticket searches on Delta where I cannot find the low level award seats. As far as I can tell they are virtually non-existent unless you want to take very inconvenient flight times or long layovers. In my eyes the value of Delta Skymiles are dropping rapidly. Hence my earning switch to Star Alliance/United.

As a quick comparison I just did a dummy award ticket search for Atlanta to Bangkok on my departure date of November 5. Delta still wants the "medium" price. On Continental/United I found 14 options all at the low price level. Amazing the difference! Granted I could call Delta and look for Korean Air availability but that is tough too. And requires calling in. It took me 30 seconds to find the 14 Star Alliance options.

Hence I am ditching Delta miles as much as I possibly can. I will still fly them and earn them but won't expect a lot from them. I just hope I can get lucky enough to find low level seats and use them someday. I plan on burning the miles as I go since I suspect they will continue to lose value. I am not the only one. People are leaving Delta in droves because of this exact problem. Their low level awards are borderline false advertising.

New Life Goal: 1000 day holiday?


Back in 2008 I went to Belize on a whim because of a great airfare on American Airlines from Atlanta to Belize for $200 all in round trip. It was for Thanksgiving week and was less than flying home for the holiday. Ever since I have been spending November/Thanksgiving abroad for my larger vacations.

While I was there I decided to spend my week on the islands. I stumbled across the words "1000 day holiday" scratched into a picnic table at a hostel on Caye Caulker. It has been in my head every day since.I have now made it an urgent goal to make this happen.

Thinking about the idea of spending 1000 days traveling: it sounds daunting but no one said it had to be every single day moving to a new place. I could spend a month in Laos, a week or two in Chilean wine country, a month or two in Africa, and so on. It would be a time of complete freedom and being part of the world instead of being part of an office. I would be enjoying the good things in life!

When you break it down 1000 days works out to be 2.74 years or 32.6 months or 142.9 weeks. 24,000 hours of not being in an office and see different cultures, people, food, history, and so on. I would have no ties and can just simply go somewhere when I wanted. I could laze around in a cafe or hike a mountain. I could swim with sharks or kayak on a lake. Possibilities are endless.

Now I have to consider reality. I am a long ways off financially from doing something like this. I need substantial savings, have to sell/donate a lot of stuff, and have a plane for when it was over (subject to change of course). I always thought this 1000 day trip would start of my official expatriation from the US. Where I would work/live/reside elsewhere and come back to visit.

I have already done 18 months traveling around the world. Aside from my flexible 1-year plane ticket I could pretty much do what I pleased. I did exactly that. I saw all sorts of amazing things and met some wonderful people along the way. I want that again. The whole idea of this blog is my financial journey back to this lifestyle with some alterations.

I am determined to make this a reality. That previous 18 month trip gave me a taste of what I refer to as "the good life" and I want it back. Travel is addicting and there is no care but to do more of it. Maybe one day I will tire of it but with most other people I have met and my own beliefs I do not see that happening. The road will always feel like home to me. Being stationary is boring. The world is a book and I want to read every page.

No Spend Day!


Today I have reached one of my "back burner" goals of having a day where I spend no money. I finally achieved that today! I have gone a full 24 hours without spending any money of my own. It is nice to see a day go by without dollars coming out of pocket. I hope to have many more days like this.

Even though I did eat out today I use gift certificates to cover the cost. One to get coffee which was a gift from the office and the other is a Quizno's punch card for sandwiches that I picked up a while back. This covered my food needs for the day and I had leftovers for dinner. Using what I already have instead of spending more is the most frugal choice one can make.

I have taken many steps toward making this possible. I have a well stocked fridge and pantry so I can cook several meals without having to go grocery shopping. I always keep some Lean Cuisine to help curb buying takeout since they are very easy. I also make it a point to go out a lot less. My biggest money battle is sticking to the food and entertainment budget. I am seeking out new hobbies to keep me busy. Cooking is a big part of that since I love all kinds of food. That will be my biggest challenge to achieve.

I am taking leftovers to work tomorrow for lunch and also am making a pot roast at home in the slow cooker so I can get at least two meals worth from that as well. Planning ahead with food almost always saves time and money. I am slowly getting into that habit so I don't have to cook everyday. Change in habits takes time and effort!

Side Work Weekend!


I have 2 IT side projects for a couple of friends this weekend. I have to fix a laptop with lots of malware and do data recovery on a hard drive for the other. Neither one of them is difficult but they are time consuming. Luckily I can work on other things will they "run" for the most part. I just have to click a few times every now and then.

Between per diem at work and side income I am starting to ramp up a little. I love my airline miles and points hobby but at the end of the day cash is king. Cash gives me the most financial freedom to do whatever I want. I also have a couple of tech items on ebay I am selling that end on Monday. Looks like they will both sell for more than expected!

My previous laptop issue with my screen going out seems to be a one time occurrence so far. I hope this holds and I can get at least another year out of it before I start looking to replace it. MacBook Pro's are not cheap but they are very solid. My current one has been a daily user for over 2 years and this is the only issue with it thus far. As long as the quality holds I will have one.

Credit Card Churning Update


One of my new hobbies is racking up frequent flyer/hotel/other travel points with sign up bonuses. I go for waved annual fees or an extremely attractive deal in order to make this happen. The profits have been large for me and I thought I would share what I have earned in points and also what that means in terms of nearly free travel.

What I have earned so far:

  • 100,000 British Airways Miles
  • 75,000 American Airlines Miles
  • 80,000 Continental/United Airlines Miles
  • 65,000 Delta Airlines miles (bonus, not flying)
Great! I have a boatload of points earned over the past 6 months. Now what do I get from those? Here is what I am going to get:
  • British Airways: Using miles to go to Easter Island in April 2012. Still enough left for domestic flight
  • American: Used some to book one way Business Class from Singapore to Atlanta in December. Remainder is enough for a domestic flight plus some extra.
  • Continental: Thanks to some other small bonuses and a couple mileage runs I am going first class, via Europe, from Atlanta to Bangkok. Now my primary program with about 40,000 left and climbing.
  • Delta: Added to my current balance and scored a round trip business class for my girlfriend to Asia and back on Korean Air. 
My total out of pocket to make this happen is $125 plus some of my personal time. I get to take all of these awesome trips thanks to my good credit and research skills. I estimate the value of these trips and unused miles at around $10,000. Business class tickets are pricey but I get them for under $100 using miles to cover the fare.

This is a very lucrative hobby for me. I still have a lot to learn but am off to a great start so far. At this rate I can fly in style for most of my vacations for next to nothing. I should have started this years ago but better late than never. I now keep my ears to the wind for great deals!

Ramping up cooking at home!


I admit that I really tend to get lazy when it comes to cooking at home. I know it is the frugal, and probably healthier, thing to do. I find that since I am a Project Manager and travel fairly often I feel "too tired" to cook a lot of the time. I am now working on changing that attitude. It is going to take some time and determiniation on my part but I believe I can pull it off.

Game plan: Aside from really good specials (dollar taco night!) I plan to cook at home a lot more when I am here. I am going to do a little more meal planning and I have a couple of very important cooking tools coming from A cast iron skillet and Santoku knife. I have been wanting these for years and finally bit the bullet. They are on the way!

My next step is to do some recipe researching and get a few good recipes saved for each type of meat I typically eat. This way I have ammo ready for when there are good sales. I have a variety of options and don't have to feel that I have to make spaghetti again because I have only one recipe that involves ground beef. I am also going to start experimenting more often and try to stay motivated.

I also want to dabble in baked goods a little. I especially like cookies and want to try out some recipes I found recently. Instead of eating out one weekend I want to make stuff at home and see how I do versus the restaurants. If I find I can make things good myself then why go out?

I am also trying to enforce some more self-imposed rules. First I need to separate my grocery and dining out budget so I can keep better track. Once I figure out those numbers I can move forward with training myself to think more about cooking and less about my favorite place down the street. I also need to train myself to think it will spoil if I don't eat it so I don't waste more money.

It is going to be a long yet worthwhile process to do this. I really do like cooking and need to do it more so I can become good at it.

Lost Work Luggage: My own fault


Today I am dealing with a problem at work. I left the company tool bag (expensive!) in the trunk of my rental car in Boston. I have tried several times to call the Hertz office there and always get voicemail. *Sigh* it is going to be one of those days. Yay.

When I was originally leaving Boston I planned to leave the tool kit at the job site. We scheduled a UPS pickup of it and my other boxes of spare parts. Based on my own (not so great) memory everything was fine. I became worried when my spare parts showed up and the expensive tool bag did not. The multi-hour headache began.

I called my client and they said it was not there. I called back to get another person to be sure. It certainly was not where I thought I left it. More attempts to call Hertz got me more voicemail boxes. I usually sing praises for Hertz as a rental company but this is fading fast.

I finally dig up some 800 numbers for Hertz. Still no luck. I eventually find a number for their business division. With some begging and pleading I get some *real* phone numbers for the Logan Hertz office. After several hours I have a human on the phone! Progress!

I get transferred to someone else's voicemail. Things look very dim again but I leave a voicemail and decide I will call back tomorrow if they don't respond. 20 minutes later my phone rings. It's Hertz! I actually got a human at the office! She says she will have a look and will let me know if they have the tool kit or not.

Another 20 minutes goes by and she calls back as promise. THEY FOUND IT! I breathe a massive sigh of relief and give them the company Fedex Account to ship it back here. I am very lucky as the last time I left something in a car (my personal GPS) it was never to be seen again.

Lesson Learned. I will now do an "idiot check" of all areas of the car before leaving. I blindly assumed I had left the tool bag at my clients office. Even if I miss my flight and have to do a $50 change fee it is worth not having the stress like this again. I will also make a point to ship the bag myself instead of a UPS pickup.

*whew* now it is time for a much needed beer.

July 2011 Prosper Lending Update


This will be my final update on my prosper lending activity. Seeing that I have under $400 in outstanding loans and have 100% stopped investing in it I see little value to continue this monthly post.

I will keep the stats short and sweet this time:

Outstanding Loans: 21
Principal Outstanding: $336.06

Cash Available: $30.77

Profit to date: $443.76 (roughly 20% ROI)

Good luck to all of those out there still investing in Prosper loans!

Mileage Run: Short turn around trip tomorrow!


Tomorrow I am taking a very quick mileage run to Chicago and back on United. I used up the last of my vouchers before they expired and will spend roughly 2 hours in the lounge in ORD before coming back to Atlanta. I had Gold status with them and got upgraded both ways. Yay!

This one will not be as great as my first mileage run to San Diego via Boston a couple months ago but it is certainly better than throwing away the free money. I have never been to ORD airport and am looking forward to seeing how it compares to Atlanta since it is the second busiest airport in the world behind Atlanta.

I will have breakfast in Chicago and lunch in Atlanta!

New Goal: Reach 300,000 miles in my Honda


I realized the other day that since my car has been paid off a few years now! This is a good thing but I basically have no savings toward a replacement car aside from a small $500 repairs fund. The average person keeps a car for about 10 years. With my recent car troubles I am analyzing my options. They are:

  • Start a replacement car fund
  • Beef up repairs fund for older car
  • Ignore the problem and hope for the best
Obviously that last option really isn't one. It is more or less what I have been doing until a few days ago.I looked at the numbers and my budget is already pretty tight with higher priority goals so I am going for the second option. I will increase my emergency fund by 1 thousand and keep my old car as long as possible. I hope to get 300,000 miles from it. I have 98,000 as of today.

This is the most economical option for me at the moment. I would like a newer car sometime down the road but I certainly don't need it. With my work commute down to 1 mile per day plus trains I will be using it a lot less. I am saving money on both ends via less driving and not spending money on a newer car. Just another example of spending on what is truly important to you and skimping on the rest.

True Story: Booking flights...while flying!


Today I am heading back home from Boston. I had a long couple of days getting a project done and it went well. I am now catching up on paperwork, expenses, emails, and so forth as I do after most work related trips. Things always seem to pile up while I am away!

I am mostly a Delta flyer and they have WiFi on nearly all of the routes that I fly. I find it handy for work from time to time and also they allow free access to for anyone. This will come in handy today as I will book my next 2 work flights while on my way home. I just got the green light from clients so I can move forward.

I thought about it for a second and I had one of those "you know you are a road warrior when" moments: I am booking flights while flying! A couple of years ago this was not even possible! It was great as it saves me time at work tomorrow and I would otherwise be sitting there playing on my iPhone anyway. May as well knock it out!

Afterward I had a few laughs with my seatmates in the exit row who were also frequent flyers. We went on to talk about other flyer-geeky stuff such as funny stories, types of planes we had flown on, comparing service, and so on. Just another part of life on the road!

Computer Woes: I hope this is a blip!


So recently I have noticed some funny video problems with my Macbook Pro. I did some searching online and it seems that it is a common problem with my particular video card and Apple even did a recall/free repair for it. Even if it is out of warranty!

The problem I face is that I have opened up the case of my Macbook Pro a couple of times to upgrade parts. This may technically void my warranty and they could just say "sorry" and be done with it. I plan to talk to Apple and see what, if anything, they will do.

Assuming the worst I will sell it on eBay and buy a new laptop. This is about a year ahead of when I planned to replace it but I am stuck. It is just too valuable of a tool not to have and I travel a lot so I need a laptop. Overall it will set me back at least $1,000 for a suitable replacement.

I guess this is why we have emergency funds but it is still a frustrating mess in the end. Oh well life will go on no matter what. I do like the idea of having a shiny newer, faster Macbook Pro!

Students: Trade in textbooks for credit!


I recently took and online course and found out that I can sell back my textbooks to They make it very easy and give you gift card credit (almost as good as cash if you ask me). They even pay the shipping to send it in!

This is a good way to guage if you are getting a good "buy back" deal from the campus bookstore. Check amazon first then go for the best deal--cash or amazon credit. I order from amazon regularly for all sorts of things so I took the credit in my case. They gave me $10 more than the bookstore would have.

Just another way to get a few dollars ahead during a time in life when it counts the most!

July 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 good month due to a rise in the stock market and lowered spending.

As of today my current net worth is $16,625.54. That is an increase of $2,145.43 over last month. The major contributing factors: a large work reimbursement and increased investment values.

I expect next month to slower. I have changed my auto insurance which will net me large savings over time. I am also traveling a lot this month for work (more per diem, less expenses!). My property taxes have also fallen!

Alternative Income this past month:

IT Consulting: $144
Focus Groups: $0
Rebates: $5

Back home: More travel coming!


Today I am back home in Atlanta and have an odd work schedule: 2PM to 10PM since we are doing quarterly server upgrades. Everyone has to be out of the office for us to complete it so I am on an odd schedule for the next 2 days as a result. I also have to work this Saturday for an all-day quarterly meeting. Joy.

I just got back from a mini-vacation back home and I am looking at 2 more trips in the very near future. I am going back to Boston for 2 days July 12-13 for work and then a same day turn mini mileage run to Chicago on July 16 to burn the United voucher that otherwise would have expired. I am not getting nearly as much miles as I would normally but it is better than losing the voucher!

I am also looking at travel in August to Baltimore and Boston again. I will take any miles that I can get since I have been burning a lot lately booking vacations and a flight for a friend. I just got the United Airlines card for another bonus that will help boost my balance a good bit too!

Travel Day: Driving back to Atlanta


I flew down home on Saturday and now I am driving back home. My Dad wants to sell his truck and I agreed to help him. Atlanta is a much larger market than my hometown so I am bringing it up here to some friends in the car business to see if we can sell it. We both win since I don't have to buy a round trip ticket and he can sell it easier!

I had a great weekend of fireworks, excellent food, a little beach time, and of course time with the family (which is about twice a year these days). This will be my last long weekend until November when I go to Asia unless something else pops up between now and then.

Happy 4th to all!


Today I am in my home town of St. Simons Island, GA with my family. We are having a get together later and riding bikes down to the pier to watch the fireworks. It has been a good couple days off on the beach and relaxing. Driving back to Atlanta tomorrow.

Hope you all have a great holiday!

Travel: Off to South Georgia in First Class!


My upgrade cleared for my flight back home tomorrow on Delta. I am taking the 10AM flight down to Jacksonville, FL where my dad will pick us up. I hope I can talk the Sky Club agent out of some 300 point AMEX certificates if any are still around!

I will be there until July 5 when I am driving back a car my dad wants to sell. While there I will get some family and beach time. I am also going to try to go fishing again. I haven't done that in years!

Either way it will be nice to have a leisure trip out of Atlanta for a few days. Even though I have been on the road a lot I don't ever mind flying for fun travel!