Random Story: Mark from Lexington, MA


Last night after a long day of working in Boston with no lunch break I walked over to the restaurant next to my hotel. I was too tired and hungry to look around for anything else. I had some mediocre food and a couple of beers to end the day.

When I travel alone for work I tend to go to the bar and eat dinner there. Sometimes I meet interesting people and have good conversation while enjoying a couple after work beers. Last night was one of those times and a gentleman named Mark was beside me at the bar.

Mark has things figured out for himself for the most part. He was divorced 7 years ago and has no kids. He decided to sell his antiques business. After that he sold his house and most of his belongings and packed up and headed down to the Dominican Republic. He now lives there 10 months per year.

He made enough money selling his business where he can live comfortably in the Dominican Republic and not have to work. He comes back to Boston during the summer time to visit family and friends and attend to various things. Last night was his final night in the USA before heading back. We had a good conversation about travel and life in general.

Mark has a situation that I strive to achieve. I want the financial freedom to do pretty much what he does. Replace Dominican Republic with southeast Asia and I would be happy with that arrangement. Come and go as I please and have less stress in life. Most importantly I would be out of the rat race world of America. Get me out of this hyper-consumerist nightmare!

Meeting people like Mark is what keeps me going. I feel that if he can do it so can I. It helps me to renew my focus on my goals and stay the course. My impatience works against me here. I will make this happen come hell or high water. NO ONE will get in my way.

Work Travel: Off to Boston again!


I am traveling again today and am off to Boston for the next 2 days for work. I am starting to become very familiar with Logan Airport and the surrounds due to coming here so much! It will be a nice addition to my points balances and gets me out of the office for a couple of days. I notice my work week goes faster when I travel. Another perk!

This trip will be busier than last week but manageable. My projects are moving along nicely and I am looking forward to a smooth completion by end of day Wednesday. Happy Travels!

Bump the bonus: A great strategy for getting more out of bonus offers!


I go through a lot of credit card offers and rewards programs in my endless search to get my airfare and other travel needs for (nearly) free. They all offer varying degrees of bonus points and hurdles to jump through in order to get the extra points. I feel a great sense of achievement when I actually get the bonus. Then, two months later, they offer a higher bonus for the same thing--ugh. You feel robbed/cheated/stupid for not getting the extra points.

Then I learned of a method called "bumping the bonus" from other blogs I follow. The basic idea is that if a better offer comes along for the same thing you can contact customer service. I usually do this by email and it works well. You explain that you really like the program and the benefits. Ask for them to match the current offer as a measure of good will. I have about a 50% success rate on this as a lot of factors go into.

You will not always get the extra points but it costs nothing to ask except for a few minutes of time. This can really pay off if they have an offer twice as good as the one you got (such as 100,000 points instead of 50,000). This can go a long way to more free travel and rewards! Don't leave points (money) on the table!

Moving Forward: Starting a side business!


I decided today that I am going to take a small leap of faith and see if I can get a successful side business running. I am willing to invest up to $1,000 in the idea to see where it goes. I have evaluated the risks and potential return and think it will be a good long term source of side income.

A friend and I are going to start a small mobile phone software company. We have some ideas for apps already and he has some people asking him to build some apps. He is a programmer by trade. Between his programming and my project management/business skills we can make this work. We are going to get started tomorrow when a new mac mini shows up for a coding workstation and discuss ideas, numbers, and timelines to get the apps to market.

My worst case scenario is that I take some loss on the computer and software I buy. I won't be using all $1,000 right off the bat. The computer is $600 and software $100. That leaves me $300 for other needs if they arise. Most of the investment will be time programming and testing ideas and getting them to market. To start with we are going to rely on word of mouth advertising and luck to get going.

The money earned will go towards paying back the $1,000 invested. Once it has been paid back we will split profits down the middle. We are going to develop for Apple iOS and Android so we have exposure to both markets and even more income possibilities. It will be a slow process before seeing "real" returns but I believe a worthwhile venture. Every extra dollar I make is another dollar towards financial freedom. I am at step 0 right now with many to come!

Be Prepared: A friend's story


I have a friend, we will call him Tom, who recently became unemployed. He found a week ago that he was being let go and was very lucky. He was given a one month salary severance so he will get paychecks for a month even though he is not working. It could have been a lot worse! He should also be eligible for unemployment after the salary stops.

Tom has been slowly turning his financial life around. He is realizing the power and security that having savings provides. He is now tracking his money through mint.com which is a huge step forward from his former paycheck and broke until next paycheck cycle. He has no credit cards and some smaller outstanding debts.

Tom has been in a lull for a while with displeasure of his job and other things going on in his life. I have been helping him as much as I can as a friend. He comes to me for money advice from time to time and I now thing he is turning the corner and is going to start to rebuild. This job loss was his wake-up call that he needed. He is approaching a financial bottom that a lot of people reach before making better decisions and habits.

Tom is ok for now but would certainly be a lot better off if he had an emergency fund. With zero savings he feels the pinch of needing another job and fast. He is limited on how selective he can be. He realizes this now. Living within his means is Tom's first step in the right direction. Adjusting spending habits is a constant work in progress for us all and his is just getting started. I hope a change of scenery and change of job will push him futher in the right direction and not back to the old ways.

Only time will tell if this really is the bottom for Tom. He seems like he truly wants to change his ways and I will support that as best I can as a friend. I have been through my financial bottom so I will give him advice as he asks for it. I find it is best in cases like these to let me find out on their own. Like most people (including me) Tom will learn the hard way. I wish him the best of luck!

More Frugality: Yet Another New Goal!


In my never ending quest to get out of the work force and into living life as I see fit I am constantly examining my habits and adjusting wherever I can to cut costs. All major items have been reduced as far as I can get them so now I have to sweat the small stuff.

I am challenging myself to further cut my food costs and household costs. I am trying to use only half of my per diem money while traveling for work and am looking seriously into taking my lunch to work when I am home. Right now I go out for lunch but am going to experiment with bringing food from home instead. I doubt I can do it 100% of the time but any savings I can get I will take!

I am also looking more into using items around the house for other purposes so I don't have to go out and buy them. I am saving food containers to reuse as well as old shirts/clothes to turn into rags for cleaning. I am being more watchful of food expiration dates and using them up. All steps in the right direction!

At the same time I am starting to make healthier eating choices and that means bringing lunch will force me into healthier meals while at work. This is a good thing as my food choices when I eat out for lunch can be less than healthy most of the time. I watch what I eat at home and I need to extend that into lunch. This ultimately will reduce health problems and related costs.

Being more frugal does not happen overnight. It takes careful examination of habits and making deliberate changes and sticking to them. You have to form the new frugal habits by force and will power. Saying "no" is the first step in the right direction when it comes to spending money. Train yourself to think "How can I do this cheaper or for free?"

Earthquake on the East Coast USA!


I flew up to Boston this morning for work. Then I drove 1.5 hours to my job location here in Springfield, MA. I got done early and went to McDonald's for a quick lunch before beginning to work remotely. I was standing in line when the Earthquake happened.

Being this far north we just had a small tremor similar to a large train rolling by. It caught me (and everyone else there) by surprise. The TV's inside McDonald's had CNN on they they starting reporting on where it occurred in Virginia. This was my first experience with an earthquake of any magnitude first hand.

Overall it was an odd experience. I am glad it wasn't worse and there was no damage here. The last thing I need is a multi-state emergency while traveling for work. I have enough problems to deal with as a project manager!

Stay safe out there!

Work Travel Tomorrow: Week 1 of 3 in Boston!


I leave tomorrow morning for Boston for the next two days. I will do two more trips the next two weeks the same way. For some reason we have a lot of work in Boston all the sudden. Good since I need the miles and extra per diems!

These are all quick overnight trips to places all over the state of MA. I am becoming very familiar with Boston and the Logan Sky Club. After traveling pretty heavily for the past 2 months I can certainly justify the $450 per year annual fee from American Express. The lounges alone make it worth it!

My goal for all of these trips (4 in total, 3 to go) is to spend half of my per diem so I can keep the other half. So far I am on track to make that happen. At the same time I am trying to make healthier choices since eating out a lot can be less than healthy. Salads are king!

Global Entry Approved and Complete!


This morning I had my "interview" with US Customs about the Global Entry program. It was very easy and non-formal. I can now skip the lines at customs when coming back to the USA! Not bad at all!

I left home a little late and took the train to the Atlanta airport. I went to the shorter security line only to find out I had to go to the longer security line to get a special pass to get past TSA for my interview. This was 10 minutes before my interview time and I was very concerned. I was able to get through the handicap line to skip the crowds. They told me not to worry if I am late they will process anyway.

I get past security and the airport trains between concourses were not running. I had to go all the way to concourse E (literally 1.25 miles away). I walked up to concourse A and the trains were running again. By this time I am 20 minutes late for my interview and still mildly concerned. I got off the train at E and hoofed it up to customs. Such an odd experience going through US Customs backwards.

I made it to a small office where I had to sign in and hand over my driver's license and my passport. After about 10 minutes or so we were brought an even smaller Global Entry office. We were shown (as a group of 6) how to use the kiosk and then I was first to "interview".

Based on what I read online I was expecting all sorts of questions on my previous travels (extensive!) and having to justify where I have been. I was surprised when all they did was take my photo, fingerprints, asked me 4 questions about customs violations and criminal background and I was done! They told me 24 hours later I could start using the kiosks. Awesome!

Overall the experience was very easy and I am now in the system for 5 years before I would need to renew. For those wondering: If your passport expires before then 5 year period (such as mine will) all I have to do is take my passport back to the global entry office and they will add it to the system and I will be good to go. I can't wait to try it out in JFK in December when I come back form Asia!

Ready for Asia!


I have finally narrowed some details and booked some very cheap flights to save time on my trip to Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. I am going to clock in some much needed beach time as well as some city time.

My plans are to spend my first night in Bangkok then head out to Ko Chang for some beach/island time for nearly a week. Girlfriend arrives in Bangkok late at night and I will meet her. We will spend a couple of days in the city seeing a few sights. We then head up to Ayuthaya for the day and then overnight train to Chiang Mai.

My only real plans for Chiang Mai are a day visit to an elephant reserve and possibly a cooking course. The rest of the time will be spent exploring the city, eating awesome street food, and some general chilling out with come cold beer. Always build in time to actually relax!

After an overnight train back down to Bangkok we fly to Phuket to catch the ferry to Ko Phi Phi which is one of the best beaches I have seen. Period. A few days there then on to Ko Lanta for a few more days on another island. We then have a day of overland travel down to Penang, Malaysia where we will spend a few days seeing the sights and eating all of the awesome food that is available there.

Finally we fly down to Singapore for a couple of nights before heading back home on December 3rd. I have no real plans for Singapore yet and am going to let the girlfriend figure that part of the trip out. I am curious to see what she comes up with! I am ready for this vacation and can definitely feel the burn out setting in a bit form work.

The best way to travel in SE Asia: word of mouth!


I have spent a lot of my vacation time in southeast Asia. I must admit I love the place and the prices are hard to beat. The beaches, especially in Thailand, are hard to beat in terms of quality. I just love sitting on the beach in a comfortable chair and a cold beer to relax with. It is a great escape of the rat race here in the USA and I can really "tune out" of all that stuff back home.

I find that even today I get my best recommendations and advice from other travelers on the road. I always seek out where others have stayed and what they did to add to or modify my own itinerary. I also make use of good travel forums such as FlyerTalk and Lonely Planet to get some of the same advice. Sometimes I get lucky and meet someone in the country that has been to where I planned to stay to get the real scoop.

I rarely book rooms in advance when going to Asia. There is no need. Tons of great guesthouses that are cheaper than international hotels by leaps and bounds. My average room cost in southeast Asia is around $10 per night. Combine that with miles award ticket flights and you see why I can afford to vacation for a month!

I always ask around for advice when I am traveling because other people probably know more about it than I do. Not all advice is sound but at least 98% of the time I found it valuable. It never hurts to ask as you get the most recent information. I find most of the info online is a year old (at least).

Shopping for new sunglasses


Based on the recommendation of an eye doctor years ago I only buy polarized sunglasses. He suggested them since I was traveling and driving a lot and needed to protect my eyes from UV rays. I do not wear contacts or eye glasses so I can get whatever I want.

For years I bought Oakley sunglasses because I liked their design and lightweight metal frames that lasted for a long time. I had my first pair for over 7 years before I stupidly left them while traveling in Vietnam in 2006. I went threw a few pairs of cheap ones before getting a new pair in 2008. I again bough Oakleys since I liked what they offered.

Apparently their quality went down quite a bit but their prices were high. I have had my pair break twice since owning them and I have sent them back for repair twice. They broke for a third time (arms fell off all three times) only a week or so after I got them fixed. I have swan off Oakley for the rest of my life.

I recently saved up some money to finally replace them. Right now I literally have the arms super glued on as a band aid. I decided that I am not going to spend a month in southeast Asia without proper sunglasses. I went online and started to research polarized Ray-Ban sunglasses. I narrowed it down to a pair that I liked.

I got the model number and began searching on Google Shopping. The MSRP was $225(!) which is not uncommon for good, metal frame polarized sunglasses. I found a reputable eyeglasses website that got good reviews on Goolge Shopping. They had the same pair for $136. Much better!

My only let down is that they are back ordered. I should have them in a couple of weeks.  I can make it until my trip in November so I have no huge rush. It makes sense that the lowest price Ray-Ban retailer would be sold out. Patience pays when you are shopping.

I hope these are more durable than the Oakleys I have now. I don't abuse them or do anything out of the ordinary so I know that is not the issue. I personally believe poor engineering and design are the problem in this case.

I got a mention on another Blog!


I submitted a personal success story for scoring bonus miles from credit cards and using it for free flights. All of my upcoming travel is the result of these bonus points for the most part. My story got published today on the Frugal Travel Guy blog.

Here is the link to the post.

It is nice to see my story getting out there to hopefully encourage others to do the same. This game of points will work into my long term travel plans so I can score cheap tickets to get to where I want to go. Miles are very valuable if you know how to use them correctly. This requires patience and the willingness to navigate sometimes trick redemption rules. I don't mind reading some rules to save a few thousand dollars!

More car trouble!


My car strikes again. This week I went to go to work. Battery is dead. Great...

In the end I had to buy a new battery. I bought jumper cables first just in case but it was dead. I took it to Auto Zone where they test batteries for free. Once I got the bad news I bought a new battery and changed it myself in the parking lot. In the end I was 1.5 hours late for work.

I had to fork over around $150 to get my car running again. I guess I am happy that it was only the battery and not something more serious. Just seems like I have poured a lot of money into it recently. I am learning the costs of owning and older vehicle versus when it was now is a lot more!

Thankfully I have an repair fund for my car to cover smaller items like this one. It is never fun to deal with car problems but when you have a plan and savings in place it is a bit easier.

Inspiration: 3 Travelers that I aspire to be like


I have been doing some digging around on the net lately to see if others out there are doing what I aspire to do: travel perpetually. I found a few that are "living the dream" that I am working on every day. None of these blogs seperately do what I intend. My dream encompasses a mixture of all of them

The Blogs:

Overall the combination of these 3 blogs is what I want to do. Todd in the first link teaches English and does some volunteer work. The second is an interview with a couple who have enough income from investments to travel the world and live cheaply. The last guy is truly traveling and seeing the world without a specific income. These all sound great to me.

My intention is to combine the 3 to achieve what I want. I don't mind working just don't want to do it ALL of the time. I would also have some reserve savings and side income that will help support at least some of my travels. Finally I will do some traveling purely for pleasure. A month or two just simply enjoying a beach town sounds good.

The obvious questions is: How do I make this happen both logisitically and financially?

So far I have a basic plan that I believe will build upon itself to reach my ultimate goal of being a semi-nomad. I broke it up into major steps:
  1. Become debt free and build savings. This critical step is to reduce my expenses to minimum. Ideally I would have my house paid for but would entertain renting it out. Either way I have a place to come back too. I would also have a $10,000 reserve that I do not touch. If the plan failed somehow and I had to come back to full time work this would be my safety net.
  2. Transition from working to semi-retirement/traveling. The details here are fuzzy but I am considering teaching English for a couple of years or lining up some project-based work with defined beginning and end. Would travel between contracts (overseas) to transition. At this point I am financially secure enough to not have to work full time if I choose not too.
  3. Freedom: Between side income, my savings, and planned working stints I have the security I need where I can decide where I want to go and what I want to do. I have found places where I can "home base" and travel into and out of. I will discover these as I go. One place that works for this is Bangkok.
As of today this is my game plan. Adjusting my habits and keeping my eye on the prize is the most difficult part. Big goals do not materialize without some sacrifice. I am making progress but certainly not as quickly as I would like. Patience is one of the hardest things to learn.

Another Knife in the back from Delta


I don't really need a lot of convincing to move my air miles earning to another airline. In fact I am already doing just that. I have switched my primary earning over to United. Today Delta made a move that really seals the deal for me: No cancels or changes to award tickets within 72 hours of departure.

This normally is not a big deal for me. I check back often to get the award I want for the number of miles that I want. The problem is with the already dismal low level award availability most of the "low" seats come out within 72 hours of the flight. If plans were to change I am out of luck. Either stick with what I have or I lose the miles.

Just another way Delta has devalued their miles. They still have some uses (which is good since I am forced to fly them almost all the time) but this restricts my options a good bit. I sent in a complaint letting them know how I feel about it and also made my opinion public on Twitter. Greed wins and the frequent flyer loses...

Work Travel: 4 weeks in a row!


I already have the next 3 weeks booked for travel and now it looks like it will be 4 with yet another contract coming through. I will do the first week in Baltimore then if all goes as planned it will be Boston/Mass. for 3 straight weeks. I will be gone 2 days out of each week this time around.

This will be a nice addition to the miles balance and a good change from time at my desk in the office. I will also get a good bit of money in per diem of which I hope to save half. It is always a nice little boost to the wallet since everything on the road is paid for. No gas to burn, food is covered, extra hotel/car/airline points, and I get to see America on the company's dime.

Sometimes I tire of the travel but I remind myself that this is why I do it!

Global Entry: Approved!


Just got an email saying that I am approved and can go for my interview. I was expecting it to take a few weeks but it came through fast!

I am excited as I can skip the immigration lines when coming back from my vacations abroad. Nothing is worse to me than coming off of 24+ hours of flying and having to stand in a long line. It ended up costing me $0 thanks to my Platinum AMEX.

The Budget Balancing Act Begins...


The clock is ticking on my extra income from my roommate. She is moving out so now I am re-evaluating my budget so I can allocate my lowered income efficiently. I must admit it is not a fun process to have to account for a reduced income. Pair that with no raise at work for over 2 years and my frustration is building.

The drop in income essentially means I have less money to allocate to my life goals. I can still pay all of my basic expenses without issue. It is unfortunate since I am making some nice headway on a few fronts. This exercise is making me decide between some equally important goals for me. How do I choose between a bigger (and necessary emergency fund) and saving some money for my yearly travel?

I love to travel and that is what "keeps me going" during the rest of the year slog through work. I also need the emergency fund in case I become unemployed. I am leaning towards reducing the emergency fund contributions for now so I can have the money I need to cover my already booked travel and then evaluate again in a few months. Until now I was focusing on ramping up the emergency fund to fast track it. Luckily I have it at a good level now where I can slow down if I need too (I am at 2 out of 3 months of expenses).

I have to make my decision and my adjustments soon. Time is ticking until the income stops. I will be lucky to get 1 more rent payment before she is gone. At least I was given warning!

Applied for US Global Entry


One of the benefits of the Platinum American Express card is that they refund the $100 fee to apply for the US Global Entry program. It's a program that allows you to fast track through customs and immigration when re-entering the USA. If approved you go to the kiosk, clear immigration and customs, and get on your way.

This is great as I would not have to wait in line with everyone else. I just follow the screens and move on with life. I really like this idea since I take mostly international vacations and I like anything that makes getting back home easier. This is great since I don't even have to pay the fee. For free I will certainly give it a shot.

My application is still "Pending Review" as of today. Once that is done I have to meet with a Customs officer for an interview. Once past that I am all set and can start using the customs kiosk. I can't wait to try it when I come back from Asia in December!

A decrease in income... and motivation to move forward!


I knew it would happen eventually. I have had a roommate renting a room from me for almost 2 years now and she has is moving out. This creates a decrease in income and will slow my progress towards my goals. I am now working on a solution to help replace the lost income.

I am looking to increase my side work fixing computers as much as I can. This will help but is not consistent. I have essentially cut my expenses as far as possible so there is not much room there. I am now looking at potential rental properties. I have been pondering the idea and now have motivation to move forward.

I have found some places that look good. There is a risk with becoming a landlord and that is a risk I am willing to accept. I have a comfortable enough emergency fund to make a move. By my calculations 1 rental property that I am looking at would replace the lost income with a tenant. I want to move into more of them while prices are low on houses to keep the margin up. This is one way to create passive income for myself.

I am looking closely and the numbers and am moving carefully. I need to first one to succeed so I can move forward with others. I am researching all that I can to be knowledgeable in all aspects of being a landlord. Financial and legal concerns have to be satisfied. More to come...

Booked Trip: Easter Island 2012!


This past weekend I scored 2 LAN Airlines rewards tickets for Easter Island. It is a place I have always been curious about and is very expensive to get too normally. I also worked in some time to visit Mendoza, Argentina so we can relax in the wine country during the harvest season. All in all I have a very nice 1 week getaway planned for us.

I used my 100,000 British Airways miles that I scored from my credit card game. We are going outbound in business class (great since it takes 17+ hours to fly there). We are coming back in coach since the trip is broken up by our stop in Mendoza. I was able to land a cheap local airfare to and from Mendoza so I just bought it outright. Overall I am extremely pleased with the deal I got:

  • Cost to obtain 100,000 BA Miles: $95 annual + spending I would have done anyway
  • "Buy up" portion of the fare: $383
  • Local flights purchased (also LAN): $174x2 = $348
All in cost: $826 out of pocket. That may seem high but the COACH tickets alone to Easter Island and back from Miami would have cost over $2,000 per person. This is a great use of the miles and I get business class on the way there so we can actually get some rest and enjoy our time on the island. This is a great example of how playing the miles games pays off in a big way. For me it made this trip affordable when I previously could not even dream of it financially.

Now I have to figure out what I want to do for Thanksgiving 2012!

August 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 slow month due to a fall in the stock market and increased spending.

As of today my current net worth is $16,059.18. That is an decrease of $(566.36) over last month. The major contributing factors: a small work bonus, increased work travel, and decreased investment values.

I expect next month to better. I will receive some cash birthday gifts and am tightening up on my spending too. I am also traveling a lot this month for work (more per diem, less expenses!). I will soon lose a roommate which will lower my monthly income unless I replace them. I have not decided if I will do this or not yet.

Alternative Income this past month:

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