The Difference a phone call makes!


Today I was taking care of some stuff that has been lingering on my desk for a while. One of the bigger items was a $178 medical bill from Feb 2011 that showed up in December. Something seemed a bit off but I put off calling about it. Until today!

I called the doctor's office and was about to pay the balance myself until she said the claim was denied by my insurance because they requested information. I hung up and called my insurance. Sure enough I did send the information they wanted but it never made its way to my claim. They re-opened the claim and said they have what they need and will pay the amount due.

I called back the doctor to inform them of the new case. They said they would handle it from there! While I am not 100% out of it yet I am pretty sure I won't have to worry about it any more. This is good news after a couple of rough months financially. I can breathe a little easier now.

Car got hit while parked at work


Sometimes people surprise me. I came to work today just like any other. Parked my car and went into the office. I had to run to the company storage unit for some things and found a note under my wiper blade. Someone hit my car.

There was no major damage just a scrape on the rear bumper. I called the person that left the note and we agreed to work something out without involving insurance. Works for me since it is less paperwork and hassle for both of us. I like easy!

Now I have to get an estimate and actually collect. We'll see if she pulls through on her promise!

Shortened Weekend!


I have to work all day tomorrow since we are having a quarterly meeting at work. That means I get a 1 day weekend. Granted I was given a swap day that I used for New Orleans on Monday that doesn't give me enough time to rest as I would like before the next work week.

I will be spending my Sunday getting caught up on various errands and things I need to do around the house. I will be getting a bonus so I have a little planning to do once I get it. That will be the one highlight of my working Saturday. Other than that I have boring meetings and planning sessions to do.

Fortunately this is only 4 times per year.

Work Travel Confirmed: Boston in Feb 2012


I finally have my first booked flight this year. I am headed to Boston for 2 days in Feb for an on site installation for a client. While I am tired of Boston I will take the miles and time out of the office as welcome change of pace. It will take a lot of work flights this year to hit 50,000 miles!

I am aiming high for Delta miles this year since I want to have enough banked for a trip to the world cup in 2014. Business class award tickets to Brazil do not come cheap so I need to beef up my Delta balance. I also have 2013 travel to think about but I need to get through 2012 first :). The trip to Brazil will be great for the beach as well as checking the world cup off my life bucket list.

I now know for sure that I will go to Baltimore at least 2 or 3 times this year, West Virginia/Virginia/North Carolina once, and northern Maine once. If the pace keeps up I will certainly hit my 50,000+ goal. Work travel is a major source of my free flying so I want to maximize it any way I can!

New Spending Psychology: Focus on what matters to me


I did a quick skim on my spending over the last year and I seemed to have phases. For a while I would eat out a lot. Then spend a fair bit on travel. Then I would buy a few gadgets or things for the house. It was based on whatever "mood" I was in at the time. This, in the end, but a damper on getting closer to my goals.

I now vow to be more focused.

Overall my major personal interests are travel, food, and finding excellent deals on the first two. I am going to follow this school of thought: spend on what you are passionate about and skimp on everything else. Easier said than done as I learned from last year's spending data. The good news is I am much better than 2010 at it.

My budget has now evolved where I save money for travel specifically. I use that money not only to have while I am on the road but also pay for taxes for award tickets, annual fees for points earning credit cards, and the odd long weekend away on a cheap airfare domestically. This part of my budget will certainly grow with my income. Travel is top priority in my life!

I have a larger than average food budget for a few meals out and so I can cook less boring stuff at home. Cooking is something I am doing a lot more of as of late and intend to continue. It is a skill that is never bad to have and from what others tell me I am pretty good at it! A friend and I are always experimenting and sharing cooking ideas. It works well for me.

Finding deals on travel and food spawned from the first two. The biggest being credit card churning. I sign up for cards with large initial bonuses, use them, and then cancel the cards and repeat. This has gotten me a lot of points and as a result some awesome trips. For food I mostly look for the best price/quality ratio for my cooking ingredients. I also keep an eye out for discount coupons for my favorite places around town. They are rare but do come up now and then!

I find that when I spend on things I truly care about I feel better about it. If I spend $100 on airline taxes for a flight to Bangkok I have no problems. If I spend $100 on a night out with friends I most certainly regret it for the rest of the month and beyond. Breaking the bad habits so I can keep the good ones is my key to success. Now let's see if I can actually pull this off...

New Orleans Roundup


I had a great time in New Orleans. I couldn't ask for better weather as it was an average of 75 degrees, partly cloudy, and breezy in January! It was also nice to not have to worry about work for a few days and spend a good 30th birthday weekend with my girlfriend.

We spent a lot of our time eating the awesome food the city has to offer and hitting a few sites around the French Quarter. It is a fun place to wander around and people watch. It is some of my favorite architecture in the USA as well. We spent our evenings in the local dive bar in the French Quarter having cheap drinks and relaxing. A tough life!

Our flights were good for the most part. No upgrades cleared but what can I really expect as the lowest tier elite and $35 each way airfares? We had access to my company's GoGo wifi and it was a short flight. We did have a sudden dip in turbulence on approach to Atlanta but it was storming. Just another part of flying!

I have to say New Orleans is a city I don't tire of. I love the people, culture, and nightlife it has to offer. It is a relatively cheap city for the US also. I sometimes daydream about having a condo in the French Quarter as a place to get away. Maybe one day!

Long Weekend in New Orleans Tomorrow!


Tomorrow morning the girlfriend and I are flying down to New Orleans. Today is her 30th birthday. I booked this trip a while back when there was a fire sale on airfares. Delta matched and we got round trip tickets for $91 all-in per person. A great deal!

The weather down there looks great and should be in the mid-70's all weekend. I am looking forward to wandering the french quarter, eating their awesome food, and generally not thinking about work. It has been very busy here since returning from Asia and a quick break will help me out a lot.

It should also be a relatively cheap trip since most things in New Orleans are very reasonable. We are staying in a private room at the local hostel which I have stayed at several times before. It's a combination of 2 old houses and very well run. It's also a short trolley ride to downtown/french quarter and not far from a supermarket.

This will also my first flights of the year. I am aiming for Gold Medallion so I can get some more benefits and more miles. I have to save a lot of miles now since I am planning to go to the world cup in 2014 in business class. Getting a 100% flying bonus as Gold flyer will help that a lot!

New Points Churn complete!


Today I applied for a few attractive points offers. In total I should get 30,000 Chase points, $500 from citibank, and 40,000 Hilton points (waiting approval on this one). They all have low spending requirements so it should be easy to meet. Only one of them has an annual fee which I will cancel before it is due next year.

This is certainly not as impressive as 2011 but it is a good start. I am trying to let my new account activity cool down so I don't get flagged by the various banks as being a greedy churner. I have read stories of people losing all of their points and relationship with the bank for doing it too much. Moderation is a key aspect of this game. Pick your battles and don't get carried away.

I also already have all the points I need this year to cover all of my travel until 2013. I of course will keep and eye out for great offers on certain cards. My goal this year is to learn more about hotel points and their programs so I can use those to my advantage also. Always learning new tricks is the key to maximizing points value!

Tax Filing Time!


I have my W2 forms from work and the others are slowly coming in. I have already run a quick and dirty estimate of my refund and it should be around $1700-1800. That will certainly put a dent in a couple of goals! I had some bonuses last year that were taxed heavily so this larger refund reflects that.

I also bought the latest version of H&R Block tax software. It was only $20 and I was able to download it immediately from It is a huge time and money saver and I can file electronically. It also catches a few weird deductions and rules that I am not familiar with so it essentially pays for itself and then some. It also imports last year's data to help save time.

I can't wait to get this done and over with so I can get my refunds from federal and state and stop giving them free loans. My plans for the refunds are to pay a couple of bills, beef up savings, and possibly a new printer. I will make the decision once I actually have the money in hand.

Annual Portfolio Rebalance


It is mid January and it is time to rebalance my investments. It was a wild year in the markets and my portfolio reflects that fact. I always like to rebalance in January after the year end sell off that people do for tax reasons in December. I personally believe it is a good time to make adjustments while markets are quiet.

I can't trade today since it is Martin Luther King day and the markets are closed. I have my spreadsheet ready and placed the trades which will go through tomorrow. I was better off than I thought and only have to make a couple of adjustments this year.

Re-balancing is very important since it forces you to sell your winners and buy some of your under performing positions. This is basically selling high and buying low to an extent. You are bringing your portfolio back to your target percentage of stocks and bonds. I like to do this once per year to stay on the right track. Doing this also hedges you (to an extent) against big loses like in 2000-2001.

New Goal: Be more careful with food/going out spending!


I have been bad with this the past few months. The bottom line is that I have been eating/going out too much and have to cut back. It will be an adjustment for me as a person who really enjoys going out on a regular basis.

I am doing more creative cooking at home to combat this somewhat. Trying new dishes and ideas in the kitchen and learning a useful skill at the same time. I am also utilizing leftovers for work lunches to help prevent waste, save money, and ultimately be healthier than the fast food options in the mall in my building.

I am limiting myself to eating lunch out no more than twice per week (work travel counts as lunch out since I have no choice then). I am also cutting way back on restaurant dinners and nights out with friends to preserve my budget. I am trying to limit it to special occasions and weekends. This should also free up my time for side projects/work where I will hopefully earn more.

This one will be tough to do but I must do it if I want to get ahead on my savings goals. Not blowing my extra money each month on going out will allow more travel and travel to more expensive places. It will also create good habits for when I am not working or working less in the future. I just have to be stubborn about it!

Work Travel Coming!


Things are picking up a lot at work. I have been terribly busy the past few days and more to come. We have a lot of contracts sent out and a few have come back. I already have 2 trips confirmed (at least) and more in the fire!

So far I will be going to:

  • Bangor, Maine 
  • Baltimore, MD
Most likely going to happen:
  • Boston, MA
  • Detroit, MI
  • NC, WV, & VA
I don't have any travel booked yet as dates have not be confirmed. I am looking forward to some time on the road and of course the miles/points that comes with it! I have burned a lot of points lately so it is time to refill some accounts so I can keep going year after year. I am also trying to hit Gold Medallion with Delta this year so I am looking for a good mileage run to make that happen also.

I hope things continue to go well at work. Three years without a raise...needs to end!

British Airways Flyer Program Changes


I have seen a lot of blog posts and forum posts bashing the new British Airways redemption schedule. They have gone from a fixed price (in point) schedule to a new one based on distance. This is both good and bad for BA frequent fliers depending on how they use their points. This makes perfect business sense for the airline but it is to be determined how their fliers will react.

I can see both good and bad points to this. The bad side is that the long haul flights require a LOT more miles. I cashed in 40,000 miles to go to Easter Island and back from the USA before the change happened. Today that would cost me 75,000 miles. These are both economy class tickets. 75,000 is still not bad to fly that far but almost double what it was. It gets really "expensive" if you want business class or first class which costs 2x or 3x the amount of miles needed respectively.

Now the flip side of this are the short haul flights. Since the levels are distance based there are some really good short haul deals to be had. Another example is getting the two of us to Miami to connect to our flight onward to Easter Island. I cashed in 27,000 BA miles for two first class one way tickets from Atlanta to Miami. That is only 2,000 miles more than 2 one way coach tickets using American's miles. A very good deal! Another great option is Atlanta to New York one way in coach for 7,500 each way! If Miami coach availability was there I could have gotten us there for only 4,500 each!

Other good redemption values include intra-Asia flights on Cathay. I can get a one way ticket from Bangkok to Hong Kong for 10,000 BA miles each way. Good luck finding redemption levels that low on any other airline's program! Also since my American Express Platinum and Chase Sapphire cards both allow me to transfer to British Airways I can easily earn points for these great redemptions.

While the changes are not all good news they are not all bad new either. I now have 2 options for booking awards where I can comparison shop and see what I can get for the least amount of points out of pocket. I will use fixed value programs for long hauls or multiple connections but will always check British for short jumps. Why spend 12,500 points when I can get the same seat on the same route for 4,500 or 7,500?

How my points game pays off big!


I have been "churning" credit cards lately and have raked in a lot of points. I have used those points for lots of fun trips in premium airline seats that I could never afford to actually pay for! 2011 was a great point earning year for me. Here are some rough numbers of what I gained:

  • United+Continental: ~115,000 miles
  • Delta: ~100,000 miles
  • British Airways: ~104,000 miles
  • American Airlines: ~85,000 miles
  • US Airways: ~41,000 miles
  • Hilton: ~44,000 points
  • Club Carlson: ~54,000 points
  • Chase Sapphire: ~66,000 points
  • AMEX Membership Rewards: 75,000 points
That is a lot of points! I didn't realize how much it truly was until I sat down and calculated my "earnings" from the relatively small amount of work. I have redeemed a lot of those points already since I use an "earn and burn" strategy so I am not as prone to devaluation. My girlfriend and I have some great memories from this hobby :]

It is only day 10 of 2012 and I am still on the prowl for more offers and bonuses. I am trying to piece together enough offers to have another worthy churn. I am being more selective so I don't get reg flagged by credit card companies by becoming too greedy. Pair that with the fact that I simply don't get enough time off to use them all!

I still have more travel goals in mind in the future that I need to build up some points for. I want to do the world cup in 2014 in Brazil and also would like to do Asia again possibly in 2013. I am hoping work travel can offset some of that but I will still need a good offer or two if I want to do those in business/first class.

As I do this more I learn all the neat little tricks to getting the most for my money/points so I can stretch them further. Admittedly my weak spot now is hotels since I rarely stay in pricey rooms for pleasure or work. I tend to prefer the mom and pop hotels, hostels, and guesthouses. They are much cheaper and more local. I need to utilize hotel points in a way that I can get more miles for travel.

It is all a constant game of earning, learning, and burning to what works best for me. Rules and programs change all of the time, mergers happen, and of course devaluations occur. Just have to adapt and make the best of it. It is a lot to keep track of but in the end the payoff is huge!

The Obama 2012 Payroll Tax Cut


Like it or not we are going to get a little bit more in each paycheck this year thanks to a tax cut that passed. I always like paying less in taxes but know that almost any cuts will be temporary thanks to the staggering national debt.

Politics aside I got my first pay stub of the year early. I will get a whopping $5 more per pay period. I am disappointed as I was expecting more from a payroll tax cut. The change must be very minor to only affect my bottom line by $5.

While I don't mind an extra $10 and change per month I was hoping for something a little more substantial. Thanks! I guess...

January 2012 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 investment values increasing. December is always an expensive month with the holidays but I did better this year than most on controlling my spending well.

As of today my current net worth is $22,701.65. That is an increase of $1,712.09 over last month. The major contributing factors: big stock market gains, a frugal Christmas holiday, and cut spending.

I expect next month to mediocre. I am focusing on sticking to my budget, prioritizing savings, and getting caught up from the holiday season..

Alternative Income this past month:

IT Consulting: $92
Focus Groups: $0
Rebates: $18.04

Making the most out of gift cards


I seem to get quite a few gift cards each year from friends and family. This year was no exception and I got a pretty big stack this time around. I also got some cash which is still believe is the best gift for me. I'd much rather top up my savings than have to go shopping somewhere.

This year I got:

  • $25 gift card
  • 2x $25 Longhorn/Darden gift cards
  • $50 Lowes gift card
  • $25 iTunes gift card
  • 2x $15 iTunes gift cards
I have already used the Amazon card to get a few things I needed around the house. All small items but saves me $25 in the end. I spent one of the Longhorn cards for lunch with the girlfriend last weekend. iTunes I used for a couple of games/apps and will save the rest for shows or movies in the future. Great now that I have an iPad!

I am hanging on the the Lowes card for now in case I need something to do some work around the house. It will be the least useful one at this point but worst case I can use it to buy household supplies or maybe even for work expenses on the road for which I will get reimbursed in cash. I could also pick up some tools if I need them.

Overall I will make good use of these gift cards. I have already turned my iPad into an on-demand second monitor for my macbook and we watch a couple shows on it too. I am ready to travel with it to see what else I can do! The other cards will get absorbed eventually. I keep their presence in the back of my head will get the value out of them soon!

Final Easter Island flights booked!


Last night I did some digging around and found what I think is the most economically sound way of getting to and from Miami for our flights to Easter Island. I went back and forth a lot in my mind on whether to use all points, pay for the tickets outright, or do a little a both. I settled on doing both.

For the flight to Miami I used points to book first class one-way seats. It is American Airlines but they had the best availability and also required the fewest points. Both seats cost me a whopping $5 out of pocket. To get back home I bought one way flights on Delta from Fort Lauderdale. They were $100 each one-way. I also found there is a $5 train that goes from Miami airport to FLL airport. We also get a free day to spend in the area due to the long layover it created.

It is nice to have this last piece of the puzzle out of the way. I had to burn 27,000 points on domestic tickets which is not my preference but it saved us $700. And at least we are in first class confirmed in one direction. I am hoping for upgrades on our return flight but that will be pure luck. I am sure I will have plenty of domestic work travel in between to rack up more points on too. Sometimes I have to remind myself that points are also for redeeming not just earning!

Looking like a busy quarter!


Things are heating up at work and that means more travel for me. I already have New Orleans this month for pleasure as well as a definite trip to Baltimore/Maryland at some point. It is also looking like the possibility of North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Mississippi, and some other irons in the sales fire.

Today was a particularly busy day of year end and quarterly stuff we have to do around the office. I get to go to work at 2PM tomorrow since I have to do the server upgrades when no one else is working. I will use my morning off to run errands and have lunch with the girlfriend. I am not looking forward to being at the office late but life gets in the way sometimes.

I am already tired of the cold weather and am reminded of why I am working in the first place: to save enough money to get away from the cold. I don't mean Florida. More like Asia, South America, etc. Travel is where it's at. Work is just a necessary evil to get there.