Off to Easter Island!


Today I am reaping the rewards of my credit card churning. I redeemed my British Airways miles to get us both down to Easter Island and back. Business class outbound and return in coach. It was a great value since it would have cost more than $5,000 for the airline tickets alone. We are also stopping in Mendoza, Argentina for some fantastic steak and wine.

I am working on my broken spanish vocabulary and getting everything packed for the flights. I am doing a 100% carry on trip for the first time for an international vacation. I will be gone a total of 10 days covering the spring break period. I am sure I will take 100's of photos and have plenty of stories to share when I get back.

Happy Easter to those who celebrate it!

Water Heater fixed!


I went with my dad to Lowe's this morning to get a new water heater and related materials for installation. We decided to convert from gas to electric for safety and cost reasons. It will pay off over the long term in utilities costs and efficiency.

It took my dad most of the day to get the electrical and plumbing redone but I now am mostly back to normal again. It is nice to have a hot shower!

I spent $300 on materials and am taking my dad out for a nice dinner tonight for his help. All said and done I am looking at close to my $500 estimate. Luckily I had money saved for house repairs to pay for this.

This is the perfect example of why we all need an emergency fund!

Bangor, Maine: Day 2


Today was a relatively uneventful day on the road. I got the rest of the work done and the client trained on the new system. They were very pleased with the results which always makes me at ease after a lot of work, planning, and travel to make it happen.

I have to say the TSA security line at Bangor Airport is one of the worst I have been in. They went through my entire bag and took everything out which I of course had to take 20 minutes to repack properly. I understand wanting to be safe but running pens and iPad cables separately is taking it too far.

It is obvious these people have nothing better to do than to waste our time and tax dollars.

Time for the flight back home and a quick stop in New York to change planes. A trip to the sky club for a celebratory drink is in order!

Bangor, Maine: Cold and boring!


I have spent my first full day in Maine for work. I got 90% of the work I came for done and have had some free time. I admit there is not a lot to do around here! Flying in from 75 F weather to 30 F weather doesn't add much to my motivation. Their seems to be very limited good food options around too. Bleh!

I have all day here tomorrow and head back home tomorrow night. My dad should arrive around the same time and we will assess the hot water heat situation. I am estimating at least $500 in costs to get things back to normal if no further damage is found. I am glad he is coming up as hiring someone would easily be north of $1000+.

It is time to head to a local Irish pub for dinner. I hope the food is at least edible! I have had bad luck with finding decent local restaurants in the northeastern USA.

When Disaster Strikes...


I woke up this morning to have a shower as usual. I noticed that the water was barely warm. I found it odd but went on as usual getting ready for work. As I was shaving it hit me. I knew what the problem was but finished getting ready.

I went downstairs. Broken water heater. Leaking. I was none too pleased.

Immediate call to my Dad and work begins. End up shutting the water off to the entire house since the valve for the water heater is of course not closing all the way. Drained out the water heater and started to soak up the water as best I can.

Did I mention I have a flight to Maine for work at 5:40PM? Yeah.

I get to the office around 10AM. I am late, stressed, and already had a shortened day and week due to travel and I am going to Easter Island on Friday!


At least this happened now and not while I was gone for 10 days. It could always be worse.

Luckily my Dad will get time off to come for a long weekend and we will install a new water heater and get things sorted out. It will be a lot cheaper than a plumber/electrician and I will buy him a nice dinner and his gas here and back.

Now I am off to Maine!

WOW!: Frugal uses for old phone books


It amazes me what people come up with. This is why I love blogs and the internet. All of the different thinkers out there can share their ideas freely and I can learn form them. This is a great example:

27 Uses for a dead phone book

I usually get these fairly often from the phone company even though I don't even have phone service...go figure?

I would normally just toss them in my recycle bins for the weekly pickup. Not anymore!

Two weeks in Michigan complete!


Today I have finished my last job site for this big trip up to Michigan. It was a large project for the company and it went well. I got all 35 locations up and running on relatively short notice with no major hiccups. I call that a win any day of the week.

I am going back home (well the office) tomorrow morning. No need for me to stay another full day just to sit around on slow WiFi and get half as much done. We have more work coming and I need to tend to it soon!

This trip has earned me a lot of points and per diems that will be handy for Easter Island, Guatemala, and beyond. I am off to Maine next week for a quick 2 day, 2 night trip for a smaller project. I have never been to northern Maine and am hoping for some decent weather.

Flying for free takes points: FLEXIBLE points


I fly nearly all of my vacation travel using the points I earn from my fun game of promotions and credit card offers. And of course my work travel that earns me points with a few programs. Now that I have been in the game for a while I have my overall strategy figured out: Do not put all my points into one program!

A lot of programs lately have "devalued" their points by changing the rules. These changes make the rewards I want take a lot more points to redeem. Delta was the worst and fell way down my list. British Airways switched to a distance based approach with removed some great redemptions but added others. Half of the battle is to keep up with the rules and tricks to get what you want for the least amount of points.

The only way to stay a step ahead of the game is to earn points that you can transfer to multiple programs. As it stands today my top 3 are American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Sapphire Preferred Ultimate Rewards, and Starwood Hotels Group. Each of these allows me to transfer their points to a long list of programs. I can move to where I find the best deal and am not married to a single program.

My current favorite is Chase Ultimate Rewards since they transfer to United. I am most interested in international business/first class. United has lots of great partners in Star Alliance and availability. I can first find the seats I want, transfer to United instantly, and book the ticket. Fantastic!

My main problem is earning points fast enough. With promotions and credit card offers slowing down I will eventually run out if this trend continues. I know this game is not going to be sustainable forever so I need to make the most of what I can get today.

Red Oxx Sky Train Bag Review


Last week I started traveling for work with my new bag. I wasn't sure at first when it arrived and I did a trial packing of all of the essentials. Now that I have lived out of it for a week I can form a better opinion. I have figured out all the little quirks and tricks to make it work better.

The result: The bag was worth every penny!

It is smaller and more light weight than my older backpack (which was meant as a laptop bag!). I can get all the clothes, electronics, work stuff, and everything else I need into it with room to spare. I use the large section for clothes and toiletries. The middle section I put electronics, notebook, and other odds and ends. The outer pocket happens to fit my macbook pro by itself.

I had to change the way I organize my stuff since it has essentially no internal pockets. I am using small bags and ziploc bags to keep things organized. I have ordered ditty bags from Amazon to save weight and space in the long run. I highly recommend them!

It construction is solid. I can tell they used very high quality materials and workmanship when building the bag. It does everything I need it too and more. I can certainly see using it for longer trips too and fully intend to do so. My main gripe is that it is not great for laptops. They are not really protected at all in the bag. I also have to note that it wasn't built for that purpose.

I will probably end up getting a small separate laptop bag as a solution. While I don't like to carry 2 bags I can see where it will be useful. Firstly I will have proper protection for the laptop. Second it transfers a lot of electronic stuff out of the main bag. That leaves room for more clothes needed for longer trips and better weight distribution. I also like having the big bag in the overhead and my smaller bag with everything I need under the seat.

Overall I am very happy I bought the bag. It will give me a lifetime of good service and easy traveling in the air. I have a lifetime warranty, no questions asked, and can get a new one if I have any issues. They are USA based and manufactured so I don't have to worry about getting stiffed on some sort of warranty exclusion.

United Economy Plus Review


This morning I flew United from Atlanta to Dulles to Detroit. I booked a reward coach ticket for work in exchange for some points. It definitely worked out in my favor!

I decided to buy and Economy plus seat on my leg from Dulles to Detroit. The Atlanta leg did not offer it (very small plane). It cost me $19 over and above the ticket price. Now that I have done it I am wondering: Was it worth it?

My Answer: Maybe.

I bought it since I needed to deplane quickly and get to my rental car and ultimately my first job site in the city. It saved me about 30 minutes (my own estimate) over a standard seat.

The seat itself: I thought it was pretty good. Being 6'2" I really liked the extra leg room. It seemed to be the same as most smaller plane exit row seats. It was appreciated. The recline seemed to be the same as all other economy seats. If there was more I certainly did not notice it!

Would I pay for it again?

My Answer: only if it was a longer (3+ hour) flight. I can survive a couple of hours in a normal coach seat if I have too. If I am going across the country the value of the extra space increases since I will be stuck there a lot longer.

Pricing: It would be more fair of United (or any other airline) to make the Economy Plus seats an upgrade fee per direction instead of per segment. Those costs can really jump if you have to connect a lot. It also helps us not feel nickel-and-dimed. Just combine the two fees and drop the price a little.

As a Delta Elite flyer I will certainly be using the economy comfort seats as they become more widely available. I rarely, if ever, get upgrades and the extra room means more to me flying all the time. I am interested in trying them on a longer haul international flight also. If I have to buy a ticket instead of using miles I would pay for the extra comfort.

Week 1 of Detroit done!


It was a long week. I flew in Sunday night and leave tonight. I have visited 22 customer locations statewide and have driven over 900 miles. It has been hectic and I am tired!

At least I get to be home for the weekend. Changing hotels daily and long hours have worn me out a bit. I am planning on some R&R in the nice weather. I also have to do other fun things like laundry, errands, and paying bills while I am home.

I am flying back out Monday morning on United. I have a ridiculous flight time of 5:45AM departure with a 45 minute connection in Washington, DC. I am not looking forward to getting up at 3AM but it has to be done.

Happy St. Patrick's Day to you all!

Work keeps pouring in: MORE travel!


We are getting very busy at work. I am being ever more stretched. I am managing other projects while on the road for the current one. Busy is good though. It means raises and bonuses. It also means more miles and points to have fun with. Keeping the eyes on the prize.

I have even more travel coming up. It looks like I will be going back to Boston again in late April. That will be followed by at least 1 trip to Baltimore. I also have my WV/NC/VA trip that has to be booked sometime in there too. I might even be coming back from vacation to the road again. A lot still has to be planned out first.

I am happy to be busy. No worse feeling that it being very slow and work and wondering how much longer your job will be around. I will have to make the most of every opportunity that comes my way and keep my eyes open.

Eating well on the road


Eating well on the road is tough. I am getting better at it but when I am tired after a 12 hour day and not familiar with the area I go for what is close, fast, and easy. Usually means mediocre food that may or may not be healthy. I am trying to change that.

Tools I use:

  • Yelp. I look for a place that has at least 20 reviews with 4+ star rating average. I find great local places this way that I can go back too.
  • Ask my customers. They live here! I have gotten some good suggestions over the years.
  • Ask hotel front desk staff. They also live here and work where I am staying so they can suggest healthier options. 
The results are like the Lebanese meal I had last night:

Free Stuff: American Express Social Media Sync Promotion


American Express has been giving free money by "syncing" your AMEX card to twitter, facebook, and foursquare. You register for the deal and then spend at the business using your AMEX card. You get a credit on your statement 3-5 days (or less!) after you meet the spending requirement. There are some great deals. Here are a few:

  • Spend $5 and get $5 credit at McDonalds
  • Spend $10 get $10 credit at Best Buy (I got a $10 gift card)
  • Spend $5 get $5 at a few of my favorite bars/restaurants
  • Spend $5 get $10(!!) in Austin, Texas (dead deal)
As you can see this is free money. You have to register your AMEX card (took me less than a minute) and spend as usual. I have gotten around $100 in "free money" from various offers from this. I'll take it!

Reasons to own an iPad


Now that I have an iPad and have been using it for a while I find that I use it most often for certain things. I decided to share my list for those who may be on the fence about buying one. They are expensive!

What I use my iPad for:

  • Travel. Great for watching movies, reading, and light web surfing and email. Good for short trips where you don't want to lug around a 10 pound laptop. Weekend trips ideal.
  • Netflix. The screen is large enough to watch shows and movies on. The battery lasts a long time so no issue there. Quality is great!
  • Second Monitor. I bought the $10 app that allows me to use it as a second monitor for my laptop. It works over wifi and very well at that!
  • Web Surfing and Email. This is great for doing small things just before bed. Send a quick email or surf a couple of pages. 
  • Light Gaming. Games look great on the iPad and the large screen is awesome!
Other lesser uses include: iMessage (texting), calendar, and news. iPhoto app just came out and it is very nice for editing photos while traveling. I am also looking into the camera kit for offloading pictures to it for viewing on a larger screen. iCloud syncing is nice so I have my data on it too. It is a nice toy with some great uses!

The Travel Bonanza Begins!


I leave on Sunday for 6 days / 5 nights in Michigan. Probably one of my least favorite places in the world. It is relatively inexpensive for America so I can make the most of per diems and my time there. I have a lot of work to do and a lot of ground to cover. I am just keeping my eyes set on all the points and miles I will earn and the trips I will get from them!

I will be back home for St. Patrick's Day weekend then back to Michigan again the following week for 5 days / 4 nights. I am going to get a feel for what I real road warrior does "commuting" by air each week.

After that I have a couple of days and nights in northern Maine and finally Easter Island for spring break! I am looking forward to steak, wine, and of course the awesome sights. It is going to be a lot of time in the air and the airports but certainly worth it in the end. I love to fly so this all works out great!

How much savings will make you sleep better?


That is the question I am trying to answer. I am still saving for my emergency fund and have been back and forth in my mind on a target number. I have now decided:

I need 1 year's worth of bare bones bills saved up to not worry about job loss or some other life event.

That changes my new target to roughly $20,000.00. That seems like a lot but to live an entire year, 365 days without income, is a nice safety net. That is also the amount I would need in order to attempt starting my own business or going to consulting/contracting full time. This target represents that goal.

My main goal in life is to be financially independent enough to not have to work 40 hours per week. That leads to other goals like travel and part time contracting to fill the gaps. The more I have in savings the less I actually need to work in order to live. I don't want to quit working completely at this point just not have it be the focus of my entire life.

Having time to do what I really want is the most important. I don't need a Mercedes, 18-bedroom house, or 67 plasma TV's. Just time to do what I like (mostly travel at this point). Without having to work 40-60 hours per week I can enjoy myself more. That is the real aim here.

I know that if I had a savings account that could cover my bills for the next 365 days I won't be as worried about losing my job due to some unforeseen event. I can focus on other things and move forward. My patience is thin but I am getting there. Hopefully another year or so and I will be in a much better position.

Being Productive While Flying


I spend a lot of time on airplanes. I love flying. I get to go to a new place (sometimes) and just relax and enjoy the ride. After a while though I get bored. This is when I try to do something productive with the free time in the air.

Here is my list of things one can do:

  • Respond to emails and send if the flight has WiFi. I save drafts if not and send when on the ground later.
  • Organize my expenses. I have tons of receipts to get reimbursed for. May as well get a head start!
  • Read about my destination. Using either a guidebook, print outs, or WiFi if available
  • Update to do lists
  • Write in a journal. I like to do this when coming back from an international trip.
  • Talk to others. You never know who you are sitting next too. Network with them!
  • Organize files on my computer. They seem to get in a mess quickly!
  • Sleep: If I can. Sleeping while in motion is very efficient!
I also write posts for here when in the air if I have time. I always seems to fall behind and then have a post-a-thon to catch up. I wish I could write everyday but there are simply not enough hours. I also have to be in the right mindset which is not always the case after a 12 hour day of work travel. 

When Hotels go Above and Beyond!


I travel a lot for work. I usually have to change hotels every night or maybe 2 days in one spot if my job sites are close enough. That is a lot of packing and unpacking! These days its the little things that hotels do that make me a repeat customer. Here are some examples:

  • Free bottle of water at check-in. I have gotten this fairly often lately. It is great after working all day on the road to have some much needed water. I always take it!
  • Free dinner. Some hotels order pizza or have some sort of small buffet set up free of charge. This saves me per diem money and is convenient when I need to get work done.
  • Free beer! One hotel has a snack cart that goes around and you can have whatever you want for free. Awesome!

As I spend more time on the road these things mean more to me.

Ignore Discounts! Stop Wasting Money!


It is not secret that I get very irritated by marketing. Marketing people are no better than politicians. They use specific wording so that you hear what you want to hear. In the end they are all lies then end up with you spending money (whether it be taxes or buying a product/service).

My biggest pet peeve is when an advertisement says "Save $X dollars!". You are not "saving" anything. You are getting a discount on an already overpriced item. The simple fact is that you are being tricked into thinking it is a good deal. That may or may not be the case!

You only save money when you do not spend it. Buying at item for $5 that was "normally" $10 does not mean you saved $5. It means you spent $5. That "extra $5 saved" doesn't get automatically transferred to a savings account. You just got a lower price. Don't be fooled by advertising!

Rule 1: You only save money when you do not spend it and move it to some sort of savings vehicle like a savings account, CD, investment account, etc.

Rule 2: Discounts are good but shop around first. Just because you "save $5" or the item is 50% off does not mean you are getting a good deal. Do your homework before buying anything.

Rule 3: Ignore advertising. It's sole purpose is to make you spend more than you plan to. You are almost never getting a good deal. 50% off a price that is 4 times what it should be is still an awful deal. Knowledge is power. Self control is the only way to really save money!

Being on a tight budget really makes you look at the bottom line and not "what's on sale". If your budget is $50 it doesn't matter what the sales are. You are interested in the bottom line price. Bring a calculator and figure it out for yourself if you have too. Using Google to find out if the item is priced better elsewhere--"on sale" or not.

Dining for miles: on the road!


One of the joys of travel is having to eat out for most of my meals. I try to go to supermarkets for salads and healthier things if time permits but that is not always the case. My usual fallback is chili and/or a salad at Wendy's. You can only eat so many hamburgers in one week...

I have been doing dining for miles for many years now. It has paid off a lot for me and has single-handedly gotten me an award ticket to Asia! I always look online for restaurants in the area I am traveling too so I can grab a few miles from a meal I would buy anyway. I have actually found some good, reasonably priced places that I go back too. It is also nice to stay way from the chains as much as I can.

I now credit all of my dining miles to United. As it stands now they have the best "bang for your buck" miles program. Finding seats on the flights I want is leaps and bounds better than Delta. Hopefully this will change in the future but I doubt it. Dining for miles is a great way to beef up the account balance while supporting smaller, local establishments. A win-win in my book!

Goals Shifting a bit


Since my new raise kicked in I am allocating the new income to more savings. I am accelerating the emergency fund transfers and also starting a fund for a new laptop. I am approaching 5 years with my current MacBook Pro and will need an upgrade soon. Either this one will die or Apple will stop supporting it. I need to be prepared.

I am transferring $50 per month to a new savings account just for my new laptop. My target is $2000 so I will add to it later as I get more side income and have a larger emergency fund. It all starts with the first $1 saved and snow balls from there!

I am doubling my contribution to my emergency fund to hit my target sooner. I want to have 1 year's worth of bills saved up and I am about 1/3 of the way there. Doubling my transfers will get me there a lot faster!

The main point here is that I am immediately putting my new income into savings and not letting lifestyle inflation eat into it. All other aspects of my budget remained the same. This is a big win financially!