We’re just dipping our toe into the travel optimizing pond here and I was a bit nervous. It required opening AND using a credit card, so if that makes you nervous, don’t do it. We had to be disciplined and used the card for most purchases and a few large purchases, like summer camp, to maximize points earnings.
Here’s what we did, as well as a few mistakes we learned from:
We both opened a Chase Sapphire Preferred card and spent the required $4,000 (each) easily within three months to earn 50,000 bonus points (each). Lesson learned: We forgot to have my husband use my referral code when he applied, missing out on 10,000 bonus points.
We set a goal: get enough points to get our family of four to the Bahamas or any Caribbean island over the week of Thanksgiving. Of the Chase rewards travel partners, Southwest was clearly the best option with the lowest amount of points required: I estimated 140k – 150k points for our family, however November travel dates were not released when we were planning.
Searched for the best deal: Southwest didn’t release their winter travel dates until May 31, so we knew we had to earn the required points by then. When the flights were available, we had 133,775 total points earned. I used Southwest’s low fare calendar to find the best combination of dates that would give us a 5- to 7-day Thanksgiving vacation with our points, but I kept coming up short.
Transferred points from Chase to Southwest: you can’t book Southwest through the Chase portal, so a points transfer is required. This was pretty easy. I transferred 73,000 Chase Rewards points to my Rapid Rewards account and it appeared immediately. I then transferred 60,000 of my husband’s Chase Rewards points to my Rapid Rewards account and when it didn’t appear immediately, I had a minor freak out. When transferring from Chase, you have to enter the cardholders name on the Chase site, plus a Rapid Rewards number. I used my husband’s name with my Rapid Rewards number and when the points didn’t appear, I assumed that using his name with my Rapid Rewards number was a big mistake. The Chase customer service was absolutely great and while we were talking through how to course-correct, the points appeared! I just needed a little patience.
Purchased additional Rapid Rewards: Since we didn’t have enough, I purchased 7,000 rapid rewards points for $134 to give me the points required to book our trip.
Booked it! It was a rather smooth process despite my human errors. Here’s the breakdown:
Earned Rewards: 133,775
Purchased Rewards: 7,000 ($134)
Total Redeemed Rewards: 139,776
Taxes and Fees: $463
Total: $597 = $149.25 each!
Versus Actual Costs: Flights: $3416.16 + Taxes/Fees: $664.16 = $1,020.08 each. We saved $870 each – that’s $3,480! There’s no way we would have or could have spent that. And these prices are already higher than they were when I booked just five days ago.
Another thing I learned from the Marla Tanner interview on ChooseFI is that you can, in fact, redeem British Airways miles through Chase. I tried to figure this out online and couldn’t, so thank you Marla for teaching me that you actually have to call the airline. I will keep that in mind, but I think we’ll stick with Southwest for now because our next travel goal is a rocky mountain ski vacation.
A huge thank you to ChooseFI for teaching us how to travel for less!
I thought we were in cruise control, fully optimized with our recurring, monthly bills. Until I got an email from our energy supplier.
We’re in Philly with PECO as our energy utility/distributor. About a year ago, just pre-FI for us, I made the switch to a renewable energy supplier, sourcing all wind-powered energy. I can’t remember the intro rate, but it was a good rate – cheaper than the traditional energy providers, and I strongly believe in supporting renewable energy. Plus, they had an incentive of an annual rebate of 3% of your annual charges back in an account credit. If I did my math right, that’s about a $60 credit we’ll get. This rebate email is what prompted my energy bill digging. The email didn’t state the amount of credit was I getting, just that it was there to claim. There was no amount or timeframe. This lack of info was annoying. So, I dug in:
Our bill has been steadily rising. They don’t provide the KWH rate for each billing period (ugh), but I see we’re paying a bit more and not always when we’re using more energy.
I’m pretty sure that whatever intro rate I had has since gone up; I’m going to take my 3% credit and make a switch to a lower cost supplier that is also renewable. You can do this in PA!
Our energy use is rising.
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has a program called PA Power Switch which allows electric utility customers to choose from a wide selection of energy providers. They vary by proximity, variable versus fixed price, term length, contract fees, and percent that’s renewable energy. This sounds confusing, but it’s not. It’s a very user-friendly search tool and even I understand it.
Here’s where I’ve landed:
Our Current with a Renewable Supplier: 0.1429 per kWh
Cheapest Traditional Energy Option: 0.0585 per kWh
Cheapest Renewable Energy Option: 0.0725 per kWh with 24 month term
Because of my love for this planet, I’m going to support the renewable energy option that offers a kWh rate of 50% lower than my current. (I don’t mind the 24-month term.)
And the PECO site also offers great energy usage analysis and some easy energy savings tips. We’re are doing the following immediately:
Cold water laundry – my boys stink, I feel hot water is necessary, but I’ll switch to cold and see
Turn off power strips – why do we leave WiFi and the other office components on all day when we’re not home?!
Adjust TV brightness – apparently the factory default is a “showroom” setting. We have it on 0-2 hours per day, so not sure this will have much of an impact.
Tell everyone to turn off the lights when they leave the room!
So, we’re lowering our usage and lowering our rate. It will be very interesting to see how much we actually save per bill. Full transparency: Our last bill was $175 with an average daily use of 25.8 kWh. I will update in a month!
A part of the path to FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) involves consuming less and this really resonates with me. It’s not being frugal to save money, but it’s being frugal to really think about what you need versus want while considering the true value of each purchase. I haven’t been too great at this lately, but all big purchases get scrutinized for their value.
I’ve written about the every day things we do without – cable, subscriptions, expensive cell phone bills, eating out, etc. – and the big ticket items we’re doing without – kitchen remodel and pretty much any large home remodel that applies to this old house. Obviously none of these things are necessary, so these aren’t tough decisions. We have debt and spending money on anything else seems foolish.
And I can be foolish. This laptop I’m using is physically breaking down with missing parts, dents and dings, and running very slow at times. Couple that with a very persistent, soon to be birthday boy asking for a gaming laptop. And we’re getting one. What’s the value in that? Our family laptop will die and now we have one that the kids won’t complain about. There’s a lot of value in that.
But, I digress. Back to the planet.
Listening to NPR’s Living Green segment yesterday got me thinking there’s more we, as a family, can do. Computers aside, I think we’re pretty good with our environmentally-friendly and frugal and then, sometimes we’re not.
Paper products: We use cotton napkins, but we always have a roll of paper towels. Keeping cotton napkins, cloths and rags handy will help reduce that waste.
Compost: We don’t. We did in Seattle but in our Philly ‘burb, it’s available, but cost prohibitive. We have room in our yard to do something about this. I’ve composted yard waste, but I’d like to get a vessel so we can compost food waste, too.
Food: I’ve been trying to cut out meat during the week, but sometimes the convenience of cooking what we know wins. We can make a more concerted effort on this.
Water: We do wash a lot and we don’t have an efficient machine. We adjust the water levels, but it’ll be interesting to see if we save any water by running full loads only.
Clothes: I need to find a second hand store I like!
Stuff: We have too much! It drives me nuts. I need to purge and minimize. I feel like I’m always doing this, but I’m not making progress. I will start with one room at a time, working from the top (bedrooms) to bottom (basement).
Plastic: Stop buying the ziploc bags and use reusable containers and bees wax wraps.
I’m going to see if my library has All You Need is Less – this book was mentioned in the radio show.
I think the food and clothes will yield the biggest cost savings, but it’s not about the cost, it’s about the planet and, in turn, our health.
We entered this journey already on it.
With the arrival of our first son, I left the work force. We planned for it only in that we decided it would be great for a parent to stay home, but we did not prepare financially. One salary in Seattle and another kid later, I re-entered the workforce with $20k in debt. That meant we lived beyond our means by $5k/year for four years. Which – probably a shocking thing for the FI community to hear – isn’t bad considering where we were living and not being of the FI-mindset. And we were not depriving ourselves. But we also lived in a very walkable neighborhood – it wasn’t unusual to not use the car all week – and didn’t pay for daily childcare.
We knew exactly what we were doing and we took (baby) steps to minimize that:
Cut magazine subscriptions
Reduced cell phone and internet bills
Stopped dry cleaning
Ate out less
But we also did a lot of things on the opposite end of that spectrum:
We vacationed. A lot. Mostly weekend warrior trips around the PacNW, but also CA, Whistler, HI and East Coast trips. Miles/points paid for some at first, but certainly not all.
We went out. A lot. We lived in an incredible neighborhood with great restaurants, breweries, bars and live music. We couldn’t resist.
We paid a monthly fee for a babysitting service. Then paid them by the hour when we used them!
I could go on with both fronts. This was pre-FI and I don’t regret it, but it’s funny to look back and try to see the logic in these decisions.
So when I say we were already on the journey, we had already trimmed a lot of the unnecessary monthly bills about 10 years ago. It was the FI community that gave us the nudge to take savings a lot more seriously and be a lot more budget-minded. We’re almost 10 months in and we’ve taken the basic steps:
already paid off one credit card and have a plan to pay off all debt
I thought a W4 adjustment would be a logical optimization because we had a large tax return and it would be great to have a bigger paycheck instead. But I can’t figure out what our ideal withholdings should be on our W4. Files jointly with two kids … he claims 1, I claim 2. I see conflicting information on the internet and I’m confused. At the same time, the IRS calculator is not available while they’re updating it for 2018 tax law changes.
Maybe understanding this will hit me on the head or maybe it’s no big deal. A large tax return isn’t the worst thing in the world. But until then, I’m just keeping on the road of spending less, saving more, and reducing debt.
Building on the strong foundation we set in 2017, here are our goals for 2018:
#1: Debt reduction. We made some great strides in 2017 by simply organizing our finances and recognizing that we need to be more aggressive and focused on debt reduction. This will, of course, continue …
#2: Travel. We haven’t traveled much lately and we NEED to! This is a no brainer: open a Chase rewards card. Actually, I already got mine and my husband will get his soon. We went with the Chase Sapphire. I’m not sure yet if we’ll get as aggressive as the chase gauntlet just yet. We’re thinking a family vacation to the Bahamas … perhaps that’s because it’s freezing cold right now.
#3: Max out all pre-tax contributions (401k, HSA, FSA).
#4: Increase college savings. Keep 529s at $100 per month and contribute an additional $100 per month into another, separate investment account or Roth IRA for each child.
#5: Save (more) on wireless phone bills. Change DH from Verizon to a Monthly Shared plan with Total Wireless for $60 per month, saving $67 per month. That’s over $800 per year. Cha-ching!
The debt reduction is the biggest nut: credit cards, HELOC, two car loans and three mortgages. It’s daunting, but it’s there and we’re going to make it disappear. POOF!