Booking our first family vacation with Chase Rewards

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.
sailing on the delaware
Sailing on the Delaware River, pining for the Bahamas
  • 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!

Connecting Financial Independence with Environmentalism

Yesterday was Earth Day. Every day is Earth Day.

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.

nc sunset.jpg

 

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.

Spreading the FIRE

I’m starting with our wins of the week:

  • Filed our taxes via H&R Block and got fat federal and state returns (this probably means we need to adjust deductions)
  • Took federal return to pay off one card! WHOO!

Going for the Gold!

golden gardens

No one wants to stop spending. I haven’t found too many like-minded friends in my circle of friends. A co-worker is enthusiastically into FI, so it’s pretty awesome to share learnings and successes with each other. But among my close friends and family, it’s not spreading. I’m not exactly pushing it either. You have to be interested in learning and open to change. And breaking away from our consumer-driven culture isn’t something a lot people are interested in. People like to shop.
But, let’s pretend.
At this point, if asked, I would recommend the following books:

I haven’t read these, but they’re on my list:

Podcasts:

Blogs: I don’t read too many – just not enough time, but I like these:

We’re nine months in and these are all common names to me now. There’s such a wealth of free information foranyone that wants it. It’s like we all have the ability to stretch this super muscle, but we don’t. It doesn’t have to be complicated, there are several simple changes you can make that make a huge impact. Anyone can do it!

Better Late Than Never

Sunset & The Moon at Golden Gardens

A colleague mentioned she was inspired by a financial independence book. Intrigued, I did some searching and found the FI community. Wow. I am encouraged and determined by this community and I have so much to learn. I wish I would have found this 20 years ago (I’m in my 40s) rather than doing what’s expected: college, debt, work 40+ hours/week, retire at 65. No, thank you!

My husband and I are committed to achieving this and sharing this journey and knowledge with our two kids (under 10). I’m still trying to work out our timeline: the point we don’t have to work. We’re about one month into this new mindset and just analyzing our budget, fully understanding where we spend and making short- and long-term plans has really jumpstarted this for us.

Our journey begins with 3 tools: education, debt reduction and saving more.

  1. EDUCATION: It didn’t take much to get my husband on board, as I’m typically the spender for unnecessary stuff. There are so many great tools and resources. I started with the ChooseFI podcast – their Pillars of FI (episode 21) is the gateway drug. These guys are an amazing resource and have provided me with the resources I need to start on the path to FIRE.
  2. DEBT REDUCTION: Armed with little financial knowledge, we’re starting with what we know we can do – it’s common sense – debt reduction. Between job changes, cross-country moves and buying (and filling) a new house, we’ve managed to rack up an embarrassing amount of credit card debt over the last decade and just haven’t focused on getting rid of it. It’s stupid, we know … so we’re getting rid of it ASAP. Based on the debt reduction tracker worksheet I found through Choose FI, we’re looking to have our credit card debt paid off by May 2019. That sounds so far away, but at least we have a plan and end date now. I’m 99% sure that we are underestimating how much we can pay each month and I’m certain that we will be getting all that paid off months sooner.
  3. ​SAVING: Vanguard. It’s all over the FI community. I had no idea that I should be looking at fees or expense ratios. I already have 529s for both kids into which we contribute monthly and I opened an IRA into which I rolled over a Fidelity IRA, keeping a 401k with Fidelity. We’re going to keep our monthly IRA contributions low until we have the debt paid off. Then we’ll max it.
    HSAs … this little gem! I already had one and didn’t take full advantage. I’ve increased my contribution, lowering my income while socking away pre-tax earnings into an investment account. No brainer!

NEXT 3 GOALS:

  1. Transfer both our Wells Fargo IRAs into Vanguard.
  2. Better understand maxing out the retirement savings – I’m not clear on limits. I think its $5500 per year. Is that for IRA and 401k? I’m assuming that doesn’t include employee contributions.
  3. Set realistic goals for 529 savings and our FIRE date.