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Archive for January, 2024

2023 Credit Card Rewards wrap up

January 16th, 2024 at 05:56 pm

I make a lot of free money from credit card rewards for a little bit of work.  I have a lot of credit cards and we don't carry a balance and I do NOT recommend this for anyone who carries balances.  It's a nice bonus of tax free money if you are responsible enough.   This is dense post, but if you have questions ask.

Let's start with Costco rewards.  We have a executive membership which costs $120 a year.  We make 2% in rewards which this year appear to be $225.57 which means we spent $11,278.50 at costco this year.  Makes sense since we buy most groceries and all of our gas there since it's 1.5 miles from our house and pretty much the closest grocery store.   We also earned on our costco citi credit cards $282.73 and $136.08 in cash back for a total savings of $644.38 with a net of $524.38.  

Next up is simple cash back rewards.  We earned $288.82 with discover.  Typically I can redeem this for restaurant giftcards at a minimum 10% off so 1.1 redemption rate so $317.70 is the value of this cash back, but for simplicity I just used $288.82.  Discover I keep for the 5% rotating categories cash back and it's $0 annual fee.  We also have the Wells Fargo active 2% cash back card.  We earned $478.67 in 2% cash back and I typically apply it to the charges.  It is also a $0 annual fee credit card.  Finally we have the Chase Amazon CC also for $0 annual fee and 5% back at amazon.  We earned $211.40 for spending $4220 at amazon this year.  YIKES.  I had no idea my DH spent that much let alone me.  That does not include my mom's spending at amazon so I guess we netted $61.40 for our amazon prime annual fee.

Now we're getting to complicated rewards.  But we'll start with the easy Alaska Airlines CC.  We have two CC, one for each of us.  The annual fee is $95 and we mostly use it for the companion fare coupon.  The companion fare costs $150 in taxes and fees for a free ticket to travel together.  This year i used it on Hawaii at Christmas so the tickets were $1017 roundtrip.  So we ended up saving $867 x 2  (each credit card) minus the $95 annual fee x 2.  So we basically netted $772 in rewards per credit card.  That and of course free luggage when booking (never use this), and 3x miles for alaska airlines purchases.  While this card is barely use the companion fares for us is worth just having.  We've had it for about 10 years and I think it pays for itself annually.  This is the type of credit card reward where even if you don't really use the card if the benefit is greater than the annual fee it's worth it.  This year they have an interesting deal where you spend $10k on the card and get 4k in EQM bonus up to a maximum of 20k miles so I'm trying to earn that for DH and myself, i'm not sure I'll be able to make it.  I also used the miles to book our trip next summer.

We also got a chase marriott card.  It's annual fee is $95 and we got three free nights  up to 35k points for opening the credit card. Again I think the $95 fee worth 1 night in a hotel.  You also get silver elite and 15 nights a year as well as earning some points when you charge on the card.  Typically we use it when we happen to book marriott and I've found that we can find one brand of marriott usually where we want to stay.  We also earned 19,186 points for 2023 because they give 3x points on grocery stores and 16x points on marriott stays.  Typical redemption says it's worth 1 cent a point or $191.86 for cash value.

For the Chase rewards I have the Ink $95, Sapphire Preferred $95, and Freedom $0.  I earned 48,475, 11,769, and 94,313 points for 2023 respectively for the credit cards = 154,557 points.  That is worth $1545.57 if we use 1 cent per point which is the cash equivalent redemption.  However I used it for flights this summer to singapore so I got closer to 2 cents per mile.  With the sapphire preferred I get a $50 hotel credit once a year to help offset the annual fee.  My daily driver card is the chase freedom earning 1.5% back on everything because I can redeem it for 1.25 on travele on the Ultimate Rewards portal and typically get 2% or 2 cents per mile transferred.  So the redemption rate is closer to 3% or more.

Finally the big expensive cards are our American Express.  I had the gold this year to try out.  The annual fee is $250.  I get $200 in uber credit which I used and $60 in dining credit (I stupidly missed 6 months) which i spend by buying a $10 shake shack gift card monthly for free.  So $260 in free cash but the real earnings this year was the $75.99 in Amex Offers on the card which I redeemed for charging stuff like internet, or cell phone and getting statement credit.  So I earned $335.99 cash back on the card last year. I also negotiated a $125 credit towards the annual fee this year.

DH got the Amex Platinum Charles Schwab for an annual fee of $695.  But CS gave us a $200 credit for accounts with them.  He also got $200 hotel, $200 airline, $189 clear, $60 Amex Offers statement credit, $240 digitial credit (NYT, WSJ, Sirius), and $171.24 for Walmart+ (we use for paramount subscription) for a total cash back of $1260.24.  We also earned 123,607 point = $767 in statement credit according to Amex.  The net credit card reward is $765 for the year.  Not including the $100 statement credit for fine hotels bonus or free breakfast for 2 at the hotels.  So that's usually worth another $60, so we had a bonus $160.  I actually used it this weekend for my overnight and saved $160 bonus on top of the $200 hotel credit for 2024.

So wrap up is we spent $1490 in credit card fees, costco/amazon membership for 2023.  We earned back $5002.96 in cash rewards and 297,980 in points equivalent to $2979 in cash back.  So we netted $3512 in tax free money by just our spending on our credit cards alone.  

It also did not include the value of the points I used to purchase tickets.  Pretty good for just using credit cards and getting tax free bonus.

My recent stupid tax

January 12th, 2024 at 04:39 pm

I don't know if others every have doh! moments but I do occasionally.  I've had a lot of them lately.  The most recent one was that I bought 4 tickets awhile ago to the Lion King.  Thought the kids and DH would want to go.  They didn't want to it turns out and I am stuck with 4 tickets.  Things have come up and tickets you buy months in advance well when you have other activities don't seem so desirable like a week before.  It happens!

Anyway I start to panic. I am freaking out going wow I'm out $300.  And also I want to see the lion king, but that's just a bonus.  So I text a bunch of friends and everyone says no.  So I post it on Stubhub and ticpick.  Then it gets bought immediately on stubhub. I log in after 5 hours and realize all four tickets have sold.  Yay right?

Boo - nooo. During that time I had a friend respond they'll take two and i say yes.  They venmo me and I transfer the tickets.  But I forget to take down the ad at stubhub and ticpick.  Then I have another friend say yes she'll go WITH me.  So I'm like YAY! I get to go win win.

But I had forgotten to take down my ad which wouldn't have mattered since the tickets sold immediately anyway.  But still. I had panicked and listed the tickets even though I should have waited and let everyone I ask respond.  So then I had to pay fees to stubhub and ticpicks for listing the tickets but not selling them. Boo!!! 🤦‍♀️

I could have explained to my friends the situation, but I was embarrassed and didn't want to. So I decided it was my own personal stupid tax and I would suck it up and just live with it.  How much did it cost me? 

Well $40 for ticpicks to replace the tickets and $166.50 for stubhub.  So I guess like $206.50.  Now my goal is to raise money outside of normal means to pay for my stupidity.  

Life is like that sometimes.

Singapore & Thailand financial wrap up

January 11th, 2024 at 11:46 pm

So we went to Singapore and Thailand and had a lovely time.  I had fun posting only some of the photos.  The photos were better than I posted. But I guess I have to do a financial wrap up.

We flew to Singapore on Singapore Airlines connecting through LAX.  I used miles for me and both kids.  I bought a one way ticket for DH.  Miles on Alaska airlines for me and both kids were 47,500 each one way plus $54 cash.  Then I bought DH's ticket for $786.50.  So our miles were worth 1.66 cents/mile.   I also upgraded our seats for $150 or $50 for each of us for front of the cabin premium seats.  These seats allowed us to not have anyone sitting next to us so we had 3 seats for me and DK2, DH and DK1 also had 3 seats for the two of them.  So we were able to spread out and sleep better.  Worth every penny.

Then I used miles on United to return through SFO.  That flight was 58,100 miles and the cost of the tickets fees were $206 for 3 of us.  DH's ticket was $863 one way so the miles we got were 1.49 cents/mile.  Which wasn't as good but we also don't normally fly united, and we've been trying to burn the miles.  Then I got offered a deal for upgrading to premium economy for $450 per person or $1800 total.  It ended up going for thousands more in premium economy.  Premium economy on united dreamliner is like domestic first class seats.  It really helped with sleeping and the jet lag.  

Then our flights from singapore to thailand round trip was $544.74 including seat selection.  So in total we spent $4405 on 4 tickets round trip to Singapore with a detour into Thailand with premium economy and economy plus seats and of course miles.  It did wipe out a lot of my alaska miles and thankfully our united miles which we've been trying to use for years.  

Then when we got to Singapore we stayed at the JW marriott hotel for 5 nights because we booked with points.  Marriott has a deal where you book 4 nights with points you get the 5th night free.  Average cost there is $500/night if not more and the location is spectacular and the hotel as well.  We paid $328.49 in fees plus 199,000 marriott points so averaged around 40k points a night.  At 1 cent per mile it's $400/night and I think it cost much more than that.

Then we went to Krabi and stayed at Centara Resorts with a private pool.  For 3 nights we paid $735 including airport transfers.  Then for our last night in Singapore when we returned we stayed at the Marina Bay Sands.  I'm cringing to write this but we paid $844.59 for 1 night although it included breakfast at a super fancy buffet.  Was it worth it?  Yes.  I don't know if we'd do it again. I've never paid that much for a hotel for one night or airbnb.  But it's not just any hotel. I could have used points to cover the trip if I wanted, but i just decided to pay for it.  

What else did we spend?  Well gocity cards in singapore for $1166 for the four of us.  Did we get our money's worth?  Well adult tickets for everything we did would have cost around $714 adults and $398 for kids so yes we did.  Now universal I would have skipped but for the pass because we literally rode like 3 rides.  But it was fun and we had a fantastic time eating there and we always like eating the local food of amusement parks where we go. I did mention the best buffet i've ever had was disneyland hong kong right?  I mean asian fusion buffet with inexpensive labor means premium food and disney quality and hong kong is just world class dining to begin with just like singapore.  Also shows in these parts are often much nicer than you would think because they start working at a much more inexpensive cost and put on a bigger production.

We spent $380 on other entertainment like feeding rhinos, extra tickets to things not covered, tour in thailand (was $100 for the 4 of us!!!), etc.  We spent $859 on food, eating is cheap in asia especially Thailand.   And $545 on ubers in singapore/thailand other travel expenses.  

All in our trip for about 12 days cost us $9265. This is not a realistic budget though because many people would not have the miles to pay for tickets for 3 out of a family of 4.  Also most people would not be upgrading to better seats necessarily.  And many would not pay $844 for a hotel for 1 night.  So I think it could be done similarly if you didn't have miles and made some changes to the itinerary.

But overall right on target for what I was hoping to spend if not less than what I budgeted for disney.  That being said on our macchu picchu trip, I need to start a spreadsheet.  I have spreadsheets for all my trips to figure out the total cost.

Thailand - relaxation

January 8th, 2024 at 05:30 pm

So we were thinking of jumping to Bali from Singapore but we didn't have much time.  So instead we went to Thailand.  We decided we had done city with Singapore.  We also wanted to waste at most 2 hours on the flight and we didn't want to hit up a city.  So we flew into Krabi.  Most people go to Phuket or Ko Samui or Bangkok or Chang Mai.  We headed to Krabi, but we didn't stay there.  Instead we went further off the beaten path and went to Ao Nang.  Think small beach resort area without a ton of tourists comparatively. 

Initially I wanted to go even more secluded and stay at an alcove that you had to take a boat too.  But decided it was too difficult with the kids.  Good thing I didn't because getting off the long tail boat (we visited for the day) we saw people carrying their luggage on their heads through the water since the dock wasn't big enough.  But where we stay?  It was in "town".  And we got to walk around, swim, and rest.  Way better decision.  Ao Nang has according to google 7800 people.  I loved it.  

Our hotel room had a private pool (but it was too cold).  Some rooms opened to the pool. We had breakfast included everyday as well.

Our first night and walking at the beach right outside the hotel.  Ours was on the beach about 50 steps away from a different pool at the hotel.

The next day we booked a tour and went kayaking in the mangroves and feeding elephants.

Long Tail Boat ride

Beach just gorgeous

Then we flew back to Singapore to catch our flight home the next day.  This time we flew direct into SFO on United in premium economy.  Well worth the $425 upgrade.  But I also decided to splurge and we stayed at the Marina Bay Sands hotel.  It's pretty much the iconic cruise ship hotel in Singapore, featured in Crazy, Rich Asians at the end.  It has the infinity pool that's only guest accessible.  What did we do?  Stay the whole day in the pool from 3 pm check in after our flight till the evening. We even had food delivered.

View from the deck of the gardens by the bay.

View during the day

View at night

Then our lovely adventure had to end.  Did we have jet lag?  Surprisingly no.  We were great.  Mostly because our timing was excellent.  It was worth spending more to get the right times.  We used up pretty much all of our miles to fly united back at night and arrive at night.  It was a 18+ direct flight from LAX to Singapore and return was also 18+ hours direct Singapore to SFO.  This allowed us to nap on the flight there and coming back.  4

Going we arrived at 6 am and then stayed up so we got right on schedule (and it's easier going west).  Coming back while difficult arriving at 12 am midnight at home and going straight to bed and waking up at 10 am and forcing ourselves to stay up to 8 pm then back to bed and up at 7 am meant we were tired but not jet lagged like some people.

So going to Macchu Picchu this summer I did the same thing and booked flights I thought would minimize our jet lag going and coming.  I'm hopeful that it works.

I guess all that's left is to work on what it all costs in the next post.

Singapore Day 5

January 8th, 2024 at 04:57 pm

Since someone asked I decided to finish up photos and posting of the trip.  Our last full day in singapore we spent doing a Michelin Hawker Food tour included in our singapore Go City card for $80.  It was delicious and fun and we even got historical facts on the walking part as we ate and walked through a couple of hawker centers.  My favorite part of traveling is walking and hanging out and eating like a local.  When we were in singapore i used grab (like uber) to go places and rode the transit and ate at the hawker stalls or hole in the wall restaurants.  Some of the finest dining is in singapore, but we just couldn't get ourselves organized and honestly that interested over just exploring the city.  Here are some of the places we stopped at.

We interestingly ate there unknowingly while wandering on our own in the area the first day.  

We love curry puffs.

My DH ate here on the first day and it was great.  I wouldn't say everywhere took cards so cash was still needed.

Then we chilled in the pool and hotel room the rest of the day until that evening when we went to the Night Safari.  This was also included on our go city card I think if i had bought the package of the zoos and night safari it was like $100 SGD+.  It was pretty fun.  The nicest part about the go city card was going to places and not feeling guilty if it was only a few minutes or longer. 

Since you have to make a reservation for the night safari, I made a reservation to feed the rhinos.  One of the highlights of the trip.  The night safari is just a ride on this tram through a different zoo to see the animal at night, especially the nocturnal ones.

The next day we left for thailand.


2023 Wrap up - good year

January 3rd, 2024 at 05:35 am

So 2023 was an excellent year for us financially.  Our retirement accounts are down 3% from peak 1/3/2022.  Mostly I lost a bunch in my Roth IRA but we are nearly at the same amount.  Our retirement accounts went up 31.6%.

Our taxable went up 92.8%.  Our NW went up 49.9%.  We had a good year in the market.  We saved a lot. 

I mentioned in forum spending $15k deciding.  What ended up happening was DH got an unexpected bonus at work on December 15th and we saved the bulk of it.  It contributed to our savings.  But even without it, I'm looking at 12/1 net worth since I track monthly where we were at.

Retirement up 23.6%

Taxable up 9.1%

Debt down 2.2%

NW up 23.2%

December was a good month stock wise our retirement went up around 8%.  Then added in our unexpected savings and that jumped our net worth 25% for the month.

Also due to stock gains our 12/1/23 NW surpassed 1/1/2022 by 8%  So even without the bonus we are back to peak.