Thursday, April 30, 2015

Quick Tip Thursday: Your Next Reward Card...Citi Double Cash

One of our blog's original posts was entitled: "The Plastic Debate". This article is a little controversial because I advocate for the use of a reward credit card. We historically have used, and have been happy with the Chase Freedom Card. This card is great because it offers 1% cash back on all purchases, and 5% cash back (on up to $1,500) on purchases in promotional categories quarterly such as gas, groceries, Amazon, etc. It's pretty good! (A trend you may see in the financial posts is that I am big on playing the "Percentage Game". That is also why we decided to ditch our savings account for high interest checking accounts.)

However, it is just that...pretty good. You are potentially limited by the rewards you can incur with the $1,500 limit and the 1% is pretty standard. We still have the card and use it for the quarterly promotions but have stopped using it to pay our bills and everyday purchases that we usually use a credit card for, and here's why.

The Citi Double Cash is our new GO TO credit card. This card gives 1% cash back when you make a purchase, and 1% cash back when you pay your bill, resulting in 2% cash back. In effect, doubling your cash back that you would get for non-promotional purchases with Chase. DOUBLE! (I guess that is why it is called Double Cash

The application process was easy to do online and the card came quickly. (Disclaimer: please be advised that canceling and opening credit cards does affect your credit score.We have great credit scores and don't plan on buying anything that needs a credit score in the near future so we were fine with potentially lower our scores)

It took some time but we changed all of our automatic online bills to pay with the Citi Double Cash card. Although it initially takes some time and energy it pays off because we effortlessly make double the money by paying the same bills we would have paid with the Chase card, aka FREE MONEY!

So now we use the Citi Double Cash credit card for everyday purchases and for paying bills and only use our Chase card when the promotional quarter works for us. For example, last quarter it was groceries so we still used our Chase card for all of our grocery shopping. 

Of course, all of this goes with your ability to spend with a credit card as if it is cash. A lot of  time research shows that a lot of people over spend when using credit cards, which would defeat the whole purpose of getting cash back.

On an slightly different note, I encourage you not to use credit cards when supporting small local businesses because they get charged service fees, thus reducing their profit.

HUGE SIDE NOTE: I finally found an alternative to my bulky wallet for carrying my money and credit  cards. It is the EZGO wallet. It floats, holds up to 15 bills, 8 cards, 2 micro sd cards, and an sd card. It is light, thin and durable. My Chiropractor also approves!

My final recommendation for those who use credit cards appropriately would be to ONLY use Chase Freedom for promotional category purchases and use your Citi Double Cash for everything else.

Feel free to comment with what reward cards you are using and what you like/dislike. 

Have a great day and thanks for reading. Please make sure if you've been enjoying the blog to put your email in the right column and check us out on Facebook and Twitter!

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Monday, April 27, 2015

How to save money on vacation: Why not to pay for an all-inclusive

Read about how a timeshare presentation worked for us, how we only spent $121 for food and drinks with leftovers for an entire week, and why not to pay for an all inclusive.

If you want to cut to the chase scroll to the bottom for the list of reasons not to pay for all inclusive and a list of tips for traveling to a resort.

We were recently privileged to take a family vacation to Los Cabos using our timeshare for spring break.  We were surprised when we started planning for the trip last summer that we were able to find a topical location available during the busy season using our timeshare. We didn’t care where we went as long as it was warm and we could find cheap flights. One challenge we didn’t expect was most resorts were mandatory all inclusive, but our timeshare did not cover the cost, so we would have to pay an additional fee. We found a resort that was optional all inclusive and we booked!

Fast forward 9 months we were getting really excited for our trip which was only two weeks away until we received a voicemail from RCI (our timeshare company) informing us that the resort became mandatory all inclusive and so we were now expected to pay $80/night per person for the all inclusive fees! We were not happy because we purposely choose an optional all inclusive resort and we couldn’t believe they called us 2 weeks before hand and expected us to pay the fees.

We tried contacting RCI and they said it was out of their control that the resort changed to mandatory and we would have to contact them directly. Well contacting a resort in Mexico is not the easiest thing to do. John found out we could call them using Google Hangout and it would cost 1 cent per minute but our account needed a minimum balance of $10. So we spent $10 to call Mexico just to find out that the resort changed back to optional. We were relieved, but still irritated that RCI wasn’t going to help us.

Being frugal like we are we cannot imagine paying $80/night per person for all inclusive food and drink. We know we would not be able to eat and drink $160 worth of food and drink even if we drank all day and stuffed ourselves. Now, some people will argue with us and say that you can spend that kind of money but they are calculating how much the resort charges you, not how much it actually costs. For example, they will argue that drinks are $5/each and meals easily cost $20 then if you eat three meals ($60) and drink four drinks ($20) you hit the $80 per day and you don’t have worry about it and you can eat and drink whenever and whatever you want. 

Don’t get me wrong I love the idea of all inclusive. Mostly because I love food (actually, I have to confess I am slightly addicted to food) and it is always better when you don't have to prepare it! I mean come on, what doesn’t sound appealing about eating and drinking whatever and whenever you want and not worrying about paying for it? But you are paying for it, $80 a day in our case and we were not prepared that pay that kind of money. So our plan: pack a lunch for the flight there, buy groceries and eat in our room two meals a day and eat out our third meal.

Our plan for not spending money on food at the airport worked out perfectly. We had fried egg sandwiches and fresh pineapple (made the night before) for breakfast in the car on our way to the airport and then we ate oranges, tuna avocado sandwiches, and trail mix for lunch while in our layover.

When we exited the airport the shuttle service we already had lined up had sent us a map and directions to avoid the overwhelming hustlers, but somehow we went to the wrong guy wearing an orange shirt and found ourselves agreeing to hear a timeshare presentation Monday morning. We walked away shaking our heads because we knew we just got talked into something but we couldn’t pass up the deal: all you can eat Mexican breakfast, transportation to and from the presentation, tickets to a whale watching cruise, and a bottle of tequila for a 90 minute presentation. So we decided to sacrifice 90 minutes!

By the time we arrived in Los Cabos that night we were getting hungry but since we had been up since 3am and with the time change our bodies thought it was 8pm we decided to splurge and get room service so we could stay in and left our son go to sleep. We weren’t that hungry and the prices seemed steep, so we decided to share a club sandwich and fries. Well we called room service and no one answered. So we called again and still no one answered! We started to unpack and then call and left a message. Getting more and more tired we showered and gave up and went to bed hungry.

The following morning we made a pleasant discovery. We went to the fitness center to work out and we discovered they had a bowl of fruit free for the taking. It worked out perfectly because we hadn't eaten since lunch the day before and we didn't have any of our packed food left. So our new plan for breakfast: each take two pieces of fruit after working out each morning. 

After our free breakfast we went into town for the day and explored the city, walked the pier, and went to Easter Sunday Mass.

By the time Mass was over I was starving so we settled on having the $7 lunch special we walked past on the way to mass. The special included a drink and they had chips and salsa to start. We walked away spending only $20 after a generous tip. After walking in the 90 degree weather back to the pier we shared a self serve yogurt, $4.

We took the city bus (slightly sketchy) for $1/person each way to Walmart and bought $43 of groceries. This even included beer for John that he took down to the pool instead of buying it from the resort. So if you include our bus fare we spent $47 on groceries making our total spending so far = $71.

The next morning, Monday, we went to the lobby to get a taxi to go to the timeshare presentation we had signed up at the airport but we knew something was up because the attendant left and walked in the other direction. A concierge approached us and warn us not to go. He said he would match the deal we were offered if we didn’t go the other resort and we went to their presentation instead. It made sense for us because we didn’t have to leave our resort and we would still get breakfast, whale watching, and a bottle of tequila after sacrificing 90 minutes of our time. And the best part was they didn’t have any openings for the presentation for Monday so he gave us breakfast for that day and Tuesday. So Monday and Tuesday we got FREE all you can eat Mexican breakfast and we snacked on our groceries for the rest of the day.

Now I have to admit that I was jealous of those with all inclusive when we were being sitting by the pool and the people around us were being served hand and foot with french fries, nachos, beer, cocktails, ice cream, you name it! But we were pleasantly surprised that sometimes the waiters came around with free samples that we could have. And we took advantage of the entertainment opportunities offered including the guacamole/salsa making class, martini making class, cocktail making class, and ceviche cooking class (aka FREE FOOD).

Wednesday and Thursday night we had boat tours scheduled which included all you can eat and drink so we snacked on our groceries and fruit we got from the gym on those days. To continue tracking how much we spent on food we will use half the cost of our tickets for the tours. So the first tour was FREE because we listened to the presentation and we paid $43/person for the second tour so let’s say we paid $43 for the food and drink.

To explain Friday we have to go back to the night we arrived. Remember how I said we ordered room service and it never showed. Well, we went to the front desk and explained what had happened and guess what they compensated us with?!? A free night of all inclusive! Which meant we could eat and drink anything we wanted from 6pm-1am. (Way better than the $15 club sandwich and fries we were supposed to get!) So we choose to use it Friday night as our last hurrah.

So we had Friday night planned perfectly. At 6pm we got our wristbands and went for drinks and appetizers at the outdoor fireplace by the ocean, dinner at the fancy restaurant with a salad and dessert bar, martinis at the Martini bar, dessert at the Cafe, and we finished the night with drinks at the fireplace again. Oh, I forgot to mention we got some sandwiches and coffee to go that we took back to our room and saved for the next day for the airport.

So back to the point why you shouldn’t pay for all inclusive… we spent a grand total $121 for food and drink for 8 days including the spur of the moment soft pretzel purchase I made in O’Hare Airport because we landed minutes before everything but Starbucks closed. I don’t feel too bad paying $7 for two pretzels since he threw in FREE pretzel bites since we were his last customers and it was our last chance to eat anything before we slept overnight in the airport...with a 1 year old! (which for who are wondering, turned out fine because my wonderful husband Googled “the best place to sleep in O’Hare Airport” and found us some couches that we pushed together to sleep on.

If we would have paid for all inclusive we would have paid $80/person for seven days totally= $1,120. Trust me, I can eat a lot but I could never eat or drink enough food to make that worth it. So, even though I was jealous when the waiters walked by with ice cream and french fries while people sat by the pool, it still wouldn’t be worth it (to me at least). We also have to admit that get enjoyment from trying to be frugal but we understand it is not for everyone.

Again, back to the point why you shouldn’t pay for all inclusives
  1. You will never eat or drink enough to make it worth it.
  2. It is better to go grocery shopping for two meals each day and then pay for dinner and even food by the pool and you will still be in the green.
  3. Then you don’t “waste” food you would be getting already at the resort if you go on an excursion that includes food or if you go into town for a meal.
  4. You don’t need the calories (or at least we don’t) :)

Tips for traveling to a resort
  1. Go to a timeshare presentation BUT realize that it will take an entire morning and a lot of persistence on your part to finally get out of there (be warned that some can be VERY pushy and even rude). We had the best luck getting an “offer” at the airport because then our resort matched it. Before our resort knew we already had an offer they were going to only give us 50% off excursions, weak! Then when they found out what we were going to get to see a different resort they matched it and we were able to stay at our own resort. We also think it better to see a presentation at the resort you are staying at because they are more likely to let you leave because they don’t want to piss you off if you are staying with them for the rest of the week. Final tip, take a baby! We got out of our presentation an hour before other people because he was getting fussy! So we didn’t even have argue our way out of there. Score! We recommend attending only one because then you only take one morning of your time and if you have a bad experience it is only one morning and you still have the rest of your vacation to enjoy.
  2. Think ahead and pack a lunch for the airport. Just remember that by the time your plane lands in a new country you need to have eaten any fruit, vegetables, or meat or customs will stop you.
  3. Attend some of the free entertainment opportunities they offer: I don’t think I need to explain this= FREE and they can be a lot of fun.

Have a great day and thanks for reading. Please make sure if you've been enjoying the blog to put your email in the right column and check us out on Facebook and Twitter!

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Stop wasting toilet paper with this trick

Being from a big family and then having nine kids, you can imagine that my mom has learned a lot of helpful trick over the years and this trick is one of them. If you put your toilet paper roll “under” (viewed as wrong or backwards to 70% of the population, including my mother-in-law)

you decrease your chances of walking into the bathroom and finding that your child or cat did this...

Growing up we always put our toilet paper "under" and now I do the same thing to try to prevent my 1 year old from unrolling the whole thing! I just have to remember to put it on the "right" way when I am at my mother-in-laws!


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Monday, April 20, 2015

Drink Good Coffee and Save Money!

So if you are at all like me, you like a little coffee to perk you up in the morning. I don't need anything fancy and I drink between 8 and 12 oz between 6 and 11 almost every day. On my way to work there is a Starbucks and I really like their Veranda blend straight up which costs me almost $3.00. This means that if I were to get a coffee on my way to work everyday it would cost me about $60 a month or $720 a year, and that is with just one coffee drinker in the house! (The grand total would be $1,080 if you also got coffee on weekends).

That number right there really makes me want to drink only water, but there is always opportunity cost to consider.

When I looked at how much that would be I started looking to make my own coffee because it had to be cheaper. I went to the grocery store and picked up a pound of ground coffee for about $6, made a pot and had to throw it away...IT WAS HORRIBLE!!!

This lead me to pursue better quality beans.

I found a gem on 29th Street in Grand Rapids (actually, technically Kentwood) called Schuil Coffee. They are Michigan's first specialty Roaster and have excellent coffee. However, when I first went in I got shell shock by $9.99/lb coffee. That seemed like a lot, but I was there, they were nice, the place smelled great and I wanted some coffee. I believe I started with the Peanut Butter Cup roast (it is as good as it sounds).

Anyway, let's do the math...

9.99 per lb, at around 45 cups per lb equals about $0.22 per cup. Wow, that is cheap! 

This is for good stuff too.

So if you were to drink two cups of coffee everyday (not just work days) for a year it would cost you a grand total of just under $160 (did I say it was good coffee too?).

This means there is a savings of 85%.

Of course you still will need a way to brew your coffee. You can get a coffee maker really cheap used at a garage sale, Goodwill or on Craigslist, but my favorite way is to use a French Press.

Here is a link to the French Press I use. I love it because it was made with the environment in mind, it is insulated and it has a two stage filtering process.

They can grind the beans for you at most coffee roasters but I like to keep my beans whole to help them stay fresh longer. You may need a grinder or burr. I personally like this one.

When you are finished with your coffee grounds make sure to compost them (post on composting coming soon!)

Let's look at the overall savings even if you had to buy the French Press.

Coffee could cost you $1,080 a year, but if you were to brew your own high quality coffee it would be closer to $160 a year. If we add the high quality french press to that price it would cost $210 total for coffee and french press for the first year with an overall savings of 81%, Every year after the first year you would be back to that beautiful 85% savings.

So if you can't give up your coffee, get some high quality beans and brew it yourself. Your bank account will thank you (or checking account if you read my previous post).

Have a great day and thanks for reading. Please make sure if you've been enjoying the blog to put your email in the right column and check us out on Facebook and Twitter!

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