Weekly Blog Roundup: April 9, 2010

Here are few great blog articles I’ve read over the past few days:

Yakezie Challenge Members:

  • Ultimate Money BlogThe Economy Sucks, So…. – Good read which makes you stop and think on how much we’re using the ‘economy’ as a catch-all excuse these days.
  • Sweating The Big StuffWhen You SHOULDN’T Worry About Money – This is a nice written article which talks about times when it’s probably a better idea to focus on some of the benchmark numbers for net worth and various ratios that financial gurus will often point to.
  • Financial SamuriPlay Games To Save Money And Achieve Your Goals – Cool little ways to trick yourself (and have fun in the process) into reaching your financial goals.  I wouldn’t recommend these for huge decisions but for little things, this is a great idea, and we all know that the little things add up quick!

A must read by a non-Yakezie member:

Check them out (but don’t forget to come back!) and enjoy some great reads by other bloggers who have unique perspectives into personal blogging.

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Great Value On Half And Half

I have to say, I’m not a huge Wal-Mart fan.

I have never really cared for their stores, as they seem to get junky about a week after opening.  Generally, their everyday prices are better than most grocery stores, but since we buy so much off weekly ads (which Wal-Mart doesn’t have) and since we use so many coupons, many of which other stores will double (Wal-Mart does not do this), I think many of their prices turn out to be beatable.

One thing that has turned up as an unbeatable deal is their store brand (Great Value) of half and half.  I used to use the powdered creamer for my coffee, but after someone pointed out to me the label and all the bad stuff that it contains, I decided that, even though half and half is more expensive, it was worth it.

I ended up finding out that it tasted better too!

Still, my wife would often pay around $3 for a quart.  This lasts me a while, but it was still pretty expensive.  When she went to Wal-Mart and found their brand for $1.44, I knew that this was indeed a great value and worth the occasional trip.

So, while Wal-Mart doesn’t appeal to us for everyday shopping, there are certain things that make it worth the occasional trip!

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Net Worth Review: April 2010

It’s time for a monthly check of our Net Worth.  As always, I don’t give ‘real’ dollar amounts, but the trends in percentages are worth a look.

Things shot up at a great rate this month.  There were a couple of one-time things that really helped us move along.  First, we received our state and federal tax refunds.  This allowed us to pay down a chunk of debt and also helped our cash position.  The second is receiving a bit of money from my grandmother, who passed last year.  This allowed us to pay down another chunk of loans.

Read on…..

Assets:

  •  Property – Zillow and CyberHomes is what I use to track this, with a modification based on ‘gut feel’.  Both services lowered their estimates just a tad, but things seem to be leveling off.  We are encouraged as a lot of homes in our subdivision that go up for sale seem to sell very quickly.  The prices aren’t great, but it’s still an improvement over a few months ago when properties would seem to languish for months and months.
  • Autos –  Kelly Blue Book kept the value of our cars pretty stable for the month.
  • Investment Accounts – We saw a nice gain for the month of just over 5%.  We haven’t made any new investments, so this figure merely represents our gains or losses with the investments already in the market.  The upward tick in the stock market is working well for us!
  • Cash – Cash jumped up for the month, largely due to receiving our state and federal tax returns.  The funds that didn’t go towards debt were earmarked towards other categories, but still allowed us to report a bump in cash for the month.
  • Retirement – Our retirement went up 5.5% after another up month in the market, putting it at an all time high.  I contribute 10% of my pre-tax salary towards our retirement so the gains were market gains plus new contributions.

Debt:

  • Property – We made our standard mortgage payment.
  • Student loans – Our first student loan balance took a nice big hit this month because of the double whammy that I mentioned above.  With standard payments, I forecast that we’ll have this completely paid off in January 2011, which will allow us to focus on the second loan and will keep us on track to be student loan free by the end of 2012!
  • Credit cards – We carry no credit card balances from month to month!
  • Auto – We’ve paid off both cars outright so we have no auto loans!

All in all, this was a great month.  A 9% increase is always great.  Unfortunately, this is not a ‘typical’ month, so even if the market were to continue moving upwards, this type of monthly gain would be hard to repeat anytime soon.  Still, it helps out a lot and keeps us motivated and moving in the right direction!

Here’s hoping for another good report next month.

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Transitioning From Earning Frequent Flyer Miles To Cash Rebates

Mr Credit Card is going to guest post today. He is going to tell us about how he switched from earning frequent flier miles to earning cash rebates on his credit card once he stopped traveling. You can find out what he thinks are the best credit cards and best business credit cards on his site.

Recently, Money Beagle mentioned about switching from earning frequent flier miles to earning cash back when he stopped traveling. I myself had a similar experience. When I first entered the job market 16 years ago, my company provided me with a company business credit card. I racked up lots of frequent flier points. But 10 years later, I found myself traveling less and started questioning if I should still be racking up points for frequent flier miles. I eventually switched to earning cash rebates (though I am now switching back again). In this post, I am going to share how story about using frequent flier miles and how I chose the right card when I transitioned to earning cash rebates.

How I used rewards card – The corporate card that I was issued was the American Express Business Charge Card. As an employee, I was allowed to earn Membership Rewards points for myself when I charged any business expenses to myself. I traveled at least once every quarter internationally so I guess I did rack up quite a few reward points. Plus, I got to fly business class.

To earn even more points, I got myself a personal Amex card! I had to pay a fee (think it was about $10 back then to “connect” my membership reward points from both my personal and corporate card. But with this combination, I sure earned lots of points.

Rewards that I earned – Because Membership Rewards points do not expire, I could actually wait until I racked up quite a bit of points. I usually waited until I could redeem two international business class tickets for myself and Mrs Credit Card. And we did earn enough points to do this a few times through out a 10 year period.

Transition – But eventually, there came a time when my job description changed and I had to travel less. I still had the corporate card. And I still used my personal charge card from Amex. But I was accumulating points at a much lesser rate. Eventually, a new job came up that totally did not require any travel at all. That was when I realized that I had to stop accumulating frequent flier points and simply earn cash rebates.

But that required a total reorientation because for my whole life (until then anyway), I was using points for free airline tickets. But due to the fact that I no longer have business travels and my do not have much business expense anymore, it simply made sense to switch to cash back cards.

How I chose my cash back credit card – The first thing on my mind was what card to get. After much research, I concluded that most cards in the market were not worth getting because all they did not was pay a standard 1% rebate. They better cards paid more than 1% on some items. For example, I found out that some cards paid 5% on gasoline and supermarket expenses.

I also found out about things like spending requirements and tiers. Some cards required you to spend a certain amount every year before you could earn their best rebates. Some cap you on how much rebates you could earn a year. Different credit cards also paid you differently.

Amid the confusion, I did the following things

  • I mapped out and categorized my expenses
  • I worked out which card would earn me the most rebates
  • I also decided to go with just one card rather than get a few card (like some do) and nickel and dime their way to lots of rebates
  • I also set the criteria that I wanted my rebates to be automatically credited into my account since I am a very forgetful person

Ultimately, I ended up choosing the Amex Blue Cash and I’ve earned over 2% rebates every year on average. These days things have evolved and we have things such as credit card shopping portals and rotating categories where spending on certain items during certain periods earn you more rebates.

So that’s my journey – So that’s my journey from earning reward points to cash rebates. I think the lesson here is to get a credit card that suits your lifestyle and spending habits. Very often, folks are either lured into a “prestige card” that is costly and does not serve the purpose for the individual or they carry a card that pays no rewards, which is really leaving money on the table (IMO anyway).

Well, that’s my story and I hope it will inspire you to reexamine your credit card and see if it is the best fit for you.

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