Camping Misadventures 2012 Part One

We bought ourselves a camper last fall, but didn’t use it until this year, as it was past the time where camping usually takes place.  Still, getting it in the fall allowed us to get it a little cheaper and also meant we didn’t fight with others interested in purchasing it since demand was low in the off-season.

It’s been an adventure learning all the ins and outs of our camper (or technically, a trailer, since it’s a 23′ travel trailer).

Hooking Up

I remember when we were purchasing the camper, my father-in-law was helping (in other words, doing everything) and I was watching all the steps involved with hooking it up and thought I’ll never be able to do this.  Well, after a couple of tries with everything I got it right.  Now, I have a checklist that I work from but from hitch to hooking up the brakes, it works.

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Asia’s 5 Best Cities for Culture

There are hundreds of cities to consider for a trip to Asia. However, there are a few that stand out among the rest as excellent places to get a full dose of culture.

Shanghai

Shanghai is a huge metropolis that has everything China has to offer and more. If your time is limited, but you want to get the best experience of Chinese culture, then Shanghai is surely the way to do it. Book into a Shanghai hostel to save money as there is plenty to do and see.  Perhaps you’re after the hustle and bustle of everyday life, then get down to the markets, where the smell of deep-fried soy is unmistakable. As for architecture, you’ll find old buildings like the Jing’an Temple nestled among shining modern towers, and Western-style buildings speak to its eclectic influences. The city is old, and it has held its cultural and political importance since the 1930s. It is the place to get to know China.

Image: Jing’an Temple. Credit:  by kanegen

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Should I Ride My Bike To Work?

I’m fortunate enough to live about two and a half miles from work.  This is great in that my gas costs are significantly lower than they would be if I had a longer commute.  I once had a job that was sixty five miles each way.  Needless to say, the gas costs were through the roof, and gas was less than three bucks a gallon.

Still, I’ve often considered the idea of riding my bike to work once the spring time weather hits in a few weeks.

Since we moved in, riding my bike hasn’t been an option I’ve been comfortable with for the simple fact of the freeway that lies between my house and where I work.  There is an overpass to the freeway that I would have to cross, and the problem was that there was no bike lane or barrier from the road.  While many brave people on bikes did go over the road, I had no such will to ever do such a thing.

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We Did It! We Bought A Camper!

Last month (I can’t believe it’s been almost a month already) I revealed that we were thinking about buying a camper.

I’m proud to say that we finally did!

Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures because we basically got it and parked it for the winter, but I am sure that I’ll have lots of pictures to share once we start going on trips next year.

We had initially considered purchasing a pop-up camper simply because it looked like it would afford us a good camper at a good price.  One of those was definitely in our price range, but when we started thinking about it, we ended up going a different direction.

We ended up going with a travel trailer.  It’s a 23 foot Jayco Feather, from 2004.  The camper itself was in impeccible condition.  Everything looked new and the mechanics all seemed to be in order.  Jayco is built very sturdy so we had pretty much narrowed it down to wanting one of those.

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10 Tips To A Cheap Cruise Vacation

Hello, readers! I am Julianne, one of  Money Beagle’s college friends and I have been asked to write a little ditty about my frugality – particularly how it pertains to my recent vacation.

We were on a cruise last week, and I think our total spent was $172 out of pocket (not including our airfare). Some people do that extreme coupon clipping stuff where they get 100 bottles of ketchup for free and, well, I am a fan of vacationing for cheap. Back in the olden days, before cruising, I would get us to Vegas cheaply. Cruising is a different animal altogether.

Here are a few tips on how to get a cheap cruise vacation:

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Delta Miles No Longer Expire

This one kind of flew under the radar for me, but I saw a notice in my monthly Delta SkyMiles report that said that their miles would no longer expire.

This is pretty huge as someone who doesn’t travel very often.

Last year, my miles were set to expire, and in order to avoid losing them, I redeemed some for a magazine subscription.  It was for Entertainment Weekly, a magazine that I’ve always enjoyed but realistically live without.  Still, it’s been a nice add.

My wife recently got a notice in the mail offering redemption of magazine subscriptions, and was mulling over getting one to avoid losing her miles.  I told her not to bother.

The companies that work with Delta and the airlines must certainly want to stay in business, but you have to imagine that their bottom line will be hurt as people hold on their miles versus redeeming them for a subscription just so they can keep their miles on ice.

Did you know about this switch?  Have any other carriers followed suit?

How We Saved Money On Our Vacation

As mentioned a couple of days ago, we went on vacation to Florida for a few days.

We had a great time but I’d be remiss if I didn’t go over a few ways that we saved some coin during the trip!

  • Split the cost – We had initially planned our 2010 trip as a week trip where we would rent a lakefront cottage here in Michigan.  When our in-laws said that they were thinking of going to Florida and asked if we’d like to come, we said yes instantly.  Not only did we love Florida, but this meant that we could split the cost with them and save some money all around.  My in-laws are great, but for those of you who couldn’t fathom that idea, think about working with a sibling, a friend, or someone else that could help defray the costs and make for good vacation companions!
  • Eat some meals in – We had a condo with a kitchen as our rental, so we were able to stock our kitchen with some staples that allowed us to eat in for various meals.  Often, we would eat breakfasts and lunches in.  For us, not only did this save us money, but gave us more pool and ocean time!
  • Take your couponsMy wife is awesome!  She has definitely kept pace with me in trying to look for savings.  When packing our stuff, she took our coupon organizer knowing that we’d be going to the grocery store and figuring why not save some money if we could?  I would have never thought of it but she did and it made me break out into the biggest grin as she added it to our items to take.
  • Enjoy free things – Most of our fun time didn’t involve any extra costs.  Why?  Because we spent a majority of it down by the pool or around the ocean.  While there were things like para sailing, riding wave runners, or even a short jaunt to Disney World that could have all been fun, we spent time relaxing by the pool, swimming or walking near the ocean, or sitting outside watching sunsets.  We didn’t feel deprived and we didn’t spend any extra money doing any of these things!
  • Weigh travel options – We looked at flying versus driving.  For us, flying ended up working out to be a cheaper option (the $300 stupid tax that I paid for booking the wrong week notwithstanding), but for our in-laws driving was the better option.  They were able to drive pretty much straight through the 18 hour car ride, whereas we would have had to make more frequent stops and most likely factor in a hotel room since we were traveling with an infant.
  • Look for hidden cost benefits – The fact that our in-laws were driving meant that we could send our luggage down with them, therefore avoiding the ridiculously unfair baggage fees that airlines have imposed.

I’m sure that there were other saving opportunities, but these are a few ways where we were able to save some bucks during our vacation!

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.

Confession Time: I Got Charged With The Stupid Tax

So yesterday I wrote about how we’re planning a vacation.  Awesome.  Well, the vacation just got $300 more expensive without a thing to show for it, and it’s completely my fault.

Yes, I made an error and got charged with the stupid tax, and what really sucks is that it’s to the tune of $300.

When planning our trip, we were working along with my in-laws as well as my sister-in-law.  We all had input at various times to things like where we were going to go, where we were going to stay when we got there, how we were going to get there, and most importantly, when we were going to go.

Everybody had to look at their work schedules.  We had to look at the availability of places that we were interested in.  We looked at the costs of flying versus driving.  There was a ton of back and forth.

So, when it came time to the booking of the flight, I went back when I should have gone forth (OK, maybe the other way around when you read on, but that way just sounded better).

Yes, I sat down to book the flight and, for whatever reason, my mind remembered a previous iteration of the week we had decided to go.  So, I happily booked the flight, received the e-mail confirmations, and was happy as a clam.

It took me a week to actually realize that something was wrong when my wife and I were having an innocent conversation about her getting her hair done, which she scheduled to occur before we left on our trip.  She mentioned the date and how it might be hectic since it was the day before we were flying out.  I commented that, no, her hair appointment is a week and a day before we are leaving.

No sooner than the words were out of my mouth and I felt the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and I knew what had happened.  A dead run up the stairs and a few mouse clicks confirmed my worst fear: I had lodged in my head the exact wrong date(s) for our trip, and had booked with the wrong dates in my mind.  I checked and I even requested the wrong week off at work.

Luckily they’re not going to charge me to move my week!

So, I had previously been very happy to have found our flight and what I thought was a reasonable rate.  I had even commented that, since my in-laws were driving down, that we were avoiding the excessive fees that they’ve been piling on everything.

Yeah, not so much.

When I went to the reservation system, I found that the charge per ticket for changing flights was $150.  That’s $300.  I called Delta in hopes that I could plead my way down.  I first spoke to someone that was about as unsympathetic as could be and even hung up on me when attempting to ‘check into’ things.  Sure.  But, I called back, and spoke to a great customer rep and a great manager, but as great as they were, they couldn’t/wouldn’t help.

So, I grudgingly made the change and ended up paying airline fees that I had bragged about being able to avoid.

That’s the part that kills me is that I was able to avoid them, but with all the confusion, I skipped the step of verification.  I should have never made the booking alone where my wife, as a second pair of eyes, would have caught the mistake.  At the very least, I should have sent her the e-mail confirmations, in which case she might have realized my mistake and could have alerted me to the problem (you do have 24 hours to make a change without the charges).

I guess I thank my stars that we found out when we did, because it could have been a lot worse.  As it was, the correct flights were the same price as the originals.  I’m sure if we had discovered our error closer to the actual time, the prices could have doubled, in which case we would have had to deal with fare increases on top of the $300.

Still, I am very disappointed in myself.  It’s hugely discouraging to see a good chunk of money disappear that could have been avoided.

In short, it sucks getting hit with the stupid tax.

Keeping Our Dormant Frequent Flier Miles On Ice

I used to fly quite a bit.  In my single days, I would try to do at least one trip per year. I got to see destinations like New York, Las Vegas, San Diego and Florida.  Having purchased a more expensive house and now with a baby, we have limited our travel to where flying has been significantly reduced.

I’m not going to lie, the multiple rate hikes and fees imposed for such things as picking your seat or checking baggage makes me less inclined to fly as well.

But, with the slowdown in our flying, we haven’t been accumulating frequent flier miles.

With Delta, at one point I had a significant amount of miles banked after having done a six month stint where I was flying back and forth to Florida every week for work.  At the time it was Northwest.  But, all that traveling actually got me and my wife free tickets on two trips, one to New York in 2005 and another to Orlando in 2008.

That was our last flight, and in doing so I had used up all of the miles that would give us free flights, but there was still a significant amount left.

Enter in the latest and greatest ‘great idea’ by the airlines, and that is where they will take away your miles after two years of non-use.

Great way to encourage flying.  Take away the carrot that might encourage people to fly more.  But, anyways, I digress.

Well, I received the notice that my miles were about to expire so I logged in to take a look. I had about 13,000 miles, which was about halfway to a flight.  I didn’t want to lose them, so I looked at the options.  Turns out I didn’t have to fly, but I could basically do any activity on my account to keep them active, including redeeming miles.

I’ll note that one suggestion I’ve heard is to have a rewards credit card that logs miles.  I actually did have one of those back when I was flying to Florida, and with charging all of the flights and travel costs to that card, then getting reimbursed, I was able to accumulate miles quickly.  However, when I stopped traveling as much, I determined that I would get better use out of our Citi Dividends cash back card.  When Northwest simply canceled my card (after a year of non-use), that sealed the deal and I decided that unless I started flying again regularly, I was not going to cave in and get a rewards card.

So, I looked at other options, and I decided to look at their magazine subscription program.  You can get subscriptions to many magazines for the cost of some of your miles.

One of my favorite magazines for years and years was Entertainment Weekly. I always like knowing what movies, music, books, and other things are coming out, and they’ve always written some pretty good articles about movies, TV shows, and the like.  I had a subscription for over ten years.  When a renewal came up that I felt was way overpriced, I let it lapse.  Over time, I remarked a few times that I missed reading it, but that paying for a subscription didn’t seem like something I wanted to do.

Since using my miles represented no out-of-pocket costs (well, actually a small amount, but I’ll get into that in a second), and it actually perhaps will lead to saving me in the future should we get a free flight from the miles we avoided losing, I decided to use 1,500 miles for a one-year subscription.

I’m still left with a majority of my miles.  I get a year subscription for no out of pocket costs, and I get two more years before I have to do anything again to avoid losing the miles (assuming they don’t tighten the program again, which I wouldn’t put it past them to do).

When I went to enter my subscription, it presented me with a great offer.  Add a second year subscription for an additional fee.  The additional fee?

Two dollars.

I jumped on that one without even thinking about it.  The way I looked at it, that actually got me right to the point where my two year inactivity fee would come up, and assuming they still had magazine deals, I could just re-up.

We’ll see what happens between now and then, but in the mean time, I am loving having my subscription back and loving even more that my out of pocket costs are less than two pennies per magazine for the next two years!